EMV – November a month to work in the garden

Thanks to Helen for hosting EMV; again it is so hard to believe it is the end of November already.

November has been the perfect month for a gardener; many days of warm sunshine interspersed with life sustaining rain.  Today (Wednesday) isn’t nice, heavy rain is falling, there is thunder and lightning which means that the internet is intermittent and it looks black outside, so not a gardening day today!

Not very much has changed in the garden since last EMV except that the walnuts trees have now lost all their leaves and the Mulberry will have done so after the strong winds today and tomorrow.

I have planted garlic (last week) and all the bulbs, except for 25 tulips, are all safely in the ground.

I have been tidying the beds, weeding and planting.  The smallest bed, the circular rose bed needed the most attention.  Gaura lindheimeri self-seeds profusely in this bed and I hadn’t cleared all last year’s seedlings which had grown so large they were swamping the roses; my plans to do a Chelsea chop didn’t happen so many plants were approaching 1.7 metres.  I potted up lots of smaller plants that should make good plants to swap and some with larger roots (almost rhizomes) I transplanted onto the slope where many of the existing plants had perished in the drought.  Gaura remains in the spaces between each variety of rose.  I also removed 3 large buckets of material to the compost heap.

From a distance all you can see is Gaura and Stipa tenuissima

You can see some of the Gaura in this image of R. Sophie’s Perpetual

I then decided to define the quadrants of roses more by planting Miscanthus Gracillimus midway to the centre of the circle between each type of rose and position a Pennisetum villosum in front of the Miscanthus.  There were already 2 Miscanthus and one huge Pennisetum in the bed.  I was able to divide one of the Miscanthus into 3 which gave me the required four; the Pennisetum is a bit of a thug, it spreads very freely so it was easy to divide it into four large pieces plus a dozen or so smaller sections that I planted onto the slope, replacing some Stipa tenuissima what had more dead material than green.  I think the Pennisetum will act well to hold the soil on the slope and they also make better ground cover and weed suppressant than the Stipa.

The finished bed

The bed is also very slightly sloping, so the edging helps contain the soil

Pennisetum villosum is drought tolerant in my garden and although it isn’t very pretty in mid-winter it soon puts on new growth in spring and then seems to flower until the first frosts.

The circular rose bed is (or was) the same dimension as the circular void in the middle of the formal garden and it forms the link between the formal front beds and the much more relaxed island beds.  Using a void and a positive space isn’t really to be strongly recommended because in fact you can’t SEE that they are the same, but it does give some rhythm so in this case it works.  The edge of this border has never been strongly defined before so I decided to use some crazy paving that had been on the front of the house (no, don’t ask why!) to sink into the ground to delineate the shape better.

Here are the roses that are still flowering in the bed this month.

Rosa ‘Queen of Sweden’

Rosa ‘William Shakespeare’

Rosa Sophie’s perpetual

Rosa ‘Tradescant’ also has a couple of flowers but I didn’t take a photo on the 24th November when I photographed the above.

Rosa ‘Veilchenblau’

Even my favourite rose ‘Veilchenblau’, which usually only flowers in early summer has put on a few flowers to charm me.

End of Month Review – A Busy Month

Autumn is the busiest time in the garden.  Not only the general clear-up of untidy plants and perennials that don’t give winter interest but more importantly it is THE time to plant new plants and take cuttings.

I visited a couple of plant fairs one in Rome in September (not very good) and another at Villa Landriana at the beginning of October but the highlight was a visit to Courson just outside Paris.  I think it is the best plant show I have ever visited and I bought as much as I could squeeze into a suitcase (but more of this another day).

Plant fair at Courson

I managed to find a few plants that I’ve been searching for.  Cytisus battandieri has been on my list for ages; sadly the example I managed to track down is infested with some kind of scale insect (I have picked them off the back of almost every leaf!)  The RHS website says that generally they are disease free so I hope that now it is in the ground it will strengthen and be able to fight any new infestations, I will keep a close eye on it and continue removing any new scales.

