Six on Saturday – 9/12/2017

Maisie decided I needed some help. Not with the gardening, help to make the blog more appealing in difficult times. What is it with cats and grasses.

Rhododendron ‘Merganser’. This is the only Rhododendron we have left now, other than a couple of deciduous Azaleas and, come to think of it, a couple of evergreen Azaleas. I still don’t think of Azaleas as being real Rhododendrons. Rhododendrons are fabulous, I love them, but they don’t give good value in a small garden; they just don’t last long enough. This one is very small, with yellow bells in spring. I’ve put it in because apart from my bamboo, it’s the only thing I have with ornamental bark. You just have to imagine that the stems are more than half an inch thick.

A quick mash-up of a few of the odds and ends that are still flowering.

Bismarckia nobilis. This absolutely fabulous palm comes originally from Madagascar. The intensely glaucous leaves are 5-6ft across with quite sharp points. Now that this one has a bit of a trunk and has had its lower leaves removed it is a bit easier to live with than it used to be with leaves to the ground. It will eventually reach up to 12m in height, with a single trunk.

The observant among you will have twigged to a slight continuity issue between items two and three. That is because between taking the two pictures, I flew half way round the world and am now about an hour’s drive north of Brisbane. It’s 32°here, in Celsius not Fahrenheit, sunny though with a strong possibility of showers, perhaps even a thunderstorm. I’m here for a while, so Saturday postings will have a tropical flavour for some time.
I’m a bit out of my depth with the plants. This one is another palm, much planted for shade as it’s multi-stemmed but not so tall. I don’t know it’s name. I shall try and find out.

Agave attenuata. Massively popular in warmer parts of the world, this is just about hardy enough to survive in very mild west country gardens. It lacks the fearsome spines at the leaf tips that most of the other Agaves have. It readily spreads to form clumps of rosettes and eventually flowers, producing a spike rather like Eremurus, the fox tail lilies.

Frangipani. Plumeria is as quintessentially tropical as you can get. Making a tree to about 5m high and at least as much wide, they have very flamboyant flowers with a sweet scent. You’ll be seeing this again.

So the cats and the garden have been left in someone else’s care. Hopefully all will be well.
Between taking the pictures earlier today and waiting for the UK to catch up, the weather has turned spectacularly. It is now flashing and crashing and the rain coming down in torrents. It’s early evening, 10 hrs ahead of UK, and I desperately need sleep. Visiting everyone else linked from ThePropagator’s blog will have to wait until tomorrow.



Six on Saturday – 2/12/2017

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m having to pretend it’s winter down here in rainy Cornwall, but while there has been frost on the car a couple of times, we’ve had nothing to do any damage. There are odds and ends of flowers everywhere, but mostly bedraggled and looking sorry for themselves. So rather than focus on summer’s leftovers, I’ve tried to move onto winter’s main dishes.

Schefflera taiwaniana is a classy plant that I obtained originally as a bunch of fallen fruits while being shown round what had been Edward Needham’s garden near Truro some years ago. I held them up to the present owner and got a wordless nod. I know of one other seedling from the same batch, quite a bit different in appearance, so maybe they’d picked up pollen from one of the several other Scheffleras present.

Mine is now between 8 and 9 feet tall and I had been saving it for inclusion here when flowers were in short supply to be very surprised when I looked at it closely to see it is flowering. That’s flowering!! Woo! Woo! I look forward to finding out if it can produce viable seed without a mate. The other option is to try and take cuttings from the small shoots low down on the stem; haven’t a clue whether that would work.

Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘Spectabilis’. Not a name that exactly trips off the tongue but a wonderful plant for all that. Our garden is just a little too windy for this tall bamboo and we lose a few stems every year. It’s around 16ft tall and has spread over twenty years to cover maybe 10ft x 4ft of ground. A few wayward shoots have been removed. I remove side shoots from the bottom 3ft to show off the stems and harvest some of the oldest canes each year to use them as bean sticks. Excellent stem colour, evergreen and won’t get taller than it now is; what more do you want from a plant?

Starlings. I was going to put in common oak; we have one growing at one corner of the garden, another overhanging the opposite corner. I went out to take the picture and realised that I actually like the constant chatter of the starlings that are usually in them rather more than the trees themselves. Starlings it is then. I was even going to put an audio file on here but WordPress wouldn’t play without pay.
We get them in dozens. Place I used to work, south of London, had a roost at back of the head gardeners house of around 2 million. Commuted into London in the morning, back home in the evening. Just like the people. Loud. Very loud.

