Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hedychium densiflorum 'Stephen'

I have a liking for ginger lilies, Hedychium species and varieties, though the size of a well grown clump compared to the space I have available precludes me from growing more than a few.  In UK conditions many are perfectly hardy, either dying down naturally or being cut down by frost to tough, winter hardy rhizomes which are often late to emerge the following spring but make up for it with swift growth of tall stems clothed with long, strap like leaves.  What they are not so good at is reliable flowering in our cool summer conditions.  But there are some exceptions.

In my small collection the earliest to flower is always Hedychium densiflorum 'Stephen'.  Naturally deciduous, hardy - though it did suffer in the recent harsh winters but has bounced back strongly - tall - to 5ft / 150cm or more - and with broad, exotic leaves well spaced up the pseudostem, it fits in well with my tropical style of gardening.

Collected by Tony Schilling in Nepal, 'Stephen' (and the similar 'Sorung' from a later collection) are atypical of the species and its other varieties in that both the terminal flower head and the whole plant are far larger.  Compare these two photos:

Hedychium densiflorum 'Assam Orange'
Hedychium densiflorum 'Stephen'

The flower heads of H.densiflorum 'Assam Orange' are thinner and little more than half the height of the 10in / 25cm heads of 'Stephen'.  In a garden setting, although the colouring of H.densiflorum is attractive, it's a far less desirable plant (unless you are a collector rather than a selector).  With limited space, I made my choice and 'Stephen' has fulfilled the mandate for a tall, tropical looking perennial with exotic flowers.

Here it is in my own garden.  I don't have room for a massive clump so I periodically have to split the rhizomes to keep it in bounds.  Nonetheless, the effect is what I wanted - even if there is nothing visible until late May.

Hedychium 'Stephen' in the garden

Hedychium 'Stephen' in the garden

There is, of course, a fly in the ointment.  Individual flowers are ephemeral, lasting a couple of days at most.  They have a sweet scent, particularly in the evening, that readily attracts pollinators and so they soon pass over.  The head opens flowers progressively from the base to the tip but the whole thing is fleeting.  Five or six days from first opening to final decay is typical.  There is a small variation in the time that the heads develop but don't expect the entire flowering to last longer than a fortnight.  But it's worth it - and if the autumn is warm enough I often get one or two new flowering stems before winter interrupts and the plants cycle down for their dormant season.  I even get the odd scarlet seed - though not recently, so no photos I'm afraid.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A little black magic

Little being the operative word.

I've grown the fabulously exotic Colocasia 'Black Magic' for a number of years now and it's normally one of the highlights of the late summer / early autumn garden.  By late August I expect to see my overwintered corms reaching about 30in / 75cm tall, potted into a large container, with foot long (30cm) leaves that emerge green and deepen to pure black within a couple of days and dangle from surprisingly stiff black stems, the whole producing a very effective, tropical looking foliage display.  Here's two views of the containers last August (posed in front of my Chaemerops humilis).  August the 17th to be precise.
Colocasia 'Black Magic'

Colocasia 'Black Magic'
Not this year.  'Black Magic' is a notoriously difficult colocasia to overwinter in cooler climates unless you have a well heated greenhouse or conservatory and can keep it actively growing all winter.  Unlike colocasias derived from the edible forms of Colocasia esculenta it is not adapted to dry storage.  I don't have heated glass so it has to take its chances in the house.  I withhold water to let it dry out a little and then keep it cool to trigger semi dormancy in the fleshy corms.  They don't appreciate going completely dormant or being too wet during the cool winter rest.  Grown too warm in the drier atmosphere of a house and the leaves can also far too easily get red spider mite infestations.  Getting the balance right is difficult but I manage it most years.  Even so, as a precaution I detach some of the small offsets and grow them on in warmer conditions in a well lit propagator. 

Last winter was one of my failing years for the main corms.  Conditions were a little too wet for them and they rotted.  No matter, I had a number of small offsets which, in a normal summer, would easily grow to a good size by August.

In a normal year, that is.

This summer has been anything but normal.  We've had a few warm days but not enough to trigger the explosive growth that abundant light, warmth, water and feeding can induce.  This is as far as they've got this year.

