Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Greetings

Semi retired?  That's really worked well.  I don't think I've ever been so busy.  So, I've had no time for blogging between September and now.  Normal service should resume in the New Year.

Have a good Christmas and New Year all ye who enter here.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A long search comes to an end

Back  in 1984 I wrote an article and sold it to the UK gardening magazine Amateur Gardening.  It wasn't my first published piece of work - but it was my first paid for piece.  I subsequently sold many articles to AG and other gardening magazines - but you never forget your first sale.  It was about a cane stemmed begonia, Begonia 'Lucerne' (AKA "Coralline de Lucerne", "Lucerna").  I'd had it as a houseplant for many years (and moves) since acquiring a cutting from one of my old schools (I was a science teacher back in those days). 

Alas, I lost the plant about 1990, and, despite constant plant hunting, never found it again.  It seemed to be one of those begonias that were passed around from friend to friend rather than being stocked by nurseries and garden centres.  That was, until Wednesday this week.  I was working in Padstow and made a small detour on my journey back to drop into the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery near Lostwithiel in Cornwall.  This is one of my local favourites, with an excellent selection of interesting plants so, whenever I'm in the area, I try and get in a visit.  It's just been revamped and one of the new features is a larger display greenhouse for the more tender stuff.  Right at the front entrance was a specimen of my long sought plant.  Inside were a few more.  How could I resist.  So Begonia 'Lucerne' has rejoined the household plant collection.

Begonia 'Lucerne'
It's too tender for winters outside in the UK but, going by my experience from all those years ago, will be quite happy in a semi shaded spot al fresco during the warmer months.  Even overwintering doesn't need a lot of heat.  It seemed to tolerate as low as 5C - though it prefers higher.  No problem, it can come into the house for the winter and then be acclimatised to outdoor living in my little shade house in mid spring.

So, what's so attractive about it?  Well, unlike many begonias, this one is a giant.  Each stem can hit 8ft / 250 cm in height, clothed with large, attractively silver spotted leaves with red undersides, and, at intervals, throwing out a densely clustered spray of red flowers.  New stems are produced from the base - albeit with no great freedom - or by the occasional branching higher up the stem and, over time, a very attractive multi stemmed plant can ensue.  To me it has an air of elegance about it that sets it apart from many other begonias.

I can understand why it's not more widespread in cultivation.  The tall cane-like stems are quite brittle and it doesn't produce much cutting material - though stem tip cuttings root easily enough.  My newly purchased plant has three stems, two from basal stems (or, more likely, two cuttings in the same pot) and a low branch.  That produces a fairly full effect but I'll hopefully end up with some additional stems to bulk it out a little further.  And, next summer, it can bring height and interest to a little corner of my garden to add to the sub tropical feel.

It's been a long time away.  Welcome back, Lucerne.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On Gardening and Greyhounds

Pippa, my hole digging greyhound, passed her 10th birthday a month ago.  For a big dog that's often a ripe old age - but greyhounds are different.  Supreme athletes, they live longer than other dogs of comparable size and weight.  She's still extremely fit and healthy (far fitter than me!) and could well live till 14 or more. So, more holes to come!

She's the second rescued ex racing greyhound to live here.  Our first was Sky, a handsome black boy of unknown age when Maria fell in love with him at a local rescue kennel in 1996.  He lived for another 8 years so was probably about 14 when he finally succumbed to old age.  Pippa joined the household in January 2006 to replace our old, recently deceased whippet and provide some company for our daughter's Jack Russell puppy.

There are two questions I'm always asked about her (and about Sky previously).  The first question is always "do you race her/him/it?" Depending on the audience I either explain that she's retired from racing or, if I'm feeling facetious, "I used to, but she always beats me and it's sooooo discouraging."  The second question is "how can you have such a big dog in a small garden without her wrecking it?"  And in the answer to that question lies my love of greyhounds.

I've known sighthounds - whippets, greyhounds, salukis, lurchers and others - all my adult life.  My parents owned, bred and showed the Whitgift Whippets and Manchester Terriers.  I've spent many a happy hour at shows - and even happier hours watching them do what they most love.  Run.  Fast.  So I certainly didn't object when Maria fell  in love with Sky.  He'd make a good companion to the little whippet bitch she'd just bought me to celebrate our moving in to the current house and garden.  He did, and from that point on I added greyhounds to my list of most loved dogs.

