Six on Saturday – 24/2/2018


The sound of chainsaws nearby on Monday morning put me in a bit of a panic. Turned out that one of our neighbours had decided to have the large oak between him and my next door neighbour down. I reported on his mutilation of it back in September. I can’t really say that it affects us much, overhanging a little at the north east corner of our garden. It’s funny, it’s hard to separate the cognitive fact of it being gone from the actual experience of it not being there. From some angles it seems to make little difference, from others there is a real sense of more light and space. It saddens me because this is a fairly young housing estate with very few trees of any size. Every one that is there makes a significant contribution to the feel of the place.

Apple tree decision time. I wrote a blog in the week about where I was with growing apples. Bit of a saga. I think writing it down has clarified things in my head. My Suntan apple is going to go. I’m just not going to get a worthwhile crop from it for years, if ever. I will move the ‘Holstein Cox’ to where my Pittosporum ‘Elizabeth’ is languishing; that’s not likely to ever stand up without support. The other Pittosporum we have in a pot can go where ‘Suntan’ is now. Pittosporum ‘Silver Magic’. Sorted.

(Two supplementary. Another half day has passed. ‘Suntan’ is gone, any regrets tempered by realising as I cut it up just how much canker there was on it. Pittosporum ‘Elizabeth’ is gone; once out it was clear that down below was a real mess of encircling roots. Pittosporum ‘Silver Magic’ and Apple ‘Holstein’ now have new homes.)


Pittosporum ‘Silver Magic’ with doomed ‘Suntan’ Apple on its left and soon to be moved ‘Holstein’ apple on its right.

Our very elderly next door neighbour has been unable to garden for years, so I have looked after it for him. The front garden was classic conifers and heathers, with the conifers massive and growing into each other. I got rid of most of them, this bit still remains and just now looks quite colourful. I’ve put one or two quite choice plants in, I hope the next occupants won’t want to rip it all out and concrete it.SOS297

Birds. By the time we got back from Australia, the birds had given up on us. It was a week before they had really come back to the feeders in numbers. Mostly Goldfinches, some chaffinches and siskins, an occasional blue tit, greenfinch and collared dove. I wonder if this cold spell will drive the redwings into gardens, I saw a flock in a nearby field recently.


Every gardener knows that gardening doesn’t end when you come back in the house. There are houseplants, seed catalogues, books and magazines and these days, lots of online stuff. When I did my volunteer day at Mt Edgcumbe this week I spotted a group of trees I’d not noticed before (in two years of weekly visits mind!). Suspecting it was a New Zealand conifer I dug out a book I’d bought in NZ a decade ago. Sure enough it was Dacrycarpus dacrydioides, or Kahikatea. I didn’t know they grew in the UK at all. So I tried to log in to the Tree Register, only to find that my subscription had expired. Sorted that and yes, they are indeed rare. Must look and see if it looks like a champion tree next week.

Talking of books, back in the autumn I was thinking about how to produce six things each week in winter when nothing much was going on. Slipping in the odd favourite book, maybe claiming to have read it in the garden, in order to comply with SOS rules, back when I thought there were any rules; seemed like a possibility. Well, it’s mid February and the opportunities might be running out. So here is one of my favourites. I’m not going to write a book review, I’m just going to say that it is an unalloyed joy of a book that has spent a great deal of time on the table beside my bed.

Well that’s my offering for another week. I have fingers crossed for minimal damage in the coming week. Who’d have thought it, cold weather in February! Whatever next?

Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator, from whose post are numerous links to other contributors from all over the place. It’s where I’m headed now.


Apple growing, a cautionary tale.

I have an allotment. On it is a large fruit cage, taking up a third of the plot and in which I grow, reasonably successfully, soft fruit. I have raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, blueberries,  blackcurrants and red currants. The allotment rules don’t allow me to plant trees in the ground, so I am unable to plant fruit trees on the plot.

Not a problem, I can grow a few apple trees in my garden. I actually started growing apple trees in my garden long before I got the allotment. My first foray was with three apples and a Victoria plum. The apples were Herefordshire Russet, Suntan and Elstar. They were all planted as two year old bush trees on MM106 stocks. The russet produced half a dozen good apples in its first year and a respectable crop in its second. In the next couple of years the fruits were very small and scabby. When I decided to dig it out and put up a polytunnel it was not a difficult decision.

