Ok - so they're not as good as your sweet peas! But I'm pleased. I've tried four varieties this year: 'Singing the Blues', 'Ripple Mixed', 'Old Times' (a kind of creamy colour with mauve/green tinges), and 'Pastel Sunset'. I didn't sow them until the end of April because so much prevented me from getting on with the garden. It would, I thought, be particularly disastrous for the sweet peas, because they hate hot weather.
They germinated quickly but grew slowly because it was such a chilly spring. Interesting to note that 'Ripple Mixed' were much the weakest of the plants I sowed - so weak that it was definitely something to do with the variety, not the conditions. They were all sown in pots or in root-trainers. The root-trainers were not worth the effort; the plants sown in groups in pots were much stronger. At the beginning of June I planted them out. Some are on tripods down in the garden and the others I planted in the terracotta containers we have up on our supper terrace. They are much easier to water there and there's shade from the worst of the sun.
We've had temperatures between 30-38 here since the middle of July (39 degrees today). I've watered the sweet peas in the garden - but probably not quite enough - and nothing was watered at the beginning of the dry, hot spell because we were away in England for five days from 11-15 July.
But I am dead chuffed - and I've learnt something into the bargain. You can carry on growing sweet peas in fierce heat, providing you offer them the tiniest bit of shade and lots of water (and the container sweet peas lasted for five days without!). Down in the garden we've noticed that the sweet peas (and mangetouts) that have a little protection from the sun are doing 'ok' (I'm not going to claim them as perfect examples!) and they are just starting to produce flowers now. I think if I'd been here in that crucial mid-July period, they might be rivalling the plants up on the supper terrace.
The ones on the terrace are pretty good with lots of flower buds to come. The reward for all this labour is 6 flowers on the kitchen table at nearly the end of a very hot July. And, if I keep on watering, lots more to come.
But I'm also glad that I left the self-sown morning glory seedlings to come on and climb the supporting pillars of our balcony. I hope that when the sweet peas can take no more of the seering heat, the blue trumpets will be there to cheer us when we have our morning coffee.
Cheered by success, I'm on a mission to observe carefully those plants that cope with three factors: hot conditions, very cold winters and a silty loamy. The soil is a blessing when you consider moisture-retention important - but not so clever when associated with the first two elements, since most plants that enjoy heat also like good drainage and tend to come from warmer climates than ours. But I'm rising to the challenge. The first success story is Artemesia 'Powis Castle' (although admittedly it has sharper drainage than is to be found on the terraces below).
I'll keep thinking ... any suggestions?
Angelica archangelica in late May. I think this is my favourite stage for the plant. Someone I worked with a very long time ago used to call plants that thrust themselves up like this 'Wor!' plants. Gunnera manicata and Rheum palmatum 'Atropurpureum' would make you fall down and worship in the same way ...
Angelica archangelica is a biennial and so if you want to do the normal thing that people associate with angelica - use the young stems or leaf stalks candied - you can keep it going by not allowing it to flower. However it is the flower head and the thrusting flower buds that I enjoy the most, so that's not an option for me. I should, however, definitely try the tea (from the foliage) - said to be good for the nerves. It's fairly clear to those who know me that I could do with a bit of that. If I can grow enough of it, I'd also like to try digging the roots up. Apparently people used to burn the seeds and roots to scent a house (a different kind of 'strewing herb'?). Unfortunately self-sown seedlings will not 'ensure continuity' (quote the herb books) in my garden. The roots are beloved of the rat-taupiers, which is why I am planting them in baskets - the first two I planted were eaten last year.Angelica gigas
I'm planning to sow the seed as soon as it's ripe - like the Crambe, I've never had any success with bought-in seed. Next year, I'll put Angelica gigas, with purple flowers, in the same position and try for a kind of angelica rotation, year in, year out. I also have young plants of wild angelica (Angelica sylvestris). I found it very easy to germinate - I realise now that it's actually growing down by the river 200 feet away, but the less said about that the better.
And another thing ...
If only, if only, Anne Wareham had not pinched the 'bad-tempered gardener' epithet. It so perfectly fits me that I almost feel that Prince Charming should just appear and slip it on my blog anyway! At the moment my garden looks like the work of a (blind) idiot ... no taste, little colour, nothing. And it is so dry that it would probably look more at home in a potter's kiln.
My worries about taste? Recently I found myself craving two pots for the Mirror Garden. I want to fill them (eventually) with Melianthus major, but this year I settled for two artichokes (edible type, 'Violette de Provence'). They are grey-blue, glazed, quite nice (the pots, I mean, although the artichoke is also grey-blue in foliage colour). But Nick confirmed my worst fears when he arrived home two weekends ago - they do, as my subconscious was sneakily suggesting, look just like two blue buckets sitting on a perfectly nice lawn. Is it just me that gets it wrong (expensively)?
