Saturday, 6 February 2016

Planning for that cold, rainy day

On a hot Sunday last August, I just happened to be browsing around a Garden Centre in Exeter, many miles from home. It was in the middle of a cloudburst, and the rain was drumming so loudly on the glass roof of the greenhouse that it drowned out all other sounds. I was surrounded by the lush late summer colour of Cannas and dahlias, and the season still held promise.  

I noticed the racks of spring bulbs, and it seemed almost impossible that all the foliage and the flowers of summer would shrink back to bare earth, and that winter would leach away all the colour.

Even though it seemed almost counter - intuitive to buy dry, brown bulbs when I was surrounded by such plenty, I chose three varieties of Iris Reticulata, and then took them all the way home.

I knew I wouldn't regret it, and that one day, in the depths of winter, I would be so glad that I had thought to choose them, and plant them.

Fast forward to the bleakest part of the year - grey, cold and rainy. This was the time I was planning for ... and I was so glad to see them.

They were the promise of spring, shining through the gloom.

Delicate, beautiful, intricate flowers, standing resolute in the cold, with heads unbowed.

Apologies for photos, which despite three attempts and a tripod are not what I had in mind !

I can't seem to do justice to the depth of colour, the silkiness of the petals or the intricacies of the markings. 

'Katherine Hodgekins' is the pale, cream iris, striped and mottled with blue and dotted with patches of yellow, looking almost like a Clarice Cliffe design from the Art Deco period in the 1930's. There is something pansy-like about it's markings.

The dark, velvety iris, in the photo above, is 'George', with its mottled purple and cream petals . The colour is rich and a dark contrast to the pastel hues of 'Katherine Hodgekins'. It seems more robust than the delicate 'Katharine'.

The lilac iris with darker purple tips to the leaves is 'Gordon'. 

All three have good solid names for such little powerhouses of beauty!

They are so easy to grow, that they can be forgotten about for most of the year. Although they can be grown in beds, borders and rockeries, I prefer to grow all mine in pots, so that I can get close up personal, and enjoy them! I like to move the pots next to the front door when the irises are in bud, so that I can appreciate every moment.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Well wrapped up...

September 2015

Today, 17th January 
Although my interest in sub tropical gardening has always been there, it has loitered in the background, dragging its feet a little, but now all that is changing and I feel an almost Evangelical fire building up inside me as a brand new growing season approaches. The area shown above is the already - established sub tropical garden, first, in full flow in September, and second, as it is today, a shadow of its former self, denuded and bare! This area has always been the domain of my partner, and although I have enjoyed spending time in it, I have had no hand in its planning, planting or maintenance . 

In autumn this year, we extended the existing subtropical garden into an additional area of the garden, and, instead of it being my partner's responsibility, we are sharing the work on this baby ! We are full of  ideas for exotic annuals to grow, as well as plans for  a skeleton of hardy planting too.

New sub tropical garden
This season I will be growing lots of annuals/ fast growing perennials with an exotic feel -  Nasturtium 'Empress of India', Amaranthus Caudatus Red, Amaranthus 'Velvet Curtain', five types of Ricinus, (including the giant 'Zanzibar'), Hibiscus Hanihot, Celosia 'China Town', Cosmos 'Xanthos' (pale lemon yellow), Cactus flowered dahlias, Cerinthe, Zinnias, Canna Indica and Rudbeckia 'Cherokee'. Hopefully, these annuals/ fast growing perennials will lend a tropical feel to the new area of the garden, and we intend to plant very densely, with tall things next to a narrow path, to give the feeling , hopefully, of pushing through dense jungle. We have three tree ferns on order, which will be delivered in spring, and have already planted out some palms and grasses. There are already bamboos, Fatsia Japonicas and ferns growing there. The area of the garden is already enclosed by hedging, which makes it both sheltered and private.