The other plant I’ve had my eye open for is Leonotis leonurus which I first saw in the Botanic Garden in Phoenix on New Year’s Day this year and which many of you helped me identify as I wrongly surmised it was a Phlomis (from the form of the flowers you can see why I thought this).  I now have three as I think they will be drought tolerant and are a bright cheerful orange, a colour I really enjoy when the light is bright in summer.  For a strong contrast I’ve also planted some new deep blue Agapanthus nearby; I’m hoping this will give a zinging contrast to the path border at the top of the slope that meets the rest of the garden.

Leonotis leonurus

Thanks to Helen at Patient Gardener for hosting this meme; visit her to see what other gardeners have been up to this month.

End of Month View

Time again to join Helen the Patient Gardener for her end of month view.

May and June are usually the best months for me; the weather is warm enough to enjoy meals outside, the garden is full of flower and everything is lush and full.  May was almost like this, but there were cool evenings which meant no meals outside.  The beginning of June was very windy so again not many meals outside and the plants in the garden took quite a battering.  In the middle of the month the temperatures soared AND there were hot winds!

I usually delay turning on the automatic irrigation (except to the vegetable garden) for as long as possible; 1, because I want the plants to become tough and search out water deep down and 2, as all the water comes from a well 100 m deep there is considerable cost in terms of electricity to pump the water to the surface.

As it was cool in May, especially at night, there was always dew on the ground each morning so I felt it correct to wait before beginning the irrigation this year.  With hindsight this was a mistake; the desiccating effects of the wind were pulling water up out of the ground via the leaves.  When I went to Prague I didn’t want to begin irrigating without being there to make sure there were no damaged pipes (there was one so I was right about that).  The wind became even stronger and the temperature rose to 37° – 39° Celsius over those four days and when I returned the garden was scorched, I used the term “flame gun” and this wasn’t really an exaggeration.  The irrigation is on now, I have been hand-watering to try to help some of the plants that were really suffering, but with temperatures now pretty much set for the next six to eight weeks the summer hibernation of the garden has started early!  Some plants do continue to bloom with minimum irrigation and I’ll be showing those over the next weeks.

Some plants will reward me with abundant blooms with very little water.  Rosa mutablibis is one that only needs minimum water to flower almost continuously.  Gaura lindheimeri is another that with just a little irrigation or run off from nearby roses flower profusely.  The groundcover Verbena near the terrace is flowering much more than usual because I’ve been watering pots on the terrace and water has run off from there to reach them.

Ground cover verbena benefits from a little irrigation to ensure it flowers all summer

Figs grow all around the Mediterranean and I’ve seen them growing out of cliffs with no soil, but mine needs water every year!  In past years this hasn’t occurred until August, but just look at my poor tree, and this was even before the last week of June; the first crop of figs hasn’t been harvested yet although any day now some should be ready.

Poor tree, it must have lost half its leaves

Crumpled, yellow and brown, the fallen leaves under the fig tree

Rosa Rimosa again has had only run off water from watering pots on the terrace is giving a great second display.

See more about this good tempered rose here.

However the grasses are beginning to light up the garden, especially in the evening when the last rays of the sun shine through their flowers.

Pennisetum villosum lighting up the garden

Another Pennisetum, possibly Karly

June is the month for Lavender and the sound of bees buzzing all day collecting nectar and of butterflies fluttering and dancing in the air above.

With the extra pruning this year I can just squeeze through the lavender surrounding the formal beds

A honey bee doing what they do best!

Silver-Studded Blue Plebejus argus

2011.11.30 End of Month View, November

Thanks to Helen, the Patient Gardener for organising this meme, I think it is the one I enjoy reading more than any other because everyone approaches it from a different angle.

