Familiarity breeds contempt.


Blechnum chilensis is a large and handsome fern. For all the many years that I didn’t possess it, I wanted it very much. Eventually a friend dug a piece from her garden and gave it to me. It took a year or two to settle down and start producing its large, handsome leaves, then it really took off. It has spread a foot or more in all directions over the last few years and though I have pulled a lot out, it had swamped a large clump of Solomon’s Seal. Like a lot of evergreens it’s always the same, not even relieved by flowers. I decided this morning that it is a plant for larger gardens than mine. It is gone, with a newly purchased Begonia and a re-located Polygonatum ‘Betberg’ already in its place. The original Polygonatum should have a chance now and perhaps I’ll plant some cyclamen for winter interest.



Six on Saturday – 16/9/2017

While there is undoubtedly more going backwards than going forwards, there is still plenty of colour to be found. Harder to find is gaps between the showers to get out and take pictures. Low light levels and wind don’t help either. At least I don’t have to work out in it any more, for which I am truly grateful. It also means less opportunity to get out and work in, or enjoy the garden.

Oak Tree. I’m going to start on a sour note, get it out of the way. There are new people in one of the gardens that backs onto ours. Between them and our next door neighbour is an oak tree, probably 35 feet tall and quite a bit more in width. It overhangs the north east corner of our garden by a few feet but casts no shade onto our garden. It shades most of theirs and their neighbour’s for much of the day. It has a short trunk and all its branches spread from about 7 feet up, so crown raising is near impossible. But it’s been a big part of the background for all the time we’ve lived here. It has what planners call “high amenity value”. Indeed I considered calling the local council to see if it had a TPO on it, but didn’t. I think I’d rather they felled it than this though.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Izu-no-hana’. A second outing for this hydrangea for the simple reason that it is still looking pretty good. It may have been late to start flowering, but I included it at the end of July when it had just started and those same flowers have kept in passable condition since then, especially noteworthy given the weather we’ve had.

Impatiens omeiana. What a good plant this is. Good foliage and flowers when nearly everything else is beginning to wind down. All it demands is moisture. There are several other forms in cultivation of which I have one but the temptation to get more is great. If I see others offered my resistance will crumble. Plus having more than one clone raises the possibility of setting seed and who knows where that might lead.

Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’. I’m hoping that this is going to get better than this. At the moment it is not a sufficient improvement on common golden-rod to stave off execution. It has options; it can go on for a long time, get showier, attract a late flush of bees or butterflies; but make no mistake, it’s on a verbal warning.

Begonia evansiana alba. Or, to give it the full RHS treatment, Begonia grandis Dryand. subsp. evansiana (Andrews) Irmsch. var. alba hort. AGM. In spite of which it is a lovely plant for moist shade.

Dahlia ‘Penlea’. Most of my Dahlias have come from the National Collection at Penzance. This I obtained elsewhere; it isn’t even on their list. I think it’s the best red I’ve got. This year it has started flowering very late, partly because slugs hit it earlier. That thing where you have a bud just starting to open and you come out and find it doubled over because some beastie has chewed through the stem. Grrrr!
I have never succeeded in getting the colour and texture of this beauty in a photo. The light when I took this didn’t help. It’s much better than this, and this ain’t bad.

So that’s this week’s six. I’ve had a sneak look at The Propagator’s six already so I know he has a similar story to tell about one of his Dahlias. As ever I’m keen to follow the links on his blog to other sixes, it’s a great snapshot on what’s happening in other peoples gardens right now.

Six on Saturday – 9/9/2017

Ah, the uncertain days of autumn. Things that look good on Thursday are trashed by Saturday; things that look like they will open in time don’t. The weather forecast is for rain all day and it’s been dry for hours. Right, what we’ve got is:

Geranium procurrens. This appeared from nowhere about two years ago. It spreads astonishingly rapidly, sending out stems flat to the ground and 4-5 ft in all directions in a single season. It also seeds. The flowers start to appear from July or August, never very freely, though it is in shade. I would have got rid of it but OH presses the flowers. It’s one parent of ‘Ann Folkard’, which has been on my wanted list for a while.

Mina lobata. One of those plants I’ve seen and liked in other gardens since forever and finally got round to growing from seed this year. They haven’t excelled, but I’ll give them another go next year.

