Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Autumn blues

We've had a spell of unseasonably warm weather just recently.  Not hot - this is South West England in mid October - and not too sunny but very mild and very pleasant.  With cloud cover has also come relatively warm nights.  The result has been a final flowering of a number of my more tender plants.  Amongst them being a small collection of blue flowered (often tinged with red and purple) specimens.  Collectively they are adding a lot to the Autumn scene.

Blue isn't that common a colour in cool climate plants so I'm glad to have a number that not only survive but thrive in the garden.  Mind you, I could do with a few more - but more of that later.

One to really benefit has been my plant of Ipomea indica.  After breaking ground in May it grew steadily to cover part of my south facing wall before beginning to flower in early September.  Normally, cooler nights at this time of year restrict flowering to the production of no more than one bloom at a time at three to five day intervals from each of the spiky clusters that develop in the upper leaf axils.  Maybe 6 to 8 at a time on the whole plant.  With the warmer nights I'm getting two and three blooms at a time from each cluster, giving far more concentrated colour.  It's not a big plant (compared to the size it can reach in warmer climates) but I counted nearly thirty blue trumpets this morning.  Glorious.  And very encouraging for a plant that all the authorities insist isn't hardy in the UK except in the very mildest of spots.  My garden isn't that mild!

Ipomea indica - mid October flowers
Ipomea indica - another cluster of mid October flowers
Meanwhile, down on the ground underneath the bare stem my nicely maturing plant of Yucca gloriosa 'Variegata', the carpeting Convolvulus mauritanicus now covers about 10ft sq / 1 metre sq and continues to produce good quantities of similar but smaller blue trumpets.  Unlike the Ipomea these last longer than a single day but fold up by late afternoon to re-open the next morning.  It's a pretty little thing and, although I've seen plenty of doubts about hardiness, has survived the last ten winters with me.  It dies down to a small rootstock in winter - just like it's larger cousin - but soon spreads outwards with the warmer weather of later spring.  Once it starts flowering, usually in June with me, it's continuously in bloom.  The warmer the weather, the more flowers - so this display so late in the growing season is a welcome sight.

Convolvulus mauritanicus
Similarly long flowering is Ceratostigma willmottianum.  This wiry stemmed little shrub is adapted to drier summers than we usually experience in Plymouth and this year's display hasn't been that brilliant.  As soon as individual flowers begin the emerge from the spiky terminal ball at the end of every shoot they've been rained on - and it's not something they appreciate.  But, finally, a few days of settled weather has allowed full blown clusters of small blue flowers to adorn the whole bush and it's looking wonderful

Ceratostigma willmottianum
In colder areas it will function as returning perennial, regrowing from the roots after losing the top growth to frost.  With me it usually retains a woody framework.  I prune this in spring to remove damaged stems and let the plant romp away to its current 3-4ft / 90-120cm height.  Although it seems more than happy on my acid, rather stony soil, the one thing I don't get is the red autumn colour so often described as accompanying the flowers at this time of year.  A few red leaves, but nothing significant.

Tibouchina organensis

I mentioned Tibouchina organensis in the last post.  The flowers are more purple than blue but I think it still qualifies for this piece.  Flowering is now building up nicely and hopefully will continue until icy weather forces me to bring it under cover.  I've got a nice spot in the kitchen picked out - though Maria might have other ideas.

I've had the chance to visit a few gardens recently and two other autumn flowering blues have caught my eye.  Oddly enough, I've grown them both in previous gardens but not in my current one.  The first is Gentiana asclepiadia, the willow gentian.

Gentiana asclepiadea
Gentiana asclepiadea
This is a shade tolerant, tough and pretty reliable perennial that makes about 2-3ft / 60-90cm of annual growth and finishes with an autumn display of true gentian blue flowers.  I'm clearing an area in my front garden and the open shade and moist soil will suit it perfectly.  Number 1 on the 'to be ordered' list.  (There's a white form but it doesn't have the same impact.)

Number 2 on the list is Aster x frikartii 'Monch'.  Unlike other autumn asters of the novi-belgii  and novae-angliae this one is a true blue, disease resistant, and can flower from August onwards well into late Autumn on a neat, well branched plant that rarely needs any support.  I was very pleasantly reminded of it's potential when I visited Bodnant garden during a recent visit to North Wales.  No wonder that great gardener and gardening writer Graham Stuart Thomas rated it amongst his top 6 perennials.  I reckon I can provide the well nourished soil and sunny space this one needs to thrive if I just clear a little bit of the rather rampant Iris sibirica in the top border in the front garden.

