Monday, 1 November 2010

Phallus of forethought

Well, that title might get me some passing traffic from Google!

Amorphophallus Titanum in bloom. The name comes from the ancient Greek amorphos "without  form"  and phallos (penis) and titan (giant). It is meant to smell of rotting flesh (to attract pollinators because it won't bloom again for many years) but wasn't very stinky today. Perhaps something more fragrant was masking the odour. Incidentally, the plant in non-flowering years looks totally different, a 15ft tree with a bare stem around 6in in diameter and a few branches of leaves at the very top.

It's a reference of course to Amorphophallus titanum, just one of the many wonders I encountered on my trip to the world-famous RHS Kew Gardens this afternoon. And the sun came out just in time too,  it looked like rain when I set off but as I had nothing else worth writing about I made up my mind to cross right to the other side of London. I live in the east, near where the Olympic site is taking shape, and Kew is almost as far west as Heathrow airport. In fact there is a constant, like one every two minutes, stream of jets flying over so low you can easily make out the livery and wink at the captain. Well, maybe not the last bit.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself in order to excuse my use of the naughty word in the title. Although the roof is barely ticking along, that means there is still the occasional good news and those of you who read the update to my previous post will be aware that my Rhododendron griersonianum seeds, planted with floccigerum, yunnanense and hyperthrum, more in hope than expectation, had all decided, as if responding to some mysterious call of nature (no, not that kind of call of nature, this post is smutty enough as it is) had germinated. There must be almost 100 tiny pairs of leaves above the vermiculite at exactly the same stage and they weren't there a few days ago because I check everything regularly, even the seemingly hopeless cases.

They're a little hard to see among the vermiculite but they're there and one day should look something like this, although hopefully there'll be lots of variety in the seedlings, ranging from dark pink to scarlet

I am absolutely delighted by this, never having succeeded in germinating Rhodies before. Now I just have to hope the others do the same, perhaps after the winter stratification?

And this morning's check-over revealed something almost as exciting: four or five pairs of fleshy seed leaves of Lewisia cotyledon "Sunset Strain". I  have germinated a Lewisia before but purely by accident: the seedling appeared in the sand between the pots in my old alpine house. I had to go back to university before I could deal with it properly so I've no idea whether it was L. columbiana rupicola, nevadensis or one of the other species whose names escape me, or even a hybrid.

But that was then and these are now! I've already got two mature plants, one which is as healthy as can be but refuses to flower and another that has decided it wasn't going to be as easy to grow as L. cotyledon is meant to be and started to shed rotting leaves at an alarming rate. I've stopped the rot, literally and metaphorically, by removing all the affected foliage, dusting with sulphur and placing it on its side in the greenhouse. Anyway, here's one of the seedlings:

Note the fleshiness of the seed leaves, it's already preparing itself for a life short on water

And so to Kew, which was looking delightful in the late autumn sunshine. The first thing of interest I always come across ( I head straight for the alpine house every visit,  the new one is a marvel  of  architecture and engineering which draws in cooling air on sunny days through a maze of pipes, providing perfect conditions for the gems within) is Gunnera manicata which one passes on the way. It's way past its best now but the flower spikes are a sight to behold!

Also on the way were a few more traditional winter warmers such as Viburnum x bodnantense, a shrub that, if it flowered in July, no one would care that much about. But at this time of year its powerfully scented little pink (occasionally white) clusters of tubular flowers are very welcome.

Also invaluable (before the birds eat them all) are berries and here's an example that held up my progress to the alpine house and all its exquisite bulbs.

Skimmia japonica var.reevesiana
And a few flowers...

Cyclamen cilicium looking great, has seeded itself around and there are various shades of pink through to white
Okay, we'll skip a few which I'll upload onto twitpic and facebook, and take a quick trip through the massive rockery, originally built in Victorian times and with great use of water that allows them to grow bog lovers alongside Irises from Greek mountainsides. A lot of the stuff in flower was of South African origin, where the bulbs seem to flower in our autumn, which is fine by me!

Nerine undulata, one of several of the genus sprinkled around the gardens
Another Cyclamen, cyprium from Cyprus, growing in a little crevice, looking for all  the world like the seed was dropped there by a bird

Okay, I'll give you one more before we get to the alpine house. At first glance I thought this was Iris ochroleuca but that flowered months ago. So it must have been a Moraea, a member of the Iridaceae that often looks so much like the mother of the group that one wonders how the botanists can tell the difference. Just look at this:

You'd really have to know your stuff not to mistake this for our native yellow flag, Iris pseudacorus. Except that grows  by ponds in Constable paintings and this brightens up the Cape of Africa

Right, we're there. Here it is, completed in 2005, the new alpine house provides a sustainable, energy-efficient growing environment. The glasshouse is conceived of two back-to-back arches which create a stack effect to draw warm air out. Below ground level, air is pushed into a concrete labyrinth for cooling and then recirculated around the perimeter of the house via a series of displacement pipes. Further environmental control is provided by a unique shading solution based on a fan-like form similar to a peacock's tail.

Cyclamen africanum looking flawless

Androcymbium gramineum, so rare even Google has almost nothing to say on the matter except that it's from Africa

Arisarum vulgare, a plant from Mediterranean areas such as Malta. And there's nothing vulgar about it!

Daubenya marginata, a bizarre little bulb from South Africa
And I'll give you one more and save up the rest for tomorrow, which include stunning crocuses and bizarre but beautiful pelargoniums (some of which I really hope are included in the species mixture I grew from Chilterns because they are amazing!)

Trollius chinensis, a bog lover from, er, China

Right, that's enough horticulture for me today. Have a lovely evening and I hope you like the photos and are looking forward to tomorrow's snaps. Happy horticulturing, the plantboy x


  1. That's one cool structure - I must make the effort to get up to Kew one day, although I probably won't get out of the glasshouses!
    we grew Trollius chinensis this year for the first time and it was an absolute success!
    Love the "phallus" too!!!

  2. Yes, it's odd how it only flowers every 7 years or whatever but it always seems to be in bloom when I go. Hmmm... All the glasshouses were amazing but the best orchids are all behind glass and I don't have a polarising lens so the pics would be shite.

    I would still be in the alpine house now if my battery hadn't started running down!

  3. I am like you sir. Great stuff. I've got some Androcymbium gramineum seed I'm about to grow :). Evil grin.