Six on Saturday – 15/9/2018

I don’t know how many different plants I grow, it’s several, if not more. Some are rarities, some are not. Some are big and bold and brash, some so restrained they’re hard to spot. I’m a gardener, I grow plants; for me, two different plants are more interesting than two the same.

Each of us has a different list of elements for what constitutes a good garden, and for each of us the prioritising of the list is different. For me it would depend on the mood I was in when you asked the question. Variety and colour generally occupy first and second slots on my list, usually in that order.

Variety means there’s always something happening, always a reason to go and see how or whether something is coming along. Colour is for me one of nature’s greatest gifts, the more so for being, or at least seeming, like an unnecessary extravagance. Grasses get along just fine without bright colours, why do Dahlias need such gaudery? And why does it seem universally true that when we are surrounded by flowers, be it tulip fields, desert flowers, a field of poppies or the National Collection of Dahlias; our mood is lifted by the experience. We’re not bees, it should mean nothing to us.

Time to cut to the chase. Arthropodium candidum ‘Little Lilia’. Looks rather like the spider plant in the porch, but more compact. Having visited both, I’m vulnerable to the charms of any plant from New Zealand or Tasmania, the former in this case. Bodmin Nursery, where I was surprised to find this, often surprises me with something unexpected. I think I will keep it in a pot and put it under cover for the winter.


A view. The longest axis of our garden. You’re facing north-west in this picture, with much shadier areas just out of shot to left and right. This strip gets sun for a lot of the day. Dahlias provide vivid colour for a long time, supported by Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Fuchsias, Salvias and plenty of coloured foliage. Herman (the head) needs a new wig. Some of the Dahlias over by the tunnel are 6 feet tall, if they were in the right place they’d hide the tunnel.

Some of the begonias we had last year survived the winter, others succumbed to cold, wet and wine weasles. I had no idea what colours they were when I planted half a dozen in this big terracotta pot in the spring. The pot was given us by our elderly neighbour who moved into an old folks home a few months ago and won’t be back. We used to plant and maintain a trough of flowers outside his front door and he would sit in his porch and enjoy them. I’m sure he’d be pleased with how the begonias turned out.

Our floral display at the front of the house is a mix of things moved out of the glasshouse for the summer and pots of bedding plants. And the odd Dahlia that I didn’t get round to planting. And the Impatiens auricoma x bicaudata that were cluttering the conservatory and actually do very well outdoors. And the Coprosma that needs planting out and kept blowing over round the back.

Dahlia of the week. We visited the National Dahlia Collection field last weekend, must be one of their worst years ever, and still it’s fabulous. (and free). I bought this as a rooted cutting from them last year but it struggled somewhat; probably more my fault than theirs. It’s a collarette variety called ‘Danum Torch’.

Colour disharmony. I don’t care, you hear me! Right of the path is the oranges and yellows bed, except it used to be the pink bed and there are one or two still left and the whole clump of Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ died mysteriously in the winter so gap plugging was called for and someone gave me a handful of roots of the anemone and it needed to go in somewhere quick. Excuses, excuses. The dahlia is one of my seedlings, that’s the most flowers it’s had all summer. Solidago ‘Fireworks’ is looming over everything; I’m still not entirely convinced it’s a great plant.
Left of the path hasn’t benefitted from a unifying theme. Zingiber mioga ‘Crûg’s Zing’ is intent on pushing everything else out. Its comeuppance is not far off. It sets off the purple aster, (I assume “aster” is still acceptable as a common name, even if it had too few syllables for the botanists) There’s a camellia at the back, it’ll get huge; a Schefflera top left, it’ll get huge; a magnolia far left, it is huge.

What, please can I have some more sir. I haven’t mentioned Haemanthus albiflos, or Molinia caerulea ‘Heidebraut’. Fuchsia ‘Papoose’ will be over by next week.

Humph, six it is then. Weekends wouldn’t be the same without a few more sixes popping up as links from The Propagator’s post every time I come in for coffee or lunch or whatever. Garden voyeurism of the highest order.


Allotment update – 12/9/2018

I meant this to be a monthly snapshot, but there has been slippage, my last allotment post being at the end of July. That was just after we’d had the first rain for ages but before anything was showing any benefit from it.


