Six on Saturday – 23/12/2017

Two days after midwinter and two days until Christmas and we’ve had a week in the low to mid 30’s. When I was out in the midday sun yesterday I was casting no shadow. Phew!

For someone who has worked in horticulture and gardened in the UK all their lives, one of the pleasures of coming to a place like Australia is being surrounded by unfamiliar plants, both cultivated and in the wild. One of the things I don’t know about them is where they all originate from. Most people’s gardens bear little resemblance to what is left of the natural flora hereabouts so it is easy to assume that most of the garden plants are non-native; though without knowing what most of them are there is no easy way to check.

Out in the “wild” I have seen a number of things that I am fairly sure are aliens, some of them invasively so, but have probably failed to recognise others  because I simply don’t know what they are. It is tempting to think the climate here is too challenging for much to gain a foothold, but it does.

Brisbane has two botanic gardens, one in the city centre and a more extensive one at Mt Coot-tha out in the suburbs. We visited the latter earlier in the week and dragged ourselves around in 35°C for a few hours. It was a pleasure and an education and quickly overwhelming. So many fabulous plants, so many unfamiliar names, so much new information to absorb and process. My six this week are from there.

A large area is devoted to native plants and plant communities and there is some encouragement to plant native plants, in particular those from this part of Australia, in gardens. What struck me about some of these plants was just how good they were, how very garden worthy. Grevilleas stood out, with flowers of various shades, all very exotic looking and all having the bonus of being attractive to lorikeets and other nectar feeding birds.

Just inside the entrance is a large area given over to succulents. Much of Australia is arid but succulence is not an adaptation that the native flora has adopted much. These non native ones are very happy here though.

Making it just a little more interesting is the fact that overhead in many places there are massive spiders webs, densely populated by massive spiders.

Buckinghamia celsissima or  Ivory Curl is from NE Queensland and in the Proteaceae. That much is on the label. It is a rainforest species that makes an evergreen tree to about 10m in cultivation. I have seen it in gardens and as a street tree and covered in its 20cm long white flower spikes it is an impressive sight.

Araucaria bidwillii, Bunya pine. Not a pine, of course, but a relative of the monkey puzzles, this was once abundant in Eastern Australia. Logging for timber and land clearance have taken a heavy toll but it is not an uncommon sight still and a good specimen is very handsome. The botanic garden have planted a sizable grove which is now beginning to cone, necessitating warnings about the cones, which can be football sized.

Grevillea ‘Golden Lyre’. One of the areas of native plants has a wide selection of Grevilleas on display. Most have cultivar names but whether they are selections found in the wild, or hybrids raised in cultivation I don’t know. This one stood out as much for its habit as its flowers; large scale ground cover anyone?

Corymbia ficifolia. I’ve been driving past three specimens of this every day to get out of the estate. I had tentatively identified them as Eucalyptus ficifolia, but it turns out that it was moved to Corymbia in 1995. It comes in red and pink and seems to want to make a low spreading bushy tree. In the botanic garden there were cultivars called ‘Summer Red’ and ‘Summer Beauty’, presumably grafted cultivars. It may be that seedlings of the species would be more upright but perhaps of less good colour.

Bamboo. There are some very impressive clumps of bamboo in the garden, though one with exceptional blue stems that we saw last time we were here is now gone. An unwilling volunteer was press-ganged into appearing in the picture, for scale. I forgot to note the name of the plant.


I hope that warmed you up a little. Now I have to steel myself to see what everyone back at the other end of the world are up to and by extension, what our own garden is enduring in our absence. It’s off to The Propagator for lots of links.


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.


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 – 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.

Six on Saturday – 11/11/2017

At this time of year you can be sure that all the better gardening magazines will have an article urging you not to cut down your grasses and herbaceous perennials but to leave them to enjoy their structure and shape when white with rime on those cold frosty but sunny winter mornings that we get so many of. In Cornwall you might be lucky enough to get one or two such mornings in a winter, but the grasses and herbaceous perennials will by then be lying in a soggy and bedraggled mess on the ground. I’ve just spent a couple of hours cutting down and shredding before this weekend’s gales really kick in. Right, enough whingeing, here are my six offerings for this week:

One of the compensations for not being able to enjoy frosty mornings, and to be honest, you can keep them, is being able to grow things that would not survive up country. Like Fuchsia excorticata. There are a few Cornish gardens where this gets to something like the tree proportions it attains in its native New Zealand and when it does, its peeling bark is right up there with Stewartia sinensis and such like. Ours was planted on the bank between us and a neighbour and he has hacked it down in years past. This year he seems to have overlooked it and it is producing a few flowers.

I make no apology for giving my two sasanqua camellias a second outing in a six. This is their second winter in their current quarters but last year they were still recovering from being hungry pot plants for a few years. They are now fully recovered and performing magnificently. They are very happy in poor stony soil and full sun at the front of the house, both flowering and growing really well. ‘Navajo’ and ‘Paradise Little Liane’ are their names.

