Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cordyline recovery - and decline

Back in May 2011 I bemoaned the damage done to my well branched plant of Cordyline 'Coffee Cream' by the previous harsh winter.  Well, over the last twelve months it has recovered, helped by a relatively mild winter this year.  I lost three of ten stems - one from wind damage in last Autumn's gales - which has left the plant a little lopsided but the terminal rosettes have filled out and are starting to look good once again.  It's always satisfying when this happens - even if it's not as pristine as previously.  At least I didn't lose all the top growth - as occurred with many cordylines in other parts of the UK.  This is how it looked last year:

Cordyline 'Coffee Cream' in May 2011

And this is what it looks like today:

Cordyline 'Coffee Cream' in May 2012

A distinct improvement.

I wish the same could be said about the penny plain Cordyline australis in the front garden.  The old saying is be careful what you wish for.  For a couple of years now I've idly speculated about cutting it back to ground level to let the latent buds on the rhizome produce new shoots in order to, eventually, produce a multi stemmed plant.  There are many examples in the Plymouth area of winter frosted cordylines that have done exactly that - and very elegant they look.  I had one in my previous garden.  I've never done it, of course.  No point in giving up height that easily.  It's survived the recent bad winters quite happily and is now a two branched plant of about 12ft / 3.5metres height. 

I don't think it is going to branch any more.  I noticed a couple of months ago that the lower leaves were going brown at an increasing rate.  Since then its gone into rapid decline and there is now little green left.  All the symptoms of the Phytoplasma induced sudden cordyline decline which devastated plants in their New Zealand homeland in the 1990s and has since spread to the UK.  I'll give it another month but it looks pretty terminal.  So I may get my idle wish after all.

Swansong of a cordyline?

It's all part of gardening, of course.  Plants die; from old age, disease, winter cold, neglect or incorrect placing.  Providing the disease hasn't spread to the roots it should regenerate.  All I've lost is a little height and a few years growth.  But I'll miss it when its gone.  And I'll hope the bacterium doesn't spread to my 'Coffee Cream' or the baby 'Red Star' I've got in the rear garden.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The bells, the bells

Well, lanterns actually.  Although at the moment they are more like red-pink droplets hanging in clusters from twiggy branches. The Chilean lantern tree, Crinodendron hookerianum, is building up to its yearly show in the front garden.

Crinodendron hookerianum - unopened buds

Even before I moved to my current garden I'd admired this small tree.  When I moved here it wasn't easily available locally but I knew of a specimen in a local garden.  Shortly after it finished flowering - late June - I begged some semi-ripe cuttings from the owner and installed them in cutting compost covered with a plastic bag and left them to root in a cold frame.  By summer's end I had two rooted cuttings from the four I'd taken.  One I gave away, one has now grown in my front garden for the last fifteen years.  And produced an annual early summer display for the past twelve.

Crinodendron hookerianum -bud close up

In the wild this Chilean species grows in moist, acid soil in shady sites or areas of high humidity.  Because of its position in my own garden it gets considerable sun and has to compete with a number of other evergreens for moisture.  As a consequence it has produced a more open growth habit than it would show in more favourable conditions and is more sparsely leaved than would normally be the case.  All the better for showing off the abundantly produced flowers.

They formed the previous autumn but only start expanding in late spring, colouring up nicely to the carmine pink shade of the mature flowers in the weeks before they open.  It's not a significant difference.  The petals open at the tip to admit pollinators inside  but its not a great expansion, the overall lantern shape remaining the same.

Last year it flowered twice - in May/June and again in September - a response to the poor summer.  The plant hasn't been disturbed.  This year's flowering has been unaffected.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day May 2012

It's been a little while since I participated in the Garden Blogger's Blooms Day hosted at the May Dreams Garden blog.  Overwork and winter is my excuse.  But, if I can keep up my own blogging I should be able to contribute to this world wide record of what's in flower on the fifteenth of each month.  So, here's a sample of what's in flower in my Plymouth UK garden today.
Meconopsis cambrica

The chocolate scented climber Akebia quinata

Aquilegia vulgaris - just the wild strain

Begonia x 'Lucerna' in the shade house

One of my growing collection of epimediums.  Tiny flowered Epimedium x cantabrigiense

The small leaved - and very fragrant - lilac, Syringa microphylla 'Superba'

Rhododendron 'Willbrit'

Rhaphiolepis umbellatus

Pieris 'Flaming Silver' - this one rarely flowers with me.

Fuchsia magellanica 'Alba'

Shrubby, perennial, variegated wallflower, Cheiranthus 'Walburton's Fragrant Star'
Libertia formosa

Common primrose, Primula vulgaris.  Seeds in the front garden in shades of yellow, pinky red and white.

