Saturday, 17 January 2015

Hellebores no longer hang their heads ...

The late, great Geoff Hamilton once suggested that gardeners should visit a nursery every month and buy a plant in flower, to ensure that there would be colour in the garden all year round. This is a cracking idea on many levels, and one which I am going to follow for a whole year. Shame it is only once a month, but there is nothing in the rules to say that visits can't be more frequent! I intend to post about my purchase every month too. It is a great way to learn about what is in flower at any one time, and what choices are available.

I am not the first blogger to do this, by any stretch of the imagination, and indeed I first learned of Geoff Hamilton's suggestion on Jo's blog,  'The Good Life' . She bought a plant every month last year, and this year, and will review her choices this year.

 I am such an impulse buyer where plants are concerned, that this will be a great exercise in restraint. I intend to do my homework before I go, so that I will be buying something new, which I have never bought before. Buying plants in bloom throughout the summer months is so easy, but I make far fewer purchases for plants which flower in other seasons, winter in particular.

The garden contains little winter colour, apart from pots of cyclamens and pansies around the door, so it is ripe for a boost from a new plant. After reading other blogs, particularly Jessica, at   Rusty Duck I decided that I would buy my first hamamelis. Jessica mentioned a variety, 'Jermyn's Gold' , which looked fantastic, and smelled fantastic too, by all accounts. However, when I visited my local garden centre yesterday, the only hamamelis available was a rather unpleasant acid yellow... and it cost £30. I may have been swayed even with the exorbitant purchase price, but there was a woman complaining that she bought two of them, three years ago, and hasn't seen a single bloom yet. The advice she got was that patience was all, and that hamamelis take a long time to get established. I lost heart at that point  and went to look at the camellias. Too showy ... acid lovers, so would have to stay in a pot ... just didn't grab me...

My Holy Grail was the bench laden with hellebores ... cheap ... floriferous ... hardy ... gorgeous ...

Helleborus 'Christmas Carol'

Foliage 'Christmas Carol'

Now, I do have lots of hellebores in the garden already, but I have never bought one, more inherited some faded, washed out inbred plants, just about all of the same dirty pink hue. I love them dearly, and thought that all hellebores were like this, with fairly small flowers, shyly downcast. I wasn't prepared for this new generation of hellebores, which bear scant resemblance to the ones I know.

The first thing I noticed about this new super race of  hellebores is that they no longer hang their heads demurely, but look you squarely in the face ! Who would have guessed that modest, shy flower could be transformed into something as bold as brass!

The second thing I noticed was the size of the flowers, which are big, open and beautiful. The petals are very large compared with mine and the colours are clear and bright. 

The third thing I noticed was the price! I paid £11 for 3 lovely plants, one at £1.99, 1 at £2.99 and one at £5.99. As they are long lived perennials I feel that this represents excellent value, as they cost about the same as a bunch of supermarket flowers.

There were several varieties to choose from, and I chose three predominantly white flowered varieties - 'Christmas carol', 'Joel' and 'Rose Green'. They all have different qualities but would make a nice group, if planted together, as they would really complement each other.

'Christmas carol' was by far the largest plant and looked slightly rangy, in comparison. The flowers are a clear white, with yellow stamens. these contrast well with glossy , dark green foliage. The plant flowers, apparently, from October to February, which is amazing, if it does that in reality. It prefers shade or semi shade and grows to about 40cm. It is fully hardy.

My  next choice was a tiny little scrap called 'Rose Green', which looks much more compact than 'Christmas Carol' but apparently also grow to 40cm. It copes with full sun or semi shade, and flowers from January to March. The foliage is very different and is beautifully marbled with red and cream veining. The buds are much more spherical than the other two varieties and the habit of the plant is quite dense and compact. The flowers are tinged with soft rose pink and a fresh pale green. 

The third variety I selected was 'Joel', described as "a neat and compact plant with masses of pure white flowers opening from late November". It apparently copes well in a pot and prefers a humus-rich but well drained soil, in semi or full shade.

