Six on Saturday – 26/5/2018

I popped up the allotment first thing, earthed up spuds and planted more seedling dahlias. Rain is forecast and the clouds are gathering. A good downpour would be ideal this weekend, just before things start to get seriously stressed. What with newly planted stuff on the allotment and all the pot stuff back here, I’m spending a lot of time watering. At least the slugs have been slowed down a bit.

One.
From the shady section of the garden, and very definitely one of my favourites. Polygonatum mengzense f. tonkinensis HWJ573 has only put up one stem this year, but we’re talking quality, not quantity. It’s 20 inches tall and has clusters of flower buds emerging at each leaf axil. They will be no bigger or showier when they’re out but they are followed by berries which turn scarlet. There are still one or two on one of last year’s shoots in the picture. I also have a bunch of seedlings. And it seems pretty much slug proof.

Two.
On Tuesday I called in to one of the garden centres on the fringes of Plymouth, just for a few bedding plants and a mooch around. I didn’t expect to find a bench full of Bletilla striata. Four different named forms, well filled 2 litre pots, at £7.99, which I thought reasonable. Seizing the moment, or succumbing to temptation, I bought three, ‘Kuchibeni’, ‘Blue Dragon’ and ‘Shi-ran’. I blame the SOS’er from last week who put up pictures of hers. Then I had to find somewhere to plant them.

Three.
Melittis melisophyllum ‘Royal Velvet Distinction’ was also mentioned last week, by sedumsdahliasandhayfever. I’ve had this for a couple of years and it’s having a good one this year. There is a lane near here where the wild form grows in the hedgerow. The grandiose ‘Royal Velvet Distinction’ leads you to expect a massive improvement on the wildling, but it’s not so very different.

Four.
Tulips are gone, all over, died down and forgotten. Pots of all shapes and sizes are accumulating at the front of the house to take their place and then some. Violas are providing colour for now.
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Five.
Back to the shade for another woodlander. This is Disporum viridescens, which is happily spreading and has these small white flowers in spring. It has an understated, refined quality that would work better if it was able to colonize a sizable area.
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Six.
This was a complete surprise that I only noticed yesterday. It’s come up from a carpet of Cardamine trifolia and I couldn’t find the beginning, let alone a label. It’s pushed up about six feet through Fuchsia and Holboellia to reach the light.

I’ve earthed up my potatoes, now the weather can do what it likes. I can go in and out between showers at home, it’s trickier on the allotment. It’ll give me a chance to check on the Saturday sixes as they come in. Links as ever in the comments to The Propagators piece.

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Six on Saturday – 3/3/2018

Snow is rare enough in Cornwall but temperatures of -4°C by day are pretty much unheard of. There will be a price exacted for growing plants that are at the border of hardiness, though what that price will be will not become clear for a while. Some things look dead and are, some look dead but recover, shooting from below ground perhaps. Some look fine but fail when they try to start into growth; some, like the Dahlias I didn’t lift, are a complete unknown.

For the plants in the ground very little can be done to give them protection. For glasshouses and polytunnels it is a case of how much heating gets provided. Given that a glasshouse will usually be a degree or two warmer than outside without heating, and not expecting anything worse than maybe -2 or -3, I have found a couple of electric tube heaters adequate up till now. Even with -5 and a stiff breeze, I think I will lose little or nothing in the two glasshouses and the back of house conservatory/lean-to glasshouse. The polytunnel is a different matter.

One.
The beautiful winter scene on Friday morning before I went out and trampled some of it. I will reluctantly concede that snow can look very pretty and at this time of year a lot better than what it is covering up. I drove back from taking someone to Truro hospital Thursday afternoon in worsening snow; it took three times as long as normal and was touch and go in a couple of places. I hate the stuff.
This morning it’s raining and the snow is turning to slush. Hopefully it’ll soon be gone.

Two.
Agave montana. I bought this at Pan Global a few years ago and it’s done very well. It stays outside against the south facing house wall and gets very little water or feed, which toughens it up. I have no fears about its survival. The thing next to it is a species of Haworthia which might suffer a bit. There’s an equally tough Agave parryi out there too.

Three
Schefflera taiwaniana heads a long list of plants that I will be anxious about until at least June. At least it’s about as deeply dormant as it ever gets, which I hope will help. I seem to recall that it had a flower spike coming back in the autumn; there’s no sign of it now.

