End of month view, March 2016


There’s actually quite a lot going on in the garden now, but almost all of it is only visible close up. Shoots are pushing up, buds are swelling, flowers are emerging. From any distance though, it looks the same as it did in January. What I need to do is focus on individuals, not the wider picture.


Camellias ‘Annette Carol’, ‘Bob’s Tinsie’ and ‘Charles Colbert’

We’ve had some very windy weather this month, as befits March, which has played havoc with all but the most robust blooms. I’m glad I’m not having to look for entries to the Flower Show at Bocconnoc this weekend. There’s also been a touch of frost on a few nights, which meant my Magnolia ‘Vulcan’, which had promised so much, largely failed to deliver.


Corydalis solida, Muscari latifolium and Caltha polypetala.


Corydalis solida is very ephemeral. It appears in March and by May will have disappeared. It just appeared some years ago and ranks high amongst the many uninvited guests in my garden. The Muscari is beginning to spread about a little; not as enthusiastically as the common one, which is a good thing. The Caltha survived the filling in of our pond and is now just as happy as a bog plant as it was in a foot of water.

While there may not be as much happening as I would like, there’s no shortage of things to do. I’ve had little success with direct sown veg on my allotment so seed sowing under glass is well under way. Salad veg is this years experiment, along with not digging.

I also went for a Thompson and Morgan special offer of 10 packets of seeds, mostly flowers, for a fiver. If they grow that will be a bargain.

Posted as my contribution to the Patient Gardeners end of month meme.


Camellia flower variation

I was asked a question the other day about Camellia ‘Satan’s Robe’. The flowers had white stamens instead of the yellow ones they should have had. On closer inspection it turned out that the anthers had not developed and each stamen ended in a small white club. Looking at photographs I have taken of the same bush over a number of years, I observed that in most years the stamens developed properly and carried a mass of yellow pollen, whereas this year there is none. None of the anthers has developed properly and the flower is more double as an increased number of stamens have developed into petals.


‘Satan’s Robe in 2015 and 2016.


This was not a surprise. Wild camellia species generally have single flowers with five petals and a central boss of stamens which produce yellow pollen. In the numerous double forms that we grow in gardens, it is the stamens that have given rise to the extra petals. This they do with varying degrees of success. In formal double flowers the stamens are gone entirely, replaced to the centre of the flower with perfectly formed petals.

In just about every other case, some or all of the stamens survive, but are not necessarily recognizable as such. Examine the centre of a double flower and you are likely to find some perfect stamens and some that are intermediate between stamen and petal. Commonly there are imperfect petals with imperfectly developed stamens at their edge. Sometimes all the stamens turn partially into petals. All these modified stamens are known as petaloids.

The Higo group of camellias are held in high regard in Japan and elsewhere, with particular attention being given to the spreading boss of stamens, of which there must be over one hundred. When these are inclined to become petaloid, the variety is deemed flawed. ‘Dewatairin’ generally produces petaloids not stamens but is widely grown outside of Japan because the petaloids are seen as attractive and interesting.


Higo camellias ‘Dewatairin’, ‘Okan (x 2) and ‘Jitsugetsusei’ showing petaloids in the first two blooms, fully developed stamens in the other two.


In general it seems that hotter climates favour the development of perfect stamens whereas cooler climates such as the UK favour the development of petaloids. ‘Brushfield’s Yellow’ in the UK is always anemone centred with a central mass of petaloids and no stamens. I have seen it in Brisbane with a mass of stamens and barely more than a single row of petals.


Camellia ‘Brushfield’s Yellow’ in Brisbane and in Cornwall.


It is interesting that when the stamens become petaloid, they may all take the form of fully developed petals or, like ‘Bob’s Tinsie’ or ‘Bokuhan’ all take the form of small spoons in the centre of the flower. In many others all stages of intermediates are found.


‘Bob’s Tinsie’, ‘Bokuhan’ and ‘Drama Girl’ showing variation in petaloid development.


I was able to reassure the lady with the ‘Satan’s Robe’ that she did in all probability have the right plant, but it does highlight a little of the difficulty with identifying an unnamed plant or even verifying the accuracy of the name provided.

Allotment update.

Another year, another back ache. But I’m warming to the no-dig theme and apart from endless shredding and humping compost about, not digging is easier.

Before the winter last year I had covered most of my plot with vegetable matter of some description. I am very pleased to say that most of it has rotted away or been taken down into the soil over the winter and the soil is in pretty good shape.

I sowed peas in the autumn and by early December they were 3 inches tall. By February they were gone. Slugs, weather, birds, mice? I don’t know. I also planted garlic and onion sets. They’re still there but are no larger now than they were by early December. The ground that both peas and garlic were in was not mulched. The winter rain has compacted it and a week or two of dry weather has baked it hard. I am not expecting much of my garlic and onions.


Autumn planted onions and garlic in unprotectd ground. I’ll weed and mulch tomorrow.


This morning I planted Kestrel potatoes, a second early. I’m actually a little later than last year, when I got away with almost no frost damage. The plot is exposed and windy, but slopes enough for cold air to drain away.

I have divided the plot into 4 foot beds separated by 18 inch paths. I put two rows of potatoes in each bed, planted 4-6 inches deep, then put about 2 inches of compost over the whole bed. I’m hoping that compost, rather than unrotted material, will attract less slugs. I had significant slug damage to last years spuds, especially the main crop, Sarpo Mira.


Two beds of Kestrel potatoes planted and mulched.


My Purple Russian borecole is still cropping well so I’m going to keep that going for another couple of weeks and plant this year’s main crop, Sarpo Axona, when it comes out. I cleared sprouts, curly kale and purple sprouting to plant the earlies, would have liked to leave them longer but they were in the way. Need to look at my crop rotation plan.

I won’t sow much directly on the plot, I still have too many wireworms and leatherjackets for that to work. Most things will be brought on in cells and planted out when it is big enough to have a fighting chance. I have found and killed a lot of pests while digging in previous years so I don’t know whether not digging will delay my getting on top of them.

I also ran out of patience with the moles and bought a couple of traps. It’s not just the damage to paths and growing plants that offends, it’s the fact they’re living off my wormy workforce. I need all my worms to work in my organic matter, if the moles would eat the wireworms and leatherjackets we could all rub along, but no, I feed and breed worms and the fat, lazy moles dine out on them. They’ve even been burrowing through my compost heap! I like moles, really I do, but I’m sorry to say I’m a mole NIMBY.