Category Archives: Delphiniums

In a vase on Monday – back in the game!

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I guess I must have a bit of an addiction – not just to Cathy’s lovely ‘In a Vase on Monday’ meme at Rambling in the Garden, but also (and more seriously!) to delphiniums.

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Now the thing is, they are not the kind of plant I would normally be comfortable growing. They require far too much work, and in a big garden with only one person keeping everything up to the mark that’s something you can do without out.

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I was persuaded to buy the first in 2012 – my husband, the Bon Viveur, saw it in our local market at Jussey. One stately, gloriously tall white spike in a very large pot. After saying ‘no’ several times, I gave in. It went home with us and was planted out in the Rose Walk. Only about a week later it collapsed completely, a victim of the voles that were gobbling things up as quickly as I could plant them that year.

I bought a Hayloft plant collection. They were planted in March 2015, lower down in a cooler spot and watered, fed, supported lovingly.

So far, so good, for two years. Last autumn/winter many disappeared (I didn’t water much last summer and winter temperatures dipped to nearly -20C). Out of about 15 plants I think we had six left this spring. But by then it was far too late. I purchased more – another Hayloft collection for planting out next spring and quite a few decent sized plants from a mail order nursery I’ve started using called Promesse de Fleurs.

And so it goes on … and will doubtless cost me a small fortune before I’m through. And then there’s the hours spent googling the best way to show them real TLC. Sadly I learnt that the sort I’m planting – ‘Pacific Hybrids’ – are considered by some to be biennial.

This year they have had no attention at all – no support, nothing. A bit of a horticultural disaster.

When the first rain and thunderstorms we’ve had in a fortnight threatened on Friday night I rushed out to pick some of the blooms that were already trailing on the ground.

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They’ve made a pretty vase, accompanied by two stems of Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus (I think!) …

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… and some white Campanula persicifolia.

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When I look at their little furry faces through my camera lens, I know there’s no hope for me.

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And oh, that blue! A friend of mine says she doesn’t like blue flowers. Can it be possible that there are gardeners out there who don’t relish a touch of blue on their plots?

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Do you have a favourite flower colour in the garden? Tall delphinium tales also gratefully accepted!

Hop on over to see what all those lovely Monday vases look like – you’ll find the links at Cathy’s Rambling in the Garden. And many thanks to Cathy again for being such a gracious and generous host for the IAVOM meme (at least that addiction doesn’t cost me anything!).

Have a wonderful gardening week!

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Scottish Inspiration 2: Kellie Castle Garden

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It’s been a long, difficult winter – and a very long time since I blogged. Hopefully the winter’s treated you well?

Today I’m looking back at what now seems like a kind of golden era last summer, and remembering how much I love Scottish gardens.

Those who read my blog regularly (when I post!) may remember that last year I took a look at a garden in Fife called  Cambo that had developed a prairie-style planting within an old walled garden. Today I’m featuring a very different garden visited on the same day, just a little bit further around the coastline from Cambo.

Who could say, looking at Kellie, that borders of nepeta, roses and delphiniums are hackneyed? They are rightly popular because they are so easy on the eye, especially in this soft summer light.

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The garden at Kellie Castle is much more traditional than Cambo, the kind I remember visiting with so much enthusiasm when my gardening ambitions were only in bud. A garden that almost typifies the Scottish style.

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Cool climate, lots of rain, an incredible jungle of lush growth during those wonderful June and July days when the countryside pulls out the stops and shows you what it can do.

Nowhere (that I’ve ever visited) can do herbaceous borders – perennial delphiniums and phlox, biennials like sweet william, annuals like sweet peas – better than Scotland can. Fortunately I don’t despair, although I garden in what is (by comparison) incredible heat.

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Kellie Castle has been a National Trust for Scotland garden since 1970. You can read all about it here.  The earliest records of a castle on the site date back to 1150 and the Siward family, who owned the lands in the thirteenth century, have been linked to Malcolm Canmore, the Scottish king who overthrew Macbeth.

