Friday 27 September 2013

Seems far too exotic ...

What do we grow best in Lincolnshire ? Potatoes that's what. Peas in abundance. onions aplenty. Solid English veg . So what have I just harvested ... figs and grapes !! I can't believe it , not here in the murky uk where we can go weeks without seeing the sun !

I have had a grape vine for three years now, which has borne absolutely nothing. This year it has burst into life, due to all the lovely hot summer sun and produced proper bunches. Ever cynical, I ate the first one, expecting it to be bitter and acidic. It was gorgeous. Sweet, juicy and still warm from the September sun.

The figs crop every year but this is a bumper crop.

The tree is full of luscious fruit !
Both the grapevine and the fig are in a very sheltered sun trap, made by stone walls, so they can make the most of the warmth. The fig tree has survived  minus 12 degrees so must be as tough as old boots! I keep it lean and mean, as it is planted in very poor, thin soil, which is full of stones. I prune it every year to keep it more or less wall trained and a manageable size.

Potatoes ? Pah! Peas ? Pooh ! In a summer like this last one, we could have had a little citrus grove !!
If only all summers were like that.
RIP the summer of 2013...

Thursday 19 September 2013

5 hot and 5 not - what's still flowering out there ??

Hot :

Passionflower - hot, hot, hot !  Flowers blooming thick and fast, seemingly untouched by the chills of Autumn. Foliage still green and perky!

Eucomis Bi-colour ... definitely still a hottie - fresh, crisp and green with lots of flowers still to come.

Dahlia Fascination - so hot it's smokin' ... If you can remember to deadhead, there is an unending supply of blooms. Although we have had a lot of rain, they seem unspoiled by it.

White hot ! I gave this Phlox the Chelsea Chop earlier in the season, for the first time, and I am so glad I did as it is blooming strongly now, when many of its siblings are just a distant memory !

How could I ignore this little beacon of hotness !! Rudbeckia, flowering its heart out for the third or fourth week. A lovely splash of vivid colour in the border.

Not hot:

Not even lukewarm. Liatris was a fizzing firework of colour a couple of weeks ago, now it has fizzled out !

 Hot pink petunias were sizzling and have been great for weeks but now just a bit ... 

...  'Backendish' as my grandad used to say. A bit overblown and tired now. Past their best, despite copious deadheading. They also hate the rain and cope very badly with it, as you can see!

Not a hottie now, or ever!  Don't ask me why, but I have taken against this poor old Fuschia, and think it looks like 'deadman's fingers'. Don't think I'll grow it again as I don't like the coral pink colour of the flowers or their form.

These white Cosmos have been hot all summer ! There has been a gorgeous profusion of flowers but they are now tall and leggy, with foliage looking a bit tattered and torn. I really, really want to pull these out ...

It is with a sorrowful heart that I have to report that my sweetpeas ('Midnight') are no longer hot. Again, they have flowered well all season, but now all they really want to do is to set seed and die. I keep cajoling more flowers out of them but they have had enough.

There they are ... my 'Hotties' and 'Notties'  . What are yours for this season ?

Wednesday 18 September 2013

The Great Auricula swindle ...or...what AM I nurturing in the greenhouse ?

Auricula 'Averil Hunter'

I have imposters in my greenhouse ... plants that are in there, being nurtured under false pretences !

Like cuckoos in the nest, they are not what they should be !

I thought they were Auriculas ... nope !! So what ARE they ? I hope someone can identify them for me ...

Now, I have come late to Auriculas, and it has taken me more than 50 years to appreciate them in all their stiff loveliness. I first saw them on the stall of the National Auricula Society in Gateshead, in Spring of this year, and I fell in love, buying as many as I could carry.

Within weeks, a couple of the babies I had bought began to bud and then to flower.

I bought more... then, of course, had nowhere to display them, until my partner spotted an old pair of wide, wooden steps in a Reclamation Yard for £15. Did we paint them ? Nooo, shabby chic won the day, so we left them just as we found them.

I like Auriculas and I also like bargains, so I started hunting for them online. There were lots of them, grown by loving enthusiasts and the plants were cheap enough, but the postage was RIDICULOUS !

Ever parsimonious, I decided to buy Auricula seed instead and bought a packet from a specialist amateur grower who showed his plants. Said seeds duly arrived from Ebay and I planted them according to the good, detailed instructions. I had expected slow growth for some reason, and quite demanding seedlings.

They grew extremely vigorously... and bushy ... and quite large...

