My Thoughts – Plant Fair at Courson

A couple of weekends ago I flew to Paris for some serious indulgence; no, not food, not culture but plant hunting.  Several of my Italian friends had visited the plant fair at Courson in previous years and were full of enthusiasm.  I have to admit to being a little sceptical.  So far, no plant sales fair in Italy has been very good – poor quality plants, always in large sizes and often straggly tall plants that don’t bush out.

I left home late-morning on a warm, sunny Friday; I’d studied the forecast and rain was predicted for late Friday afternoon and Saturday early morning but clearing by 10 am – it might be cold, but warm clothes were not a problem; I’d actually rather be hot than cold.

I was with a French-speaking friend who had visited on several occasions previously (she is a Botanical artist and has had stand to sell her work at Courson in the past).  Our hotel was near the Jardin du Plantes so our walk to the station the following morning was through the garden; a nice start to the day (it was very grey with very low cloud but trusting in the forecast I was hopeful that by the time we arrived the sun would be shining!

As we boarded the shuttle bus that took us the last 30 minutes of our journey to the Chateau of Courson the rain began to fall in earnest, I was trying to be very positive that the rain would stop before we arrived, but no, it rained and it rained and it rained for most of the day turning the ground into a quagmire of mud.

But I had come too far to be put off; French couples and ladies on their own were arriving well prepared with shopping trolleys on wheels, waterproof boots and weatherproof coats with hoods!

Undeterred we entered the showground, first port of call a small tent manned by two patient men each with a computer.  Ask them the name of a plant you were searching for and they would look it up and tell you which stands had it!!!!!!!!!!  I was impressed.

Rows and rows of plant stands, all with great plants; it seemed like paradise.

I wasn’t sure what I would buy but I was hopeful that I would find a good selection of Agapanthus.  Now you may think that Italy would be an ideal place to grow Agapanthus and indeed many gardens have them but all I have been able to find are the very large evergreen varieties that suffer badly each winter and every year I am fearful they won’t survive.  I wanted some hardy perennial varieties that I knew would survive the winter well in my free-draining soil.  Success!  I soon spotted a stand specialising in only Agapanthus!  Better still (from my point of view) he was a Yorkshire man, a holder of the National collection.  We were soon deep in conversation while I was selecting which of his vast assortment of varieties to buy.  The rain came down even harder, he very kindly offered me an umbrella (I had left mine in the hotel – believing the forecast and also not wanting to have one hand occupied uselessly).

With my purchases from him made and the plants safely in bags behind his stall, awaiting collection later in the day I was ready to begin searching for other plants that would fit in my one suitcase.  With my borrowed umbrella I could at least keep my head dry.

Do check out his website, all the plants were well grown, good sized and he promises will flower in their first year in the ground. Agapanthus specialist.

‘Something for the Garden’ – The Agapanthus stand in a moment without rain

Next up Irises; something else that grows wonderfully for me here but which for some strange reason are difficult to find in nurseries here or when you do find the odd one cost a fortune.  Cayeux, one of the leading Iris growers and sellers in the world did not disappoint although if I had been searching for particular varieties I might have been better to simply order on-line; they too have an excellent website and if I decide to buy more I will order from them in this way.

My other passion, as my regular reader will know is grasses; again I was spoilt for choice with many of the stands having grasses and a couple of specialist growers too.  A few found their way into my bags along with some Asters a friend asked me to look out for.

Plant hunters were undeterred by the incessant rain

The show doesn’t have show-gardens, nothing to distract from the pursuit or plants!

This was the closest to a show garden any of the stands got.

I have never seen anything like this before; maybe Hampton Court Flower Show would be the nearest thing but Courson had hundreds of top quality nurseries selling an amazing number of different plants.  I haven’t mentioned the vast selection of trees, shrubs all in different sized containers.  I think many English gardeners would love this show.  It’s not far from Paris and so great for a weekend break.  We combined this with a day seeing the show gardens at Chaumont.  But that’s for another day.

If you are travelling by plane, some careful thought is needed.  My choices of Anapanthus and Iris I packed without soil; the grasses too, I removed most of the soil while still at the show ground.  A tiny Kaffir Lime I tenderly wrapped and placed with soft cushioning around it to protect it from the sometimes rough treatment of the baggage handlers.

