Six on Saturday – 22/7/2014

It’s the height of summer, there are flowers everywhere. Come winter, it’ll be hard to keep this meme going as there’ll be so much less going on. At least there’ll be the foliage plants to fall back on.

When I worked on a nursery customers would come in wanting to know what a plant they’d seen somewhere was. They would describe the flowers, perhaps show you a picture taken on their phone. You’d ask what the leaves were like and they wouldn’t have a clue.

My six this week are all primarily grown for their foliage. They are all providing stirling service at this time of year as focal points, background or ground cover. They are all as it happens, antipodeans. They deserve better than to be overlooked.

One. Ozothamnus hookeri. A neat, compact bush that has reached around 75cm height and width with us, though this one is a bit less than that. It is native to alpine and sub alpine areas in Australia and Tasmania and is tolerant of quite wet ground. It needs to be grown in full sun to stay compact. The stems are less than 1mm in diameter, with the leaves tightly pressed to them. Tiny dull white flowers are produced at the shoot tips in mid summer, strongly honey scented though not, as far as I have observed, attractive to insects.
There is a variety of Ozothamnus called ‘Sussex Silver’ which is sometimes listed as a variety of O. hookeri, which has much stouter stems and grows much more vigorously. It may have O. hookeri in its parentage but is a very different and IMO inferior plant.


Two. Astelia chathamica. For many years this was sold as Astelia ‘Silver Spear’, though the RHS Plantfinder always gave that as synonymous with Astelia chathamica. It comes from the Chatham Islands, which are east of New Zealand at the same latitude as central South Island. Here in Cornwall I have never had any concerns about its hardiness. Mine has always been in an open position, getting full sun for most of the day, though it is said to prefer light shade and to be one of the few silver leaved plants happy to grow in such situations. In New Zealand Astelia species seem usually to grow in shade, on the forest floor or as epiphytes, but the light levels out there are much higher than here. For me its key merits are that it has grown to about 1m in height and stopped, and is as bright and silvery after twenty years or more as it was when planted. Compared to Phormiums, those are real positives.


Three. Blechnum penna-marina. This small, spreading fern is native to South America, Australia and New Zealand. As far as I know the forms usually grown in the UK are from New Zealand. In my garden it is growing in shade and spreads at a moderate rate of around 20cm a year. It makes a very dense carpet and smothers weeds effectively. The neat evergreen foliage is attractive all year but especially when making new growth in spring, the new leaves being held upright and having a reddish-bronze colour. I have had sporelings spring up away from the main clump very occasionally but the usual method of propagation would be by dividing the clump. I haven’t always found it easy to re-establish.


Four. Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Elizabeth’. I remember when this was introduced that the suppliers made much of it being a hardy selection. With ever milder winters that is less relevant than it was in the south, but perhaps means it would be a good choice to try in colder areas of the country. One of the features of the variety was that it acquired strong pink tones in cold winter weather, an effect that has been barely noticeable on my plant for most of the past decade or so. The leaves are quite large, with a bold white margin, the habit is upright and quite narrow, to an eventual height of 5m or so. The dark purple flowers are strongly fragrant, though hardly showy. Most evergreens have dark foliage; it is the lightness of this that is its best attribute.


Pittosporum Elizabeth-2

Five. Muhlenbeckia astonii. A divaricating coastal shrub from New Zealand which emphatically qualifies as interesting rather than showy as a garden plant. Very slender zig-zag stems, tiny leaves and when it produces them, transparent flowers about 5mm across; what’s not to love. It’ll be either male or female, one day I shall examine its bits with a hand lens to try and determine which.


