Tag Archives: Muelhenbeckia complexa

Easter Sunday 2019 & the Mirror Garden

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I was up very early on Easter Sunday this year, because I couldn’t sleep.

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A special experience to sit on our balcony and watch the sun come up over Chatillon from about 6.30am. I’ve done this often enough during the summer when that time of day is the only relief we get from the sun until the cool of the evening.

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But I love my bed too much to do it often on a cold April morning. The old village on the ramparts and its little chateau are always enchanting in the early light.

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Fired with enthusiasm, I rushed upstairs in my dressing gown to the little Juliet balcony off our spare room to take pictures of the Mirror Garden.

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This is the oldest part of the garden, created by the sculptor who previously owned the house as an outdoor exhibition space for his work.

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I tend to take it for granted now, but with the grass just cut the day before, even this difficult part of the garden was looking superb.

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Why is it difficult? Well, there’s perhaps a foot of topsoil up here (at the very most) before you begin to hit the rock on which the ramparts were built. The ‘lawn’ was previously watered by the sculptor during dry summer weather, but I don’t bother. And it shows. A paradise for dandelions and other weeds.

Originally I wanted to make a garden in grey, green and yellow, simply to compliment the view and the mirror. I won’t clip the box until I see the first signs of the Box Tree Moth caterpillar. Clipping the beasts off and then spraying with Bacillus thuringiensis was quite successful last year, although the little dumplings are still trying to recover properly.

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Euphorbia rigida (above) and E. characias subsp. wulfenii are happy, but my favourite E. characias subsp. characias (with the black eyes on its frogspawn flower faces) died.

With a difficult garden like this, you have to learn to love plants that many gardeners consider to be weeds. The number of complaints I’ve read about self-seeding habits on other blogs. I’m just glad something showy can create a pretty picture.

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I put in a special request with the Bon Viveur to bring more Euphorbia cultivars (particularly ‘Black Pearl’) back from England. Unfortunately when he arrived it was with ‘Silver Swan’.

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An elegant but less than tough form that will expire without a doubt up here. I’m going to plant it down on the Rose Walk and then maybe take cuttings, so I can try it in different places in the garden.

The two Helleborus x sternii seedlings (from a  Hardy Plant Society member’s plant of ‘Boughton Beauty’) do well – the pink-flushed seedling, closer to the parent, has not died although I thought the weather might be too cold for it.

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The blue pots sit in place of the two large sculptures for which the garden was made. Overall, the design is very architectural and the layout of the box hedges leads the eye and begs for something more dramatic than my blue pots and their contents. So far I have tried to fill my pots with artichokes, Melianthus major and (last summer) the tall Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’. Nothing works!

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I want delicately twisting double-helix metal shapes, in a kind of wild, modern style, to evoke the ‘spirit of the place’.

The border below the mirror should be full of greys and yellows. But there is only about 6 inches of soil, so most things struggle.

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The climbing yellow rose ‘Lady Hillingdon’ hated it here and is now living elsewhere in the garden. Artemsia ‘Powis Castle’ and ‘Lambrook Silver’ don’t do badly, but I realise that I need to regularly replace them. This year 4 new seedlings were planted out.

What do you suggest?

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The crowning glory at this time of the year is always the Banksian rose, Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’.

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It was cut hard back in autumn 2018 and has proved to flower well on the new wood. The haircut was to save the tower wall (incorporated into the house, but part of the old ramparts) from being covered in the aggressive seedlings of Muelhenbeckia complexa – that planting was definitely a mistake!

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The only chemical I use in the garden is glyphosate (Roundup). The Muelhenbeckia is giving way, but I don’t know what I’ll do when I get through my stock pile of glyphosate. Hopefully I’ll have won the battle by then.

The other side of the rampart wall is the village street and, as you can see, our car parking area (we are gilets-jaunes friendly around here).

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From over the wall the tourists can enjoy the lavenders I planted to edge the Mirror Garden. But the bees enjoy them more …

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It’s a bit late to be wishing you Happy Easter, so I’ll wish you happy May Day instead!

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September garden musings

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If you happened to drop by and you enjoy looking at pictures of my garden – welcome!