Summer Dormancy – My Thoughts

I haven’t posted in a while; I started the following post for GBFD 22nd July but didn’t manage to finish it.  What has been wrong?  The HEAT, I can’t think, the garden is no pleasure when walking around only reveals another plant that looks dead.  Some will recover, I’m sure but others….?  Maybe some new planting opportunities?  But what will I plant?  This year is officially now as hot as 2003 (that was the year that in England temperatures reached 40° Celsius for the first time).  Here in Italy June was the 3rd hottest and 4th driest for 200 years – no wonder my plants and I are suffering.  I don’t want to irrigate more for environmental reasons and because I don’t know how much water it is possible for the well to sustain if I remove so much each night.  It is our only source of water.  It is precious.  It is expensive – the well is 100m deep and the pump to lift from such a depth is large and expensive to run.

I will post about the harvest in a day or two but until then I leave you with what I began to write last month.

Until I came to live in Italy I had no idea that plants could be dormant in the hottest months of summer in much the same way that they are in winter.  Many plants that would flower all summer in more temperate climates take a rest for a couple of months and then begin to flower again in September; sometimes it is like a second spring when the first rains of autumn arrive.

But it isn’t only the flowers than take a rest; foliage too takes measures to conserve water in various ways.

Many leaves just look plain shrivelled and these are certainly the plants that with more water available would be happier healthier plants.  But even the plants that are adapted for drought conditions often don’t look as beautiful as in the slightly cooler months.  Cistus is one of these; a native Mediterranean plant that prefers free draining soil and grows wild along the coastal regions of Sardinia coping with strong winds and salt spray.  This year the Cistus in the garden flowered for a much longer period than usual, possibly due to the extra mild weather we had in March; now the leaves seem to have curled inwards on themselves to stop moisture loss, giving the plants the air of having dropped half their leaves.

Silver leaved plants shimmer, reflecting the hard rays of the sun away from themselves and dazzle the eye.  But this year even some of my silver leaved plants are suffering from the extreme heat.

My Thoughts – Rosa mutablis

Some plants will reward me with abundant blooms with very little water.  Rosa mutablibis is a good example of this.  From late March or early April it is full of flower, these continue to a lesser extent for most of the summer.  Later when the cooler weather arrives they are covered with blooms again usually until Christmas.

This year I didn’t begin to irrigate until late June (more about this in my end of month view on the 30th July).  I noticed that one end of the hedge was beginning to flower again and put the difference down to the fact that one end was receiving more light than the other; always at the beginning of the season one end of the hedge starts blooming before the rest.  When I came back from Prague it was much more marked; there was a real cut-off point; up to one side of a line the roses were in full flower again to the other side not one flower!

No flowers and leaves yellow, sad roses

To the right lots of flowers and the foliage is green

Why, I wondered?  Then I realised that the point where the flowers stopped was directly in line with where the end of one of the vegetable beds was.  The light dawned! – The vegetables are irrigated and this bed has been watered since April.  Although I use porous hose for the vegetables and imagined that all the water was only going to the roots of the plants in this bed; some water was seeping down through the soil and spreading to the roses; so very little water was making all that difference.

A very marked difference.

Rosa mutabilis is also interesting as the flower opens pale peach colour, then changes to pink, then darkens to crimson.  This is largely dependent on temperature.  The higher the temperature, the faster the change takes place.

Mid stage, pale peachy pink

Deep crimson pink, the colour before the petals fall

Sometimes you have all the colours together

My thoughts – Pollinators in the Garden

When I walk around the garden one pleasure that is difficult to share via this blog is the SOUND in the garden.  Bees of all kind buzzing and flying from flower to flower and by default pollinating the plants will the air with sound!  Sometimes I am aware that the garden is positively noisy!

I notice that different plants attract different pollinators.  Entomology is a skilled science and I will leave the difficult job of identification to the experts as I am certainly  not an expert in this field.

Thyme attracts what I think I recognise as honey bees; I’ve thought hard about actually having a hive but I think I would find it difficult, I don’t like the thought of being stung plus perhaps more importantly I don’t think we would ever use the amount of honey a hive is likely to produce.

Another view

Convolvulus cneorum also attracts honey bees.

Teucrium attract larger bees, but they were too fast for me today and all the images were blurred.  I’ll try again on a less windy day when they might be more static.

