Saturday, 24 October 2015

Erysi - mums the word!

This is a post to laud the humble Erysimum, to big it up to new heights and highlight its many charms. It has taken me many years to appreciate the delights of the perennial wallflower, and, indeed, I have only grown them for about the past four years.

My penchant for them  started quite by chance, in an impulse buy from a market stall as I was passing by. I bought 4 Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve', which is the most common and well known variety. At the time I had a big new bed which needed to be filled, and I planted my four new, little plants, thinking how lost they looked amidst all the bare earth.

Within a year they had all filled out to be well clothed, symmetrical spheres of glaucous foliage, topped by prolific, mauve flowers. They made real statements in the garden, and I realised that they would define key points in the garden well, if they were placed strategically. They would enhance the structure and design if used properly, just as individual yew and box can do, but in a much shorter time.

The internet is a wonderful thing for plant - hungry gardeners ! All things are out there to be found with a wave of the Google wand. I discovered that there are offers to be had, where different varieties of Erysimum are sold very cheaply. They are little more than plug plants, but that is fine, as I can grow them on in the greenhouse.

I also discovered  that there are colours other than mauve!

My absolute favourite is 'Spice Island' which is a mixture of lovely warm, winter shades of red, purple  and tawny orange. These different shades appear on a single flower head, making for a most interesting mix of colours.

There are exciting other cultivars and colours too, such as .....,

'Apricot Twist' - a stronger, tawnier orange than the name may suggest.

'Rysi Bronze' - more compact than some, at 30cm (height) x 40 cm (spread), with orangey/ yellow flowers. Described as completely hardy.

'Rysi Moon' - an early flowering variety, from March - July, about the same dimensions as 'Rysi Bronze'. Described on different sites as both 'completely hardy' and 'needing protection'!! Yellow buds opening to creamy, white flowers.

'Winter Rouge' -flowers nearly all year round, except in the depths of winter. I'll write that again... flowers nearly all year round ... take that you peonies and lupins !! Flowers are terracotta orange with shades of pink and purple. About the same size, fully grown as 'Bowles Mauve'.

I can't find many disadvantages to Erysimums but the main one seems to be that they are short-lived. This can be easily overcome by taking cuttings, or buying cheap young plants, and growing them on, keeping them in the wings until they are needed to replace a doomed older plant. As even well grown plants are inexpensive, it will never break the bank to buy new ones.

Cuttings are extremely easy to take, and easy to propagate. Semi - ripe cuttings of about 8 - 15 cm are taken from the parent plant in late summer. They root easily and well in the greenhouse. They are not raised from seed, but only from cuttings.

I have read that older plants can become leggy, but have not encountered that problem yet.  Cutting back may help to solve that, if necessary.

I have found them to be disease and pest resistant in my garden, and certainly not prone to attack from slugs, snails or anything else for that matter, although the RHS indicates that they can be.

One of the best things about them is the flowering season, which seems to be the longest of anything I am currently growing in the garden. The RHS state that they flower from February to July but mine have done much better than this, and are still flowering strongly now, in mid October. The flower stems can get leggy, so need to be cut off when this happens.

The RHS states that they are 'borderline hardy', but mine have all come through the last three winters, which admittedly have not been very harsh. Several websites say some varieties are totally hardy, whilst others say winter protection is needed. It probably depends on the micro climate of the garden as to how they cope with winter. As they prefer well drained soils, perhaps it is wet roots which make them curl up their toes, rather than cold temperatures alone.

Erysimums love the sun, and need to be in full sun, as they do not do well in shade. Bees adore them, so that is another huge tick in a box. As they are evergreen, they keep their narrow leaves all year round, giving structure to the winter garden.

So, what's not to love? trouble is I can feel another of my anorak moments coming on, where I want to collect them all, then quietly gloat over their wonderfulness. Oh dear ... just me, then!

On a personal note, I will be able to spend more time digging, planting and growing as I finally retired this week from my main job (Job no. 1), leaving only one day per week for Job no. 2, and one day per month for Job no. 3 . How fantastic is that! Ironically, the evening of my retirement I was struck with a mean - spirited virus which prevented me from even enjoying a single celebratory glass of fizz ... until tonight!!

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Is it The Honey Monster ?

