I could get used to this….

It hasn’t rained for three weeks. This is unheard of. Exceptional. What’s more, it’s reliably warm and sunny. What has happened?  I’m disgruntled; I have nothing to complain about. Even the grass is barely growing.

I’m especially pleased, because this is the time of year when shrubs are contemplating next year’s flower buds, and the more they are lulled into thinking that it’s safe to put a bit of energy into that endeavour, the better next summer’s display is likely to be.

The other good thing is that we are sweeping into the Time of the Fragrance, led, as always, by philadelphus. Drifts of the scent sweep up the bank as the heat goes out of the day. P1010840
(I fear the lense on the camera is scratched. Comes of keeping it in my pocket along with secateurs, the odd nail, cherry stones and fragments of bantam food. So apologies for the picture quality meantime…)

Honeysuckle contributes, less intense, more concentrated within the flower. There are so many cultivars of the climbing honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum, that it’s hard to choose. But if you want scent rather than colour, it’s a good idea to stay close to the species. Mine has been good this year: often it suffers from fly, which ruins the flowers unless you spray it early enough in the yearP1010843.

There’s also this rose: ‘Ispahan’  – one of the few roses that I can really be bothered with.  A damask rose, growing happily through a viburnum to eight or nine feet; minimal maintenance, zero pruning unless I feel like it, and usually pest-free. And wafts of scent to reward me for my neglect. If only all roses were like this…

It has also been a great year for meadowsweet – filipendula ulmaria – the plant that lies behind asprin. P1010847
This grows wild in all the damp places in my garden – i.e. most of it, and I count it as a pernicious weed, because its creeping rhizomes smother stuff, such as irises, which might be trying to share the space. But when it’s in flower, with its strange half-bitter fragrance, I relent.

Finally, at the risk of boring everyone rigid, I can’t resist another picture of this campanula lactiflora. It has gone completely mad.



I always forget, as I run around in May and June planting stuff and keeping the garden relatively clean, that July is different. Quite suddenly, plants, grass, weeds, unwanted tree seedlings – in fact everything – just grows, without showing the least modicum of restraint or respect. Fecund to an extreme. Two weeks ago, you could walk along a nice path in the herbaceous border. Now, you have to wade through it.P1010817

At the same time, serious gardening becomes impossible. Usually it is the rain. This year, remarkably, it is the heat. But mostly it is the midges. They are especially ravenous this summer, even in the sunlight, which they normally avoid.  I suppose they hatched late because of the cold spring, and are now desperate for their blood meals (how I hate that phrase!) so they can breed again. Vampires have nothing on these creatures. Research shows an isolated gardener can be attacked by 40,000 midges an hour. I believe it.

July is also when you notice all the plants that are in the wrong place, or have grown too big. The campanula lactiflora in the picture above was once a well behaved component of the border, but it has gone rampant. You can’t move campanulas this size, so I shall either have to expend heavy labour hacking it out, or else live with it.P1010824

This gunnera is obviously bent on world domination too. I merrily planted it thinking it would provide some shade for a few primulas. Now there are no primulas, and it’s about to attack the white flag iris in the background. Then it will start on the bridge.  Sneakily, it will die back in Autumn so that I’ll forget about it and fail to do anything to stop it.

This should be peak season for primula florindae. But they are having a tough time of it in the unaccustomed heat, and flop badly as soon as the direct sun hits themP1010827.

They then have to spend the cool of the night pulling themselves back into shape. They are not built for sub-tropical temperatures. But they are tough; and will survive – but unless we get a lovely cool day with lots of  rain soon, (It’s not often you find me expressing that kind of wish!) I’ll miss out on the fragrance drifting over the pond.

Most of the colour has gone from the garden now, except at the top of the ‘creek’, where the remains of ‘Inverewe’, the water irises, and a big white persecaria combine well.P1010821

The way of the mower

Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.” :  Zenrin Kushû

One of the oldest habits we have is to walk up and down a patch of land. Usually we had an animal with us; a horse, an ox, a buffalo. Sowing, ploughing, reaping. Up and down. Every time we take out the mower, we continue this. We no longer need the animal, more’s the pity. But it was not so long ago:6608904255_4c09bc0a53_z

When you mow, cutting the grass in a rhythm you have learned from doing the same thing dozens on dozens of times over the years, with every  hummock and curve a known friend, the mind blanks. It ceases to be a task. It ceases to be anything. Each time you pass, say, a familiar ragusa rose, you see its shape at a fractionally different angle. A kaleidoscope of colour and shape. The memory assimilates better than the camera.P1010815

In the unmown grass, small flowers bloom. One pass, and they are compost.

‘People of the world look at these flowers as if they were in a dream.’P1010801

Four summer rock garden plants

I am quite exhausted by the currently raging transatlantic controversy concerning the ethics and efficacy of chopping up seed potatoes, so here’s a nice, quiet post about my scree garden.

Just to re-cap, I grow a variety of alpine plants in a gravel bed (about three inches deep above the usual clay) and here are some that will flower between May and July depending on where you live:P1010723

This is dryas octopetala. It’s a plant of the high Arctic and forms a large mat of small green leaves and woody stems, never rising much above ground level. With me, it spreads rapidly – rather too rapidly for my limited space, in fact – but is easily kept within bounds by cutting back the branches which have got into the wrong place, and it does not seem to mind a severe pruning. Apparently, it’s quite hard to reproduce from seed, so it may be worth trying to establish any of the prunings that turn out to have roots. It’s good ground cover, but these delicate white flowers are its real charm. That, and the curious seed heads:P1010776

These start by winding themselves into a tight spiral, as you see, and then explode into a sort of fluffy ball. I’m not a huge fan of seed heads on the whole, but I love these ones.