Elephant Hawk Moth. If you grow Fuchsias, you’ll probably have had Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillars. I think their native food is willowherb, which is the same family as Fuchsia. A single caterpillar doesn’t do too much damage; I’m not sure I’d want a (collective noun for caterpillars) of them. (I just googled it, it’s “army”, which is appropriate sometimes, not others)

Fuchsia glazioviana. Talking of Fuchsias, F. glazioviana is a species with a lot of charm. Seems perfectly hardy. It sets viable seed and I grew some seedlings a couple of years back. All more or less came true, some had quite nice purplish foliage, which might have been hunger. They’re still kicking about in too small pots.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferne Osten’. Something about this variety must have caught my eye though I don’t remember what it was. It has very nice purplish flower spikes that get about 3 feet tall, but it flops terribly. It has managed some very nice autumn tones to the leaves some years, but Cornwall is notoriously bad for autumn colour. It’s in a list of top ten grasses for autumn on the RHS website, and it has an AGM too. They give it a height of 1.5m, and there’s me thinking it flopped because I was treating it too well.

Anemone hupehensis var. japonica ‘Bressingham Glow’. I’ve had this a couple of years and so far it has repeated what it was doing in the pot when I bought it. Which is all you want really.

Another six for another week. Off now to check out ThePropagator’s six and links to other people’s sixes. That’s here. Always interesting.

Gardening and getting older.

As gardeners we are very conscious of the life span allotted to the various plants we grow in our gardens. Some may be annuals, some perennials, some biennials. All of us will have had things die prematurely, sometimes for no apparent reason. Equally, most of us will have had the odd annual that manages two or three years before giving up, a biennial that goes on for three or four years. We are probably aware that some exceptional plants can live for thousands of years, Bristle Cone Pine or churchyard yews perhaps.

As humans we are part of the animal kingdom and the parallels between our longevity and the longevity of plants  are tenuous at best. But we do grow old and we will eventually die. Those of us with reasonable sized gardens probably enjoy slightly longer life expectancies than the average.

As we get older though, it is inevitable that our capacity to look after our gardens will diminish. Typically this is a gradual process, punctuated by setbacks in the shape of illness and injury that can easily become turning points between coping and not coping.

This week I felled a 22 foot magnolia and a massive clump of hazel, using a pole saw, long armed pruner, bow saw and chain saw to do so. I am 65. I was less confident climbing the magnolia to tie on ropes and cut off branches than I would have been ten years ago. In ten years time it is highly unlikely that I could do it at all.

Most of the tools were in fact borrowed from some people who are about ten or fifteen years older than me and whilst they have purchased the tools, they no longer feel able to use them. I do some work on their mature garden to help them out.

I know a lot of people in a similar position, with gardens that have been a source of pleasure for many years now starting to become a liability and a burden as their ability to cope with them ebbs away.

It is not a case of what to do when one reaches this point, because it generally is not a point but a drawn out process. It creeps up on you. The standard of maintenance falls but you’re still in control. You stop doing certain things, like bedding or growing vegetables. You get someone in to mow the grass and cut the hedges. There isn’t the same pressure of necessity with garden maintenance as with getting a water leak fixed, or a rotten window replaced. Those things have to be done and probably never were DIY jobs. You pay someone to do them because you have to. The garden is more like decorating, you learn to live with yellowing paintwork and faded wallpaper. It’ll see me out becomes our excuse and our refuge.

The garden is often different in the sense that there is usually a high degree of emotional and physical investment in our patch of ground and collections of plants. We don’t want to see it slide but are powerless to stop it. We cannot do it ourselves and we cannot afford to pay someone else to do it because it is the product of 25 hours a week work plus a few more planning and plant purchasing on top of that and most of us cannot afford a full time gardener.

A garden in a state of moderate decline can be an attractive and romantic place. The edges are rougher, it feels looser, more at one with nature. Or so we tell ourselves. Maybe we really are happy with that, finding a different sort of pleasure in a changing landscape. Maybe we are deeply unhappy, frustrated by being unable to do at all the things that for many years we did for pleasure.

An unsympathetic onlooker would say the solution is simple; move. But you have got the garden where you wanted it to be, after many years of input, some of it backbreaking and expensive. You don’t want to move. This is your Shangri-La, you’ve surely earned the right to sit in it with a glass of beer in hand.

What then, is the answer?

I have been a horticultural professional all my working life. I draw on that experience all the time when I am gardening. I have professional quality tools because they were the tools of my trade and they make things easier. I use herbicide, in the form of glyphosate, very sparingly but in ways that save me work. When it comes to techniques like digging, not that I do much, I know how to do it to most effectively bury weed and reduce future work, and how to do it with minimum effort.