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James VI of Scotland and I of England stayed here in 1617 during his only visit to Scotland after the Union of the Crowns on 24 March 1603. It was he who appointed Sir Thomas Erskine (the then owner) Earl of Kellie, in gratitude for the fact that Erskine had saved his life during an earlier conspiracy against the king.

Of quirky interest is that the fifth Earl of Kellie is reputed to have hidden in a burnt-out tree stump in the castle grounds for the entire summer following the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

The most highly cultivated part of the garden is  seventeenth century with late Victorian additions. There are several features that I particularly love.

The geometric lines of a walled garden always seem to beg for long walks that lead to definining focal points. The paths are narrow at Kellie, but their drama is not diminished by the proportion.

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And – as in the best gardens – plenty of areas to sit and enjoy.

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Some of the walks are in shade at the base of the main walls. Ferns and Aruncus sylvestris are really something to brag about. All that lovely soft rain.

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The climate is not kind to box, in our blight-afflicted era. But Scottish gardeners seem to battle on undeterred. Is there a lesson there for us all? The long, double (and very narrow) herbaceous borders are a case in point. I don’t really notice the box damage with the exuberance behind to draw the eye. But what will the damage be like in a few years’ time?

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The seedheads of the angelica really sing out against the billowing shapes behind it – and where would the form and sense of the planting be without the sharp lines of the box? Will they replace the box in years to come with something that will better tolerate close proximity to very tall border companions?

There are many plants in this border grouping that I think of as a bit thuggish on my own plot. Kellie Castle makes me think again. Goldenrod, Lysimachia punctata … Oh, and something to which I’m very partial: the pale yellow, fluffy flowers of Thalictrum speciossisum, rarely seen in such quantity.

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A double form of Geranium himalayense (at a guess) is a bit more special.

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The soil below is, as in all the best herbaceous borders, invisible. And here’s the secret of that incredibly tall – yet upright – growth in such a narrow space. A network of nylon webbing through which the plants grow in spring.

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I was going to try the same in my own delphium borders, which are backed by michaelmas daisies. And then I realised it would be impossible, since I want to get in to cut the delphiniums.

Sometimes the dividing line between herbaceous border and lawn has been created by roses grown as swags on metal supports. A pretty solution for boundaries in a formal garden.

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The organic vegetable plot doesn’t lack a decorative appeal either – and again, the path dressed with a rose-tumbled arch helps to pull the whole together.

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There’s the odd little accent I’d kill for in my own garden – we don’t often see these forcers in this part of France. But the Kellie collection of rhubarb varieties is pretty spectacular and deserves the ornament.

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And some quirky little trained fruit trees in an open area at the bottom of the garden.

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Tropaeolum speciosum is not something I’m ever going to be trying at home. It loves acid soil and a cooler climate – it is hardy to -10 or -15 degrees centigrade. I’ve seen the best specimens climbing through yew hedges in Scottish gardens – not for nothing is the common name Scottish flame flower – although it actually comes from Chile. Kellie Castle’s sample is one of the nicest.

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Finally, leave the walled garden for a breath of air on the beautiful Fife coastline.

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I’ll be back with news from my own garden soon. Until then, have a good weekend!

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In a vase on Monday: Nick’s delphiniums

DSC_0164aI couldn’t let Nick’s delphiniums go without a Vase on Monday mention. There are two varieties included in my vase: ‘Blue with White Bee’ (shown above) and ‘King Arthur'(a smaller and daintier flower with an interesting combination of different blues and a small white eye).

They came as a Hayloft Plant collection in 2014 (against my better judgement, following dogged nagging by the Bon Viveur). In fact we had two collections from Hayloft. The postal system managed to thoroughly mess up delivery of the first. They sat around in a holding station for 4 days (while I twiddled my thumbs, waiting endlessly for their arrival).

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Blue with White Bee

When they eventually arrived,  I managed to salvage about 2 plants (there were supposed to be 30) from the black mud in the container. Hayloft were terrific and sent me another parcel immediately after I phoned them to say what had happened.