Spanish bluebell, Endymion hispanicus
The problem is that none of these, with the exception of my last remaining rhododendron 'Wilbrit', offer the bright colour that the increasing warmth of late spring (well, maybe not this spring) demands as I spend more leisure time in the garden.  The previous two months, with camellias and magnolia, daffodils, tulips and other spring bulbs on display, were actually far more colourful.  I've got every shade of green, some coloured foliage, but not that many flowers.  I have an early May gap - but lots of ideas to fill it without detracting from the more exotic display through summer and into autumn.  Clematis, Camassia and dutch iris for example.

Having said that, does this one count?

The photo was taken last year.  This year the Dicentra is nearly finished and Geranium endressii (peeping in from the right) is only just at bud stage.  But Polar Bear, our female long haired Jack Russell, is still in full bloom.

Monday, May 14, 2012

I find it hard to resist a bargain

Which is why, whenever I visit a garden centre, my wandering feet always take me to the sales / salvage / rescue me (take your pick) section to search amongst the unloved - and often unlovely - plants that are deemed no longer fit for display.  The chance to buy something I actually want for the garden at a far more affordable price is the motivation - though the challenge of bringing them back to health is very satisfying.  The risk that they've gone too far to be resuscitated is always present but I've killed enough full price plants to be past worrying about that.

This time two just past their sell by date Christmas cacti, Schlumbergera x buckleyi, found their way into the basket.  For the princely sum of £2.54 I now have a red and pink flowered example of this lovely epiphytic cactus.  Here they are:

Why are they in flower in May rather than November - December?  Because the growers have artificially manipulated the daylength to less than 11 hours to induce bud formation for sale outside the normal winter flowering season.  It's a common tactic - one reason why you can buy spring flowering poinsettia for Christmas and pot chrysanthemums all year round rather than just in their autumn season.

I've popped them into a single hanging basket in my little shade house.  In the moist but well drained compost they need they should grow quite happily in the dappled light, adding more of the flat stem segments and, come the cooler nights and shorter days of autumn, develop new buds ready for indoor flowering during the dark days of the end of the year.

I last grew them 30+ years ago, when gardening was confined to the inside of a series of rented flats.  My last ones ended up at one of the schools I taught in.  We were moving yet again and didn't have the room.  For some reason I never grew them again, despite their ease of cultivation.  Time to remedy that.  And, I find it hard to resist a bargain.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The fat culms of May

It's that time of year when bamboos are starting to push out the current year's growth.  The first sign is the emergence of fat culms from the rhizomatous root mass.  This was Chusquea coleou this morning.

New culms of Chusquea coleou
They are just over an inch / 2.5cm thick at the base, the thickness they will retain as the canes rapidly grow to about 10-12ft / 3-4metres tall over the next few months.  Of course, by bamboo standards this is nothing exceptional.  Even in the UK some of the stronger growing species can reach heights of 30-40ft / 9-12metres inside a single growing season, fuelled by the nutrients packed in their root systems from the previous years growth.

I like Chusquea coleou.  It retains its tightly clumping habit into maturity.  Mine has been in the ground since 2006 and occupies a footprint of about 6 x 6ft / 180 x 180cm.  I thin a few of the older canes every year but, other than the normal garden feed in spring, gets no particular attention.  The result is this:

Chusquea coleou
It's not the only bamboo I grow.  Phyllostachys nigra, the black stemmed bamboo, grows against my east facing garden wall.  This has also remained fairly compact but needs more attention.  The black canes cry out for the lower shoots to be removed to enhance the display.  In late autumn, as part of my garden tidy up, I spend time trimming the side shoots on new canes.  I aim to leave a clear stem of about 5ft / 150cm.  At this stage the new canes are green.  They will darken over the next year or so to the ebony darkness that adds so much to the attractiveness of this popular bamboo.

Phyllostachys nigra
This treatment is not a necessity with Pleioblastus auricomus.  A yearly winter haircut to remove the previous years stems is all that is required for this dwarf bamboo.  I've recently moved and divided mine and the small section I've retained is recovering nicely to provide upright yellow contrast in the garden.  It will make about 5 - 6ft / 150 - 180cm once it's re-established but, on the evidence of the past fifteen years, stay tightly clumping to create an attractive garden feature.