Aster x frikartii 'Monch'
Mind you, with all of these it's so dependent on the weather for a good display.  And it looks like we may be getting the first cold spell coming in for the weekend.  Time to start moving my seriously tender plants from the little shade house to the warmth and shelter of indoors.  But that's for another blog post.

Update 24/10/2012:  I've just realised that I've used the old, no longer valid name Convolvulus mauritanicus rather than the correct C.sabatius.  It is the same plant.  Honest.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day October 2012

Having missed the September 2012 Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day by going on holiday I'd better make up for it by illustrating a lot of plants that are in flower in October 2012 in my small Plymouth garden.

October is very rarely cold enough for frost down here in South West England but the nights are starting to get a little chilly as the days grow shorter.  But, we've had some sun, and quite a few things are in flower - even if they are not as productive as in high summer.  Some are just finishing their season, some just starting - but many have flowered all summer and will continue until the frosts begin to bite.  This then is this month's selection.  As always, click the pictures to embiggen.

The hardy begonia, Begonia grandis evansiana, is brightening all corners of the garden in a final swansong before the chill of winter.  By next month it will have vanished, leaving behind only the overwintering tubers and the small bulblets that form in the leaf axils at this time of year.  I've illustrated the slightly less vigorous white form below.  It's certainly one of my favourites, hardy enough to survive -9C unprotected, with excellent foliage and a neat habit topped by the crystalline purity of the small white flowers.
Begonia grandis evansiana 'Alba'
Two autumn flowering bulbs are also producing a small but attractive display at the moment.  Crocus speciosus 'Conqueror' was an addition to a small, narrow border that also houses a group of summer flowering Freesia laxa and spring flowering species crocus to try and provide a miniature display for as much of the year as possible.  In retrospect I might have been better growing this autumn crocus through a low ground cover as the thin stems are susceptible to damage and the flowers easily dashed to the ground.  No matter, a single bulb produces a multitude of flowers and the display has been very attractive despite wind and rain.

Crocus speciosus 'Conqueror'
Cyclamen hederifolium I've had in the garden from the start.  I brought some tubers from my previous garden and, after a year to get established, have flowered every year since.  The small flowers are a feature now, the attractively marked leaves will feature through the colder months.

Cyclamen hederifolium
One of the stars of the autumn display is Tibouchina organensis.  It's not fully hardy, so I grow it as a pot plant that can be given protection in the worst of the winter.  Outdoors, it flowers with increasing freedom from late September to the onset of hard weather, opening nearly 3in / 7cm wide purple flowers from velvety red buds in a regular stream.  In a heated greenhouse or a warmer climate it will flower freely all winter but I don't have either of those luxuries - though it does quite well indoors on the kitchen window ledge during the harsher times.  Lovely all year round are the velvety leaves, hairy green with a red rim that expands to cover the whole leaf when they die off.  T.urvilleana is very similar but a bit more straggly in growth and less free flowering
Tibouchina organensis
The comparative warmth of my south facing house wall allows me to grow the tender Ipomea indica as a returning perennial.  It usually begins flowering late August but this year has been so cold, wet and miserable that flowering was delayed till late September.  Cooler nights and days mean that individual flowers last 2-3 days rather than dropping by mid afternoon, are smaller and not quite so electric blue-purple in tone as they would be in warmer conditions.  For all that they are very welcome. 

Ipomea indica
A little further along the wall Thunbergia 'Sunshine Susie Red and Orange' is continuing to produce bright flowers.  I'm hoping to keep this one by cutting down the top growth and overwintering the plant in the protection of my shed.  With luck it'll return next year.

Thunbergia 'Sunshine Susie Red and Orange'
At the other end of the wall Abutilon 'Waltz' is still establishing.  It will take a year or three to produce a framework dense enough to flower almost continuously but even at this early stage the odd flower is being produced.  Just enough to whet the appetite for future years.

Abutilon 'Waltz'
In the shelter of my little shade house Streptocarpus 'Harlequin' is producing a bright display.  It does seem to like the cool, shaded but sheltered conditions in there and certainly adds some colour to the predominant foliage display.  It will soon be time to bring it into it's winter quarters.

Streptocarpus 'Harlequin'
Out in the open garden I've been very impressed with my plant of Impatiens auricoma x bicaudata.  It's taken everything the weather can throw at it and grown to produce a bushy plant about 3ft / 90cm tall and wide, with each stem topped by a continuously produced succession of bright red-orange, hooded, almost orchid like flowers.  Very distinctive, very attractive, and, if I can get it through the winter by lifting it and growing it indoors, guaranteed a place in the garden next year.