(Update July 18th: Here’s a picture of the ripe seed heads:)P1010845

Here is a commonly grown alpine columbine: aquilegia flabellata var pumilaP1010731

This remains a small, delicate plant, but, like all its tribe, seeds itself everywhere.  It’s ideal for establishing a bit of blue in a rock garden (blue’s curiously rare among June alpines), but you do need to keep an eye open for the seedlings, and move them before their tap roots go so deep that you are bound to damage them if you lift them.

Here’s one of my favourites: edrianthus pumilioP1010778
This is a very small, creeping plant, fairly hardy, though short lived, and much more delicate in its habit than the dwarf campanulas, which it slightly resembles. It dies back completely in winter and looks totally dead until about April, then pushes out its strappy leaves followed by a mass of flowers. Unfortunately, slugs seem to regard the flowers as a delicacy, and they need to be protected as soon as the buds emerge if you want to have any left.

Finally, an encrusted saxifageP1010765 s. ‘White Hills‘:
There are many cultivars and hybrids of s.cochlearis and s.paniculata but, for my money, this is one of the best. There’s a tendency to breed encrusted saxifrages with huge, spectactular flower stems, but in my conditions they just fall over and look silly, so I prefer the rather less dramatic types that just get on with producing a mass of  properly proportioned flowers. Even when they are not flowering, the crackly, silvery-grey rosettes look great – much better than the house leek tribe which many people seem to favour.

Winter- the late effects

This time last year, I was moaning about another soaking midsummer. This year, remarkably, it has been dry, and quite warm. But the effects of a long, cold winter linger one. Some plants – all the alpines and the primulas – enjoyed it. But other things obviously found it just too much:P1010772

This Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ is now officially dead. I thought, perhaps, it might pull back from whatever combination of wind and snow had blasted it – but no. It’s a goner. Six years old, and it just turns up its toes overnight.  That’s gardening for you! Mind you, it’s not the only tree to have suffered: here’s a Scots pine which should be putting on luscious growth like everything else, but is still feeling the effects of a freezing southerly March wind:P1010782

The plant that has suffered most, however, is the wisteria. I shouldn’t be growing wisteria anyway. It’s far too far north, and far too high, but on a whim I planted a wisteria sinensis in the most sheltered spot I could find, and for ten years it has done just fine. But not this year:P1010770
I’ve decided I hate this plant anyway. I’ve pruned it twice a year, every year, even in December, as they tell you to, and it produces pretty blue flowers, as it is supposed to. But not a smidgeon of that heady wisteria scent. Not a single sniff’s worth.

Now here’s an object lesson in compounding folly:
I read lots of learned stuff about wisterias, and concluded that I must have the wrong variety. So I planted another one next door, this time a wisteria floribunda which I believe twines the other way, (so that you can tell the difference). And waited the necessary four or five years for it to flower. And it did.
And it has no scent either.
And, worst of all:P1010771

…it turns out to be pink. This one didn’t even have the grace to get frosted, and it’s too late to take it back to the nursery and claim a refund.
No, I’ve had it with these temperamental brutes, and they can beg and plead as much as they want, but my heart is hardened….

So, I’ll leave you with a primula that is just as temperamental, but flowers beautifully at just this time of year, has an overwhelming fragrance, and repays love and care, unlike some. Primula flaccida:P1010773

Why I’m not Monet

As far as I know, Claude Monet is the only major artist to have had the guts to go and create his own garden so that he could paint it. All the rest just sat around in warm waterproof studios, safe from the rain and the slugs and the mud. Did van Gogh grow his own sunflowers rather than buy a bunch and stick them in a vase? He did not.  So I’ve always had a soft spot for Monet, and whenever I’ve been able to visit his wonderful garden at Giverny (where they stick very carefully to his original planting), I’ve looked closely at what he chose.  Because, as gardeners, we all work with colour, and while few of us can be great artists, colour is something we have to think about.

As you can see from this picture (pinched from giverny.org), Monet loved his pastel pinks and purples, setting them off against white, soft blue and greengiverny-1, and he used a lot of tulips.

You can see this combination of colours over and over in his paintings, even in  those of his winter haystacks. But even if the mice left the bulbs alone and the wind left the tulips upright, these are difficult colours for a garden getting on for eight hundred miles north of Normandy. In Scotland,  we don’t need to be soothed from the sun, but need something that leaps out against grey skies and rain. You don’t often see this kind of thing in Scotland: (recognise it? – clue: google Seurat) That’s one reason (apart from not being able to paint) why I’m not Monet; I have rain in my blood, and need warmth.182939439_daed3943f0

So I tend towards the hot colours – the yellows, reds, oranges, and lime greens. But I also love blue, so that gets a look-in. Here’s a combination that I wait for every year –euphorbia palustris ‘Wallenberg’s Glorie’ against vanilla iris sibericaP1010768

This, too, makes me happy – primula ‘Inverewe’ against rh. luteum, with another shocking red azalea just coming into flower in between.P1010749
I’m not so sure about this red/black combination. I used to think that the velvety-black iris chrysographes worked with almost every other colour. But I’ve changed my mindP1010756.

I’m starting to think  this is a mess; the bright vermillion of the poppy is not doing the black any favours at all, and it’s all looking vaguely sludgy. I’ve thought of adding white to the mix, but it would probably just confuse the issue. Big blue delphiniums might work instead of the poppy, but they don’t flower at the same time as the iris. Whatever the case, any change is going to involve manual labour, as the iris will need a pickaxe to shift it. Artists have it easier – just buy another tube and overpaint the errors…..

Now and again (usually by mistake) I come up with something that even Monet might have enjoyed painting:P1010757