John’s piece last week reminded me that I did in fact have a garden ornament somewhere. This turtle sat looking out over our pond for years, then we filled in the pond. He stayed put, disappearing under lush vegetation and pretty much forgotten. I have now rescued him, given him a clean up and plonked him down to take his photo.  The location lacks an air of permanence. And he(/she?) needs a name.

Coprosma. We haven’t had a name attached to this plant for years but Coprosma repens ‘Pink Splendour’ comes to mind. One of our local garden centres had five or six varieties of Coprosma in stock last week. A few years ago they were firmly border line hardy, even here, but they are very tolerant of low nutrient levels (aka neglect) which hardens them up effectively. This one has been in the garden for three or four years and is about 4 feet tall. Before that it was in a pot, outdoors, for several years. They look a bit like they might be made of plastic; glossy and oddly coloured. Bit of colour in the winter though.
The green leaved species grows on the western facing edges of the Scillies, completely impervious to what the sea throws at it. Like the Hottentot fig it shares the niche with, it’s an invasive alien, from New Zealand in this case.

Autumn colour, or Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum’. 99% of the leaves on this tree were ripped off by Ophelia and Brian while still dark purple. The remaining 1% have turned red and look very nice with the sun shining through. A little imagination and I can imagine myself at Westonbirt.

Miscanthus nepalensis. A couple of years ago I bought the grass Phaenosperma globosa at one of the Plant Heritage sales in Tavistock. It hasn’t been a success, a fact that gave me pause when I saw this on a recent visit. I went ahead and bought it anyway and have not been given cause to regret the decision so far. (My usual cause for regret in these situations is ear-ache)

There will no doubt be lots more sixes to enjoy, accessible from ThePropagator’s own weekly set. Hope you enjoyed mine, see you next week.

Two pictures.

I came across a picture of the garden from June 2005 and, struck by the number of plants that we no longer have, tried to take exactly the same picture as it looks now.


I worry sometimes that the garden has become too static, that I am too slow to make alterations. Not so, it is clear. Nothing remains the same, with growth and plant replacements sharing the honours for being the greatest driver of change.

The big things are the most obvious casualties. Let me list the plants over 3 feet tall that are no longer there.

Eucalyptus pauciflora niphophila
Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Siver Queen’
Viburnum tinus ‘Variegata’
Pinus sylvestris ‘Chantrey Blue’
Corylus avellana
Acer grosseri hersii
Berberis ‘Orange King’
Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’
Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’
Pinus mugo pumilio
Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’
Fargesia murielae ‘Simba’
Diselma archeri
Vallea stipularis
Rhododendron ‘Ginny Gee’
Picea abies ‘Little Gem’

And what about the similar sized plants that are there now but were not in the earlier shot.

Magnolia Ann
Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Elizabeth’
Schefflera taiwaniana
Berberis thunbergii ‘Golden Torch’
Camellia ‘Minato-no-akebono’
Camellia ‘Spring Festival’
Hydrangea macrophylla You & Me Together
Camellia japonica ‘Eximea’
Cistus ‘Sunset’
Leptospermum rupestre
Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’
Philadelphus ‘Snowbelle’
Zingiber mioga ‘Crûg Zing’

Then finally the things that are in both but which are now twice the size.

Taxus baccata ‘Standishii’
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Little Spire’
Astelia chathamica
Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Elizabeth’
Rhododendron ‘Merganser’
Chionochloa rubra
Fuchsia magellanica gracilis

Of the things that have gone perhaps seven were in poor health, diseased or damaged. The rest were judged to be too big or too dull or both.

It is interesting to try and envisage the garden as it would be now if nothing had been removed. All those evergreen trees and shrubs would be roughly twice the size and there would be a great deal less room, not to mention light, for anything else. As it is, the overall effect is not so very different, albeit with a different palette of plants. The balance of light and shade is about the same, which, though not a very conscious aim, seems right.

Only for the Eucalyptus did I enlist outside help. By the time it was felled it had grown much bigger and was beyond my competence. A very large limb broke off from low down, leaving it unbalanced and unsafe. Tree surgeons dealt with it.

As I get older, it will get harder to remove trees and large shrubs myself, a problem that all older people face. Tree surgeons are expensive, especially when taking down large trees in confined spaces, as is all too often required. It’s not hard to see why so many old people’s gardens are beyond them. Just a couple of hours on hands and knees weeding becomes a trial to be endured.

Just a couple of pictures, snaps from an upstairs window. Look a little closer and you see time, the all too easily overlooked forth dimension of gardening. You see changes in fashion, changes in personal taste. You see decisions taken and decisions ducked. You see the fruits of countless hours of pleasure, some pain too. I say “you see” and mean “I see”. You probably see something completely different.

I’m glad I didn’t delete it.