Young growth on Pleioblastus auricomus
I wish I could say the same about another bamboo I grow.  x Hibanobambusa tranquillans 'Shiroshima' (try saying that after you've had a drink!) is a variegated form of a natural hybrid between a Sasa and Phyllostachys.  It is reliable in retaining bright variegation throughout the year, producing 8ft / 240cm canes with me, but what it isn't is a nice tight clumper.  It's often described in these terms but believe me it's not.  OK, it's not as invasive as the Sasa parent but it happily runs around in my top border in the front garden.  There are a lot of big plants in there to keep it under control so its not a real problem - but canes pop up in random locations along 10ft / 3metres of the border.  Mind you, it is pretty.

x Hibanobambusa tranquillans 'Shiroshima'
One bamboo I regret losing was Fargesia nitida 'Nyphenburg'.  It formed a graceful feature in the garden for a good few years.  Then, in 2008, I noticed it was flowering.  Bamboos do - they are only big grasses after all - but they do it irregularly and in synchrony with all other members of the same species.  After flowering death usually follows - and this was certainly the case with mine.  It lingered till 2010 but it is most definitely an ex bamboo by now.  I've cut down but have still to remove the remains - a project I'm putting off till I refurbish that area of the front garden - so the stumps sit in mute reminder of what once was.

Fargesia nitida 'Nymphenburg'
I'll replace it in due course but, in the meantime, I've just added another bamboo to my small collection.  Phyllostachys aurea 'Aureosulcata', a golden caned bamboo, destined for a spot behind the tree fern in the 'pool' garden to provide some much needed shade.  It's only a baby - the budget won't stretch to large plants - but should fill in over the next two or three years to provide elegant height at the end of the rear garden.  I've heard reasonable reports of its generally non running nature but, just in case, it will be confined in a block edged space to prevent any wayward rhizomes escaping into the rest of the garden.

For elegant height in even small gardens there are few plants as suitable as bamboos.  Some can be as wildly invasive as Attila the Hun but there are many that are restrained in habit or relatively easily controlled.  Many more than I have the room for, unfortunately.  But I'm happy with what I've got.  Although I can get an offshoot of the very jungle like Sasa palmata 'Nebulosa' from a plot holder on my allotment.  And I'm sure it would be fine in a large container in my little front courtyard.  Wouldn't it?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Early May garden views

The garden is now beginning to wake from its winter dormancy - though there is still lots of bare earth.  Since this time last year I've put in a lot of work on refurbishing and replanting after the previous harsh winters.  There is still a long way to go; desirable plants often don't grow as rapidly as we might wish and I don't have the budget to buy large specimens.  No matter.  Here's some views of the rear garden as it looks today.  Bear in mind it's only about 30 x 55ft / 9 x 16metres.  If it looks far bigger blame the photographer and his use of an ultrawide 12-24mm Tokina lens on a Canon 400D.  As always, click the pictures to embiggen.

Looking across from the sitting area

View across the gravel circle from the little shade house

The path down to the little pool garden by the shade house

Steps down to the pool garden

The small pool garden.  Tree fern on right just on point of producing this year's fronds.  Still a lot of replanting needed for this area.

Looking back towards the little shade house
And yes, that is a gnome sitting on the pool surround.  My younger granddaughter has a lot to answer for!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My little shade house revisited

In July last year I wrote about the small, disused aviary that I'd converted into a little tropical shade house for the summer months.  (You'll find the account here.)  It was pretty successful.  The plants seemed to enjoy the conditions and mostly looked in good shape when I brought them inside at the end of October.

Once inside some went on window ledges but most of them sat under one of my continuous photo lights, a 50watt daylight balanced fluorescent, to wait out the winter in a north facing room. There's enough additional light to prevent leggy growth so they've finished the winter and come into the spring in reasonable shape.

April has been awful.  Cold days, wind and rain - and even colder nights.  I despaired of getting them into their summer quarters.  But, finally, with the advent of May the nights have warmed up sufficiently to put them outside again.

I've added a bit more standing room by displacing the wormery in favour of an old table so I've room for even more plants.  All need feeding, some need potting on - but I'm looking forward to seeing them grow through the summer months.

Here's what it now looks like:

Current inhabitants include Begonias 'Lucerne', 'Benichoma' and 'Red Robin', an Aphelandra squarrosa I rescued from a local garden centre for the princely sum of £0.99, Stromanthe sanguinea, a Dieffenbachia, Areca lutescens, Calathea zebrina, Tradescantia zebrina and some Streptocarpus.  The bromeliad Aechmea 'Blue Rain' and the spider plant will go out in the garden once they've acclimatised to the great outdoors.  A pair of bromeliads and a maidenhair fern are in an outside basket hanging from the end of the roof rafters and I've managed to fit my little Tillandsia cyanea into a convenient hole in the vertical ornamental cherry that partially shades the house.  If you are wondering what the leaves to the left and right are its Camellia sasanqua on the left and Hostas 'Frances Williams' and 'Big Daddy' in the bottom right - pot grown to avoid my slugs.

With the structure already in place its cost me nothing to recycle the old table and the bench from my destroyed greenhouse (replacement, hopefully, later this year) but it's certainly provided a very interesting little garden feature.  I've even got space under the table to store some pots of summer bulbs until their foliage breaks surface.