Hellebore 'Joel'


I am delighted with all three and pondering whether to put them together in a pot by the back door so that I can enjoy them every day. 

Roll on February ... 

Saturday, 10 January 2015

You spoil me, your Excellency ...

You spoil me with your Christmas gifts, your Excellency ! I am overwhelmed by the diamonds and the pearls ...

Wait, that's not right ... I am overjoyed with your gifts of a giant propagator and a garden labelling machine! That's more like it!

Who wants perfume and bath salts and jewellery - personally, I welcome the gifts which keep on giving. Father Christmas knows me so well, he knew just what to bring me !

Now, who wouldn't be overjoyed at this beast of a propagator? I can get so many seeds in it at one time, I could propagate Kew Gardens if I so wished ! Just look at it, it has size, versatility and flexibility, and a plug. Only a few short weeks until I start cramming this bad boy with seed trays.

I didn't even have to drop heavy hints about it, as it was a complete surprise.

It is large enough to take a mixture of 2 large seed trays, 4 small ones, pots, or any combination of the afore-mentioned. I haven't quite worked out where I am going to put it yet, but that is a minor problem, soon resolved.

It is a good job I now have an industrial sized propagator, as I have been writing the most important list of the year. Not the one for Father Christmas, but the list of all the seeds I want to grow this season. It is a landmark in the gardening year, and a very welcome one too. It involves much thumbing of catalogues, reading back in garden journals, and online browsing, to put this list together. Throughout the year, ideas will form, or plants will be seen and coveted, and notes will be taken, so now is the time to bring them all together. I love choosing new varieties too, so all this takes a ridiculously long time. Once the list is complete, then there has to be a 'stock taking' exercise of all seeds currently owned.

It is amazing how many packets are already sitting there, in the drawer, just waiting to be planted. Some may be 'out of date' by a year or two, but I think it is always worth sowing them to see if they germinate, and they usually do, even if the hit rate isn't as high as it is with fresh seed.

My seed list is currently under construction and I have done my annual 'stock take' to see what is already in my possession, and what I need to buy.

I have already done quite a lot of seed sowing for this coming season, and have planted young plants out - 'Sweet Williams', Foxgloves 'Silver Cub' and 'Alba' are already bulking up well, while young white Lychnis, Sweet Peas and Sweet Rocket plants will get cracking in the Spring.

I will be sowing all my usual favourites this season - Dahlia 'Bishop's Children'; Ricinus, lots of different sized Cosmos, coleus, Nigella, sweet peas (I sow autumn and spring), tomatoes, chillies; squash, peppers, courgettes, aubergines, peas and beans.

Attempts at new things will include Asters, which are an unknown quantity for me.

Helichrysum, which will be a bit of a leap of faith as I bought my first plant last year and it flowered for ages, and the dried flowers are still a bright splash of yellow in the winter garden. The one I grew was floriferous but very leggy, so I'm hoping that the ones I grow will only have the flower power. I don't know how these plants have passed me by for all these years, especially when it says on the packet that they are "easy to grow".

My other garden present was a Brother garden Labelling machine, which I am hoping will solve ALL my labelling problems. It works with a tape, and prints out what is typed in, on sticky backed plastic film. This can then be stuck onto labels, or whatever surface is chosen.

I haven't given it a trial run yet, but I will report back when I do. Every labelling method I have tried so far has been a dismal washout - literally. I am hoping that this new labeller will give me labels which do not fade EVER.

You can keep your diamonds and pearls, your excellency, give me something special for the garden every time !

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The bleak midwinter

First Bergenia flower
That's it. The new year has finally  crept in. The year has turned upon its axis and is now heading out of the darkness and into the light. It may only be by a matter of seconds every day, but we are slowly, slowly clawing our way back to the sun on our backs and the buzzing of bees. Heading towards new mown lawns and lazily swinging hammocks.

