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.