Saturday, 30 October 2010

Tulips from Amster ... Damn!

STOP PRESS...STOP PRESS... My Rhododendron griersonianum seeds have germinated, all at once, in the last 24 hours, after months of nothing! That means I've managed Rhody cuttings (vireya) and seed. My fingers are turning greener! Anyway.

Morning fellow gardening freaks, hope you're well (especially Keith).

I got home from work in the dark last night to find that one of the clay pots on the windowsill outside, containing tulips overplanted with winter violas had blown/fallen off and smashed, rather annoyingly. It did however give me the chance to have a nose at the tulips which are beginning to root  (apart from the one that had rotted).

Oh well, I suppose I always need crock for drainage in pots....
All fixed, although whether the emerging tulips push the violas out of the pot we shall just have to wait and see

I also found two rather large bags, actually, sacks, of grit ordered ages ago from the same hopeless shower that provided the cold frame. The delivery driver had called me at work to say he couldn't get into the courtyard where I live and none of the neighbours were in. I asked if he could redeliver it on Monday when I'll be off work but he said it could be several weeks before he was in the area again! By sheer good fortune a neighbour arrived home at this point and he was able to gain access but I'd advise you to avoid Creative Garden Solutions with a bargepole, my experience of them has been an unmitigated disaster!

The Dianthus pipings are taking root in the heated propagator. It can't be more than three weeks since I struck them. Easy-peasy way to fill a lot of space in a new garden in a very short time while waitng for other perennials and shrubs to bulk-up

The Lobelia cardinale's taking a bit longer but the little roots can be seen starting to form through the clear pot

Better news now: the pipings from the old-fashioned Pinks I took a few weeks back have mostly rooted and the Lobelia cardinale cuttings taken at the same time and placed in a clear pot are  starting to make roots (that's the beauty of a clear pot, you don't have to keep tugging at them, you can see what's going on as I find ccuttings root most successfully when places around the edge of the pot.

Definitely a primula!

Pricking out the candelabra Primulas was the right thing to do (phew!) and they are beginning to romp away, depite the chilly weather but then they are from a climate far colder than London's. The Verbascum phoenicum are also now beginning to look like the real thing (albeit in miniature). Still glad I left the Lilies alone as more are germinating by the day and the little baby bulbs are probably as safe in their pot as anywhere else.

And the Verbasums are beginning to look like, er, Verbascums.  All 66 of them

This only really leaves me with the dilemma of the Digitalis obscura which, apart from having some night visitor trample on them (squirrel probably) are making achingly slow progress and might benefit from pricking out, despite barely having true leaves but it worked for its sister ferruginea var. gigantea so, as I have dozens of seedlings, I might try the incredibly fiddly task of transplanting some of them into nodules. This will require the purchase of a new watering can (I've always fancied one of those nice metal ones) as both my plastic ones  have blown into the school playground next door and the kids are on holiday.

Digitalis obscura. A bit on the wee side for pricking out 

Oh, back to the grit: there are two kinds; little cotswold pea shingle for top dressing alpines and bulbs and anything the squirrel likes the look of; and a chunkier version for drainage in the bottom of pots and also lining the floor of the bulb frame so any water can run straight through, rather than leaving the pots sitting in a puddle. It will also help add weight to the bottom of my Lily containers as I was a bit worried that plants over a metre tall (with luck) would be prone to toppling in high winds. I've also got a packet of Tropaeolum majus "Whirlybird mixed" (semi-double nasturtiums to you and me) which I was thinking of planting around the bottom or there will be a lot of green before you get to the interesting bit at the top.
I'm also aware that my planting is a bit spring-heavy this year after getting carried away with my Frits and Irises, so the nasturtiums will keep colour going up until the first frosts.

Oh, a couple of Meconopsis arrived midweek: napaulensis and superba, and Iris collettii. I know, I just can't help myself. Is there a 12-step programme for gardeners?

Meconopsis napaulensis. The rosette will continue to grow until it is several feet wide and then, after a few years and when it feels like it, a stunning metre-high spike of (there is some argument at the moment about this as there are so many almost identical species) huge yellow poppy flowers will rise and amaze you. And then it will die.
M. Superba will send up spikes of white flowers with distinct purple stigmata

Iris collettii. The lovely blue/purple flowers only last a day but fortunately the plant is perennial.

And lastly, my experiment with Antirrhinum "Peaches and Cream" under planted with Iris xiphium "Eye of the Tiger" might actually work. The seedlings are bulking up and have been thinned, while the Irises have slowed down a bit (at one point it looked like they'd be in bloom by Christmas) so, fingers crossed, as ever.