Colocasia 'Black Magic'
Barely a foot / 30cm high, small leaves and still in a 5in / 12cm pot rather than the 12in / 30cm containers they'd normally have been in by this time.  Not exactly the sub tropical feature that I look forward to every year.  In fact they'll probably be small enough to go back in the same propagator they came out of back in late March.

As always click on any of the pictures to enlarge.  In the last shot - taken today - you can see some little streaks in the top of the photo.  Yes, it's raining again.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day August 2012

In a small garden it's impossible to grow the diversity of flowering plants that I would if I had more room.  So for the August 2012 Garden Bloggers Blooms Day, kindly hosted by May Dreams Gardens, there are bound to be plants I've illustrated before.  No matter, here's a good sample of what's in flower at the moment.

I'll start with two Agapanthus.  These are both deciduous hybrids, hardy plants - unlike their evergreen cousins - but still desirable.  The paler blue, 'Bressingham Blue', I've had for years, while the more impressive darker blue 'Northern Star' is a more recent acquisition.  No Agapanthus is a particularly fast spreader but this one looks quite vigorous and I look forward to seeing a good clump of this developing in years to come.  I'm revamping the border where it sits this autumn and I think I'll underplant it with some of the bulbs of Allium 'Globemaster' that I've been growing on the allotment for cut flowers.

Agapanthus 'Bressingham Blue'

Agapanthus 'Northern Star'
With my slug and snail population ever eager to munch their way through anything soft and fleshy I have difficulty with Dahlias but 'Procyon' has run the gauntlet and is now producing quite a good display.  I do like the colour combination - and it survives my winters in situ.

Dahlia 'Procyon'
Behind it in the border is Fuchsia 'Mrs Popple'.  I've written about this one in a previous post but it's now in full flower and dripping with it's relatively large scarlet and orange flowers.

Fuchsia 'Mrs Popple'
In the little pool garden Hedychium 'Stephen' is just beginning to open the lowest few flowers on the first of the eight spikes produced by the clump this year.  The copious rain this year (including today!) has helped to bring these to flowering a week or so earlier than normal.  They'll be in full bloom in  a week or so but this gives me the opportunity to show the delicate beauty of the individual flowers, rather than the massed assemblage of the flower spike.  They won't last long - the end of August will see them over - but they are so attractive in both foliage and flower that I'd always make space for them wherever I gardened.  Now, if only my other four hedychiums will be as obliging...
Hedychium 'Stephen' - individual flowers
Up the cherry tree Passiflora caerulea is busily wending its annual way.  It was late in flower this year, a direct result of our cold summer, but at least it survived and is now showing flowers both close to the ground and 15ft / 5 metres up in the branches of the tree.  It's very attractive to bumble bees as well.
Passiflora caerulea
I grow four hydrangeas in the garden but the star of the show at the moment is Hydrangea aspera var sargentiana.  Big, dark green, velvety leaves are a perfect complement to the heads of purple florets, each surrounded by a pure white set of sterile florets designed to attract insects.  It's a fabulous plant, though it does have two problems.  Firstly, the flower heads go over quite quickly and loose their attraction.  Secondly, it can make quite a tall, gawky shrub - with too many of the flower heads in the upper canopy.  For the shot below I mounted the camera and wide angle lens on my monopod and shot downwards from the 10ft / 3 metre level.  Fine for a photo, not so fine for normal viewing.  I feel a heavy pruning coming on.

Hydrangea aspera var sargentiana 
Just to the south of the Hydrangea, in the little pond that gives title to the garden area I call the pool garden, Nymphea 'Escarboule' lays its flat carpets of circular lily pads and pops up the occassional flower.  I love the intricacy of water lilies - even if it is too big for the confines of its home.

Nymphea 'Escarboule'

I added a shot of Abutilon 'Patrick Synge' last month but since then I've added a few more shots to my collection and the one below is one of my favourites.  It really shows the dangling bells of this lax shrub.

Abutilon 'Patrick Synge'
In a shadier part of the garden Acanthus mollis has flowered.  It doesn't do it every year - too shady - but I grow it for the foliage rather than the flowers.  Even so I'm not averse to enjoying the tall spikes and their rather spiny white flowers when they do develop.

