Sunday, June 26, 2011

Every picture tells a story, don't it*

Here's the picture, taken 16 July 2006:

I took the shot to illustrate how well my Rhododendron macabeanum seedling (left) was growing.  Although it only puts on a single flush of growth every year it was doing quite nicely and building into a respectably sized, large leaved shrub.  Alongside is Dryopteris affinis, enjoying the shelter of Cordyline 'Coffee Cream' (right).

Ignore the unfortunate piece of plastic garden furniture in the background.  This has now passed onto the great tip in the sky.  The important detail is the tiny fronds of a very young Trachycarpus fortunei, half hidden by the fern.

It's often said that palms can't grow in the UK climate.  Then, when the evidence that Trachycarpus fortunei and Chaemerops humilis are both virtually hardy in our climate is provided, the statement comes that there is no way that they can grow fast.  We have very cool summers, after all. 

Well, here's the Trachycarpus five years on:

Trachycarpus fortunei

Not too bad a growth rate.  As for the other plants in the original shot, well, unfortunately, last winter reduced the Rhododendron macabeaunum seedling to a single lower branch, the rest of the top growth being destroyed by frost.  The cordyline had heavy damage but is recovering.  Even the native fern, Dryopteris affinis, suffered and will take another year to recover.

Every picture tells a story, don't it.

*with apologies to Rod Stewart/Ronnie Wood whose song title I have so shamelessly stolen.

Monday, June 20, 2011

In praise of hardy maidenhair

Ferns, that is.  Species and varieties of Adiantum.  Most gardeners will be familiar with the maidenhairs sold as houseplants - mostly varieties of Adiantum cuneatum or A.raddianum - and may even have tried one outside in a shady spot to add a touch of tropical grace.  For they do look definitely tropical in appearance, lacy, triangular fronds intricately cut into smaller pinnules, a beautiful contrast to other houseplants or orchids.  However, although they may survive a summer they wither at the first touch of even light frost and are most unlikely to return after even the mildest of UK winters.

Fortunately, two species are hardier alternatives with much of the look and feel of these tropical species.  Adiantum capillis-veneris is the closest in appearance - but also the most tender.  Even so, it can be found growing wild in Britain, the southern states of the US and parts of Europe in suitable moist, sheltered spots, often where water drips through limestone rocks to provide the constant humidity it needs.  I photographed these hanging from the roof of the old lime kilns at Cotehele Quay on the Tamar, the river that forms the boundary between Devon and Cornwall.

Adiantum capillus-veneris

Sheltered from frost and sun, continually moist, these lovely ferns have responded by forming hanging traceries that cover most of the ceilings of the old kilns.  I have to confess that every time I see these I'm envious of their obvious ability to thrive - although the inner gardener is also tempted to smuggle in a ladder and get the secateurs out to snip off the old, dead fronds.

I haven't (yet) tried to grow this one in my own garden.  They are frost tender but will usually come back from the roots after a not too harsh winter.  However, they are happiest when their feet are in a moist but perfectly drained growing medium and there is constant moisture in the air - as would be found round any constantly running water such as a fountain or water feature - and I don't have one of those.

Instead I grow the far tougher Adiantum venustum, which ranges through the Himalayas and is hardy to far more frost than even the UK experienced last winter.  Mine stayed evergreen in a sheltered spot in my front garden at temperatures of about -5C.  At lower temperatures, particularly if they persist, it will defoliate but regrows in early spring (late February with me) as though the winter had never been.

This is a slow spreader - but not that slow.  I put my plant in a spot at the base of my front garden terraces - log roll to terrace a small sloping bank - in the shade of the house wall.  The soil isn't brilliant but it's thrived in the moist shade.  It was this size in August 2006:

Newly planted Adiantum venustum in 2006
And this size this evening:

Adiantum venustum after 5 years growth
Not bad for something that looks so delicate.  In fact I need to start removing some of the rhizomes that allow it to spread so well before it swamps some smaller plants.

I'll leave you with a close up photo of a frond.  Bone hardy, but with all the grace of its tropical cousins, this one's a keeper.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - June 2011

Following a link from Missy's Garden blog,, a Brisbane, Australia garden that has so much of the subtropical colour and interest that I'm trying to reproduce in my own cool, damp Plymouth garden, I came across the Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted by  It's simply a linked record of what is flowering on the 15th of the month in gardens across the world.  Well worth the effort of taking and uploading a few photos - although, in my case, none of the photos were taken today as we have typical June weather at the moment - damp and disgusting.  Here are a few of the more interesting plants in flower today.  I've excluded the summer bedding plants as they change from year to year but these are more permanent.

