Six on Saturday – 24/2/2018


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Six on Saturday – 17/2/2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six on Saturday – 10/2/2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six on Saturday – 3/1/2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six on Saturday – 27/1/2018

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

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


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



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


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


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


Six on Saturday – 20/1/2018

I’ve gone to the end and come back up here to roll the credits before the film starts because I know most of you will switch off at the end of the pictures, not that I blame you. This is my contribution to Six on Saturday, a meme hosted by The Propagator, who will have links to other contributors at the end of his own weekly post. I’m still on holiday in Australia, though not for much longer, so I don’t know what is happening in my garden this week. I offer you the following  meanderings instead.

The Sunshine Coast. That’s what the stretch of coast from Caloundra to Noosa, 60 odd miles north of Brisbane is called. Basically it’s a string of resorts along a beautiful stretch of coast. Resorts are not kind to the natural environment, but do act as honeypots, attracting vast numbers of people who are then not putting pressure on more sensitive areas. Noosa has a National Park, a fair sized area of rocky headland that has escaped development. The path around the coastal edge is intensively used, mostly for access to several beautiful beaches; the limited number of inland paths are very quiet. Hardly anybody goes off the paths, too much scratchy vegetation and there may be snakes or spiders.

Bribie Island is just to the south of the Sunshine Coast. A short distance offshore, the channel between it and the mainland, known as Pumicestone Passage, is where most of the action is. On the side facing the ocean the sea is much rougher and access more difficult. You can drive along the beach to the north end of the island but you need a four wheel drive vehicle to do so. Many people do; I don’t know what they do when they get there; have a beer, turn around and drive back I would guess. The next tide erases the tyre tracks and beyond the high tide mark disturbance is minimal.

This week’s six come from these two places. They are a celebration of what the overwhelming majority of people walk right past and don’t see. Or perhaps they do see and it means nothing. Or perhaps they see it and value it but know that the best thing they can do is leave it alone. You never know what’s going on in other people’s heads.

Casuarina equisetifolia. She Oak. This is one of the coastal front line species, growing in the most exposed places and right to the tide line. It looks very conifer-like, but is a flowering plant. Individual trees are usually damaged and misshapen. It lacks “horticultural merit” so you don’t see it in gardens and only occasionally in public planting schemes. It has utility in spades, beauty in teaspoons. It’s an underdog. I like it very much.

Pandanus tectorius. Screwpine. These dramatic, architectural plants are dotted along the ocean margins in the same area as she-oak, but usually as isolated individuals. Female trees produce pineapple-like fruits which float away on ocean currents like coconuts. On Bribie they are growing in sand at the high water mark, their roots being washed by the sea. They are popular in public plantings on Bribie, make a nice centrepiece for a roundabout.

Hibbertia. There are boards up at Noosa and on Bribie showing some of the more common local flora and fauna. The Noosa one says that their picture of Hibberta vestita is one of nine species on their patch; Bribie’s is a picture of Hibbertia scandens. Suffice it to say that there are several very similar looking scrambling shrubs with yellow flowers around. Some of them will be species of Hibbertia.


Ipomoaea pes-caprae. Goat’s foot convolvulus. Just above high water mark on Bribie is a zone of sand with pretty much only two plants growing in it. This is one, the other is Spinifex hirsutus, which I’d have identified as Marram grass. That however is something different. It’s also known as Silvery Sand Grass or Beach spinifex. Both species produce very long runners that help bind the sand together.


Thysanoutus tuberosus. Fringed Lily. This is not exclusively a coastal plant but was growing on the headland at Noosa. It’s lovely and you’d expect to see it in cultivation. I remember one of our liner suppliers back home offering a form of it some years ago. I doubt they still do. It is reckoned to be difficult to cultivate and each flower only lasts a day. One to enjoy in situ.


Gloriosa superba. I’d been labouring under the misapprehension that this was a species of Gloriosa native to Australia. Just shows how wrong you can be. It is a major component of the flora just behind the beach along miles of Bribie’s shoreline, scrambling through the front line of shrubby species. It’s in fact a non-native, naturalised extensively on the east coast of Australia and considered a rampant and dangerous invasive weed that dominates sand dunes at the expense of local species and killing native animals and birds that ingest it. All parts of the plant contain colchicine, which is very toxic, the seeds being particularly rich.
Ironically, in India, where it is native, it is threatened by over exploitation for herbal medicine.


Next Friday, 26 January, is Australia Day. It celebrates the arrival in Sydney Cove of the eleven ships of the “First Fleet”, carrying over 1480 men, women and children, many of them convicts, on January 26, 1788. In Caboolture Historic Village, a museum near here, there are scale models of all eleven vessels and a list of all the people, including those who died or were born on the voyage. Let’s just say it wasn’t Britain’s finest hour.

The plant life here has played a large part in the story since then. Timber extraction was a major early preoccupation; growing crops essential to survival. No doubt plants were just as important to the indigenous people in the 40-50,000 years before Europeans arrived.

