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 – 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.

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 – 28-10-2017

Six more horticultural Saturday happenings. It’s been a benign week weather-wise, the garden looks much as it did a week ago; not good but could be worse. Here’s what I found for this week.

Hydrangea macrophylla You & Me Together =’Youmefive’. Confusingly there is a You & Me series and a Forever & Ever series, both of which  have a variety called Together. The You & Me series was raised by the Japanese breeder who won Chelsea Plant of the year 2014 with ‘Miss Saori’, Ryoji Irie. Dozens of new hydrangeas have come onto the market in the last decade or so, with breeders aiming to extend the flowering season, get flower on current season’s growth and in some cases to get interesting foliage colour. This double flowered mophead has been flowering since June and to my eye, the tiny petals make it a bit more refined than your standard hydrangea.

Camellia sasanqua ‘Navajo’. This could well be my favourite sasanqua. It originated in Japan but was renamed ‘Navajo’ by Nuccio’s Nurseries as the original name had been lost. This was in 1956, I doubt they would name it that now. The sasanquas need a sufficiently long season to make growth then initiate and develop flower buds before their autumn flowering season. This plant is growing in full sun at the front of the house.

Quercus macrocarpa. One of my fellow volunteers at Mount Edgcumbe was just back from a holiday in America and had brought back an acorn of bur (or burr) oak. It is apparently very rare in this country, though there are a couple in London over 25m and one in Devon (nearest to here) of 9m. I said that if I could grow it, they could have it for the park. The acorn is enormous, if it landed on your head from 25m it would seriously hurt.
Nerine bowdenii ‘Stephanie’. I admired this in a tweet from @Littleashgarden and was promptly offered some bulbs when it was lifted and divided, an offer I couldn’t refuse. I’m going to have to be more vigilant about slugs, which have shredded the petals, but it is lovely and a little later than my standard pink. Thanks Helen!
Fuchsia microphylla. The Encliandra section of Fuchsias is the one where they have very small flowers, some half the size of this one. F. microphylla must be one of the hardiest fuchsia species, in a garden I visited yesterday the owner said theirs had been in flower continuously for three years. We usually cut ours back hard in spring, which delays but improves the flower display. Last winter they came through without dropping a leaf or stopping flowering so we didn’t cut them. Probably a mistake. They are also very popular with bees which can get their nectar without wrecking the flowers like they do on most fuchsia varieties.

Salvia ‘Royal Bumble’. Salvias have a well earned reputation for flower power and for taking it deep into autumn. We have ‘Hot Lips’ doing its thing; this is currently on a par with it in our garden. It’s also more compact and has the best red flowers of any salvia I have grown.

I’m always keen to see what other people have going on in their gardens so I’ll be heading over to meme host ThePropagator to pick up on links to lots of other contributors.

Six on Saturday – 14/10/2017

Saturday again! Saturdays seem to come round quicker than the other six days. I’m finding things to put into my six but struggling to find anything diverting to say about them. Well, some of them.
Six on Saturday is a meme hosted by ThePropagator, who will have six of his own plus links to several, if not more, other sixes from around the world.
Here are my six garden snapshots for this week.

Honey Fungus. Armillaria mellea or gallica, probably. All too much could be said about this. We had a Eucalyptus felled a couple of years back after a large chunk split off it. Now it has a ring of toadstools all round it. The RHS are doing a honey fungus hunt at the moment, I think I’d better report my outbreak. It’s something we’ve had the odd outbreak of over the years, especially after removing a leylandii hedge and an Acer. It doesn’t seem to be too aggressively pathogenic, thankfully, and there isn’t much we could do about it if it were.

Parthenocissus henryana. I wanted to include this because it is producing some autumn colour and with gales forecast for Monday, it wont be around for long. It’s on the fence between us and our neighbour and has been there so long I can’t remember if it’s planted his side or ours. It’s much more manageable than the other Parthenocissus species people grow and has a very nice leaf even when it’s not doing its autumn thing.

