Six on Saturday – 10/3/2018

I have nothing further to say about last week. I’m moving on, as is my garden.

So, six things scraped together from the wreckage for my contribution to The Propagator’s Six on Saturday meme. The non-UK contributors are going to have to do the heavy lifting this week methinks.

I wonder how many weeks I can go on putting a Camellia in as one of my six. This is adorable… No this is Camellia ‘Adorable’. It was starting to open when the frost hit, which meant some damage to the edges of the emerging petals. What then happens is that it opens anyway, pushing the damaged petals round the back where you can’t see them. I wish they all did that.
And then I look at the picture and it hasn’t escaped damage and the colour is a bit off because it’s a dull day and …… oh well, it’s made an effort.

Crocuses. I’m sure we used to have blue, white and yellow; most of those left are white, and they’re popping up in other places too. There’s a patch of Crocus tomasinianus in the front garden that’s getting swamped by a spreading bush, I must move them. At this time of year there’s an awful lot of bare ground and I’m in the market for things to fill it.

These are Primula ‘Wanda’. The name gets bandied about a lot these days but this is the plant I remember from childhood when we had it along the edges of various flower beds. On Monday our local garden club speaker was Caroline Stone, who is the National Collection holder for double primroses. She lives quite near so if she can grow them, I don’t have many excuses. Like crocuses, they would help to fill some of the early season gaps, then benefit from the shade of other plants later in the summer. They’re less tolerant of drying out in summer than wild primroses and they need dividing at least every two years. Caroline mentioned Barnhaven Primroses, now in France, as a supplier. Resistance proved futile, an order has been placed.
On Tuesday morning I rounded up the pots of ‘Wanda’, cleaned them up and fed them. They will be planted out and looked after properly. Honest.

Honesty. Honestly. I bought seed of Lunaria ‘Corfu Blue’ from Special Plants a few years back and they have seeded themselves about, as they do. They’re like foxgloves in that they produce big rosettes of coarse leaves which can easily smother small plants. I saw one yesterday threatening (*) Wulfenia shwartzii. They are fabulous in spring and the dry seed heads stayed in a vase until we tired of the dust they were collecting.
((*) was the moment when I went out to pull it up and to check the name of the victim plant.)

A vegetable for a change. Onions. ‘Rumba’ sets, in cells. I used to plant onion sets direct on the plot. They were OK but the bloke on the next plot’s were better. What he did differently was to start them in cells then plant them out when they were five or six inches high and well rooted. They go out when conditions have improved, the bulbs aren’t hanging around drying out and shrivelling for so long. My onions were better than his for the last two seasons. Not that I’m competitive or anything.

Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Frohnleiten’. Not doing its thing yet, but needing to be cut back before its new shoots make doing so difficult. The cold wind really caught one end of this clump. I do try to grow some of the many new hybrids but they are slug fodder and struggle; this thing is hard as nails.

I’ve been at the Spring Flower Competitions at Rosemoor today. This is usually an event dominated by Rhododendrons, Camellias, Magnolias and Daffodils but after last week it was opened up to pretty much any surviving plant. If you think coming up with six things for a blog is a challenge, spare a thought for the people trying to keep a flower show on the road. I was judging camellias; some latitude was called for but on the whole they were astonishingly good in the circumstances. Rhododendrons and Magnolias were almost completely absent, Daffodils were excellent and there were some impressive displays of foliage.

This was the bloom we decided was the best of the Camellias.


Six on Saturday – 3/3/2018

Snow is rare enough in Cornwall but temperatures of -4°C by day are pretty much unheard of. There will be a price exacted for growing plants that are at the border of hardiness, though what that price will be will not become clear for a while. Some things look dead and are, some look dead but recover, shooting from below ground perhaps. Some look fine but fail when they try to start into growth; some, like the Dahlias I didn’t lift, are a complete unknown.

