End of month view, November 2015

November-view-1The wind is howling, the clouds racing across the sky. Every now and then the wind comes loaded with rain. There’s a trellis panel down and for now it’s going to stay down. My end of month view is the view from indoors.

Earlier this year I paved the various gravel paths we had in the garden. They were very weedy and getting narrower as the beds encroached. It will be some time yet before they are weathered in properly, but it does mean that getting around the garden, even during or just after heavy rain, is not really a problem. In fact it’s become my routine to do a circumnavigation just after breakfast every day.

At this time of year it all looks a bit of a mess. I’m tidying up a bit, but I want to leave some dead stuff for whatever benefit the wildlife can derive from it. So I’m not really concerned with how the garden as a whole looks in winter. I’m happy to have individual plants looking good and I can get to them to see them. The evergreens come into their own for sure, but they look the same all year round and I want them to fade into the background in summer. The trouble with evergreens is that like trees, they get inexorably bigger unless clipped, which I mostly hate. If you plant too many, sooner or later it will be all you have.

So hopefully there are enough for the garden in winter to still be recognisably a garden, but no more. Not easy when one of my obsessions is camellias. As well as being evergreen, some are winter flowering, and scented. I have Camellia sasanqua ‘Navajo’ flowering now, though it was in a pot and rather undernourished until this summer, so its leaves are rather pale.


Camellia sasanqua ‘Navajo’


There are plants that I really love that play second fiddle to the flowery divas all summer then come into their own in autumn and winter. In this picture the grass front left is Chionochloa rubra, the bronzy mounds in front of the Taxus and elsewhere, various forms of Hakonochloa. Over the back in front of Pinus koraiensis ‘Silver Ray’ is Astelia chathamica. I absolutely love Astelia chathamica. It’s everything you wanted that Phormium to be but didn’t get. It gets to three feet and stays there; it gets brighter, not duller, over time. It will grow in full sun or light shade.


I haven’t spent the entire month indoors, though I’ve spent more time on my allotment than in the garden. I did a bit of fairly drastic pruning on my family apple tree, that’s the one on the right here. It started out as Elstar, which turns out to be too scab prone for Cornwall. So I grafted Holstein, Meridian and Red Windsor onto it. Now I’ve cut away most of the remaining Elstar and I’m buying Lane’s Prince Albert and Newton Wonder which I will eventually graft on as well. They’re late flowering varieties that I need to get decent pollination of Suntan, the apple in the middle. I spur pruned that in August and am pleased to see almost no late growth. It flowered beautifully in spring, but didn’t set much fruit.


The Echium looks good at the moment but I shall be amazed if it survives the winter out in the open like that. The Miscanthus at the left is Septemberot, which has stood up very well to the gales; better than the bamboo, Phyllostachys aureosulata ‘Spectabilis’, which keeps losing canes.

The glasshouses and tunnel are absolutely bulging with plants that have been moved in for winter. Cornwall rarely gets very cold so it doesn’t take much to keep it from freezing, fortunately. Cacti are surprisingly hardy and Echeveria will take a bit of cold if very dry. Aeoniums are more vulnerable and will get moved to the lean-to on the house. Our biggest problem is that we’re both retired nursery people and we cannot stop ourselves growing more plants. There are worse addictions.


So that was November. One more month and it’s a new year. I could seriously wish they didn’t come round so fast.

I just switched from BlogSpot to WordPress, so this is the first EOMV on this blog, but it’s still inspired by Helen Johnstone’s The Patient Gardener and her end of month meme. I’m now off to visit all her other contributors gardens again, a monthly pleasure.


Autumn flowering Camellias

Camellia sasanqua 'Navajo'

Camellia sasanqua ‘Navajo’

I paid a visit yesterday to the Camellia National Collection at Mount Edgcumbe in the hope that their autumn flowering camellias would be putting on a show. I was not disappointed.

The autumn flowering camellias are often referred to as “the sasanquas” though some are forms of the species C. hiemalis, others hybrids. Many originate from Japan, sometimes renamed in other lands; others have been raised elsewhere, mainly America and Australia, which have the most suitable climates.

They need a long growing season inorder to produce and ripen new growth, then initiate and produce buds and blooms by the autumn. In the UK they are best in full sun, ideally with the backing of a south or west facing wall. In general they will tolerate poorer and less acid soils that other types of camellias.

Most of the Mt Edgcumbe sasanquas are growing in shade and as a result many of them are somewhat shy flowering. Many of them have a tendency to wide spreading, even unruly growth and this might also be offset by lighter conditions.

Most of them have a scent of sorts, emanating from the nectar and to my nose somewhat oily in character. It is responsible for attracting many late foraging insects, notably wasps.

The blooms will be produced over a long period, from October into the new year, with the best flushes in warmer spells. There are a few hybrids between autumn and spring flowering species and these can have exceptionally long flowering periods.