May the sun shine on your garden this weekend, and remember, if you're British, you get an extra hour in it (I don', I have to go to work tomorrow). The plantboy x

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Love in a cold frame

Morning! Now, I'm not the world's best carpenter and the closest thing I have to a set square is a CD cover but, having spent £70 on a (small) cold frame to use as a bulb frame from a company I'd better not mention for legal reasons I found myself needing not only the former but also an expensive electric drill on Tuesday.

Well, that's the first two bits hanging precariously together
Can you tell what it is yet?
That must be the roof: 4 bits of wood (no pre-drilled holes or joints or anything useful like that and a of sheet of clear plastic with the corner broken off

And, hey presto, dry bulbs. Note mess in bottom right corner where plastic had smashed in transit. Not what I expected and not even what was pictured in the catalogue which at least had pre-prepared joints to keep the roof square, rather than the four unprepared bits of unfinished wood I got. Rubbish! Actually, you can't libel someone by telling the truth: the company are called (pretentiously) Creative Garden Ideas. I'd go to Argos if I were you

When I placed the order I was expecting to receive a bit more than four roughly hewn, unfinished sides and four batons and a cracked piece of clear plastic. In fact I had rather expected it to arrive already built, what with it only being 50 x 80 x 50cm. I would have sent it back but my need for a cold frame to protect my juno, oncocyclus, regalia and other arilbred irises from the winter wet is pressing so I made the best of a bad lot and spent £30 on a drill and set about making a mess of this living room (it was raining outside, further reason for urgency as upturned clear plastic storage boxes are not ideal for protecting very expensive bulbs from Central Asia.

I didn't make a brilliant job but it seems to be holding together and, more importantly, keeping the elements off the bulbs, stolons and rhizomes so I can start a strict watering regime, the only problem being that I don't really know what that should be. The oncocyclus and regalia will start in January (they're dormant right now) and the arilbreds should begin then too although two of the hybrids have come out of dormancy in error so I think I'm just going to have to keep them ticking over with the odd water, probably when I do the Fritillarias which will be getting a good monthly soak until they begin to break the surface when I'll start watering normally. All have slow release feed in the compost but the Irises in particular are greedy so a few extra feeds with a tomato fertiliser will do no harm, and are essential after flowering if you want a repeat next year and offsets.

Well, I'm off to the Post Office depot to pick up a parcel that was too big to fit through the letter box. It's usually something really dull like a bank card but that would fit through the slot and the little red card that should usually read "We couldn't be bothered to ring your bell, walk miles to the sorting office, which is only open in the morning" but actually said "parcel too big for letter slot" so I can only assume it's more plants, possibly even a few more to squeeze into the frame  from Paul Christian Rare Plants, I've gone for some of the reasonably easy (I use the word relatively, these hot-climate Irises from Turkey eastwards almost to India  are extremely fussy in our climate and are very susceptible to pathogens that thrive in damp (and that's damp by Caucasian standards, not British!).

Iris stolonifera (yes, it spreads by means of stolon: long, root-like structures, not to be confused with rhizomes) is a fine looking regalia type (the group is marginally more easy to keep going than the oncocycluses, and consequently not quite as mind-blowing. Just stunning.)

Iris stolonifera

More precious than any diamond (and about the same price): Iris nicolai

With the juno irises it's price rather than space that's keeping my collection manageable: a flowering-size Iris nicolai would set you back the best part of £30 and that's quite a lot for something that will probably get botrytis and turn into a something resembling a seed potato at harvest time! I did however go for Iris orchioides at a more affordable £6.

Iris Orchioides

Fritillaria bucharica

Notholirion bulbiferum

So, hopefully I will shortly be the proud owner of the above (minus Iris Nicolai, sadly)...

... No, it was another order, a couple of Asiatic Lilies and Iris reticulata "Natascha" from J Parker. Not entirely disappointing; "Natascha" is a lovely little thing, an almost white version of the common spring blue job:

The post hasn't been today so who knows, perhaps the rest will turn up, I did get an email saying it had been dispatched so fingers crossed!

Stop press: Delivery from Blooms: Fritillaria pudica, F. Michailovskyi multiflorum and F. Davisii

Now where the hell am I going to put them?

Happy gardening , the plantboy x

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Tibet or not Tibet (sorry!)

It's a wet and windy late October day our there, not a great day to be a plant on a rooftop, unless perhaps your ancestors live high in the Himalayas - I know that when I was in the Tsari valley in Tibet 10 years ago I was wet and windswept for the whole three weeks, with only a tent and bag of clothes at varying degrees of sogginess to keep me warm.

There were about 12 of us, not including the "staff": our guides, drivers and Sherpas, without whom we'd literally have been lost, very hungry and probably arrested. We had one professional expert, a youthful Rhododendron experenthusiast from the RHS (the only member of the team anywhere near my age, mid 20s) and a lot of retired amateur botanists. I shared a tent with a 64-year-old solicitor from Edinburgh, who was nice enough although the air at that height was so thin we all snored like yaks. In fact, I woke up one morning with a frog in my throat - literally - he'd just  jumped in in the night, found a nice damp, warm hole, the only problem being I needed said hole to breath.