My runner beans had cropped well through the hot spell, sustained by copious watering. The problem was that in the hot weather we were eating mostly salads and had no use for runners. We’re not keen on frozen runner beans and have limited freezer space so we ate some, gave some away and put a lot onto the compost heap. I know “food waste” is as toxic an expression these days as “Donald Trump”, but I don’t see this as food waste. If it had been cold we’d have eaten lots of beans and I’d have been dumping lettuce instead. If it had been cold I’d likely have had a lot fewer beans to start with.

If a crop exceeds expectations and you get more than you need, you have food waste. If it falls short of expectations you’re off to the shops to make up the shortfall. If I have lots of cabbages I pull off all the nibbled leaves and just eat the heart; if I have less I do a bit of trimming and eat stuff you wouldn’t even buy in the shops. Rant over.

I didn’t keep on top of picking the beans and when the weather cooled the plants had stopped flowering and were laden with tough pods. I left them to ripen, the dried beans will go in soups and stews over the winter.


At the far end of the row are six plants of a bean given me by another plot holder. They are French, I was told, as if that explained everything. Connoisseur, gourmet; these are the French words that informed my expectations. They set not a single bean in the June and July heat, in spite of having plenty of flower and getting exactly the same amount of water as the rest. Since the weather has cooled, they have been producing modest numbers of short beans, enough for the occasional meal. They’re nothing special.

I read somewhere that at high temperatures runner bean pollen fails to germinate on the stigma. The unfertilised flowers don’t develop pods. ‘Firestorm’, the variety making up the rest of the row, is self fertile. I’d have taken that to mean that it could be fertilised by its own pollen but maybe it means that the beans develop without successful pollination taking place.


I grew two varieties of Sweet Corn this year, sowing ‘Earliking’ on 11 April and ‘Goldcrest’ on 6 May. ‘Goldcrest’ somewhat caught up with ‘Earliking’ and was ready only two weeks later; I could have done with a bigger gap. ‘Earliking’ had smaller cobs but bigger kernels, was much shorter and had fewer cobs per stem. That’s ‘Goldcrest’ in the picture, ‘Earliking’ was pulled out of the bed in front, shredded and spread back, then covered with a layer of compost. The ‘Goldcrest’ cob below is over 7″, without the stem.

Brassicas have done what was asked of them. Cabbage ‘Delight Ball’ took us through summer though I will sow some earlier next year. Following on was Red Cabbage ‘Kalibos’, which I did two sowings of. The second sowing of that, plus a row of ‘Huzaro’, will hopefully get us through the winter. I also have Flower Sprouts, Kale ‘Midnight Sun’ and Purple Sprouting Broccoli for winter into spring. The kale and PSB, in the lower picture, were planted where the peas had been, somewhat messing up my crop rotation.


Cabbage ‘Huzaro’, Cabbage ‘Kalibos’ and Flower Sprouts, with Dahlia for contrast.


Leeks, Kale ‘Midnight Sun’, Lettuce ‘Oakleaf Navara’ & PSB.

I used Italian Ryegrass as a green manure in the first year on my plot, digging it in before planting in the spring. It made prodigious growth, stood very well over winter, protecting the soil from winter rain and holding onto nutrients that would have leached away. The soil tilth when it was turned in was excellent and the nutrients were quickly released to the growing crop. Then I decided to go no-dig. Field beans and grazing rye were a complete failure as green manure in my second year so I gave up and simply mulched the ground in autumn with compost for the next couple of seasons.


Now I’m experimenting with green manure again. I’m hoping the Italian ryegrass will make lots of growth this autumn, perhaps even to the point that I take a cut off it with shears. Then I plan to chop it down and cover it with Mypex early enough to give me a good kill by early May. I’m not quite sure how long that will need so I plan to cover it early February, allowing eight weeks before I want the ground. I can check and leave it longer if I have to. The grassy strip in the picture had onions in the nearer half, potatoes in the further half. The strips of carpet keep the paths weed free, I just need a bit more.