For the plants in the ground very little can be done to give them protection. For glasshouses and polytunnels it is a case of how much heating gets provided. Given that a glasshouse will usually be a degree or two warmer than outside without heating, and not expecting anything worse than maybe -2 or -3, I have found a couple of electric tube heaters adequate up till now. Even with -5 and a stiff breeze, I think I will lose little or nothing in the two glasshouses and the back of house conservatory/lean-to glasshouse. The polytunnel is a different matter.

The beautiful winter scene on Friday morning before I went out and trampled some of it. I will reluctantly concede that snow can look very pretty and at this time of year a lot better than what it is covering up. I drove back from taking someone to Truro hospital Thursday afternoon in worsening snow; it took three times as long as normal and was touch and go in a couple of places. I hate the stuff.
This morning it’s raining and the snow is turning to slush. Hopefully it’ll soon be gone.

Agave montana. I bought this at Pan Global a few years ago and it’s done very well. It stays outside against the south facing house wall and gets very little water or feed, which toughens it up. I have no fears about its survival. The thing next to it is a species of Haworthia which might suffer a bit. There’s an equally tough Agave parryi out there too.

Schefflera taiwaniana heads a long list of plants that I will be anxious about until at least June. At least it’s about as deeply dormant as it ever gets, which I hope will help. I seem to recall that it had a flower spike coming back in the autumn; there’s no sign of it now.

I’m probably going to have more room for my tomatoes this year. Some years ago, in my former life, we upgraded our camellia sales display by lifting the plants off the ground onto benches. When a few plants started to go down in late winter we realised that all their roots had been frozen and killed. The backup stock, standing on the ground in the tunnel next door, was fine, saved by being pot thick and a bit of residual heat from the ground. If camellia roots freeze, they die. I don’t expect many of these to survive. I tried to cover the 9cm plants but the wind had other ideas.
I took the cover off this morning, all looks fine beneath it, just like the ones that weren’t covered. It tells me nothing. I shall look at the roots in a few weeks time, that will likely tell a different story.


I did manage to squeeze a few plants, mostly less hardy varieties, into the conservatory. This is one of them, Camellia ‘Ariel’s Song’, which is a hybrid between two borderline hardy species, tsaii and fraterna. It has loads of small, very fragrant flowers. I have grown it successfully outdoors in Cornwall but even here it is marginal. Lovely leaf too, especially new growth. I’m going to sneak in a focus stacked picture of ‘Flower Girl’ too, for no better reason than it being alive.

The OH started on this when we were in Australia. She saw one somewhere and thought “I can do that”. I think both knitting and crocheting are involved but what do I know. I will concede that they are not “happening in my garden right now” but this is a week for taking liberties if ever there was one.


In theory, from now on it can only get better.
I’m rather expecting tales of woe from other six on Saturday contributors. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Links from The Propagator as ever.


Drawing a simple garden plan.

I suppose in this day and age I should be doing a You Tube video, but I’m too old for that.

Many of us want a reasonably accurate map of our gardens and end up with something that falls short. Here is a fairly simple method which will produce quite an accurate map.
You will need paper, a scale ruler, a garden line and measuring tapes, the longer the better. Draw a pair of lines about 2cm apart down the centre of the paper.

Lay the garden line down along the centre of the longest axis of your garden, tied to canes at each end. Make sure it is straight and taut. Lay a long measuring tape along the line, fixed to one of the canes. You could just lay the tape down if the site is an open one. The canes will be points A and B on your survey.


The cane at bottom left is point A, point B is at the other end of the long tape measure. Taxus ‘Standishii is 2.1m along the tape and 1.15m to the left of it.

Work your way along the line, measuring how far from the line all your garden features are at an exact right angle to the line. For each item, you have two measurements; how far along the line and how far from it. Starting from the bottom of the sheet, record both figures, the first in the centre column, the second to whichever side applies.


Leave the two canes in place in case you need to make more measurements.

Choose a suitable scale for drawing up your plan. My A-B axis on the diagram is 7.3m, with perhaps a bit beyond each end. That would fit well enough on an A4 sheet at a scale of 1:50. Draw a line down the centre of your blank sheet, or to one side if the measurements are more on one side. Mark points A and B. Measure and mark in your garden features.

