End of month view – September 2017

 

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Even though there is plenty still happening in the garden, it is the end of the growing season and seems like the right time to take stock of the successes and failures of the past year. Autumn is the ideal time for making changes; getting rid of the under-performers, planting something better, moving things around.

Today I removed a large Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata’. It’s a handsome enough fern, but basically just a variant of the wild male fern with the tips of the fronds divided. It’s a curiosity but the overall effect is no different from the normal version. It is at its best in early summer, pretty dull the rest of the time.

I also swapped over two hydrangeas. One is a small double flowered serrata variety which was not enjoying the dry ground beneath the maple where it was. The other is a much bigger double flowered lacecap macrophylla that in moist soil was growing lush and flopping over the path. The serrata now has more moisture, the macrophylla, in poorer conditions, will hopefully put on less growth and flower more. We shall see.

The biggest problem now is to somehow get back under cover all the pot grown Fuchsias,succulents and camellias that are at risk outdoors in the winter. There is never enough space. Last years plants have grown, in size and number, others have been acquired. We’ve managed to kill a few, which helps a little, but never enough.

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I’m pleased with how much colour I still have, though it’s best not to look too closely at many of the plants. Slug and snail munchings and spotty leaves are what you get in wet years. The dahlias have mainly had a poorish year, some starting flowering very late and the blooms spoiling quickly. Some Fuchsias have had problems with rust and other foliar diseases but many are still flowering well. My new this year Fireworks golden rod is in full flower now, following on from Heleniums, all of which have now finished. Japanese anemone ‘Bressingham Glow’ looks to have a long flowering season and is still in good shape. Nerine bowdenii flowers well into October, as do various Hesperantha. Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is an extraordinary performer, still going strong, as are several Salvias.

I have two Miscanthus sinensis varieties, ‘Septemberot’ and ‘Ferne Osten’, both now at peak flowering. I don’t have high hopes this year for autumn foliage colour from them. The Hakonechloas will provide straw colour way into the winter but are still fully green at present.

Most of my shade plants are spring flowerers, Impatiens omeiana being a notable exception. It is flowering freely above somewhat ragged foliage.

We planted pots of Begonias at the front of the house and they have been and still are outstanding. The concrete drive runs right up to the white painted front of the house, it’s not a setting for anything subtle. We potted up a few slightly less gaudy bedding type begonias individually and kept them in the conservatory where they have flowered for months too.

I picked over my tomatoes and cut them down yesterday. They’d done quite well but botrytis has been a problem. Next Year’s vegetable seeds have been ordered. Seeds of things in the garden have been collected and more will follow. The dahlias I grew from seeds of ‘Orange Cushion’ are flowering well on my allotment and are good enough to encourage me to grow more.

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Six on Saturday – 30/9/2017

We managed a few decent days this week and the autumnal slide has been put on hold. The late show is now on, Asters, Cyclamen, Nerines et al, joining the long season Dahlias and Fuchsias. When I worked on a nursery I often got the impression that customers rushed out to buy plants as soon as winter showed signs of giving in and probably ended up with gardens where it was all over by June. I may have gone too far the other way.

Here are my six for this week’s Six on Saturday, hosted by ThePropagator. A growing band we are, and diverse too. Links to the rest from our hosts blog.

One.
Zingiber mioga ‘Crûg Zing’. This is a 1m high, easy, robust plant with great architectural/exotic qualities, until it flowers. The blooms are, frankly, a disappointment. Eating the buds, which is what people do, is not going to cost you much in display terms.
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That’s the flowers, down there at the bottom.

Two.
Impatiens omeiana ‘Ice Storm’. I count myself very lucky to have the sort of gardening friends that give me stuff like this without me even asking. Just two weeks ago I included the original, unnamed clone of I. omeiana in a six, noting that having more than one sort opened up the possibility of seed being produced. I now have three. (The other side of the Anaphallis label says Impatiens. Label upcycling)
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Three.
About certain things it is best to say nothing.
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Four.
Nerine bowdenii ‘Ostara’. I was advised to get these going in pots before planting them out. I think I shall plant them when they start to leaf in spring. The usual pink ones do well for me so I thought I’d try some different varieties. ‘Stephanie’ is still to come.
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Five.
June’s Aster. I don’t know which variety of Aster this is. It was given to me by an elderly lady called June, after I admired it in her garden. There has been plenty of moisture this year, so it has grown tall and flopped. Gardener’s are such generous folk, they’re a nightmare for nurserymen trying to make a living.
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Six.
Begonia ‘Garden Angel Blush’. There has been a steady trickle of hardy Begonias turning up in recent years. Encouraged by my success with B. evansiana alba, I succumbed to the charms of this beauty at the Plant Heritage market in Tavistock on 17 Sept. It has passed the first test, ten days in the ground without being devoured by slugs. The nursery was Barracott Plants if I can get away with a plug for an excellent local nursery.
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Six on Saturday – 23/9/2017