Muehlenbeckia astonii-2

Six. Chionochloa rubra. I was astonished to find pictures of this plant that I took in 2000, when it was not much smaller than it is now. I grew it from seed that I purloined from a well known garden, presumably quite a few years earlier still. The tallest of the very slender leaves on my plant have now reached 1.8m in height, with the flower spikes emerging rather lower and not adding much to the effect. There is very little build up of dead leaves in the clump, so maintenance is essentially zero. I have managed to raise some seedlings from it, but many sowings have come to nothing. It has been used to great effect as an accent plant by Keith Wiley at both The Garden House and Wildside. With hindsight, I’d have planted it further away from the path which it now blocks.


So that’s this Saturday’s contribution. Check out meme host ThePropagator for more of the same, or more of the different. See you next week.

Six on Saturday – 15-7-2017

One. So much in flower, picking six becomes difficult. OK, a bit of lumping together: Dahlias, I grow a few, but then again…


Such flamboyance, such joie de vivre. Dahlias, especially en masse, have an unrivalled capacity for putting smiles on peoples faces, even mine. Some I leave in, some I lift, then put back into any available space.

Two. By way of contrast, I collected seed from my plant of Polygonatum mengzense f. tonkinensis HWJ573 many weeks ago and sowed it in a pot. They’re coming up. I feel quite unreasonably pleased with myself. I should dig out a picture and show you what a wonderful plant it is, but I’m not going to. You’ll have to make do with 2mm high seedlings.


Three. I have many favourite flowers, pretty much as they open each year they take on that mantle for a few days. Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ retains the title for a few weeks every year, such is its quality. It flowers for ages, it’s a good warm colour, the bees and butterflies like it more than anything else I grow, the slugs go for it less than my other Heleniums. It’s also very photogenic.


Four. It’s time I included a Fuchsia. Don’t think I have in earlier posts. This is ‘Delta’s Sarah’, which is hardy enough for the top growth to survive most winters here such that it can get quite big. I’m giving it a little support by tying it to an archway. It opens lilac-blue and turns pink.


Five. Our next door neighbour is very elderly and we manage his front garden as an extension of our own. A few years back we came by a very poor specimen of Hydrangea paniculata with just one spindly stem about 3 feet tall. We planted it in his garden and took a few inches off the top of it, then pruned the subsequent shoots back to a couple of buds each winter. Now It’s a nice little standard that is just the right height to show over the hedge. I don’t know which of the many varieties of H. paniculata it is.


Six. Another hydrangea, but very different. This is H. serrata ‘Fuji-no-taki’. It is very small, still only 18 inches high and wide at most, with masses of greenish white very double flowers that pretty much cover the bush. It always looks worse in close up photos than in the flesh, the nibblings are easily overlooked in the garden. It gets very little direct sun where it is, which seems to suit it.


So there you have it, another six for ThePropagator’s fine Six on Saturday meme. Check out his and get links to more on his blog.

I’m going to relent and give you a picture of the Polygonatum after all. It still has berries on it; they’ve been there since last autumn, and I picked off quite a few for seed. The newly emerging shoots are superb and it doesn’t seem to get attacked by either slugs or sawflies. I can definitely find room for more.


The modern world.

On 14 June I was down at Glendurgan Garden and saw a plant which I didn’t recognise and which didn’t have a label. I photographed it and posted a tweet asking Glendurgan what it was. They came back with Aristea major as a name. I Googled that, found a seed supplier who had it and placed an order. A day or two later the seeds arrived and I sowed them on 18 June.


Yesterday I was cleaning up my propagation unit and was disturbed to find critters burrowing in the sand bed. I sifted them out, cleaned them up a bit and took a close up photo which I tweeted to the RHS entomologist for an ID and advice.
He replied and copied it to a Dipterist (Fly expert) at the Natural History Museum.


Now, I’m clutching at the last few hours I have left of being 64 and I find this stuff absolutely bloody amazing. When I was young I’d have gone to whatever books I had and leafed through them hoping to find a picture of the Aristea, and almost certainly there wouldn’t have been one. Then I’d have given up. I might have taken a picture, and when I’d finished the film and got it developed, may have shown it to someone else who might know. In the extremely unlikely event that I’d put a name to it, what then? Perhaps I’d have sent off stamped addressed envelopes to get catalogues from Thompson and Morgan or Chilterns. Maybe they’d have listed it, probably not.

