Plant of the month – July 2016 – White lavender

Order:Lamiales Family:Lamiaceae Subfamily:Nepetoideae Genus:Lavandula
Type: Hardy to tender, annual to perennial herbaceous plants or small shrubs
Propagation: Cuttings or Seed (won’t come true in hybrids)
Native to: Mediterranean Europe, Middle East and India

Every year I have a new craze for my garden, a plant I never noticed before or didn’t use to like, which suddenly becomes an essential part of my big plan. Last year it was Sedums, the year before that it was passionflowers, and before that all sorts of Buddlejas in different shades of deep purples. These come and go on a backdrop of all times favourites such as Hydrangeas, roses and the lovely Verbena bonariensis.
This year is the year of the lavender. Probably influenced by my recent holiday in Ardèche, where the vast and lush garden was full of thriving lavender plants that attracted more insects of all varieties than all the other plants. I realised that lavender is beautiful, resilient, low-maintenance, can go a long time in the sun without need of watering and to state the obvious it really does smell lovely.
Like most gardeners I have had lavenders hanging around in the garden for as long as I can remember. However, I have no idea what their second names are and even when buying them myself, I picked randomly without realising the wide range of colours or forms that were available.
I don’t even remember buying the white lavender I chose for this July “plant of the month”. Surprisingly, it has a prominent place, in a border by the patio, next to the path, so the smell flutters up in exquisite waves when we walk by and brush our legs against the flowers. The perfume is strong and spreads easily but it is less medicinal, more floral than the purple lavenders I am used to. Unfortunately, because I haven’t been paying attention, I do not know the exact name of my white lavender. I expect that because I got it from a garden centre, it is probably one of the most common white, ‘Arctic Snow’ or perhaps ‘Alba’.

white lavender 1

Now that my interest is piqued, I am looking online to see what specialist nurseries are offering. I am finding some real beauties! I restrained myself so far and ordered just 4 varieties for now, to see how they will do in my garden. In a couple of days I am even going to visit a lavender farm somewhere around Alton.
In the meanwhile, I shall follow the advice I gathered online while looking up “lavenders” and harvest the seed heads in September to fill sachets for the lingerie drawers and the linen cupboard…

Happy gardening!

Somebody else likes having white lavender in the garden...

Somebody else likes having white lavender in the garden…

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Plant of the month – May 2016 – Aquilegia

Order: Ranunculales                  Family: Ranunculaceae

Subfamily: Thalictroideae        Genus: Aquilegia

Type: Hardy perennial                Propagation: Seed

Native to: Europe and North America

I never planted an Aquilegia, yet at this time of year my garden is full of them. They are not fancy ones with strange colours and extra long spurs at the back of their heads, which always remind me of an alien creature freshly out of a Giger designed spaceship. Still they have a good range of colours, from pure white to pale pink, lilac and mauve, deep burgundy or rich violet. I even get the occasional double white and double pink. The name ‘Aquilegia’ is for the Latin word for eagle, “Aquila”, because the petals resemble eagle claws. So alien is not that far off really. Just a bit scarier.

gigersalien

The Aquilegia has a few common names. ‘Granny’s Bonnet’ is the most well-known and self explanatory. “Columbine” again is from a Latin word, this time for “dove”, because the petals look like little doves in a group hug. This is the peaceful, sweet version of the eagle’s claws. In spite of their sweet appearance, Aquilegias are toxic (especially the roots and seeds), so the eagle version is probably closer to the truth than the gentle dove.

After the flowering season, I let them dry out in situ. When the seedpods are ready, I give them a good shake before cutting the stems, encouraging self-seeding should they wish to propagate. They usually do. The reason the fancy ones tend to disappear from the borders is that these new pretty varieties are more fragile than their more robust ancestor. This fragility means that they are short lived. There is also the fact that Aquilegias being interfertile, these recessive genes beauties are taken over by the dominant genes dinosaurs and the results of their frolicking revert to the wild version generation after generation. In other words, the aristocratic parents die young and their descendants become more and more common.

