Goodness, a drought like this makes you want to give up gardening and take up something more rewarding like stamp collecting or train spotting. I have been away on holiday and usually having somebody coming in to water pots, veggies and vulnerable plants twice a week will save the garden from disaster. This summer despite the valiant attempts of the waterers, ( thank you Min and Julie) and my efforts since I got home, the garden makes me want to weep. Witch hazels, hydrangeas, delphiniums, ferns and goodness knows what else look dead. There is only one word to describe the landscape round here and that is sere. Very sere. We have to worry about fires now too. My son had to be evacuated last week after a combine harvester struck a flint stone and caused a fire that gobbled up fifteen acres.
But still there are areas of the garden which are delighting me. My waterers have kept all the new planting in my new project well watered and healthy and this area will have its own post soon. And the Mediterranean garden looks great, although even here there is a dead eryngium which baffles me. I have been to the Cap Ferret peninsula recently and seen eryngiums growing and flourishing on the dunes in pure dry sand.
So let’s start with sea hollies or eryngiums. I love them for the sheen on their silvery, spiky leaves and some of them have metallic blue flowers too. This one has lovely variegated foliage but even better is the startling colour of the flowers and stems.
The next one has larger flowers and is perfect for the effect I am looking for in the Mediterranean garden which is lots of form and texture.
Also in the Mediterranean garden and making quite a splash of colour I have the verbascum which is such a feature of Great Dixter. It is one found by Christo and Fergus Garrett, the head gardener in Eastern Turkey. It is called Verbascum chaixii ‘Christo’s Yellow Lightening’. I love it because it doesn’t seem to get the awful mildewed leaves which usually hang limply and unattractively on large verbascums and remind me of damp blotting paper. It does get covered by catterpillars of the Mullein moth in early summer but I pick them off for the few days when they seem to be active and the damage isn’t too bad.
I love it with the tall Agastache ‘Purple Haze’.
And backed with the giant grass, Stipa gigantea, purple Verbena bonariensis, the huge umbellifer Molospermum decipens and the dainty pink flowers of Althaea cannabina.
And here are the children. Large flowered agapanthus aren’t reliably hardy but these came through two winters cosily wrapped up in fleece.
And we have lovely white ones too.
The parent of this small white one was a gift from a friend. I am particularly pleased with it because it is tinged with pink which I have never seen before in an agapanthus.
When everything looks dried up and brown then pure white flowers are cheering. Romneya coulteri is a pernickety plant, it doesn’t like being moved and sometimes it will turn up its tail and die. But if it is happy, it races around and takes over. We were alarmed earlier this year to find it had somehow burrowed its way into the house and a piece appeared in the library. But it is so pretty, it has silvery foliage and pure white flowers with a yellow boss
I always try to pick one or two unusual flowers for my top ten blooms so that you can see some plants you perhaps don’t know that you might like to try. One of these is another pure white flower which is in bloom now. It is a climbing plant, Codonopsis grey-wilsonii ‘Himel Snow’. It dies down to tubers in the autumn and these can then be split up. I have some in a pot but I also have a few round the garden too. It has pristine star-shaped flowers and is an absolute gem.
Another beauty in a pot grows from a tuber, or is it a rhizome? It is the unusual Sandersonia aurantica. It comes from South Africa and I love it because I adore bell shaped flowers and these are bright orange.
I do like orange flowers and this next mallow-like flower is very pretty. Sphaeralcea incana is actually coral rather than orange. It is a shrubby plant with silvery foliage. It is a perfect match with a coral Kniphofia ‘Timothy’ and the golden seed heads of Stipa gigantea look good with it too.
I also grow it in the Mediterranean garden with terracotta Achillea ‘Walter Funcke’ and Bulbine frutescens which I found in Normandy last year growing on a roundabout. I just had to have a tiny scrap of it. Alright, I am shameless, but I did risk life and limb and possibly imprisonment for it, but it matches beautifully. Actually, you perhaps don’t go to goal for nicking cuttings off a roundabout in France, but still I could have got shouted at by a gendarme.
I have to include some fragrant flowers for July. My early lilies get wrecked by lily beetle despite my best and most murderous efforts to keep them under control. But the later flowering tall -growing lilies have tougher leaves and are not so difficult to keep pest free. They smell divine in my secret garden. Lily ‘Lady Alice’ is white and orange with brown spots, some of the flowers are reflexed. It is so pretty.
I am also very keen on Lily ‘Late Morning’ which is cream and yellow.
I don’t know who Leslie Woodriff was but this next one is a fabulous lily and is always so healthy and hu-u-u-ge.
On the trellis behind Leslie is a trachelospermum which is contributing to the heavenly fragrance in the secret garden. I also grow one on the house wall by French window so that we can enjoy the fragrance even when we go inside, which isn’t very often this summer.
I love campanulas and I will finish with a bizarre one.
I grew it from seed and at three years old it is blooming for the first time. It the Chimney Bell Flower, Campanula pyramidalis. I first saw this used as pot plant, in fact a chimney plant, at Great Dixter years ago. It is supposed to be perennial but as it puts in so much effort to grow very tall I don’t expect it to survive for another year. It is enormous at 210 centimetres tall.
I have another one with two shoots which is not so tall.
If you are thinking ‘What no dahlias? ‘ I do have dahlias, lots of them but I will save them for August. Right now, I have some watering to do. I am so sick of the Sisyphus-like task of endless watering. I expect you are too. But still one would like to have some remnants of a garden left in the autumn.
If you have managed to save ten or just one or two special July blooms from total desiccation, it would be lovely to see them. Please share them and link to my blog.