Acanthus mollis
Not far away from this is Roscoea x beesiana, a little white flowered ginger which produces successive orchid like flowers over a six week period.  Relatively new to the garden, it will take a while to produce a clump as large as the R.purpurea in the front garden, but it's a welcome addition to a shady corner nonetheless.

Roscoea x beesiana
I've had to rescue Beesia calthifolia from the open ground.  My gastropods were destroying it at an unsustainable rate so pot growing was the only option.  A shame.  It's a pretty little woodlander, with nicely mottled, glossy leaves.  But at least it's given me a better chance to appreciate the tiny white flowers that are carried all summer long.

Beesia calthifolia
In the front garden Phygelius 'Yellow Trumpet' is producing its second flush of the year.  I have to be careful with this one.  Unlike other Phygelius, 'Yellow Trumpet' is a much larger, stronger shrub and is inclined to sucker.  Not uncontrollably - but it does need watching.  I usually get three good flushes - in late May / early June; August and early October, with intermittent flowering in between to provide interest throughout the warmer months.

Phygelius 'Yellow Trumpet'
I bought Epimedium franchettii 'Brimstone Butterfly' last year as part of my restocking programme after previous winter losses.  For last September's Blooms Day I illustrated it with the shot below and commented that this was the first epimedium I'd grown that flowered in summer as well as spring.  I put it down to settling in to the  garden during its first year.  Well, it's repeated the habit and has continued to produce flower stems through the summer.

Epimedium franchettii 'Brimstone Butterfly'
Though not, alas, against the colourful background of its spring foliage.  The red hues don't persist.

Epimedium franchettii 'Brimstone Butterfly' - spring foliage and flowers
There are quite a lot of other plants in bloom at the moment but most I either illustrated last month or will still be in flower in September so I'll leave them till then.  In the meantime I hope you've enjoyed browsing through what's flowering on a cold, windy and wet August 15th here in Plymouth.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Some garden views

It's been a couple of weeks since I last posted so I thought I'd break the drought by posting some general garden shots to show how things are developing at the end of July / beginning of August.  We've had some sun, a lot of rain and a fair bit of wind so things are looking both lush and battered.

I'm starting with a couple of shots taken from my upstairs windows.  It gives a good impression of the section of the rear garden closest to the house and puts some of my other posts in context.  As always, click to embiggen.

Rear garden from the west bedroom window

Rear garden from the east bedroom window
The red flower is Crocosmia 'Lucifer' - I still have far too much for the balance of the garden.  Soon to be remedied.

Coming back to ground level, the next set are of plantings around the central gravel circle.

Not quite a panoramic view but it will give a feeling for the plantings in here.  I've plans for a few changes for next year though the structural plants will remain.

Hidden behind the Cordyline / bamboo screen is my little pool garden.  This has really come on since I refurbished it last year. 

Pool garden being worked on June 2011
Pool garden at the beginning of August 2012
14 months can make quite a difference in gardening terms - even when most of the larger plants were present beforehand.

Just for fun I thought I'd try my hand at a more aerial shot.  No convenient upper story windows here so the shot was taken by attaching the camera and wide angle lens to a monopod, hoisting this as far up as I could (about 10ft/ 3metres) and triggering the shots using a wired remote.  Not the easiest thing in the world - so I won't show all the failures.  But it's an interesting technique and allows me to show the crown of my Dicksonia antarctica tree fern in front of Camellia 'Cornish Snow'.  The large leaved plant on the left is Hedychium 'Stephen'.  This should be in flower in the next couple of weeks.

Overhead shot of pool garden
The pathway between the top part of the rear garden and the pool garden hasn't quite gelled yet.  I need to do some replanting in there - but at least the little shade house is looking colourful at this time of year.  I seem to be building a collection of begonias - no bad thing, they do like the mild, humid conditions in there.

The little shade house - looking quite colourful in early August
Unfortunately my 'red' border isn't living up to my hopes.  It doesn't help that it's in shade till mid afternoon but the weather has been unkind to the rose 'Summer Song' that should be forming a centrepiece.  No matter, there is always next year.

The 'red' border
It's only a small space - 55 x 30ft / 17 x 10 metres - but there's a fair bit of interest in there.  Mind you, there are some gaps.  Must be time to do some more plant hunting.