If you are picking up path or border edges then you need measurements every couple of metres, less for straight edges, more for very wavy ones. With care measurements of 5m or more from the base line can be made, provided care is taken to do so at right angles.

For bigger areas use triangles and collect a set of measurements for each line. When drawing up the plan, start by drawing the triangle(s) to scale.


I would then scan my rough plan and using Photoshop Elements, produce a good copy on a fresh layer. One advantage of having the plan on the computer is that it is easily edited if plants or other features are changed.

I just want to know what it is…


Camellia ‘Adorable’

I have a garden of my own, I volunteer one day a week in a local park and I have one gardening “job” where I help out with a garden the owners of which are finding it hard to cope with.

Occasionally in my own garden I get annoyed that I can’t remember the name of something. Between planting it and getting the first crop, I lost the name of an apple tree. The broken off label turned up a year later under some leaves. ‘Elstar’, totally useless but if I hadn’t found the name I could have replaced it with another of the same. Of if I’d wanted to plant something to pollinate it or be pollinated by it, without a name I wouldn’t have known its pollination group.

At the park I help look after a National Collection of Camellias. The whole point is that people should see them growing and have a label that tells them what they are so that if they want one they know what they’re looking for. Or perhaps they’re trying to identify one in their own garden and use the collection to get a comparison. Clear, accurate labelling is essential, backed up by good records so that when a label, or plant, goes missing it can be replaced. Note I say when, not if.

The private garden was owned by a well known plants woman and inherited by her niece.  Amongst much else, it contains 65 Camellias, at least 10 of which are unidentified. They include one that is also in the National Collection, also unidentified! The aunt left notebooks, scraps of paper, invoices, gardening books by the dozen, nursery catalogues and much else. Not much help.


Unidentified Camellia


There are very many possible reasons why it might be important in the future to be able to identify a particular plant. It may be important to a future owner or to a third party for whom the identity of one of your plants is significant.

I remember getting an enquiry about a Camellia in a Sussex garden, the only one in the garden with a name on it. We were the only nursery listing it and the new owners of the property wondered if we could tell them anything about it. With our information and theirs, we were able to establish that they’d bought the property of the lady who had raised the camellia and named it after herself, so they had the original plant of that variety. What might have been just another plant acquired a significance.

I have 22 camellias in my own garden, not to mention the ones in pots or on my allotment. One or two have labels. If I die or forget, their identity is lost. Such information as I do have is on this computer, who knows what will happen to that.
I suppose what I’m saying is that if you have good or rare plants, create and maintain records that are intelligible to others and that will survive your departure. And I’m saying it to myself first.

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.

Apple growing, a cautionary tale.

I have an allotment. On it is a large fruit cage, taking up a third of the plot and in which I grow, reasonably successfully, soft fruit. I have raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, blueberries,  blackcurrants and red currants. The allotment rules don’t allow me to plant trees in the ground, so I am unable to plant fruit trees on the plot.

Not a problem, I can grow a few apple trees in my garden. I actually started growing apple trees in my garden long before I got the allotment. My first foray was with three apples and a Victoria plum. The apples were Herefordshire Russet, Suntan and Elstar. They were all planted as two year old bush trees on MM106 stocks. The russet produced half a dozen good apples in its first year and a respectable crop in its second. In the next couple of years the fruits were very small and scabby. When I decided to dig it out and put up a polytunnel it was not a difficult decision.

‘Elstar’ seemed to get a good write-up wherever I looked, as a good grower with good disease resistance and with well flavoured fruit. That was not my experience. All I ever saw were very scabby, very small fruits that didn’t taste of much. A work colleague had brought ‘Holstein Cox’ back from her native Germany and it was doing very well for her so I accepted the offer of some scions and started to turn Elstar into a family tree. The plan was for Elstar itself to leave home.


Family apple tree. The trunk is ‘Elstar’, most of the smaller branches are something else.

