Saturday, 19 December 2015

"A" miscellany.

The weather is mild, the garden is absolutely sodden every time it rains I have surface water and I am desperate for some frost, as demonstrated in my last post the weather is causing problems with cold sown seed germinating now, plus it would help with the germination in the spring, also it would be nice to get back to normal.

Continuing the A to Z theme, trying to get away from the winter blues, and looking forward to next spring I have listed a few plants whose name begins with "A", that I grow currently or have grown in the past and which I haven't already covered in an dedicated generic post.
Abutilon Large Flowered Hybrids
 Half - hardy shrubby perennial grown in pots or in a sunny border, the flowers can be obscured as they tend to face downward. Easy from seed, sow in early spring in gentle heat, will flower in the first year but keep taking the tops out to encourage bushiness as they tend to have a very leggy habit. Feed a general liquid feed during the growing season, protect from frost in winter. Can be used as an annual bedding plant from very early sowings. Until I started this post I hadn't realised how much I miss these, they come in a range of colours including reds and apricots depending on which seed company's strain you buy. I could well get a few plugs when available next year and overwinter as cuttings.

Acanthus mollis (Bear's britches)
  A striking hardy/half hardy perennial  with large green leaves which will die back in a heavy frost but in mild winters have survived here. The green/purple/white flower spikes are quite unusual. Flowers late spring until the frosts. The garden here is very much in the shade and I find that they need to be in a sunny spot to encourage flowering. Although they grow 4'-6' I have found that they also flower better on soil which is not too rich. Can be easily propagated from the thick fleshy roots, which can be a nuisance should you decide to move the plant as they will persist, even used glyphosate on mine.

Adenophora liliifolia - Neat little shade plant.

Adenophora tashiroi - I have grown this from seed and I am not sure if this is true to type, however it is still an easy to grow subject flowering in August/September.
Adenopheras are versatile and easy to grow herbaceous perennial members of the Campanula family, which are found in Europe, E. Asia, China and Japan. Plant in ordinary soil in a sunny or semi-shady spot. Like campanulas they tend to be useful for late summer colour.
Alchemilla mollis
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.
Frothy greenish yellow flowers late summer. The seed heads can be removed to deter its rampant nature.
  Surprisingly a member of the Rosaceae the most popular Alchemilla (Arabic: alkemelych - pertaining to alchemy) is the low growing, somewhat ubiquitous, cottage garden plant Alchemilla mollis which 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 which can be a big plus. 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.

Allium crystalis

Allium neapolitanum from seed.

Allium 'Globemaster'

Allium 'Purple Splendour'

Tiny Allium sphaerocephalon from seed

  Was a member of the Alliaceae (Latin for garlic), now Allioideae (May 2011) these plants became very trendy a few years ago (who would have thought onions could be so popular!) and there has been a lot of work done recently in raising new forms. I have grown a few of the older cultivars some of which are pictured. They are an excellent plant giving foliage early in the year, in fact I am half expecting them to pop through quite soon with the mild weather, and do well inter-planted with loose growing herbaceous perennials and/or shrubs. From the large cultivars to the tiny specie types there is a place in any garden for these reliable very hardy plants.

Amelanchier lamarckii
  June Berry or Snowy Mespilus
Another member of the Rosaceae, Amelanchiers (French: amelancier - the old name for the Snowy Mespilus)  are hardy spring flowering deciduous trees and shrubs from North America and Canada. Trouble free and therefore a mainstay in the commercial landscaper's repertoire. Normally does not need pruning but any unwanted branches can be removed by winter pruning. Bearing in mind that removing too much will reduce the shrub's flowering capacity in the spring, any drastic pruning should be done immediately after flowering.

Asarina procumbens
 Lovely creeping 'snapdragon' ideal for on a rockery, wall or tubs where it can trail over an edge. Soft velvety foliage whitish/yellow snapdragon flowers. Generally perennial but will perish in a very hard winter.

Asarina scandens.
   Climbing snapdragon, very useful for hanging baskets or tubs.  Colours vary through pink, blue and white.

Easily grown from seed sown in very early spring and treated as a half-hardy annual or better still can be grown as a hardy/ half-hardy perennial if over-wintered inside producing bigger plants.

