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.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - July 2011

A few contributions for this month's world wide display.  I've picked a dozen of my most interesting blooms for July.  Thanks to Carol at for hosting this.

Dianthus 'Devon Magic' - one of the few pinks I grow

Dahlia 'Procyon'
Phalaenopsis orchid - included because I've succeeded in reblooming it in the house
Roscoea purpurea - a gorgeous little hardy ginger
Phygelius 'Salmon Leap' - rather gangly plant that prefers to grow through a supporting shrub

Fuchsia splendens 'Karl Hartweg' - not hardy - so how does it survive my winters?  It's early this year.
Hydrangea aspera ssp sargentiana - fleeting flowers but lovely dark plush leaves

Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' - black leaves and pretty little flowers

Clematis cirrhosa 'Freckles' - flowers nearly all year with me

Hydrangea 'Madame Emile Mouillere' - a mophead that flowers on new wood so has a very long season

Geranium 'Salome' weaving its way through Pieris 'Flaming Silver'

Ceratostigma willmottianum - gorgeous, hardy, blue flowered shrub

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Some views of the garden - Part 2

Following on from my views of that part of the rear garden that's fit to illustrate here's some shots of the front garden.  This space is quite small - about 9 x 6 metres - 30 ft x 18ft, bounded by a garden wall and a retaining wall to prevent the slope sliding into the house.  It's shaded by the high house wall and various trees and shrubs - including Acer 'Bloodgood', Camellia 'St Ewe' and Magnolia 'Raspberry Ice'.  I've terraced it using breeze blocks and log roll to provide a set of planting areas in which I can grow a good many smaller shade lovers.  Over the years it's grown ever more lush and it's a constant battle to keep things within bounds.  My biggest thugs are three plants that a lot of exotic gardeners would love to have survive in their own gardens, never mind thrive.  Adiantum venustum, the hardy maidenhair fern, is slowly but inexorably producing quite a substantial patch.  Begonia grandis ssp evansiana is absolutely hardy with me.  The pink flowered form spreads itself around by the small bulbils produced in the autumn and is now taking up too much of the bed.  Because it doesn't sprout till late spring it can safely occupy the ground where I've got various bulbs - erythroniums, snowdrops and others - but it's starting to encroach on other plantings and needs controlling.  Saxifraga stolonifera - normally seen as the houseplant 'Mother of Thousands' - creeps around all over the bed and, again, needs controlling. 

Enough verbiage.  Here's some pictures.  Click for larger images:

The purple flowered plant in  the last two pictures is a hardy ginger, Roscoea purpurea.  I'll be illustrating this for the garden blogger's bloom day on Friday.  The beautiful variegated shrub is Pieris 'Flaming Silver', gorgeous all year but especially beautiful in April when the bright red new leaves flush.  This is about twelve years old now - they are slow growing!  Variegated Phormium tenax can be seen on the left of the final picture - with 'Lucifer' in front.  It does get everywhere.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Some views of the garden - part 1

A famous gardener was once asked, "When will your garden be finished?"  The answer came back, "Never, I hope."

I suspect a lot of us feel that way.  My garden has had a rough three years.  Neglect from me and two bad winters have killed a lot of plants.  I lost my greenhouse from winter storm damage.  But, following my redundancy / semi retirement in March this year I've time to do something about refurbishing my little plot.  May I never be finished.

So, where am I now?

Well, here's a few views of the area I do have almost back to scratch.  There are gaps - particularly on and below the south facing house wall where a lot of really tender stuff was concentrated - but I feel I'm making progress.  It helps that I've got some good, mature plants to provide a framework.

This view is, basically, the view from the living room window.  Yucca gloriosa 'Variegata' is prominent to the right, Phormium 'Evening Glow' provides red foliage in the centre, while my largest patch of Crocosmia 'Lucifer' is just peeping in from the right.  Missing is a big Phoenix canariensis which decided it didn't like -8C for two winters in succession.  In the background is my mid plot screen which hides the pool and (before it was devastated) my more tropical garden.  Cordyline 'Coffee Cream' and the clumping bamboo Chusquea coulou are prominent in there.  The big tree is Prunus 'Amanogawa'.

Looking south  westward across the garden from the rear entrance gate you get a better view of the mid garden screen.  There's a bed of annuals in the foreground to replace some other winter losses.

