Thursday 28 August 2014

Parcel ... don't mind if I do !

Even the most mature amongst us cannot resist the lure of a parcel through the post. And if that package happens to have the words 'Live plants' on the front, then whose heart wouldn't skip a beat?
Such a package came for me a few days ago. In a perfect world, there would have been a knock on my door, and I would have answered it to a rosy-cheeked postman, who would have handed it to me with a smile and a cheery word. As it was, the postman had thrown the package casually over the six foot gates and I found it a nano-second before the dogs did ! Luckily the packaging was excellent, and survived the ultimate test.

When I was invited, with some fellow bloggers, to visit the Thompson & Morgan Trials ground a couple of weeks ago, something happened that seemed like part of some weird fantasy . All the visitors were handed a sheet of paper with new T & M plant introductions on, and asked to tick the ones they liked, and wished to have sent out to them. Would it be rude to tick them all ? I couldn't resist !

Back in the real world, I forgot about this list of plants ... until the postman threw the first batch over the gate ! It was Belarina double primulas, which are a new introduction for Autumn 2014.

When I took off the cardboard outer sleeve of packaging, I saw that it contained 9 well grown plug plants of Primula Belarina. These are pom pom flowered doubles, and it is claimed that they flower well in adverse weather conditions, with tightly packed, rosebud blooms throughout Spring. They also stay nice and compact.

Now I am a sucker for double primulas, always have been and always will be. My mum adored them and collected them whenever she saw them, and they were some of her most-prized plants. I feel the same and look out for them wherever I am. They always seem too exotic to bloom when the weather is so cold, and have the lushness of summer perennials.

The plants were very clearly marked and labelled, as each cell had an indented letter on it, to help with identification.

The plants came with clear instructions, written in an accessible style, using plain English. Even absolute beginners would have a good idea of what to do with their new plants.

Although the plugs were still moist, healthy and green, I opened up the packaging, watered them, and left them for a couple of hours, before potting them into 9cm pots in the greenhouse. I used a compost mix with a very low percentage of peat, and a high percentage of sticks and bark!! It really does need sieving before every use. 

I have labelled each one using my newest labelling system - lolly sticks with permanent garden marker writing on one side, and black biro on the other. I want to compare how long the writing lasts using different types of pens and pencils as I am so fed up of faded labels, with writing I can't read.

Below is a photograph of the Thompson & Morgan catalogue, showing the colours of the Belarina plugs. They are a mixture of 'Pink Ice' (self explanatory!); 'Amethyst Ice' (purply one, I assume, with white edging) and 'Nectarine' (yellowy/ pinky/ orangey one, don't you think?).

I particularly love the dark purply one, as I already have a similar one which gives me great pleasure.
All the pots are now in the cool greenhouse, and I swear they have grown already over the last few days.

I hope they live up to the catalogue description, and that they flower well for a long period, even through bad weather.

Thank you Thompson & Morgan - can't wait for the postman to throw my next package over the gate !

Friday 15 August 2014

A touch of the Roald Dahls...

I was lucky enough to be invited by Thompson & Morgan, to an exclusive 'Blogger's Afternoon', earlier this week. There was a small, but perfectly formed, group of us garden bloggers and social media users, all looking forward to meeting the new T & M plant introductions.

To be honest, it felt a bit like being in a version of Roald Dahl's 'Charlie and the Chocolate factory' ! In the book, Willy Wonka showed a little group around his factory and demonstrated the marvels that lay within. The world within the factory walls was ablaze with psychedelic colour and brilliance, with novelties which seemed to defy logic, such as gobstoppers that last forever. Now, at T & M , we were confronted by similar conundrums... such as Gazanias which never close whatever the weather! That certainly defies nature as far as I'm concerned.  I once grew Gazanias, once and once only, because the summer was so lousy that I never saw the colour of the petals, as the flowers remained sulkily closed. The new Gazania we were shown spits in the face of cloudy days, and keeps its petals wide open whatever the weather.

Whilst Gazanias don't do it for me, and are not a plant I would grow, as they feel too spiky and artificial, I can see that ever-open flowers are a definite plus point !

Our very own Willie Wonka (aka Michael Perry, New product development manager) gave us an insight into the new flower varieties, showing us around around the rivers of technicolour plants at the  T & M Trials Ground. I think I was definitely the 'Grandpa Joe' character, (if we are sticking to the 'Charlie' analogy) and could be heard muttering softly, "I've heard tell that what you imagine sometimes come true."

Kris Collins (Communications Officer)  took us through the new vegetable varieties and then around the trials field, thick with special 'sinking mud ' from the recent downpours. I don't think the mud had special magic powers, but I may be wrong ...