At the top left in this picture are courgettes which, like the runners, cropped like mad when it was hot and we didn’t want them, then gave up. They’re now starting to crop again, so hopefully we shall have courgettes for a few more weeks. The onions still left are spring onions that have bulbed. Some we have eaten but they are much inferior to the “proper” onions, of which we have loads. I grew ‘Rumba’ from sets and ‘Armstrong’ from seed, both very successfully this year. ‘Rumba’ were lifted a month ago, ‘Armstrong’ a few days ago.


Onion ‘Armstrong’ with garden fork for scale.

The only other thing worth a mention is Celeriac, which I love and Sue hates. I should have given it more space but it’s done well enough. I’ve had one, very nice. Oh hang on, did I mention the Dahlias on the other plot?

I might have said this before but they’re seedlings. The outstanding red is called number 15.

Six on Saturday – 8/8/2018

I was going to go and collect my onions from the allotment but it’s just started raining. Today may not be the day I had planned. Tomorrow we’re off down west to the rare Plant Fair at Tremenheere and a jolly round the Dahlia field at Varfell. I’m expecting it to be one of the highlights of the year. I lead a quiet life. I hope the weather behaves itself for that.

In the meantime, six on Saturday has to be negotiated.

Bomarea edulis. I bought this a couple of years back for what seemed too low a price. Last year it languished, slug ravaged and miserable, six inches tall at most, no flowers, looking poor value for money. This spring I potted it on and got it up off the floor. It grew; I gave it an obelisk to climb; it outgrew its obelisk, then it flowered. It’s supposed to be hardy in southern England so next year I’ll plant it outdoors. It’s related to Alstroemeria. Bomarea multiflora is the one I really want.

Hedychium ‘Tara’. Flowering for the first time in several years, to my considerable shame. It has struggled in dry ground with too much shade and competition for years. It will get moved this winter. I’ve said it and the world is my witness. It’s on the winter ‘to do’ list, near the top.

Agapanthis inapertus ‘Icicle’. Not for the first time I have learned something interesting while getting some background for one of these posts. This was collected in the Transvaal by Michael Wickenden, who used to run Cally Gardens Nursery until his untimely death a couple of years back. No wonder it’s such a classy plant. I must give it a proper label before I lose track of it.

Hydrangea serrata ‘Cap Suzin’. I’m very fond of Hydrangeas and if I had a bigger garden I would have many more. As it is I only have ten and this is probably the best of them. It’s a French raised variety that is undecided whether it is a mophead or a lacecap. In my garden it flowers a clear blue and does so in great abundance at normal hydrangea season in June. This year it struggled in the heat but has a smattering of late blooms now that it is cooler.

Primula Belarina ‘Pink Ice’. The Belarina series is extensive and includes some lovely varieties. Arguably they lack something of the refinement and charm of some of the older double varieties but that’s a bit of a hackneyed argument. All double primroses lack the simplicity and whatever of wild primroses. I grow them too, lots of them. We’re a week into September and it looks like this, I’m not complaining.

It’s Dahlia season, I have to have a Dahlia of the week. It shall be ‘Penlea’, about which I have only good things to say. Except that it’s a bugger to get a decent picture of. It has that velvety texture combined with maximum colour saturation and it never seems to look quite right.

That’s yer lot. Now scoot over to The Propagator’s SoS post for links to other fascinating sixes from around the world, and join in, show us what you’ve got happening.


The honest truth is that I don’t have much to say about Dahlias. I grow quite a lot, I love them. When I say quite a lot, I have around two dozen in the garden, almost all named varieties that I’ve bought, plus 56 seedlings that I’ve raised myself which are growing on my allotment.

The seedlings were raised from seed I collected from two of the named varieties, ‘Orange Cushion’ and ‘Veritable’. They are astonishingly varied, with singles, semi-doubles and doubles in red, yellow, pink and mauve. Most have green leaves, some are dark, one almost black. As a block they are amazing, but when you start to look closely you see their limitations and realise how good the best named forms really are.

There are a few with blooms of good colour, shape and size. There is one that has been a block of colour for many weeks, though its flowers are not outstanding. A few have a hopelessly untidy habit of growth.

It is perfectly easy to get full sized flowering plants by midsummer from seeds sown in March. I shall keep the ones I have, leave them in the ground and protect them as best I can. Next spring I shall sow more and perhaps plant out three more rows. If nothing else it should make a spectacular display.