Impatiens auricoma x bicaudata
Whether it will flower for quite as long as a perennial wallflower I grow is a moot point.  Cheiranthus 'Walburton's Fragrant Star' has been continuously in flower since April and could quite easily continue till next April if we have a mild winter.  These perennial wallflowers are odd plants.  I've grown 'Bowles Mauve' in the past and one bush flowered continuously for nearly three years before expiring of old age at the end of the 90s.  They manage the continuous flowering by being sterile.  New flower heads are formed in spring and then lengthen as an unending stream of new flowers is formed at the tip.  By this time of year they look rather straggly but are still bravely producing insect attracting flowers.  'Fragrant Star' has the advantage of also having neatly variegated foliage so I'll have something to look at when I cut of the flower stems in a month or so.

Cheiranthus 'Walburton's Fragrant Star'
Equally long flowering is the welsh poppy, Meconopsis cambrica, which starts in spring and, by virtue of seeding around, can often be producing flowers well into the autumn.  I couldn't resist taking this shot of a rain drenched flower when I was out at the weekend.

Meconopsis cambrica
Fuchsias can flower over a very long period but one that definitely comes into its own at this time of year if 'Karl Hartweg', a variety of the tender Fuchsia splendens.  I say tender, allegedly it can only take the very lightest of frost, but mine has returned from the roots every year for the last ten or so despite temperatures that have gone to -9C and remained below zero for two or three weeks.  It can flower earlier in the year but autumn is definitely its best season with me.

Fuchsia splendens 'Karl Hartweg'
Other plants continue to throw out some blossoms.  I haven't time to illustrate them all but looking around the garden the Schizostylis I illustrated earlier this month are going well, Salvia 'Hot Lips' continues to produce flowers, Geranium 'Salome' is weaving its way through the Pieris in the front garden and Abutilon 'Patrick Synge' continues to flower, though not with the freedom it showed earlier in the year. 

My hardy passion flower, Passiflora caerulea, will continue to flower till hard frosts kill the softer growth so I can expect flowers from now till Christmas.  Rather than illustrate it with yet another shot of an individual flower (I've got dozens!) I've selected two rather different shots.  In the first one I did a still life composition of flowers and fruit of the species and the white cultivar 'Constance Elliott' that I took a few years ago when I had both in the garden.  Alas 'Constance Elliott' is not as hardy as the species and died in the recent bad winters.  And yes, the fleshy part of the fruit is edible - but not that tasty. In the second shot - well, if you've ever wondered what pollinates passion flowers, here's one answer.

Passiflora caeulea and P.c.'Constance Elliott' flowers and fruit
Bumble bee pollinating Passiflora caerulea

Finally, the last flowers are brightening my free flowering Japanese anemone, Anemone japonica 'Honorine Jobert'.  Single, pure white with a yellow centre, this perennial flowers for two months.  Another week or so and it will be over till next year.  So I'll leave you with this reminder of what has been.

Anemone japonica 'Honorine Jobert'
As always, my thanks to May Dreams Gardens for hosting the Garden Bloggers Blooms Day meme.  Head over there to see what's flowering in many more gardens round the world.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Just hanging around - the variegated spider plant

Chlorophytum comosum 'Vittatum'
I suspect that virtually everyone who has ever grown houseplants has grown Chlorophytum comosum 'Vittatum', the variegated spider plant.  It's so easy to grow and propagate indoors that it's become the ultimate pass along plant.  Simply detach one of the freely produced offsets - they come ready rooted - pop it in some compost and you have a new plant.  No wonder that every school or village fete has an abundance of these for sale.  As a biology teacher I used to propagate them by the dozen for the summer fair - and they all sold.  Not surprising, given their well deserved reputation for toughness.  Even the brownest thumbed gardeners find them difficult to kill.  Under and over watering, lack of light, dry air; they somehow struggle on, only to revive rapidly if good times come again.

They're almost hardy, quite capable of taking a couple of degrees of frost, so it always surprises me that they're not commonly used as bedding during the warmer months.  Even a couple of rooted offsets will soon mature and produce their own daughter, even granddaughter, plantlets at the ends of the thin, fleshy rhizomes.  A dense patch of pretty green and silver striped leaves is an attractive sight in the light shade preferred by these plants.