Cerinthe, Canna Indica and sweet peas in the propagator
The propagator is out, and after the inaugural speech and cutting of the ceremonial ribbon, it is brewing its first seeds - Cerinthe, sweet peas and Canna Indica. I have always idly wondered why Cannas are referred to as 'Indian shot', and know I know ! Those babies are made of cast iron!  Internet wisdom is to chit them with nail clippers, but when I tried it, they shot off in all directions and ricocheted around the kitchen, finally coming to rest in dark little crevices, hidden from view. I tried stabbing them, sand papering them, slicing them and swearing at them. Without success. In the end I soaked them for 48 hours and they were reasonably easy to chit after that. I hope that they are  easy to germinate and grow on.

Like many other parts of the UK and USA, we have experienced an unusually mild autumn and winter so far, with only a couple of light frosts, but this changed yesterday, with the onset of much colder weather. The downside of sub tropical gardening is that there are usually some large but tender plants which need to be protected from cold temperatures. This being so, ours suddenly needed attention, with the change of the weather.

The ideal, with this style of gardening is to use plants which are totally hardy, but have an exotic look, and there are lots to choose from. Fatsia Japonica is a good example as it has large, glossy evergreen leaves, and the plants can achieve a good height after a few years. However, the real deal plants are soon tempting, and it can easy to build up a hard core of delicate plants which will curl up their toes at a few degrees of frost.

Our most tender plants live in the heated conservatory through the winter, so there are Abyssinian bananas, Agaves (which hate wet more than cold!), Begonia Luxurians and Strelizia (Bird of Paradise).

The greenhouse houses the plants which can cope with a little more cold, but still need some protection, so smaller tree ferns, Aeoniums, Musa Basjoo (the hardiest banana) and Abutilon Megapotamicum are in there. Last night they had a fleece duvet to keep them warm, and they look to have fared well, with no obvious casualties.

The large, tender plants in the garden have  been covered with fleece jackets, particularly palms like Phoenix Canariensis, which can take up to minus 8, when mature, without a problem. We tied up the fronds to offer more protection and slipped a fleece jacket over its head. Despite what the books say, we have lost them at much higher temperatures than minus 8.

The tree ferns are sporting a jaunty cap of straw stuffed into their crowns, kept in place by aviary wire.

Other plants have received protection, such as the Tetrapanax, which is continuing to push out new leaves, and the gunnera crowns. These have been protected up until now by their own leaves piled on top of the crown, but they have now been replaced by fleece held down by stones.

At tis time of year, the perennials, roses and shrubs are all sleeping deeply, and require no attention, so exotic gardening (for want of a better term) can be more labour intensive. Hopefully, it is all worth it, and all the tender plants will make it unscathed through the cold temperatures.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Start at the very beginning ...

In the words of Julie Andrews, 'Let's start at the very beginning, it's a very good place to start', and although poets may have said the same thing more eloquently, I like the sentiments of 'The Sound of music', in this case, and this case only!

Because we are at the start again, and it is a very good place to be. The whole of the gardening year is laid out in front of us now, fresh and untouched. The seeds are chosen but not yet sown, the first snowdrops are in bud here, but not yet out. The daffodil buds are fattening and stems are lengthening. Everything should be waiting to flower in its usual time.

Except that, this year, there are plants revolting against the old regime ...

Ceanothus in the garden today
There are some mavericks around, some rebel plants who have not read the rule book, and do not know that they must only flower in March or May, and so are blooming now, out of synch with the patterns of the seasons.

Ceanothus ! Only a few blooms, I admit, but usually never seen in January.

Rosa 'Bonica' in the garden today

Roses ! Lots of buds and open blooms.

'Sweet Rocket' today
Sweet rocket ! Still hanging on in there from last spring.

The old sticklers for traditional are still blooming in the garden too, thank goodness. The primroses are starting to come out, but there has been so much rain that their petals are sodden, and not lasting anything like as long as usual.

I would have said that these Erysimums were out early, but as every single one of them is in full bloom at the moment, maybe they do start flowering this early. 

Mahonia 'Charity' is covered in beautiful pale yellow flowers and the perfume is intoxicating, and fills the air. The weather is still so ridiculously mild that there are still occasional bees on it.

Lots of hellebores are now in full flow - all unamed varieties, which have self seeded over the years. Most are washed out pinks and mauves but this one is a good strong dark pink.

The greenhouse is doing exceptionally well due to the relatively high temperatures and these geraniums just have not stopped flowering since June.