I can think of only a few words which can instill fear into a gardener, but one which causes a frisson whenever it raises its head is 'Honey fungus'. It's right up there with 'Japanese Knotweed' and 'Giant Hogweed'!

We have had a brush with Honey Fungus, twenty years ago, when a willow sickened and died of it, and as inexperienced gardeners, we feared that it would spread to all the other trees and shrubs and kill them off too. It didn't.

Since then the garden has been, to my knowledge, Honey Fungus free, but I fear that may have changed ...

Mushrooms and toadstools are magic, in that large clumps seem to appear instantly out of nowhere. A whiff of Autumn mist and there they are. One minute there is a sweep of green lawn and the next,  knobbles of toadstools have popped up all over. So, yesterday morning there was, I swear, only one little clump of toadstools, sitting innocently on the grass. I showed my granddaughter and we got the magnifying glass and had a good look at them, and, dear reader, I was not afraid. This morning I found that the knobbles had multiplied throughout the night in a rather sinister way. When I looked at the pattern of the groupings I realised that they ran along the line of the roots of the dead weeping silver birch. Could it be the dreaded Honey Fungus?

I have posted about the slow demise of our weeping birch before. It was healthy two seasons ago, but last season, it was very sparsely foliated, and the leaves died and fell, very early in the season. This season it had very few leaves again, and they all shrivelled and died after a couple of months. The tree is clearly dying, and shows no inward signs of life when small branches are snapped.

It has been a lovely tree, elegantly casting dappled shade over the lawn, by the pond. It has remained small and well shaped, and those lovely weeping branches have meant that anyone walking by must walk through them. We have had picnics on tartan rugs underneath it, and hung lanterns from it to light our way up the garden. It has been part of our lives for twenty years or more.

The local birds have loved it, as the two main branches have provided ideal perches from which to survey the world. Usually these perches are home to two wood pigeons , but for a couple of weeks they have lost their place to a humungous heron, which has looked slightly incongruous balanced up there.

The heron has picked the pond clean of goldfish, which must have been easy pickings from that vantage point.

I have been researching Honey Fungus, and I won't bore you with the details, but essentially there are several different types, some of which are scarier than others. However, the management methods seem to be similar for them all, so time will tell which type is lurking down the garden, if any. In essence, there is little to be done, other than the immediate removal of the afflicted tree and roots of possible. I assumed that the toadstools themselves were the carriers of the Honey Fungus spores, but it seems that they are mainly indicators of their presence. They should still be gathered up and preferably burned.  There are those who advocate stump grinding but opinions are divided, and the majority seem to suggest that it makes no real difference.

Honey Fungus affects trees and shrubs when they are stressed, and if healthy , they are capable of shrugging off the spores, but if stressed by disease or extremes of weather, they may succumb.

I am unsure whether our birch has Honey Fungus or not, as the real diagnosis lies in the thin white sheath, (Mycelium), which lies under the bark, and the 'bootlaces' (Rhizomorphs) around the roots. As we do not know yet what lies beneath, it is impossible to say with any certainty if we have Honey Fungus, or something much more benevolent. I welcome advice from any wise gardeners out there who have advice to share. I have tried to match my photos with various Google images, but it is fairly inconclusive. My feeling is that we proceed as if we have it, to be on the safe side.

So, we have organised to have the weeping birch felled, and hopefully this will happen next week
It will be a sadness to see it go, but it is clearly beyond saving.

 If we get a positive diagnosis, then we just have to hope that it will not spread to anything else in the garden, and I guess all we can do is to try to keep everything as healthy as we can, and to minimise stress in whatever way we can.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

The Digging-est Dog ...

Who scatters the newly planted wallflowers all over the lawn ? Who tramples down the newly emerged hostas in the spring ? It isn't garden pixies, or an errant child, but our gardening dog, Gus. Ever exuberant, ever youthful and ever irritating, Gus is always on hand to help rearrange the flowerbeds.

He is ten years old, at an age when most dogs have acquired a stately dignity, but he is still in full on puppy - mode. Rather than snoozing on the sofa, he is to be found pressing his nose against the window, crying to come out and join me in the borders.

