Six on Saturday – 7/10/2017



I worked out that after this week I only need to find another 72 things to get me to the end of the year. Creativity will be needed. Perhaps the cat will have to count in a future post.


Malus domestica ‘Holstein’. I nearly included this last week, chose not to. Decided to photograph it today (friday), then pick it. Needless to say it fell off overnight. It had a soft landing but the slugs found it. I cut it in half and gave the intact half to the OH.

Back when I was working, I had a German colleague who brought a tree of this back from Germany. She gave me some scions which I grafted onto pot grown MM106 stocks. Must have been five years ago and it’s produced its first apple this year. It looked good and tasted even better. It seems to be highly resistant to scab, which in Cornwall few are.

Nerine bowdenii. Not the best performance we’ve ever had but these always put on a show at this time of year. They came from my sister’s garden in the north of Scotland, so hardiness isn’t an issue. There’s no angle to picture them from that doesn’t have something unwanted in the background, the polytunnel from here.

Stylophorum lasiocarpum. This was given me a couple of years back and has seeded about a little. I saw this opening pod and thought I’d collect seed and grow a few more to put where I want them to be. It almost always has a few flowers on it. Easy in shade or part shade.

Fuchsia boliviana. This species Fuchsia is not generally regarded as hardy but has been in the ground here for many years. It gets killed to the ground every winter and then takes so long to grow back up and flower it often doesn’t make it at all. It’s tangled itself up round one of my seedling Camellia reticulata’s. (Which will look stunning in spring)There were a couple of flowers open round the back.

Symphyotrichum Aster ‘Purple Dome’. I’d convinced myself this was a purchased Erigeron when it is in fact a purloined Aster. Fabulous colour that the camera never seems to quite get right.

Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’. Cheerful, dead easy compact shrub which we keep chopped back into a bit of a shapeless lump on an awkward corner. I don’t think I’ve seen fruit on it before this year. Doesn’t add much.

As ever, I’m eager to see what other contributors have going on in their gardens, Links from meme host The Propagator’s set of six.


The modern world.

On 14 June I was down at Glendurgan Garden and saw a plant which I didn’t recognise and which didn’t have a label. I photographed it and posted a tweet asking Glendurgan what it was. They came back with Aristea major as a name. I Googled that, found a seed supplier who had it and placed an order. A day or two later the seeds arrived and I sowed them on 18 June.


Yesterday I was cleaning up my propagation unit and was disturbed to find critters burrowing in the sand bed. I sifted them out, cleaned them up a bit and took a close up photo which I tweeted to the RHS entomologist for an ID and advice.
He replied and copied it to a Dipterist (Fly expert) at the Natural History Museum.


Now, I’m clutching at the last few hours I have left of being 64 and I find this stuff absolutely bloody amazing. When I was young I’d have gone to whatever books I had and leafed through them hoping to find a picture of the Aristea, and almost certainly there wouldn’t have been one. Then I’d have given up. I might have taken a picture, and when I’d finished the film and got it developed, may have shown it to someone else who might know. In the extremely unlikely event that I’d put a name to it, what then? Perhaps I’d have sent off stamped addressed envelopes to get catalogues from Thompson and Morgan or Chilterns. Maybe they’d have listed it, probably not.

I’m not sure I’d have been able to get anywhere at all with the fly larvae. The idea that within hours I could get information from the chief entomologist of the RHS and an expert from the Natural History Museum would have been plain ridiculous.

A few years ago I wanted information on pruning apples as spindle trees. I found what I wanted eventually, on a YouTube video from an American University. Top man, demonstrating a technique he’d helped develop.

This is the modern world. I am old enough to remember when none of this was possible and I am all too aware that there are a great many younger people around who have never known anything else and for whom it is all normal, even mundane. To me it is quite extraordinary and sometimes scary, in that it is alien and a struggle to get my head around. There are many parts of it which I just don’t do.

In September I’m going to start helping out at the school in the village, youngsters between four and eleven. A neighbour with kids there asked if I’d help with their garden club. Some of the four year olds will know their way around parts of this new world better than I do. Heaven knows what the older ones will make of the old fossil. I can’t wait, I’m going to learn so much.