The “could be anything” list on our host’s participants guide to Six on Saturday is six items long. Perfect, thinks me, I’ll do one of each. But I don’t make plans, I rarely complete projects and I have no features. My favourite tool is up the allotment. I’ll start with a success and end with a failure, sandwich some plants between.

One.
Success. Dahlia seedlings. I grow a few Dahlias, including ‘Orange Cushion’. A couple of years back, having failed to deadhead as I should, I found that it had set quite a bit of seed. I collected some, cleaned them up and sowed them in spring 2016. Earlier this year I planted them out on my allotment where they have been growing and eventually flowering. Some are yet to flower. The majority are red, one is yellow, one orange and there’s one just showing maroonish. It’s easy to assume that open pollinated seedlings will be inferior and not worth growing, but these are surprisingly good. I will be doing more of this, it’s rewarding.

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‘Orange Cushion’, seed parent, plus four seedlings

Two.
x Amarine ‘Zwanenburg’. A cross between Amaryllis and Nerine, both of which I grow outdoors, making me wonder why I have this in a pot indoors. The flower stem snaked its way up through the fuchsia (‘Koralle’) and burst into clashy bloom. To me it looks exactly like Nerine, but a bit bigger. Pictures online of it are rather mixed, some very similar, some with broader petals.
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Three.
Amaryllis belladonna. I included a different clone of this in my six on 19 August. I’d forgotten I had these in the front garden, the bigger clump of the same sort in the back garden are only an inch or so high, getting much less sun and delayed as a result.
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Four.
Camellia sinensis ‘Benibana-cha’. This is the first of my Camellias to flower for the 2017/18 season. It’s a sorry little plant in a glasshouse, being borderline hardy. Strongly aromatic. If you like Camellias, I have another blog all about them.
Camellia-sinensis-'Benibana-cha'

Five.
Roscoea. A few weeks back I bought a Roscoea seedling from Tale Valley’s stand at a Rosemoor do. It was a fine dark colour and I expected it to be much more expensive than it was. When I remarked that it seemed good value he brushed it off saying they were just seedlings. Yesterday I noticed that the same plant was spilling seeds all over the place. Today I collected as many as I could and sowed them. All I have to do now is get them to germinate, then keep the slugs off them.
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Six.
Failure. Should I put this in? Who wants to see it? The O.H. will kill you. You have other failures, why this one?
I never get on top of this midden down the side of the house. You have to have somewhere for the wheelbarrow and the bags of compost, the shredder and the dustbin. Please don’t tell me it should be in the shed, you can’t get in the shed. Perhaps putting it on here will shame me into sorting it out. Then I can post it again as a success.
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That’s another six for The Propagator’s Six on Saturday thingy, which is really taking off now. There’ll be a bunch of links to other interesting half dozens, so check it out.

Familiarity breeds contempt.

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Blechnum chilensis is a large and handsome fern. For all the many years that I didn’t possess it, I wanted it very much. Eventually a friend dug a piece from her garden and gave it to me. It took a year or two to settle down and start producing its large, handsome leaves, then it really took off. It has spread a foot or more in all directions over the last few years and though I have pulled a lot out, it had swamped a large clump of Solomon’s Seal. Like a lot of evergreens it’s always the same, not even relieved by flowers. I decided this morning that it is a plant for larger gardens than mine. It is gone, with a newly purchased Begonia and a re-located Polygonatum ‘Betberg’ already in its place. The original Polygonatum should have a chance now and perhaps I’ll plant some cyclamen for winter interest.

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Six on Saturday – 16/9/2017

While there is undoubtedly more going backwards than going forwards, there is still plenty of colour to be found. Harder to find is gaps between the showers to get out and take pictures. Low light levels and wind don’t help either. At least I don’t have to work out in it any more, for which I am truly grateful. It also means less opportunity to get out and work in, or enjoy the garden.