His favourite garden job is digging and I have to say he is remarkably proficient. Undiscerning, but proficient. His favourite place to dig is in the greenhouse because it is warm and the digging is easy.
He unplants my young tomato plants and I replant them. I build an enormous Gus-proof barrier to stop him getting in, and he bulldozes his way through it.

Gus isn't fussy where he digs though, it can be in the middle of the lawn, or the middle of a flowerbed.

He never digs through the winter, when, to be honest, it wouldn't be a problem, because he is too busy playing at snowploughs, turning into a snowdog or paddling in puddles.

Yep! That black splodge is him ! Making like a snowplough !

The urge to dig begins, for him in spring and coincides with the start of new growth, which , of course, causes maximum damage to tender emerging shoots.

When he is excited, which is pretty much constantly, it is never enough to wag his tail, like other sensible dogs do. No. his preferred way of demonstrating delight is to career round the whole garden in wild circles, cornering precariously, and trampling everything underfoot.

However, I rarely see his face when he is out in the garden, as, more often than not, all I can see is his big black tail and rear end, as his head is either buried in a hole he is digging, or squeezed under the gate to get a glimpse of any passing dogs.

If not digging, he can be found rolling, waving all four legs exuberantly in the air, as he wriggles enthusiastically on anything smelly and usually dead.

We spend a lot of time bathing him and experimenting with shampoos and conditioners to find one which will render him sweet - smelling!

Would I change him ? Never. Exasperating, over enthusiastic and clumsy perhaps, but the most fantastic companion, even if he does squash the flowers when he comes to sit next to me as I work.

Monday, 21 September 2015

"And today we have naming of parts..."

Is it pretentious to have specific names for certain areas in the garden? Is it a wee bit puffed up to have a 'Long Border' or a 'Rose Garden', or is it just the most sensible way to go ? Monty Don has the 'Jewel garden' and the 'Writing garden' which, if I am honest, always make me feel a bit hot and cringy, when he mentions them. I guess you must be a bit pleased with yourself to choose names like those. The whole thing would have totally different connotations if he spoke about the 'Washing Line' garden, or the 'Weedy Border'.
The 'Dog Garden'
As we all have language, ergo, we all have names for everything and everybody. Life would be hard, indeed, if you referred to family members as 'You - with -  the -  curly -  hair  -  standing -  by -  the  - fridge', instead of by their given names. Names may be originally derived from physical characteristics, or by ancestry, as in 'Jackson' (son of Jack), but however they are derived, we need them as linguistic shorthand, as an easy way to reference people.

The Cotinus bed
There are some fantastic road names around the country, which have obviously derived from factual descriptions - 'Feather Bed Lane', 'Dog Kennel Lane' and 'Hat Case Lane' being true examples of the case in point. We need a succinct way of referencing the people, places and things in our life. So, "You know the road I mean, the one which goes past the church" becomes 'Church Street" over time.

Silver Birch bed
The Exotic Gardener and I do have names for the areas in our garden, just to make life simpler, so instead of having to say "The island bed beyond the gate but before the pond" we know what we mean when we refer to the 'Silver Birch bed', as it has, you guessed it, a weeping birch centre stage. Incidentally, this lovely tree has now been officially classed as dead, and is due to be cut down and logged any day. I have a sneaking suspicion that we will still be referring to the 'Silver Birch bed' though, for many years to come.

Greenhouse bed
So, I'll come clean, and name the parts of our garden, and leave you to be the judge! Pretentious ? Moi ? Or just plain sensible?

Silver Birch bed
'The Dog Garden' aka 'the - enclosed - area - near - the -  house - where - most -  of -  the -  pots -  and - planters -  are'. It is defined by a fence and gates to keep the dogs enclosed and contains the greenhouses, dovecote, and various outbuildings.

More of the Dog garden
Go through the gate and there is a series of named bits, namely 'Helen's Garden' (made and named for a dear friend who died three years ago); the Silver Birch bed; the Cotinus bed (self explanatory) and the 'Greenhouse bed' (still so - called, even though the greenhouse itself is lost in the mists of time).

Helen's garden
Then there is 'Top pond' ( as opposed to 'Bottom Pond'), before an arch leads through to the 'Bus shelter' garden (so named after a seat, also no longer here, which did bear a striking resemblance to the real thing!).