Helleborus Foetidus

Pansy 'Mystique Blue Halo'
Although it is the calendar which dictates the start of the New Year, to me it is the winter solstice which marks that turning point, and even though there will no doubt be some fierce some winter weather to come, we are headed firmly to Spring.

Once that fact is acknowledged, then a different mindset takes over, and instead of seeing the skeletons of grasses and the slimy remains of perennials, I begin to see the buds, the green shoots of bulbs and the glimmerings of growth. All that energy just coiled and waiting to burst out with the lengthening days.


Frosted geraniums leaves

Christmas, with all the preparations and the preoccupations, moves us forward imperceptibly towards the shortest day. As we order the turkey and wrap the presents the quiet ticking of time is unnoticed, taking us through the dark, drear days of late November into cold grey December.

Frost on Box leaves

Buds of Magnolia Stellata

And once the tree is shredded and the diets begun, then the first snowdrops can't be too far away. The first flowers of a brand new season. So it begins again , with the sowing and the growing and the hoeing, then the weeding and the planting and the feeding, to the flowering and the picking and the storing. Round we go again.

Viburnum Tinus 'Eve Price'

And I can't wait.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

'Tis the season to ... cut down trees

It's not the bells which have been ringing out in my neck of the woods, this last few days, but the chainsaws! For some reason, our little cluster of neighbours,  have gone chainsaw crazy and cut down enough trees to keep those festive log fires burning for months.

Yesterday there were actually three chainsaws droning away in unison, in different gardens, and between us, we have made a lot more sky visible. Whole new vistas have been revealed which we were unaware of.  Light is flooding into murky corners, where only ivy was brave enough to grow.  I reckon we will have two to three more hours of sunshine in our garden every summer's afternoon, due to our lovely neighbours removing three very tall, wide and sombre conifers. All the conifers visible at the right-handside of the photo at the top of this post, have now vanished into thin air ! The photo below shows just what they were concealing from us.

Our garden needed some work doing on it, mostly annual maintenance of hedges, pruning and raising of tree canopies, so we called on the ever- affable Richard to come and work some magic. He took off a lot of lower branches on specimen trees to allow more light and air into the garden.

One large sycamore branch was overhanging the wildlife pond, and we were worried that it might puncture the lining, if it fell in as it was sawn through. However, all was well and the offending branch landed on nearby grass with a satisfying thud.

Richard mainly used a manual telescopic saw for the branches, which meant that he did not have to use ladders, or do any climbing. The three tree surgeons who were working next door, yesterday, had a different approach and climbed the trees before the cutting sections above them, with a chainsaw.

Half way down the garden is a massive, prostrate conifer which takes up half the garden and is officially the most boring plant on earth. I hate it with a passion and have been giving it the evil eye for years, hoping it would wither and die. It has resolutely ignored me, and remains in the rudest of rude health. And so began a 'discussion' about its future, which has lasted for months between the Under Gardener and myself. I had already donned my black cap, but the Under Gardener begged for a reprieve for the conifer. Guess who won ? Ten minutes work with the chainsaw  and I now have a whole new area to plant up ... and I have the roses lined up and ready!

Richard also cut down some complete trees for us, mainly old, self set elders strangled by ivy, and an odd multi - trunked self seeded Robinia which was growing way too large. He did the sawing and we did the labouring, trundling up and down the garden with logged branches and barrows full of brash. There are going to be some cracking bonfires over Christmas and New Year.

Now, a whole day of a chainsaw has led to a very full log store, and I feel just like a squirrel must feel when it has a store of nuts for the winter - smug! There is no better feeling than looking at a full log store knowing that the wind may blow, the snow may fall, the power may be off - but if you have a full log store you know you can weather it all in a cosy glow.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The patter of tiny ferns ...

About eighteen months ago I bought an envelope of fern spores from 'The British Pteridological Society' stand, at Tatton Park RHS Show, for £1only, intending to produce squillions of luscious ferns. The enthusiasts on the stand were really helpful and full of good advice. I followed the instructions they gave me carefully (or so I thought) and sowed the spores on the surface of sterile compost, and then put the seed tray in a sealed bag. After a couple of months I checked for signs of any  progress and found the compost covered in a sort of lumpy moss, so ... I threw it out!