Unbelievably the weather has remained spring-like all this month.  The mornings are chilly, and there is always heavy dew, a good thing as there hasn’t been much rain, a couple of showers and that’s it.  Some mornings the dew has looked like frost but no plants show any signs of frost damage.  I am still picking strawberries not many but it is lovely to have them at this time of year.  This is the first time I’ve ever grown strawberries as in England we lived near a pick-your-own and it never seemed worth the space to grow them.  In Italy they are only available in the shops for a relatively short time.  I didn’t even expect a great crop this year but I’ve been amazed at the quantity and quality of fruit.

I still have some peppers growing outside and they still ripening slowly.

Peppers in the vegetable garden

The two grafted plants in the greenhouse didn’t produce all that well during the summer, I think it was too hot and probably they needed even more water than I gave them.  Now they have grown to over one and a half metres and have lots of peppers that are ripening well.  They are larger and more ‘meaty’ than during summer.  A couple of weeks again when I was listening to the podcast of Gardeners Question Time it was mentioned that a trail is being done to find out if peppers will over winter in a cold greenhouse during the British winter, this has encouraged me to think that I will try to grow these two plants as perennials.  The programme suggested that during the coldest weather the plants would need to be cut back to the thick, almost woody, main stem.  As the grafted plants should have a large established root system now, I am hoping that if they do survive the winter, the root system will be better at taking up all the water available and that they will produce more even during the very high temperatures of July and August.  The plants are covered in fruit and I have pinched out the all the growing shoots and picked off the top flowers hoping that all the fruit will ripen.  I will let you know how they progress.

I mentioned some time ago that I wanted to plant some fruit trees in an area that is outside the fence in a zone protected from the north winds by the slope of the land and a tuffo ‘cliff’ – I’m not sure what you’d call it really; the perennial weeds were removed and it was all ready to plant when the flood from the surrounding field engulfed the area in a layer of mud.  This occurred in September and the ground is still very damp.  After the flood lots more creeping grass (gramigna) grew as the farmer had spread seed to grow to feed his sheep!  So last week I went and chose some trees.  I wanted to try some peaches and was, as usual, pleasantly surprised by the variety on offer at my local supplier.  I opted for three peaches which should fruit in July, September and October; I chose late flowering and fruiting varieties as having tasted those available in the shops these later varieties have a more interesting flavour and the late flowering should mean that they won’t be damaged by a late frost as has happened repeatedly with an Apricot that I planted in the vegetable garden as quite a large specimen and that I intend removing.  I also planted a cherry.  I want to try and grow the peaches as espaliers but I couldn’t buy whips so will have to try and prune the small trees as best I can – any advice would be very gratefully received.

I thought it was, perhaps, a German variety.

An amusing addendum to the purchase of the above is the labels, some of which were handwritten, obviously incorrectly copying the English Red Haven and changing it to Rhedaven!

The intention is to put up posts and wires to train the peach trees

What else is happening?  Well, despite the mild, warm, sunny days most of the plants know that winter is approaching and their leaves have changed colour or they have dropped.  The wisteria is still hanging on but only just.  There seem to be more leaves that have changed colour this year rather than just losing their leaves, this must be a result of the long, slow, gentle change from summer to autumn to winter.

Wisteria leaves against a blue sky

Walking around the garden today it was the light that I found so enjoyable – the sun is so high in the sky in comparison to in England, for me it made the day seem like a day in September or May; it was so pleasantly warm and the sky such an intense blue I just wanted to soak in the moment.

Rosa Westerland’s sunny colour seems to sum up the warmth of the day.

