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A Good Old Fashion Summer

It’s been a great summer for us gardeners and we can’t complain, we’ve just had a proper summer! We actually had sunshine and warmth throughout most of August just what the summer flower displays needed and the roses seemed better than ever. Sunny days have been bringing back childhood memories of running in dry stubble fields after the combine harvesters, getting blistered fingers from trying to haul straw bales onto the trailer and climbing on mountainous stacks of baled straw – all without a fluorescent jacket and hard hat! Not to mention my first taste of ‘scrumpy’ with the farm workers in the tractor shed. God we were tough in them days!!

Enough reminiscing. This year has also seen the first results of the Hydrangea trials that are being grown in the gardens on behalf of the Royal Horticultural Society. Another trial running for comparison is at the Crown Estate, Saville gardens in Winsor Great Park. Hydrangeas are a popular garden shrub with delicate heads of flowers in shades of pink, white or blue. The mop heads and lacecaps are well known for their ability to change colour in different soils.

Hydrangea beds

Hydrangea beds

Here at Abbotsbury the trial is concentrating on growing the alkaline soil colours of rich crimson, red to pink. What are the judges looking for? – Awarding the RHS AGM. An award for garden worthiness which will act as a guide for gardeners when making a choice. These are only awarded if a plant can meet the following criteria *A plant with stable colour * Availability * Of Good constitution   * Plants which are reasonably resistant to pests and disease * Excellent for ordinary use in appropriate conditions.

Travel has always played a big part in my life and more so in recent years where I have been lucky enough to get to see wild native plants in different regions of the world growing in their natural habitat, many of which are instantly recognisable as a good old garden plants back home but often seem to be seen as growing more vigorously in their own native wild habitat. Sometimes I have been lucky enough to obtain seed from wild sourced plants and have grown these species back home but with the added knowledge of knowing exactly the right conditions for the plant to grow in, therefore replicating the right habitat and environment is key to successfully growing them. Some years ago I travelled through the National Parks of Chile, in one particular area known as La Campana National Park, northwest of Santiago in the Chilean coastal range mountains. Within the dry scrubby hillsides all sorts of interesting plants survived but one colourful scarlet flowered plant caught my eye.

Lobelia excelsa

Lobelia excelsa

This was Lobelia excelsa. It is an evergreen sub shrub that grows up to 2m tall and seems to thrive on the dry hillsides with coastal fog and salty air. Perfect for Abbotsbury’s conditions. I have been growing it here since 2005 but this year it has flowered continuously for at least 3 months, that’s value for money! It can get severely cut back in the coldest winter but plenty of mulch will help it pull through from the root-stock in the spring. The locals call it “Tobacco del diablo” or Devils tobacco, with its clusters of tubular, coral red flowers and silvery green foliage it is similar to but not to confused with – the smaller more herbaceous Lobelia tupa.

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