A tiny solitary bee on Euphorbia

Not a bee, but looks like its collecting pollen

They definantely like Euphorbia

Definately more fly-like than bee-like

Completely black, this looks quite evil! Not quite in focus, sorry

All the T. Satin Pink had one of these in their centres today.  At first glance they look like bees but I’m pretty sure they’re not.  When the roses begin to flower this is the pest that eats into the centre of the flowers, destroying them, the tulips may have even killed them as they weren’t really moving.  When they appear on the roses I go around and pick them out (wearing gloves as I’m a bit squeamish) and squash them to stop them reproducing and getting out of control as they don’t appear to have a natural predator.

On warm days this week there have also been lots of butterflies but I have failed to get good images of them.  This is from earlier in the week.

A Painted Lady?

My thoughts – Tulip combinations

There was a time when I didn’t really like tulips, I don’t even remember why but for many years now they are truly one of my favourite flowering plants.  I love them for their bright colours, for their beautiful flower shapes and because they flower early and tell me it is spring.

In England I would carefully work out the flowering periods and order to have the colours I needed spread over a six week to 2 month period, from Early April to Mid-May.  Here they grow differently, true I don’t have to left them when they have flowered and many will return year on year making it easier to fill the borders with colour but they flower for a much shorter time-frame, from the last week in March to the end of April if I am lucky.  In a warm spring as last year they flowered for perhaps three or four weeks.

Last autumn I was strong willed and ordered no new spring bulbs.  This was partly due to wanting spend the money on other things and more importantly I knew I needed to move and divide many perennials and thought I would be very short on time.  The fact that the weather remained very warm right up until December meant I could have found an opportunity to plant some.

It has been good to review which varieties really do perform well a second year and which need to be considered annuals.

I have decided to plant the varieties I know to be shy about a return visit in pots which I will place on the terrace to enjoy from the windows or even to plant in places where I will cut them to enjoy inside the house.

Those that are to be planted in the borders will need to be combined with plants that will grow to hide the tulips’ foliage when they have finished flowering which is not particularly attractive.

Another consideration which may seem strange to some non-gardeners is that I like blooms to dye well, by this I mean that the petals should turn an attractive colour and fall gracefully.  White blooms can be difficult in this respect as white blooms, of many different plants, turn brown.

Here are my thoughts on the tulip varieties I have grown over the last few years and the combination plants I have found successful.

Above is the boundary Photinia hedge with its orange, bronze new foliage with Rosa Westerland whose new foliage is a similar colour with T. Brown Sugar whose petals are a caramel colour.  There are more planted in an adjacent bed with muscari to give a contrast from some angles.  As ‘Brown Sugar’ dies, its petals look like a piece of iridescent silk, almost more beautiful than when they are first out.  Added to this almost all the bulbs planted in 2010 have flowered again this spring.   Tall orange Hemerocallis grow to hide the foliage as it dies back.

T. Brown Sugar with muscari

T. Brown Sugar dying with style

T. Linifolia Planted in 2009, most have flowered this year. They are low growing and suitable for rockeries so should naturalise everywhere. Small sedum grow to cover the foliage.

T. Negrita

Here T. Negrita is paired with a silver leaved Buddleia (I think it’s called Silver Wedding) and a very fluffy, silver leaved Artemisia.  The Negrita were planted in 2010 and I am almost sure there are more now than when I planted them.  Others I planted in 2009 in the circular rose bed are also flowering again although not so well and I think this is because the rose bed is irrigated in summer and the tulips prefer to be left in baking soil if possible.

Above, T. Pretty Woman planted on the upper drive bed – there are some Gaura here but what you can see is wild, self-sown Rocket.  Perfect I can pick the leaves and it will grow taller to hide the foliage of the tulips as they die back.

Fringed Lambada planted among Hemerocallis Stella d’Oro. These are a beautiful tulip, described by Peter Nyssen where I buy all my tulips and other bulbs as rhodonite red, margins chinese yellow. Thye have returned in the same numbers as planted in 2010 so well worth growing.

T. Lambada - close-up

T. Aladdin with Euphorbia mysenites - the perfect foil for many different tulips in my garden. I misnamed this pretty woman in my earlier post

Not many Princess Irene have flowered this year

T. Gavota or possibly Recreado another good companion for Euphorbia with T. Princess Irene

T Peerless Pink? planted with Queen of Sweden roses

I may have mentioned in posts about tulips last year that they have a strange habit of growth in my garden.  They begin to open their flowers while their stems are still very short.  I did wonder if this was due to the fat that this garden is very windy, however, until the last couple of days there hasn’t been much strong wind and the tulips have maintained this growth pattern.  The stems do grow with the tulips continuing to flower but it certainly makes them less elegant at the beginning.