 I kept tending and feeding my growing cuckoos with nagging doubts. The plants I was growing did not resemble my mature Auriculas in any way ! Their leaves were quite fleshy and thick, not thin, long and dark green like my seedlings. The leaves were a different shape, colour, texture and growth pattern! Hmm!


who knows ?

I told myself that the immature plants may look different, initially, to my mature Auriculas, but nothing changed as they grew larger.

When I introduced 'My Auriculas' to a knowledgeable friend she looked at me in a rather pitying way, and pointed out what I knew in my heart to be true...

Those plants are not Auriculas...

These are Auriculus :

and these ...

I am sure the seeds were sent in error, and that someone else is shaking their heads over a healthy crop of Auriculas they were not expecting. This seed swap was not intentional, and was due, I am sure, to good old human error. As I have made my own share of mistakes in the past (particularly where the garden is concerned!) so surely I can forgive and forget.

 But, how could it take me so long to realise the error ?

And, more to the point ... what are they ??

Any ideas please ? I did wonder if they are Sweet Williams, but not too sure about that !

I would love to know what my cuckoos really are ...

Sunday 15 September 2013

Christmas is over for another year ...

You know that feeling ... you love Christmas and look forward to it. You enjoy every minute , eating, drinking and making merry. You could live forever on chocolates and sherry trifle. The  tree lights are on from the moment you get up to the moment you go to bed. The house looks twinkly and festive and wonderful...

Then, one morning you get up and notice that the cards are beginning to fall over, the holly on the mantelpiece has shrivelled up and the needles are dropping off the christmas tree and you want it all OUT immediately ! You want to put away all the candles, the lights and the chocolates and get back to normal. Even, God forbid, have a good hoover ! Eat pasta and nice bread !

Everything suddenly looks tawdry, garish and overblown. Past its sell by date. It has to go !

I woke up this morning with exactly the same feeling about the garden !

All my focus over the last month or so has been to keep it going and squeeze the last little rainbows of colour out of my plants. I didn't want the party to end, but, all of a sudden, I want to pack the party away. Like the old Christmas tree and the shrivelled holly, I want it gone.

From encouraging those last sweetpea flowers, I now want to just pull out the entire plants, tidy up the wigwam and set it all straight. Ready for next year.

(Just for the record, I'm sure you don't want to see photo after photo of my dead and dying garden, so the rest of the photos are more upbeat - things that are still perky and presentable, in some cases, even edible !)

Moving plants around is now seeming like an appealing idea, and whereas before, I didn't want to 'spoil' the borders, now, I just don't seem to mind. I'm visualising new plant and colour combinations and I want to make them happen. Mentally, I am working towards putting the garden to bed, tucking it up and letting it snooze away the coming winter.

Rosa Reinne De Violette

So, what has caused this sudden change of heart and focus ? I just don't know, is the answer! Moving through the seasons is a subtle art, and some of our reponses are, I'm sure, subconscious and almost primitive. Like the need for baked potatoes and casseroles when it is icy outside. Like the need to sleep more as the days get shorter (oh dear, is that just me ?) Maybe a couple of autumnal days are all it took for me to give up on this season, and with the optimism of a true gardener, to turn my thoughts  next growing season.

I am desperate to rip out all the bedding and the annuals and to cut back the dying leaves of hostas and  Rodgersias.

Of course there are still bits which are bursting with life and vigour and I still take so much pleasure from those, but the bits in between ... I want to annihilate !!

Thursday 12 September 2013

Less Bob The Builder ... more Eeyore

I started the morning like Bob The Builder, with a perky 'can do' attitude, but quickly declined into an Eeyore -like depressive state.

Rudbeckia, Dahlia 'Fascination' and hosta

I'm not at work today, but yet I wanted a challenge. I had contemplated an easy day of drifting to a garden centre to buy a clematis for a friend, but the rain had stopped, so I decided it was a gardening day.

So ... the challenge I set myself ? To find interesting, planned colour combinations still in flower.

Coleus, juniper, sedum and dahlia

Heuchera and Eucomis Bi-colour

After about five minutes, I had to widen that brief to 'interesting, planned flower and foliage combinations'. After another five it became 'planned and unplanned', then I just found whatever I could !

Helenium and Heuchera

It isn't that the flowers are finished - still lots of them out there ! The trouble is , most of them are propping up something in the last terminal stages of die-back. The main colour combination was - any colour + brown!

