Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Where is horticulture going today? PART 1 - Early days.

  Things have pretty much finished in the garden for this year except for a few stragglers and the winter flowering shrubs, the garden is waterlogged in parts and it is no longer practical to do very much so I must turn from the physical to the more cerebral.

I recently read a post regarding the BBC's new series The Great British Garden Revival on the The Patient Gardener's Weblog which, although I have not found the series particularly inspiring so far, made me think of just where is gardening going now or for that matter where has it been going for the last 50 years.

I have been involved with plants from an early age, both plants and insects always fascinated me. Before the age of ten I remember my parent's suburban garden where my dad grew magnificent delphiniums although, much like many of today's garden owners, he wasn't really interested in the garden as a whole and in fact our November 5th bonfire was placed in the middle of the lawn, or grass as it was then, this was not uncommon as neighbours tended to do similar things. The people next door had chickens and also a vine house, I have no idea how this came about, but it was a half brick structure with the vine planted outside, you are talking lower middle class semi-detached housing here! Most people grew some vegetables as a habit gained from the war and there were thriving allotments just down the road. The plants that stick in my memory from this time was cat-mint, easy to grow and strangely scented, sweet peas because everyone seemed to grow them, lilac, privet hedges and the weeds Shepherd's Purse and Chickweed.

We moved out to a more rural setting when I was eleven years old and gained a much bigger corner plot, my parents being woken up at six in the morning by sounds from outside which turned out to be coming from one George Washington, the gardener which the previous owners had neglected to tell them about. The planting consisted of several pollarded trees spaced equidistantly round the perimeter, grass and several bits of overgrown, dead straight borders and a bit of rockery, the whole populated by asters, phlox, astrantia, aquilegia, London Pride, mossy saxifrages, Alchemilla mollis, forsythia,laburnum and roses, which was typical of many gardens at that time. The one anomaly was the Stag's horn sumach (Rhus typhina 'Laciniata') of which there were several specimens locally. Money was tight and garden centers where you could spend your non-existent disposable income didn't exist either.  

About this time, in fact for Christmas 1960, my parents bought me the Gardener's Golden Treasury which was a compendium of three volumes by A.G.L.Hellyer who was then the editor of Amateur Gardening, with this as my bible I could do no wrong!


No prizes for the name of the dominant plant stem.*

The local shop was a sort of pets and gardens mix and I started working there at weekends from the age of thirteen and loved every minute of it, one of the focal points was an artificial low level rockery terrace with a plastic dish water feature which although naff by today's standards was ideal for displaying house plants, particularly as it provided the necessary humidity to produce a beneficial micro-climate. Rochfords House Plants were the main supplier and I believe they are still going today but perhaps not in the same format. House plants were all the rage then, people had a glimpse into the rest of the world through television and exotic plants became almost affordable to everyday folk as opposed to being only available to the grand houses and botanical gardens, you could actually have a bit of exotica in your living room. Although the Victorians had been doing this with mainly foliage plants since the mid-eighteen hundreds, it was only the well to do who could actually afford them.

I gained a place at Horticultural College although I should have gone to university but had spent too much time at school looking out of the window wishing I was out there! My father was none too pleased as his chance was denied by his parents who had sent him out to earn money. I had to do a year's practical and, not living in a truly rural area with a handy grower just around the corner, I managed to get a job with Manchester Parks Department which was three bus rides from home, how many kids would take that on today? It taught me a great deal, from how to dig flower beds and maintain the proper camber to scrubbing clay pots in icy cold water and Jeyes Fluid every day for a month. Looking back now horticultural practice hadn't changed much since the Victorians and neither had gardening as a whole.

To be continued.......................................

*In case you didn't know it is Cardiocrinum giganteum.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Some bits I missed.

Next year I hope to be a bit more specific in what I write about, but for now I want to show one or two plants that I have missed out previously but are still amongst my favourites. Winter has now set in, after quite a wet spell we are now down to freezing or near freezing temperatures with the odd burst of sunshine but mainly dry.