Which varieties didn’t return?  Just as useful and important to know when planning a long-term display.  There was only one Fringed Blue Heron, however there were only a few last year I remember that these bulbs didn’t seem as good quality as the others when I planted them.  I like the colour so I may try again.

T. fringed Blue-Heron

Euphorbia rigida has swallowed most T. Double Dazzle but again worth planting again anyway.

There isn’t even any foliage to show where Double Early Peach Blossom flowered so beautifully last year.

The disappointment is lessened because I had thought they were something else and the colour wasn’t what was needed in the Small Island bed.

For more about early tulips in my garden this year see here.

There are more tulips yet to open so the season will last a little longer, I’ll post about them and their companion plants later.

Wisteria paradise my thoughts on Wisteria

I love Wisteria; all my life for as long as I can remember I’ve wanted a Wisteria covered terrace.  I’ve never had the space for one although I have seen them grown as a standard, and pretty spectacular they are.

When we were looking for a house here in Italy we looked at one house that had a  30 metre terrace covered by an established wisteria that was creating perfect shade when we viewed the house in late June or July.  I was sold immediately.  I wanted that house!  I wanted that Wisteria!  But the house was very over-priced, it had serious problems of damp, of having all pipework for gas and electricity running in conduit on, rather than within the walls and there were some serious amounts of something eating the chestnut beams – there was also far too much land.  So it had to be NO.

This house didn’t have a pergola and its terrace had steps in it so one of our first projects was to build a flat tiled terrace with a pergola up which I could train a wisteria.

Here's the naked house on our first viewing in early July 2006

At the end of August 2008 the formal garden is estblishing a work was about to begin - a pergola and wisteria would be mine

By October 2008 I had pillars to look between, creating a frame to the view

....and there was a pergola.

I planted a Wisteria ‘Prolific’ up each of the six pillars on the front, south-facing side of the house and waited with growing anticipation for the Wisteria to grow and fulfil my dreams of eating lunch shaded by the cool leaves or breathing in the heady fragrance as I sipped a glass of Proscecco!

The wisteria and yellow roses were planted in late October or early November 2008 but by April the following year 2009 they didn’t seem to have grown much; although the Tulips White Dream were certainly flowering much more than this year (2012).

There were some flowers to help my dream

The yellow roses performed well in May 2009

April 2010 and they are covering the pillars and beginning to sends shoots to cover the pergola.

April 2011, at last they are covering the beams and there are lots of flowers despite birds breaking off buds on the east end of the pergola

September 2011, you can see the wisteria is doing a fine job of creating shade

I have worked hard to create a structure of strong stems to cover the beams and wires so that hopefully in future it will always be relatively easy to cut back to this structure if it all becomes to overgrown.  Overgrown is, of course what I want for the summer so that there is always some shade to sit under and dream.

April 2012 this week

Looking down you can see the structure

Every morning I go out and breath in the heady fragrance

and my dream is coming true!

End of Month View – Greenhouse and growing tomatoes

Firstly a little about the weather.  It has been an amazingly hot September; with virtually no days of rain except for a thunderstorm of the night of Sunday 18th when we had 3 hours of sheet and fork lightening and about 35 cm YES that’s more than a foot of rain in two hours!!!!!  I’ll write about this in more detail in a future post at present I’m still reeling from how much soil, in the form of mud, was deposited blocking our lane and worse filling the tomb-cum-store with mud and water and lifting everything off the floor and swirling it all around as if an elephant had been in there moving stuff around randomly.

To give you some concept of how high the temperatures are: we are still sleeping without a duvet and we haven’t had the central heating on since the beginning of April.  This will probably be fatal and it will become very cold within the next few days.

For this End of Month review, hosted by Helen the Patient Gardener I have been spurred on by Janet at Plantalicious to report about my experiences with a new greenhouse and give my thoughts about growing tomatoes in the greenhouse and outside in central Italy.

The greenhouse was erected at the beginning of March and the whole summer has been a learning experience.

Erection took place on 10th March

The greenhouse was erected at the beginning of March and the whole summer has been a learning experience.  There is a reason that greenhouses are not all that common in Italy, that being that during the hot months of summer it is unbearably hot to be inside!  Any work and harvesting of crops has had to be done either early morning or late evening.  This spring was hotter than usual so that I needed to put up the shading in mid-April, and it has been up ever since.  Without every plant would have shrivelled and died.  Even now, because the sun is lower in the sky, a lot of light and heat is still keeping it hot inside; I had expected to remove the shading my mid-September.