Six on Saturday – 24/6/2017

One. Euphorbia lathyrus. This is an annual that seems to pop up in our garden somewhere most years. It has numerous common names, caper spurge being one of the best known but it is also known as mole plant because it supposedly deters moles. Well, I am going to try and collect seed from this plant and grow some more to go on my allotment where I am much troubled by the little buggers.


Two. Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’. What a performer this has turned out to be. It had a rest over winter but this is it now, even after having several stems snapped off in wind a couple of weeks ago. I just cut off (NOT pull) the stems that have finished flowering and it puts up more.

Alstroemeria Indian Summer

Three. I do like a bit of in yer face colour, so it’s always good when the dahlias start to flower. The National Collection of Dahlias is down the other end of the county near Penzance and to go and stand in their field, surrounded by thousands of dahlias in almost every imaginable colour is a total joy. Everyone is happy, strangers talk to each other, people who should be snooty about such vulgarity are making lists. This one is ‘Tally Ho’, which for younger readers is a cry associated with the long forgotten practice of fox hunting and alludes to the rider’s red jackets. Quaint.

Tally Ho

Four. Another big red bloom; this is an Epiphyllum cactus. Desert cacti, or cactuses if you prefer, thrive on neglect. I know, I’ve neglected many. Epiphyllums are epiphytic forest cacti and they take a bit more looking after, which sadly this one has not had. As soon as its flowers are finished, which will be a fleeting couple of days, I will take cuttings and dump the parent plant. The flower is enormous, seven and a half inches across for leavers, 19cm dia. for remainers.


Five. A gardener friend gave us a plant of clematis recta, which self sows in their garden. I planted it, the slugs demolished it, the friend gave us another, I planted it in the same place, they both came up this spring. One is purple leaved, the other green, at least early in the season. I don’t know about recta, horizontalis would have been a more fitting specific epithet. Pretty though.Clematis-recta

Six. We once had a pond, at the edge of which grew this clump of Iris ensata. Then we filled the pond in and they’re at one end of our bog garden, behind the Aruncus. Like the Epiphyllum above, theirs is a fleeting magnificence. They always leave you wanting more. A complete contrast to the Alstroemeria, which runs the risk of you getting fed up with it, of outstaying its welcome. Plants are a bit like people.


It was too hot for Bobby earlier in the week. Now that it’s cooler she’s keen for you to pop over to ThePropagator to check out any other Saturday half dozens that might have surfaced this week.

What I think I know about soil.

Soil is the stuff I grow most of my plants in, the ones I don’t grow in pots.
It is derived from the local rock, soft slatey stuff, small bits of which are visible and sometimes abundant in the soil. Everybody describes it as “shilletty”.

If I analysed the distribution of article sizes I would obtain a description of my soils texture. In other words, a more scientific word than shilletty. I would imagine there to be a wide spread of particle sizes without any one of them dominating to make it “sandy” or “clay”. I doubt whether there is much of a clay fraction and there are none of the hard, round, even sized particles that define a sandy soil.

I garden this stuff, mostly by no-dig methods, spreading compost on the surface and growing my plants in it. When I was on my allotment a few days back, pulling up weeds, they came up very easily from the beds, the soil being loose and crumby. No, I haven’t left the L out of crumbly, though it was that too, what I mean is that the mineral and organic particles of the soil had become crumby, small lumps roughly wheat grain sized, with lots of air space between them. This is my soil’s structure.

The paths where I walk were quite different. Much harder to get the weeds out and with no structure discernible. I have to say it didn’t seem to be deterring the weeds much, but I wouldn’t want to try and grow lettuce in it. It is pretty easy to turn the crumby stuff of the beds into the compacted stuff of the paths, just walk up and down on it when it’s wet.

I know what I want, nice crumby stuff and I know how to get it, top dress with compost and stay off it. My plants grow well in it so they are getting all they need, anchorage, water, air and nutrients.

The soil ecology has turned my mineral matter and organic matter into a perfect growing medium, with very little effort on my part. Lucky me.