‘Elstar’ seemed to get a good write-up wherever I looked, as a good grower with good disease resistance and with well flavoured fruit. That was not my experience. All I ever saw were very scabby, very small fruits that didn’t taste of much. A work colleague had brought ‘Holstein Cox’ back from her native Germany and it was doing very well for her so I accepted the offer of some scions and started to turn Elstar into a family tree. The plan was for Elstar itself to leave home.


Family apple tree. The trunk is ‘Elstar’, most of the smaller branches are something else.

At the same time that I grafted three or four scions of Holstein, I also grafted a couple each of Red Windsor and Meridian. I didn’t really expect many, if any, to succeed. I also didn’t label them. Bad mistake. All nine scions took, most of them grew away well, but I don’t know which is which.

Suntan thrived. Away it grew, strong and healthy. In a year or two it was flowering like an ornamental crab but it was doing so once Elstar, Herefordshire Russet , Holstein et al had finished. There was nothing to pollinate it and I ended up with almost no fruit. I have spur pruned it as an open bush shaped tree, which has worked well, restricting its size whilst maintaining prolific flowering.


‘Suntan’ apple. Spur pruning in summer has worked well to restrict the size while still producing abundant flowering, if not fruit.

Somewhere along the way I had planted a tree of Red Windsor, on M9, a dwarfing rootstock. M9 is the stock that virtually all commercial growers use and until quite recently has been almost unobtainable in retail nurseries. Commercial growers plant at high densities, growing as spindle trees or something similar, supported on wires and at 3-4 feet spacing. Key advantages for them are that the trees start cropping very quickly and the fruit is a little larger than on other rootstocks. Yield per hectare is very high. I saw these merits as being just as relevant to me as a domestic gardener, plus the fact that in a limited space I could get in more varieties, giving me better pollination and less risk of gluts.

Red Windsor hasn’t done terribly well; it crops freely enough but the fruits have been small and scabby. It hasn’t grown very much.

Did I mention I am in Cornwall. A lot of things grow very well in our mild maritime climate, even some apple varieties, but scab and canker can be devastating.

I decided I needed a late flowering variety to pollinate Suntan. It seemed suitably disease resistant and the few fruits I did get were good. I wanted cookers because all I had was eaters. I ended up with Newton Wonder and Lane’s Prince Albert, both on M9. I was thinking that they wouldn’t take up much room and in time I could graft a couple of bits from each onto Suntan and do away with the free standing trees.

Why two? Well, Newton Wonder is a triploid, as is Suntan, so I needed Lane’s Prince Albert to pollinate Suntan, then something else to pollinate Lane’s Prince Albert. Truth is it doesn’t add up now, though it did at the time.

Neither have grown well, certainly not well enough to start hacking off bits for grafting. Trees on dwarfing rootstocks need pretty good growing conditions to succeed; I’m not sure they get what they need in my climate. I am sceptical whether they will do the job of pollinating Suntan. Suntan itself, in the meantime, is beginning to show a bit of a susceptibility to canker.

In the winter of 2016/17 I grafted some more bits onto Elstar. Plympton Pippin, Tregonna King and Meridian. Two west-country varieties that should do well and Meridian, mostly in the hope it will enable me to identify the bits I did before.

Just for good measure, I planted a maiden tree of Holstein Cox on MM106. It is a strong grower and I will need to restrict its growth. It had one apple on it in 2017 and it was superb.


‘Holstein’, a German ‘Cox’ hybrid that has so far shown real promise, but what do I do with it?

It’s crunch time. I have six trees, three on MM106 and capable of making 12-15 feet unless restricted, three on M9 and probably doomed to perform badly. Suntan is getting canker and crops poorly. My strategy to improve its pollination has failed. If it goes then Newton Wonder and Lanes Prince Albert may as well go too.

My Elstar based family tree is passable, though I’m not sure that having a trunk and branches of Elstar between the MM106 rootstock and the varieties I have grafted on top of it is a good idea.

Holstein Cox needs to be trained into something that I can spur prune and keep within bounds. It’s also not in the ideal location as it will shade the glasshouse.

Part of me wishes I’d never started. For probably 10 years of trying I doubt I’ve had 50 edible apples. I’ve learned a bit. Grafting shoots of different varieties onto an existing tree is easy. See varieties growing successfully in a garden nearby before you plant them. Spur pruning to keep a particular size or trained shape is easy enough.

I’m not thinking about what could have been growing in that space these last ten years or how much fruit I could have had if I’d planted the right varieties. I’m thinking about what to do now and the blog I’d like to be writing about it in five years time.