First tomatoes, basil and lettuces planted 27th March

I decided to have two beds at the side and the end with paving, laid on sand to allow for me to change my mind (and I have).  The beds are too wide, I can’t reach to weed at the back or harvest the crops easily.  When the tomatoes come out I’ll make the existing beds narrower and in spring when I don’t need the hard standing I’ll make another beds on the other side.  Although the 7 tomato plants were enough in the greenhouse as I grow lots outside too.  Lettuces grew amazingly quickly until it became too hot in early July.

I bought some citrus trees 31st March

My plan was to beat the weather and buy plug plants as early as they were available.  Put some in the ground inside the greenhouse and pot the others on so that when it was warm enough to plant outside (end of April) they would already be well established plants.  This worked brilliantly except when I bought my first batch of tomatoes I thought I had bought 3 different varieties – Marmande precoce (means early), cherry tomatoes and pacchino which are small and plum-shaped and had a wonderful flavour (these were fabulous grown outside last year); when in reality I had bought only Marmande.  This wasn’t so bad as they certainly fruited very early inside and out and they were a lovely salad tomato which were also great in Gazpacho and pretty successful cooked.  So the lesson is that I need to ask in the shop when I buy and confirm that I’m buying what I think I am.  My supplier sells 24 varieties of tomatoes in modules so there’s little incentive to start my own seed in January and have to heat the greenhouse which would add significantly to the costs.  I may try some next year because I am interested to know if I can be successful.

Where I bought my vegetable plants

onion and other plantlets for sale

You can see in the above image that the outer trays are reused with past labels above there are onion seedlings in trays marked as tomatoes!  At least this is obviously an error.

Acanthus seedlings - found in the garden

  • Acanthus seedlings – found in the garden
  • I grew these Echinacea and Verbascum from seed I had

I busily potted up seedlings I found in the garden and sowed some seed I had plus Janet of Plantalicious sent me some Knautia, sadly only 4 germinated and these later damped off when I potted them on.

5th June – first ripe tomatoes

My method for growing the tomatoes has been modified from last year (only outside tomatoes then of course) partly because people laughed when they saw I had only allowed one stem to grow per plant – although they did admit that my tomatoes were probably healthier looking than theirs.  This year I decided to allow 3 stems to grow from each plant and only stop the leader when it ran out of space at the top of the cane.  This method produced a huge crop of excellent tomatoes, the first Marmande in the greenhouse ripened on 5th June, which was at least a month earlier than last year.  Those planted outside as much larger plants also fruited and ripened much earlier than planting small module plants directly into the ground; I had wondered whether larger plants would take longer to establish.

All growing well

7th June tomatoes and basil for lunch, the first of many lunches with these ingredients

Melons begin to take over the greenhosue 28th June

I planted melons as soon as they were available for sale in mid or late April and by the end of May several fruits had formed and the foliage was taking over the end of the greenhouse.  Those I planted outside were much slower to grow and produce the first ripe fruit.

Lower leaves removed to allow in more light and air

I read in an Italian gardening magazine that the foliage should be removed below the level of set fruit of the tomatoes.  I had never heard of this before but decided to experiment as with three stems per plant there were a lot of leaves and I was concerned that there wasn’t a very good circulation of air that might cause disease.

first melon of the season 10th July

another tomato salad

The only tomatoes that I grew from seed were the yellow, pear-shaped ones in the salad above.  I had been given a couple of this variety of tomato a couple of years ago and I’d saved the seed.  When they germinated I couldn’t believe just how many plants had come from just two fruits.  I didn’t think these had a great flavour but friends have disagreed and I do love them roasted along with peppers, onions, aubergines etc.  They also add a good variation in colour so I will save some seed and sow them next year.

Ready for the oven for roasted tomatoes

First picking of the San Mazzano 24th July

San Mazzano (I chose the kind that did need the side shoots removing) are certainly the best for making sauces and good too in Gazpacho but I think they are needier than the other varieties.  My soil is volcanic and so very fertile and I don’t actually feed anything apart from putting a bit of slow release fertilizer in the planting hole.  I intend mulching with manure this winter and I will try to feed at least the San Mazzano next year.  The tomato crop was enormous and there were moments during the summer when I thought I might turn into a tomato myself as I was eating so many.  I also think these would have benefited by having only two growing stems.  I have made and frozen sauce, frozen some as halves with seeds removed and dried some and put them under oil – hopefully enough to last until next year’s crop.