There are a lot of misconceptions about greyhounds.  "They're running dogs so they must need a lot of exercise.  They all wear muzzles so they must be viscious.  They're disobedient.  They're stupid."  I've heard them all.  None are true.

This is their preferred position:

Greyhounds will happily spend 21 out of 24 hours resting or asleep.  Pippa is no exception.  She spends the other 3 hours as follows:

  • 60 minutes for the morning run.  Here she is walked to the local fields and woodland and let off the lead to run around like a lunatic for 20-30 minutes.  This is all she needs.  Greyhounds are sprinters.  They expend so much energy within a short time that they are soon exhausted.  Even at ten years old she can still hit over 40 miles per hour.  In her racing days she would have hit 45mph.  The only other local dog that can match her is my daughter's and another walker's lurchers - both sighthounds.  All other dogs are too slow to even interest her - though she's very friendly.
  • 30 minutes for the evening walk.  On the road, on the lead, an amble compared to the morning - but enough.
  • 30 minutes eating.  Twice a day - greyhound stomachs are small and overfeeding can cause bloat and torsion problems.  But she does like spicy leftovers and dog food coated with interesting sauces.
  • 30 minutes following me around hoping for biscuits.  Or cakes.  Well, anything food related will do.  She's not fussy.
  • 29 minutes moving from her bed to the sofa and back again.  Or re-arranging her sleeping position.  She likes her comfort.
Which leaves 1 minute out of her busy day.  Digging time (averaged over a month).

No time allocated for guard duties?  Greyhounds don't guard.  Visitors are either totally ignored or treated as members of the family.

Not much time in there for wrecking a garden - as long as I can stop her digging.  For the vast majority of time she's content to wander about and do no harm at all.  Yes she relieves herself but I've no lawn so that's not a problem.

She wears a racing muzzle when out.  Not because of any manic or homicidal tendencies but to protect the local wildlife.  Greyhounds have an overwhelming prey drive - and can spot a squirrel, rabbit, cat or one of the local deer hundreds of yards away.  They will always chase.  The muzzles are to ensure that, should when they catch up with anything, they don't kill it.  Pippa is well trained and will always come back to us - but only after the chase, not during.  It's one of the pitfalls of owning high speed hunters.  All sighthounds are the same.  But it does mean my garden was cat free within weeks of her arriving.  Word soon got around the local feline population that my garden had a very fast dog in residence. 

Greyhounds are often described as stupid.  They are not as trainable as the likes of sheepdogs or gundogs, I'll freely admit, but it was so easy to house train her and teach her to respect the garden (the odd digging episode apart).  Natural idleness helps.  They walk beautifully on a lead.  And they are bright enough not to chase garden birds, something many dogs never manage.  They know they fly away - so they just ignore them.

In other words the perfect dog for a busy gardener.  Gentle, affectionate, no guarding tendencies to wear trampled paths along the boundary edges, and, providing they get their daily run, a general indolence that makes sloths look hyperactive.  That's how I can have a big dog in a small garden and still grow a lot of interesting plants.

Now the final bit.  Would I want to be re-incarnated as a greyhound?  No.  To the racing fraternity they are commodities.  If they don't make the grade they're out.  Retirement is often at 4 or less.  And retirement often means euthanasia - or abandonment.  Any rescue kennel will have it's complement of ex-racing greyhounds - and not all will enjoy Pippa's fate.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day September 2011

Pressure of work and other commitments have left me little time for blogging - or enjoying other's blogs - over the last few weeks but I've made some time and taken some photographs for my contribution to Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, kindly hosted by May Dreams Garden.  As in previous months I've only shown plants in flower today - although some of the photos are older.  Although it's not that cold yet we've had a lot of wind and rain in the last couple of weeks and plants have suffered.

At this time of year my hardy and tender begonias come into their own.  I grow both the smaller white form and the more vigorous pink form of Begonia grandis evansiana without any protection in garden.  They've survived -8C on many occasions and come back to flower in September and October before dying off as the nights get longer.  They've both flowered a little earlier this year after our warm spring so I'm enjoying a better display than normal.  Their only problem is that they can be a little invasive, reproducing by small tubers that develop in the leaf axils at this time of year.  These get scattered around the garden and new plants pop up the following year.  Established plants can develop decently large tubers for even faster growth.

