Thursday, 27 January 2011

It's Chile up here!

Here they come! Iris danfordiae
Blimey! What a difference a sustained run of days above 7C makes! Suddenly I've got bulbs nosing on up and seeds, all open to the elements, shedding their coats like a hen party in a nameless northern English city. On the Tyne.
Some seed had been waiting a long time and has clearly finished stratifying, such as Tulipa Turkistana, Fritillaria Whitallii (it lost its label to the winter wind but it's definitely a Frit, I can tell by the seed cases still stuck to the end of the grass-like shoots, and I only sowed that, acmopetata (why?) and graeca var something or other and they still have their labels, ergo...). Narcissus serotinus and Rhododendron yunnanense also fall into this category, ie sown in autumn and tucked out of the way till this glorious moment.

Tulipa Turkistana seedling. I know it looks like a shepherd's crook at the moment but one end has a root burrowing into the pot and the other will reach for the sun before the plant goes on to form something more recognisable as a leaf to soak up the sunlight and start really photosynthesising and building up a bulb
Two to three years later

What amazes me are the ones that have been out there a month at most and many even less such as the red Delphinium nudicaule, Clematis Ladakhiana and Lathyrus aureus. They're joined by Iris attica, Dianthus arenarius, Primulas laurentiana and alpicola (the white form, I think) and, very excitingly, Digitalis thapsi (sprouting like cress). I say this firstly because it looks like a plant of great merit, combining the best aspects of the flowers of purpurea crossed with a Penstemon, with a more pleasing bushy habit than the former and secondly because it's so crowded up there that I kicked over a pot of thapsi seeds while trying to manoeuvre a sack of compost and hadn't realised I'd bought and sown it twice, such is my voracious appetite for propagation (stop sniggering at the back).

Look, you try taking a sharp macro photograph of nothing specific when you have impaired vision, it's raining and your bursting for a wee! Tiny Digitalis thapsi seedlings. There are about 100 more already. I only want one!

There is also life in the Cyclamen pseudibericum pot but on closer inspection I don't think the seedling is what it said on the tin, being a dicot and having no Cyclamen-like characteristics whatsoever. There are others but I'll have to go out and check when it gets light (I've already bathed, traipsed to the Post Office depot, got second place in the queue and picked up a couple of parcels; infuriatingly I was briefly on the roof taking pictures when the mail came yesterday so it meant a chilly walk in the dark or spending the rest of the morning in a queue there).
But back to those seedlings: of course it does mean a huge amount of that most relaxing and meditative of horticultural tasks: (sarcasm, Americans) pricking out. I spent most of last Sunday afternoon doing the Lewisias - 29, all but the biggest few not really needing it but i'm hopeless at what the packet so casually describes as sowing thinly and evenly. Especially when the seeds are black and would happily pass through the eye of the finest needle. So before they grew into one big clump of cruciforms I got my domestic fork out and went for it. I'd better get lots of yellows, peaches and oranges for my efforts.

One down, 28 to go...

Fortunately bulb seedlings should remain undisturbed for two years because there are literally 100 young Gladiolus tristis in their tray, I think every single seed must have germinated - no wonder it can become a weed in warmer climes. The tray's not really deep enough for two years' life but with their remarkable zest they'll find a way. It will be interesting to see what comes up in the Lily pot, which is deep enough (about 15cm) besides the few true leaves and odd cotyledon already there (a lot withdrew during the winter but will hopefully return). I suspect I might get another flush of juniors, as often happens with mixed bags.
Speaking of bulbs, I've managed to work out that Calochortus flower after their leaves mature. Which would explain all the thick, grassy leaves and distinct lack of bloomage. While C. 'Cupido' has been outside all winter and looks none the worse for it, C. venustus is slightly more tender and spent the winter at the bottom of the stairs, an area we don't heat and where all efforts at insulation and draught exclusion have been met with a shiver and is, as my friend Roger would say, as cold as a witch's tit (apologies now to witches everywhere, it was a quote taken out of context and I will not be offering my resignation. Some of my best friends are witches). It is, nonetheless, in rude health with leaves about 10cm high so I've been hardening it off, bringing it in at night. Exactly the same  treatment has been given to Gladiolus byzantinus and the thrilling Dichelostemma ida-maia, a proper exotic! Both are showing a couple of centimetres of growth.
Ornithogalum nutans (yes, I have a bulb problem, fuck knows what I'll do if even half the South African stuff germinates) is biding its time but  Leucocoryne purpurea,  in the cold greenhouse, has a couple of shoots that I'm sure sprang up overnight. 

From those, should come... 
...Something like this. Surely too beautiful to be hardy in the UK?