When I was at Tatton again this year, I revisited the B.P. Society stand to discuss what went wrong. Turns out, nothing went wrong, and I had thrown the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. The lumpy moss was actually the developing ferns, at a stage of their development when they are termed Prothalli !! Who would have guessed it . 

So I decided to try again and bought 2 packets of spores this time -'Braun's Shield fern' (Polystichum Braunii) and 'Dickins's Wood Fern' (Dryopteris Dickinsii). I chose these varieties as they were recommended for being comparatively easy to grow. 'The British Pteridological Society' have produced a fantastic step by step guide with photos, so I felt more confident of success this time.

I  posted in summer about the process of sowing the spores in ''A ferny thing happened ...', if you care to find out more, but the basic premise is that the spores are sown on the surface of newly sterilised compost. Once sown they are kept in a sealed bag to keep moisture in and bacteria, chance seeds etc out.

When I spoke to the very nice people on the stall they said that it could take a while for germination to occur, but that patience was the watchword, so I put my 2 seed trays in the greenhouse, and left them to get on with germination unhindered .

After a couple of months, the surface of the 'Shield Fern' compost just looked as if it was covered with a fine green film, but that began to grow into what I believe are fernlets or, more correctly, Prothalli ! Yes, we have the patter of tiny ferns ! Babies ! Only Shield Fern babies though, as the Dickins's Wood Fern compost remains a sea of brown.

Shied Fern prothalli
My instruction leaflet informs me that it is best to leave them undisturbed at this stage, so that is what I plan to do. Just sit with my feet up and watch them grow...

Monday, 10 November 2014

Settling down for a long Winter nap ...

Every month   'Loose and leafy'  hosts a 'Tree Following' meme, where lots of bloggers from around the world, give an update on a chosen tree. I have joined in whenever I have been able to, and have been chronicling the ups and downs (mainly downs if I'm honest!) of my Fig Tree, Ficus Carica 'Brown Turkey'.

Since March it has been subjected to savage pruning, roofers and builders working around it, and last, but not least, the tail end of a hurricane and subsequent collapse of a nearby wall. Quite a lot of trials and tribulations for one little tree.

It had a very slow start in the Spring, which I now think is probably the norm for fig trees in this country, and not because of the mistreatment meted out by my tree loppers. However, once it was in leaf, it went from strength to strength and the long, warm growing season resulted in strong growth, as you can see from the green stems in the photo below. The green growth has all been put on this season.

Sadly, it only produced one fig this summer ... and that was down to my pruning!

After advice given in comments on my posts by gardeners who know about these things, I have removed the small figlets growing on the tree at the moment, as these stand no chance of ripening. Apparently if the tree was in warmer climes, it would produce some figs in January, but that ain't going to happen in the cold, drear UK !! I have asked Head Gardener Mr Google, who told me to remove all figs which are larger than a pea, as they will not ripen. Apparently the tiny, tiny fruit nestling in the branches are the ones which will grow and ripen next summer, all being well.

Even though many of the leaves are changing colour, there are still a few which think it is still summer, and remain resolutely green.

However, most of the leaves are turning colour and falling quite quickly now.

Although some leaves are an interesting yellow, the tree is not renowned for its autumn colour.

One more strong wind and I think it will be totally bare.

We have had an amazingly sunny and mild autumn which the fig tree has really loved, and the leaves have only really started to turn over the last couple of weeks.

I had to cut this poor clematis ('Polish Spirit')  right back to allow the builder access to the brickwork behind the fig tree, back in the early summer. It usually grows through the fig tree and scrambles around in its branches.

As you can see it has made a full recovery, and is growing back more strongly than ever. The flowers are a rich dark purple, and are freely borne.

I think that my December photos will show my little tree totally denuded, and slumbering deeply, just waiting for the Spring to stir it into growth again !

All it wants now is to go to sleep ...