Begonia grandis evansiana 'Alba'

Begonia grandis evansiana
The 'Nonstop F1' series of bedding begonias are another mainstay in the garden.  Available in a multitude of colours, they're seed grown for flowering in the same season but also produce tubers that can be overwintered frost free for following years.  I've got a few different ones but I'm only illustrating the white form today.  They flower all summer and well into the autumn and are well worth the initial expense.
Begonia 'NonStop F1'
I love Hedychiums - the ginger lilies - for their dramatic foliage and intricate flowers.  I thought I had four survivors from the last two winter's extreme cold - H.greenii, H.'Pink Hybrid', H.coccineum 'Tara' and H.'Stephen' - but a couple of weeks ago I noticed a little shoot where my small clump of H.gardnerianum had been.  So now I have five.  But only one has flowered so far.  Hedychium 'Stephen' is variously described as a form or a hybrid of H.densiflorum.  It's definitely my most reliable Hedychium for flowering though the spectacular and sweetly scented foot long heads only last a week in beauty.  With luck I'll get a second flowering later in the year from the new stems that are already developing.

Hedychium 'Stephen'
I was surprised back in May when Ipomea indica, the perennial blue morning glory, started back into growth against my South house wall.  It's definitely tender in the UK.  But it's survived and, at the beginning of September, flowered.  Each flower lasts a day before withering but a constant succession develop from spiky heads in the upper leaf axils.  Here's a couple of blooms from today:

Ipomea indica
A low spreader rather than a climber and with considerably smaller blue trumpets than its more tropical relative is Convolvulus mauritanicus.  I've written about this before - but it's still going strong after starting to flower in June.

Convolvulus mauritanicus
One reason why the Ipomea has survived could be the evergreen bulk of a myrtle in front of the climber.  This was one of my first plantings in the garden when I moved here fifteen years ago.  At the time I believed it was tender so it got a choice spot against my South wall.  I know better now.  Here in South West England it's tough as old boots.  I could have grown it in the open garden.  No matter.  This is its flowering time, little white powderpuffs adorning the glossy green foliage.

Myrtus communis
The common blue passion flower, Passiflora caerulea, has been a fixture in the garden for many years.  I have it trained up an old cherry tree and every year it delights, producing trails of foliage dotted with fat buds that open to the intricate flowers.

Passiflora caerulea
I've grown other passion flowers in the past - and will again (although 'Purple Haze', added earlier this year grew well but then died on me), but this is definitely one of the most decorative for our cool temperate climate.

I grow a few fuchsias in the garden but my most reliable has to be Fuchsia 'Genii'.  Red and purple bell flowers are not that exotic but combine them with bright golden foliage and good hardiness and it's a  plant well worth growing.  If winter doesn't do it for me I cut it hard back in early spring and it regularly makes 4-5 ft / 120-150cm of growth in a year.  Flowering starts in June and goes on forever (or till winter, whichever comes sooner).

Fuchsia 'Genii'
I'm used to Epimediums flowering in spring but one I bought earlier this year seems to continually produce little arching wands hung with yellow flowers.  It may settle down next year but I'm not complaining about bonus flowers in September.  Especially when they are as attractive as this:

Epimedium x franchettii 'Brimstone Butterfly'
I'm shortly adding to my small collection of Epimediums to provide extra spring colour in the garden so, with luck, one or two more of these Chinese species and forms will provide similar interest over a long season.

Iochroma grandiflora is doing well in it's warm corner and building up in flowering intensity.  I photographed this flower display a few days ago though there are similar displays in evidence today:

Iochroma grandiflora
I definitely want to keep this one alive through the winter.  It's got lots of potential here in Plymouth.

Finally, who can resist the little faces of pansies.  Not me.  I always grow a few for their long season of flower, even in semi shade.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Decisions, decisions, decisions

Euphorbia mellifera is one of the mainstays of the exotic garden here in the UK.  It rapidly forms a  large, rounded shrub with attractive linear foliage with a white central vein and long lasting, late spring heads of honey scented flowers.

Euphorbia mellifera with Cordyline 'Coffee Cream in 2005
Euphorbia mellifera flower heads and foliage

Euphorbia mellifera flower head close up
As a fast growing plant it can get out of hand fairly quickly.  2-3ft / 60-90 cm of growth per year is a fairly conservative estimate.  In the eight years I grew it I cut it down to ground level once myself to keep it in bounds and had it cut down twice by harsh winters - the last time producing such a mess that I removed the remains.  I've now filled in the space with a red Ensete banana and an hydrangea.