Anemonella thalictroides 'Cameo'
Anemonella thalictroides 'Cameo'
 This beautiful plant grows to only about 6" high and likes dappled shade in a well drained but moist spot.
A jewel of a woodland plant, both delicate yet striking, can be raised from very fresh seed (even "green") or by very careful division in spring.

Anemonopsis macrophylla
Beautiful Japanese woodlander. Unfortunately the flowers are reluctant to show themselves as they hang downward.
Anemonopsis macrophylla
This is one of my all time favourites and is in fact my favicon. Quite rare 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. Not easy from seed no matter how fresh. Monotypic.

Merry Christmas and All the best for the New Year.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Acers and Meconopsis.

We are now getting plenty of rain but, with the exception of a couple of days, no frost in this remarkable weather year. Not all the leaves have dropped which is a sure indication of the temperature, I wonder what the rest of the winter will bring?
Continuing on my A to Z theme, other than growing dwarf Japanese cultivars, Acers are not a plant you are going to have many of unless you are lucky enough to have a very large garden. I only grow five and last winter I had to prune two of them back hard as they were casting too much shade in my already shady garden. Having decided to write this post a while ago I was prepared to rush out and take some pictures as the leaves started to turn this autumn, I held on too long for the perfect shot against a blue sky which never transpired and before I knew it the leaves had dropped so the pictures are from the last few years.

Although there are well over 100 species of Acer the most familiar are the many cultivars of Acer palmatum and Acer japonicum, which make up the familiar foliage trees we all love.

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' 2013.
Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' 2015.
Although a little difficult to make out, plus the Acer had put on another years growth by the end of 2014, the 2015 picture shows the tree after it had been reduced by over two thirds without problems, not the recommended third if you prune it at all. Make sure that the tree is truly dormant as Acers will pump sap out at a high rate of knots if in any growth stage, and try and take out the center and any branches which rub together whilst maintaining the overall shape. You do have to have an eye for these things, I am not the slightest bit artistic but I hope I can prune. A visiting tree surgeon actually commented on the shape of the tree without knowing it had been pruned hard...............I was dead chuffed! 

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood'.

Acer palmatum 'Trompenburg'.

Acer palmatum 'Trompenburg' silhouette.

Acer palmatum 'Trompenburg' colour.

This picture is from a few years ago but shows the autumn colour, this one hasn't been cut back as it is on the boundary of the neighbouring garden, so is now much larger as seen above. 'Trompenburg' has distinctive recurved edges to the leaves and is an excellent colour form.

Acer platanoides 'Crimson King'.
Red leaved cultivar of the Norway Maple, a robust tree which has now become popular for street planting, this was originally bought as a screen tree but having decided that it might eventually just be too big I have banished it to another boundary where I am going to prune it hard without fear or favour to hopefully get the result I want.

Acer palmatum 'Beni schichihenge'.
The most expensive single plant mistake of my horticultural life, I was given this as a present worth £70.00 and planted it in a fairly well prepared hole (for me!) in what I must admit was a fairly damp part of the garden, the following winter was extremely wet the end result was that I lost it, a great shame because unlike most of its fellow cultivars it produces an exceptional spring show. Note: Acers do NOT like their feet in water. 

Acer palmatum var. dissectum 'Sango-kaku'.
One of the main stems has decided that it is autumn whilst the other two haven't yet caught up, this happens every year and to be honest I don't know why unless they are two separate grafts and I haven't checked.

Acer palmatum  'Sango-kaku'.
The young stems turn a coral pink and even the older ones retain some of that hue.

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood'' seedling.

Acer palmatum 'Trompenburg' seedling lifted from the ground.

One of the benefits of the many samara or seed bodies (helicopters) which are produced is that you get the occasional self-seedlings. Although both seedlings above clearly show properties of their parent, the only true cultivars are produced by vegetative propagation, normally grafting, these plants will probably only be recognised as unnamed cultivars of Acer palmatum atropurpureum. Being seedlings they can lack the vigour instilled by a rootstock but nevertheless it always interesting to see what develops. Acer seed is not particularly viable but some results can be obtained by sowing as fresh as possible.