So I said I picked up a few parcels: one was a systemic fungicide I should have bough last year given the  devastation wrought by rot on my Pelargonium species in the greenhouse (ironically the cold was no problem at all, something that might save my species Gladioli, Moraea and other borderline hardy bulb ambitions.
There were also three Lilium pumilum (tenuifolium) bulbs from Pottertons. I must have ordered these months ago because that's the fourth lot! And they're meant to be rare! Also in there was a supremely healthy looking Rhododendron radicans in a 10cm pot. This would appear to be an old name for R. calostrotum ssp. keleticum, which I got in a recent goody box from someone else. However, it's the smallest species yet discovered so I should be able to accommodate both. The Pottertons specimen in  particular is just too healthy and sexy to give away!
I might have to give away the Lily bulbs though as things in that department have reached saturation point. I've been thinking about how to provide colour round the lower parts of the plants and also when they finish blooming. I ordered nasturtiums last autumn to plant at the base because they gave an amazing late, late show last year but they're not self-supporting so I've also sent off for seeds of a red Ipomea  and also have tropical looking, half-hardy Mina lobata seeds so that should provide a tangle of vulgarity, in the best possible taste! I would have gone with sweet peas but they always seem to attract aphids like flies to a fresh cowpat. My nasturtiums always get blackfly but seem to be strong enough to shake them off (with a little help from organic spray).

Mina lobata. Something to look at when the Lilies have passed - and hopefully cover the stems too because they must be left to build up a bulb for next year

Not content with amassing a collection of the world's Lily species and quite a few hybrids too, I've also develped a fixation with growing bulbs from seed. The problem is most of the interesting ones are borderline hardy to tropical, ie, completely unsuitable for a London rooftop where everything is container grown, exposed to frost and, today at least, a biting wind. You already know about my pointless gathering of Gladioli and Moraea seesUndeterred I did a bit of investigation and found that Chile, the world's longest beach, also contains the world's longest mountain range and it is up there that some very beautiful and, more importantly, hardy, bulbs and other plants grow. Even better there is a mail order firm there that specialises in selling seed of many Chilean species and they really know their stuff. Having said that my order hasn't arrived yet and they are a bit on the pricey side but has a huge range of seed from trees to succulents to medicinal plants to BULBS!
So I put in my order, using the extensive info on the site to make my choices as most are extremely obscure and the should be dropping through the letter box any day now.
And if my magic germination touch continues I should be the proud owner of (I'm sure they won't mind me using their pictures since I recently sent them £40!

Alstroemeria versicolor

Loasa lateritia

Lobelia oligophylla

Montiopsis sp.#42 (unfortunately it's the purple one, not the intriguing cream flowers)
So I ordered them too, they're called Olsynium frigidum but look a bit like Caucasian Tulips

Rhodophiala montana

Rhodophiala Splendens

Schizanthus coccineus
This is just a tiny sample of the amazing array on offer. I'm sure I sent off another order the other day or maybe I was just play-ordering. Either way, you don't get many seeds but you do get very detailed cutivation instructions, because these are from considerable altitude, and germination  advice. No stratification seems necessary and temperature doesn't seem to be an issue at all. Sow and reap!

I got the post man today although there's nothing exciting except 100 orange plant labels (I fancied a change) and, just in time, a "widget, dibber [and more, white] label set" for pricking out. The widget looks really useful actually, better than the old dining fork I was using!

Now, bit of a disaster in the "greenhouse" where my species Pelargonium seedlings have been over-wintering, along with various other neglegted things. All my Salvia patens cuttings have died due to neglect although the Penstemons are okay (but then so are the ones outside). So the arrival of the fungicide this morning was timely, if a little late as the three "survivors" looked like this:

Oh dear.
So I gave them a good spraying and consoled myself with with fact that a consignment of 12 species and primary hybrids are being grown to order for my windowsills right now and will arrive after all frost danger has passed. Two named ones, a species called dichondrifolium and a primary hybrid, Lady Plymouth are much healthier but I'd kept the pots wrapped in the cellophane they came in and it turns out  her grace (or however one addresses a lady) was harbouring a real surprise!

Now that's fungus!
No idea what the fungus is and whether it's harmful to people or plant but it was unlikely to be doing it much good so it got a good dose of fungicide and they're already beginning to shrivel. If necessary I'll repot it, without the mushrooms!

Finally, I had a couple of clay pans that I'd rescued from Scotland lying around taking up room and a bag of free mixed narcissus doing the same so I decided to unite one of the pans with the surviving bulbs, which are already growing in that cheapest of growing mediums - air, packing them in as I'm not planning on nurturing them, just let them flower one year and chuck 'em because there is a hell of a lot in the queue to replace them! But they'll add a splash of colour to the tulips on the windowsill that I'm also growing in that wasteful manner. Pelargoniums, regal and species, will replace them although everyone eill hopfully be looking at the Lilies! 