Doing a bit of weeding in the garden yesterday I found a couple of seedlings of the euphorbiaNothing unusual in that - I often find seedlings of the various plants I grow.  Hardy geraniums, crocosmia, Freesia laxa, Libertia, Begonia grandis var evansiana, hellebores, even ferns - all pop up regularly amongst the rather more common garden weeds.  Some I pot up, others join the compost heap on the allotment (and, yes, if it likes you, even the treasured and desirable hardy begonia can become a weed).  OK, the euphorbia seedlings are a little unusual in being 20 feet / 6 metres from the site of the parent - entirely due to the exploding seed pods of the plant.  I remember a hot day in 2007 and the garden being peppered with the seeds as they were flung at fair velocity across the plot - probably the origin of the current seedlings.

But it all  leaves me with a problem.  I can, and will, pot up the seedlings.  I'd rather like to grow it in the garden again.  But I now simply don't have the room in the ground.  This plant takes up a lot of space - and doesn't wait around to do it.  So, if I want to keep it and enjoy that lovely honey scent, it will have to go permanently in a pot.  Which probably won't produce the best results.  Still, knowing my taste for tender plants I'm bound to have gaps if when we have more bad winters.  And maybe then it can go back in the ground to produce the next generation of seedlings.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day August 2011

Another 15th of the month and another chance to illustrate what is flowering in my Plymouth garden.  As always, visiting May Dreams Garden blog will give you access to all the other gardens linking today.

As before, I'm including some of the more interesting plants and, while the photos have not all been taken today, the plants are all in flower today.  

Roscoea beesiana - another pretty little ginger for semi shade

Agapanthus 'Northern Star' - a robust deciduous type with large heads of dark blue flowers
Japanese anemone - Anemone x hybrida 'Honorine Jobert'

Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora - a bit weedy but good for bright colour in shade

Geranium 'Buxton's Blue' - a nice clump forming hardy geranium

Geranium wlassovianum - another good clump former

Lobelia 'Fan Scarlet' - short lived but very pretty perennials

Rosa 'Graham Thomas' - one of the English shrub roses

Tillandsia cyanea - in my little shade house
Clematis texensis 'Princess of Wales' - providing secondary colour on my winter jasmine
Trachelospermum jasminoides - beautifully scented evergreen climber growing by the rear garden gate

Begonia boliviensis 'Bonfire' - a summer visitor dying back to a tuber for overwintering
12 previously unillustrated plants for August.  A lot of the plants I've previously illustrated are still flowering - Passiflora edulis, Abutilon 'Patrick Synge', Freesia laxa, Iochroma grandiflora, Brugmansia, Hydrangeas and many others.  I wonder if I'll have 12 new ones to illustrate in September?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

An August evening

Just been outside in preparation for locking up for the night.  It's dusk, the air still after the earlier breezes, reasonably warm but just beginning to dip below shirt sleeve levels of comfort.  There is a wonderful sweet scent hanging in the calm of the evening.  My one and only Brugmansia has opened a single trumpet flower and is wafting its perfume throughout the garden.

It's an apricot coloured form that I bought from Hill House nursery earlier this year.  50cm tall when I bought it, a planting hole filled with manure and regular liquid feeding has got it to nearly 2 metres tall.  It produced a couple of flowers earlier in the summer but is now gearing up to produce rather more.  The flowers are beautiful - but the scent is divine, an evening and night aroma designed to attract night flying pollinators.

Brugmansia 'Apricot'
From earlier experience an individual flower will last for about four days - but I've got others developing so I'll have some continuity.  With luck they'll scent the garden till October. 

Despite overwintering one outside a few years back most winters are too cold for the top growth to survive so I'll need to dig it up and, hopefully, overwinter it as a fairly dry skeleton in my shed before reviving it next spring.  It's worth the effort - the bigger the plant the greater the flowering display.  Though I may have to site it in a slightly better location.  My local snail population have wrecked havoc with the foliage - which rather destroys the effect of the big, softly textured leaves. 

No matter, the scent remains, encouraging me to linger outside as the light gradually fades and the garden becomes less and less visible.  Meanwhile, overhead, a single bat is patrolling.  It might, or might not enjoy the scent - but will enjoy the moths attracted to the blossom.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Out of season flowering

OK, we've had a fairly miserable summer.  April was good, May and June generally cold, damp and disgusting, July a combination of a few nice days intermixed with a good many rotten ones.  August, so far, started all right but has now deteriorated.  In fact, it's windy and raining as I write.  But I didn't think it was bad enough to start winter flowering plants into bloom.