Centaurea montana 'Album'

Libertia formosa - nearly at the end its flowering season

Saxifraga stolonifera - great ground cover in shade
A rose that has been passed down the family - no idea what it is

Phygelius 'Yellow Trumpet' - makes a large shrub here
Ixia hybrid - I started with a dozen corms a few years back and this one has survived
Streptocarpus 'Carys' in my little shade house

Sambucus 'Black Lace' - grown for foliage but the flowers are worth while

Meconopsis cambrica - constant dead heading keeps this in flower for months
Geranium x maculatum - only two weeks worth of flowers but that's in shade
It will be interesting to see what is in flower on the 15th of next month.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Camellia 'Cornish Snow'

I like Camellias.  I've got 6 crammed into a fairly small garden and, after 10 or more years in the ground, they are all fairly substantial.  With my C.sasanqua  variety starting the season in late Autumn and the others flowering in late winter through to mid spring I've got a lot of colour at difficult times of the year.  Even in summer their glossy evergreen leaves are an attractive backdrop.  But only one of the six goes that little bit further and adds interest with bronzed young foliage.  That one is 'Cornish Snow'.

Camellia 'Cornish Snow' early spring flowers

Camellia 'Cornish Snow' early summer foliage
The effect is subtle, I admit, but no less attractive.  One parent is C.cuspidata, another bronzed foliage camellia, and the inheritance comes through strongly in the rather open shape of the shrub and it's slightly lax habit. The influence of C.saluenensis, the other parent and, when crossed with C.japonica, the parent of the fabulous x williamsii hybrids, is not as much in evidence.

It's now about 8ft in height and nearly as much across after about a dozen years in the ground but lets enough light through it's airy structure that it doesn't cast the same shade as other camellias.  I'm glad I bought it - and I'm glad it's happy with me.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Some more views of Eden

I've concentrated on the 'smaller' scale plantings for this set.  Click on the pictures to get larger images

One of the bromeliad 'trees' at Eden

Another bromeliad 'tree'

Philodendron and Bromeliad

Rhapsis and Papaya

Poolside planting

Boston Fern on Oil palm

Blechnum and Maranta

Bromeliad 'tree' and Spathiphyllum

Anthurium and Costus

Alocasia dominating its surroundings
More to follow as I get them processed.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A day out at Eden

Popped down to the Eden project yesterday.  It's fairly close - about an hour's trip - but I haven't been for a few years; September 2007 in fact.  Which I'll put down to pressure of work and some illness.  As always, it's an impressive implementation of a thoroughly innovative concept and design.  I've heard Tim Smit talk so I can understand how he was able to drive the whole project through.

What is most impressive is the way everything has matured and developed.  I visited in it's early stages when the planting was, to say the least, a little threadbare, especially in the Mediterranean biome.  It's now far, far fuller as plantings have knit together, tropical trees and palms reached early maturity and the cooler zones filled up with many a desirable plant.

I adopt a subtropical gardening style myself (well, warm temperate at least) so there are lessons to be learned in both covered biomes.  But it's the tropical biome that's the most impressive to my gardening eyes.  Yes, I'd love to grow some of the palms, bananas, gingers, heliconias and others in my own garden but I don't have the room, and I certainly don't have the climate - even in Plymouth.  Oh, to be able to grow some of these outside:

Heliconia psittacorum

Crinum asiaticum

Costus spiralis

Piper ornatum

Another Costus - not sure of the species

Johannesteijsmannia magnifica

There are dozens more that I could have added - and probably will in later blogs when I run out of ideas.  But it's ideas you come away with more than anything else.  I've grown the hardy(ish) Musa basjoo and had it survive through a good many winters (not alas, the last two).  I've grown the red leaved Ensete ventricosum 'Tandarra Red', though not it's plain leaved cousin.  But I've never been that happy with the way I've placed them.  I've always though of them as specimen plants, to be seen in isolation.  But they're not.  They are just one component of the jungle.  Take this planting:

A big Ensete is framed by smaller planting - in this case Monstera deliciosa, Sanchezia nobilis and other planting - so it emerges from a lower carpet of foliage.  This is the true jungle look - and I'm already thinking of ways to implement it in my own garden.  Ensete ventricosum and its red leaved cultivars 'Maurelii' and 'Tandarra Red' are all readily available.  They grow fast, and with a not unreasonable amount of care (lifting, drying and storing almost dry in cool but frost free conditions), can survive winters to produce very impressive plants in successive seasons.  I can easily arrange a couple of shrubs, one larger leaved, one smaller, that won't mind summer shade and, while the Monstera wouldn't be happy, plants like Colocasia could be added as summer visitors.  I just have to leave enough space for the Ensete to be planted.  In fact, with winter losses, I've got just the spot.  Watch this space.

Another thing that struck me was the extensive use of the trailing Tradescantia zebrina as under planting.  OK, in the warm, humid conditions of the tropical biome this is going to grow like a weed but, with so much going on above it's head this hardly matters.  It's a pretty plant, capable of surviving in light levels that only an Aspidistra would consider reasonable, and producing an exotic carpet of foliage.

