Win some, lose some

Alchemilla mollis in my garden

I photographed my patch of Alchemilla mollis for my friend, Chris. He, too, had admired the acid yellow froth in English gardens and wanted the same effect in his own home garden but found his efforts were not rewarded. This is as good as I can get it here.

Alchemilla mollis at Blooms of Bressingham in the UK

I do not understand why it never seems as lush. It originates from southern Europe so is presumably not dependent on winter chill. though maybe there are chillier areas in southern Europe because it certainly seems to perform better in cooler places with lower light levels. I even wondered briefly if what we grow in New Zealand as A. mollis is in fact its smaller cousin, Alchemilla erythropoda. But apparently the latter is much, much smaller so I guess not. It is A.mollis, but not as northern gardeners grow it.

Do not laugh at this poor little specimen of a veronicastrum. A lot of effort has gone in to getting it to this stage. The bamboo stakes were part of rabbit protection when it was even smaller.

I have written before about our single, solitary specimen of the blue veronicastrum, V. virginicum, which we have nursed through from seed to its second summer. It is even setting flower buds. It is just that the plant is only 20cm tall when it should be hitting two metres in bloom. It is clearly not a rapid grower and I wonder if northern gardeners buy established plants to start with. It is a common, hardy, American plant and nowhere in the international literature do I see mention of it being difficult to establish.

This was more the effect I was hoping for – at Le Jardin Plume in Normandy

This stronger blue veronicastrum, which will be a named form, was used by Piet Oudolf in Trentham Gardens near Stoke-on-Trent in the UK

We sourced two different packets of seed which disconcerted Mark when he came to sow them because they were so fine he got out his magnifying glass to check that he wasn’t just sowing dust. Despite being a professional at dealing with seed and going to the trouble of stratifying them in the fridge, he only ended up with this one, solitary plant. Time will tell whether it gets more strength and grows large enough for us to divide it. In the meantime, Mark is trying it from cutting as well. It is a plant we would like to use in our summer gardens but I would have expected it to be a little more enthusiastic in its second summer. In fact, I thought it would be a lot more robust and vigorous.

Astrantias are another mainstay of English summer gardens that we have tried and failed with. They flower and then just fade away. Heucheras are another plant that we have given up on. Once planted out in the garden, the lush nursery specimens just quietly sat and languished, failing to thrive. There is no substitute for trialling plants before investing too much money, time and energy on using them on a larger scale.

Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katherinae naturalising in our woodland

But I mustn’t moan. We do have our successes. I am pretty sure some successful growers of the aforementioned perennials would look with awe and envy at our summer display of Scadoxus  katherinae. We will have only started with a few bulbs, possibly just the one at the very beginning, and we certainly didn’t plant this large swathe in the woodland. They have just gently seeded down and spread a little more year by year without ever causing a problem. They have very large bulbs (of a similar size to a belladonna) which sit close to the surface and stay evergreen with that large, lush foliage for much of the year.

Gloriosa superba prefers full sun and has also gently spread itself around

Ditto the Gloriosa superba, at times a little more problematic with their natural seeding. They are one of the types of tuber that finds their own depth in the soil and they bury themselves really deeply. This can make them difficult to get out if they are in the wrong place. But when they bloom with that lovely reflexed shape, it is like having fiery coronets in the garden.

Jacaranda! In Tikorangi! We are not exactly within its normal climatic range of conditions

The jacaranda tree is having a good flowering this year, albeit not as spectacular as in drier, hotter climates. I love jacarandas so to have one that blooms in our conditions is a great pleasure. Blue flowered trees are not common when you think about it and the carpet of fallen blooms beneath is also a delight.

Pretty much the only flower I cut to bring indoors and one stem fills a vase and scents a room. We have hundreds in the garden.