So I was a little surprised to see a little patch of yellow when looking out of the living room window this afternoon.  Dodging the showers, I went out to confirm that I was seeing what I thought I was seeing.  I was right.  Jasminium nudiflorum, the rather lax but easily trained as a wall shrub winter jasmine, was flowering.  Not just one flower but a whole branch was developing it's soft yellow tubular flowers.

Jasminium nudiflorum - taken during its more normal winter flowering
My plant is trained against an east wall and has never previously flowered before late November.  So why is it flowering now?  More to the point, is it likely to make a habit of this?  If so, it will disrupt my carefully planned (OK, accidentally thrown together) sequence of winter jasmine flowering in, would you believe, winter and Clematis texensis 'Princess of Wales' winding its way through the hanging stems for summer and early autumn interest.

I could, of course, put it down to the capriciousness of the Gods and sacrifice another burnt offering to propitiate them.  Another round of toast should do it.  Unfortunately, I was trained as a scientist so I tend to look for more rational explanations.  And my curiosity was piqued when I realised that in the front garden my reliably May - and only May - flowering Crinodendron hookerianum was also producing new buds and had already opened some of it's lovely red lantern flowers.  In August.

Crinodendron hookerianum
In temperate climates, with their distinct seasons, flowering is normally triggered by a combination of day length and/or temperature.  Here in Plymouth we had an early, unusually warm spring.  We've had very variable weather since then.  Flower buds that would normally be initiated as the day length shortens after mid summer but only slowly develop for flowering in winter - the jasmine - or late spring - the crinodendron - have been hastened into blooming out of season.  It shouldn't affect the normal flowering, there is plenty of time for things to settle back to normal.

Either that or we're all doomed.  Better warm up the toaster just in case.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Why is my 'Midnight Blue' Hydrangea red?

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Midnight Blue' - with red bracts

One of my earliest gardening memories is going on holiday to the English Lake District.  I was about 13 or 14 (so this was many, many years ago).  We went to Lake Windermere and there, on the shore, were masses of sky blue mophead macrophylla hydrangeas.  They looked absolutely fabulous to my untutored eye.  I knew they were hydrangeas.  We had them in my parent's and many other local gardens, in shades of white, pink or red.  But never blue.  It was fascinating.  Dad explained that we couldn't get them to flower in blue shades in Grimsby because of the soil, heavy clay mixed with chalk.  I knew enough about chemistry by this stage of my education to realise that he gardened on alkaline soil while the soil by Windermere's shore was acid.  A check in the school and town libraries confirmed that Hydrangea macrophylla was blue on acid soil, red or pink on alkaline soil.  I was used to using Litmus paper in class experiments so, it seemed pretty obvious that the pigments in the bracts that make up the colourful part of the mophead were, just like litmus paper, directly sensitive to the pH of the soil.

I probably went through the next 15 years thinking exactly that.  And then I started gardening for myself - and growing Hydrangeas.  Of course, as soon as you start to grow a plant you see it in all the local gardens.  I was on acid soil, the whole area was on acid soil, and the local hydrangeas were in every shade from brick red, through shades of pink into pale and deeper blue - even within the space of a few metres.  That's when you start questioning your earlier assumptions - and realise that it's a little more complicated than simple acidity or alkalinity of the soil.

Fortunately Hydrangea macrophylla - in both it's mophead and lacecap varieties - has long been a commercial florist's crop.  The colour change has long been known - and it's mechanism.  Without going into the biochemistry of the process (those days are long in my past) it is a reaction between aluminium salts and the anthocyanin pigment in the colourful parts of the flower head.  High aluminium gives a blue colour, low aluminium the more natural red.  Very acid soils - below pH 5.5 - allow aluminium salts to be freely available to the plant and hydrangeas are likely to be reliably blue.  Less acid to alkaline soils progressively lock up the aluminium salts.  Depending on the acidity of the soil and amount of aluminium natively present in the local soil the hydrangeas will respond in every colour from blue through to red.  Hence the variation even within a small area.

Where your soil is acid but the hydrangeas aren't colouring blue you can boost the availability of aluminium by watering with a diluted aluminium sulphate solution to boost the soil content.  This is available in garden centres.  Don't be tempted to exceed the recommended dose - aluminium sulphate is toxic to plants in higher concentrations.