Four
I’m probably going to have more room for my tomatoes this year. Some years ago, in my former life, we upgraded our camellia sales display by lifting the plants off the ground onto benches. When a few plants started to go down in late winter we realised that all their roots had been frozen and killed. The backup stock, standing on the ground in the tunnel next door, was fine, saved by being pot thick and a bit of residual heat from the ground. If camellia roots freeze, they die. I don’t expect many of these to survive. I tried to cover the 9cm plants but the wind had other ideas.
I took the cover off this morning, all looks fine beneath it, just like the ones that weren’t covered. It tells me nothing. I shall look at the roots in a few weeks time, that will likely tell a different story.

SOS310

Five.
I did manage to squeeze a few plants, mostly less hardy varieties, into the conservatory. This is one of them, Camellia ‘Ariel’s Song’, which is a hybrid between two borderline hardy species, tsaii and fraterna. It has loads of small, very fragrant flowers. I have grown it successfully outdoors in Cornwall but even here it is marginal. Lovely leaf too, especially new growth. I’m going to sneak in a focus stacked picture of ‘Flower Girl’ too, for no better reason than it being alive.

Six.
The OH started on this when we were in Australia. She saw one somewhere and thought “I can do that”. I think both knitting and crocheting are involved but what do I know. I will concede that they are not “happening in my garden right now” but this is a week for taking liberties if ever there was one.

SOS313

In theory, from now on it can only get better.
I’m rather expecting tales of woe from other six on Saturday contributors. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Links from The Propagator as ever.

 

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.

Apples-2

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.

Apples

‘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.

Apples-3

‘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.

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.

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.
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.
SOS113

Two.
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.
SOS114

Three.
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.
SOS115

Four.
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.
SOS116

Five.
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.
SOS117

Six.
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)
SOS118

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.

 

Six on Saturday – 4/11/2017

I have to admit it’s not getting any easier to find six things to include here. Time seems to be slowing down; instead of there being lots of new things flowering or shooting or going over, it’s all much the same as a week ago. A sharp frost would at least draw a line in the sand, lots of things would disappear overnight, but I doubt we will get one.

One.
Fuchsia ‘Loekie’. Or ‘Van Eijk Loekie’, possibly. Huge numbers of new Fuchsia varieties are produced each year, many in Holland and Belgium. Most never make it to the UK and when they do, they are stocked by one nursery for a couple of years then replaced with something else. This one, which we have had for several years, seems to have dropped off the radar completely, which is a shame because it is pretty and a bit different. We are down to one poor plant which I now have to get through the winter and try and get growing properly next year.
SOS105

Two.
The fence between us and our 94yr old neighbour fell victim to Ophelia. On thursday I started on repairs, yesterday I was at it all day and I’m about half way and I might just be regretting ever starting and today it’s not sure whether to rain or not. Gotta be done, I tell myself through gritted teeth. It’ll have a foot high trellis along the top and needs staining, it looks bloody awful like it is. It’s actually his fence by the way, ours is the much longer one on the other side of the garden.
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Three
Nerine bowdenii ‘Ostara’. Five weeks ago I included this as a flowering plant. The flowers are over, what looks like seed pods at the base of the flower start to swell and look like they are going to be full of seeds. Then they split open as these pea sized bulbils appear. The ones in the garden do the same, I’ve kept them overwinter and planted them in spring, by which time they have a leaf going up and a root going down. They intrigue me; are they seeds that develop in the pod into bulbils? or bulbils developing directly from the ovaries? Are they vegetative, part of the same clone as the parent plant, or was sex involved in some way?
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Four
Helleborus foetidus. This manages to seed itself enough to give us one or two plants each year. I reckon it’s about at its best at this stage. The flowers are green, not at all showy, and by the time they arrive the plant is often looking quite shabby.  The sun caught it just right too, by sheer luck.
SOS109

Five
Impatiens auricoma x bicaudata. We’ve grown this for several years as a conservatory plant but I’ve seen a couple of references to using it in the garden, pretty much as an annual. It should be good, it flowers for months and gets to 2-3 feet. We have some nice young plants raised from this years cuttings; just need to get them to spring in good condition. We lost most of them last winter to rotting off.
SOS110

Six.
Polystichum proliferum. I imagine that foliage plants are going to feature more as we move into winter, both in the garden and in ramblings such as this. This somewhat stereotypical fern distinguishes itself by producing a single plantlet just back from the tip of each frond, providing a ready means of propagating it. Just peg the leaf tip down and a new plant quickly becomes established. This one is in the ground but I have others pegged into small pots, like strawberry runners.
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So there you go. I managed to find six items. I have no doubt that others will have done too and links to them will be found on host ThePropagator’s blog.