Most of my Dahlias are left in the ground over winter. My practice has been to grow small plants on in pots until they are a reasonable size then to plant out into ground that has been liberally improved with garden compost. I usually plant in a slight hollow so that it’s easier to pile leaves or some such over the crowns in winter.

When they get a couple of feet tall I drive four canes in around them and run two or three loops of twine around to support them. The canes are soon hidden by foliage. In dry weather I water them thoroughly perhaps weekly, and if a boost to growth is needed I liquid feed them. I dead head them, simply snapping off the spent flowers. I don’t disbud them to get bigger blooms.

Slugs are predictably the biggest problem, mainly when new growth is starting in spring, and various methods are used to control them.

This year was probably my most difficult yet. Many of the plants were very slow to get going in the spring. I don’t think this was because the cold had damaged them but rather that the ground was colder than usual. Perhaps planting deeper played against me for that reason. Because they were slow, they struggled to outpace the depredations of the slugs. Most did eventually get growing and they sailed through the summer drought with comparatively few problems.



Six on Saturday – 1/9/2018

I usually have to pretend I’m writing on a Saturday but not this week. A blizzard of a week, possibly; disorganised, certainly; bit of a sense of things slowing down, not so much changing from one week to the next, let’s go with that.

Six reflections on the colour red.

I had a row of Dahlias on my veg plot last year, which I dug up last autumn, and missed one. Dahlia ‘Alva’s Doris’ amongst the cabbages.

SOS592Talking of cabbages, this is ‘Kalibos’, a “red” cabbage. Strip away the outer leaves and it would look better; slice it in half and it’s a thing of beauty. It’s not red though.

“I support the left, but I’m leaning, leaning to the right”. Changing allegiances later in life, how does that happen? I blame JK.

SOS596I already peeked at someone else’s post and am experiencing a twinge of guilt over this one. I grew chillies this year, for the first time. ‘Apache’ and ‘Ring of Fire’. They did rather well, and there’s more to come. Lots more.

SOS597Not meant to be. There was a rogue seed in the ‘Sungold’ packet, which only became apparent when these very small red cherries ripened. They’re OK, but ‘Sungold’ are better.

SOS591Start with a Dahlia, finish with a Dahlia. Really deep reds don’t jump out like the vivid reds; I’m drawn to them close up, but they don’t pack a punch in a planting scheme, especially if they only produce a few flowers at a time. They’re also difficult to get an accurate photo of, this is about right, but it’s away from the context where it’s growing, amongst many other, brighter Dahlias. It’s the darkest of my seedlings. Name, you want a name? I’ll call it ‘Jim’s Dark Red’, unless you can come up with something better.

Right, I’d better get this posted and stick a link onto The Propagator’s Six, so the world knows I’m still here. I urge you not to be a passive bystander but to join in, it is truly fascinating to get these little windows into such a wide range of other people’s gardens.

Top corner.

My polytunnel is tucked as far into the top corner of the garden as feasible but there is still a fair sized space behind it. Until late May the space was home to a large Magnolia, two large Camellias and a mix of hazel and cotoneaster, all making the tunnel rather shady. The Magnolia was leaning at 45 degrees and resting on the tunnel, it had to go.

Armed with a small triangular bow saw, I wasn’t able to cut it very low, so a stump about 3 feet tall was left. One Camellia I cut to the ground, the other to around 4 feet. I then potted up some Camellias in 20 litre tubs and stood them in the space.


Space is a junk magnet, there’s a Magnolia in the middle somewhere.

The Magnolia decided not to take such maltreatment lying down and started to shoot, which I noted but did nothing about. Yesterday I moved the Camellias out of the way and had a proper look. I don’t know why I let it develop two stems from the base like that.

I think I can get the magnolia back as an upright tree on a single stem. It will have a bend at the bottom which won’t matter, but it is growing strongly suggesting the root system is in good shape, even though it had allowed the tree to fall over. For now I have left a few shoots. Next spring I will choose a good one, hopefully it will be the lowest, and remove the rest. Because the shoots are epicormic, that is they’ve arisen just below the bark, they are very susceptible to being knocked off. The Camellias will shelter them, so long as they don’t get blown over onto them.


