End of month view, June 2016

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There’s no getting away from the fact that foliage has had a better time of it this month than flowers. Growth of just about everything has been prodigious, except for the things I’ve failed to protect from slugs, but flowering has been patchy.

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Foxgloves, mostly self sown pinks, a few planted whites, have been great all month. I grew sweet williams this year for the first time since childhood and they have been OK, they’re the pink in the foreground above, but they’ve grown tall and flopped. Just behind them I have two of my favourite plants getting into their stride: Hydrangea serrata varieties ‘Tiara’ and ‘Cap Suzin’.
The bamboo at right of the picture which was slapping me around the face while I took the picture, has had a torrid time since last autumn, lost numerous canes, lots more are leaning.

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Hydrangea serrata ‘Cap Suzin’

The last word goes to foliage. Ferns of all kinds, grasses, especially Hakonechloa, Camellias and much else, have grown as much as I can ever remember. Good thing I like foliage plants and have plenty of them.

Foliage

Dryopteris erythrosora, Camellia ‘Night Rider’ & Euphorbia mellifera.

Do check out all the other EOMV’s linked from the Patient Gardeners blog. There must be someone out there whose month hasn’t all been about rain and slugs.

Potting.

Back in November I noticed fruits on Fuchsia glazioviana growing in the garden. This is a quite small grower with often good leaf colour so well worth growing. I wondered if it had picked up pollen from something interesting, so I picked a few fruits, extracted the seeds and sowed them. They germinated very quickly and I pricked them off into small cells, then potted them into 9cm pots around April. Today I potted them into 1 litre pots. They all look like Fuchsia glazioviana but there is a bit of variation in leaf colour and shape. I want to keep them all until they flower.

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Fuchsia glazioviana seedlings in 9cm pots.

 

The compost I used was Melcourt Sylvagrow with controlled release fertiliser (eg Osmocote) at 3kg/cu m. or 3g/litre if you prefer. This is roughly what a nursery would use. The compost as bought has an immediately available base feed in it that will keep a plant going for 6 weeks or so. The CRF will start to release nutrients but takes a while to get up to an adequate level for good growth. The Sylvagrow in the garden centre is exactly the same as I used on a commercial nursery for a wide range of nursery stock for many years. As such, it is perhaps the only truly professional product readily available to the general public, at least once a CRF is added.

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Being fuchsias, I potted them deep. You want to maximise the chance of below ground growth in the event of the top being killed by cold. Most plants would be potted at the same depth as they were already growing. I like to strip a few millimetres off the top of the rootball when potting on; it gets rid of weeds and weed seeds.

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F. glazioviana potted into 1 litre pots.

 

Most of our non-hardy Fuchsias have been in the same pots for at least three years and were looking very jaded this spring. I have been taking cuttings with the aim of growing new plants to replace the old. Some are so poor that getting good cuttings has proved difficult. I have been liquid feeding but for want of covered space, the plants are outdoors and we have had quite a bit of rain. The nutrients all get washed away and while replacing them by liquid feeding as soon as the rain stops is what I should have done, it’s not what I have done. I have top dressed the few that still haven’t yielded good cuttings with a CRF top dressing.

The varieties that I was able to propagate early on have, like the F. glazioviana, gone into 9cm, 1 litre and now 3 litre pots. They’re looking pretty good and the ones I’ve not pinched lately are budding up nicely.

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The “prop” house, with 3L Fuchsias on the right.

 

Most of the old plants have been put through the shredder and gone to the compost heap but some I have popped in to gaps left by early flowerers that have been chopped down, mostly Aquilegia.

Allotment update

It feels like about the midpoint of the season. I have now pretty much filled all the space I have, but looking forward a month or so I shall have a lot of free space where peas and potatoes have been harvested. Today I sowed perpetual spinach, beetroot, chard and cabbage in the hope that they will be ready to plant when the ground is available. We shall see. I feel I need to look quickly into whether there are other things I could also sow now. I’m also wondering whether things like leeks that I sowed a long while back could have been kept back to fill ground cleared of early crops, making best use of the space, rather than being the first crop in their space and the only one for the season.

I’m sure I’m trying to reinvent the wheel and that the answers lie between the pages of some of the books that I love to buy but don’t read as well as I might.

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Perpetual spinach just planted beside my peas. If I’d sown it later it could have gone in when the peas were gone.

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My leeks were small when planted and are being hit quite hard by slugs. If I’d held back they’d have been bigger, the ground dryer so less slugs; and I could have grown something else on the same patch as an early crop.

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My salad crops were experimental, I expected the slugs to have them all. Flea beetle rendered mizuna and mustard unusable, slugs grazed the radishes. Black seeded Simpson lettuce and Red Kitten spinach are so far looking good.