Six on Saturday – 17/2/2018

OMG, it’s sunny! Gotta do something!
Frosty weather is not conducive to things moving forward in a garden; they stay the same or go backwards. Still, it’s amazing how resilient some things are, which is just as well given the requirement to come up with half a dozen performers each week. It has to get easier soon, spring is surely on the way.

A tulip. I mentioned last week that I’d filled a pot with someone’s cast off tulips. They’re racing ahead of my bought ones, lush and leafy; and I have my first (hopefully not my last) bloom already. I don’t have a clue as to variety.

Sticking with bulbs, we have a few pots of daffs that have been around for a couple of years. That get shoved away in a corner for the summer in this case are still there even now that they’re back in bloom. I must rescue them from the dumpimg ground beside the house and give them their moment in the sun. I tend to call anything that looks like this one Tete a Tete, but they may well be something else.

Another of my Camellias, this one is C. japonica ‘Bob’s Tinsie’. Small flowers but lots of them and over a long period.

Fuchsia juntacensis. We were given this rather poorly plant a couple of years back and its progress back to health has been less than meteoric. I took a couple of cuttings way back and there are two more plants somewhere, I must find them and see if they have flowers too. This is a stupid time for a fuchsia to be flowering.

Persicaria tenuicaulis. We’ve all done it, gone to a plant sale or nursery and bought something just because it spoke to us, not a thought about where it’s going to go. You get it home and put it down somewhere, muttering something about having a think about where would suit it best. Then nine months later….. At least it’s still alive, though I still haven’t decided where to put it.

It’s still less than three weeks since we got back from Australia. I’m always tempted to sow loads of seeds very early but I try to resist. The biggest problem is finding space for growing them on when it’s still too early for them to go outside. I would have sown Sweet Peas in autumn but didn’t want to leave them while we were away, so I sowed them, along with a few veg, as soon as we got back. I have lettuce up, and two or three Sweet Peas. A very restrained woo! is in order.
I’ve been at it again this morning, onion sets into cells, celeriac and carrots, the latter into deep pots, a tactic that worked pretty well last year.

It’s looking like I get a fair day Saturday and a rubbish one on Sunday. I think I’ll go and chuck a bit of fertiliser around on the allotment; perhaps pull a few weeds too. Who knows, if the weather is fair I may not be the only one there. Checking out the contributions of the other participants of SOS will have to wait until later. What, you’re new to this? You need to go to the comments below The Propagator’s Saturday post and follow the numerous links. A cornucopia of horticultural vignettes awaits you.

Allotment update 11/2/2018

I made a quick visit to my allotment earlier. The wind was slicing across the very open site and, seeing very little that needed doing urgently, I didn’t stay long.


Spinach, leeks, rhubarb and weeds, lots of weeds.

My leeks were a dismal failure; almost all of them produced flower stems. Sown too early seems to be the verdict. Spinach beet is OK, though it is very battered. There are parsnips in the ground, though they are pathetically small. Mesh over the top stopped root fly but cramped leaf development.

All the bare ground was mulched in autumn with compost, mostly from my compost heap, some fresh shredded material. It has done its job of protecting the soil surface over the winter but because my composting isn’t on a scale that generates much heat, there is a lot of weed to pull out.


In the first winter that I had the plot I sowed Italian ryegrass as a green manure. It was very effective but needed digging in. Since I adopted a no dig regime it has not seemed viable. I am going to try it again in autumn 2018, sowing it on the beds that will not be needed until relatively late in the spring. It should mean I can spread my compost a little thicker on a reduced area. The rye I will cover with mypex a couple of months before I need the ground. Hopefully that will be long enough to give me a good kill.


More weeds, plus parsley, kale and garlic.

As well as not having as much compost as I would like, the stuff I do have doesn’t have the nutrients in it that my crops need either. This is a fairly high rainfall area and the ground is free draining, the more so because I am maintaining good soil structure. I suspect I am losing nutrients to leaching. I also shred a lot of woody material and put it into the compost. It resists decomposition and is effective all winter at protecting the soil surface, but at best it is poor in nutrients, if it isn’t actually drawing nutrients out for its own breakdown. I will feed more this season than I have in the past.


The one thing I did do when I was up there today was to open 2018’s account with my mole population. There are too many for my liking. I’m not bothered by their excavations so much as their impact on my worm population. I’m convinced it’s because I have far more worms than my neighbours that they seem to be mostly focussed on my plot. I set two traps though my success with them in the past has been dire. I have also scattered seed of caper spurge around the margins; supposedly it deters them. I sowed a couple of cell trays with spurge too.  I’ll let you know how it goes.