For the other pan I bought a mixed bag of red Glads, Freesias and Anemones for a quid or so. The Glads went in first as they'll need the most support:

Then the Freesias...
No, not raisins, Anemones. Don't bother trying to work out which way up they go, it's impossible. Just spread them evenly over the compost, cover, water and wait.

And finally, for those of you who have been wondering about the black primula, Primula euprepes SDR6036, it's still with us. I thought i was going to lose it to rot, and the central rosette did require whipping out but there are several very healthy ones clustered round it. And just to prove it...

Sorry this post was so long in coming, I'll try to keep them more regular but it's a bit weird spending your days off doing your day job! 

Start sowing, keep growing and ENJOY YOUR GARDEN! 

The Plantboy

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Fit Brit Frits hit sunny bit, no shit! To wit...

Who cares if it's still January, it's Spring!
Just when you thought those Fritillaria bulbs you planted a few months ago had been eaten by a particularly agile mouse that had squeezed through the drainage holes, they start to come through, probably after the spell of mild weather since the turn of the year. The real stunners are still hiding but the more common ones such as camschatensis, uva-vulpis and the rare F. michaelovskyi multiflorus are up. There is also stunning news from the bulb frame that almost made me wet myself (well, I'd had four mugs of tea and going to the toilet involes climbing in a window so I was hanging on already (makes it really difficult to focus the trusty old SLR). Iris stolonifera, on which I'd given up, has sprung into life in a big might-even-flower way! This helped to off-set the horrible disappointment of the two Lilium amoenum bulbs I've been waiting months for from China arrived looing (and smelling) like a hospital sprout. So beware "canbeijing" on eBay, unless you like your bulbs slimy and dead. I'd make some dreadful pun about "can'tbeijing" but I'd get the sack from thee newspaper if they saw it.

First up was F. camschatcensis, a brown/purple belled wonder from the eponymous peninsula in Siberia. So it's hardy then.
This is larger than actual size but the final plant should be approaching half a metre in height

Fritillaria pyrenica. I note the label says "Easiest of the Fritillarias" Just ignore it

Fritillaria uva-vulpis. I'm sure I didn't plant that many ...
F. michaelovskvyi multiflorus, an odd little thing with clusters of flowers like its senior cousin (which hadn't come up yet and I've never had any luck with, despite it adorning garden centre displays each spring screaming "Only a moron couldn't get me to look like the ones on the packet!")

It should look like this

The bad news is I think I've  lost two of my arilbred Iris hybrids to drips in my rubbish bulb frame from "Creative Garden Ideas". It cost almost £70 and I could have knocked up something much better for a tenner. Anyway, I just hope I got them out of there before the rot spreads, literally. Certainly the junos are doing splendidly with all of them up, cycloglossa being the last one to poke through.

Iris Zenidae might not flower this year, I fear the two spikes mean there are two bulbs down there building strength but that will only mean double bloom delight next year

As a last-ditch attempt to cure the Arils, I've decided to expose them to the elements. It's crazy, it's dangerous but it might just work. Oh well, I could do with the pot anyway

But this disappointment was cast into the bin by the discovery of a lighting move to titillate my pleasure zones by Iris stolonifera - a regalia and thus technically more difficult to grow than the above "Aquilifer". Last week it was doing nothing, today  I noticed this:
Three spikes from the three-bumped stolon I planted last November. It's especially delightful because I really had/ve no idea what I'm doing! I didn't even know which way round to plant it as a horizontal stick doesn't really have a top. I hope each spike will produce heaven-sent brown and blue bearded blooms like the ones below
There's no-one to credit but great photo! Next year I should have some of my own!
Another sign of the mild weather is that two genera sown THIS year have germinated.

I thought these leaves of Anthyllis vulneraria var coccinea were algae until I took the freezer bag off. I also decided to do the same with the other 50 or 60 pots because every time it rained water just gathered on top of the pot so anything dicotyledonous would be squashed before life began.
Oh, it will look like this by the way. Only in container.  Not amazing but would be good in paving with alpines such as Dianthus and Thyme...
Maybe I just grew up with too much broom and gorse...
Lupinus versicolor: what a great pair of cots!
Why did I buy this?

I took delivery yesterday of another small consignment from Paul Christian, including Dactylorhiza fuchsii, a plant that used to, and I assume still does, grow with no human intervention near and in wild drifts in my old garden in Scotland; from pumice on a Beeching victim to my artificial wild flower meadow, it just popped up and spread. So it's a bit ironic that I had to bung PC £13.50 for one admittedly superb looking specimen!