Particular favourites of mine are ‘Navajo’, ‘Cotton Candy’, ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ and ‘Paradise Little Liane’. The first three seem to produce good displays most years, the last is a plant of diminutive stature with sweeter smelling flowers than most.

Camellia update

Camellia sasanqua Navajo

Camellia sasanqua ‘Navajo’

I’ve had blooms on a number of camellias over the past couple of weeks, mostly on small, under cover, pot grown plants. First out was Camellia sasanqua ‘Gay Sue’. This New Zealand raised variety is described in the Camellia Register as having 12 petals and cream anthers. All the blooms I have seen here are anemone formed, some or all of the stamens having become petaloid. To my mind this adds to the charms of this excellent variety.

Next up was Camellia sasanqua ‘Cotton Candy’. This has single pink blooms and I have found it to be free flowering and strongly fragrant. I’m not sure I like the smell of sasanqua flowers, its somewhat oily, a smell rather than a fragrance. Scent is very subjective though.

The Paradise series of sasanquas were raised by Bob Cherry in Australia where they were marketed as hedging plants. I currently have two flowering, ‘Paradise Little Liane’ and ‘Paradise Blush’. ‘Little Liane’ is one of only three in the series to have Breeders Rights, so Bob presumably thought it had particular merit. I like it very much; it is a plant of diminutive stature with very small leaves and small white double flowers which I have found to have a proper perfume, not strong, but pleasant. It is not very vigorous and has grown better for me under cover. ‘Paradise Blush’ seems more robust, though I have not yet tried it outdoors.

‘Bonanza’ has double flowers of a particularly intense reddish pink. I have yet to detect any fragrance. It is described in the Register as a chance seedling, which encourages me to keep on collecting and sowing camellia seeds; I may yet make my fortune.

The plant I have bearing the name ‘Crimson King’ does not match the description in the Register. Mine has smallish single flowers with quite narrow petals. It is deep pink going on red, but is not at all free flowering. The description “Thick, broad petalled flowers of great substance, well shaped, deep crimson” is surely of something different.

Camellia ‘Sasanqua Variegata’ is one of the small number of camellias with variegated leaves. The pink blushed flowers are quite small and often misshapen, but the overall effect is pleasing enough without being outstanding.

Camellia sasanqua ‘Navajo’ was given its name by Nuccio’s Nurseries having been obtained from Japan but the name lost. I have found it something of a trial to grow, but when it blooms it is superb; white with a broad red border.

Lastly, and noticed only today, is ‘Sweet Emily Kate’. This I have in a pot and it doesn’t seem to me hardy enough for outdoors in the UK. As a japonica x lutchuensis hybrid this would not be surprising. It probabaly shouldn’t be flowering yet either, but it is and it’s even just about warm enough to be producing a faint but sweet perfume.

To dig or not to dig.

This year was my third season on my allotment, time that has passed with unseemly haste. I inherited a plot that had been pasture and had been badly ploughed before the first tenant took it on. A year later, when I started, they had done almost nothing and the grass and weeds had grown back up through the furrowed surface. I started at one end with a deep and wide trench and turned the whole lot over. As fast as I was getting the ground dug, I was planting crops. I’d taken it up on April 1st, well into the growing season. I was still working full time then too.

At some point during that first season I started to form the opinion that the soil I was working was pretty fragile stuff. On other people’s plots I was seeing capping where a fine tilth had been produced for seed sowing. I backed off a little, kept off it in wet conditions, didn’t break it down more than absolutely necessary and in the first winter, sowed rye and field beans as green manures to protect it from the winter rains.

My second season was poorer than the first. It was wetter and my potatoes got blight very early on. Nothing I sowed directly came to much, with the exception of carrots. I had some successes but more failures.

This year I had better luck with both potatoes and brassicas. Onions, parsnips and beetroot weren’t bad, peas were good. Runners were a disaster.

As crops finished, I started to cover the bare ground with the stuff that up until then I’d been putting on the compost heap. Grass mowings and shredded trimmings of all sorts. I figured that by next spring it would have rotted down and would have encouraged worms to pull it down into the soil. It would also hopefully protect the soil surface in the way the rye had, without the need to dig it in.

It seemed to make sense to have all the nutrients in the compostable material go straight into the soil, not to lose any of it to leaching from a year on the compost heap. It also seemed likely that fresher material would stir up more activity in the soil than well rotted compost.

I now know that I had blundered into the well established practice of no-dig gardening. I am trawling the internet for the wise words of those who have been doing it for a while. I have discovered Charles Dowding. I am familiar with Glomalin. I follow the No-dig-gardener’s blog. I am playing catch up. It’s huge fun. I shall take on board what others have to say, putting my own twist on it because my circumstances will never be identical to theirs. I will see what works and what doesn’t.