But. I worked on a nursery for many years before I retired and grew a very wide range of plants in pots, using peat for well over a decade before switching to peat-free for a similar period. The aim is to provide ideal conditions for plant growth, albeit in the artificial confines of a pot and with the environmental control afforded by a polytunnel. So I know that you can provide excellent conditions for plant roots to grow in with no soil ecology at all. For much of my career a chemical was added to kill vine weevil grubs and the added fertilizer would have seen off any myccorhizal fungi.

People grow plants by hydroponics, they build golf greens and football pitches from 100% dune sand (even particle size, no packing) and they garden in a myriad of different conditions across the globe. It may be soil science but it sure ain’t rocket science. The plants don’t need the soil bacteria or fungi or worms, they need the conditions that the bacteria, fungi and worms create.

Which is not to say there is no interaction between plants and soil life. The energy powering the whole system is coming from the sun, the plants capture it by photosynthesis and are basically the food source for the rest of the soil web. The soil organisms must exact some level of toll on the plants, but the plants will be happy to pay a small price for the good growing conditions they get in return.

Nor does it seem likely to me that nothing except dissolved plant nutrients in the soil water get taken up by the roots. I know that soil applied pesticides and herbicides pass into the plant. Of all the myriad organic chemicals that must be present in soils as organic matter is broken down, it seems likely that some will be taken up by plants. I am unaware of any consequences from this happening or from it not happening in sterile media.

I have never had my soil analysed, either in my garden or at my allotment. Someone else at the allotments did, there were all sorts of things above or below where they should have been. I never saw the report and neither did my onions, which seemed to do very well last year without knowing. I apply generous quantities of compost, which includes all our vegetable kitchen waste, a little fertiliser and occasional water. Perhaps it could be better still with the addition of something I am unaware is lacking but I shall probably never know.

It would be very hard to persuade me that adding anything other than the basic plant nutrients that I know are required in significant quantities would bring a cost effective benefit. I won’t be buying any rock dust, or compost enhancers, or myccorhizal fungi or beneficial bacteria. I have all of these things already, in my soil.

It’s worth bearing in mind that even humus, sacred cow of gardeners forever and then some, probably doesn’t exist. Glomalin may be a real thing, but isn’t beyond doubt yet it seems.

I was brought up as a digger. Digging creates a tilth, which works as a short term alternative to good structure, but in a few months collapses. It causes loss of organic matter by oxidation, damages soil structure, brings weed seeds to the surface and makes your back ache. It no longer makes much sense.

Having said which, when I first took on my plot, I trenched it end to end, turning the soil upside down. The surface weeds and seeds ended up 40cm or more down. By and large, that’s where they stayed. In the long run it saved me work. Would I do the same again? I think I probably would.

End of month view – February 2017


I do like a different viewpoint. You get very familiar with your own garden and it can get difficult “to see oursels as ithers see us”. I know the top viewpoint very well, but the bottom one I find much more engaging as it’s unfamiliar. I find myself looking closely at it, noticing patterns and relationships I’d been unaware of. All of this may be lost on you, being unfamiliar with both views. I just suggest you try for yourself.

For me the mood that characterises this time of year is impatience. So much is beginning to move but is actually not much further on from a month ago and wont be much further on in a months time. Then summer comes and it’s all over too soon. There seems to have been a lot of dull, cold and wet weather in February and I haven’t spent a great deal of time in the garden. I suspect there was a time when I’d have put on a coat and hat and got on with it.

I do love my daily circumnavigation at this time of year; almost every day is rewarded with something new being spotted re-emerging or opening a bloom. I gave away a huge chunk of Trachystemon last year and it’s back twice the size this. Great in dry shade I’m told.


Trachystemon orientalis

I keep reading blogs where people are talking about putting in more bulbs. The only daffs that succeed with us are in pots. Not a single one remains of all the hundreds that have gone into the ground over the years. I’m planting more cyclamen though, they seem to seed happily enough. Muscari do too, almost too much, I’m trying to get different sorts to extend the season. Erythroniums too, I think might be a winner, slugs permitting.

And my camellias are flowering, so I’m a happy bunny.


Camellia ‘Adorable’ and a pot of daffodils.

Right, off now to check out other gardeners contributions to The Patient Gardeners end of month meme. Come along, it’s always fascinating.

