Friday 23 May 2014

The mysteries of the sub-tropical garden

There is a part of the garden which seldom gets mentioned in blog posts, because it is out of my comfort zone. It is also not really mine, in the true sense of the word. Well, it is mine in that I  love it and enjoy it, but I don't plan it or plant it or maintain it. I don't really understand it, and it is a bit of a mystery to me, like growing Bonsai or giant vegetables, I don't have the skills to create it. That doesn't mean I don't love spending time in it, I just don't get what makes  it tick.

For a start the drama is mainly in the foliage, whereas I like my drama to be highly floriferous.

The drama is hard to create, and comes partly, I think, from having height ... 'in your face' height. So, turn the corner and there is a big palm right next to the narrow grassy path. The feeling is of a lush, exotic jungle. Leaves are generally big, and there is variety of form, texture and colour, all jostling together.

Me, I'm a simple soul, striving for an exuberant cottage garden crammed with roses, lupins and sweet peas. It's the flowers which do it for me, the colours and form, and the plants themselves. I love to collect individual plants , so none of that ' three the same' nonsense for me ! The beds are edged with small plants and other plants are graded in height behind them so it's a bit scary when the rules are changed, torn up, thrown away, as they are in the Exotic garden.

The Gunnera breaks all the rules, and is the undisputed king of the garden. One leaf can easily measure a metre across. It is a plant which suffered dreadfully in the winter of 2010, and, although it was not killed off, it had a severe setback, and is still returning to its former glory. 

The banana is a new addition this season, and is 'Musa Cavendish Dwarf', a variety which is frost tender, so we will need to cosset it through the cold weather. For a 'Dwarf', it's quite a size already !

The sub tropical garden is my husband's baby, created over the last 20 years and nurtured through the vagaries of the English climate. In the appallingly cold winter of 2010 we lost so many of our big palms, cordylines and tree ferns. Not only heart breaking, but very expensive too. The lost plants have been replaced now but it has taken all this time to get things back on track. We had been accepted by the 'Yellow Book' for the second year running, to open our garden under the NGS scheme, but the damage was so bad we had to pull out.

The Exotic garden wakes up slowly, and when the rest of the garden is bright eyed and bushy tailed, it is still yawning from its long winter sleep. The tree ferns just do it to worry us, they steadfastly refuse to show any new growth at all until we are totally convinced that they are dead and then, overnight, they gleefully put out new fronds.We discovered that if you dig about gently, you can feel the bumps of tightly furled new fronds deep inside the trunk, before they begin to grow. We spend a lot of time in Spring feeling about for those little bumps, and doing little jaunty celebration dances when we think we find one.

The  'jungle' effect in the Sub - tropical garden is created by close planting a variety of plants, which, although looking exotic, are, for the most part, totally hardy. Certain focus plants are tender, but the majority are tough, spit- in - the - face- of -frost sort of plants . The backbone of the garden consists of ferns, Fatsia Japonica (Castor Oil plant), Hostas, grasses, Ligularia and bamboos. 

Ligularia 'Desdemona'

This Aeonium  is one of the many babies we have, from a single mother plant. They are so easy to propagate, using a sharp knife to separate them from the main stem of the parent, they then root easily in gritty well drained compost.

Hostas - the large leaved one is 'Sum and Substance', the other is not known.

Various ferns and a young Ligularia 'Desdemona'.

Below are photos showing two new areas which are in the process of being planted. Although difficult to make out, there is a row of Fatsias planted at the back, which will provide a glossy evergreen backdrop, in a few years time. There are also young hostas and ferns, newly planted in there, and another Gunnera too. This Gunnera is a smaller variety than 'Manicata' and is called 'Tintoria'.

The other new area contains a white Crinum, Lobelia Cardinalis, ferns and Brunnera. The fern on the left is 'Polysticum Plumosum', and the Brunnera is 'Macrophylla Floraison'.

The character of this part of the garden is very different to all the other areas, and it is a very restful place to spend time ... which is why I have my hammock set up there !!

Sunday 18 May 2014

Bloomin' marvellous ...

It doesn't get any better than this. This is the bit we plan for, dig for, weed for, long for... and here it is, those few sweet weeks when everything bursts with life around us, and every day there is something new in the garden to marvel at .


The Alliums are just coming out now, huge spheres of colour floating above the rest of the planting. Every year I tell myself I must plant more, then promptly forget once they finish flowering!

