Tuesday 31 March 2015

March goes out like a lion ...

March can be cold beers in the summerhouse, or howling winds, and there have been precious few cold beers drunk this month ! The winds today have been strong enough to blow lorries and trees over, causing the bridges over the Rivers Humber and Ouse to be closed at the same time, making travel around our region difficult.

This March has been a cold, grey month which seems to have slowed down the ticking of the time bomb which is spring. To be honest, it feels as of nothing much is happening in the garden at the moment. Yes, there are patches of welcome colour from bulbs, pulmonaria, hellebores etc, but the stalwarts of the spring garden, Flowering Currant and Kerria Japonica  remain in tight bud, whilst the Forsythia has only opened its flowers over the last couple of days . There are some small benefits to this cold month, however, such as very little weed and grass growth, but spring is definitely dawdling along and dragging her heels.

Polyanthus 'Gold Lace'
Even the seeds grown in the warmth of the propagator and conservatory seem to be slow to germinate and to grow, perhaps due to lower light levels than usual? I'm not sure. Sad soul that I am, I have kept a journal every day for the past thirty years, and each year I record the first day I see the leaves of the Hawthorn unfurling, and the first day there is frog spawn in the pond. Both these events are two to three weeks later than they were last year.

Despite the lack of plant - action in the garden so far this season, we have not been idle. Today we were out in torrential rain planting thirty bare root beech hedging whips. Not pleasant conditions to work in, but essential, as the whips had been sitting in a bucket of water for three days since they were delivered. The area had to be cleared of ivy and debris before we could start planting the new boundary hedge and we also replaced five dead plants from hedging we planted last year.

Life is slowly returning to the ponds, but the water is still icy cold and boiling with frogs, which have laid many clumps of spawn in the shallows. Some marginals are beginning to grow, and the Marsh Marigolds are now in bud. Cowslips are flowering at the pond side  but there are no primroses yet in evidence.

The moss... erm ... grass is a bright technicolour green at the moment, and will need patches of re-seeding when the weather warms up, due to wear and tear.

The veg plots are all dug over, in readiness for planting when the soil warms up. Folk lore has it that Lincolnshire farmers used to test the soil temperature, in readiness for planting potatoes, by taking down their trousers and sitting down on the ground, on their bare bottoms! If it felt cold then it was still too early to plant ! Not a custom I think we will be reviving!

The leaves on the raspberry canes are just beginning to open.

The sub tropical garden is always late into growth, but the early signs are good that everything has made it through the winter. The Eucalyptus Gunii, moved in the autumn, has survived, and is coming into leaf, and the Tetrapanax looks as though it has weathered all the storms. Because we have had such a mild winter, we do not appear to have lost any of the more tender plants, that have overwintered in the greenhouse, or been protected in situ.

The Gunnera is just beginning to wake up and put out relatively small new leaves, which will become enormous as the season progresses.

There is new growth on all the roses, which is most welcome, and it began much earlier in the year. All have been pruned recently. The rose photographed has a beautiful red edge to every leaf (wish I could remember which one it is!).

I have planted up a new bed, since we had a large prostrate conifer taken out at the end of last year. It has been a pleasure to have a new space to fill, rather than having to shoehorn new plants in to existing beds. I have planted roses 'Boule de Neige' and 'Absolutely Fabulous'; Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow'; Digitalis Illumination 'Raspberry; Hellebores 'Christmas Carol', 'Rose Green' and 'Joel' and I will fill in any gaps with annuals later in the year. I intend to shape the self seeded,  double stemmed holly into a single stemmed, formal ball.  

Other beds are showing some colour and new growth, especially from some perennials like delphiniums and Aconitum. I always think Aconitum gives real value for money as it is one of the first perennials to show, yet it is one of the last to flower, and then to disappear.

Auriculas , sempervivums and Tete a Tete daffodils

Farina Auricula 'Nigel' , now budding

Dark blue hyacinths and Tete a Tete daffodils
The greenhouses are full to bursting at the moment, and we are in the process of sourcing some cold frames to relieve the pressure. Both are unheated so anything requiring warmth is kept in the conservatory - which is also fit to burst! The cold greenhouses are housing potted up dahlias, various newly planted perennial bare roots (including day lilies, irises, Echinacea, Kniphofia, Gypsophila ), and newly rooted rose cuttings. From collected seed I am growing perennial sweet peas, annual sweet peas, Ligularia, Agapanthus, Hosta, Helichrysum  as well as lots of overwintering Penstemon cuttings. Although things are growing they do not seem to be growing away very strongly at the moment.