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King Arthur

The plug plants were potted up in 2014, then planted out in March 2015. We were pleased with them last year (see my previous Vase on Monday when they first flowered). But I didn’t expect them to make it through this winter on our heavy clay. They did, suffered very little slug damage, were duly fed and supported.

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Duly fed and supported

And now we can enjoy the results.

The only thing that worries me is that the BV claims these are just ‘a start’ … we already have about 23 of these beautiful but demanding beasties. Do we really need more?

DSC_0160I used them today with yellow Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus (a gift from a good friend) just coming into flower in front of the delphiniums. Frances from Island Threads identified the species (correctly, I believe) when I showed a picture of it on my blog last year. It has a light scent, quite delightful. Thanks Frances!

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Caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyris) …

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… and the buds of Thalictrum speciocissimum added a kind of foliage effect.

DSC_0175Then I dotted in some wild grasses at the end.

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I treated the caper spurge (which produces that milky, poisonous sap typical of all euphorbias) by dipping the cut ends in the hope it would seal them and stop contamination of the water for the other vase subjects. (It seemed like a good idea – I’ve no idea if it will be effective!) The single stem of spurge was quite useful when put into the vase first, its branching flower head supporting the other flowers when added.

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After removing the lower buds of the delphiniums, there were enough bits and pieces left over to make a baby version for the kitchen table.

DSC_0176Now have a look at the Cathy’s vase on her blog Rambling in the Garden and click on the links to see what end of May delights everyone else has to offer this week.

April: End of Month View

For the first time I’m joining in with Helen’s meme at The Patient Gardener. I’m sorry that this is rather long, but it’s been ages since I did a practical update on the entire garden; this is as much for my long-term record as for your interest.

DSC_0196April weather has been mixed. Heavy rains just at the end of March and the beginning of the month brought flooding. Not such a bad thing. For the last three years the months of March and April have been seriously dry and hot here. The water table in Lorraine has officially been declared dangerously low, and so could do with a boost from spring rains.

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Then we had a couple of weeks of glorious sunshine, during which I achieved quite a lot in the garden, although my work cleaning beams and painting in our lovely new attic space came to a complete halt. I even managed to get the vegetable garden tidied before the beginning of May!

We’ve been chomping away like rabbits on the kale, purple-sprouting broccoli and perpetual spinach, while the broad beans are showing promise for June.

But it was also fairly cool (down to between 0 and 2 degrees C at night and often not higher than 8 to 14 during the day. The bonus was that everything slowed down to a ‘proper’ spring pace of flowering.

The hellebores stayed fresh to meet the bluebells in my mini woodland. Brunnera ‘Langtrees’ greeted my variegated hosta. All joined by the foliage of Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’. This might not seem very special to you – but on a really hot slope it has me jumping for joy! Now all in their second or third spring.

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The narcissus ‘Jenny’ and ‘Jack Snipe’ in the Rose Walk lingered for about three weeks from the end of March.

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Jenny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jack Snipe

The tulips hung around for more than a day.

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Queen of the Night

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Sorbet

Aquilegia alpina is taking it easy into flower.

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My pink peonies in the Rose Walk are slowly gaining in height.

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And the middle of the month brought the return of my Bon Viveur for the longest time he’s managed to spend at home since December. So now we have structure in the garden!

The new blue pergola on the Vine Terrace is (almost) finished. There’s always a ‘but’ with the BV … Apparently this is very complicated construction – and I am extremely lucky, because there is now a year’s waiting list. But yes, he really should be proud – and I’m already planning yellow flowers to contrast.

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I finally decided what to do with my new knot garden.

DSC_0035DSC_0044Apart from the largest box ball and two small companions, the plants were all rooted here and finally set out in their positions in April 2015. In June 2015 I took more cuttings to finish up the pattern. Then came the heat of last summer and many of those cuttings were scorched. Took some more in September and am pleased to say that about 60 per cent are growing on. So far none of the Box caterpillar, although I check regularly.