Looking across the garden to the west border there are Chaemerops humilis, the European fan palm, Acca sellowiana giving height to the left and Phyllostachys nigra giving  height to the centre of the shot.  There is way too much Crocosmia 'Lucifer' in there - a problem I intend to rectify.

Ignore the gap on the right - winter losses have still not been replaced.  Though I do have a reasonable grouping alongside the bamboo.  Fuchsia 'Genii' and Ceratostigma willmottianum grow at the base of yellow flowered winter jasmine, Jasminium nudiflorum.  I've added Clematis texensis 'Princess of Wales' for additional hardy (hardier than my previous climbers) interest this year.

Click the pictures to get a larger view.

I'll try and give you an idea of the shaded front garden in the next post.  It's a small, walled area with a steep slope.  I terraced it years ago and it houses my collection of shade lovers.  Again, I've had a lot of losses from winter frosts and my own neglect - but I'll build it back up again.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tonight's Dinner

Straight from the allotment. 

Mint for the peas and new potatoes is in a pot by the back door, all ready for picking.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I have been overrun by the hordes of Lucifer...

Crocosmia 'Lucifer' that is.  Bright scarlet flowers have opened all over the garden.  Individually they have a strange seduction.  Collectively, they are becoming a little overwhelming.  You see this...

...and the attraction is obvious.  But when everywhere you look has the same, almost predatory, scarlet blooms unfurling as the individual flowers progressively open along the length of the heads then the time has come to be a bit ruthless.  I don't have a spacious garden and, with five big patches spread between both front and rear gardens some of them have to go.

Not all.  I'd miss this planting in the front garden where the drooping, pleated, sword like leaves of the crocosmia are mirrored by the lower fronds of a small Trachycarpus fortunei growing at the back of the border.

And I'll leave a bit in the rear garden to provide bright colour for the month of July.  But most will go.  I'll dig up the corms once they begin to die back in autumn and pass them on to other gardeners.  They should have more success with freshly dug plants than the dried out husks that pass for bargain crocosmia in the various DIY sheds that infest the UK.  It won't even take long for success or failure to be evident.  They start in growth very early in the year, building up clumps of attractive foliage over the spring and early summer for their mid summer floral display at the 100 - 150cm level.

With me they are bone hardy despite their South African origins and parentage as a cross between Crocosmia masonorum and C.paniculata.  Too hardy to be honest.  Which is why I have far too many - and all deriving from a handful of corms sourced from my parent's garden years ago.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A little shade house

Years ago we built an aviary in the rear garden.  The north wall was the wall of the garden shed, the east wall a single fencing panel, the other two walls open meshwork.  The roof was corrugated plastic sheeting.  The floor is paving.  The whole is only 120cm deep, 150cm wide but 2 metres plus high.  It's now pretty shady after the garden trees have matured. 

The aviary fell out of use, I opened up the west wall and, for two or three years, we used it as a dumping ground for pots, old garden furniture and other junk.  It may have been tucked out of the way but it was an eyesore, even though Akebia quinata had threaded itself through the mesh and was hanging from the rafters. 

Earlier this year I decided to do something about it.  I disposed of everything I could (there is still a wormery and some pots in there). I had a homemade wooden, 120 x 60cm bench rescued from my old, wind wrecked greenhouse.  It fitted.  I had somewhere to house a collection of shade loving pot plants.  Rather than use hardy plants I decided to set up a summer home for tropical house plants.  In a way it's an experiment to test to see what would be happy in a cool, shaded, breezy area with overhead cover.  Here's the results:

I've restricted my spending on this.  Virtually all the plants have been bought in sales or at reduced prices.  Currently in residence are two begonias - 'Benichoma' and 'Red Robin', Plectranthus 'Sasha', two bromeliads - Vriesia splendens and Aechmea 'Blue Rain' (I've had this for years), Stromanthe sanguinea, Calathea zebrina, a dieffenbachia, Dypsis lutescens, two streptocarpus - 'Harlequin' and 'Carys' - and a small dracaena.  Reckoning up I've spent no more than £30 on the lot, mostly due to the tactics of large retailers who buy in plants, neglect them and then dispose of them cheaply. 

So far they are all thriving.  It may be cooler than they would expect in a house or greenhouse but it's also moist and shaded with free air circulation.  They'll have to come into the house in the Autumn as the nights get cooler but they'll have had their summer holiday out in the fresh air and should be a lot more capable of surviving over the winter as a result.  And, just as importantly, an eyesore has been transformed into a place to visit, not avoid.