One.
Oak Tree. I’m going to start on a sour note, get it out of the way. There are new people in one of the gardens that backs onto ours. Between them and our next door neighbour is an oak tree, probably 35 feet tall and quite a bit more in width. It overhangs the north east corner of our garden by a few feet but casts no shade onto our garden. It shades most of theirs and their neighbour’s for much of the day. It has a short trunk and all its branches spread from about 7 feet up, so crown raising is near impossible. But it’s been a big part of the background for all the time we’ve lived here. It has what planners call “high amenity value”. Indeed I considered calling the local council to see if it had a TPO on it, but didn’t. I think I’d rather they felled it than this though.
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Two.
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Izu-no-hana’. A second outing for this hydrangea for the simple reason that it is still looking pretty good. It may have been late to start flowering, but I included it at the end of July when it had just started and those same flowers have kept in passable condition since then, especially noteworthy given the weather we’ve had.
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Three.
Impatiens omeiana. What a good plant this is. Good foliage and flowers when nearly everything else is beginning to wind down. All it demands is moisture. There are several other forms in cultivation of which I have one but the temptation to get more is great. If I see others offered my resistance will crumble. Plus having more than one clone raises the possibility of setting seed and who knows where that might lead.
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Four.
Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’. I’m hoping that this is going to get better than this. At the moment it is not a sufficient improvement on common golden-rod to stave off execution. It has options; it can go on for a long time, get showier, attract a late flush of bees or butterflies; but make no mistake, it’s on a verbal warning.
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Five.
Begonia evansiana alba. Or, to give it the full RHS treatment, Begonia grandis Dryand. subsp. evansiana (Andrews) Irmsch. var. alba hort. AGM. In spite of which it is a lovely plant for moist shade.
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Six.
Dahlia ‘Penlea’. Most of my Dahlias have come from the National Collection at Penzance. This I obtained elsewhere; it isn’t even on their list. I think it’s the best red I’ve got. This year it has started flowering very late, partly because slugs hit it earlier. That thing where you have a bud just starting to open and you come out and find it doubled over because some beastie has chewed through the stem. Grrrr!
I have never succeeded in getting the colour and texture of this beauty in a photo. The light when I took this didn’t help. It’s much better than this, and this ain’t bad.
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So that’s this week’s six. I’ve had a sneak look at The Propagator’s six already so I know he has a similar story to tell about one of his Dahlias. As ever I’m keen to follow the links on his blog to other sixes, it’s a great snapshot on what’s happening in other peoples gardens right now.

Six on Saturday – 9/9/2017

Ah, the uncertain days of autumn. Things that look good on Thursday are trashed by Saturday; things that look like they will open in time don’t. The weather forecast is for rain all day and it’s been dry for hours. Right, what we’ve got is:

One.
Geranium procurrens. This appeared from nowhere about two years ago. It spreads astonishingly rapidly, sending out stems flat to the ground and 4-5 ft in all directions in a single season. It also seeds. The flowers start to appear from July or August, never very freely, though it is in shade. I would have got rid of it but OH presses the flowers. It’s one parent of ‘Ann Folkard’, which has been on my wanted list for a while.
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Two
Mina lobata. One of those plants I’ve seen and liked in other gardens since forever and finally got round to growing from seed this year. They haven’t excelled, but I’ll give them another go next year.
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Three.
Elephant Hawk Moth. If you grow Fuchsias, you’ll probably have had Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillars. I think their native food is willowherb, which is the same family as Fuchsia. A single caterpillar doesn’t do too much damage; I’m not sure I’d want a (collective noun for caterpillars) of them. (I just googled it, it’s “army”, which is appropriate sometimes, not others)
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Four.
Fuchsia glazioviana. Talking of Fuchsias, F. glazioviana is a species with a lot of charm. Seems perfectly hardy. It sets viable seed and I grew some seedlings a couple of years back. All more or less came true, some had quite nice purplish foliage, which might have been hunger. They’re still kicking about in too small pots.
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Five.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferne Osten’. Something about this variety must have caught my eye though I don’t remember what it was. It has very nice purplish flower spikes that get about 3 feet tall, but it flops terribly. It has managed some very nice autumn tones to the leaves some years, but Cornwall is notoriously bad for autumn colour. It’s in a list of top ten grasses for autumn on the RHS website, and it has an AGM too. They give it a height of 1.5m, and there’s me thinking it flopped because I was treating it too well.
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Six.
Anemone hupehensis var. japonica ‘Bressingham Glow’. I’ve had this a couple of years and so far it has repeated what it was doing in the pot when I bought it. Which is all you want really.
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Another six for another week. Off now to check out ThePropagator’s six and links to other people’s sixes. That’s here. Always interesting.

Gardening and getting older.