The light. Very low in the sky as the sun is now, its light reaches places it never normally does. A leaf here, a flower there, picked out fleetingly by a warm toned spotlight. I’m almost unable to pass a window without looking out on something else that requires me to grab the camera and go capture it.


Pinus koraiensis ‘Silver Ray’. When I got this, it was on the strength of a picture in a conifer book of an unusually narrow columnar pine with lovely bluish foliage. I now realise that the plant in the picture had been pruned to get the shape. You don’t immediately think that a pine would be trimmed to shape so you assume that’s how it grows. The realisation came too late for me to try for the same effect, you can keep them narrow if you start early but you can’t make a wide one narrow. I also hadn’t foreseen how much next door’s Crataegus would spread, so it has become one sided and leaning as well as too wide. One day it’ll have to go but that day hasn’t arrived yet.

Camellia x hiemalis ‘Bonanza’. I’m testing my limits again, flanking the featured Camellia with a couple of others, because I can and because they’re all flowering in my tunnel. ‘Bonanza’ first flowered in 1959 and was a chance seedling of C. sasanqua ‘Crimson Tide’ in America. I think it’s a fairly recent arrival on our shores. Compared to many autumn flowering Camellias it has a short but spectacular flowering season, this year for the month of November, tailing off into December. The blooms are relatively large, about 6-7cm across, scented and as vivid a colour as you could wish for. It seems to want to be spreading rather than upright, but could be trained.

And so begins the weekend. Get my post sorted, then make the first of several visits to the links on The Propagator’s blog over the next couple of days to catch up with all the other contributors to the meme. I don’t know about anybody else, but the deeper into winter we go, the more interested I am to see what other posters have come up with. It’s making me look harder and think more about my own patch too. All good.

End of month view – November 2017

I first contributed to Helen’s end of month view two years ago so I now have the same view of the garden for the last three years. It’s like visiting a town you’ve not been to in years; most of it is unchanged and familiar, a few bits have changed completely. In the garden a large magnolia, clump of bamboo, large hazel and an Osmanthus are gone. Everything else is much the same. It makes more sense to talk in general terms about where things are at the end of November than to contemplate what is late or early this year compared to years before.

The sun is low in the sky, picking out plants with structural qualities. The warmth of the light enriches the colour of everything, though when the sun is hidden and the light more blue, it is the contrasting golds of autumn colouring that stand out. What remains of deciduous foliage looks insubstantial and not set to last much longer.

It is the season of the evergreens. Largely overlooked and serving only as a backdrop to the flamboyant colours of summer flowers, they now show their worth. Sometimes cold weather enhances their colouring, the white variegation of Pittosporum ‘Elizabeth’ turns pink, some conifers assume red or brown tints. The main thing though, it is that they are still green and visibly alive when all around is bare soil and skeletal branches that would look no different if they were actually dead.

The problem with evergreens though is that they get inexorably bigger every year and almost always outcompete the deciduous plants around them. Plant too many and then show any reluctance to ruthlessly cull when the need arises and you will end up with nothing but the evergreens and eventually have a deadly dull evergreen canopy below which nothing will grow.

There are also a great many evergreens with dark green foliage and not so many that are light in colour. Green conifers underplanted with Rhododendrons and Camellias might work with enough space or it could be funereal. I value variegated Pittosporum, Astelia and Bamboos for being both evergreen and bright.

My aim is to keep the balance of light and shade in the garden fairly constant. Looking at old pictures is a great way of monitoring progress.

Steve at Glebe House is hosting links to other end of month posts.



If ever there were a plant that gives of its best when it’s needed the most, it’s Hakonechloa. I took the picture above under heavily overcast skies and with a hint of drizzle in the air. I have done nothing to enhance the colour of the Hakonechloa as it assumes its autumn raiment. The foliage is wet and the light inclined toward a contrasting bluishness, no more is needed.

For many years I have grown a variety that I obtained in a Devon nursery and it either had no name or I lost it along the way. I have long thought of it as H. macra ‘Mediovariegata’, I think because I ruled out every other variety I read about and that was what was left. More recently I obtained one under the name ‘Albostriata’ and the two look very similar, though I hesitate to say identical. ‘Albostriata’ was a variety being propagated and sold by the wholesale liner supplier Seiont Nurseries, who put it into their catalogue to replace ‘Stripe it Rich’, which they had found to lack vigour.

My experience bears that out, ‘Albostriata’/’Mediovariegata’ is a robust plant, standing up well and spreading a few inches each year. It also produces the best autumn colouring and stands until February in an average winter, standing out as the brightest plant in the garden by far through the middle of winter. Its summer colouring is green with creamy stripes; I would say that the name ‘Albostriata’, if correct, is misleading.

