Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sometimes mistakes work

A few years back - I was younger then and more reckless - I planted a bleeding heart, Dicentra spectabili,s what I thought was a reasonable distance away from my young Mediterranean fan palm, Chaemerops humilis.  It turns out it wasn't quite far enough.  Both plants have expanded their girth.  Now the Dicentra emerges through the outer carpet of the palm fronds.  It's an odd combination but, somehow, it works.

Dicentra spectabilis growing through Chaemerops humilis
It's not a marriage that will last forever. of course.  Eventually the palm will produce enough trunk to lift its crown above the smaller perennial.  But, for a year or three to come I should be able to enjoy this accidental spring combination.

Often thought of as a bone hardy cottage garden perennial, the Dicentra fits in well in my more exotic garden theme, emerging early and flowering in mid to late spring before declining and retreating below ground soon after midsummer.  Just in time for slower developers to take over the space.  In my case this means Anemone japonica 'Honorine Jobert' and the half hardy (hardy with me but cheap to buy and replace every year if needed) acidanthera, Gladiolus callianthus. This year I've added my overwintered banana, Ensete ventricosum 'Maurellii' to the mix.  The effect should be interesting.

The Dicentra certainly adds a touch of brightness and distinction to the spring scene.  So much so that it always seems to feature in flower photos submitted to photography websites.  With this in mind here's the conventional shot that invariably gets submitted.

Dicentra spectabilis
Pretty as the species is I do have a soft spot for the white form, D.spectabilis 'Alba'.  It's not quite as vigorous but shares the same characteristics of liking good, humus rich soils and a position in dappled sunlight or light shade.

Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba'
I can't decide which is the prettier - so I grow both.  They'll remain in flower for a good six weeks, excellent value for the space they occupy.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Carpeting anemones

I have a fondness for Spring season plants that appear quickly, flower profusely midst attractive foliage and then, their duties done, disappear for the rest of the year.  The little UK native wood anemone is a typical example.  The native form of Anemone nemorosa has been popping up in local woods and some hedgerows for about three weeks now.  Another few weeks and it will have disappeared again.  Forming slowly spreading low carpets it is an ideal plant for positions in deciduous shade, relishing the spring sunshine followed by cool summer shadow.  I've had a small patch in my front garden ever since I first moved here.  It spreads slowly by means of underground rhizomes, so every year it's a little bigger and more floriferous.

Anemone nemorosa
Over the years a number of sports have shown up in wild populations, particularly in western parts of the UK and in Ireland.  I'm not a collector but I've found room for a few - well, they don't take up much space!

A number of white double forms are known but I particularly like 'Vestal' with its tight central boss and standard six outer petals.  Small but perfectly formed.

Anemone nemorosa 'Vestal'
Over the years varieties in shades of blue have been introduced to cultivation.  My original purchase of A.n.caerulea proved pretty enough but is quite a pale, milky blue.  A.n.'Robinsoniana' is a distinct improvement in intensity of colour.

Anemone nemorosa caerulea

Anemone nemorosa 'Robinsoniana'
Also available if you are prepared to search are forms with red tinged flowers and even a green form, 'Virescens'.  I grow neither of these but may, if I come across them one day, indulge myself.

The one colour that is missing is yellow.  For that you need the closely related North American species Anemone ranunculoides.  Just as easy as the UK native and with the same ferny foliage this one is spreading adjacent to my original patch of A.nemorosa in my front garden.  The two species do cross but I haven't noticed any hybrid seedlings cropping up.  Not that I'd know without detailed examination - the yellow colour seems to be dominant.

All of these are charming, ephemeral little woodland carpeters.  And at least I can grow them, unlike my adventures with snowdrops.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Friday playing hooky at Overbecks

Decided to treat myself to a day off in the working week (one of the benefits of self employment).  Took Maria to work, walked the dogs and then took myself off to Overbecks, a National Trust garden in Salcombe on the South Devon coast.

It's one of my favourite gardens.  Unlike many of the gardens here in South West England the soil isn't that acid so Rhododendrons are not the dominant feature at this time of year.  Instead, the original owner and subsequent National Trust gardeners have concentrated on an interesting mix of southern hemisphere plants and exotics such as palms and bananas.

As with any UK garden, even one in such a mild area (warmer than Plymouth, 25 miles up the coast), the garden is only just coming into growth.  The open ground bananas - mostly Musa basjoo though I've also seen Musa sikkimensis in the past - are still bare pseudostems, the tree ferns - relatively untouched after a reasonably mild winter - have only just started to produce the first of this years flush of fronds; and a lot of the tender perennials they specialise in are still, sensibly, to break from their winter dormancy.  Even so, it was enjoyable to dodge the spring showers and enjoy a sunny day in a garden I haven't visited for a couple of years.

Given the harsh winters we've had recently it was good to see that their large (for the UK) Phoenix canariensis is still going strong at the furthest reach of the garden.   

Phoenix canariensis at Overbecks

Trachycarpus fortunei are everywhere and a nice Butia capitata is increasing in size unchecked, as far as I can see, by recent winters.  Best of all, Juania australis, is thriving in one of the beds below the house.