A cautionary tale having just mentioned viability and freshness of seed, as a member of the Meconopsis Group I was sent fresh seed of Meconopsis delavayi which, as I always do, was sown immediately, most Meconopsis and Primula seed being difficult unless absolutely fresh. Autumn sowing plus mild weather equals disaster, the seeds have germinated, I can't leave them outside in the cold tunnel because, hardy as they are, I am not sure they will survive a severe frost, the only solution that presents itself is to try and grow them on in an unheated porch through the winter, we will have to see if this works. 

Meconopsis delavayi seedlings. (notice the re-used pot)
    Another note on viability, the year before last I decided not to grow anything from seed other than some of my own, I succumbed rather late to temptation, and going against all my principles, bought in several lots of Primula seed from a well known and trusted seed merchant, these were cold sown and went through last winter. The results, with fresh society seed I normally get 80-90% germination by species, from the seed merchant 0%. If the supplier was to be questioned about this they would want to know if you have followed the instructions about the temperatures required to germinate the seed, in other words apply heat, the answer is no because if the seed is fresh you don't need it, and I have tried heat before and it still doesn't work. If in doubt don't buy. Why do I still do these stupid things? No answers please!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Return to the alphabet - Azalea.

Well what can I say, after a really bad summer from September onwards we have had the best, most consistent, weather of the year, although it has now become wet and windy temperatures remain exceptionally high and plants which should now be heaps of dead growth are still flowering or even coming back into totally unseasonal flower.

We have seen plenty of pictures of autumnal gardens recently so I am going to revert back to the sort of "A to Z of plants I grow" theme I started earlier in the year, never getting further than "A" I may add, with a plant which is dear to me.

Azalea (Rhododendron)

Already getting into deep water because Azalea is thought of as a separate genus but in actual fact belongs to divisions of the genus Rhododendron although somehow the exact nomenclature is often an embarrassing grey area quoting Azalea as a synonym for example, one shouldn't really generalise too much about these plants. Evergreen or deciduous, fairly slow growing, generally early flowering shrubs which tend to like moist, acid but free draining soil in dappled shade. Originating from the more northerly areas of the Northern Hemisphere, but with the inevitable exceptions, these are typically lower slope alpine plants. In the UK they are seen at their best in many gardens in Scotland or such as Ness Botanical Gardens on the Wirral and Bodnant in North Wales where the conditions suit rather than in the south and east of the country although they are pretty adaptable as the principle deciduous cultivar strains were developed in the south of England.

Golden Eagle
Popular member of the Knap Hill and/or Exbury Azaleas, I have never quite figured this out as the terms seem to be interchangeable, although I believe the original Knap Hill cultivars were further improved on Rothschild's Exbury estate, both superseding  the mollis types.

Rhododendron luteum (Scotland)
Young plant in my garden near the back door to catch the scent.
 My all time favourite for scent, I remember walking into Crarae Gardens and being knocked over by the scent of a few large specimens near the entrance. Faster growing than many now grows "wild" in several locations. top photo: Scotland

A couple of pictures of a big favourite which I grow at home "Persil" another Knap Hill azalea which bears a very pleasant light scent.


The slightly fuzzy pictures (low res.) above were taken in Scotland several years ago and I have absolutely no idea which cultivars they are and in fact more than one of them them may even be small leaved Rhododendrons but they look nice.

Exbury hybrid from seed.
I have two of these and I am quite pleased with the results although patience, as always with seed, is a virtue. Propagated from cold sown seed which is fresh or from cuttings or even layering in some cases.

No idea of the name but rather good.
Japanese azalea 'Manuska'
Unlike the deciduous types shown above 'Manuska' is a Japanese evergreen Azalea, generally low-growing and small leaved, the evergreen Japanese types are more interesting than the deciduous cultivars in that they hold all the year round colour.
eciduous Azaleas, even with their colourful but sparse autumn leaves, are best left to larger gardens as they can not be regarded as "key" plants with year round interest and in fact the lack of leaves can deem them fairly ugly for most of the year.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Autumn up close and personal.

We seem to be having quite reasonable weather at the moment, not too wet! As the garden fades from late summer and everything changes from a lush green to the yellows, reds and browns of autumn I thought it might not be a bad idea to do some close-ups. Autumn is a time, after the summer colour displays, that, as in spring, we now turn to the individual beauty and form of flowers as they become less of a feature. Some which would be hardly inspiring during a summer of bright colours suddenly become subtly beautiful when not pushed into the sidelines by some of their more colourful cousins.