Hakonechloa macra is the parent species of perhaps a dozen varieties available in the UK. It is plain green, robust and upright. This year it is rivalling ‘Mediovariegata’ for colour, in previous years it has been a little less bright.

‘Stripe it Rich’ was very slow to get well established but at around six years old it is now doing well and spreading a little each year. The leaves arch gracefully outward making a mound around 9 inches high and they are a pale green with white stripes mainly in the centre and margins of the leaf. Its autumn colouring is relatively pale and low key.

‘Aureola’ or ‘Alboaurea’ is by far the most widely grown variety in the UK and has green and yellow striped leaves, the yellow being very bright and dominating the green. It is quite a strong grower, spreading slowly and making mounds feet across with the shoots upright in the centre and arching to touch the ground at the edges. Its winter colouring is considerably less intense than some of the others.

‘Samurai’ I obtained from Knoll several years ago. For me it has been the most vigorous spreader with the stems slightly more widely spaced than other forms. Another variegated variety, the stripes in this instance are nearly white, especially early in the season. It colours a bit later than the rest, in late November being still predominantly green.

Some varieties have been selected for the reddish tints that the leaves get in late summer and autumn. I have two such, ‘Beni-kaze’ and ‘Nicolas’, both very young plants, the former in the ground, the latter in a pot. Neither have coloured at all this year. ‘Nicolas’ is still fairly green, ‘Beni-kaze’ a rather ordinary dead grass colour.

‘All Gold’ is the brightest and the floppiest variety that I have. The leaves are a uniform bright yellow from spring until autumn. Even now at the end of November it is the most yellow of all of them. It is also pretty much flattened so I would expect it to be the first to break up under winter conditions.

The other variety I have in a small pot bought this year. It is another variety from Seiont and is called ‘Sun Flare’. It appears to be similar to ‘All Gold’, an unvariegated, yellow leaved form.

Looking at pictures from the last couple of years, my original clump of ‘Mediovariegata’ has been the last to be cut down, sometime in February. The others made it to February one year, but had been cut down by the same time in the other year. Our cats took to jumping in them one year, which didn’t help. Our Cornish climate is wet and windy, I would expect them to last better in drier and more sheltered gardens.

The other great merit that they have is to be completely deciduous. So many grasses are spoiled because they gradually accumulate dead stems and leaves which are impossible to remove. Hakonechloa starts to shoot very early so it is necessary to remove the previous year’s shoots before the new ones are more than an inch high. Then you start each year completely clean.

Mine are in very ordinary soil, mostly in part shade, ‘Samurai’ and one ‘Mediovariegata’ mostly in sun. They don’t like to dry out but I don’t find I need to water the shaded ones at all, the others rarely. I would imagine that growing them a little hard; by which I mean growing in poorish soil and not feeding, and watering only when very dry; would keep them shorter and less inclined to flop.


Six on Saturday – 25/11/2017


This morning has a flavour of winter about it. Sleet showers and the sunrise getting weird through them. Car didn’t want to start.
Flowers are in short supply now, except for a few that I’ve already used recently. We still haven’t had any frost to speak of so the big move in has proceeded in dribs and drabs so far. Yesterday however, was given over to getting all the potted fuchsias in, getting pots of bedding emptied and generally moving everything around to get it to fit. I have odds and ends flowering in my Camellia tunnel so I thought I’d start with one of those.

Camellia japonica ‘Desire’. As lovely as this bloom may be, I can tell you that for the variety it is not a good specimen. If I were judging it in a show it would win nothing. The downside of these pale formal doubles is that it takes so little damage to really spoil the effect. It should be spring flowering but it’s an early season generally and this plant is in a tunnel so it’s got ahead of itself.

Astelia ‘Red Devil’. I’m slightly surprised that the RHS don’t have this as A. nervosa ‘Red Devil’; I would have thought it was fairly typical of the species except for the reddish colouring. This specimen is growing in full sun; in hotter areas it would probably be happier with some shade. These sorts of evergreens come into their own at this time of year but looking at the picture, the Fuchsia microphylla behind it isn’t for giving up yet.