First true leaves appearing on Ligularia seedlings
Clematis Armandii is in full flower, as our pots of bulbs such as hyacinths, daffodils, Snake's Head Fritillary and primroses. I have some of the Thompson & Morgan doubles, and they are gorgeous, as well as the double 'Miss Indigo' (see blog header photo).

Clematis Armandii

Double primrose 'Pink Ice'
In the conservatory are lots of seeds and seedlings. The dahlias ('Giant Hybrids' and 'Bishop's Children') are doing well, but others, like Coleus are sulking quietly. I am also growing about half a dozen varieties of tomatoes and chillies; peppers; aubergines; bananas (don't ask!); Melianthus Major; Tithonia; Zinnia; Cosmos; Nasturtium ('African Queen').

This post is part of the 'End of the month view' meme, hosted by Helen , over at  The Patient Gardener, so do take a little trip over there !

Monday 23 March 2015

Plantfest - plant purchase for March

Every month I am setting myself the task of buying a plant in flower, as suggested by the late, great Geoff Hamilton, so that, by the end of the year, my garden will have all round colour. It is a burden as you can imagine, but I am learning to cope somehow! I am trying to push out of my own little horticultural comfort blanket, so that I purchase a plant which is completely new to me.

My visit to the nursery this month resulted in the purchase of a plant I have seen before, and has caused me intense plant-envy in the past. It is 'Fritillary Lutea', a luscious, gorgeous thing, which seems far too exotic for the bitter winds of early spring.

A month ago, the nursery yielded little colour, but this visit was completely different, and there was an explosion of pastels. It really lifted the spirits to see so much colour again after the bleakness of winter. I had to discount many of the plants though, as  I have loved (and often lost) them before. The rules are that the plant purchased has to be unknown and ungrown, and much of the colour in the nursery was from primroses, hyacinths and miniature daffs, all of which are very familiar to me.

I was quartering the sales benches, like an eager retriever, when my nose caught an unusual smell which lay heavily around whole area. It was a difficult smell to place, not unpleasant, but equally, not pleasant; reminiscent of something I recognised but was unable to recall. It was very pungent and hung in the air without dissipating. Reader, I should have walked away while I still had the chance ! However, by this time my eye was taken by the huge golden - yellow bells of Fritillary Lutea, and I was hooked. I quickly checked the label for any contra-indications, like soil type etc, but there was nothing to stop me, so into the trolley it went.

A stately, elegant plant, with fleshy green leaves, it looked the epitome of health and vigour. The flowers are borne above long, spear-shaped leaves. This exotic looking plant has a weird little top-knot, almost like a leafy pineapple, set above the flowers, which are downward facing. At the moment the flowers are still in bud, but in a short while they will open to be large bell-like flowers, with white stamens, which protrude from the base. 

I may have inadvertently picked up a couple of other very small plants on the way to the checkouts, I don't really recall! What I do recall is that the cloud of odour travelled with me every step of the way.
It was only when I was talking to the woman on the till, that I realised that the smell was coming from the trolley! It was only when she said;
"Gosh that is one stinky plant!" that the penny actually dropped !
The car journey home was breezy, to say the least, as every window was open to get rid of the strange odour.

To be honest, now this lone plant is not in an enclosed  place, but enjoying the great outdoors, I can barely smell it, just an odd whiff occasionally, when I lean in close. Reading up on it, the smell has been described as "odd" and 'foxy" by others.

(No apologies for dirty hands and compost-filled nails, which had been doing an honest day's work in the greenhouse!!)

The label below gives all the basic information needed to make a plant happy in its new home - it likes any well drained soil in full sun ; is happy in mixed beds and borders; needs water in dry weather (now, there's a surprise!) and enjoys a weekly feed. height is around 90cm, although I have read that it can be more if the plant is truly happy.

Since I got home I have been reading up on my new acquisition, and sadly, feel that a warning has been omitted from the label, to the effect of :

'WARNING ! This plant is considered highly desirable by any self respecting Lily Beetle, which will travel miles to get a mouthful!'

