You don’t always get what you want ….

This weekend we went looking for a flower. We were told about this flower a year ago, by an elderly botanist who showed us pictures of the great pink spikes of flowers as we ate dinner in a vineyard last summer.

In a mixture of broken German, French and English we discovered that this very rare and very strange plant grew close by and he tried to describe exactly where he had seen it.

The next day we also tried to find it. We tramped over the wonderful limestone cap of a hill that was covered in fly orchids, thorny roses and pinks.  We found the most extravagant orchid I have ever seen in Europe outside of a green house. Large and smelling powerfully of goats, the tongues of its greenish flowers cork screwed down and seemed to lick the stems, giving it the obvious name of lizard orchid. As we dipped back into the neat rows of vines, a bird was startled up and the great parti coloured crest of a hoopoe was plain to see, as the heavy bird lifted up and gave its unmistakable hoopoe call : familiar in the Mediterranean, but so strange here in central Europe.  This little patch of limestone protected for nature amidst the closely planted vines, is a truly remarkable place and is home to so many species that are rarely seen in the Alsace.

Eventually we wandered our way back to the car, stopping only to cool off in the wonderful cave of the local winery.  Swallows nested high up in the eves of the old roof and swooped in to chatter noisily as we sampled some Alsace Pinot Gris and Muscat and chatted to the young woman who lamented Brexit sadly, as she had enjoyed working in England for a while, loved the people and could not see what Britain had to gain by cutting itself off from Europe ( and good wine!).

A year later, we tried again. We tramped the same hill in the sunshine; saw more hoopoes and clouds of Marbled White butterflies, Banded Graylings, Swallow Tails, Queen of Spain Fritillaries and man, many more.  The lizard orchids had gone to seed and we were tired. There had been no seats on the walk so far and so when we found one with the most wonderful view of the village below, I remarked the only thing that would be even better would be if the elusive flowers were right next to the seat – and there they were – also all gone to seed!

 

bush 2

If you look closely at the photo you too can see the robust glossy leaves of the plant and the tall brown stems of the seed heads.  This is Dictamnus albus or Fraxinella.  A strange plant that is unique in its own genus  (rutaceae) and very unusual in the wild.  It exudes a curious smelling perfumed oil, that clung to our hands after we had touched it.  In fact it produces so much of this oil that it is also called the Burning Bush as in very hot weather it has been known to spontaneously combust and may well have been the burning bush of Moses in the Bible. The oil can be ignited by a lighter as you can see in this you tube clip of the garden variety.

 

 

We were too late to admire the great pink flowers we had seen in the photo.  You don’t always get what you want, but in pursuit of this rarity we had seen and enjoyed so much, that I think you could definitely say we got what we needed!

 

 

The heat goes on!

Still hot and sunny here and not a drop of rain. I am sure my arms have elongated from all the watering cans I have carried!

Plants show you very quickly when they are suffering as the leaves droop and the flowers wilt and I cannot enjoy may garden until everything is perky again. However, perking up everything would take a river full of water and so I ration out my re-cycled bath water to those who seem in greatest need.
Anything growing in a hanging basket or a planter need the most water and I am conscious that growing in containers when you have access to land to plant in, is a wasteful way to garden . Terracotta plant pots are the very worst, as the water evaporates through the porous planter before the roots even use it and so I have given up using them, even though I love their natural weathered look . The bigger the pot you can use, the less watering is needed and so this year I have dispensed with my usual corner of waif and stray little pots of things that are waiting to be planted somewhere else and dry out in the blink of an eye.

While I understand the wilting plants: the forsythias, buddleia, mock orange, hydrangeas, phlox and roses; I am more intrigued by those plants who is the same amount of time have made deeper roots and show little or no signs of stress. Peonies stay green and glossy; the fennel in the veg patch towers over the shriveled vegetables; lavender thrives and the ecinacia flower freely in the dry heat.

I realize of course that what I am observing is the geographical origin of each of my garden plants. In my little garden I am growing plants that evolved perfectly to their natural habitats from all over the world. Those who thrive are originally from hotter drier places and those who suffer are from the cooler climes. As gardeners we want them to all grow promiscuously together and generally we manage this by careful planting each in sunny or shady spots to mimic their original homes; but in a heat wave; when all the garden is hot, this is not enough.

As an English woman transplanted to a very sunny spot of inland Europe I am also trying to recreate my ideal growing conditions and so this weekend I shall be up at dawn, enjoying the cool air, sleeping in the heat of the day and later in the evening watering myself with a long, cool bath and a tall glass of chilled Crémant d’Alsace.

Cheers!