Taxus baccata ‘Standishii’. I don’t have a record of when this fastigiate yew was planted, it must be about 25 years ago. It isn’t clipped but it does have a couple of loops of wire going around it to stop it splaying apart. ‘Standishii’ is a female clone and it does produce a few berries each year. Seedlings appear round the base of it, some green, most yellow. I don’t keep them. There are several golden fastigiate yew clones and this is one of the brightest yellows and comparatively slow growing.SOS130

Hakonechloa macra. The picture of the yew serves very well to show why the Japanese Hakone grass is my favourite grass. I’m up to nine varieties now. The green leaved species, albeit sporting its autumn colours, is the clump just at the base of the Taxus. The last traces of green are now disappearing from its leaves, which often roll in on themselves at this time of year, then open out flat again. From now until the end of February they will be the brightest thing in the garden. By then they will be falling apart and I will cut them to the ground, taking care not to damage the new shoots that will be pushing through, and within weeks they are back up in fresh green, or striped, or bright yellow. They’ve grown tall this year, with no really dry spells.SOS131

Euphorbia mellifera. I cut this shrubby Euphorbia down every two or three years as it gets too big for where it is and starts to lose its shape. As a consequence it doesn’t flower every year, which I don’t mind, the flowers being pretty dull. The foliage on the other hand, is a fresh apple green all year and always looks a picture of health. When I pruned it a couple of months ago, I cut all the flowering shots near to the ground, leaving 12-18 shots that hadn’t flowered. Now that there has been a big flush of new growth from the base, the shoots I left look out of place, so today I removed them.

Earlier this year we had a porch fitted at the front of the house. For a while it sat empty but with us that was never going to last. It faces south and is mostly glass, so it gets pretty warm, the ideal place to overwinter our pots of succulents that sit outside the front of the house in summer. In practice, we put most of those in the glasshouse and brought out some different ones to adorn the porch. The black drip trays aren’t pretty, perhaps what we need is some tinsel. The pink outside the window is my Camellia ‘Navajo’ still going strong.

And that, fellow gardeners, is it, for another week. Hope you found something there to tickle your fancy. Meme host The Propagator, is an accomplished fancy tickler. He is also the link man for the growing community of six on Saturday contributors, making two very good reasons for going over for a look.

Six on Saturday – 18/11/2017


Once more I can avoid having to think too hard about items to include as there are odd little planty things going on that I can report on. We had just a suggestion of ground frost yesterday but I haven’t seen any damage, even Fuchsia boliviana is unscathed. This morning’s sunrise was lovely, it’s cold but only just frosty atop the car. The gulls are cacophonous; you’d think we were by the sea, not eight miles inland.

All the dahlias in the garden are staying where they are. I’ve cut them down and piled half rotted leaves over them. The seedling ones I had on my allotment have been lifted and are in a box covered with old potting compost. There are still lots of things in pots that need moving in.











Hedychium densiflorum ‘Assam Orange’ is something I featured when it was in flower, back in early September. It has produced fruits which are very slowly splitting open to reveal these vivid red berries within. In the past I have collected seed and grown new plants but I have no need of more. It comes more or less true from seed, which almost certainly means that much of what is sold as ‘Assam Orange’ is really just another seedling Hedychium densiflorum, quite possibly including mine. If anyone reading wants some seed, let me know.
Viburnum tinus. There are 34 forms of Viburnum tinus listed on the RHS website in what used to be the online version of Plantfinder. 15 have no suppliers listed, four more only one. The big ones are V. tinus, the species, and V. tinus ‘Eve Price’. ‘Gwenllian’, ‘French White’, ‘Purpureum’ and ‘Variegatum’ are widely available too. My plant is very different from all of these well known forms. For starters, the largest leaves are 11 cm long and 7cm wide, much bigger than the usual forms.

It was growing in my parents garden in Surrey when they moved in around 1956. The house had been built around 1900 and it is altogether possible it had been planted soon after. I’ve always assumed it was a form of the wild species that was available at the time. I just looked up Viburnum tinus in Bean* and it may be form hirtum, which the RHS says was last in Plantfinder in 2001.

Have I lost you yet? Suffice it to say that including it here was the spur to trying to find out more about it. It’s a handsome enough evergreen shrub though in truth it’s mostly nostalgia that motivates me to keep it. It’s a direct link back to the garden in which I became a gardener and a horticulturalist.

* Bean’s Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles is available online, updated to include New Trees. These books would cost you a small fortune to buy and they are available here for free.

Fuchsia splendens ‘Karl Hartweg’, or is it? It could be splendens cordifolia. Or maybe it’s ‘Lechlade Marchioness’. I don’t know how this came to be planted in the garden. It’s not regarded as a hardy variety. Perhaps it was bedded out for summer then forgotten. Who knows? It gets killed to the ground every year by the slightest frost and has to start from below ground in the spring. This year it is now about five feet tall and flowering freely, though it didn’t really get started until September. It has flopped more than somewhat and should have been supported, but it is mid November and it looks fantastic.