One variety of tomato was very disappointing Cuore del Buie (Ox heart).  They went from green to rotten (maybe I should have eaten them green); the fruits were very large but the plants weak and they succumbed to some form of blight or virus in the greenhouse and outside so I removed and burnt them.

These were the only tomatoes I grew from seed

I didn’t restrict the growth of the yellow, pear tomatoes and they have rewarded their freedom by producing a huge crop and are still fruiting well,  I’m not so keen about how untidy this is and think I might try a wigwam design of canes for these and other small tomatoes, and I’ll just tie in what I can.

Quick germinating Asclepia tuberosa

I have been collecting seeds from the garden and am beginning to sow them.  These Asclepia tuberosa germinated in 3 days.  I showed their amazing seed cases and dispersal method in an earlier post.

Festuca glauca

Secondary stems now reach the roof

The heat was a problem in that pollinating insects stopped entering the greenhouse although the door was open day and night from mid-May.  I did remember that my father used to tap the canes of his tomatoes to set the fruit and so I began doing this but not efficiently enough.

28th September, still harvesting from the secondary stems

The heat was a problem in that pollinating insects stopped entering the greenhouse although the door was open day and night from mid-May.  I did remember that my father used to tap the canes of his tomatoes to set the fruit and so I began doing this but not efficiently enough.  So the top trusses (numbers 6,7 or8) didn’t have such a large number of fruits as the lower, earlier ones had.  I decided to follow Bob Flowerdew’s recommendations and allow a couple of the lower side shoots to begin to grow and remove the original main stems as they finished fruiting.  As you see below this was quite successful although I think I might actually follow his suggestion of treating some of the earlier side shoots as cuttings and potting them on so they are ready to plant to replace the parent plant – I think they will be stronger and produce more fruit if treated in this way.

Something's eaten my basil!

Up until a week ago all the basil, whether in the greenhouse or outside, has grown almost uncontrollably, now something but I can’t see what, has almost eaten all the leaves of the greenhouse plants

Hemerocallis seedlings

Probably the last melon

Peppers are forming again

...and ripening

Purple basil and tomatoes outside

Basil - how do I stop it flowering so quickly?

Marmande precoce still producing good fruit

These yellow pear shaped, mini tomatoes have been amazingly prolific

Sorry that was rather a long post, if you’ve read this far, thank you!

I’d like to thank everyone who joined in with Garden Bloggers Foliage Day – there was a terrific response to this important feature of gardening.  I will continue posting this meme on the 22nd of each month I hope you’ll join in.

Tulips update, my thoughts on Tulips

I promised in my last posts about tulips that I would tell you how long the various tulips flowered this year and which have flowered again from previous years.

Looking back at my photos for last year I can see that although this has been as amazingly warm and sunny spring, the fact that the winter was cold (even if also with many days of sun) some of the tulips were at least 2 weeks behind this this.  The roses are also later – but most are just beginning now.

Because I don’t irrigate I am able to leave my tulips in the ground.  I only began planting tulips in the ground in autumn 2008 so I am only talking about  tulips that have flowered for their third year at most.

T. White Dream in formal beds

I planted 1000 Tulip White Dream in 2 formal beds in autumn 2008.  I planted by digging largish planting holes and putting 10 12 bulbs in each hole, I also planted alliums at the same time and at a slightly higher level than the tulips.  Even in spring 2009 I don’t think 1000 bulbs came up – I think this was my fault for planting too close together.  They were also quite short in their first year, possibly because the site is so windy.  I have noticed this year that tulips planted in positions more sheltered from the wind grow taller!

The same beds in early April 2010

on the 3rd April 2011

There have been less appearing each year but they have still given a good show.  Triumph tulips flower early here and I intend planting another white tulip possibly Swan Wings into these 2 beds and the other 2 which haven’t had tulips before.  This number of tulips is quite expensive but I like to have something in these beds that will flower relatively early.  I am considering also planting the local blue Iris that grows wild everywhere in these beds with the perovskia.

T. Negrita 21st March 2010

Negrita is another favourite; I love the strong colour and its large size.  This is another Triumph type and is one of the first to flower and usually lasts well, often losing its petals long after others that opened later.

It is also very similar in colour to Double Dazzle which was also very long lasting I intend planting more Double Dazzle close to where the Negrita are planted to keep the colour tones but increase the period of interest.

