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.