I look at a forest here and wonder what it looked like before the logging started, how well it has recovered since, now that it’s a “conservation area”. I drive through vast areas of sparse grassland supporting very low densities of farting cattle, cleared of forest for the purpose and ask myself a million questions. I look at species after species that don’t quite look at home and wonder whether they are native or not. I wonder about gardening here, what sort of garden I might have, what I would grow, what the hell are all these plants I’m seeing, what conditions do they need.

Sometimes unfamiliarity seems to make things clearer, you see with a fresh eye, but that’s often through ignorance of the complexities of what you’re looking at. Six on Saturday is probably not an appropriate place to talk of such things, but if you’ve stayed with me this far, you have to share some of the blame. Have a nice day.


Six on Saturday – 13/1/2018

Away from my own Cornish garden as I am, down under in a Queensland summer, (38°C today) I’m finding more to nourish my horticultural leanings in the remaining wild areas around here than in gardens, public or private, as good as some of them are.

One place I have returned to on several occasions is Mt. Mee.  North of Brisbane there is a coastal plain around 25km wide, backed by mountain ranges. Mt Mee State Forest and Forest reserve is part of D’Aguilar National Park and is an area of mixed forest, the highest points of which are around 500m. altitude. From a central carpark/picnic area you can access miles of forest roads and walking tracks. Only a few of the roads are much used, so I have mainly walked for hours without seeing anyone.

There are many very different types of environment within quite a small area, often with bewilderingly rapid changes between them. You move from rainforest to dry sclerophyll forest within a couple of hundred metres. There are Hoop pine plantations, remnants of old growth forest with lots of Hoop pine, towering straight white trunks of Eucalypts and areas dominated by Piccabeen palm.

Very little of what I have seen is familiar. I know a Eucalyptus when I see one, but here there are Eucalypts that don’t look like Eucalypts and things that look like Eucalyptus that are something else. The Queensland Government has a list of plant species for D’Aguilar National Park; 1468 native species. 4 Cycads, 94 Orchids, 65 Ferns and so on. (The list of vertebrate animals native to the Park stands at 587 species) Confronted with an unfamiliar plant, it is at least a start.

My favourite is dry sclerophyll forest. Here the trees are relatively wide spaced, short, often with twisted trunks, the forest floor a mix of grass trees, grasses, Restios, Lomandra, assorted other monocots, mostly not flowering, and a wide range of tough and wiry shrubs. There is a characteristic strong aromatic smell. The trees are unsuitable for timber so these areas are relatively unscathed.

Mt Mee dry sclerophyll forest. I know I’m pushing my luck to squeeze an entire ecosystem into one item, but this is my surrogate garden for just a few more weeks. The two most obvious species are Scribbly Gum, Eucalyptus racemosa subsp. racemosa and grass trees, Xanthorrhoea latifolia.

Dendropthoe vitellina. Long-flowered mistletoe. There are quite often bits of the crown of the Eucalypts that look a bit different; very pendulous, slightly different leaf shape. They are mistletoes, easily overlooked out of flower, somewhat extraordinary when in flower. This one was growing from four or five places on the trunk of this tree, low enough to get a good look at. When I saw the flowers I could scarcely believe my eyes.


Eucalyptus racemosa subsp. racemosa. Scribbly Gum. One of the commonest, and by far the most obvious trees in the dry sclerophyll areas of Mt Mee. A pile of shed bark flakes surrounds each tree and the scribbly patterns are completely unique to each. A moth larva is responsible.

Calanthe triplicata. Christmas Orchid. I saw this plant yesterday, a meter or so from the path, having walked past it the day before. Nearly three feet high it’s a stunning thing. I’d seen one a month ago, then none since, so I assumed it was rare. Not so, once you see one in flower, the identity of the clumps of leaves dotted about becomes clear. There are lots but few in flower. The species is very widespread, from East Africa, through Asia and down to Australia. On Mt Mee it grows in the denser, shadier areas, not quite full blown rainforest.

Archontophoenix cunninghammia. Piccabeen Palm. When it rains around here, it doesn’t hold back. You don’t get hours of light rain, you get torrential downpours that generally don’t last long. A slightly elevated piece of ground with the surface parched and hard will not absorb much, it almost all runs off. The flat areas and slight depressions are the beneficiaries of both their own rain and the runoff. I think this partly explains the variety of habitats mixed together. The piccabeen patch at Mt Mee is in a slight depression and usually has some pools of open water and boggy bits. The palms grow densely and become very tall, to 20m or so. It seeds around very freely and it’s easy to see why it has become an invasive weed in some other parts of the world.
Amongst them are dotted very tall Eucalyptus trees, providing them with some shade.


Araucaria cunninghamii. Hoop Pine. Mr Cunningham did rather well when they were handing out plant names way back when. I came across a few bits of what looked like old growth forest with a substantial component of Hoop Pine in it. The logging in this area started in the 1870’s and finished in the 1980’s. Looking at it now it is hard to see which bits have been much changed and which have not.


I think I’ll only get one more post in before coming home. I am really starting to wonder how the garden there has survived and what is now stirring. I’m going to be checking out other posts linked to The Propagator’s Six and it’s going to get me thinking about sowing and planting and so on.