Tag Archives: Veronicastrum virginicum

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.

Tikorangi notes: this, that and the next thing too.

A beginner’s class in botanical art, day two

A reminder about the botanical art workshops being offered in our garden next weekend , November 2 and 3 with an intermediate class the following weekend, subject to enrolments. More details here if you are interested.

Last week was busy. In this life of ours, we are always active and on the move but generally free from external commitments, in charge of our own pressure points. But last week we had two tours through. Despite the garden being closed, we still accept the occasional group.

The IPPS group. I was too busy to take any photos at all of the Oregon Hardy Plants group.

First up was the IPPS conference (the NZ chapter of the International Plant Propagators Society) so former colleagues, essentially. They were followed by the Oregon Hardy Plants  tour where we like to go the extra mile and roll out the welcome mat, given the huge distance they have travelled.

It takes a bit of work to lift the garden back to opening standard. I start about six weeks out and do a complete round of the garden – all weeds out, dead plants removed, any bare patches sorted and the major tidy up. Lloyd does the big annual clip on the hedges – with a string line, powered hedge trimmer and hand clippers – and he removes any piles of garden debris we (mostly *I*) have accumulated around the place. Two weeks out, all three of us start the second round of the garden attending to the details that make it look sharp including edges, sweeping and motor-blowing, leaf raking woodland tracks, scooping up sludgy camellia blooms on the lawns, mulching where necessary and a final weed. Other projects have to go on hold at this time.

The  interview was filmed indoors as rain was threatening outdoors

We put physical energy into preparing for tours but that can pale beside the mental energy that goes into hosting them in person so the day after the Oregon people, I headed into town for a pleasant luncheon with friends. I knew we had a film crew coming in that afternoon but I wasn’t worried. We were not the subject of the filming and the garden was to be just a back drop. They were filming a documentary on a good friend of mine who is an artist and she had asked me if I would be interviewed. I expected a low-key crew of maybe two enthusiastic young people filming something that not a lot of people would ever see. I was wrong. When they arrived, it was way more major and professional than that. That’ll l’arn me. I had thought they might just talk to me casually for five or ten minutes but it was closer to a full 45 minutes of filming me talking and then filming us walking around the garden. I am delighted to see this external recognition of my friend, Fiona Clark. I was just surprised that the filming was not the low-key event I had anticipated. I am assuming (hoping?) that the footage of me will be edited down to maybe 3 minutes in the final documentary but I felt I had earned a stiff gin at the end of it.

Now it is back into the garden, between the pesky showers that dog our typical spring. And any pressure is self-imposed. The greatest pressure is the thought that we are entering the stage when it has been too cold and wet to enjoy planting out suddenly morphing into the point when it is too late before temperatures rise, the sun is strong and the winds too drying to risk it any longer.

Geranium madarense – white(ish) to the left, the more usual cerise pink to the right

When I was given the Geranium madarense, I was pleased. We have plenty of the common cerise form seeding around but the white sounded interesting. Because it is not a pure white, it is not as interesting as I hoped. It may even be deemed a little insipid. At least I can afford to let it seed around so time will tell if it has merit.

Ever so small at this stage, but I have high hopes of the one veronicastrum 

This is what I am hoping for, photographed at Le Jardin Plume in France. We even have the thalictrum to the left as well, although it is currently somewhat smaller in stature, too.

European readers will laugh at my delight at the plant of Veronicastrum virginicum that I am carefully nursing through. It is a mainstay of UK gardens in particular. New Zealanders who have come back from seeing this handsome, large plant in gardens overseas but rarely here, may appreciate our efforts. The seed is so fine that it looks like specks of dust and we only managed to get one plant to germinate. The bamboo cage is to protect it from rabbits. I have no idea if our pesky bunnies will actually eat it but I am not willing to risk it. I was talking to Kate Jury of Seaflowers Nursery on the IPPS visit and we agreed that there are good reasons why it is not seen much here. It is not an easy plant to get started. I assume once it gets going, it may romp away but I had a bad moment in winter when it disappeared altogether as I had not realised it was fully deciduous. I see it now has more than one growing shoot so I am hoping it will be a dig and divide type of perennial once established. Gardeners learn to thrive on optimism and patience as well as perspiration.

‘White Waves’, I think.

At this point of mid spring, it is all about the rhododendrons and clivias. I am guessing that this handsome rhododendron that we relocated from the old vegetable garden six weeks ago is ‘White Waves’. It is one of the easier, scented nuttalllii hybrids to grow (R. nuttallii x {R. lindleyi x dalhousiae}) and a quick net search tells me it is still available for sale in NZ.  We are very fond of the big nuttallii trumpet types though they are too tender for cold climates.

The bamboo gatherers are coming in to do the final pick of the season so I gathered a few to prepare for ourselves and they made a welcome addition to a stir fry last night. I have frozen most of the prepared shoots but am also trying pickling one jar, just to see whether we like them pickled.  I may report later if they are delicious.

The top blew out this morning 

At least it fell considerately, mostly on the grass paths and not so much on the garden

Today is too windy with a cold southerly for me to garden but it snapped off another of our old man pines (P. radiata). As our treemageddons go, this is not a major one and most of it fell on the grass paths. We were drinking our morning coffee in the house when we heard it fall. In conditions like this, we do not linger long beneath these swaying, towering behemoths. We get through a prodigious amount of firewood each winter but I feel we should be onto storing away for the winter of 2022 by now.