Which still doesn't explain why my 'Midnight Blue' is red.  Well, I bought it (cheaply) in a distressed plants sale earlier this year.  I resuscitated it in it's pot before planting it out a month or so ago.  It must have been growing in alkaline or low aluminium content compost.  So, this year, the flowers are red.  Over the next couple of years they should change and I should, eventually, get a good blue.

Hydrangea macrophylla is not unique in this colour change - but it's not common.  The smaller Hydrangea serrata has the same properties and so does a rather rarer relative, Dichroa febrifuga.

Dichroa febrifuga
I grew this for a number of years in a large container but, alas, it succumbed to two bad winters. 

Just as an aside, I've seen many assertions that if you choose white mophead or lacecap hydrangeas you won't see the same colour changes.  In fact you do - just on a far smaller scale.  This is the centre of my repeat blooming white mophead 'Madame Emile Mouillere'.

Central flower of Hydrangea 'Madame Emile Mouillere'
A lovely blue.  Which bodes well for 'Midnight Blue'  when it eventually assumes its true colouring.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


This is Pippa.

Pippa is a greyhound. 

Greyhounds are large dogs.

Pippa digs holes in the garden.

Greyhound sized holes.

Bad Pippa.

Normal blogging will be resumed once I've filled the latest attempt to dig to China.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A little corner problem

I have a small border in my rear garden against the south facing house wall and sheltered from the west by another wall.  It's probably the warmest spot in the garden - virtually frost free some winters, though not the last three.  The soil is good and, due to the shelter of the house and garden wall, a little drier than the often soggy soil in the rest of the garden.  Warmest of all is the north west corner where the house meets the garden wall.  Hardly surprisingly I grow my most tender sun loving plants there.  Equally unsurprisingly I lose them on a regular basis.

I've had some notable successes in the past when plants that are far too tender to survive outside in Plymouth nonetheless came through one or more winters.   Sparmannia africana survived for three winters, normally regenerating to come back strongly after being cut back quite hard, although one winter it was almost unscathed and produced it's early spring flowers - the first I've seen outside in the UK.

February 2007 flowers on Sparmannia africana
I grew it for it's foliage - big leaves which seemed untouched by our gales despite their seeming fragility.

Sparmannia and Ipomea indica  in 2006
It succumbed the in the winter of 2009.  The perennial morning glory behind has migrated along the wall to the other end of the bed and no longer occupies that corner planting.

A prior occupant of the spot was a nice Brugmansia.  This made quite a substantial shrub before succumbing.  It flowered reliably and, on warmer evenings, the scent was intoxicating, wafting through the garden and, if we had a window open, into the house.  The variety I know not - Brugmansia 'Pink' was the label.  But whatever it was, it survived outdoors for a couple of years and longer from cuttings in my greenhouse.

Brugmansia 'Pink'

Last year was the turn of Fuchsia boliviana 'Alba'.  I'd grown this a greenhouse plant for a few years and managed to rescue it when the greenhouse was destroyed by gales.  Nothing ventured, it went into the corner but, alas, did not re-appear this spring after our hardest winter for years.  I've got another plant - it's one of my favourites - but I'm not retrying it outside until I can build up a stock.  I value the long tubular flowers too highly to risk losing it.  It's not that easy to find.

Fuchsia boliviana 'Alba'

Fuchsia boliviana 'Alba'
Which brings me to this year.  I've got wall space to occupy and the sheltered corner just in front.  Needless to say, it needed to be filled with something tender - even if past experience suggests I'll fail one winter in two.  The rewards for success are worth the risk.  So, what did I come up with for this year's attempt?

On the wall, starting to climb my wire framework, is Passiflora 'Purple Haze'.  This is a new one to me.  Passiflora caerulea is hardy with me in the open garden though, sadly, its beautiful white form 'Constance Elliott' succumbed two winters ago.  A shame - they cross pollinated and produced a lot of fruit, something I don't get from the normal blue form on it's own.  There is a small edible core in a mass of inedible flesh - but it's not likely to catch on as a crop.  'Purple Haze' is a P.caerulea and P.amethystina cross and reputed to be hardy to about -8C so should (fingers firmly crossed) be a reliable plant on my warm wall.  No photos yet - it's still a baby - but I'm looking forward it occupying the vertical space.