Calendula and Heuchera

Perovskia 'Blue Spire' and Rudbeckia

It got easier once I included foliage, but it was only when I reviewed the photos later that I realised how heavily the purple Heucheras feature. Nothing wrong in that... just an unimaginative dependency !
Euphorbia 'Thuggia' ( my terminology!) and yet another Heuchera

Is bedding cheating ? If so, I will be drummed out of the 'Gardener's world subscriber's club' because I have included it. I had to, to make up the numbers !

Petunias and ... erm ... a little lilac one !

The photos I have included are misleading in some cases because they look a little better than they actually are. Everything looks better, more intentional and planned, if you get in close to take the shot. It's why I love Macro.

Lobelia Cardinalis and a phormium in the background

Like most gardeners, I am already shrugging off this season and looking forward to the next. Maybe I should spend the winter planning suitable companions for my late summer/ autumn flowers ...

Euphorbia, sweet pea 'Midnight' and Acer Palmatum Purpurea

Friday 6 September 2013

The trial of the wild flower meadow

The trial of the Wildflower Meadow begins with the evidence from the Counsel for the Defence, please see photographs below.

Now, the case for the defence:

'Well, m'lud and jury, you have seen the photographs - the wildflower meadow is a valuable asset to the garden both aesthetically and practically. It contains a rich diversity of flowers which give colour from June to the first frosts. The colour palette shifts subtly through the season, starting off with pastels, in hues of mainly pink and blue. These delicate colours deepen and become more rich as the season advances, moving through to rich reds and vibrant oranges. The meadow enhances the garden for about 4 months and provides changing interest.

However, the meadow is not just a thing of beauty but has great ecological value, as the diversity of flowers encourages insects, bees and butterflies, which in turn benefits the entire food chain. If this area was not planted as a wildflower meadow, then it would be put to lawn, which would severely diminish the opportunities for wildlife. The jury would be wise to listen. if they have chance, to the noise emanating from the wild flower patch. They would hear lots of buzzing and see heavy insect activity. If they were then to turn their attention to the lawn alone, I am sure that they would be struck by the silence and lack of any activity.

There is a great diversity of plants in this area, poppies, corncockle, Ladies Bedstraw, ragged Robin and Cosmos, to name but a few. All these are single flowers which allow bees to access them with ease. The flowers are followed by seeds which are enjoyed by many species of birds.

In summary, the wild flower patch provides a micro - environment which is rich in wildlife , which is sustainable (as the seeds are collected and sown ) and also beautiful. In the wider environment, habitats are shrinking for wildlife, hedgerows and grass verges, meadowland and wetlands are disappearing. Areas of wildflowers are a way of counteracting this, and providing a habitat for a diversity of species.
It is the view of the Counsel for the Defence that the wildflower meadow should remain unchanged.

The case for the prosecution:

M'lud, and members of the jury, I would like to draw the attention of the jury to the above photographs, and to point out how unattractive the area is, for the majority of the growing season. I would agree with my learned collague, that the meadow is attractive at its peak. But it peaks for only about three weeks. In the early stages of growth it is not particularly attractive, and, indeed, only becomes so once flowering begins. As stated before, there is an optimum period of three weeks when the flowers are blooming when then they are standing upright. The jury will note from the later photos how the area is beaten down and unattractive. Flowers go to seed and then die off, leaving dying, brown vegatation, and little colour. I am assured that this happens every year without fail. It was initially thought that the meadow appeared beaten down due to high winds, or even neighbouring dogs, but this has not proved to be the case. This is just the pattern of growth.

The high cost of this area should also be considered, as I am reliably informed it costs £60 a year to buy the wild flower seed, and that planting it is quite labour intensive. This money could be spent elsewhere more effectively.

As for wildlife, I would suggest that there are more than enough opportunities for wildlife to prosper in the garden. There are many single flowers planted elsewhere, and areas of long grass, nettles, woodpiles and a wildlife pond. Birds are fed regularly with a variety of foodstuff. There are plenty of areas to encourage insects birds and mammals.

I propose that this area be returned to lawn forthwith, which would be cheaper, visually more appealing and cheaper.

Summing up by the Judge:

Learned counsel and jury, please consider the fate of the wildflower meadow, before you reach your verdict. I have a small suggestion which may be of help. Could the area not be planted with perennial wildflowers, rather than annuals ? This would, over time, substantially reduce the cost and the labour, and maay result in sturdier plants, more able to remain upright ? This would improve the aesthetics of this area, whic, in my view, has a positive benefit to wildlife.

Come on jury !! Would you don the black cap, or give the Wildflower meadow a reprieve ???