And we are into the season of the auratum lilies. I pick some to bring indoors to scent the house and truly, they are gorgeous. We have hundreds of these in the garden AND NO LILY BEETLE IN NZ! For this we are truly grateful and thank our tough border control. Their peak blooming over the next weeks will more than compensate for the absent astrantias, hopeless heuchera, anticlimactic alchemilla and the very disappointing veronicastrum.

18 thoughts on “Win some, lose some

  1. Adrian m Linke.

    Oh how I agree with your post and I’m in a hotter climate. Still Haven’t given up on Veronicstrum just yet. I love your blog.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      We will give it our best shot! Haven’t given up yet. I can’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to grow it here. So glad you enjoy my blog. Hope you are safely out of fire areas. You are in Australia?

  2. Ann Mackay

    I think that many in the UK will be like me – absolutely jealous of your wonderful jacaranda and would happily trade the ability to grow alchemilla, heuchera and veronicastrum etc for the chance to grow one! (BTW, I’ve grown alchemilla erythropoda and it is tiny in comparison to A. mollis.)

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      So erythropoda is a proper dwarf as opposed to merely somewhat stunted, half sized mollis? That is interesting. I guess mollis just doesn’t like most of us in the antipodes. And yes, I love the jacaranda, though I admit they are showier when I have seen them flowering in Sydney than here.

      1. Ann Mackay

        Yes, I’ve grown both alchemillas at the same time and they are very different. I’ve noticed a big contrast between how mollis can struggle here (hot and dry in summer) and how well it did in my previous garden in Scotland (cooler and wetter), so I’d say you’re right. They seem to prefer a moister soil. I saw a jacaranda in flower in Spain – and fell in love! Unfortunately, it will have to remain a long-distance romance, hehe!

  3. Tim Dutton

    We have Alchemilla mollis all over our garden near Upper Hutt, but the place where it grows and flowers like your second (UK) photo gets morning sun only and is in damp to wet clay soil that never dries out, even after a month without rain in the summer. The Astrantia in the same bed grows very well too. I suspect that is unlike Taranaki soil conditions.

  4. Angela

    Do you think it could be the symbiotic relationship that makes such a difference compared to say climactic?

  5. Paddy Tobin

    “Is glas iad na cnoic i bhfad uainn” is the Irish saying – “The faraway hills are green”. We always envy what we see growing in other people’s gardens and wish we could grow them Alchemilla is a weedy thug, Veronicastrums are as tough as old boots and Astrantias are impossible to keep true to type as they self-seed so freely. On the other hand, Gloriosa, Jacaranda and auratum lilies are simply fantasies of our dreams!

  6. Stig Stenstrom

    Dea Abbie !
    The Alchemilla mollis is doing very well here in the south of Sweden, it has lovely green and yellow colours in the garden. One precaution is that is also spreads very well so when the yellow flowers turn into brownish I usely cut off them to reduce excessive plants all over in the garden.

    Stig Stenström, Sweden

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Dear Stig, It does appear to be a plant that is much happier in cooler climates. I guess that it must come from some cooler areas of southern Europe than I had thought! kind regards, Abbie

  7. Norah Skinner

    Ah! Veronicastrum virginicum Alba will not germinate for me. Palmerston North (NZ) I have planted seeds three years running without a single strike. But, no I will not give up…not yet.

  8. tonytomeo

    Jacaranda is one of those many trees I miss from my trips to Southern California. I had never seen it here when I was a kid. It started to appear through the 1990s. It still never looks like it does down south.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Yes, well our jacaranda is not a patch on the ones I see in Sydney – and it flowers two months later – but we will take what we can get.

  9. Cath

    I’m glad to hear it’s not my fault :) My alchemilla is absent rather than anticlimactic. Astrantia grew for a little while in the septic tank garden, where it is watered year round, but got smaller every year. Veronicastrum disappeared under teucrium, and I still have one tiny heuchera. But lillies, oranges, feijoas and freesias more than make up for it. In fact freesias all by themselves make up for it. (I am in coastal Waikato and the soil is clay/silt)

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