Juania australis at Overbecks
This is an intriguing palm.  Almost extinct in its native home on the Juan Fernandez Islands off the coast of Chile it seems to have found another suitable home in the milder coastal areas of South and West England and Wales and in Southern Ireland.  Oddly, for a palm, it hates warm summers and high night temperatures.  -6C to 25C is the quoted range, preferably tempered by humidity from the sea.  Although the Juan Fernandez islands are 33 degrees South the cold Humboldt Current moderates their climate and this endemic palm has obviously adapted to the extent where it is well suited to our mild maritime climate.  Ridiculously rare and, consequently, expensive it's well beyond my pocket - but I can see this elegant feather palm slowly featuring in many more local gardens over the years to come.

I'm always interested in seeing what else of interest will thrive in the favoured microclimate of the terraced gardens of Overbecks.  They grow some Citrus in the ground though I noticed that these have been heavily damaged where they had no overhead protection.  More interesting from my point of view as possible contenders for growing in my warmest border were good plants of the pretty pea relative, Polygala dalmasiana, and Cestrum x newellii.  Both flower for long periods - year round if its warm enough - and are small enough to fit into the available space.  The Cestrum I should grow for sentimental reasons if nothing else.  In September 1973 I'd started a masters degree in Ecology at Bangor, North Wales.  One of the first practicals was a botanical key session - and this Cestrum was the first plant on the list to key out and identify.

Cestrum x newellii

Polygala dalmasiana
As with any garden visit I always come away with a few ideas.  In the case of Overbecks I come away with many.  The first, of course, is to win the lottery and have my own six acre garden.  The second is to add a plant of Astelia chathamica, preferably in the selected form 'Silver Spear'.  I've been meaning to add this for years.  I grow Astelia nervosa 'Westland' as an interesting container plant but the silvery leaves and shade tolerance of A.chathamica suggest some rather interesting possibilities.  No photo - because I forgot to take one thinking I already had stock photos on file - but here's 'Westland' in the garden last summer.

Astelia nervosa 'Westland'
The third is to renew my acquaintance with Beschorneria yuccoides.  I grew this as a container plant pre the severe winters of 2008-9, 2009-10 and 2010-11.  It didn't survive.  But, seeing the plants at Overbecks in full flower I couldn't resist buying the last one from their little plant stall.  £7 for a pretty substantial plant - and, the weather gods willing, it should turn out to this:

Beschorneria yuccoides
One is exciting - half a dozen scattered in the terraces below the house with flower stalks extending to 5ft / 150cm above the rather soft yucca like foliage is gardening on a more expanisve scale.  I'll have to be content with one in my more restricted space.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Maybe I shouldn't have put that there

Is it just me - or is it every gardener that makes the same mistake of inappropriate planting?

Gardening is a four dimensional art.  Other art forms merely have to worry about two or three dimensions.  We have to worry about four.  Length, breadth, height - and time.  Plants - assuming we're successful in our endeavours - have this nasty habit of growing.  Sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly.  But, unless our thumbs are brown rather than green, grow they do.  I've seen it described as slow sculpture.  Could there be a better description?

I've just spent an hour (I'm old, it takes time!) digging out an inappropriately sited golden variegated bamboo from its site on the south side of my little garden pond.  It was too big for the site.  Fifteen years ago, when I planted a small offset donated from my father's garden, it wasn't.  But, gradually, over the years, it's slowly increased in size and was now beginning to overshadow the pond with it's 6 ft / 180cm height and ever increasing girth.  I've known that I had a problem for a year or three - but have done nothing about it.  Today I bit the bullet and removed the beast.

Pleioblastus auricomus - moved, not discarded

Don't worry too much.  This is not a tale of devastation.  I've moved a small chunk to a new location in the garden and will distribute other bits to friends and family.  But it got me thinking about my other plantings that may not have taken full account of that fourth dimension of gardening.

For example, should I really have planted Yucca gloriosa 'Variegata' quite as close to my sitting area as I did?  It's beautiful and, as a younger plant, was well within bounds.  It then grew and now the sharp spines dig into anyone sitting too close. Unwelcome vistors are shown to that seat.

And maybe I shouldn't have placed Mahonia japonica quite that close to my front entrance path.  Yes, it's a little prickly, but surely the occasional visitor laceration is compensated for by the gorgeous winter scent.

I could go on with tales of a Dicksonia antarctica tree fern that I never expected to grow as fast and now needs to be moved 3 feet / 1 metre backwards to enable access to the greenhouse; the Canary Island date palm that was threatening to block my living room window before a severe winter interrupted (terminally) its growth; a Camellia 'St Ewe' and Acer 'Bloodgood' combination that I've had to butcher to get access to my front door.  There are many other examples.

Faced with bare earth it's far too easy to plant closely to fill the gaps.  The years slip by and suddenly that spindly little purchase that looked so lost when first added to the garden has achieved impressive maturity.  And it's in the wrong place.  Aargh, time to get out the spade.