In every season there are plants which you look at and fervently wish you had grown more of. The hardy Cyclamen is a case in point, as it is a real pop of bright colour in a dismal winter garden. Both flowers and foliage are things of beauty.

I love double primroses and this is a very delicate, subtle one , called 'Pink Ice'. It is very pale at the moment and blooms will darken as the season progresses I think. The flowers are held on dark stems which contrast so well with the pale heads.

Another reliable source of winter colour is Viburnum Bodnantense 'Dawn', standing by the back door for maximum effect. It  is in a pot next to a young Acer Palmatum, which has not dropped its leaves. 

Even on a rainy, dismal January day there is still some colour and interest, if you look hard enough.

And, becoming visible through the soil, are signs that the giants are beginning to wake from their slumbers...


Thursday, 24 December 2015

Ding dong ...

Here's wishing you a very happy Christmas ! With some of this ...

And this ...

And this ...

And maybe even some of this ...

It doesn't really feel like Christmas, however, due to the weather being as warm as some of the days we experienced during the summer ! It is very odd and totally unseasonal! Things are flowering way out of their allocated season ...

Bergenia - today
Usually at this time of year I am happy if the weather is warmer than the fridge, and wouldn't dream of leaving the house without gloves and scarf but so far, this season, they have remained in the drawer.

Brunnera 'Jack Frost'- today
There have been many reports in the media, of things blooming when they certainly should not be blooming, and the daffodils, for example, seem to have taken a unilateral decision that it is officially now spring! Bergenia is flowering now, whereas it should start flowering in early spring, as should Brunnera.

Tetrapanax - today
Tetrapanax is usually battling with the frost at this time of year, not blithely pushing out new leaves, like there's no tomorrow ! Clematis Armandii usually blooms in late winter/ early spring in its present position, but there are several flowers now, and it has been producing them sporadically throughout the summer. Plain weird!

Clematis  'Armandii'- today
We have had a couple of frosts here, in Lincolnshire, so far - not very much, but enough to kill off the nasturtiums (Hurrah ! Don't know why I grew the horrible things in the first place!) and a few leggy geraniums I had left outside to their fate.

There are still lots of roses in bloom in the garden, and not just the odd raggedy bloom, but full , fresh blooms just like in June..

'Tess of the D'Urbervilles ' today
Tess is unsullied and dewily beautiful, and there are lots of buds to follow.

All the tree ferns still have their foliage untouched by frosts, and to be honest, they are usually wrapped up tight by this time, with fronds cut off, and straw protecting their crowns.

Tree Fern today

Agapanthus is a late summer flowerer, and ,yes, the one pictured below DID flower then. It has been in the greenhouse since mid autumn, and has clearly decided it is late summer, and time to bloom again! A weird but wonderful sight on a December day.

Agapanthus today
This year I grew Melianthus Major, and am testing the water to see how hardy they are. I have dug up all but two from beds in the garden, and put them in the greenhouse to overwinter, but the two remaining outside are untouched by the frost and still have foliage intact. They were ridiculously easy to germinate and grow on, and have put on a lot of growth in a season. I am looking forward to seeing how they all perform next year.

Melianthus Major back in June
Once the deliciousness of Christmas is behind us for another year, I have the 'job' of making my seed list . This is one of my favourite bits of the whole gardening year as it is so full of promise. In the depths of a dreary winter, there is the certainty of the return of flowers, fruit, veg and light. What a joy to invest in it.

Next season I will, of course, be growing old favourites, but also trying out lots of new annuals for our new sub tropical 'extension' garden. I have done some research already, getting suggestions from books written by those late, greats, Christopher Lloyd and Will Giles but need to do much, much more.

I have started to compile a list and so far it consists of stuff I have grown for years ...

Dahlias in August
Dahlias (loads and loads!)

Ricinus in August

Tithonia 'Torchlight' in August


I will have to begin the enjoyable job of choosing varieties and colours etc, so any suggestions are most welcome.

I doubt very much whether there will be time for any more blogging before Christmas, in between the mince pies and the turkey and the sherry, so I wish you a very Happy Christmas, and a peaceful and healthy New Year.