My natural tendency is to pessimism, so I'll start with the worst and gradually work round to the happy stuff that happened this weekend! The worst happened yesterday afternoon. Over the last week or so, I've noticed that one plant of Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant' and a plant of Salvia sclarea var. turkestanica showed signs of dieback at the edges. I tried to pretend that it was not the rat-taupiers (water voles). However yesterday afternoon I found a whole oriental poppy lying on the ground (carrying numerous flower buds). No denying that. So they are out in force now - earlier than last year. And the bank that I am currently trying to clear for planting is their home.
I'm carrying on clearing, but unsure what to do. My only option seems to be to plant absolutely everything in wire baskets. (Although I was quite interested in selling the house yesterday afternoon: gardening on a steep slope and then sleeping at the top of a sixteenth century spiral staircase in a largely unrenovated house is not easy - add the RTs into the equation and, when something goes wrong, the unmentionable is mentioned.)
Other bad stuff? I am still way behind - to the extent that my beautiful cleaned-up iris border needs weeding and I haven't the time to do it. Also - I have about 100 seed-grown plants that have to go into the ground this spring (in wire baskets?) and the ground is not cleared. They'll have to be overwintered in the house yet again. I discovered in 2011 and 2012 that you can't plant herbaceous perennials in autumn here.
Hesperis matronalis or 'Dame's Violet'
It's good to repeat plants - they pull a border together. At the moment in the Rose Walk (after only one year) the plants that are working are plants that are easy to increase. Taking over from the tulips are Hesperis matronalis, self-sown chervil and chives (I have some Allium 'Purple Sensation' coming along, but couldn't afford to buy too many last autumn). I'm currently bordering the Rose Walk with box (the other side is a yew hedge), but the chives that I planted in the first season to make a temporary border are so charming when they are flowering that I'm not quite sure what I should do next year.
Dame's Violet (Hesperis) is a native European that has been grown for centuries in gardens. It flowers at about 1m high, although the rosettes before flowering are nice and low and neat. Preferring moist, shady positions (it obviously enjoys our heavy soil here), I see that in North America it is classed as an invasive weed. I don't think I'd mind being taken over, but maybe I'll eat my words in future!
Mrs Grigson says of it in her herbal: 'In the language of the flowers the Rocket has been taken to represent deceit, since it gives out a lovely perfume in the evening, but in the daytime has none'. She calls it 'rocket' because it is in the brassica family and is sometimes known as Dame's Rocket ('violet' presumably came from the colour of its flowers). Also known as vesper-flower and purple rocket. She goes on: 'In former days doctors combined with poets in attributing marvellous virtues to this plant. It is regarded principally as antiscorbutic.' No, I have absolutely no idea what this means; I shall look it up tomorrow. However, I do know that when I went down to take pictures of the border this morning I was totally in agreement with the poets who thought the Dame's Violet so virtuous. She certainly healed my RT wounds of yesterday.
Unfortunately I did discover last autumn that the RTs had started eating Dame's Violet in the nursery bed where I was growing it on for the Rose Walk; it was always destined to flower now, just before the roses, geraniums, nepetas and gypsophilas. You can probably tell that I'm a 70s girl and wore purple maxi skirts etc...
I sowed broad beans last November, although I thought they might not survive. Officially their winter minimum is -10C and it dropped well below that this last winter (some say -25C over a week). I guess their survival is a testimony to the
warmth that walls give out. They've started flowering - I almost wished I had planted the pink-flowered type because they are so pretty.
I remember an old boss of mine in Suffolk say that when the beans were flowering in the fields, they made people 'frisky'. I always told him that I wouldn't know ... What I am sure of is that they are my favourite early June veg and can't be beat with fresh trout or salmon. Try a little mint or winter savoury chopped over the top - and steam them, for goodness sake!
The weekend's last little gift. Rosa banksiae 'Lutea', flowering at the foot of the tower. This plant is really too young to know what to do, but it does it naturally and unstoppably; and I can't bear to take them off.
I want to go to tulip heaven, never mind that place for normal people. Failing that, next year I will spend a huge proportion of our autumn income and then, come April/ May, I will just go and sit among the tulips for several weeks. No, I won't be taking my mobile ...
Anyway, offering a post about the tulips the RTs (rat-taupiers/water voles, for newbies) didn't eat. This picture is from the Mirror Garden, a very cheap mixture called 'Pastel Mixed'. I nearly flipped when I looked down at them from above about a week ago and only the dark pink was flowering. I swore that I would never buy cheap tulips again because it looked more red than pink ... on closer inspection it proved to be a very dark pink. Now I'm happy because I can see that it works (if not quite as pale as I imagined). Originally, I'd wanted Tulipa 'Queen of the Night' (a really, really persistent tulip, so a good buy), 'China Pink' (ditto, and an elegant shape to boot) and 'White Triumphator' (ditto, ditto). However the RTs and the lack of available 'China Pink' when I came to order in October (late as usual) made me go for a cheaper option. In the end I planted this 'Pastel Mix', 'Queen of the Night' and red and white variegated 'Sorbet'.
We have a little border on the street at the front of the house and there I've put 'Couleur Cardinal', already looking luscious with very glaucous, well-shaped foliage; the richest red flower I can imagine.
The Cardinal is a Sissinghurst dream that I can't seem to shake, but 'Queen of the Night' and 'China Pink' were favoured by the Assistant Curator of Herbaceous and Alpine, Brian Halliwell, when I worked at Kew, for use as spring bedding on the Broad Walk and in front of the Palm House. Obviously they were yanked out and replaced every year. It wasn't until I planted them at home that I realised how perfect they were for any garden.
Below are gorgeous 'Sorbet' and 'Queen of the Night' (forgive the wretched weeds, that's my garden at the moment). I've never grown 'Sorbet' before (although I know it is very common). I like it a lot, but it's interesting that because the heads are larger it has drooped in our heavy rain (one has even snapped and is now sitting on the kitchen table).
Now ... I'd really like to know the name of your favourite tulip and why do you love it?
How can there be fruit trees flowering at Chatillon when the river is flooding? I find this very, very beautiful, but nevertheless rather embarrassing because a friend who is only here for six months of the year sent me an anxious email last Friday night, 26 April. His house is an old water mill and so quite vulnerable. I cheerfully emailed back telling him not to worry, we'd been having a dry spring and needed the rain (a fortnight without) - adding happily that the water was not even into the bottom of my garden yet. Seven days later it definitely is ... I wonder if he's back now? Too nervous to ring.
This post was supposed to be about how grateful I am to my neighbours. All the pictures on the page are pictures of the wonderful things that everyone else at Chatillon has been getting up to over the last little while. Basically - its why I live here (remind me sometimes!) Even when my own garden is looking naff, I can look at the beautiful terraces: Daniel's lovely little rows of lettuces next to me and the perfectly trimmed walk in the chateau grounds ... and I have a feeling of garden well-being without lifting a finger.
Why do I not need to be so grateful this evening? I actually managed to get out into my own garden for a change.