Six on Saturday – 16/12/2017

SOS164We’re running at around 32°C by day and 20°C by night. Can’t believe we’ve been here a week. Our host’s garden is a modest affair, as are most gardens in the very many new housing developments hereabouts. All the houses are single storey, so have a big footprint, not leaving a lot of room for the garden.

This is pretty much the whole of the back garden. It’s wildly exotic, palms, Strelitzia, Frangipani, bromeliads and so on. I hate to say it, but it quickly becomes a new normal. I haven’t managed to get a picture of a rainbow lorikeet yet, though they are visitors most mornings. It’s harder to see them as normal. Our hosts used to feed them, but 30 lorikeets at 5 in the morning are not an alarm you sleep through, so they stopped.

There are four Frangipanis in the garden here. This one seems to be Plumeria alba, but is probably a selected form. It has a very nice scent that doesn’t immediately remind me of anything else.

A bit of shade. Down the side of the house is an area that is shady until mid morning and from mid afternoon on. Herbs and annuals find conditions a bit more tolerable here, though frequent watering is vital. At 7 in the morning, I find conditions ideal for eating breakfast outside. It’s fresh, the light is bright but not harsh, the temperature about 20°C.

It’s a war against beasties of all sorts. Adenium obtusum, the Dessert Rose, is something I’ll put in next time, but this caterpillar was making a meal of one of its flowers. I have no idea what this is the larva of, probably some stunning enormous tropical butterfly.

Not all palms are big. This one is about six feet tall, perfect for a scaled down exotic look. The downside is that it is a mass of three inch needle sharp spines. The dead flower heads tend to stay where they are until he drop naturally.SOS165

Bromeliads, which I’ve always thought of as epiphytes, grow very well in the ground here, provided that they have some shade. There are several sorts here, some with a single large rosette, some spreading with many small rosettes. The down side is that the water that collects in the rosettes provides a habitat for mosquitoes, and they are plenty bad enough without any help. Dining outside in the evening is very pleasant but you need some industrial strength insect repellent.SOS166

I don’t think there’s any way I can squeeze  Aussie wildlife into six garden connected items, but we saw this baby possum and its mum up a tree on Bribie Island when we were out there this morning. They were being screamed at by lorikeets, which was what got our attention.






It’s nearly Sunday here now, I need to get this posted. The perspective of an imposter in the southern hemisphere. I’m not missing winter so much, but I am looking forward to following all the links from The Propagator’s six on Saturday posting.


Six on Saturday – 2/12/2017

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m having to pretend it’s winter down here in rainy Cornwall, but while there has been frost on the car a couple of times, we’ve had nothing to do any damage. There are odds and ends of flowers everywhere, but mostly bedraggled and looking sorry for themselves. So rather than focus on summer’s leftovers, I’ve tried to move onto winter’s main dishes.

Schefflera taiwaniana is a classy plant that I obtained originally as a bunch of fallen fruits while being shown round what had been Edward Needham’s garden near Truro some years ago. I held them up to the present owner and got a wordless nod. I know of one other seedling from the same batch, quite a bit different in appearance, so maybe they’d picked up pollen from one of the several other Scheffleras present.

Mine is now between 8 and 9 feet tall and I had been saving it for inclusion here when flowers were in short supply to be very surprised when I looked at it closely to see it is flowering. That’s flowering!! Woo! Woo! I look forward to finding out if it can produce viable seed without a mate. The other option is to try and take cuttings from the small shoots low down on the stem; haven’t a clue whether that would work.

Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘Spectabilis’. Not a name that exactly trips off the tongue but a wonderful plant for all that. Our garden is just a little too windy for this tall bamboo and we lose a few stems every year. It’s around 16ft tall and has spread over twenty years to cover maybe 10ft x 4ft of ground. A few wayward shoots have been removed. I remove side shoots from the bottom 3ft to show off the stems and harvest some of the oldest canes each year to use them as bean sticks. Excellent stem colour, evergreen and won’t get taller than it now is; what more do you want from a plant?

Starlings. I was going to put in common oak; we have one growing at one corner of the garden, another overhanging the opposite corner. I went out to take the picture and realised that I actually like the constant chatter of the starlings that are usually in them rather more than the trees themselves. Starlings it is then. I was even going to put an audio file on here but WordPress wouldn’t play without pay.
We get them in dozens. Place I used to work, south of London, had a roost at back of the head gardeners house of around 2 million. Commuted into London in the morning, back home in the evening. Just like the people. Loud. Very loud.

The light. Very low in the sky as the sun is now, its light reaches places it never normally does. A leaf here, a flower there, picked out fleetingly by a warm toned spotlight. I’m almost unable to pass a window without looking out on something else that requires me to grab the camera and go capture it.


Pinus koraiensis ‘Silver Ray’. When I got this, it was on the strength of a picture in a conifer book of an unusually narrow columnar pine with lovely bluish foliage. I now realise that the plant in the picture had been pruned to get the shape. You don’t immediately think that a pine would be trimmed to shape so you assume that’s how it grows. The realisation came too late for me to try for the same effect, you can keep them narrow if you start early but you can’t make a wide one narrow. I also hadn’t foreseen how much next door’s Crataegus would spread, so it has become one sided and leaning as well as too wide. One day it’ll have to go but that day hasn’t arrived yet.

Camellia x hiemalis ‘Bonanza’. I’m testing my limits again, flanking the featured Camellia with a couple of others, because I can and because they’re all flowering in my tunnel. ‘Bonanza’ first flowered in 1959 and was a chance seedling of C. sasanqua ‘Crimson Tide’ in America. I think it’s a fairly recent arrival on our shores. Compared to many autumn flowering Camellias it has a short but spectacular flowering season, this year for the month of November, tailing off into December. The blooms are relatively large, about 6-7cm across, scented and as vivid a colour as you could wish for. It seems to want to be spreading rather than upright, but could be trained.

And so begins the weekend. Get my post sorted, then make the first of several visits to the links on The Propagator’s blog over the next couple of days to catch up with all the other contributors to the meme. I don’t know about anybody else, but the deeper into winter we go, the more interested I am to see what other posters have come up with. It’s making me look harder and think more about my own patch too. All good.

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.