My favourite specimen this year is an all-white beauty growing under the Camellia. The white is the purest I have ever seen on a bloom. It looks like a commercial for washing powder, whiter than white that might blind you if you look straight at it for too long. The petals are so delicate that they look like insect wings, transparent enough to let the sunlight through several layers. Yet with all this delicate lacework, their stems are straight and strong, seemingly indestructible as they sway in the strong May winds. A perfect alliance of fragility and strength. I really hope this one comes back again.

blogaquilegiawhite

So in conclusion, eagle or dove?

Perhaps a gentle eagle, or a fierce dove, or as the Aquilegia itself a cross between the strongest eagle and the tenderest dove…

 

 

 

 

 

Tech-free week-end for a new border

After visiting a friend’s garden on the Isle of Wight (Yes Sally, I’m talking about your lovely garden), I came back to the mainland full of inspiration to create a new border. Fortunately, I somehow infected Richard (Mr Flora’s Patch) with my motivation and we decided to have a go during the Bank Holiday week-end. Three days should be enough to create and plant a border, rebuild the low walls around two existing borders, start on the long-planned – since last summer- herb garden and mow the lawn as a finishing touch? Hhhhhmmm….

I can’t exactly remember how it happened but as part of the same conversation we decided unanimously that we spend too much time on our laptops. Before we realised what we were getting ourselves into, the gardening week-end turned into a tech-free gardening week-end. Doubting our will power, we actually went to the extent of unplugging the router so that no-one could have a sneaky look at their emails while the other was busy planting a Petunia, oblivious to the abominable treachery.

Day 1 – Saturday

Our first mistake – although I do not think it counts as a mistake because we had a lovely time- was to invite some friends for lunch in the garden. Great company, good food, good wine, nice weather and well, we were still at the table at 4pm. By the time they left we were kind of tired. We made a half-hearted attempt at digging the border, a bit of weeding and pruning here and there, but our progress was slow and then we kind of crashed, had a little lie down in the grass and before we knew it, it was tea time.

On top of our blatant lack of results, we didn’t even get to read our email or go online, so we were suffering from withdrawal symptoms.

This is what the new border looked like at the end of day 1. (Oooops…)

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Day 2- Sunday

Invigorated by a beautiful blue sky and feeling slightly guilty about the day 1 fiasco, we made an early start. Some were earlier than others. Richard was out there digging by 7am. I joined the team around 9.30am.

By lunchtime, the border shape I had designed with the yellow hose was dug up, a couple of Hydrangeas were in, looking undeniably happier than they did in the pots they overgrew years ago.

Lunch in the garden, a quick nap under the birch tree and back to work.

Around 3pm, I started to suspect that we didn’t have enough sorry-for-themselves-in-their-pots plants so we nipped to Haskins to buy a Japanese Anemone called ‘Wild Swan’ that I had been coveting. We came back with the Anemone, a strange looking blue grass trying to make an impression of Simon Gallup 1986 hairstyle and a pack of six herbs to make a start on the herb garden.

At the end of day 2, the results were more satisfactory.

blogborderday2small         anemonewildswan

Day 3- Monday

Monday dawned cold and windy. Adding to the un-inspirational weather, we were pretty tired from what was a pleasant but exhausting Sunday. Our morning efforts were not particularly energetic and we got side-tracked before lunchtime, with a trip to Winchester to buy garden furniture. We managed to gather one last reserve of vigour in the afternoon, replacing the borders’ walls of collapsed stone with a tidy tessellation of salvaged old bricks. After this we were as collapsed as the old stones, but we could finally crash into our new garden sofas and admire the result of our hard week-end of work. The herb garden will have to wait until next week-end and mowing the lawn wasn’t that urgent anyway.

blogborderday3small

As for the tech-free trial? It was tough at the beginning but by Monday night we had almost forgotten that Internet existed and we have now decided to have tech-free Sunday every week.

I wonder how long THAT’s going to last…