At the moment, whenever I actually manage to steal a few moments out there in spite of the heat and various 'breaks' arranged on my behalf, I pull helplessly at groundsel and sow thistles that tower above my head (and my potatoes - I lost the hornbeam a long time ago).
When I gardened professionally, we always used to say you needed 2 men per acre. (Perhaps the sex was more significant than I imagined? We never thought a lot of the men because they got bored so quickly when sent to weed.) I have half an acre so I should be 'grand', as they say. Sadly, no one pays me to do the garden full-time any more, but someone does pay me (occasionally) to do other things. Add to that 15 days of intense (circa 30-35 degree) heat on the terraces, no rain, and little pockets where even some of the weeds are dying. (Have you seen that? It's not pleasant).
I can definitely say that the garden looks worse in its second year than it did in the first. And I have literally never seen so many weeds in my life (some, the worst, are thriving - typical). Dare to say that the 'one year seeding, seven years weeding' proverb is nonsense at your peril! Better still, come and have a look at me trying to scale a ten-foot wall to behead a sow thistle in full flower. I am running scared.
As if to add insult to injury, I have just been out in the (nearly) dark, leaping about from rock to rock on my terraced slopes (well, I wasn't born a Capricorn for nothing!) and waving my hosepipe at my floundering yew hedge. And then what did it do for the first time in 15 days ... you guessed it. But at least I caught the corners the rain is unlikely to reach.
Have I bitten off more than I can chew? ... watch this space.
But, oh my, that rain is welcome.
Crambe cordifolia (aka 'friendly giant cabbage' or, more normally, Sea Kale, Colewort). At play here with Salvia sclarea, Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant', Lychnis coronaria and roses 'Munstead' and 'Fantin Latour'.
I've waited about 20 years to have this favourite flowering in my garden again. E. A. Bowles says of it, 'One huge cloud every June is about five feet square (only like other clouds it is round) ...' Described in the same entry in Graham Stuart Thomas' Perennial Garden Plants as a 'noble plant'; I can't quarrel with that, since this quality earns it a place in my border. Its frothy mass of small, starry flowers are lightly scented and it enjoys sun or part shade - but, I read, it is likely to go belly-up if planted in a very windy position. It comes from the stoney steppes of the Caucasus but it doesn't seem to mind my alkaline, silty clay. In fact it appears to be tolerant of most garden soils. I'm not quite sure, given its provenance, why guru GST also says that it requires 'deeply fertile' soil. And surely the steppes enjoy their fair share of wind? Those stems seem strongly flexible to me. A test for another year.
Crambe (and Friendly giant 2 ... to come) is one reason that I can't abide mean little narrow borders. A decent border should be at least 2 metres wide. That's not possible in our Rose Walk, but fortunately there is another border on a slope just behind the Crambe and that helps to give it a sense of space. I love the dark foliage behind the white flowers which highlight it perfectly.
It is in the Cruciferae family (like the edible brassicas) and is hardy down to -20C; the downside of its relationship to a family from (in my opinion) the 'wrong side of the tracks' is that it can suffer from clubroot and flea beetle. However I've noticed that in spite of the flea beetle damage on my rocket this year, the Crambe remains relatively untouched.
It is always described as a perennial. But when I last grew it in my Suffolk garden (2 plants, heavy clay), I greedily allowed it to set seed (gardeners can never quite leave the desire to 'make more' behind). After it had flowered and seeded it upped and died without permission. I don't remember ever having the opportunity to sow the seed. But I know from buying in seed that it needs to be fresh (read - I've never succeeded). It flowers from fresh seed in three years. You can also propagate it by root cuttings and division in spring. I've never been lucky enough to have the opportunity to try these methods. This year!
Your experiences of my 'friendly giant cabbage' please?
And also ...
Rat-taupier (water vole) update: All quiet on the western front since sad 'poppy day' in May. Fortunately I've been distracted by the discovery of European chafer (vers blancs for French readers) in my soil, currently munching their way through the roots of my (prospective) Lonicera nitida hedge. I'm not particularly drawn to the 'final solution' that my husband brought home in a bottle a week or so ago; I have allies out there working away peacefully in our soil and I would miss them if any should be lost in the battle.
I notice (with horror) that I have not posted anything but pictures here since 19 May. The truth is I've been so busy weeding, cutting the grass, ironing and keeping up with Eastenders that I feel I am running so hard my tail will soon be caught. And then there were the 10 days in Scotland when I had to catch up on thirty years of Coronation Street. For those who are curious, my last 'Wordless Wednesday' was a photo of Meconopsis punicea taken in that Meconopsis heaven, Branklyn Gardens, Perth. I read recently in The Garden that someone somewhere (no memory) is trying to breed a truly perennial version of this gorgeous plant. Sadly, its operatic nature requires that it die just after reaching its peak of perfection.