A general view of the sort of terrain we were in, although it was a bit more colourful

Looking back it was an amazing thing to do at such a young age: I just contacted my chum Ken Cox at the world-famous Glendoick Rhododendron nursery and asked if there were any expeditions in the offing and it gathered pace from there. He didn't come but Janet Cubey, the  RHS expert, was a more than ample replacement, despite her youth. I hadn't met any of them until I turned up at Heathrow laden with waterfroofs and reference books but we all got on pretty well.

The area was a very sensitive one due to its proximity to the border with India and I quickly lost count of the number of checkpoints we had to go through to even get to the valley. Before that there were two nights in Katmandu (hot, smelly, not the Shangri-La you might imagine) but even there there was plenty to see – huge swathes of Cannas growing in any boggy ground and along the Brahmaputra river, Cannabis  (probably indica with much lower levels of Tetrahydracannabinol, not sativa, I didn't test it!) in every ditch and a whole range of other unidentified gems.

Cannabis  growing EVERYWHERE

But it was once we got to Tibet (having flown directly over Everest) that things got really magical. The first night we camped in a field studded with tiny primulas, a bit like Primula scottica, and another we had to trample a meadow of the beautiful Primula sikkimensis to set up camp which sounds like a horrific act of vandalism but the fact is they were so prolific it was just like camping on buttercups in the UK. And I'm sure they've recovered now!

The very lovely Primula sikkimensis. Makes a great mattress!

I was running around like a hyperactive kid who'd forgotten his Ritalin, never having been in this environment before, scrambling up rock faces to get a closer look at some Rhododendron or Meconopsis argentea - not in cultivation (all of this thousands of miles from the nearest hospital, never mind one you'd want to be treated in!) 

The  unfairly named Meconopsis horridula (I think it refers to the spiky foliage)

It was quite remarkable to just go for a walk and spot a cypripedium, countless Rhododendrons, which formed the bulk of the tree cover, Primulas in crevices, a Meconopsis horridula growing deep inside a rose bush and Irises gionocarpa, chrysographes and clarkeii, Podophyllums and that was just finding somewhere quiet to answer the call of nature!

A Cypripedium

Iris Gionocarpa

We did find what Janet, the expert, thought was a new species of rhododendron but I don't know if that was ever confirmed. Obviously we couldn't just go around digging stuff up but we had permission to collect seed. I think that was the day the fitter amontg us decided to trek up to a glacier (fortuntely nobody suffered altitide sickness, I think because we ascended quite slowly, often on foot).  I have two abiding memories of that day: one was a cliffside covered in red and pink (the guide insisted on scrambling up to collect leaves and flowers) think it was camtschaticum, which was a real treat because the season was disappointingly late that year and there weren't as many Rhody's out as we'd hoped. The second was sitting on a convenient tuffet to each my lunch only to wonder why my posterior kept getting nipped. Turns out I was sitting on an anthill and the residents had taken umbrage and were injecting by bum with formic acid. Painful and salutary but not fatal.

Many times, soaking wet, freezing cold and completely cut off from the world, I just wanted to go home. And then we'd turn a corner and see vultures the height of humans tearing at some unfortunate yak and I'd realise just what a privilege it was to be in this completely untouched terrain. 

Janet sent me the plant list once we got back but it's on my work computer. Suffice it to say we saw every species of meconopsis except cambrica (which is a british native), countless Rhododendrons, many in flower and identifiable, many in bud and frustratingly hard to name, dozens of Primulas from genuine, crevice-loving alpines to luscious bog-loving monsters, Pitcher Plants, several species of Orchid and many Roses and Irises, one of the latter in full flower and very similar to clarkeii but not.

Buddha's house

And I never want to see another monastery again. the first ten were quite interesting but by the time we got to the Potala I just wanted a bath and to buy some new, dry clothes! We stayed in what was then the best hotel in Lhasa and it had (brown) hot water for an hour a day. That was the best bath I HAVE EVER HAD!

Anyway, my cold frame is due to arrive today but I have to nip into Harley Street at lunchtime fora blood test and that is of course when they will try to deliver it. At least it's not perishable...

Happy gardeing, The Plantboy x

Monday, 25 October 2010

Green Space and Rooftop gardening in the City: My Own Little World of Plants: Siberian irises - and temperatures

Green Space and Rooftop gardening in the City: My Own Little World of Plants: Siberian irises - and temperatures: "Good morning! It's almost 6.45am here in London and the sun is already beating down with the thermometer touching 40C. Can you spot which p..."

Siberian irises - and temperatures

Good morning! It's almost 6.45am here in London and the sun is already beating down with the thermometer touching 40C. 