Both Camellias had started shooting too but the one I’d left was just too near the tunnel. They’ve been cut to the ground and the stumps treated.


The leftmost shoot is the one I will try to keep but for now I’ve left others in case it doesn’t thrive and to keep the stump alive until the shoot is well away. Snails are a threat.

The Magnolia is ‘Vulcan’, a variety that isn’t highly regarded in this country because its flowers are not the glowing red-purple they are in New Zealand, its country of origin. It is nevertheless a prolific flowerer and still worth having as a small tree.

Six on Saturday – 25/8/2018

The weather is completely back to normal, a bit of this, a bit of that, nothing to remark on. Except that the effects of the hot spell are still playing out, with early flower here and renewed growth there, meaning that it doesn’t quite feel normal. At least there is more colour about now, with Dahlias in full flow, Heleniums making an effort, Geraniums and Alstroemeria back to something near their best.

When the worst I have to worry about is what to include and what to leave out, I shouldn’t complain. Here we go then.

Yucca gloriosa ‘Variegata’. My excitement around how brilliant this was shaping up to be has been slightly tempered by seeing equally good ones all over the place. Like so many plants, it’s easy not to notice them until they flower. I have taken several pictures of it; from the street, with a neighbour’s wall as background, close up. Just need a drone shot for the full set.

Roscoea hybrids. The arrival on the scene of Roscoea ‘Red Ghurka’ seems to have kick started a bit more interest in this classy little genus. I don’t know who started the ball rolling but I have bought hybrids from Wildside and from Tale Valley nursery in the last couple of years. Keith Wiley at Wildside had masses of them around the garden a few years back. Mine set loads of seed and I now have masses of seedlings coming on. Saw a tweet about William Roscoe t’other day, all round good guy that he allegedly was.


Dahlia of the week. ‘Royal Velvet’. I might have done this one before and if I have I make no apology. One thing that growing a lot of Dahlias shows up is that a lot of Dahlias have excellent individual blooms, some have loads of blooms over a long period, providing a fantastic floral display, and almost none have both. ‘Royal Velvet’ has both.
If I was only allowed to keep one of my several Dahlias, it could be this one. But then again…….

Agave Americana ‘Mediopicta Alba’. I just saw an ad for an 11cm pot of this on eBay. £15.95. This one is in a 20 litre pot. Unrooted divisions a lot smaller than the ring of them round mine were going for £9.99. I need insurance. I just moved it out of Sue’s glasshouse; it’s a beast, when it stabs you, you stay stabbed. It desperately needs potting on but it’s pretty much impossible to handle now so I’m thinking of putting it in the ground under the canopy of a large conifer we have in the middle of the garden. I’d put it on the south side so it would be in full sun, kept hard and mean by competition with the tree roots, fairly dry even in winter, bit of protection overhead from frost. I’d wean the babies first, keep them in the glasshouse. Just have to dig a hole through the tree roots, get it out of the pot and into the hole….. Tomorrow maybe, or the day after. Dreckly.

Hedychium densiflorum ‘Assam Orange’. Early one evening a few years ago I smelt this and it had a strong sweet perfume. As far as I know it’s had no detectable scent before or since. Hedychiums like plenty of water during their growing season; when I plant the Agave above, it will displace Hedychium ‘Tara’, which is desperate for somewhere where it gets more summer moisture. I haven’t worked out where that’s going to be yet.

Athyrium nipponicum ‘Burgundy Glow’. I include this before back in May when it had just leafed out and was looking lovely. It was amongst the many items in the garden left to take their chances in the drought and it died down completely. I figured that was it for this year, just needed to keep my fingers crossed that it came up next spring. Turns out it isn’t finished with this year and it’s coming up again so that it can be a mass of fresh new leaves when winter arrives. I’m surprised there’s been enough rain to turn it around, especially where it is in the root zone of a couple of large trees. Several other ferns around the garden are also making new growth, though none had died down completely like this one.

Hedge cutting today, methinks. Can’t put it off any longer. Short bursts interspersed with cups of coffee accompanied by visits to the sixes of contributors from everywhere. The Propagator is the host with not just the most, but all the links.