Moles. Their hills are all along the edges of the plot but their tunnels are everywhere.

Six on Saturday – 10/2/2018

Cornwall is bordered by sea on three sides and all the while that the wind is coming from it, enjoys some protection from extremes of cold and heat. Earlier this week it was coming overland, from east north-east, and it was pretty chilly. Not much was happening in the garden before it turned cold, even less is now. Indoors I sowed a few seeds; broad beans and onions. Today it’s not quite so cold but it’s drizzling.

Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Elizabeth’. This was at this jaunty angle when we got back last week. It still is because I’m not sure what to do with it. I have a feeling it’s always going to be unstable so maybe I should cut my losses and get rid of it now. Alternatively I cut it back to reduce wind resistance, straighten it up and stake it; see what happens, then get rid of it in a couple of years time.

Hakonechloa clean-up. I’ve ventured out a few times to do be a bit of tidying up. It’s not pleasant, I’m glad I have a choice. Most of my Hakonechloas have collapsed, probably helped by the cats jumping on them. I don’t see any new growth yet, but it won’t be long coming. I’ve left the varieties that still look OK.

Fuchsia colensoi. Or is it F. perscandens? Or do I have one of each? There may have been a time when I knew. F. colensoi is a hybrid between F. perscandens and F. excorticata and I imagine there are several clones around, varying in how close to one or other parent they are. They are very much in the interesting but not showy bracket, flowering in winter with small, dingy coloured blooms, often coming straight out of quite old branches.

Double Hellebore. I always think my hellebores should do better than they do. None I’ve ever had have really thrived to produce  a big clump. I planted two doubles last year; this one is back up and flowering, the other has a few new leaves and no flowers. I have a lot of nondescript single seedlings around the garden, perhaps they’re harbouring too much disease for the good ones to get going.

New shoots. February is a month which starts as winter and ends as spring. Things that are starting to shoot now and seem frustratingly slow, will be well under way by the month’s end. Or so I keep telling myself. Those new shoots represent the promise of things to come. Or so I keep telling myself. New shoots are a worry too; will they get frosted? Will the slugs have them?
I’m reminded that I must divide the Dactylorhiza sometime very soon. And I have another Impatiens clone to plant out. And if Spotty Dotty is up, where is Kaleidescope? (Voice in head: ‘Relax, this is gardening, a leisure activity; you’re supposed to enjoy it’)

Tulips. A friend of mine who has a town house with no garden, packs loads of bulbs into pots each year. They then get turfed out to make way for summer bedding. Last year I picked them all out and took them home, to sort through and plant up in the autumn. She plants loads of different stuff to get a riot of colour over a long period, so I have no idea what’s in the mix or what will flower. That’s the pot in the middle. One is almost out already. The other pots were planted with one variety in each, my more orderly approach to things.

It’s going to warm up next week. Next week there will be flowers. Today, I’m relying on fellow sixers to strike a note of optimism, linked as ever from The Propagator’s own meme-meister’s post. A day of virtual garden visiting beckons, courtesy of the wonderful world of the blog.

Six on Saturday – 3/1/2018

My seven weeks in Oz is now, sadly, a fast receding memory. On my last day I did a bit of gardening. The Strelitzia nicolae was getting very tall and leaning against the neighbour’s fence. It suckers freely so it’s a case of taking out one or two of the tallest stems each year. Sadly a bloom had just opened on the tallest stem. A few seeds came home with me; it’d probably be for the best if they failed to grow.

My first impression on Tuesday, when I took a first spin round the garden here, was how little had changed while I’d been away. A Pittosporum is listing badly and some bamboo stems have come down: it’s been windy. Fuchsia microphylla is still in leaf and flowering: it hasn’t been particularly cold. The lid had blown off the dustbin, which was nearly full of water: it’s been very wet.

Six things from my own garden this week then, for my contribution to The Propagator’s six on Saturday thing. It’s great to see new people joining in.

How the weeds have grown! Pathetic that the most obvious difference after two months away is the weeds. Speedwell and bittercress mostly, both of which are flowering and will seed everywhere unless removed expeditiously. I’m not keen to get out there, it feels bloody cold. Contrast: Chopping Strelitzia at 35°C against weeding on hands and knees at 6°C.