Willie Wonka gave the literary world cows which produce chocolate milk, whereas the 'Oft-alluded -to - but - never - seen - Charles'  at T&M, designed cosmos wearing a ruff. A Tudor cosmos. 'Sexmos'! Does the world need Tudor Cosmos ? While the answer must be 'no', it is very pretty.

As Willie Wonka invented a 'hot ice cream for cold days' so the boffins at T & M have devised the teeny, tiny Buddleja 'Buzz'. It grows to no more than four feet, yet flower spikes are comparatively large. As these plants are sterile, the question was raised about its usefulness as a source of nectar for pollinators. There is proof in the photo below, and I know that they attract butterflies as much as their larger siblings, as I have four baby Buzzes in my own garden which are pollinator magnets. New introduction is 'Buzz Indigo', with dark, purplish blue flower spikes.

'Square sweets that look round' figure in 'Charlie and the Chocolate factory', whereas T & M have magically shrunk down a Eucomis to cute Patio size. Called, erm, 'Eucomis Patio Collection' they would sit happily in pots, or at the front of the border. I think they could be a useful addition to the family.

As Willie Wonka invented edible marshmallow pillows, so T & M continue on their quest for the Holy Grail of the vegetable world, varieties which are attractive in their own right, as well as edible.  Chilli 'Loco' (below) ticks lots of boxes, as it is certainly attractive with its bushy, compact habit and its purple chillies which are highly ornamental. It was growing outside and was clearly happy to be out in the elements. But how does it taste ? The jury is out on that one ! It was described by Kris  as being mild in flavour, but when eaten raw, packed quite a kick (as testified by certain members of the group!) Clearly its impact will change after cooking.

Willie Wonka gave us chewing gum that never loses its flavour, whilst T & M gave us the magnificently named Petunia 'Johnny Flame'. The name alone sold me, as it could be the name of a frontman in a retro rock 'n roll band. It is definitely rain resistant, as the photo shows it after very heavy downpours, and it has the most beautiful velvety flowers. It is one I will definitely be growing next year.

And the 'TomTato' ... the plant which produces tomatoes AND potatoes well, there must be a bit of Willy Wonka magic going on there ...

Saturday 9 August 2014

And the Award goes to ...

Now we are nearing the end of the season, I've decided to host my own 'Hoehoegrow' Awards ceremony, in the greenhouse. The green carpet is out and my own garden celebrities are arriving in their wheelbarrows, so let's open the first envelope ...

And the Award for the 'Most Irritating' plant goes to ... The Golden Hop ! Given for its habit of strangling every one who walks down the garden, with its sticky, wavy tendrils, which seemingly grow like Triffids overnight. It lurks on trellis, waiting and wafting gently n the breeze, to catch an unsuspecting visitor by the throat.

The next Award is for  the 'Most Unappetising' plant , and the winner is .... 'Black Cherry Tomatoes'. Sorry, but they just don't look like food. They are extremely attractive, and look lovely on the vine, but  I just have no desire to put them in my mouth.

The third Hoehoegrow Award goes to  the 'Most heart meltingly beautiful' plant, and this year there is a outstanding winner. English rose 'Jude The Obscure', whose subtle beauty is matched only by its fantastic fragrance. Honest, no sarcasm, it is just gorgeous !

It was hard to choose a winner for the next category, as there were many contenders, but in the end, the Award for 'Hardest Working' plant just had to go to 'Cosmos'. Grown from seed , Cosmos has been in flower non stop from May, and won't stop until the frosts come. Not only that, but wonderful foliage too. Always good natured, and eager to please, flourishing in all areas of the garden. A well deserved win.

The following category for 'Worst Specimen Plant' had only one contender, so the winner was easy to select. Oh, 'Reine des Violettes' what went wrong ? I'm sad to say that  you will be stripped of your title in Autumn, as you will not longer qualify, because you will not be a specimen plant, but will be banished to the back of the border.

Our next Award is always an interesting one, as contenders change all the time, but the winner of the 'Best comeback' category is ... the Pumpkin ! From a very slow, sickly start this plant has gained health and vigour over the last few weeks, and now is growing what could become a very respectably sized Hallowe'en pumpkin . At one time it looked as if this plant actually would wither and die, but it came back from the very brink, to be the healthy specimen it is today.

'Most Disappointing' is a category with few contenders this year, due to the fantastic weather conditions, but there is an obvious winner - the Sweet Pea. Several different varieties in several parts of the garden have all failed to live up to expectations, despite being deadheaded almost daily. They are now being left to their own devices as they seem to think that Autumn is here and they can curl up and die. They have received all due attention - water, feed etc, to no avail. Flowering has been poor and foliage even poorer. ladies and gentlemen, I give you ... the Sweet Pea ...

'Sweet Rocket is the next worthy Award winner, for being the 'Best Germinator'. Grown from seed for the very first time, it germinated well, and very quickly. Seedlings are sturdy and grew on well, even taking patchy watering in their stride.