End of month view – October 2016


It’s interesting to compare photos taken on the same date in consecutive years. Last year the Acer had shed its leaves, the orange dahlia had stopped flowering and the Amaryllis which this year have been finished a week or more, were still performing.

Other differences, like the shrub that is no longer in front of the conifer and the bamboo that is no longer at the back of the bed in the foreground, are because of my actions during the year. With the growing season winding down, I am planning the things that I want to do for next year.

It’s a list of small things. There is a small area just out of shot to the right in the picture above which we see from the house, through the glasshouse. It’s currently overrun with a rather uninteresting Persicaria. That’s the biggest item. The rest is about doing what I have done this year, but doing it better. Sort out the dahlias into more coherent colour groupings. Use more Fuchsias to carry the flowering season into the autumn. Contain the hydrangeas without losing flower.


The nerines are winding down now, as are both dahlias and fuchsias. I have a couple of dahlias that are still flowering quite well, like Cheyenne here. It’s best not to look too closely though as its foliage is pretty skanky. I cut down nearly all the others this morning. The smaller ones I will lift, the bigger ones cover with a pile of leaves. As the flowers fade, the more understated colours of evergreens and grasses come into their own. I especially value Miscanthus and Hakonechloa for carrying their warm tones deep into the winter, sometimes as late as February.


This picture features four New Zealanders that now come to prominence. Astelia chathamica is a wonderful plant, so much better than Phormium. Pittosporum Elizabeth is now 5 or 6 metres tall and turning from a bush into a small evergreen tree. The dark red at the bottom is a Coprosma, one of two very colourful forms that we have and which are proving reasonably hardy. The fourth is Muehlenbeckia astonii, which is tucked in between the Hedychium and Hesperantha. Its bare divaricate stems are very different from anything else I grow and even without a display of colour at any time of year, is a great plant to grow.

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It feels like a turning point in the year, all the flowery stuff winding down and a long time until it all starts up again in the spring. I don’t really understand the people who say that autumn is their favourite season, I suspect they’re trying to make themselves feel better about the winter that’s coming.

I’m off now to check on everyone else’s end of month contributions to The Patient Gardener’s meme. My thanks to Helen for hosting it.

End of month view – August 2016


The lack of change between this view now and a month ago belies a definite change in the feel of things. A month ago the floral trajectory was up, now it is unmistakeably down. Around mid August it peaked, timing it badly for the end of month meme.

It’s now the season of taking stock and planning the changes to make over the winter so that next year is better. It needs to be done while the evidence is still fresh and notes taken and stored where they will not get lost. The pink Dahlia must go from the group of orange, red and purple. Miscanthus growing too lush and flopping might be moved into the rootzone of the big conifer, or do I want that for a seating area.


One of this year’s projects has been to revive our collection of old, tired Fuchsias. On the whole it has been a success, though cuttings of some were hard to obtain. I have found top dressing with purpose made professional fertilizer much more effective than liquid feeding for getting growth out of tired and hungry plants. Growth of young plants has been extraordinary, too much really, to the detriment of flowering in some instances.

Dahlias, or rather growing more and better dahlias, has been another focus. I bought 20 plug plants from the National Collection at the beginning of the year. I have to say I have had mixed results, one or two losses, one or two not true to type, or at least different from their display plant, some growing very strongly, some less so. I want them to integrate into the garden, I’m not into growing them in serried rows with lines of stakes.


In this picture you get a sense of how I have a line of strong colour running from the house in the foreground up to the dahlia in top left. This is the part of the garden that gets sun for most of the day. To either side there is a lot more shade and the planting reflects this.


Fortunately the dahlias at the furthest point from the house have grown huge and are visible over everything in between. The semicircular paved area by the glasshouse was another failed attempt at creating a seating area. Fortunately we don’t do a lot of sitting.

In other news, as they say; this pretty clematis is flowering. It was a seedling from one my mother grew aeons ago. My onions have done well, best I’ve ever grown, lifted on sunday. One sunflower survived the relentless ravages of the slugs. And I noticed yesterday that the yucca is about to flower for the first time. We must have had it fifteen years.

As ever I am indebted to Helen at for hosting the end of month meme. Doubtless she will post hers in due course and links to many others will get attached.