Having said that, the commonest method of growth is in a hanging basket.  Earlier this year I put a trio of offsets into a spare basket and hung it by my little shade house.  By today (early October) it had produced a goodly number of daughter plants and even a few granddaughter plants, their collective weight bowing the flexible rhizomes to produce the characteristic cascade effect that makes this plant so desirable when allowed to grow freely.

Chlorophytum comosum 'Vittatum' - one summer's growth outside
Even though the summer has been pretty awful - cool, even cold, and very wet - the spider plant has grown well, virtually lacking the dry, brown tips to the leaves so characteristic of plants grown in dry air indoors. 

It will soon be time to move it to winter quarters.  Cool, frost free and light is all that is required.  So, undercover in my little shade house unless we get a really cold snap when it can sit out the freeze in the house.  And next year the daughter plants will produce their own offspring and the cascade will lengthen and thicken.  Hopefully to the stage of the one below, photographed a couple of years back in an Italian property.

Chlorophytum comosum 'Vittatum' - a mature plant photographed in Italy
Mind you, I'll pot up a couple of offsets before it gets cold.  Just in case.  After all, I wouldn't want to wait for the summer fetes to renew my stock.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Schizostylis - bright autumn blooms

I have a soft spot for bright autumn flowers, those that begin their display as all else is winding down.  They defy the gathering gloom as nights draw in and the days become shorter.  The Kaffir lily, Schizostylis coccinea, is a great example.  Hardy, reliable, showy and often capable of flowering till Christmas and even beyond once established it's become a firm favourite in the garden.  I've always had the bright red S.coccinea 'Major' but in recent years I've begun to collect a few other varieties to provide bright spots of colour from this South African iris relative.  And now they've begun their display.
Schizostylis coccinea 'Major'
They don't ask for much.  A sunny site, decent, humus rich soil and moisture.  In the wild they grow by the side of streams and ponds.  In cultivation they will thrive in slightly drier - but not drought ridden - conditions in the open border.  The more summer moisture they have the earlier they tend to flower though there is some natural variation among the different cultivars.

Colours range from deep red, through varying shades of coral and pink to almost white.  I say almost.  I used to grow a small flowered variety, S.c.'Alba' which was pure white.  It was also rather miffy and refused to flourish.  I no longer have it.  I now have another variety, also labelled as 'Alba' which has rather larger flowers and is more likely to be a sport of one of the larger flowered garden varieties than a white flowered variant of the species.  At a distance it is white but moving closer reveals a delicate hint of pink.  Thankfully it seems a lot more robust than it's long lost cousin.
Schizostylis coccinea 'Alba'
Mind you, if it's pure unadulterated pink you want you can't go wrong with 'Mrs Hegarty'.  This one really shines in the softer light of September and October.  Equally as vigorous, like the others the 4cm flowers open in sun and close again when cloud or darkness rolls in.

Schizostylis coccinea 'Mrs Hegarty'
Those three all produce good clumps of thin, rushy leaves, flaunting their flowers at about the 45cm / 18in level on stout stalks with a terminal set of buds that open progressively as the season develops.  In a well established clump during a mild autumn new flower stalks will be thrown up to replace those that have faded, prolonging the season very effectively.

I'm hoping I get the same vigour from another variety I've recently acquired.  'Fenland Daybreak' is a subtler coral shade than the blatant pink of 'Mrs Hegarty' or the bright red of 'Major' but, to my eyes, it's equally attractive and fits in well with the other tones of autumn.

Schizostylis coccinea 'Fenland Daybreak'
Hardiness is certainly not a problem down here in Plymouth - even when we get a poor winter.  I've seen the plants advocated for USDA Zone 7 and above, capable of resisting -15C, a temperature that even typing makes me shiver. If we ever get that low the glaciers will be heading down from Dartmoor.  So no problem for most areas of the UK and similar climates elsewhere.  They're not bulbs though, so no lifting and drying out for winter storage.  Protect them in situ or grow in containers that can be moved under cover and they will do fine even if your winters are significantly colder than mine.

I've a few more to collect before I'm finished.  There's a nice rose-pink, 'Sunrise', another good pink in the shape of 'Viscountess Byng' and some interesting looking paler forms that could well find a place in the garden.  Though I might have to remove some other plants to fit them in.

One final word.  They are now called Hesperantha coccinea after a botanical reclassification of that section of the Iris family.  Nurseries take time to catch up with re-naming which is why I've used the old botanical name throughout the post.