Tuesday, May 28, 2013

On Narcissus and the Narcissus fly

Out in the garden doing a bit of photography this afternoon (in between rain showers) I came across a very cooperative hoverfly, Merodon equestris.

Merodon equestris
It's a bumble bee mimic, about the same size, and relying on its similarity in markings to avoid predators.  It has no sting.

Except for gardeners.

Normally I'd write this up on my photography blog but this is the narcissus fly.  They emerge about this time of year having spent the preceding summer and winter as larvae nestled in the heart of Narcissus bulbs.  Females will get together with males and then lay their newly fertilised eggs on the decaying stalks and in the holes left by the decaying stalks of the spring flowering members of narcissus and lily families.  The larvae then burrow down and into the bulbs, eating them out over the course of the next few months.  They may not kill them - but they do come blind.

It's not a serious pest for gardeners.  But it is a pest.  And I've got it in my garden.  Which may explain why I add narcissus varieties on a yearly basis but they simply don't establish.

Having said that it's only one explanation for rather more failure than I'd like.  I was looking forward to a good display of the May flowering Narcissus poeticus this year, having invested in a number of the comparatively expensive bulbs last year to fill a noticeable gap between spring and summer flowers.  Ambrosia, exclaimed my slugs, and gnawed them off at ground level as soon as they emerged.  For this year I'll just have to be content with photos:

Narcissus poeticus

Narcissus poeticus

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day May 2013

It's amazing how quickly the 15th of the month seems to roll round and it's time for another chance to join with other Garden Bloggers to show what's flowering in the garden today.

After a cold dry winter, it's been a cool wet spring and, despite a few warm days, things are still behind what is normal for mid May.  Which means a lot of plants that would normally be over are still in flower - and have been joined by the earliest of the summer flowers.

All of my winter / spring flowering Camellias are still producing.  Not with the abundance of last month - 'St Ewe' and 'Cornish Snow' only have a few flowers and buds left - but enough for a very welcome show.  Indeed 'Anticipation' is now at it's peak - only two months late. As always, click the photos to embiggen.

Camellia x williamsii 'Anticipation'
Also still flowering is my fastigiate cherry, Prunus 'Amanogawa'.  This is always a little later than other flowering cherries but mid May and still possessing masses of blossom is the latest I've had it in flower.  It came with the garden 16 years ago and is now about 25ft / 8metres in height, upright and narrow, forming a spire of colour rather than a canopy.

Prunus 'Amanogawa'
My other flowering tree, Magnolia 'Raspberry Ice', has finished its main display but continues to put out the odd flower.  About a dozen at the moment, some fully open, some just opening.  So I feel justified in including it in this month's listings, albeit with a photo I took a couple of weeks ago.

Magnolia 'Raspberry Ice'
In past years I've always felt I was short of perennial colour in May.  Aquilegias do well here, seeding around with moderate abandon.  I may have started with a  mix of colours but over the years my seedlings are coming out to shades of pink and dull red, the occasional white and, vary rarely, dark blue.  Time for a bit of variety, I thought, so snapped up a couple from a hybrid seed strain in purple and light blue with white picotee edges to the petals.  Hopefully, they'll cross with my existing plants and produce some more interesting seedlings for years to come.

Blue and white Aqueligia hybrid
Purple and white Aquilegia hybrid
One plant I'm glad to see again is Chasmanthe bicolor.  Related to crocosmias these South African natives really need mild, sunny winters to produce a lot of flowers.  I was given some bulbs in 2004.  They flowered the following year and then did nothing except produce large quantities of leafy spears.  I dug them up last Autumn and replanted the bed - and one has flowered this year.  Interesting rather than showy. they are quite distinctive.

Chasmanthe bicolor

Chasmanthe bicolor
In years gone by if you wanted a blue Corydalis there was only C.cashmeriana, a very capricious little woodlander.  Now, following introductions from China, there are a selection of larger, reliable and easily grown blue flowered shade lovers.  This one is C.flexuosa 'Purple Leaf' which looks good even out of flower.  The enemies are slugs and snails - so I grow mine in a decent size pot.  It will flower well into the summer.

Corydalis flexuosa 'Purple Leaf'
Corydalis flexuosa 'Purple Leaf' - close up of the flowers
Built on larger lines but with similarly attractive cut leaves is Dicentra spectabilis, another late spring flower that continues well into midsummer.  I've written about this and its white variety before so I'll just throw in a single photo this year.  What I would like to show is the other Dicentras I've added to the garden over the years.  But I can't.  As fast as I've added them my snails have grazed them to ground level.  Some things are not meant to be.
Dicentra spectabilis
Epimediums and pulmonarias are classic spring flowering woodland plants.  I grow a number but will content my self with illustrating three.  I'm planning a post on foliage in a few days - and these two genera will certainly feature in that.
Epimedium x cantabrigiense

Epimedium franchettii 'Brimstone Butterfly'
Pumonaria 'Cotton Cool'
In the rear garden the perennial wallflower 'Walburton's Fragrant Star' has thrown up this year's crop of flower spikes.  Non-fertile, these keep elongating (and flowering) all through the summer and autumn but are at their best while still compact.  In theory they are perpetual flowerers.  In practice I cut off the still productive stalks in mid winter to allow the next generation to come through.  Edge variegation enhances the leaves of this compact (and probably short lived) shrub.