I have a problem with moles, which seem to be working all over the plot, without making any hills. I keep hitting shallow tunnels. They’re also busy in my compost heap, feasting on the worms that are supposed to be making me a load of good compost for the autumn. Maybe I need to line the whole heap with wire mesh.

It’s fascinating stuff, learning from my successes and failures, as well as other plot holders successes and failures, not to mention bloggers and tweeters. The trick is to apply the lessons learned, not to repeat the mistakes, while also recognizing that not everything will succeed every year so not giving in too easily.

Wordless Wednesday 15/06/2016

 

Flowers in my garden 14/06/2016

 

 

 

 

Plant Profile: Camellia ‘Night Rider’

Camellia ‘Night Rider’ possesses the sort of qualities that would lead one to expect it to be massively popular, yet it is but rarely seen.

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New growth 16/06/2010

 

Raised in New Zealand by Os Blumhardt, its parents are C.’Ruby Bells’ x C.’Kuro-tsubaki’. It first flowered in 1980. The flowers are dark red and the petals waxy textured. It flowers late; this year in May when most other Camellias had finished. New growth is also late, commencing mid May. The new leaves are dark, glossy, purple red, particularly effective with back lighting. They turn dark green as summer progresses.

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Flowers 26/04/2015

 

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Flowers 11/05/2016

 

The individual blooms are about 5cm across and carried quite freely on my maturing bush. Flowering occurs before the new growth commences and against a backdrop of smallish dark green leaves.

The new shoots are 10cm long and are all the growth that the plant makes in a season. There is no second flush in summer so growth is very slow compared to most camellias. It is this slow growth that makes it unattractive to nurseries and ensures it is unlikely ever to become common.

Propagation would be by semi-ripe cuttings of current season’s growth taken mid-late July. Red pigment permeates every part of the plant; the centre of the stems and the roots being strongly infused .

Growth is compact and upright such that at ten years in average conditions it will be approaching a metre in height with a width of around 75cm. Camellias are long lived and it will no doubt get to 4 or 5 metres in time. It seems to grow well in full sun as well as in part shade and will be denser and more free flowering in the former.

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New growth 12/06/2016

Conifers

Conifers have become a somewhat tricky subject to talk about. As indifferent to the zeitgeist as I like to see myself, even I know that they’ve been deeply unfashionable for at least the last twenty years.

You probably have to go back to the 1960’s to see the start of what now looks like a rather predictable fall from grace. There was then a fashion for conifer and heather beds, born out of a demand for low maintenance gardens and especially popular in the open plan housing developments of the day.

As ever with a gardening fashion, to begin with demand outstrips supply and a great many Thuja ‘Rheingold’, Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Carpet’ and Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Boulevard’ were sold to unsuspecting gardeners as dwarf conifers. Predictably, within a few years they had outgrown their allotted space and needed to be removed, a process that took place in the 80’s and 90’s to the extent that by the turn of the century conifers were becoming an uncommon sight in gardens. Perhaps people need to build up a head of steam before they rip out a group of big plants, suffice it to say that many people’s attitude to conifers went from enthusiasm to hostility, bypassing indifference altogether.

The British Conifer Association was born out of the ashes, set up by nurserymen and enthusiasts to try and drum up some sort of change of attitude. Some very fine show gardens were put into Chelsea and Hampton Court, among other venues. Pretty much to no avail.

I was working on a nursery which regarded conifers as one of its specialisms and the decline in sales from the early 90’s onward was inexorable. We did try and maintain interest by seeking out conifers that were in some way different from what had been widely available before then and built up a range of rarities, mostly dwarf forms and species, that combined with the introduction of mail order, which extended our market countrywide, at least allowed us to keep them going.

The conifers I have in my garden now reflect those efforts, with one exception. I have four pines. Two are forms of Pinus parviflora, the Japanese white pine. One is called ‘San Bo’, the other has lost its label. This is one of the species that the Japanese like to use in their traditional gardens, usually constrained by quite drastic pruning. The trunk typically leans, often at quite a low angle and the branches are horizontal. The needles are in bundles of five, fairly short and fine, usually very glaucous. Male cones are produced in late spring in great abundance and are often bright red in colour. Female cones are frequently carried in clusters, even on young trees. Growth rate varies between varieties but on the garden forms is typically well under a foot a year. As well as growing well in a wide range of soils, they are well suited to growing in pots. My ‘San Bo’ has been pruned a bit, removing lead shoots back to well placed laterals so as to preserve its character while restricting its size.

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Pinus parviflora ‘San Bo’ and P. parviflora cv.