Tradescantia zebrina
Of course, it's not hardy.  Or is it?  I've seen reports of it coming back from the roots after -7C freezes.  I'll take that with a pinch of salt - but it wouldn't be difficult to take cuttings from a house or greenhouse overwintered stock plant and grow them on for planting out in May each year. Given the growth rate I've seen on container grown plants they should certainly be capable of providing quite a dense cover under shrubs within a month or so of planting.   Failing that there is Tradescantia 'Maidens's Blush' which Will Giles reports as returning after the harsh winter in his famous exotic garden in Norwich.

Tradescantia 'Maiden's Blush'
I've not considered these as under planting in deep shade before, thinking instead in terms of invasive plants such as Vinca or Lamium galeobdolon. Got to be worth a try - and winter should cure any take over propensities.

Enough for tonight.  I'll return to Eden in the next posting.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A bowl of sunshine

It didn't cost much.  £1.50 for a tray of four seedlings, a little for the compost.  The bowl shaped pot I'd had for years.  Some decent weather and four Mesembryanthemum bedding plants turned into this after a month's growth.

It's been years since I grew them last and I'd forgotten their sparkling beauty.  They only open their faces to sunny weather and, even then, not before 10:00 in the morning.  Drought resistant and hardy, they need little attention.  Some dead heading to keep the flower crop going, normal watering and feeding and they'll respond with a long season of colour.

A bargain of a bowl.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

New light on an old pond

I'm doing a lot of refurbishment of the garden this year.  Two or three bad winters and a lot of neglect on my part had left it looking like a jungle.  Apart from the winter losses I've had to thin out and remove some old established plants because they were simply too big for their position and choicer plants needed the room.  I've also had to reroute a pathway which is now in the wrong place as things have grown over the years.  All of which has left me with a lot of gaps.  But its also let more light into the garden - and that has its own consequences.

One sacrifice has been an old lacecap hydrangea from a position far too close to my small pond.  It's now a stump awaiting removal - something for a slightly cooler day than the last few.  In a  way I'll be sad to see it go - it was a gifted cutting from an old friend's garden. But cutting the top growth away has let a lot more light into the pond - and that, in turn, has had a dramatic effect on it's wildlife utility.  I haven't seen any dragon or damselflies in the garden in recent years but today a very welcome visitor turned up and hung around for the afternoon.  Pyrrhosoma nymphula, the large red damselfly, took up residence for a short cameo appearence.  I didn't have a chance to get a shot so these are two of my stock shots from last year.  I hope it returns - and brings its relatives.

Pyrrhosoma nymphula head on

Pyrrhosoma nymphula side on

Friday, June 3, 2011

A fine June evening

It's been hot all day.  At least 25 C in the shelter of my south facing rear garden.  And at 20:55 it's still very pleasant.  Warm still air, a wireless network and a laptop means I can blog directly from the garden.  Add  a cool beer close at hand and I'm happy.

One thing I always feel at this time of year is anticipation.  I can see buds forming on my hemerocallis and agapanthus, the annuals and tender perennials I use for later summer interest are bulking up well and starting to show a little colour and my white macrophylla hydrangea - I think it's Mme Emile Mouillere - is beginning it's long period of summer flowering.  I'm glad it's survived the rigours of the last two winters - and a period of neglect when I've had not time to tend the garden.

I'm equally glad to see the survival of another old favourite.  The abutilons with pendant, bell like flowers are far more tender than hydrangeas.  I bought this one as 'Hinton Seedling' many years ago and it's survived in the garden ever since.  Even the latest harsh winter only defoliated the plant and caused some die back of the stems but it's recovered well enough to produce its first 4 cm long flower of the season.  Once it starts flowering it doesn't stop till late autumn.  I've even had flowers at Christmas.  I took this specific photograph a few years back but every year the display is equally as good. 

Abutilon 'Hinton Seedling' ? or is it 'Patrick Synge'
The problem is, it may not be 'Hinton Seedling' but another variety, 'Patrick Synge'.  The last few years have seen an explosion of flower pictures on the Internet and, through Google Images, the ability to quickly flick between search results for comparison.  Great for identifying unknown plants and varieties - even if the the naming is not always accurate.  Which has confirmed the suspicions I developed a few years back in a National Trust garden when I saw my plant labelled 'Patrick Synge'  However, to add to the complications there is another very similar - to judge by the photos - variety called 'Wisley Red'.  The problem is I've never seen all three together to be able to accurately name my plant, so for the moment, I tell anyone who asks that it's 'Patrick Synge'.  Maybe.  Perhaps I should have bought 'Kentish Belle' which does have the the merit of being pretty distinctive.

Abutilon 'Kentish Belle'
One day I'll solve the conundrum.  In the meantime the plant doesn't care.  It's busily extending it's thin stems upwards ready for another extended season of colour.