At the same time that I grafted three or four scions of Holstein, I also grafted a couple each of Red Windsor and Meridian. I didn’t really expect many, if any, to succeed. I also didn’t label them. Bad mistake. All nine scions took, most of them grew away well, but I don’t know which is which.

Suntan thrived. Away it grew, strong and healthy. In a year or two it was flowering like an ornamental crab but it was doing so once Elstar, Herefordshire Russet , Holstein et al had finished. There was nothing to pollinate it and I ended up with almost no fruit. I have spur pruned it as an open bush shaped tree, which has worked well, restricting its size whilst maintaining prolific flowering.


‘Suntan’ apple. Spur pruning in summer has worked well to restrict the size while still producing abundant flowering, if not fruit.

Somewhere along the way I had planted a tree of Red Windsor, on M9, a dwarfing rootstock. M9 is the stock that virtually all commercial growers use and until quite recently has been almost unobtainable in retail nurseries. Commercial growers plant at high densities, growing as spindle trees or something similar, supported on wires and at 3-4 feet spacing. Key advantages for them are that the trees start cropping very quickly and the fruit is a little larger than on other rootstocks. Yield per hectare is very high. I saw these merits as being just as relevant to me as a domestic gardener, plus the fact that in a limited space I could get in more varieties, giving me better pollination and less risk of gluts.

Red Windsor hasn’t done terribly well; it crops freely enough but the fruits have been small and scabby. It hasn’t grown very much.

Did I mention I am in Cornwall. A lot of things grow very well in our mild maritime climate, even some apple varieties, but scab and canker can be devastating.

I decided I needed a late flowering variety to pollinate Suntan. It seemed suitably disease resistant and the few fruits I did get were good. I wanted cookers because all I had was eaters. I ended up with Newton Wonder and Lane’s Prince Albert, both on M9. I was thinking that they wouldn’t take up much room and in time I could graft a couple of bits from each onto Suntan and do away with the free standing trees.

Why two? Well, Newton Wonder is a triploid, as is Suntan, so I needed Lane’s Prince Albert to pollinate Suntan, then something else to pollinate Lane’s Prince Albert. Truth is it doesn’t add up now, though it did at the time.

Neither have grown well, certainly not well enough to start hacking off bits for grafting. Trees on dwarfing rootstocks need pretty good growing conditions to succeed; I’m not sure they get what they need in my climate. I am sceptical whether they will do the job of pollinating Suntan. Suntan itself, in the meantime, is beginning to show a bit of a susceptibility to canker.

In the winter of 2016/17 I grafted some more bits onto Elstar. Plympton Pippin, Tregonna King and Meridian. Two west-country varieties that should do well and Meridian, mostly in the hope it will enable me to identify the bits I did before.

Just for good measure, I planted a maiden tree of Holstein Cox on MM106. It is a strong grower and I will need to restrict its growth. It had one apple on it in 2017 and it was superb.


‘Holstein’, a German ‘Cox’ hybrid that has so far shown real promise, but what do I do with it?

It’s crunch time. I have six trees, three on MM106 and capable of making 12-15 feet unless restricted, three on M9 and probably doomed to perform badly. Suntan is getting canker and crops poorly. My strategy to improve its pollination has failed. If it goes then Newton Wonder and Lanes Prince Albert may as well go too.

My Elstar based family tree is passable, though I’m not sure that having a trunk and branches of Elstar between the MM106 rootstock and the varieties I have grafted on top of it is a good idea.

Holstein Cox needs to be trained into something that I can spur prune and keep within bounds. It’s also not in the ideal location as it will shade the glasshouse.

Part of me wishes I’d never started. For probably 10 years of trying I doubt I’ve had 50 edible apples. I’ve learned a bit. Grafting shoots of different varieties onto an existing tree is easy. See varieties growing successfully in a garden nearby before you plant them. Spur pruning to keep a particular size or trained shape is easy enough.

I’m not thinking about what could have been growing in that space these last ten years or how much fruit I could have had if I’d planted the right varieties. I’m thinking about what to do now and the blog I’d like to be writing about it in five years time.

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.