Can you spot which part of that introduction is true? That's right, it's dark and cold and I don't have to be at work for another five hours but I was awake so I thought I might as well get up and cheer us all up with a nice picture of a Crocus speciosus taken by my bood self yesterday.

They don't last long but they are beautiful when you get up close and personal! © Chris Mackay

The BBC are doing a feature on the morning news from Harlow Carr gardens near York, which I visited when I was about 7 seven yeard old and after which of course the strain of candelabra Primula hybrids is named. Apparently the have 250,000 daffs and tulips to get in in the next few days! I prefer to go for quality rather than quantity!

I caved in to personal pressure and pricked out the Iris sibirica seedlings as six came up in a few weeks and then nothing.  This doesn't mean there aren't more to come and I was very careful not to disturb the  pot too much and once I'd finished I covered with a .5cm of compost in case I'd brought anything to the surface  that I shouldn't have

An Iris seedling showing perfectly seed, roots and cotyledon (shoot), just right for potting into a 2in pot

     Any ideas?

It will be dead in a fortnight (never buy orchids from outdoor markets that have had a life cycle of: test tube, Dutch greenhouse, Dutch flower market, British flower market, windy pavement, my centrally heated house, bin)

Oh, remember I collected some fresh seed from the stunning blue Salvia patems to see if it would come true (I've got about a dozen young cplnes from cuttings) but one of the seeds has popped up, hopefully to be followed by more.

The Lathyrus chloranthus (dazzling annual yellow sweet pea, distribution from Turkey all the way to India)  has taken its place in a mini window box-style planter against the ugly polythene greenhouse and, considering the temperature last night, looks to be a fairly hardy soul which is good. I know you can plant the classic hybdrids in Autumn for an earlier show so I took a risk with this one too. If they don't make it I have another half-dozen in the greenhouse. It hasn't sent out any tendrils yet but the images of mature plants I've seen on the web do so hopefully it won't need any tedious tying in.

Look mummy, tendrils!

Otherwise everything seems to have gone into stasis as far as seedlings are concerned (to be expected with night temperatures just above freezing so I'm going to struggle to fill this every day without making stuff up. I could, but you'd probably want to see the pictures. 

The Iris Douglasiana hybrids have taken the huff since I sprinkled a bit of perlite over them after spotting a few embryos on the surface as well as a lot of green spikes so I'd have expected to see a few through the white covering by now but as the temperature is rarely above 10C I can see its point, I'd rather stay down there too. 

I'll have more time for a forensic (yes, I know that's technically a mis-use of the word, I do work for a newspaper you know) examination and hopefully wring some words out of that but in the meantime here's a nice picture to keep you warm. Except I can't cos they're all stored on my laptop at home. Well, just close your eyes and imagine a lovely Iris, or whatever floats your boat.

Till Tomorrow, the plantboy

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Nine months and then: babies!

I have a habit of placing plant orders online either very late at night or very early in the morning and while I'm completely sober when I do it, I often forget having done it. This, then, requires a trawl through my email to see find the receipts and see what I'm actually waiting for.

I know I'm waiting for quite a few Asiatic Lily hybrids from deJager and Van Meuwen and the following from my chums at Kevock Gardens:

Iris Collettii

Iris Napaulensis, with its stunning rossettes, up to 3ft across. The botanists are currently having a fight about just where this fits in to the genis as there are several very similar. Some think only the yellow ones are true napaulensis but previously they could just as easily be res or white.

Meconopsis superba

Just as well I'm growing it in a pot becasue Lilium Nepalense has a habit of popping up several feet way from where you planted it, wandering around all over the place underground!

While I tend to stick to species of genera, perhaps because that makes building a collection potentially finite but I'm a reall sucker for an asiatic lily and am awaiting this collection of giant fragrant hybrids from Van Meuwen:

"Tiger Woods" (presumably named before his recent "issues"

"Red Dutch"

"Tom Pouce"

I went out awandering yesterday to find some containers to plant them in (there will be five of each) and ended up at the World's Most Expesive Garden Centre where I spent £83. Although to be fair that did include a small bag of grit.

Some of the Fritillarias and Irised, now neatly topped off with a layer of grit to protect the stem,  avoid splashboack and just generally set them off nicely

Silly lily money:The basket thing will need to be lined with polythene (with holes in the bottom) and the two metal ones will have to have a few holes punched in them (I use a screwdriver and hammer)

Well, it's Sunday and that means Columbia Road flower market outside the front door so I''ll probably nip out in a bit to but something I don't have room for. Actually I bought a new vase the other day so might get some nice Lilies or Gladioli to give it a test run.

If your out in the garden or greenhouse this afternooon have a lovely time and may your efforts be fruitful!

Have fun, the plantboy x