In front I've added a plant of Iochroma grandiflorum.  This, like the closely related Brugmansias, is a South American cloud forest plant, in this case from Peru and Ecuador.  It should relish our cool, wet summers.  I got a quite substantial plant cheaply from Hill House Nursery and it's settling in nicely and has already produced some of the beautiful, tubular blue flowers that should be borne in increasing numbers as the summer progresses.  I've grown other species of Iochroma in the past and this has by far the largest flowers - 7cm long and 2.5cm across the flared bell of the blossom.  Once it gets into its stride it should carry quite large bunches of these at the shoot tips. Hopefully I'll be able to update the blog with a better picture.

Iochroma grandiflorum
The foliage is a quite decent - simple oval  leaves which are a fair size and a little like smaller Brugmansia leaves.  They're not for stroking, however.  They're quite sticky.  I would suspect it's an anti pest protective secretion though I'll need to search the literature to check that out.

So, two new tender(ish) plants.  Time will tell if they survive next winter.  I can - and will - provide some protection.  But, whether they survive or simply add to the growing collection of labels of no longer extant plants, I'll have a bit of fun.  And learn a bit more about growing tender plants outside in my Plymouth garden.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Kindred under the skin?

Idly doing a bit of photography in the garden this evening I was struck by the resemblence between Begonia 'Benichoma' and Heuchera 'Blackberry Jam'.

Begonia 'Benichoma'

Heuchera 'Blackberry Jam'
OK, the begonia has more divided foliage and a more jagged leaf in comparison to the rounded edges of the Heuchera.  But the markings are very similar and both give a nice exotic effect.  They are even both about the same size and like some shade and moisture in the soil.  The big difference?  Well, the Heuchera is hardy almost anywhere in the UK and down to about USDA zone 5 in continental climates.  The begonia is definitely tender (although there are reports of well mulched specimens surviving outside in our milder UK winters).  Summer bedding for shade only - or, as I've got it, as a specimen in my little shade house.

The breeding of an ever increasing range of Heuchera, Heucherella and Tiarella hybrids is certainly adding to the palette of hardy, evergreen perennials with exotically patterned and coloured foliage.  I'm beginning to collect more and more of them - although a glimpse of the range at Heucheraholics tells me I've a long way to go - as edging and underplanting in my borders.  Though it can sometimes be hard to place them.  I'm still debating where to fit x Heucherella 'Stoplight' in - or, more likely, what I can fit around it to make best use of it's exotic colouring.  Looking down on the garden from a bedroom window it's brighter than half the flowers!

Heuchera 'Stoplight'

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A crawling, sprawling, sideways spreading geranium

In my last post - for Garden Blogger's Blooms Day - I included a shot of Geranium 'Salome'.  I thought I'd look at this interesting plant in more detail.

Geranium 'Salome'
'Salome' is hybrid between two species geraniums, Geranium procurrens and G.lambertii.  Although the flowers are attractive, very 'Salome' like in appearance, in my own small plot I certainly wouldn't grow G.procurrens.  It throws long trailing growths, studded with flowers over a long season I'll admit, but capable of rooting at every node.  One small plant becomes a massive patch in short order.  The usual advice is to grow it through a shrub or similar.  Somehow I don't see that working in my rather congested plot.  'Salome' has inherited the trailing growths - but without the ability to root along the length of the stems.  Nirvana.  It means I can grow it through other plants without the risk of it taking over.

G.lambertii seems to have added this non rooting ability to the cross.  It's also added more separated petals.  I'm not sure where the golden tinge to new foliage has come from - but this is certainly an added bonus.

Young foliage of Geranium 'Salome' contrasting with foliage of Viola labradorica
So I have a hardy (Zone 5 in the US) shade tolerant plant that dies to a very compact rootstock over the winter, produces a neat mound of golden foliage in spring, and will quite happily throw 150cm trails through and into its companions and flower at whatever height it reaches for a long season in summer and autumn.  Which is why I don't object to it growing through my plant of Pieris 'Flaming Silver'.

Geranium 'Salome' peeps through its Pieris 'Flaming Silver' support in the front garden

This is a gem of a plant that I'm sorely tempted to add to plantings in the rear garden.  I won't - but for the best of all reasons.  There is a similar - and equally well behaved geranium - 'Ann Folkard' - which can perform exactly the same function but with darker, more tightly compressed flowers.  This is another hybrid of G.procurrens, this time with G.psilostemon.  This is better adapted to the sunnier site I have in mind to repeat the effect.