The advent of tulip fire in the Rose Walk caused me to scratch my head. Should I really be continuing to plant tulips and then not lift them afterwards, as I’ve always done in the past? In any case, the positions where I had the fire mean that I should not really plant back there for three years.

I need somewhere else for bulbs and I think the knot garden could be the answer. I’ve decided to go ahead with my plan to plant hollies for topiary and some low, coloured, evergreen foliage. Hopefully it will all look good when we survey it from our balcony in the cold winter months.

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From the balcony

So far I’ve only come up with Stachys lanata for grey, evergreen foliage. I’d like peaceful colours. Any suggestions?

But now I can buy tulips to use as bedding, then lift them and put them down in the cut flower garden to use the following year. Hurrah! I’m already excited about trying out some snazzier tulip colours and shapes for 2016. (And worried about how expensive my garden dreams always seem to be!)

Further down the garden, I finally finished planting in the Hornbeam Gardens and have dug the cut flower borders.

DSC_0076I even supported the delphiniums yesterday before it started raining again – although I was a bit worried to see that some already had buds on them. This is not right for April? Are they on their way out?

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This is only the second year for the delphiniums and the first time I’ve used hazel to support herbaceous plants. In the past, in other gardens, I’ve used birch. Much more pliable, twiggy and easy to weave. I’ve no idea if the hazel will work, but hey … if you don’t fail, you don’t learn.

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Mostly the shrubs I planted in the bottom half of the Hornbeam Gardens in late winter 2014/15 are doing well. Exochorda macrantha ‘The Bride’ is in full flower, although still quite tiny.

DSC_0048The lilacs – ‘Belle de Nancy‘, ‘Primrose’ and ‘Miss Kim’ are full of bud.

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Belle de Nancy in bud

The frosts we had during the good April weather damaged the foliage on Hydrangea aspera var villosa and Hydrangea aspera subsp. sargentiana. But that happened last year as well, so I’m not too worried.

Worse is the damage on the Magnolia soulangiana planted over the body of my cat who died in 2014. It failed to flower this year – I foresaw that one year in three the frost might damage the flowers, but I thought we were past the ‘this is sticky, heavy soil and  I don’t want to grow here at all’ stage! I’ve previous experience of losing magnolias on heavy London clay, so perhaps I ought to know better.

Anyway – spoke to it tenderly yesterday afternoon and removed some soil that may have banked up and contributed to drowning at the base of the stem while I was planting perennials around it.

Hopefully this area of the garden will be a wild shrub and meadow garden in a few years time. It seems horribly regular at the moment. I just want a path down the middle really, to exit into the orchard and then meandering paths through to admire the shrubs when in blossom.

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Many geraniums (planted in 2015), geums, grasses, scabious, nepeta, and so on, are already in the ground and the Narcissus poeticus I planted last autumn are coming into flower. It looks like nothing, but gives me something else to ‘observe’ on my daily garden tour.

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Two plants that went in this March are a no-show … so far. I bought them by mail order from Lepage, recommended to me as a good online nursery by a French acquaintance. All were in tip-top health on arrival. The no-shows are a delicious peachy echinacea called ‘Summer Sky’ and Aruncus dioicus. Further up the garden there is also a ‘no-show’ for a much-loved Agastache ‘Blue Wonder’ that was combining well with Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ and Aster frikartii ‘Monch’. Fortunately I did divide it last spring, and the piece in the Long Border is growing away.

I wonder if they all just want warmer weather to appear? You can only dig a plant up so many times to check.

Next to the Hornbeam Gardens my four little Prunus ‘Tai-haku’, planted in 2013, flowered for their third year. All doing well, although one was ‘pruned’ by a rampaging bullock from across the river last summer. Don’t worry – they won’t be flooded, because we know the maximum flood level on the slope.

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We’ve light rain again today and the temperature looks set to rise next week. Hopefully my AWOL plants will wake up like Sleeping Beauty in the first week of May.

Thanks so much to Helen for hosting this meme – I look forward to reading about everyone else’s gardens in April by following the links on The Patient Gardener.

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