It's aquilegia time too, and I have allowed them to spring up in unlikely nooks and crannies as well as filling the borders with splashes of colours. Last year I bought quite a few to supplement those already self-seeding around the garden, as they were losing vigour somehow. The colours were washed out pinks and mauves, and the flowers were getting smaller and smaller. I introduced strong new colours like the dark purple, and larger flowers, like the pink and cream plant shown above. I hope that that their influence will be seen in the self - seeds over the coming years.

The first rose opened about five days ago - the climber 'White Cloud' and today one of my new roses began to flower for the very first time. It is a repeat flowering shrub rose, 'Alissar Princess of Phoenicia' and I am really excited, as it is a lovely, big flower with very subtle pink colouring, and a dark eye.

I find chives (pictured above) are very useful to fill an odd corner, or to place at the front of a bed. They split easily, and seem to grow happily in most conditions.

This Cerinthe made it through our mild winter, in the border, with no protection at all. If you have never grown them they are a lovely and unusual flower with fantastic glaucous foliage. They are very easy from seed, but tender, so it is worth saving seed every year and treating them like an annual. I also make sure I overwinter at least one in the greenhouse.

Centaurea, the perennial cornflower, is a thug in the garden, and left to its own devices it bullies more fragile plants, and pushes them out of the way. However, the blue of the flowers is so intense I can forgive its faults for the most part. It will grow anywhere, and will self seed where there is little soil. After flowering I cut it right back and it has another flush of flowers within a few weeks.

The promise of delphinium flowers yet to come. These are going to be a  dark and intense blue. However, if I don't get them staked, I will get up one morning to find them collapsed in a heap, after a heavy shower !

What's not to love about Dicentra, in the pink and the Alba forms ? The flowers are unusual and intricate and well deserve the name of 'Bleeding Heart'.

Why do the plants we don't like, grow so well for us ? Is it spite ? I dislike this bi-colour lupin - well, all bi-colour lupins actually, and I can't remember what possessed me to but it in the first place. I have loads of the blooming' things. All enormous.

Clematis Montana, and bud, growing through the Tamarisk tree, which is also in flower. I thought they would make a good combination, and they do, but the Clematis is mustard and grows almost as you watch, so needs a lot of cutting back and pruning to keep it from smothering the tree.

Yet more self seeds, and they all brought themselves into the garden ! Bright and cheerful, they come in acid yellow and fluorescent orange and they are guaranteed to ruin any subtle colour theme !

So many flowers, so little time ... 

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Tree following - a tale with a tragic ending ?

Oh dear ! I have a horrible that this is going to be a tragic tale rather than one with a happy ending ...

My fig tree is not happy and I have a horrible feeling it is my fault ! Its new leaves are very sparse and at the moment, it looks as if it will stay that way. There are some buds, but not that many. What leaves there are look healthy and disease - free, but the overall impression of the tree is that it is not thriving as it should.

So, what could have caused this poor spring growth ? A cold winter, perhaps ? A new and undiagnosed Fig-tree defoliating disease ? Or a lopper-happy gardener? Sadly, I think it is the latter which has caused the problems!! I think I pruned too late and too hard last autumn and my poor fig tree is paying the price.

So, how will it fare throughout this season ? Will it pick up, limp on, or die ?

There are an awful lot of bare branches, with no leaf buds at all.

I can't blame the cold weather, as our winter was unbelievably mild, and, as you can see, the tree is very well protected by two walls, a brick one and a stone one. It is sheltered from the worst of the wind and the frost, and has survived happily for about ten years.

There is a 'Polish Spirit' clematis which grows through the fig tree, and I pruned that back too, just before it came out of dormancy. It is fine and putting out lots of new shoots, which I need to tie in, as they are casting round, desperate for something to twirl round.

As this area is south facing it gets the best of the sun, and the walls retain the warmth, making a good environment for the fig tree to flourish in . Until a lopper - wielding gardener attacked it anyway !

There are quite a lot of small figs, and I must admit to not knowing whether they are ones which failed to ripen last year, or whether these small figs will grow and mature this season. I should be using this opportunity to research my fig tree and find out more about how it grows ... and how to prune it !

This post is linked to the 'Tree following' meme over at  'Looseandleafy'. If you hop across you will find lots of different trees to read about.