But be aware that this post is mostly for the benefit of my absent husband who likes to keep up with what’s happening – it may be too long for you! Also – although I love garden memes, I sometimes find them really exhausting. When I first started blogging, I did it because I wanted to record some of my own garden experiences. To be honest, I wasn’t too bothered if nobody else read what I wrote. The memes have taken some of the pleasure out of that experience … added to which my eyes are not taking kindly to the hours in front of the computer demanded if you truly try to ‘keep up’ and be a good blogging friend.  So these are just ramblings. And I’m giving myself permission to do more!

Here’s your parched garden, Nick. Still no rain to speak of and temperatures have climbed a little again into the low 30s. We are forecast a little rain tomorrow after 12 days – but it often passes us by. And then there seem to be no dark clouds for days to come. Hey ho …

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The supper terrace has been the most luscious place this summer, the foliage so huge, the blooms of hydrangea so welcome (must get more) when it’s hot. This just proves what watering can do.

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And the orchids do seem to be enjoying the trick of hanging outside with a regular spray over. I really enjoy them, because they look more like the orchids I remember from my botanic garden days.

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As epiphytes they relish that regular touch of cool and damp. Unfortunately I haven’t got it automated and so I have to run down (or up!) regularly with my little hand sprayer. But they are looking cool and much happier. The idea is that they are whisked into the house in flower.

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On the Mirror Garden we have a desert aspect. The only things left in the lawn are the Verbascum thapsus that grow everywhere in Chatillon. They have to have their heads chopped regularly.

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I had to cut back the Banksian rose (Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’) hard in July, mainly to dispose of Muelenbeckia complexa. It looked so sweet in that little pot – and remember how I gave out when you accidentally strimmed it Nick? But it’s a horror, and I do wish I’d read how invasive it is before planting it. Below are before pictures …

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It was growing in all the crevices of the old tower which is part of the medieval ramparts. I was fearful for the stone. I’ve sprayed it twice with weedkiller since rooting it out, but it will need more and I noticed yesterday that a tuft in the wall is greening up again.

And some ‘after’ pictures …

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You can see how much pruning I had to throw down to the next terrace (and then throw down to the next – my disposal method for woody prunings). You can also see that I accidentally broke the downpipe from the roof! Even that rusty old thing had Muehlenbeckia growing in it!

Fortunately the rose is coming back after the massacre, although we won’t have much flower for next year.

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Following attacks by the box tree moth caterpillar (Pyrole de buis) I sprayed twice with Bacillus thuringiensis (May and late July) and set three pheromone traps (which caught a lot of adult moths). My box is still alive and, if not thriving, still providing the structural element I like.

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Back in May I did clip all the garden box at the same time when I first discovered the caterpillar (I usually do it in stages). And that removed tonnes of the little blighters, so quite an important step! It took me about 3 days, with 3-hour stints each day. The actual spraying takes about 2.5 hours to cover everything in the garden. It’s debatable if this process is for everyone.

I still like to think the box tree moth can be controlled. It was so bad this year – decimating everyone’s box for miles around – but I think that may have been due to the fact that no one in the area paid much attention to the first onslaught in 2017, myself included. Next year I am also going to try a French nurseryman’s recommendation that box be clipped in late February – he says this can remove any ‘problems’ that are over-wintering in the top growth.

The Vine Terrace is looking sweetly autumnal – although the birds and wasps have had the grapes as usual. Next year, maybe? We need to be bottling our own wine in this house!

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The greenhouse still has some tomatoes coming on, although it’s all slowing down now.

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Outside I’ve been really enjoying the Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’ and white antirrhinums that were planted in the two new pots you bought me, Nick. They look good with the Ricinus communis that were never planted out in the Long Border due to the early heat. And what I think are carpenter bees (comments anyone?) are enjoying them too. These big black bees come in the morning (perhaps nesting in the rampart walls?) and are replaced by honey bees in the afternoon. Curious.

I’m so glad that Eryngium ‘Mrs Willmott’s Ghost’ is seeding and spreading in the Rose Walk.