I have a six foot steel bar, which enables me to move almost anything and to get out tough roots. It takes me longer to dig round a rootball with my narrow trenching spade but its narrow blade with rounded end goes in a lot easier than a normal width spade. I have a small diamond stone which I use to sharpen my Felco secateurs; they will cut easily through stems that identical looking secateurs won’t touch. Loppers would give me more leverage, perhaps I should buy some.

And so on. It seems to me that there isn’t much discussion in the media about garden maintenance for older people. Have I just missed it? I feel like I should start a meme of gardening tips for old codgers. Are there lots of older people producing and reading gardening stuff on blogs and the like, or is it mostly younger people?

There must be a million tips and tricks that individuals use to help them keep maintaining the garden they want. I have to admit I haven’t really looked, perhaps I should google “gardening for old codgers” and see what comes up.

It’s widely recognised that gardening is very good for our physical and mental well being. With ever greater numbers of old people, keeping people doing it for longer could be a significant contributor to older people’s health.

What is your experience? Are you getting on a bit yourself, or helping out aging parents perhaps? Or maybe you make a living as a gardener, working for elderly clients. Could gardeners be helped to keep their gardens going for longer?

Six on Saturday – 2/9/2017

The elephant in the room regarding this six is the magnolia I have spent half the week removing and disposing of. It’s gone, move on.

Cyrtanthus elatus. Scarborough Lily. I included the variety ‘Pink Diamond’ two weeks ago, now the red flowering original form is starting to open. They’re not frost hardy, but in every other respect are extremely accommodating.

Helenium ‘Chipperfield Orange’. Quite tall and flowering late August-early September. A few stems have gone over but mainly self supporting and seemingly, relatively unattractive to slugs. People bang on about planting native plants for wildlife but most of our native flowers are over, the hay meadows mown; this is clearly appreciated by bees and butterflies at this stage of the summer. Appreciated by me too.

Hedychium densiflorum ‘Assam Orange’. The original selection of H. densiflorum that was named ‘Assam Orange’ produces seed freely and probably most of what is on offer under the name is seedlings, including this one. I believe the true clone has shorter flower spikes that are a little pinkish compared to this. Most of the time my plant is scentless, very occasionally it can be quite strong.

Daphne x transatlantica ‘Pink Fragrance’. There are two forms of Daphne x transatlantica around, the nearly white ‘Eternal Fragrance’ being the more common. The pink one is very similar, less free flowering for me, but with a stronger perfume that carries some distance. In my experience they are as easy and unfussy as their raiser aimed for them to be. Their raiser is the legendary Robin White; I found an article about his two Daphnes by the people marketing them in Australia; if you’re interested it’s here.

Dahlia ‘Red Velvet’. We went down to the National Dahlia collection at Penzance last weekend, a visit we try to do every year. A total joy. This one is perhaps the best of the varieties I grow. I leave it in the ground, it gets up to about five feet, covered in flowers for months. Just a bit of yellow at the base of the petals, makes it zing!

Ligustrum lucidum ‘Excelsum Superbum’. A strikingly variegated form of an excellent privet that grows to tree proportions. Mine is now about 20 feet tall. At the end of the winter it looks a bit ragged but by June the new growth has restored its appearance and it will look good into the new year. It caught my attention for inclusion here because it was flowering; typical privet spikes but a bit of a late summer bonus. On the nursery all the plants we ever had of it were grafted, but the RHS entry said it would grow from cuttings. I’ve done half a dozen, just to see, and while I was at it I took some of Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’. That has a PBR on it, but these would be for me, not for sale.

Another Saturday, another six in the bag. Off now to ThePropagator to see what he’s been up to and to check out links to the growing band of sixers, or SOS’s, or whatever.

End of month view 1-9-2017

I was going to skip this month, but the meme has a new host and I received a reminder, so here I am, a day late.


A few days ago we were looking at a large Magnolia that has been near the centre of our garden for about twenty years and had reached perhaps 22 feet in height. First thoughts were to trim some branches to reduce the amount of shade it was casting, but after a closer look, we decided that was impractical and made the decision to remove it. It has now mostly gone.