We have a new category this year, which is 'Laciest Leaves', and there is an outright winner - the Hosta ! As you can see, those leaves are the laciest in town, and for that we can thank all the slugs and snails which have worked tirelessly to create them. They have even worked throughout the night to finish their creations. Their productivity has been amazing this year, as the garden is crammed with the laciest leaves imaginable.

Our last category in the 'Hoehoegrow' Garden Awards of 2014 is 'Most Surprising ' plant, which has been won by the very unassuming ... 'Black - Eyed Susan'. Bought with bad grace, because it was the only annual climber left in the nursery, this plant has gone on to impress. It has stayed compact yet covered in flowers for months now. A very worthy winner, and a plant which will be returning to the garden next year.

I hope you enjoyed the Awards, and I welcome your personal nominations, have you any worthy winners in your garden this season ?

Saturday 2 August 2014

End of the month view - July

It's sad to see the end of July, as, harbinger of doom that I am, I start to see that the end is nigh ! The end of long warm evenings and sunny days. Yes, I know it is still high summer and there are some weeks yet to come, but the best is behind us now. Oh woe is me. Best make the best of every second that is left !

Everything is still madly growing due to the heady mix of warmth and rain, so the season gallops on apace. I'm sure that growth has usually slowed right down by this point in the year, but this is an exceptional year .

Pots and tubs are at their best, and our few bedding petunias are enjoying the conditions and flowering well. They hate wet summers and hang their heads, but they are all perky and smiley at the moment. The cannas are ones we overwintered and their flowers are huge.

This is a mix of house plants  enjoying their summer holidays - tradescantia and Spider plants; sempervivens, a young agave, a young tree fern and aeoniums.

The host at the front of the photo is just about the only one which the slugs and snails haven't turned to lace ! The bright red flowers are on a newly bought Diplodenia (sounds like a dinosaur!), which I have yet to read up on. I know they are very tender and don't like lots of water, but having killed one off already, I think I need to learn more.

This is an area which was newly planted only a matter of weeks ago, and the plants are filling out reasonably well. Geranium 'Rozanne' is flowering on the right of the photo, and Nemesia 'Confetti' on the left. Cosmos and dahlias fill in gaps, and the red behind is Acer palmatum Dissectum.

The big dahlia is 'Arabian Nights' is several years old, and I have left it (lazily) to overwinter in the ground. it does not seem to have suffered, and we do get severe frosts here.

This is the first year that the clematis has flowered properly, and it is a most unusual shade. It is Clematic Purpurea Plena Elegans and the rose is  'The Attenborough Rose', another one in its first season.

Ligularia is providing the tallish yellow flowers, and there is a lovely new rose 'Greenall's Glory' just getting into its stride. Sshh! Don't tell the big conifer, or the fern, but their days are numbered, come the autumn, they will be gone !

The fernery has acquired a large new stump, and an awful lot more of the small Euphorbia which has plans for world domination, I'm sure ! It marches steadily on, taking no prisoners !

In the sub tropical garden the gunnera has returned to something of its pre-2010 vigour, and the Cotinus 'Grace' is having its smokiest season ever!

I collected Lychnis seed last autumn and grew it in the greenhouse, planting it into every available space this spring. Although some is not in the right place, the majority is lending bright pops of colour to the beds as it sashays through them.

The new Tree Fern (Dicksonia Antarctica)) seems happy in its new position, and the newly moved Tetrapanax (far left) has recovered well and is continuing to grow.

All our veg had a shaky start this year, as we were away for two weeks at a crucial stage, and it was small and a bit pathetic, but, not any more ! The courgettes and pumpkin are beating their chests in a muscular sort of a way, and the beans are flowering.

The beech hedge is now in its fourth season, and it has always been the intention to create an arch over the gate. Up until about a month ago, the plants on either side of the gate had been left to grow unchecked, but once they reached the desired height, the time came to shape them into an arch. I researched it on the internet and read lots about wire frames, then promptly discounted it, and tied the tops in together with lots of twine! Heath Robinson lives on ! I'm hoping that the whippy wood will harden over the winter, and the interweaving branches will give stability and rigidity. We'll see !

We have not been idle for the last few weeks and have been chopping down old elders at the bottom of the garden which are all dead and only held together by the ivy choking them. A lot of the ivy has turned Arborial, and is cutting down the light to the Cornus shrubs beneath. They had to go. This one sacrificed itself by plunging face down in the pond before we even took the bow saw to it ! It must have seen us coming.

So, all in all, a very good month in the garden, mainly due to the perfect weather combination of wet and warm. The overall feel of the garden is a little blowsy now, as things go over and get past their past, but there is still lots of colour and interest ... and work to be done !

Do visit Helen's blog,  'the Patient Gardener', to see lots more EOMVs !