Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Seeds of doubt

So, there's no room left on the roof although the natural winter die-back has created some temporary space. There's no alternative but to be ruthless next year as the plants (and hardware, ie pots, compost, etc) need to be concentrated around the edge as the the roof was never built to carry pots of soggy compost, it was built to keep the rain off the cafe next door! But as long as I make maximum use of the wide windowsills (which infuriatingly never catch the rain!) and keep the really heavy stuff, such as the Clematis tower, right at the edge, which it is, between two thin skylights which are very much in the way but very much useful for letting light into the cafe. Both my flat and the cafe are owned by the same landlord. The cafe (only open on Sundays) is run by his daughter and she's never complained other than about the time a very dehydrated pelarganium in a clay pot comnbined with a very windy day to almost kill a woman but ever since I've moved everything back and cleared the sills nearest the drop on market day.

So, no more room. I have trays and trays of healthy Lupins, Verbasucum hybrids, yellow dianthus (knappii) Primula candelabra hybrids and about a dozen pots of Digitaisis obscura, all of which I only need a few of and will give the rest away: My friend Linda M is overhauling a bramble patch into her back garden so free plants will surely be welcome, and my friend Linda Q might take a few off my hands too. I just have to grow them on a little more which I can do at Nicky's allotment (this is purely so I can choose the best colours - well, i'll only have three, they can have as many as they like, as can Nicky who has just bought a new house and garden.

Why then, have I been buying seeds by the ton (cos they don't take up much room, for a few months)? My new Twitter chums are to blame: pointing me to great but obscure seed suppliers (only kidding, I'd have dug them up myself eventually)!

So, here's the confessional (I was in a Liliaceae frame of mind)

From Secret Seeds:
Lilium ex Royal River hybrid  I'm always interested in the progeny of hybrids because you have no idea what genes might be lurking in there from many generations ago.  This is what the parent looks like, each of my 20 seeds will look quite different!   

Primula paxiana (primulaJesoana) is a cute little primrose which I believe is from Russia, similar to our native British  P. elatior (the cow or oxslip, can't remember which, the one that holds its flowers up in a ball, P. elatior, that's it). There's very little info on this anywhere so it's either very rare or very boring. Hopefully the former!

Primula prolifera Obviously I don't have enough candelabra Primulas so I got a few more, including this one. The Amber Candelabra Primrose hails from a wide region in nature: from the Eastern Himalayas to Indonesia and prefers a temperate climate (nice!). For maximum freshness keep seed refrigerated until it is time to sow. Hope they have but even if they haven't I'm sure my magical powers will extract at least a handful of usable seeds.

Digitalis thapsi Just when I thought I had the lot,  along comes this sweet little thing, like purpurea but daintier. The flowers are flared and have a white patch on the bottom of the inside, very reminiscent of a garden centre hybrid Penstemon. Colour, like purpurea, seems to vary from magenta to pale pink. There's probably a white form around but I'll stick to my pink. It flowers in its second year from seed and, like most of the genus, is short-lived so seed collection is a good idea id you want plants the next year.

Dodecatheon meadia It's a while since I've grown this odd cross between a Primula and a Cyclamen (not literally). It made a good gareden plant in Angus and is a wooland shade lover (though not too much dark, obviously). It's a wildfower of the southeastern US, from southeastern minnesota and southern Wisconsin to Oklahoma and Texas and, and Maryland to Georgia and Alabama. So it's pretty happy anywhere and I know from experience it's fully hardy halfway up Scotland so should be fine anywhere in the UK (except perhaps the Cairngorms!)

Albuca shawii (syn. trichophylla) I must admit this is a total mystery to me. It's not the best pic but it's the one from the suppliers' site so I'm not treading on any toes. Google image it yourself, it's lovely! The flowers look a bit like Clematis tangutica  from above.  Flowers yellow and green, nodding. Leaves narrow, glandular, reputedly smelling of aniseed when crushed! Summer-growing/flowering, winter dormant.

Anthyllis vulneraria var.  coccinea Another complete unknown which just makes it all the more desirable! "Commonly" known as red kidney vetch. An easy-to-grow alpine, this forms a low mound of downy silvery-green leaves, bearing claw-shaped clusters of orangy-red pea flowers in early summer. Blooming continues for many weeks, particularly in cool summer regions (check!). Tolerates poor soil and dry locations well, once established (check!). Plants often self seed: move seedlings to a new location while small, if desired.

Corydalis heterocarpa It took me many years to stop thinking of Corydalis as a weed as lutea grew in every nook and cranny, whether 20ft up or in a shady corner  in Scotland and I hated it. It was only seeing some  of the species in Tibet and finally flexuosa that changed my mind. It's a hardy biennial, bizarrely from the poppy family and in spring it thows up spikes of yellow flowers with brown tips. About 1-2ft in height


Oenothera campylocalyx Well, this doesn't look like any evening primrose I've ever seen, which is a good thing! It's a biennial or, if your lucky and it's happy, a short-lived perennial. Collect seed to be on the safe side.

Pulsatilla dahurica Well there is a huge amount of analysis of it's chemical composition and medical potential (the root is apparently ground and used for something but they're not allowed to say what because it doesn't work, like that rubbish where something is so diluted there isn't any of it left in what you take ... you know, Prince Charles convinced the NHS to waste all its money on it... homeopathy! It looks like a Pulsatilla, what more can I say?