Erysium 'Walburton's Fragrant Star'
Talking of woodlanders Anemone nemorosa is making an ever denser and wider carpet under my Acer 'Bloodgood'.  It's still in flower, even if they are now tinged with pink rather than the pristine white of a couple of weeks ago.  My other varieties are not as free to spread - and I wrote about them last year so won't repeat my self.

Maria likes lavender.  I don't mind it, though I'm not a cottage gardener - but my soil is too wet and acid for it to do well.  So I have a couple of pots by the back door.  Nothing special, two varieties of french lavender, one purple-pink, one white.  But they flower most of the summer, and start early.  Normally they'd be thronged with insects but they're few and far between at the moment.

French lavender

French lavender - dwarf white form
I was once advised that the best way to keep tulips as perennials was to bury the bulbs more deeply than recommended.  It certainly worked with my favourite 'Queen of the Night' for a number of years.  Unfortunately my clumps have come up blind this year so I may have to start again this autumn.  No matter, here's 'Gavota' to brighten the day.

Tulip 'Gavota'
I mentioned that I'd found a seedling of Geranium renardii a while ago.  It's now flowered.  The purple lines are bee guides, pointing the way to the nectaries at the heart of the plant.

Geranium renardii
One plant that's been in the garden from before my ownership is the common little rosette forming London Pride, Saxifraga x urbium.  I mainly use it a ground covering little filler plant, in sun or light shade but at this time of year it produces heads of little flowers.  Collectively they are just light, airy confections:

London Pride, Saxifraga x urbium
But get a little closer and the individual flowers are very attractive despite being only 7-8mm across.

London Pride, Saxifraga x urbium.  Single flower in close up.
On a larger scale, Bergenias are also good for weed smothering ground cover and also fit in with my more exotic theme for the garden.  Large, leathery leaves are a year round feature and the winter to spring flower spikes are worthwhile.  This one is 'Winter Glow'.  I only bought it last year and it's still settling in - but showing promise for the future.

Bergenia 'Winter Glow'
Finally I'm illustrating one of the shrub like busy lizzies, Impatiens auricoma x bicaudata.  This is tender, about 5C minimum, so was dug up last autumn and spent the winter on a window ledge.  It's now back outside, about 3ft tall, a little lopsided due to the uneven lighting, but covered in these lovely orange flowers.  It will be till late Autumn.  Well worth the trouble of overwintering a large plant rather than starting again with small cuttings.

Impatiens auricoma x bicaudata
What the next month will bring I don't know.  Maria tells me there was snow on Dartmoor overnight - and that's only a few miles away.  We're a lot milder here but this year has been very unusual.  Things may catch up - but they may still be delayed.

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

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Tis the season for bluebells

Here in England writing about bluebells can mean only one thing.  A favourite woodland flower, Hyacinthoides non-scriptus, whose sweetly scented blue flowers are currently blooming across wide areas of my local woodland, hedgerows and even open grassland. 12-18in / 30-45cm stems arise from tightly packed rosettes of thin, grassy leaves, upright at first, then, as the flowers progressively open to one side of the stem, arching under the weight.

Hyacinthoides non-scriptus beginning to open and still fairly upright
Hyacinthoides non-scriptus more fully opened, the weight of the bells arching the stem.
Their great feature is the sheets of blue that can carpet undisturbed areas.  Under the slowly emerging canopy of deciduous woodland or, as is common in the moister air of South West England, in more open locations and hedgerows they really are a spectacular sight.  Thankfully the depredations of bulb collectors have been made illegal and sights like this are still visible throughout the country.

Massed bluebells in a local hedgerow
For all their beauty I wouldn't encourage them in my own garden.  The clue is in the 'sheets of blue'.  They can be quite invasive when well suited (as they are locally!), excluding virtually everything else at their level.  In my small plot they'd soon take over.

I do grow the closely related Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica.  Sturdier plants, they have more strap like leaves and upright stems with the bell flowers arranged around the stem rather than along one side with the English bluebell.  Individual flowers are larger and, usually, two tone, with blue anthers in contrast to the white of their English cousins.  Unfortunately not scented, they compensate by being easier to control in the garden, forming compact clumps rather than spreading carpets.

Hyacinthoides hispanica
Hyacinthoides hispanica - close up showing the blue anthers
So, pretty plants, possibly better suited to garden conditions than our native bluebell.  What could possibly go wrong?

According to recent studies the two species diverged as recently as 8000 years ago and, once placed in proximity (pollinators can travel surprising distances), hybridise readily to produce the variable hybrid Hyacinthoides x massartiana.  In appearance this produces plants covering a wide range of intermediate forms.  Add in selection and a range of cultivars - some named, others not - and you have variants in pale blue, darker blue, white and pink.  Ones like these:

Hyacinthoides x massartiana
Hyacinthoides x massartiana

Hyacinthoides x massartiana
Hyacinthoides x massartiana
Lovely plants - but when their genes get into the wild population they quickly become to dominate and the character of the native bluebell is lost.  Some wild populations are threatened, particularly in areas close to towns and gardens, and especially in those places where - no doubt well meaning - gardeners seek to beautify the countryside and wild places by deliberately planting their own surplus.  Well suited to gardens they may be - I wouldn't be without them - but they are not for the wild.  Not unless we want to loose a plant that is endemic to North West Europe and where 60% of the total population is found in England and Wales.

As always, click to embiggen the photos.