Angelica 'Ebony'

Angelica hybrid
Originally I grew Angelica archangelica which is a wonderful if somewhat invasive (seed) architectural plant. Over the years several cultivars have been added including Angelica 'Ebony' which still attracts attention in show gardens at such as Chelsea and to my mind is the best, only growing to about 3' but producing really dark foliage, stems and flowers. The self-seeded hybrid above has the vigour of the species but has dark stems, green leaves and whiter flowers and as such is quite desirable. Generally a biennial, although too many seedlings are produced they can easily be uprooted or moved during the first year.  
Chaerophyllum hirsutum roseum
Another umbel bearing plant and fellow member of the Apiaceae which I really rate is Chaerophyllum hirsutum roseum, its light green feathery foliage is one of the first to emerge in the herbaceous border, this followed by the powdery pink flower-heads made it a favourite plant of Graham Stuart Thomas.
Spring flowering clematis
Clematis macropetalla and Clematis 'Beauty of Worcester' are two spring flowering clematis which look good together.
Aquilegia chrysantha
Aquilegia chrysantha - one of the American species used to develop long-spurred hybrids. Easy to grow from seed but generally short-lived with me.

Iris chrysographes 'Black Gold'
Iris chrysographes 'Black Gold' is a very reliable plant which comes true from seed and looks really well with the silver leafed Brunnera as a foil.

Agastache 'Apricot Sprite'
Agastaches generally do not do well on this shaded site, and apart from the odd self-seed do best as annuals. The exception was this beautifully coloured Agastache 'Apricot Sprite', it did well in its first year but overwintered to give a much stronger plant.

Time to go and finish potting up the last of the tulip bulbs soon, last year I left it till Christmas with absolutely no ill effects whatsoever.

Friday, 8 November 2013


In amongst the deluges we have had the first  proper frost a couple of nights ago, it had rained and then frozen, covering exposed surfaces with ice. As I sit here I can see the blackbirds starting to take the berries of the big "Chinese Hybrid" cotoneaster and the Mahonia japonica coming into flower, another reminder of the approaching winter. Mahonias belong to one of the most useful of families the Berberidaceae which contains many plants which are both tough and beautiful ranging from the berberis genus stereotypes to the more exotic but tenacious epimediums. 

Mahonia japonica
This statuesque shrub flowers through the winter months, the delicately scented yellow flowers are unfortunately often eaten by blue-tits which I think go for the nectar. Will stand very hard pruning if it gets out of hand, but do it straight after flowering, although you may miss the black berries that form it will ensure flowers for the next year.

Mahonia japonica 'Hivernant'
Mahonia japonica 'Hivernant' is a more delicate looking cultivar which flowers later than the species, both will tolerate dry shade once established.

Mahonia aquifolium
Flowering in late spring Mahonia aquifolium, the Oregon Grape also has scented flowers and the typical yellow flowers of the mahonias but carried in clusters rather than the racemes of Mahonia japonica. A useful shrub for ground-cover, again in inhospitable areas, the leaves tend to go tatty which really means that they look better if cut down every year loosing the beautiful black berries which makes it a matter of personal preference.
Mahonias can be propagated in a variety of ways, by cold sown seed, layering, suckers or by half-ripe cuttings with heat. Do not ever hand-weed close to the big ones without gloves, the spines on the fallen dead leaves are excruciatingly sharp.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

What's left

 After another mild and mainly dry spell we are now experiencing a deluge although it remains fairly warm. The picture below was taken from the back door during a torrential downpour in the early evening which was lit by the sun.

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood'
Acer palmatum 'Trompenburg'
Staple tree of early spring and autumn when the foliage is at its best. The only draw backs are that they are slow growing, making it expensive to buy sizeable specimens, and that they can be damaged by frosts which can blacken the young shoots, otherwise magnificent for variation in colour and form. Most varieties are grafted although some interesting plants can be obtained from an autumn sowing with a bit of patience. After receiving a present of money, I went all sentimental and spent £70.00 on a specimen of Acer palmatum 'Beni Schichihenge' which died within 18 months, not something I will repeat!
Cotoneaster 'Chinese Hybrid'