Fuchsia ‘Olga Storey’. The Fuchsias seem to be having a final fling for the season. This one stands out because it has really bright yellow leaves with red veins and it seems to be immune to rust, gets very little leaf spotting and is untouched by capsid. For a hardy, the flowers are large and showy too, though it’s not the most generous flowerer.

Sue’s glasshouse. This glasshouse is off limits to me except for the annual ritual of moving the big pots of succulents, mostly Echeverias, out to the front of the house in spring, then putting them back in here for the winter sometime in October. There is never any room because all the space made in the spring gets filled up with more plants during the summer.
I see pictures on blogs of empty glasshouses, washed down and waiting for plants to be moved in for the winter. I can dream.

Camellia x williamsii ‘Debbie’. ‘Debbie’ is a popular camellia which grows rather vigorously. Ours had poked it’s head above the neighbour’s fence and got blown over as it was top heavy. I tried to support it for a couple of years, not very successfully, so I cut it back hard in the hope that the roots would catch up with the top growth. This year the regrowth was 2-3 feet in length. Camellias typically produce an early flush of shoots that are 3-6 inches long and on which the flower buds form. If they are young and vigorous they will then make a second flush, from about July onwards, which can be 2 feet or more long and on which there are no flowers. By October the flower buds are easy to see and if it is not required, the extension growth can be shortened or removed altogether, keeping the bush much more compact and allowing the flowers to be seen better.


Growth buds on left, flower bud on right.



Before and after pruning.

Blechnum tabulare. A friend of mine tipped me off that one of our local garden centres had plants of this magnificent fern a few years back. I got the last one, in a 3 litre pot. It’s now in a 10 litre pot and needs potting on again or planting out. Online opinion seems divided about how well it does outside, it being borderline hardy, but I think I’ll move it in for this winter and plant it in the ground in spring.

See you next week.

Seeds, lovely seeds.

There’s a magic in the way that great big plants grow from tiny little seemingly dead seeds. It fascinates small children and for many of us is no less fascinating when we are past retirement age.

I have been collecting seeds from camellia bushes at the National Collection in Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, with their permission. I work there one day a week, helping to maintain the camellia collection and write about it on my other blog, .

Yesterday I collected seed of eight varieties, adding to the eight from a week ago. I have little idea how many seeds that was in total but it took a couple of hours to extract them from the fruits. Perhaps a couple of thousand seeds in total. They have all been sent off to go in the seed list of the Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group of the RHS.


I don’t know what their viability is though when I have grown them myself it has been very high and I don’t know how successful people will be in growing them. What is clear though is that there is the potential there for a thousand new varieties of camellias to come into being, all different, all new, all un-named. Amongst them may be one or two truly outstanding forms; I wish I’d known which seeds they were, I’d have kept them for myself.


Who knows what will happen to them. Camellias are long lived, they could outlive their raiser by centuries. Will someone come along and “identify” one as (choose a name) because it’s a single red camellia and that’s what it looks like in their book? Will one get passed on to a nurseryman to name and launch and make his fortune with (dream on).

I hope that in ten years time, when the true potential of a particular seedling may become apparent, that the owner still has the information about its origins, but it seems unlikely. I have had camellias flower when less than two years old, but only by keeping them under-potted. The flowers they produce are an indication of what they might be capable of, but you’d expect them to do better when growing well in the ground.


Camellia ‘Yojimbo’ (unregistered seedling) A good seedling of ‘Mary Williams’, still in a pot. As good as a lot of existing named varieties but perhaps not distinctive enough to register.


There are many tens of thousands of camellias in cultivation already. You could argue that we don’t need any more or you could argue that we need to keep raising new ones for a heap of reasons. Nature doesn’t do clones very much, genetic diversity generally confers an advantage.


A few more, plus Sarcococca, and Fuchsias and Hydrangeas


I’ve collected seed from one of my Dahlias too. I raised seedlings of ‘Orange Cushion’ a couple of years back and they’ve turned out well. I’m not sure it will give me viable seed this year but ‘Veritable’ is looking promising. I wonder what I will get, I want to grow them all, in fear of the one I throw away being the one that was going to be truly fabulous.

Then there are the Roscoeas, and Disporums and …………