Hakonechloa macra ‘Mediovariegata’. I think I may have mentioned before that I am a Hakonechloa enthusiast. This one seems to be the most resilient in winter conditions and while it’s now getting a bit scruffy, it’s still the brightest patch of colour in the garden except for one early camellia. It will get cut to the ground in a week or two. H. macra ‘Albostriata’ is probably the same thing and may well be the correct name.

The aforementioned Camellia is this one. I grew it from seed of Camellia reticulata ‘Mary Williams’, a single pink that is basically the wild form of the species. It’s a free flowering semi-double in a vivid shade of pink and I hope it will produce even larger blooms once it’s properly established.

Camellia ‘Minato-no-akebono’. That translates as ‘Harbour at Dawn’. This is a Japanese raised hybrid between C. japonica ‘Kantô-tsukimiguruma’ and C. lutchuensis that was released in 1981. For me it starts flowering very early, in December or January, and carries on until March. The flowers are sweetly scented, very different from the autumn flowering sasanquas, and drop before they fade. The new growth also starts very early and is reddish.

Cyclamen coum. I’ve planted several of these in different places over the last couple of years. Some have failed, some have lived and flowered and this one has produced a rash of seedlings. I wish I knew what the secret of success was, they’re all in similar conditions.

Polygonatum mengzense F. tonkinensis HWJ567. The number at the end tells a story. H is Dan Hinkley, plant hunter, writer and nurseryman; WJ is Bleddyn Wynn-Jones of Crûg Farm Plants. Crûg had a stand at the rare plant fair held at Tregrehan last year. I bought it because I already had a different form, HWJ573, which I bought from Barracott Plants a couple of years earlier and which I like very much. Both were collected as seed from the highest mountain in Vietnam, in 1999.
HWJ573 had loads of berries last year which ripened bright red and stayed for months. I collected some and sowed the seeds, which germinated very well. This year it has far fewer berries and they’re still green, whereas those on HW567 are bright red. I’ll collect some and sow the seed, but later.
The berries are only part of the appeal; this is a plant that I will be featuring again. One thing you will notice though, is that unlike most Polygonatums, it is evergreen.

On the whole it’s good to be back. I enjoy visiting Australia but I wouldn’t really want to live there. I’ve been gardening here too long, I’d have to learn it all over again out there. And there’s a lot to be said for our comparatively benign climate.

Six on Saturday – 27/1/2018

Flying home tomorrow. Hey ho, all good things must come to an end. And back to who knows what. I have a fair idea, gleaned from The Propagator and all the other contributors to six on saturday.

This will definitely be my last post from Australia. Having been here seven weeks I am beginning to get to know a few plants. I saw Buckinghamia celsissima flowering in Brisbane Botanic Garden over a month ago. It is by no means common in people’s gardens but there are a couple of small towns just north of here, notably Landsborough, where they have been planted in large numbers on the wide roadside verges. Our hosts have a tree on the verge in front of their house that has died; this is probably the leading contender to replace it, if we can find one to buy.


When it comes to working out what to grow in your garden here, a great place to start is public parks. Roma Street Parkland in Brisbane is a cracker. There’s some impressive landscaping, interesting and effective use of native and exotic plants and well executed parks style bedding. It was here that I realised that effective summer bedding here needs to able to withstand high temperatures for weeks or months. UK summer bedding subjects are mostly more suitable for their winter if at all. Petunias and Marigolds seem to do OK, much of the rest was less familiar to me. Among the exotics I was stopped in my tracks by a couple of double flowered forms of Lotus growing in the main lake.



Another garden we visited calls itself Maleny Botanic Garden. In scale and plant range that is not an outrageous claim but sadly nothing is labelled. Maleny is in the hills of the hinterland, lovely little town. It does mean that it is a little cooler than the coastal plain.


Armed with a little knowledge, we headed off to the local garden centre. It’s getting a bit late for summer bedding but we found a few things; Petunias, a thing sold simply as Vinca and another thing I don’t have a name for. All were doing well at Roma Street. We planted them in three containers, mostly replacing Antirrhinums that didn’t look at all happy. They seem to be doing alright so far.


On another trip to Maleny we stumbled upon a small but excellent native plant nursery, Forest Heart. They publish their plant range on their website and it is extensive and interesting. Leaving without purchasing was not a realistic option so we picked out these two; Cat’s Whiskers and a bottlebrush, Orthosiphon aristatus and Callistemon ‘Firebrand’.