Graceful arching branches up to 20' tall covered in clusters of red berries after insignificant white flowers. Propagation by cold sown seed or by layering in spring, cuttings in autumn. In the 1960's and 70's there was a popular shrub known as Cotoneaster 'Chinese Hybrid' which was used for landscaping mainly because of its fast growth rate although the arching form of the shrub plus its abundant berries made it very attractive, well I still have one. Seeds itself all over the place and responds well to pollarding every few years which keeps it in check.
Sorbus 'Joseph Rock'
Hardy deciduous ornamental trees which are a members of the (Rosaceae) the most popular being the Mountain Ash or Rowan. These trees are steeped in legend and folklore. The leaves have yet to turn a deep red, increasing the contrast as the colour of the berries deepens further. Propagation is by  fresh sown seed, germination is both slow and erratic. 
Kirengeshoma palmata

A member of the Saxifragaceae yet another woodlander which has become more popular in recent years . Groups of yellow flowers held above palmate foliage (3'-4') late in the year which can lighten up a dark corner. Although this plant holds an AGM, I find that it is not over endowed with flowers and one year was absolutely devastated by insect attack. Sow seed as soon as ripe, tip cuttings in spring or division in summer. It is not unusual for flowering to be cut short by the weather as it flowers so late, although this year this would not appear to be a problem.
Tricyrtis formosana 'Dark Beauty'
 Tricyrtis formosana the 'toad lily' likes a damp but well drained spot in partial shade. Mine have grown well over the last couple of years, flowering in early autumn. The new growth can be devastated by slugs. Propagation is by seed sown fresh or in spring, or by division late summer/autumn.
Hydrangea paniculata 'Vanille Fraise'
  There was an RHS trial recently with
Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora which relates the depth of colouration to the severity of pruning. The harder the pruning, the deeper the colour. 

Schizostylis coccinea var.
  A member of the Iridaceae, I do not understand the nomenclature of this genus, Schizostylis coccinea sometimes appears as a monotypic plant but is then listed as synonymous with Hesperanthus coccinea which is in a genus with several species listed. This member of the Iris Family has many cultivars and is commonly known as the Kaffir Lily. It hails from S.Africa but appears to be hardy in the UK where it adds some very late colour to the garden. The specie has red flowers but some cultivars are pink. Can be invasive.
Just another comment about what the numpties are trying to do with our peat. A friend clipped me an article by a proper gardener, Peter Seabrook. It appears that this year has been good for sphagnum moss to the extent that many of the peat based compost suppliers are able to up their content even to the maximum. Given the terrible performances by peat substitutes please someone wake up and realise that horticulture is not properly sustainable without this resource, pragmatism and common sense seem to have deserted recent generations. If you want to learn more of the true story, go to Peat at Glendoick.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Garden thugs?

We are currently enjoying a week of good, generally sunny weather with temperatures exceeding 15°C. As there are few new flowers in the garden at the moment I thought it might be an idea to reflect on the garden "thugs" and how they can be used.  

Ranunculus ficaria syn. Ficaria grandiflora (Lesser Celandine)

 When is a weed not a weed? - when it is a Celandine!  I don't care how invasive it is, I rip out handfuls every year and I know it can be a real pest in some areas, and certainly loves my damp conditions, but this British native rates as a true harbinger of spring, its yellow flowers light up even the gloomiest of days in the early part of the year. It grows from bulbils so is too easily spread by cultivation, if you must kill it glyphosate works well in open ground but it is not easy to eradicate from lawns.

Myosotis sylvatica
 Forget-me-nots. The one most common in this area where it grows like a weed seeding itself everywhere is most likely Myosotis sylvatica. A neighbour always insisted that his mother-in-law, who lived with them, had insisted that they planted myosotis, in his words even after her death she came back to haunt him every year. 
Alchemilla mollis
  Often classed as a low growing cottage garden plant but thought of as a pest by many, Alchemilla mollis seeds itself all over the place and can become a weed. Easy to grow almost anywhere but tends to prefer partial shade and will tolerate dry conditions. This plant seems to polarise opinion amongst gardeners more than any other I know, most of my acquaintances hate it, yet it has a fan base including Graham Stuart Thomas and Anne Wareham.
The dew or rain collects on the leaves which led to it being named after the alchemist or healer to whom the collected morning dew would be a constituent part of a remedy.
Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon'
Whatever you do never, never, ever let this plant loose outside a container. Everyone's favourite waterside 'thug', you either love it or loath it, far too easy to grow, very difficult to get rid of. I can say no more! The thick white roots have a most unpleasant sweet smell which stays with you for hours after grubbing them out, it has taken me three years and I still have the odd shoot to deal with. Best treated like mint! Monotypic. Apomictic.

Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker'
  A beautiful 'thug', will go rampant in good conditions and I have yet to find bad ones for it!  It forms a thick, almost impenetrable root mat so you remove a good 3" of soil when you dig it out, which you will inevitably have to do to keep it in check.

Silene 'Purple Prince'
This plant was introduced by Plant World Seeds several years ago and has striking pink flowers against dark leaves. I found that the leaves burn easily with moisture and that the leaf stems are particularly brittle. The big problem is the amount of seed it sets, most of which is of the native species Silene dioica. I could have included the likes of foxgloves or Meconopsis cambrica as thugs because of their propensity to seed around but have generally stuck, other than possibly Myosotis, to those plants which have invasive root systems, but this Silene or campion is something else. Although the seedlings, or if you turn your back for two minutes, established plants are shallow rooted and easy to remove they are not only in large numbers but have the knack of seeding themselves into the crowns of your other herbaceous perennials. On the plus side it flowers for months and and makes a lovely splash of colour.
Hieracium aurantiacum.
Known as the Hawkweeds there are many members of this genus. They are spread worldwide and several species are classed as noxious weeds and even banned in some countries.
Hieracium aurantiacum is a British native that will grow in fairly dry conditions, 12" stems rise from neat grey/green rosettes in mid-summer. Commonly known as Fox and Cubs due to its habit of spreading by over-ground runners it can be invasive, although I don't have much of a problem here.  

Hypericum calycinum

 Known as St John's Wort or Rose of Sharon, which is confusing as several other plants share the same common name, this plant is derided as a weed by many but, as mentioned in a recent blog, is a very versatile plant that can be used as ground cover or as a stand alone shrub which can be used about anywhere.

Other than the dreaded Houttuynia I grow all the above but use them where others fear to tread so they fill a useful role particularly in dry shady areas where conditions by their very nature control growth and keep them in check. For example I have just planted some narcissus out under trees in newly recovered bare soil, I deliberately left some self-sown seedlings of Myosotis to develop elsewhere which I have now lifted and planted with the narcissus rather than throw them out as weeds. 

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Woodland in autumn

The weather is quite mixed sunny spells intermingled with drizzle and the odd heavy downpour of rain. Temperatures at best are between 10 and 15°C and the feeling is distinctly autumnal.

This is the "woodland" end of the garden which finishes in an extremely high privet hedge and is under the shade of a silver birch, a weeping birch, a larch (whose needle drop is the bane of my life for about a month) and a massive horse chestnut which means at certain times of the year you are safer working under it in a hard-hat. Along with the hostas, Chelone and anemones, colour is also being provided by the plants below.

Gentiana asclepiadea
Gentiana asclepiadea AGM (Willow Gentian) is quite happy away from the base of the trees.

Hypericum calycinum
 Hypericum calycinum, sometimes know as 'Rose of Sharon' which is a name shared by several other plants, is displaying all its stages at once, the yellow flowers, developing and ripe fruits. Ideal for woodland this plant will tolerate quite severe dry shade. Regarded by some as a weed it is quite invasive and does seed itself around with abandon but is fairly easy to remove. I personally wouldn't be without it, how can something so versatile and beautiful be discarded. Performs best if cut right back every spring.   

Strobilanthes wallichii
A handy plant for the woodland, although not really notable, it does have the benefit of being late to flower. Once known as Strobilanthes atropurpurea I have read that it is shrubby and is also known as the Kandali Plant which features in an Indian festival where it only flowers every twelve years? (Wikipedia). It remains firmly herbaceous here but that was the name on the packet so who am I to argue!