There is still room for more plants.  The sheltered, shady back wall is prime real estate for something exotic that will enjoy those conditions.  Lapageria springs to mind - but plants are expensive.  I may have to bite the bullet on that one - or find an alternative.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Acca sellowiana

In 1996 I bought my current house and garden.  One of my first plant purchases was a small Acca sellowiana (an older name is Feijoa sellowiana) - the pineapple guava.  I'd like to say that this was a carefully considered purchase but the truth is that it was going cheap (£1) in an end of season garden centre sale.  I put it in a newly carved bed - the garden I  purchased was a mess that needed a lot of work over the next few years - and we promptly had the worst winter for a fair few years.  10 days sub zero temperatures in January 1997 completely defoliated the poor little thing.  I assumed I'd lost it but, by early summer, it had recovered.  It's come unscathed through every winter since, including the last two.  And, once again, July has come around and it's flowering.

Acca sellowiana flowers
I don't get a mass of flowers - it's out of it's comfort zone, after all - but the individual 4cm blooms are fascinating things.  Thick, fleshy petals and an explosion of white tipped red stamens.  The petals are edible but, to be honest, don't taste of much so, apart from an exploratory sampling when the plants first started flowering in about 2000, I've never harvested them for use in a salad.  I've also never seen fruit.  My specimen isn't a named variety and is probably self infertile.  In warmer climates - New Zealand is a good example - this Chilean native is a popular fruit.

What I like about it is it makes an attractive evergreen bush.  The leaves are small and oval, dark green above, coated with silver indumentum below to give a very attractive two toned effect.  Mine has grown steadily over the years and is now about 3metres tall. 

Acca sellowiana on my west boundary

Acca sellowiana foliage detail
Left to its own devices it would have been just as wide.  I've had to prune it quite severely to produce more of a tree like form.  I'll continue that pruning regime from now on to produce an attractive feature on my rear garden west border.  Over pruning isn't a problem - the shrub quickly regenerates and, if I had the room, could be trained as an effective hedge.  I was interested to see an edging of these at the Eden project when I was there a while ago.  Still young - but no doubt planted to produce a decorative hedge.  (If they weren't they were in the wrong place!)

It's also become entangled with my plant of Abutilon 'Patrick Synge'.  This insinuates it's thin, twiggy growths through the Acca to produce flowering stems like pins from the more rounded cushion of the host.  Now all I need is a good climber up there and the picture will be complete.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The return of three old friends

Nothing is more enjoyable in the garden than the return of borderline hardy plants that you suspected that the last, -8C, harsh winter had finished off.  Yes, I could easily replace them, but their triumph over adversity gives me a sense of achievement - and, possibly more importantly, saves me a pound or so.

First up is Freesia laxa:

Freesia laxa
Formerly known as Anomatheca laxa, this is a pretty little cormous plant from southern Africa.  With me it flowers in summer and spreads around mildly by seed.  Which means I have to watch out when weeding because any little fans of sword like leaves which spring up in the garden could be this, Chasmanthe, or the far weedier Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora.  It seems as happy growing in a well drained, slightly raised bed as it does in cracks in paving - as long as it can enjoy the sun.

Second is Tritelia laxa:

Tritelia laxa
A small, bulbous Californian native, this one seems happy enough in a shadier spot though it doesn't increase much and would probably relish a spot in better light.  I'm amazed that it's actually survived - the spot it's in has become progressively more shaded as the garden has matured - but it hangs in there and flowers reliably every year.  Bulbs are cheap and I keep saying I'll add some more elsewhere in the garden - but somehow I never get round to it.

Finally there is Convolvulus sabatius (often sold as Convolvulus mauritanicus):

Convolvulus sabatius
This dies down every year to a compact rootstock and then emerges to produce spreading stems in the summer that can cover a square metre or more and even climb into surrounding plants.  I planted this in full sun alongside a Yucca gloriosa 'Variegata' a few years back.  The yucca was small at that stage and the two co-existed quite happily.  The Yucca is now considerably larger and the convolvulus has to come out of the shade of the massive rosette before it can summon the energy to flower.  But once it does it will happily bloom all summer.

All three of these are not supposed to be hardy in the UK.  We had -8C last winter and the one before that.  They're tougher than you might think.