I suppose because it was a magnolia, there was, and still is a certain amount of soul searching about whether it was the right thing to do. Had it been Sycamore, that would not be the case. The only questions would be be why it was planted in the first place and why it had stayed so long. It was planted early on in my enthusiasm for Magnolias and had I known then what I know now, would not have been the variety I would have chosen. Looking on it as an honorary Sycamore wasn’t so hard.

The improvement in light level across a large tract of the garden is massive, including getting dappled sunlight into the conservatory at the back of the house in early evening, something we have not had for years. At the back of my mind when I take drastic action like this is a garden I do occasional work in where the owners have failed to make tough choices over a long period and now have loads of massive conifers below which nothing will grow.


Looking back to the house, today. To the right of the Yew are a purple maple and variegated Chinese Privet. In the foreground are Shefflera taiwaniana and Pittosporum ‘Elizabeth’


The same view a year ago. The magnolia obscures the privet completely.

The Schefflera and Pittosporum in the foreground will become small trees in time, but will not shade the garden, being at the northern margin.

Elsewhere in the garden, it is the season of late summer colours, with Dahlias and Heleniums doing most of the work. Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ is all but over and has been superseded by ‘Chipperfield Orange’, ‘Monique’ and ‘Feuersiegel’, all quite tall varieties. Dahlias ‘Red Velvet’, ‘Orange Cushion’, Hayley Jane’ and ‘Gerry Hoek’ are excellent but there are lots of other good ones as well.
Japanese anemones of various sorts are doing their stuff, with ‘Loralei’ and ‘Bressingham Glow’ standing out. Fuchsias are flowering too, but are less impactful, flowerwise.

In the greenhouse, Scarborough lilies are centre stage; We have Cyrtanthus elatus, the red species, and C. elatus ‘Pink Diamond’, which is earlier flowering and pink.

A number of these plants are due to feature in tomorrow’s “six on Saturday”, a different meme, so if you want pictures you’ll get them then. I’m glad that the end of month view is to continue. My next port of call is https://glebehouse.wordpress.com/2017/08/31/end-of-month-view-august-2017/ from where Steve is now hosting the meme.

Heaven Scent sent to heaven.

White and pale pink Magnolias need a dark background to be seen at their best. On flat ground those of tree habit need a backdrop of other trees or else you are looking at their flowers against the sky, which in the early months of the year is more likely to be cloudy than clear.

Magnolia ‘Heaven Scent’ has pale purplish pink  flowers which stand out even less well against a cloudy sky than pure white. It flowers from about mid March, late enough to be fairly safe from frost in Cornwall, but from mid April the leaves start to unfurl, reducing the impact of the flowers significantly by the month’s end.


The display getting going on 30th March this year.


Even so , as garden plants go, magnolias are undoubtedly heavyweights and a tree standing well over twenty feet is a very significant presence in a garden of modest size.

Surprisingly though, the decision to remove it was not a difficult one. The long axis of our garden runs south-east to north-west, open down the middle and with trees along both sides. Those on the south-west side are taller and further into the garden than those on the north-east side, most of which are in the neighbour’s garden. The magnolia was the furthest in of any, growing rapidly and carrying a dense canopy of leaves that cast a very solid shadow over an area we have populated with sun loving plants.

Even without it, there is a fairly large area, approaching half the total garden, that is in shade for most or all of the day. I have a good collection of shade tolerant plants and want to keep the balance between them and the sun lovers about equal. Trees inevitably grow and I accept that the pattern of light in the garden will change. Sometimes it is possible to limit the size of a tree, though it is often difficult and can be expensive. Sometimes lifting the crown will let light in beneath. The magnolia has had both approaches use on it but has mainly responded with strong and increasingly dense regrowth. I was fighting a losing battle.


By June 30th it is dense and getting denser.


These sorts of decision are easier if you can do the work yourself. No cost implications, no concerns about collateral damage, no need to hesitate. About a third has already gone. I will borrow a long arm pruner, pole saw and chain saw to get the rest. It will have to come down in small pieces to minimise damage to the plants beneath. Everything up to about ½ inch will go through my shredder and be composted, the rest to the council tip. It will be missed, but not for long. The adjacent Ligustrum japonicum ‘Excelsum Superbum’ will fill out to partially fill the gap.

Even in the two pictures, I see in the Schefflera and Pittosporum a new generation of trees coming along. They are on the north-east side of the garden so will cast their shadow onto the neighbour’s garden, already in shade from a massive hazel on his land, so unlikely to be a problem for quite some time.