I also feel I should be prepared for this onslaught, and so should erect a big sign next to my Fritillary Lutea, with an arrow on it, saying "All Lily beetles this way. Please form an orderly queue." 

I shall be keeping a vigilant watch, and have my squishing fingers at the ready!

(I was going to grapple with Mr Linky, so that anyone who wished to join in every month, and buy a new plant, could add a link to their blog from here. Sadly, Mr Linky and I grappled to no avail - but you are very welcome to put a link in any comment you may add.)

Saturday 14 March 2015

'A rose by any name at all ...' Part 2

Scientists and inventors, pin your ears back and listen to a bit of advice! Never mind splitting the atom and pottering about with the Hadron Collider, your time would be better spent inventing a plant label which DOES NOT FADE. I've tried, God knows I've tried, over the years, to find one which lasts more than a few weeks in the garden, but to no avail.

So far I have tried plastic labels with black permanent pen and pencil;

lollipop sticks with pen/ pencil; copper labels with an indenting tool (see post header); red permanent pen ;

black labels etched with a little pointy tool ...

the list goes on and on.

And do you know something ?

 NOTHING WORKED. They all end up looking like this ...

or this ...

A few months after I have carefully written my label, it is an indecipherable blur and I haven't a clue what I planted. Although I can recognise most of the plants I grow by their leaves I need to know the names of the variety. I forget which rose I have planted where, and I need to know all their names.

I have posted about it before, and if you wish to find out more, here is the link ...

'A rose by any name at all ...'

For christmas I asked Santa for a labelling machine, to see if it would solve the knotty problem of the fading label once and for all. I did my research beforehand, although, to be honest, there weren't many garden labelling machines to choose from. I chose a 'Brother GL-H105 Professional garden Labeller' and it cost around £30.

As Spring has now sprung, and I am sowing and potting on for the Olympic Team, I have just started using it. I can't predict how the labels will fare over time, but I am already pleased with the results, as the labels look much more professional than my handwritten ones.

By the way, this is not a sponsored post in any way, it is just me trying out a new gizmo, and being totally honest about what I discover.

The machine is a good size for a handheld, small enough to hold comfortably, yet large enough for the buttons to be used easily. The keyboard is set out alphabetically, which will slow down those used to a QWERTY keyboard. However, it will not be used for typing a novel, so I guess it matters not. It needs 6 AAA batteries, which, of course didn't come with it, so I had to go out and buy those first, before I could use it.

The machine works by printing labels on an adhesive tape, which can then be put onto any dry surface . In my case, I will be sticking them on plastic plant labels but I guess there are lots of ways to use them in the garden, greenhouse or shed. There is a promise that the labels will not fade over time, that they are waterproof, and resistant to frost, heat, chemicals, humidity and abrasion.

The machine is reasonably intuitive to use. The cassette containing the label tape needs to be snapped into place, and the batteries fitted. That's all you need to do before you are ready to roll!

 There is a limited choice of  font sizes, and letters can be typed in lower case, upper case or italics. I  briefly tried the main choices to  be able to make comparisons, but there is probably lots I haven't discovered yet.

Below, you can see the fonts and sizes I tried out. I discounted the 'italics' font immediately as the spacings between the letters were quite wide, which meant that each label used up quite a lot of tape. As the tapes are quite expensive, it makes good sense to use as little as possible for every label. Label length and width can be adjusted, so I have set them to be as small as possible to preserve tape, as each new tape cassette retails at about £16, (although can be bought discounted for around £7) . I shall be interested to see how long each one lasts.

'Blue Ensign' is printing on the 'small' font setting and in lower case. To my mind , this is a little too small, and the letters do not have enough impact. There is a relatively large amount of blank tape.

'Sexy Rexy' (it's a rose, honest !!) is in Medium font, and in the words of Goldilocks, it is "Just right"! The font size is easily readable and pleasing to the eye.

'Ascott rainbow' (yes, I know it looks as if the double 't' is a spelling error, but that is how it appears on the label the plant came with !) is in Large font. It is very acceptable, but uses more tape than the Middle sized one.

'Musa basjoo' is in italics,and, to my mind, takes up far too much tape.

So, for most labels I write I will be using the Medium sized font, in capital letters. There are other choices like 'outline' and 'shadow' but I just want a plain, easily readable label, at the end of the day.