My polytunnel. In the top corner of my garden is a small polytunnel. I say small, by commercial standards it’s small; 10 x 20 feet. It has featured in these posts as background to a lot of pictures of Dahlias and Nerines. It’s full of camellias, mostly 9cm and 1litre.SOS126
When I finished employment 3 and a bit years ago I toyed with the idea of producing camellias for sale. I have since seen sense reconsidered but I still have a lot of stock. There’s another batch of cuttings on the mist bench now. There are days I’d give the whole lot away if I could find a taker. There are others when I have optimistic plans of what to do with them all. Some of them were flowering today so I took their pictures. The very least I can do with them is enjoy them and share them.
(‘Winter’s Charm’, ‘Gay Sue’, ‘Bokuhan’, ‘Snowdrop’, ‘Minato no akebono’, ‘Sasanqua Variegata’, ‘Peter Betteley’, pitardii (supposedly but not), ‘Cotton Candy’)

The tricky little encliandra group of Fuchsias, that’s the ones with the tiny flowers, threw up another conundrum last year when we were given a few cuttings of what appeared to be a white flowered seedling growing just below its pink flowered parent. It turns out that they open white then gradually turn pink, in the way of Hydrangea paniculata. I moved the parent plant last week. Six feet tall with slender arching branches carrying minute leaves and tiny pale pink flowers; beautifully graceful but in the wrong place. I hope it survives and thrives in its new quarters. Pushed for a name, I’d plump for F. obconica but I’m far from certain.
This flower is just 12mm from the top of the tube to the tip of the stigma.

Polystichum setiferum ‘Ray Smith’. I bought this at Binny Plants in Scotland years ago. It has long narrow fronds that come up at a steep angle and is almost evergreen. It also produces plantlets (gemmae, I’m informed) along the midrib (sorry, rachis) late in the year. In theory it should be a breeze to propagate but the plantlets are tiny going into the winter and by the end of the winter the fronds are dying off, taking the babies down with them. I have had some success with pegging whole fronds to the surface of compost in a tray but this year I have removed several and pushed them individually into a pot of compost which is now under the mist. My hope is that with a bit of bottom heat they’ll grow slowly over winter so I can pot them in spring.

So another Saturday bites the dust. Five more till Christmas. Can I make 30 things happen in the garden between now and then? Might have to cheat.
Links to the rest of the six on Saturday participants will pop up through the day below Mr P’s own six at ThePropagator. Be sure to check them all out.

Allotment update.

During the summer I was up to my plot at least every other day, now it’s more like every other week. Such crops as I have still standing seem to include several that have not covered themselves in glory this year, rusty leeks, piddling little parsnips, moth eaten spinach. Cauli’s were not bad, but you only want so much.


Skanky spinach, gone to seed leeks, piddling parsnips.


A good part of the ground is empty and has been mulched with compost to protect it over the winter. Mulch does prevent damage to soil structure from winter rain but not loss of nutrients from leaching. Green manure would do that but then needs digging in, which conflicts with my no-dig ambitions, or smothering, which takes time I don’t have in spring, or spraying, which I am not going to do.


Weeds. I can weed from the path where the pot is, I never step on the cultivated bit.


My compost is weedy. It is made from material from various sources, some of which are full of weed seeds. The quantities I have mean it doesn’t get hot enough to kill the weeds effectively, so where I mulched a few weeks back I now have weeds. I don’t want them going to seed and I don’t want them to get so big I have to dig them out; other than that they are holding onto nutrients and providing further protection for the soil. On closer inspection, there are a few that, even in November, are threatening to flower and seed as very small plants. Annual meadow grass, bittercress, pearlwort, groundsel, chickweed  and petty spurge are all included. Then there were grasses, dandelions and buttercups that needed out while still small and manageable.


Clockwise, pearlwort, annual meadow grass, hairy bittercress, petty spurge.


I weeded that bed. There is another that needs doing too. I spread more compost too. Everything gets shredded so it breaks down quickly, I will try to get more spread in the next couple of weeks, it will do far more good on the ground than in the heap. Because a significant part of its volume comes from shredded leaves and twigs, its nutrient content is not great, so I will apply fertiliser at a moderate rate in the new year. Some of the shortcomings I’m seeing in what I’ve grown this year are for lack of nutrition.

I find myself deviating from the no-dig template in its classic form but consider myself to be responding to my local conditions in as constructive a way as I can.