 

One of the other pines is Pinus pumila ‘Saentis’, a close relative of P. parviflora and similar in character. It has been in the garden for many years and is now about 8 feet tall. Its lower branches were becoming rather sparsely furnished so I removed them all, creating a small tree effect. Growing only 3-4 inches a year, I have not felt the need to restrict its size.

The forth pine is Pinus koraiensis ‘Silver Ray’. I saw a picture of this in a book, growing as a neat narrow column and thought it would be perfect in my space restricted garden. Evidently the tree in the picture had been trained that way as mine is rather broader, in spite of my efforts to contain it. It has glaucous needles in fives, but much stouter and longer than P. parviflora.

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Pinus pumila ‘Saentis’ and Pinus koraiensis ‘Silver Ray’

 

Growing below ‘Saentis’ are two dwarf spruces, Picea omorika ‘Piccolo’ and Picea abies ‘Treblitsch’. It would be difficult to say anything about either without damning them with faint praise.

Sequoia sempervirens is the coast redwood, from California, which is generally held to be the world’s tallest tree. A form called ‘Adpressa’ is quite widely available, often sold as dwarf or slow growing, which it may be until it produces a proper leader. It is then capable of growing into a very large tree. Mine was bought as ‘Adpressa Nana’, which suggests it is a smaller form; it is not. Very similar to ‘Adpressa’, but definitely a distinct form, it doesn’t seem to exist as far as conifer literature is concerned. Sequoia is at least one of the conifers that responds well to pruning, so it can be kept to a size appropriate for its location.

Taxus baccata ‘Standishii’ is a bright gold female clone of Irish Yew. Growing narrowly upright it sold well on the nursery for its architectural qualities. I think ours is about 25 years old, perhaps 10-12 feet tall. It has started to open out, especially in winter storms and I have run a couple of loops of wire round it to try and maintain its shape. It is not clippable because its branches are more or less vertical and what you see is a cylinder of branches and foliage with mostly empty space within.

The last conifer is Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Little Spire’, a name that drives a coach and horses through the trade descriptions act. It has congested foliage which makes it look like it would be slow growing but in fact does a foot a year or more. Nor is it any more spire like than many other Lawson’s cypress forms. I have tried raising its skirts a bit, but it doesn’t have a very attractive trunk and its upswept branches leave vertical holes in the greenery when removed. The only positive I can come up with is that the cats like climbing up it.

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Taxus baccata ‘Standishii’, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Little Spire’ and Sequoia sempervirens ‘Adpressa Nana’

 

That’s eight in total. It has been many more in the past, we even had a leylandii hedge for a number of years. I’m slightly surprised it’s as many as it is. In the main though, I like them very much. They have a quality of unchanging permanence that other plants don’t have and which anchors some of the other planting in some intangible way. I have no immediate plans to either remove any of them nor to add to them.

Gastropods

My relationship with slugs and snails is a simple one; they vex me greatly so I kill them.

I read somewhere, probably Twitter, that this year was going to be a bad one for slugs and snails because it had been such a mild winter. That is to say, it was going to be a bad year for gardeners because there were going to be hordes of slugs and snails about. I suspect that in Cornwall that is the situation most years, though this year is as bad as I remember. My preferred method is to go out at dusk and dawn with secateurs and chop them in half. This year I have resorted to pellets on the plants that were being hit hardest.

There have been things that I have realised are missing after the winter that have been grazed at ground level as fast as they’ve grown. One Aster I have dug up and potted in an attempt to save it. I think that without protection I would completely lose as many as a third of the plants I grow. Asters, Dahlias, Heleniums, Epimediums, Disporums, Diporopsis; all would this year have failed to keep pace with being eaten and would have been lost.

Some things are seldom if ever touched, like Fuchsias. Some come up fine but after two or three months start to get munched. Bluebells, Lysichiton and Lamium orvala flowered and set seed then were munched to a skeleton or less. Hostas I find usually get to full size before the beasties appear to notice them. This year they haven’t made it that far.

Aquilegia seedlings, which I would be happy to have assistance in thinning out, are untouched, as are welsh poppies and foxgloves.

I am averse to bare ground so there is no shortage of hiding places for the enemy. They take full advantage and launch their attacks on the nearest suitable plant before disappearing back into hiding.

I don’t want to give in and stop growing the plants that are worst affected. For one I’d feel like a quitter and for another it would leave my plant palette very depleted. I don’t like using chemicals and do so very sparingly, but for all the non chemical methods advocated there is scant firm evidence that they are effective. That I have so many in spite of using pellets suggests that resistance to chemicals may be building up. I haven’t tried nematodes, I suppose I should, though the cost could be considerable.

One thing is certain, I am not going to learn to love them.