Top pond
This is the part of the garden which is taking up much of our time and thoughts at the moment, as we are giving it a major overhaul and changing the feel of it completely. It has never really had a defined style, and has several half-hearted manifestations over the years. A few weeks ago we decided to extend the sub tropical garden into this area, and give it a makeover. Plants have come out to make room for hardy exotics to go in. It has involved lots of hard work and digging , but the hard work is now completed.

The Bus shelter garden undergoing a metamorphis

Now, as the 'Bus Shelter' is no more, and that part of the garden has re-invented itself, I think we need a new name for it. Something a bit self-deprecating, may be a bit amusing and something which rolls off the tongue. Any ideas will be more than welcome ! We have started referring to it as the 'Sub Trop', but we can do better than that!

Summerhouse garden
Moving on down the garden we have the 'Summer House garden' (the sub tropical/ hardy exotic bit, in the midst of which really IS a summerhouse!), veg plot (does what it says on the tin!) , 'orchard' ( ha ha ha ! Do three spindly fruit trees constitute an orchard? That one IS a bit pretentious!) and 'Bottom Pond'.

No caption needed!
Most of our  names are a bit like 'Church Street' - just shorthand references to physical markers which identify a particular area. they are very pragmatic and down to earth. No'Jewel Garden' or 'Writing Garden' here! Perhaps we should rename them the 'Sciatica Garden', the 'Dandelion Garden', 'Dove Pooh Path' and 'Border of a Thousand Curses'?

Erm ... the Orchard

View down to the Bottom pond
Go on then, I've come clean and shared ! What names do you have for the different  areas  of your garden ?

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Season of mist and mellow fruitfulness ...

This post bathes, nay wallows, in self indulgence, so I do ask for forgiveness. I blame it all on losing my tripod camera plate, as for many months I have not been able to track it down, and so all my macro work has been hand held. Not good, as this has resulted in camera shake and poor photos. However, that is now resolved, as I have sourced a new one, and so today I was able to take advantage of the beautiful golden light on the plants, using my tripod once again. Once I started I just didn't seem to be able to stop ...

Above is Verbena Bonariensis against the light. This is the tall variety although I am also growing 'Lollipop' which is about half as tall, and a very useful plant, as it sits so well in the borders.

Eucomis Bicolour
I have grown Eucomis Bicolour for many years and have always wondered why it is so called. The photo above answers my question, and I don't know, now, how I missed those purple tips which contrast so well with the white ! Using a Macro lens really makes you look closely, and sometimes look anew.

I have found Eucomis Bicolour to be extremely hardy, and it weathered the freezing cold winter of 2009/10 outside in the garden, with no protection.

These two photos are of a Cardoon - a tall and stately bee magnet.

Above is Digitalis Illumination 'Raspberry', which has been blooming for months. I intend to dig it up  and overwinter it in the greenhouse, as one of its parents is the Canary island foxglove, which is tender. I left plants in the ground last winter, and, yes, of course, I lost them all !

Erm, it's a bulb, it's late flowering, it might be white ... and I haven't a clue what it is! Suggestions please ?

Above is a Fuchsia, overwintered in the conservatory, so, although it was late into flower, it is a large and healthy plant.

Is there a better blue anywhere ? Salvia Patens, grown from seed this year. They were easy to grow, but the germination rate was very poor at about 20%.

The scarlet Mandevilla, which has flowered constantly since spring, and been absolutely covered in sweet blooms. It is tender, but overwintered well in the frost-free conservatory, and still had blooms on it at Christmas.

The rose-without-a-name because I lost the label ! Again, suggestions are most welcome.

Rudbeckia, the stalwart of the season. Reliable, stands proud without the need for staking, flowers for weeks ... what's not to like ...

Clematis seed head

This dahlia is ancient and has never been lifted, just grown larger and larger over the years, and , ridiculously, I think it has got darker! I really can't remember those nearly black flower centres before, but they contrast very well with the purple petals.

Clematis 'Polish Spirit'

Many of the roses are blooming as strongly as they did in June, and this 'Wisley' is no exception.

Like the harbinger of doom I am, I have included this last shot, as a reminder to enjoy every minute of the remaining weeks in the garden, as pretty soon, it will all look like this ...