Summer is well and truly upon us, and the garden has taken off. Still only in its second year, everything has grown amazingly quickly thanks to the fertile clay soil here. In the front garden, the two Cenolophium denudatum plants I grew from seed have been flowering since the middle of June, their domed umbels floating above dark green foliage (see below middle picture). The flower heads are only just starting to fade now, on July 18, to a lovely pale apple-green, and still holding strong. They are denser and stronger than ammi, but equally good for cutting.
I'm also loving my foxgloves this year, with three different types in the front garden. Pale buttery yellow Digitalis grandiflora (pictured top left) is a perennial foxglove that I first grew from seed in my last garden. Now the progeny are colonising my new garden. I bought the magenta-coloured Digitalis 'Illumination Raspberry' from the Chatsworth show last year and it has returned and flowered beautifully this year, standing out against a soft backdrop of Stipa tenuissima (pictured below left). The Illumination series are crosses between the common British foxglove Digitalis purpurea and the Canary Island foxglove, Isoplexis canariensis, and they were all over Chelsea this year. I also found two Digitalis ferruginea that I had forgotten I had planted last autumn - they have strong, dense flower spikes with tiny brown - truly brown - flowers. I love them.
The other plant I'm glad I discovered is Lychnis chalcedonica 'Carnea', a perennial that I grew from seed a few years ago and brought with me to the new garden in a pot. It has tall, upright stems with domes of cream and salmon pink flowers - it sounds less than enticing but the overall effect is charming (pictured above, bottom row middle). I first saw it growing in a garden designed by Jinny Blom and she waxed lyrical about it, describing the flowers as the colour of Campbells tomato soup.
I'm encouraging things to self seed in the gravel around the beds in the front garden, and I love poking around seeing what is coming up. Orange marigolds are seeding everywhere, as well as white valerian, Lunaria 'Corfu Blue', Dianthus carthusianorum and the feather grass Stipa tenuissima. I was interviewed by an American radio programme and podcast called Cultivating Space recently and they drew my attention to the fact that the feather grass is an invasive pest in the West Coast US, which brought me up short as it's one of the plants included in my book, The Flower Garden. It begs the question 'what is a weed', and of course this entirely depends on where you are in the world. Here in the south of England I'm realising that the bee-friendly toadflax Linaria purpurea is absolutely a weed in this area, but I'm trying to keep it under control in small quantities as it looks so lovely, especially when buzzing with bees. But seedlings are popping up everywhere in the gravel. The same can be said for the lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, which I accepted from a friend last year. (To be fair, she did warn me). I divided the offcuts into two and they grew swiftly into fresh green mounds which I was pleased about in the first year as I just had to fill space in the border, but this year it has grown the same again - and self seeded absolutely everywhere. I have now removed the two main plants as I don't want to be pulling out seedlings forever more.
I'm so pleased with the back garden border, as this struggled to get going last year, having been planted just before a summer of drought. It's also been pretty dry this month, but most things are doing well. I'm particularly in love with the delicate Scabiosa columbaria subsp. ochroleuca (pictured above, second left), and other plant combinations that have worked well include pale yellow Phlomis russeliana with dusky pink Campanula lactiflora 'Loddon Anna', tall and airy, and shorter, scented Phlox paniculata 'Monica Lyndon Bell', all mixed in with Ammi majus (which is the most wonderful filler plant for both border and flower arrangment). The only things that haven't worked well are the three Annabelle hydrangeas, which are suffering with lack of water in my clay-heavy soil, and the Indian hawthorn, Raphiolepis indica, which I first saw in the garden of Umberto Pasti in Tangier.