Actaea racemosa 'Brunette'
Back in the main border Actaea racemosa 'Brunette'  syn.Cimicifuga racemosa 'Brunette', the Black Cohosh is a beautiful late flowered plant with wonderful contrast and a delicate but strong perfume which can be detected from a good 10ft away. A great plant for attracting bees and other insects.

Anemonopsis macrophylla
Still in flower so I have an excuse to include a picture of my favourite flower which I should have included earlier in the year. This beautiful woodlander is quite rare and found in the wild in a very limited area of Japan. Needs moisture but in a well drained position in partial shade to give of its best. Unfortunately the flowers are reluctant to show themselves as they hang downward. Monotypic.
Anemonopsis macrophylla
taken at the beginning of August.
More badger news, this time a newly planted berberis has been ripped up not once but twice as it obviously was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Friday, 6 September 2013

That autumn feeling.

New Lilies page and the Meconopsis page has been updated.

 Today heralds a change to wetter weather after what could become a fondly remembered and much deserved summer, autumn is upon us, the night temperatures have dropped and the days are drawing in rapidly. 

In the garden the pinks and purples are predominant along with, in my case, swathes of green.

Members of the Buddlejaceae, named after the Reverend Buddle, buddleias are king of the 'grow virtually anywhere' shrubs, in the wild they are often found growing out of cracks in cliff faces. Very adaptable, mainly scented and as everyone knows they are very attractive to both butterflies and bees. There are now concerns from the green brigade that the buddleia is becoming a weed......worse things could happen!

Buddleja davidii 'Black Night' - almost black flowers.
 Buddleja davidii 'Nanho Purple'
This cultivar has a very sprawling habit, growing horizontally rather than holding the flowers vertically. 

Buddleja davidii 'Pink Delight' 
This has a graceful form with soft pink flowers and silvery foliage, a definite favourite.

Buddleja davidii 'Royal Red'
  Buddleja 'Lochinch'.
This is the result of a cross between B. davidii and B. fallowiana and is a highly scented shrub with bright orange eyes to the flowers and silver foliage which lasts well in mild winters but suffers a lot of damage when it gets really cold.

 A white seedling with orange eyes which seeded itself in the garden wall.

Buddleja x weyeriana 'Sungold'
Most of those pictured are in "Buddleia Alley" down the path at the side of the house creating a tunnel of scent. Buddleias are very vigorous and need pruning back hard in the spring to stimulate growth and also to make sure they flower at roughly head height where you can enjoy them. I normally cut them back by about a half after flowering which not only tidies them up but cuts down on the possibility of wind damage during the winter. Pruning is then completed in spring.

Eupatorium purpureum subsp. maculatum 'Atropurpureum' ( Joe Pye Weed)
  A member of the Compositae this is an autumn flowering herbaceous perennial which grows up to 2 meters in the season and then produces flowers which bring in the butterflies and bees from miles around, it also has a pleasant scent. A truly useful plant, it grows in shady damp conditions with me and never fails to impress. I have read that it has now been awarded an AGM. Propagation is by cuttings of young shoots with some bottom heat in spring, or by division in spring or autumn.

Anemone tomentosa 'Robustissima'
  This is the easiest, most adaptable and earliest of the Japanese anemones, flowering in early July through to October. It can be a bit of a 'thug' but is worth it for the beautiful colour, large blooms and long flowering season. Many woodland anemones will tolerate quite deep shade when established. Generally Japanese anemones can be grown from seed in March, or division of the roots in spring which tends to be the preferred method. Incidentally 'Japanese' is a bit of a misnomer as they are believed to have originated in China. Heights for this group vary from around 1'-3' and the white form 'alba' is also an excellent plant.  
Chelone obliqua - (Pink turtlehead)

  This North American member of the  Scrophulariaceae has proved to be a long lived and reliable plant, its pink 'snap dragons' don't come out until very late summer and provide autumn colour over a long flowering period in cool weather. Propagation is by seeds cold sown in spring, by cuttings June/July or by division in August and September.

I have ordered most of my tulip and narcissus bulbs and can't wait to get them potted up or planted out ready for spring.