Negrita in close up in 2010

The same tulips 5th April 2011

Long lasting T. Double Dazzle

Even as they died the colour in the petals remained again increasing the period of interest.

Another Triumph type tulip I enjoy very much is Abu Hussan; I particularly like the fact that it is perfumed, smelling delicately of honey.  I first planted these in 2008, some in a pot that didn’t re-flower this year and a few in the ground some of which did appear again but probably only 25%.  I planted a lot more in autumn 2010 in the small island bed close to two different varieties of Euphorbia.  They have a real presence in the garden so I may plant more next autumn or wait another year or so to replenish those that fail to regrow.

T. Abu Hussan, 5th April 2009

the same tulips, during the first week in April 2010

New planting but amazingly pictured again on 5th April 2011

In 2009 I planted parrot tulips for the first time – I don’t really like as tulips but if I just think of them as a different strange flower then I think they are fun.  I planted Texas Flame, the flower-heads were large and top heavy.

15th April 2010, the flower head is larger than the height of the stem

I didn’t have any real hope that they would re-flower, I thought them too hybridised; however not only did the majority of them flower again this year, each bulb produced three flower heads!  Maybe not quite so large as last year but still larger than their stems.

2011, pictured on 17th April, T. Texas Flame

Tiny Tulipa Linifolia begins with strangely twisted stars of foliage, last year I thought they were Alliums rather than tulips; they flower as if the flower is coming straight out of the ground, completely hiding the foliage.  The colour is truly scarlet red and they appear to me to be smiling faces in the sun.  All last years bulbs re-flowered and some divided to give an even better show this year.

T. Linifolia in 2010

T. Linifolia, April 12th 2011

Burgundy lace also flowered well for a second year.  In 2010 they faded so slowly they seemed to be flowering for ever,  this year despite hot sunshine and strong winds they have again outlasted many others.

T. Burgundy Lace, a fringed type

I didn’t remember accurately where they were planted and sowed some California poppies right where they were planted; the red of the tulips mixed with the orange and yellow of the poppies gave a surprising colour shock to the large island bed.  Combined with purple (not sure of the name as they seem to be different to the description) and some Gavota planted nearby, the brightness reminded me of visits to Sissinghurst to see the spring walk (a part of that wonderful garden I always enjoyed almost more than the more famous White Garden or the wonderful roses).

I think this and all the tulips look much better when planted with foliage of other plants close by.  But I’ve written too much already, there is time for one more post about tulips and their complementary plants next week.

I wish you all a very happy gardening Easter.

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My Hesperides Garden.

My Thoughts – Art VERSUS Nature or Art AND Nature

I read with interest the review of William Robinson’s book by Helen and felt I wanted to add my own thoughts.

A couple of comments before I begin:

1.      A garden, a book, a painting must be considered in relation to its time.  Certainly Robinson’s revolt against the “formal” planting style of his time led him to promote a more natural style; but in reality if we looked in detail at his designs now we would probably think them VERY FORMAL indeed.

2.      I teach the history of Italian Renaissance Gardens so my views are informed by this period when ART and NATURE were the very watch words of every garden.

A garden is never natural.  The hand of man (or more likely woman) is what defines a garden from a natural environment.  However beautiful Nature is (and don’t misunderstand me I often find nature sublime) that beauty rarely lasts for more than a short period.  The poppies that delight us for a month or so disappear leaving what? Here in Italy usually the end of the poppies is the end of greenness – the time when everything is parched; in other places they may just be replaced by grass.  The wild bulbs seen in Turkey only cover the hillsides for a short time – there is no succession planting.

So a garden is a controlled space however much we are aiming at mimicking nature – nature is not what we truly want.  Yes, yes, place plants together that have similar needs, they will certainly look better together than putting something that requires damp shade next to something that needs full drained soil and sun.

Ask Beth Chatto if her garden is Natural; I think she would say that it is a controlled space as much as the formal gardens of the past.

The current trend for ‘Meadow’ or ‘Prairie’ planting is also not natural as anyone who has tried to establish one will tell you.  They are not easy to maintain. I remember talking to the Head Gardener at Hatfield House who said that the Meadow, there, needed more maintenance and more time than any other part of that wonderful garden.