Eupatorium purpureum subsp. maculatum 'Atropurpureum'
Easy to grow preferring a damp position Joe Pye Weed is a beautiful late flowering six foot butterfly and bee magnet which does benefit from the "Chelsea Chop" if one remembers.

Actaea simplex (Atropurpurea Group) 'Brunette'
Coming in at around five feet with me the beautiful delicate white flowers of this Cohosh really stand out against the almost black foliage and are also insect magnets. 

Angelica archengelica cultivar.
Angelica archengelica
Two stages of ripeness of my favourite Umbellifer, the seeds of some of my plants with Angelica 'Ebony' in their parentage have a more purple hue before fully ripening.

Buddleja weyeriana 'Sungold'
Still in full bloom, this late-flowering Buddleja has the beautiful yellow colour along with the vigour of the more familiar types.  

Chelone obliqua
Easy to spot why this very hardy perennial is know as the 'turtle head', seems to thrive in the most hostile of dry conditions.

This is not the "common" montbretia but a named variety whose name I have forgotten, none of these orange/yellow types have the vigour of Crocosmia 'Lucifer' but tend to flower later.

Cyclamen hederifolium
Here is a Cyclamen mini-jungle, perhaps a mouse-eyed view?  

This nasturtium is a real beauty!

Lovely variation in what is a staple of summer in any garden, still flowering away and will last until the first frosts. Easily propagated, the seed can be found lying on the soil beneath the plants or even taken green from the plant as long as they are swollen enough. Dried and stored in the fridge will give plenty of plants for next year.

Gentiana asclepiadea
The Willow Gentian, yet another example of the genus Gentiana producing some of the best blues in the plant kingdom.

Kirengeshoma palmata
I have absolutely no idea why this plant has an AGM although funnily enough it is not listed on the RHS site as such. I have a large specimen of this Japanese rhizomatous perennial which sits at the base of a silver birch. I find the flowers are generally spasmodic and in a year with early frosts they don't make it to full flower. Although not shown all the lower leaves have been eaten away, I assume by slugs, but the damage does vary year on year.

You can't beat the knot-weeds for good late summer colour although they can be a bit invasive.

Sedum 'Jose Aubergine'
Sedum spectabile 'Autumn Joy'
For autumn read Sedum, glaucous foliage, preferring a sunny position but will tolerate some shade where they may flop, so another good candidate for the "Chelsea Chop"

Speckled Wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria) on Persicaria
If I ever doubted that I have dappled shade here is a native who just loves these conditions. 

Tricyrtis formosana 'Dark Beauty'
This plant was located at the bottom of a birch tree originally but has now "walked" about six feet from the base to get to more light.

Anemone tomentosa Robustissima
Big and bold, this "thug" is still one of the best for good for autumn colour in the most hostile of conditions.

Geranium 'Rozanne'
Leycesteria formosa
The Himalayan honeysuckle, seeds itself around a bit and its rather fragile hollow stems mean that it needs to be away from an area where it gets brushed against, which I haven't done! but still a neat shrub to have. 

Stylophorum lasiocarpum
Stylophorum lasiocarpum seed-pods
Now here is a thing, these plants are grown from seed sown in January of this year obtained from the SRGC as Hylomecon japonica which it ain't. I have grown this plant before and immediately recognised the leaf shape and to confirm my suspicions you only have to look at the rather extraordinary seed pods of this Japanese woodlander to confirm this. An interesting post regarding the question of the misidentification of Hylomecon is to be found here.
Lysimachia ephemerum
Not the thug of its relatives, the cool stately spires of white flowers add to the autumn garden however the weaker outer stems are prone to collapse.

I have several species and cultivars of Penstemon all in containers as they just won't "do" in the borders, this one just happens to still be in flower due to the fact it was damaged earlier in the year.

The Cardoon in bud.

The Cardoon
These two pictures are not from this year but are two of my favourite close-ups or macros as they now seem to be known now. There is something about this plant, it may be its Scottishness but I can only refer to it as THE Cardoon, it seems such a stately icon and what exquisite shades and textures.