Even though the Gaura was still blooming in the circular rose bed I decided the time had come to free the roses from the heavy growth that was choking them.  The small seedlings I had left in the bed last year had grown dramatically, instead of a small root system there were tuber-like, hand-sized roots with a huge capacity to store nutriments and water.  Many of these I’ve potted up; someone will surely want them next year, many I’ve moved onto the slope where due to the hot spring some of the small seedlings I’d moved there last autumn hadn’t survived the summer; I’m more hopeful that these larger plants will establish during winter and will be able to withstand the drought next year.  It is nice to see the rose bushes again and they will surely benefit from the light and air; I really must keep the remaining Gaura in check and not allow them to choke everything else next year – perhaps the Chelsea chop will slow them down.   A Pennisetum villosum had seeded into the edge of the bed and is now a full sized plant, I need to move it elsewhere but I’m not quite sure where.

R. Sophie's Perpetual struggling through the Gaura before clearing the bed

The bed looks very bare but at least the roses can now breathe!

The garden reveals its treasures in a relaxed way, the days make you want to linger and search for all that is changing.  My last image is an Arbutus – its shiny, evergreen leaves combining with the ‘strawberry’ fruit and white flowers to attract a still-active bumble bee, it is a different variety than I usually see in the garden.

End of Month Review, August

The bee eaters have been flying low around the house as if to say goodbye until next year.  Normally they are high in the sky and although we know they are beautifully coloured, as we see flashes of iridescent blue and gold; we’ve never been able to see them so clearly before!

I don’t claim any credit for these photographs, my husband who is quite keen on bird watching took them.  I did try, but the birds flew so fast and only hovered in a tantalising way before diving off in unexpected directions.

On 15th August, GBBD I reported about the difference in the weather this year – cooler, more rain – on the 16th the weather changed completely!  The daytime temperatures rose from the mid to high twenties to the high thirties and I believe one day 40° C!  No rain, not even a little morning mist and the night-time temperatures were the same as the daytime ones a few days previously.  Only in the last couple of days have temperatures become more tolerable – I hate the heat!  Many of the trees I had planted in 2009 became very stressed; the persimmon lost all its fruit; the fig that has always been here lost half of its leaves and the September fruit, which had been growing and ripening well, is now dropping of the tree and although we are able to eat some, many the ants get first!

Miscanthus with fig tree (almost without leaves)

The sun sets earlier and one of the pleasures this brings is to see the grasses, most are flowering now, with their seed heads being lit from behind.  I am going to make a determined effort to collect some seed and try to grow more.  Many don’t need water and so would be great on the bank which is very steep and therefore always very dry; even some of the Gaura succumbed to the intense heat of the last couple of weeks.

Pennisetum villosum with Sedum Matrona in the small island bed

Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' on the upper slope

Pennisetum 'Little Bunny'

The almost impossible to photograph Eragrostis spectabilis with in the background Pennisetum 'Karley Rose'

Some Miscanthus are already flowering and most are much more tolerant of drought once established than the books would have you believe.

Above is either Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’ or M. Graziella, I moved it to the circular rose bed this spring as it grew less tall where it was before and I thought it would fit better here; luckily Rosa ‘Queen of Sweden’ is also growing taller than expected and so the Miscanthus forms a pleasing division between this rose and the shorter deep coloured ‘Tradescant’.

In this general view with the umbrella pine you can see how the seed heads and grasses combine with the flowers to create an overall ‘fullness’ in the garden.  I like the very solid forms of the Box cubes and bay that contrast so well with the airy grasses and ephemeral Gaura.

My plans for September are to divide and move some of the plants that have begun to outgrow their allotted spaces.  I’ll begin next week with Irises as they won’t mind even if it stays quite hot, then some Hemerocallis that were on the list last year and are very squashed where they are now.

Finally I’d like to introduce a new meme I’m starting about Foliage in the garden.  It can be foliage plants that don’t flower at all, foliage when the flowers have finished, grasses which I think count as both flowers and foliage, new growth that might be very different from the mature leaves and of course we are coming into autumn (at least in the northern hemisphere we are) so I hope for some fabulous autumn colour.  It will be the 22nd of each month.

If you would like to read more about what’s happening in other gardens all over the world visit Helen at The Patient Gardener.  Once again a big thank you to Helen for hosting this meme for us.