When the label is written , it can be printed immediately, 

and the tape is then cut by a fiendishly tiny guillotine, hidden away in the innards of the machine, which jumps into action when the white button (bearing the scissor icon) is depressed.

When the label has printed out, the adhesive backing can then be removed. Like everything else, there is a definite knack to this, as the backing paper is split into two, horizontally, so bending the label slightly makes it easier to peel the backing paper off. I am attempting to do this one-handed purely for the purposes of this blog, as I was taking one handed photos with the other hand! I'm sure it is much easier using two hands !

This label was about the tenth that I attempted, and it is the neatest and most professional. I am pleased with the way it looks, and will be watching like a hawk to see if there is any fading over the coming months and years. If there is, I want my money back. Every last penny!

I won't be using my Labeller for every label from now on as it would be too expensive and time consuming. I will use it for labels on special garden plants, which I need to last for ever. I will make one for all my roses, and for any plant where I really need to know the variety. I will not be printing labels for any annuals, as these are only needed for a few short months. I think the Labeller will be invaluable for Open gardens days, when people love to know the names/ varieties of plants they see in situ. I can go round beforehand to ensure that all main plants are labelled.

Overall, I give it a definite thumbs up for ease of use and appearance of the labels, but the jury is out on the main issue of fading.

Sunday 1 March 2015

Decisions, decisions, decisions ...

I have set myself a monthly task, for the whole of this year, which is both pleasurable and painful, a task suggested by the late great Geoff Hamilton, who suggested that gardeners should buy a plant every month which is in flower, to ensure that there is colour in the garden all year round. I thought it was such a cracking idea, when I read about it, that I knew it was something I wanted to do throughout this year.

The 'pleasure' is obvious, who wouldn't want to walk around a nursery knowing that they 'had' to buy something! The 'pain' comes from the extent of choice, and having to make a decision. This is a long, long process for an indecisive person, such as myself...

In the end, I could not walk past the 'Snake's Head Fritillary' (Fritillary Meleagris), and it ended up coming home with me. I am cheating slightly, as I vowed that every month I would buy a plant which  I had never grown before, and whilst I have had a very brief flirtation with 'Snake's Head Fritillary', they died off after one season, never to be seen again. So we are not exactly well acquainted.

It is a Native wildflower, and prefers to grow in light shade, under shrubs or in light woodland. It grows to about 30 cm and is totally hardy. Preferred soil is light and well drained. 

It goes without saying that its beauty lies in the spectacular chequered flowers which come in shades of mauve and purple, and also in pure white. The flowers are large and delicate, in comparison with the rest of the plant.The buds have a very subtle check and are just as attractive as the open flowers.

When I got home I put them into a terracotta clay pot, near the back door, so that we will see them every time we go out. I could have planted them in a border, down the garden, but felt that we would enjoy them so much more if they were close by the house. I will plant them out when they have finished flowering .

Although the task is to buy one new plant per month, it doesn't say anywhere in the rules, that you can't buy more than one ! So, these chaps also came home with me - not in flower, but equally gorgeous !

This is Euphorbia 'Ascott Rainbow', a delicate variegated form with pink new growth, and yellow edging to each leaf. It is a nice compact plant - about 50cm x 50 cm, and is winter hardy in the UK. Even the heads of the dark - eyed green flowers are tinged with yellow, when they open in late winter/ early spring. It prefers shade or semi-shade, and does not like soil which is wet.

It is equally happy in a container or in a mixed border, and would make an excellent container plant as it has all year round interest.

My last choice was another member of the Digitalis 'Illumination' family. I was very underwhelmed with them at first, as my first season with Digitalis 'Illumination Pink' began in a very disappointing way, with slow growth and few flowers. In fact I blogged about it, and here is a link to my old blog, if you would like to read a little more about it -  'Dare I say disappointing ...'  However, as the plant grew and matured it began to perform in a much more robust way, and I ended up just loving it. During its second season it performed exceptionally well as it has a long flowering period because it does not set seed.

'Illumination Raspberry' has rich red flowers with a paler throat. It grows to about 45cm x 75cm. It prefers a week drained soil and will grow in full sun or partial shade. I can't wait to see what those flowers are like in reality .

I have a feeling that this monthly visit to a nursery is going to prove rather expensive ...