I’m not sure I’d have been able to get anywhere at all with the fly larvae. The idea that within hours I could get information from the chief entomologist of the RHS and an expert from the Natural History Museum would have been plain ridiculous.

A few years ago I wanted information on pruning apples as spindle trees. I found what I wanted eventually, on a YouTube video from an American University. Top man, demonstrating a technique he’d helped develop.

This is the modern world. I am old enough to remember when none of this was possible and I am all too aware that there are a great many younger people around who have never known anything else and for whom it is all normal, even mundane. To me it is quite extraordinary and sometimes scary, in that it is alien and a struggle to get my head around. There are many parts of it which I just don’t do.

In September I’m going to start helping out at the school in the village, youngsters between four and eleven. A neighbour with kids there asked if I’d help with their garden club. Some of the four year olds will know their way around parts of this new world better than I do. Heaven knows what the older ones will make of the old fossil. I can’t wait, I’m going to learn so much.

On not digging.

In a few days time I shall be 65. Digging is either good exercise or hard work, depending on your perspective. Mine is that it is hard work and getting harder, so it seems to me that if I can get results as good without digging as with, why would I dig.

Like many people, my no-dig guru of choice is Charles Dowding, who has been promoting no-dig vegetable growing for many years and has spoken, written and blogged about his techniques at great length. I have read some of his stuff, he is not overly prescriptive about his techniques, saying that people must tailor them to their own circumstances. This I have done in the much shorter length of time I have used the no-dig approach. That length of time is in fact less than two seasons and I am very aware that it is early days and I have much to learn.

I tend to think of no-dig as a method, not a philosophy. I am doing it because it is giving me the results I want with an input that I can manage and hopefully will be able to manage for many more years to come. Part of that longer view is that my soil is being kept in good shape, but I primarily see that as a means to an end; sustained production; not an end in itself. If soil health were the end, I would have a wild flower meadow or woodland, neither of which are permitted under allotment rules.

So much for the backdrop. At a practical level, my method is very simple. I have a standard sized allotment which I have divided up into beds about 4 feet wide, separated by paths about 18 inches wide. The beds are marked only by canes at the ends of the paths, there is no structure, no timber edging, no raised beds, no path surfacing. I walk on and work from the paths and avoid stepping onto the beds as far as I possibly can, especially when the soil is wet.

In the autumn I spread a layer of compost over all the unoccupied beds, aiming for 1-2 inches depth of material. In the spring I either sow or plant into the beds, usually in rows along the length of the beds. I have had very much better results with growing seedlings in modules or pots and planting them out than with direct sowing. The only things sown directly in 2017 were parsnips and peas. I even did one variety of peas in pots and will likely do more next year.

I tried last year to follow my early crops; peas and potatoes, with later ones; spinach, chard and brassicas. It wasn’t a great success in that the late crops didn’t make enough growth by the winter to be usable or to stand well against winter weather. I’m trying a few different things this year but expect to have more empty ground than last year.  Where there are growing crops I cannot apply a compost mulch in autumn, so I have been putting it on as soon as the ground is cleared in spring. Sometimes there is a period of a few weeks before I want to plant an area, sometimes not. Rather than planting through the compost layer I have used a fork to work it into the top few inches of the bed, pretty much in lieu of worm activity.

Where I have had brassicas growing, the ground seems to become far more compacted than elsewhere. In my four year crop rotation I have potatoes following brassicas and under traditional cultivation the ground would be heavily manured for them. Other than pulling up the previous crop I haven’t disturbed the ground but have planted the potatoes and then covered the bed with 3-4 inches of compost. I don’t think this has worked well; the potatoes have not grown as well as I would have liked. Next spring I will disturb the ground with a fork but not turn it over, then mulch, working some of it into the top few inches.
I have read that brassicas don’t support the mycorrhizal fungi  that most other veg do, so digging after brassicas will not be destroying them.