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Biennials and annuals that like to self-seed here are to be treasured because the heavy clay is not for everyone. So far we have Salvia sclarea, Papaver rhoes, P. somniferum and Verbascum thapsus that seem to like us. I notice that all of these like heat and have quite fleshy taproots (with the exception of the annual poppy). For the life of me I can’t establish Dame’s Violet (Hesperis matronalis) or Honesty (Lunaria annua) or Forget-me-not (Mysotis) although I keep on trying, and perhaps they will do better below where there’s more space for self-seeders.

The veg plot is a DISASTER!

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I am still waiting for my brassicas to recover (they usually do in September, but we haven’t had the rain and cool they like). The pumpkins did quite well, but surprisingly little fruit, and the french beans didn’t get enough water after my first great pickings, so petered out quickly. On the other hand, the autumn-sown broad beans were great and I still have perpetual spinach and chard to pick (chard running up to seed slightly), since they can take a bit of heat.

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The Long Border looks pretty messy and dry, but that always spurs you on to plan constructive changes for the following year. There are many shrubs due to be replanted down below and I’m sick of the vast swathes of hemerocallis that I inherited with the garden. It’s a pretty boring plant, in my opinion. But it does love it here and perhaps I should experiment with different, prettier, colours than the standard orange.

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Still roses flowering. ‘Jude the Obscure’ hasn’t been too bad this year, after slowly moving into gear for the last two seasons.

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A friend has a ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, consumed by what I think is brown canker. David Austin should think twice before naming roses after tragic heroes and heroines. But I think Jude will win out, unlike his namesake.

This is the first year that the Reverend Pemberton’s Hybrid Musk rose ‘Felicia’ has risen to her full height.

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There are one or two interesting perennials still flowering (many of my flowers were over far too soon in the Long Border this year, although fortunately it looked good in May and until the end of June when the garden was open). Aster ‘Monch’ is always nice …

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Funnily enough the other asters (michaelmas) haven’t really got into their stride yet. One helenium remains in flower. My least favourite called ‘Loysden Wieke’. I should take it back to the nursery, because they swore I’d love its quirkiness …

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The Hornbeam Gardens are still taking shape from what used to be their field – with the expected weeding (especially of crab grass) that comes with the transformation.

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I’ve managed to clip the hedge in the top half, which is the cut flower garden. You can see my ladder working on the arch …

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But the hedge at the bottom remains hairy and wild. The bottom is also proving a bit of a problem because it is incredibly dry down there, owing to heat and the greedy roots of an ash tree just beyond our boundary. No matter how big your garden, this is a problem that you always seem to encounter. But maybe I should rejoice that the ash is not yet dead, as it is in Britain?

Finally – the little cyclamen, many of which came from your mother’s garden in County Wicklow, Nick, are still alive and starting to bloom really well. A terrible picture, but in the life they are more than whispy ghosts! Hopefully they will still be on the go when you are back at the end of September!

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This summer has given many of us pause for thought. We do not all love gardens that are ‘bedded out’ every year, and some of us feel immoral when we over-use the hosepipe. I water my spaces no more than once a week. In the past this has worked, but this year when I look at the pots that are watered every day and the borders that are rationed I can note a huge difference in growth.

I do not feed borders either, because I believe this just plays into the hands of the big businesses that want to take my precious pennies. And I prefer a natural style of gardening. Instead I use a little slow release, organic fertiliser on roses and I hope that mulching with the product of my new compost bins and the material that runs through the recently purchased shredder will give the soil back what it needs.

I refuse competition. My garden is for our pleasure, not to make somebody I’ve never met a lot of money or to impress my neighbours. But it’s difficult when you encounter climate change as we are doing at the moment. Ideally I’d have a low maintenance Mediterranean-style planting here, with lots of greys and drought-tolerant plants. That’s also why I’m so interested in things that like to self-sow. But the soil does militate against this style of planting. It is cold and very wet in the winter and dry as – well, fired clay, in the summer!

My new year resolution (did you know that September is traditionally thought to be the start of a new gardening year?) is to try and evolve a planting style that is appropriate for this place and not so based on the traditional English herbaceous style that I ‘grew up’ with. So lots of lists – and lots of seed to purchase! I do think grasses and bulbs will figure large, with early-flowering perennials, because the late-comers can’t take the heat. Just wish I could add succulents and dramatic shapes to the Long Border, but it will be way too cold for them here. Could be fun, if and when I rise to the challenge!

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