Pulsatilla vulgaris red form Now this is more like it! Easy to raise, easy to grow (must get some limey compost) and unless they sell me a dud, lovely hot red flowers at a time when the garden is  should be overwhelmed by Irises of many types and shapes but all a bit flower-on--sticky. This should go well with the various Meconopsis and primulas that WILL have made it out by then!

And that completes the order from Secret Seeds.

Still being in a Lily frame of mind I stumbled across a quirky little site, Sparra's Nest, where an Australian Lily breeder was selling the results of his experiments with the paintbrush. Interestingly most of his crosses were between varieties that looked almost identical. Perhaps he is trying to perfect, say, the orange trumpet by crossing two sturdy examples or perhaps he knows something about the parentage of each that I don't. So out of curiosity really, I ordred a bulb each of lilium davidii X Lilium leichtlinii var maximowiczii (RM10-188), RM09-8-02 X RM65-108-1 (RM10-247), L. davidii X RM09-1-17 (RM10-341), and Orange Monster X RM09-8-05 (RM10-175). I know all that doesn't mean much to anyone, even Ken Cox, so we'll just have to wait for them to flower (they come with phyto-sanitary certificates) so it all seems legit.

Then I turned to good old Chilterns after that rather other-worldly experience, even though that the sort of thing I intend to be doing soon, though not with Lilies, everyone's been there, done that.

Oh, while you were reading that the postie came with a bearded iris hybrid called "Mocambe" although a Google search throws up nothing (and it's not Morcambe), two x 20 Alstroemeria Ligtu hybrid seeds (so I can experiment with sowing, given my lack of heated greenhouse, and an amazing five very healthy Iris bucharica bulbs with so many off-sets I have no idea why they cost only £2.75. I know it's getting to end of the planting season but what a bargain from eBayer PukkaPlants. 

Grit, slow-release granules, perlite, JI no 3 and peat-style compost, which should suit all three plants
Extremely good quality bulbs from the eBay seller, all 5 came with quite chunky off-sets which will flower  themselves the season after next

The bearded iris is a bit weeny and won't flower this year unless a miracle comes along but the pan of bucharica should be show-worthy! Especially if I get round to taking the labels off the pot... I don't expect the Alstroemerias to germinate until well into spring but moist compost is as good a home as a plastic bag. STOP PRESS: Having got so enthused by Alstroemeria Hookeri (it's coming up), I decided to bring the pot in to the heated propagator, along with Nectaroscorum siculum  and Penstemon digitalis. 

I have so much more to list but I think I'm going to have to break it into stages for your contuned interest and my sanity. So perhaps we'll end, for now, on Chilterns order number five of the season (there's a sixth), so let's plunge in (it's very lily-based).

Lilium Regale: Not my favourite, I think because it's so common ( I mean prevalant, not vulgar) and  perhaps because I can buy  "Three bunches a Fiver on yer Lilies now girls" every Sunday from 8am.

Joseph Hooker must have been having a good day when he stumbled across Astroemeria Hookeri! One grower had it in pure sand in his greenhouse plunge tray, another plant, from from seed is growing in course sand, loam and pumice in am unheated greenhouse in Oregon, USA. (No the warmest state). I shall bear that in mind should my seed come up. I really hope it does because this is a treasure and I'll buy a plant if I have to!
Lilium Martagon var. Album. Some of the seeds may have a greenish hue. Well, the flowers, not the seeds.
Lilium Columbianum. Native of western North America. It occurs in forest clearings, grows up to 1.2m and bears from a few to many orange flowers with dark spots. The tepals are 3 to 6 cm long and the flowers lightly scented. Native Americans used it to make food peppery tasting. It prefers that ultimate oxymoron of growing media: moist but well-drained. And it rarely survives being moved.

Lilium candidum (popularly known as the Madonna Lily). It is native to the Balkans and West Asia. It forms bulbs at ground and, unlike other lilies, has a basal rosette of leaves through the winter, which die back in summer. A flower stem, usually about 1.2m but up to 2m, emerges in late spring and bears the beautiful, fragrant, flowers. It is particularly susceptible to viral disease and Botrytis fungus. Of course, growing from seed deals with the former. You could spray for the latter, depending on your stance on these things

Lilium bulbiferm var. croceum. Not my favourite style of Lily, the squat, upward facing ones. But the only one Chilterns had left of their book that I haven't already got!

Well, that's part one of a three-parter, hope you enjoyed it and enjoy your own garden. Brits, get the bubble-wrap out and turn up the green house heating cos it's about to get brass monkeys! Happy protecting! The Plantboy


  1. What a nice and very informative post. I would love to try to grow those Pulsatillas, they're lovely.

    I planted some Dodecatheon meadia last spring as bareroot plants, they never came up, hope they will show up next spring.

    You grow some nice species lilies. They're pretty! Thank you for posting these nice pics.

    I know about Sparra's Nest. I agree with what you said.

    Check out Davids Hercbergs and Guntis Grants, both are lily breeders from Latvia.

  2. Thanks for the compliment! I'll have a look at the other guys, there are several Lithuanian nurseries too, must be the climate or something!.

    I've just ordered Lilium majoense, fargesii and ciliatum at a cost of about £50. I really want primulinum and lophophorum but they're sold out (and I'm spent out!)

    I hope your Dodecatheons make the effort this year, they're lovely little things. If not try again from seed, they're pretty easy.

    All the best, Chris