I generate as much compost as I can, taking material from the allotment, my garden, the kitchen and anywhere else I can. Practically all of it goes through a shredder before going on the heap. I have three heaps and when one is finished I turn the newest one into the space and start again. The new material always goes into the middle bay and is then turned over into an outer bay when one is emptied. I am not much bothered how long it has been composting, it makes no difference to its effectiveness as a protective layer on the soil and younger material probably retains more of its nutrient content. Sometimes there can be a preponderance of dead leaves or shredded woody material and I suspect that there is some nitrogen lockup in the areas where this ends up, but I try to mix it up when I turn the heap so it hasn’t been a major issue.

I have on occasion spread soft shreddings and grass clippings directly onto the ground. The impression I have is that it provokes something of a feeding frenzy in the soil fauna, particularly the bigger members like worms, and gets incorporated, consumed and broken down very quickly. I would do more but a) I am afraid of encouraging slugs, b) it is material that is mostly available in the growing season when there isn’t much bare ground to spread it on, and c) if I spread it green, it will not be available as compost in the autumn.

In most areas of my plot I would say that the soil structure is excellent. It is easy to plant things and just as easy to pull them, and the weeds, out. Cornwall is a relatively high rainfall area so I think the amount of nutrient loss from leaching is bound to be a bit higher than in lower rainfall areas.
As effective as organic matter may be at retaining nutrients, some will always be in the soil water and available to plant roots. That fraction of the soil’s nutrients must be vulnerable to leaching and will be replaced from the reserve of nutrients that is loosely combined with organic and clay particles in the soil. The rapid passage of water down through my well structured soil will increase the leaching losses, at least when the soil is at field capacity, which it should be in a normal winter.
The consequence of this is that as much as I would like not to have to add nutrients over and above those contained in my compost, I do have to if I am to get maximum yields from heavy feeding crops.

One additional factor is moles. Both my plot and compost heaps are plagued by them. On the assumption that most of the hard work that I am saving myself from is being done by worms, I see moles as serious predators of my workforce. I shall try growing caper spurge next year, to supplement my largely unsuccessful trapping.

So, in summary, no-dig is a method where you put organic matter onto the surface and the “cultivation” is done by the soil fauna working it into the soil profile. The compost should provide all the nutrients required by the crop. Broadly I find it works well, but occasionally I find a small amount of cultivation by myself is required. I also believe that some additional fertilizer is needed to get the best yields.
To some extent I think I am still undoing the damage done by previous years of conventional cultivation but I am pleased with my results so far. There are some indications that while my results are being sustained or improving, others on the site are doing less well.

Time will tell.

Six on Saturday – 8-7-2017

I had the bright idea of doing six plants that were self-sowing volunteers in the garden but quickly realised that I have four or five times that number, some more welcome than others. I’ll mention a couple.

One. Papaver atlanticum pops up where it pleases, producing a flat rosette of grey leaves then putting up slender stems topped by orange flowers that seem somehow devoid of the hard to place stridency of many nearly the same colour blooms.

Two. Not that I have a problem with hard to place stridency. One option is to stick it in a pot and put it out the front of the house. South facing and backed by a white wall, it is ideal territory for serious sun seekers. We just had a new porch installed, which seems to have created a divide between the flowery stuff to the left, pictured, and the succulents to the right.

Three. Talking of things that were getting in the way, I collected seed from a couple of my Dahlias last year and had several plants that needed to go somewhere until they flowered and I could see if any are worth keeping. Yesterday I cleared two lots of peas and the broad beans from my allotment and was wondering what I could plant this late in the season. The Dahlias are now on my allotment.