As gardeners we are very conscious of the life span allotted to the various plants we grow in our gardens. Some may be annuals, some perennials, some biennials. All of us will have had things die prematurely, sometimes for no apparent reason. Equally, most of us will have had the odd annual that manages two or three years before giving up, a biennial that goes on for three or four years. We are probably aware that some exceptional plants can live for thousands of years, Bristle Cone Pine or churchyard yews perhaps.

As humans we are part of the animal kingdom and the parallels between our longevity and the longevity of plants  are tenuous at best. But we do grow old and we will eventually die. Those of us with reasonable sized gardens probably enjoy slightly longer life expectancies than the average.

As we get older though, it is inevitable that our capacity to look after our gardens will diminish. Typically this is a gradual process, punctuated by setbacks in the shape of illness and injury that can easily become turning points between coping and not coping.

This week I felled a 22 foot magnolia and a massive clump of hazel, using a pole saw, long armed pruner, bow saw and chain saw to do so. I am 65. I was less confident climbing the magnolia to tie on ropes and cut off branches than I would have been ten years ago. In ten years time it is highly unlikely that I could do it at all.

Most of the tools were in fact borrowed from some people who are about ten or fifteen years older than me and whilst they have purchased the tools, they no longer feel able to use them. I do some work on their mature garden to help them out.

I know a lot of people in a similar position, with gardens that have been a source of pleasure for many years now starting to become a liability and a burden as their ability to cope with them ebbs away.

It is not a case of what to do when one reaches this point, because it generally is not a point but a drawn out process. It creeps up on you. The standard of maintenance falls but you’re still in control. You stop doing certain things, like bedding or growing vegetables. You get someone in to mow the grass and cut the hedges. There isn’t the same pressure of necessity with garden maintenance as with getting a water leak fixed, or a rotten window replaced. Those things have to be done and probably never were DIY jobs. You pay someone to do them because you have to. The garden is more like decorating, you learn to live with yellowing paintwork and faded wallpaper. It’ll see me out becomes our excuse and our refuge.

The garden is often different in the sense that there is usually a high degree of emotional and physical investment in our patch of ground and collections of plants. We don’t want to see it slide but are powerless to stop it. We cannot do it ourselves and we cannot afford to pay someone else to do it because it is the product of 25 hours a week work plus a few more planning and plant purchasing on top of that and most of us cannot afford a full time gardener.

A garden in a state of moderate decline can be an attractive and romantic place. The edges are rougher, it feels looser, more at one with nature. Or so we tell ourselves. Maybe we really are happy with that, finding a different sort of pleasure in a changing landscape. Maybe we are deeply unhappy, frustrated by being unable to do at all the things that for many years we did for pleasure.

An unsympathetic onlooker would say the solution is simple; move. But you have got the garden where you wanted it to be, after many years of input, some of it backbreaking and expensive. You don’t want to move. This is your Shangri-La, you’ve surely earned the right to sit in it with a glass of beer in hand.

What then, is the answer?

I have been a horticultural professional all my working life. I draw on that experience all the time when I am gardening. I have professional quality tools because they were the tools of my trade and they make things easier. I use herbicide, in the form of glyphosate, very sparingly but in ways that save me work. When it comes to techniques like digging, not that I do much, I know how to do it to most effectively bury weed and reduce future work, and how to do it with minimum effort.

I have a six foot steel bar, which enables me to move almost anything and to get out tough roots. It takes me longer to dig round a rootball with my narrow trenching spade but its narrow blade with rounded end goes in a lot easier than a normal width spade. I have a small diamond stone which I use to sharpen my Felco secateurs; they will cut easily through stems that identical looking secateurs won’t touch. Loppers would give me more leverage, perhaps I should buy some.

And so on. It seems to me that there isn’t much discussion in the media about garden maintenance for older people. Have I just missed it? I feel like I should start a meme of gardening tips for old codgers. Are there lots of older people producing and reading gardening stuff on blogs and the like, or is it mostly younger people?

There must be a million tips and tricks that individuals use to help them keep maintaining the garden they want. I have to admit I haven’t really looked, perhaps I should google “gardening for old codgers” and see what comes up.

It’s widely recognised that gardening is very good for our physical and mental well being. With ever greater numbers of old people, keeping people doing it for longer could be a significant contributor to older people’s health.

What is your experience? Are you getting on a bit yourself, or helping out aging parents perhaps? Or maybe you make a living as a gardener, working for elderly clients. Could gardeners be helped to keep their gardens going for longer?