For a landscape designer of the Renaissance the Balance between Art and Nature was crucial.  A villa needed to be constructed in a Natural (untamed) place so that the architect could demonstrate by his design the natural laws that were present in nature.  Man’s control over nature in a garden showed that he was civilised, that he had moved on from the Medieval view.  Unfortunately when we visit a Renaissance Garden now, what we see is what remains – architecture, formal planting of hedges of Box (actually box was dismissed as a nasty smelling shrub in the early Renaissance and hedges were often of scented herbs like Salvia, Hyssop or Rosemary)  Box was added later because it lived longer and was easier to maintain.  The hedges were cut so that they cast shadows like stone (Nature as Art)  but the beds would have been filled with all the new exotic plants that were being discovered.  From letters and descriptions we know that for the patron of the garden it was just as important, as it is for us, to have a flower blooming every day of the year.  We know too that the sound of birds and the inclusion of delicious fruits was also important for them; the Romans encouraged birds into their gardens too by placing fountains that doubled as bird baths – just look at the frescos at Pompeii or Livia’s Villa (now in a museum in Rome).

I heard a wonderful definition of a garden at a conference and for me it is true.  “A garden is an outside space designed for the enjoyment of its owner and his guests”; and no, it doesn’t have to contain plants but for most peoples enjoyment there will be plants, water, perfume, sound and maybe something to engage the intellect as well.

Here are some images of the wonderful gardens that I visit with my students:

Fountain of the River Gods, Villa Lante, Bagnaia, Viterbo

One of the Sphinx that welcome us to the Sacred Wood at Bomarzo, Viterbo

The sphinx at the beginning of the garden (Sacred Wood) at Bomarzo poses a question about Art and Nature:
You who enter here put your mind to it part by part
And tell me then if so many wonders
Were made as trickery or as art.

– We must use our intellect to decipher the meanings of this garden.

My Thoughts – Stipa tenuissima

This is the first of a series of posts I intend writing during the winter.

I thought that while the weather is not so good to be outside enjoying the garden I would spend some time pondering the effects certain plants have in the garden.  They will probably all be plants that in themselves may seem very ordinary, very easy, not worth a second thought; but that in reality support the performance of other plants adding to the overall beauty of the garden.

I have chosen Stipa tenuissima as my first plant because for me it performs in every month of the year, supporting a changing cast of seasonal flowers.  Giving them a soft green or honey- coloured background; also giving them physical support as something to lean on; filling in gaps that would otherwise be bare soil.

2nd January - Stipa tenuissima in the circular rose bed. adding some green to the bare stems of the roses

As I have mentioned here before, it is a plant that self seeds profusely in my tuffo soil!  Even if you don’t want lots more plants this is not a problem they are easily removed and can be added to the compost heap without fear that they will reproduce from their roots.  If there is a downside it is that they look wonderfully green during their first year of growth but after ‘flowering’ they turn honey- blond and unless you remove the dead flowering stems and pull or comb out all the golden foliage it will remain hiding the new bright green leaves that add so much to the garden during the winter.  I usually pull the strands out with my fingers, combing through the plant; I am considering using a small rake, the kind we harvest our olives with –like a child’s rake for sand at the beach.  Nurseries often cut back the foliage but I think this leaves an ugly clump of dead foliage and it loses its lovely fountain quality.

Looking bright green on March 21st

As I have so many seedlings I’m considering removing older plants and simply leaving the newer plants.

Now some photos to show how I combine Stipa with other plants:

with Tulip Abu Hussan April 4th

At the end of May with Sisyrinchium striatum

again the end of May with roses and Gaura

with Knifophia Little Maid in June

By 25th June the Stipa is begining to flower and bleach

with Drumstick Alliums again June 25th

September 12th Stipa bleached honey gold with Sedum

7th November again with Sedum

On the slope which I have been discussing in my ‘End of Month Reviews’ I will  leave them to see what happens – I want the whole area to be like a prairie so unless the Stipa begins to crowd out other species I will be happy they are covering the ground stopping more pernicious weeds taking hold.

Here some of the seedlings I have transplanted to the slope. There are also almost invisible Gaura seedlings

Here is the description from the RHS:

“Stipa tenuissima (interestingly they don’t give its synonym Nassella tenuissima)

Densely tufted, deciduous perennial with erect, narrowly linear to filament-like, tightly inrolled, bright  green leaves, 30 cm (12 in) or more long.  Throughout summer, bears a profusion of narrow, nodding, softly feathery panicles, to 30 cm (12 in) long, greenish white at first, becoming buff.  The whole plant billows in the slightest breeze.”

For me this last phrase is the most important – the movement (and therefore life) this plant gives to the garden is incredible.