Four. Hypericum calycinum use to be a very popular ground cover plant, then it started getting a rust disease that made it all but ungrowable in many places. I don’t know whether the patch we have was something we planted many years ago or whether it came under the fence from next door, but it has done rather well in the last few years and the flowers would be extraordinary if they weren’t so familiar.SOS10

Five. Geranium ‘Nimbus’ was a new acquisition last year and is now really getting into its stride. Hardy Geraniums can be very good garden plants but all too often cross the line into weediness or downright thuggery. For now this one is behaving itself impeccably.

Six. This one, which I think is Geranium x oxonianum, though to be honest I don’t care very much, is an ill mannered thug. It’s not even the worst one we have. I suppose it’s quite pretty, but so is Japanese knotweed.

That’s my six offerings for this week. Grateful to ThePropagator for creating and hosting the meme, I’m off to check out other peoples Saturday sixes.

End of month view – June 2017


Two things struck me when I compared this picture with the same view a year ago. The first was that the flowers are a couple of weeks ahead of last year. The second was how little the view had changed. I found myself searching for the small differences between the two images.

For some reason I find that slightly dissappointing, without really knowing why. Perhaps because it seems like I’ve done lots of work in it and planted lots of new plants and there doesn’t seem to be a lot to show for it.

On the other hand, a lot of garden maintenance is directed at keeping things the same, on the basis that you have it looking how you want it to look and are trying to keep it like that for as long as possible.

Big changes are all too often not of our choosing, a large plant dies or a tree blows down. It often takes a disaster like that to significantly refresh an established garden though, and with hindsight will often come to be seen as having been a positive.


There is still bare soil to be seen, with Dahlias, Salvias and the like taking their time to fill out. A lot of my Dahlias were slow to start this spring, I think I need to find somewhere warmer to get them under way earlier. Consequently I planted half a dozen out a week or so ago and a similar number today.


Eryngium giganteum


Geranium ‘Nimbus’


The first Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ of the season.


The double Hydrangea we bought last year is doing well.


Hydrangea serrate ‘Tiara’


Euphorbia lathyrus and unknown Clematis.




Of Colour and Chaos

Six on Saturday- 1/7/17

We drove up to Marwood Hill Garden in North Devon today, then on to RHS Rosemoor. So many plants, so little space! Marwood have a National Collection of Astilbes and there are pots of most of them in their plant centre. To come away empty handed would be plain rude.

One. Is the box of plants we came back with; just three plants that we don’t have room for, commendable restraint by our standards. We actually got out of Rosemoor empty handed, a 25 year first. At Marwood we were seduced by the deep purple pink of Astilbe ‘Visions’ (“It’s tall, so it can go at the back, we’ll get rid of a bit of that Impatiens”) and the shorter, dark coloured foliage of Astilbe ‘Delft Lace’ (“short, so we’ll move that hosta at the front, the one the slugs keep chomping…”). And a Pelargonium.


Two. I don’t know if this one strictly belongs here, in that it is not in my garden but at Rosemoor. Better to illustrate the entry with a picture of a flower than a scribbled line in my wanted list though. Clematis ‘Rebecca’: what a colour! One day it will be in my garden. Clematis-Rebecca

Three. Having been out all day I didn’t take any pictures until early evening, by which time it was drizzling. My Dahlias seem to have slow getting going this year but this red one, which I can’t find the label for, is in fiery form.


Four. A lot of our Fuchsias had got into very poor shape, so last year I tried to start again from cuttings of nearly all of them. There are lots of Fuchsia pictures coming down the line. This one is ‘Sophia’, which we bought last year and potted on.


Five. We used to have a fish pond but we filled it in. It’s now our bog garden and is where the aforementioned Astilbes are due to be shoe-horned in. As you can see, I have an eye for a subtle colour scheme.


Six. Hydrangea serrate ‘Tiara’, which can speak for itself.


So that’s this week’s six, my contribution to ThePropagator’s six on Saturday meme. Check it out.