Actually, I'm beginning to wonder whether it was fuchsii in the garden because it became necessary to move one due to idiot local farmer who thinks  anything, plant or animal, alive that isn't wheat must die so my mother (she's dead now so you can't prosecute her under some Cites law, although I'm an accessory) and I carefully lifted a single specimen out of the way of his bulldozer while he just looked us from his cab as if we were mad. I was. She wasn't. Much. Anyway, the tuber on that was of the testicular varitety. Hence Orchis, Greek for testicle. But What I just planted was more of the Hitler variety, if you catch my drift. Perhaps it hasn't reached puberty yet...
Which reminds me: huge disappointment to receive 2 Lilium amoenum bulbs from China bought on eBay from a guy with good rep but both felt and smelled like something gross and as I picked them up scales started sliding off and disintegrating so it's not even as if I could have tried to rescue something that way. I've planted what remains but if anything green appears it's more likely to be ectoplasm than plant tissue. To be fair to the guy he refunded my money on receipt of the photos right away.
See how shiny the scale is? That's not water, it's the stuff that lives under that really painful molar that squirts all over the dentist when the drill hits it
It could have been so beautiful...

But back to the much more reliable Sir Paul Christian...
Also in there was one of the few Lily species I don't have potted, sown or on order, lancifolium. It's nothing special but short of heading of to Asia with a spade and a lot of Yuan it's the best I can do just now. It's awfully familiar but  I'm sure there will be subtle differences when the time comes.

One more Gladiolus for my potentially disastrous collection, this one's flanaganni or "Suicide Lily" due to its scarcity and propensity for growing in remote, moist cracks and the lengths to which collectors would go to get at it.

The so-called "Suicide Lily" or Gladiolus flanaganii was highly prized by Victorian collectors who weren't put off by its habit of growing in the most inaccessible places such as cracks in rock faces where water would trickle down and by waterfalls and on sheer cliff-faces in the high Drakensberg

Finally, and this seems mundane in comparison when it's actually a highly-prized rarity,  Erythronium dens-canis niveum, a totally white variety from the tiny former Yugoslavian state of Montenegro (where spookily I've been - although I didn't see any Erythroniums but quite a lot of armed police and some nice mountains and lakes).

There's a lot happening outside on the roof all of a sudden with not just the Frits and junos coming through but the various Reticulatas coming through: "Natascha" such a pale blue it counts as white; "Halkis", originally discovered by Norman Stevens on Mount Halkis in Turkey.
 The flowers are a lovely rich blue with much deeper blades of almost navy blue, the whole set off with a vivid yellow crest.

Danfordiae, that odd yellow honorary member of the the group, is bursting out of the gravel. It will be interesting to see if it does its usual trick of flpwering and then disappearing next year. There are various theories for this, the most popular being that the main bulb dies leaving lots if little "rice" grains but surely they would send up a little leaflet? Well, I've tried not to over crowd them so I can tip one out after the leaves die back to have a good rummage around and see what's what.

These are variously known as Galanthus woronowii ikariae, G. woronowii or just G. ikariae. Sod it, they're just Snowdrops (apologies to Galanthophiles everywhere who would doubtless find 50-odd blue irises a bit samey.

There are also a couple of Calochortus, one outside, one at the bottom of the stairs which is frost free but very dark so I have to bring it up to the living room each day. I need to find out when I scan start hardening it off; I don't want to make the mistake I made with Oxalis deppei which I had down there too and immediatelt put outside when one if the three corms broke through (the other two are biding their time but they have plenty of time to catch up.

Calochortus venustus, not sure of its hardiness - can anybody help me?
"Cupido" is a very pale pink I just grabbed off the peg at a garden centre (although that's not the way to buy bulbs, always go to a specialist like van Meuwen or Parkers for your bulk buys and someone like Paul Christian or Jacques Amand for your treats.

Oh, and the tulips planted under the violas are making good progress, and that's also helped me to identify a pot that was squirreled but which is clearly red flowering dwarf "botanical - surely it's all botanical?" Tulips with red markings on the leaves. I don't think there will be any flowers due to overcrowding so once they've completed the cycle I'll find a nicer pot and spread them out. All my pots of bulbs have been totally neglected until this year, I even have one that I think might be Chionodoxa but as it has never flowered I can't say for sure. And there's a lovely old clay put I want to use for something stunning like Lilium Lophophorum that seems to have some old Narcissus coming u in it. I'll feed them fortnightly, let them die down and then find a more boring pot for them.

Definitely miniature Tulips. Akela, give it a survival badge, there must have been five max originally
They're not Tulips, Narcissus or any kind of Iridacae. They were pampered when I got them  but when they came up blind in their first year I lost interest. Unless one flowers next year after a good feed its bin time. I haven't exactly got the luxury of space up here. Especially after pricking out 29 Lewisias yesterday and taking two deliveries today, news of which I'll save  in case nothing else happens in the next few days

I've become obsessed with Gladioli species and other South African plants but equally confused by the seasons. All are ecxquisite but some flower in summer, some autumn and some winter. Apparently rain is the key. Only as the seasons are caused by the tilting of the planet and we're a lot higher up than Cape Town, it's not our summer, winter etc. And there is the added complication of a necessary dry period. I have bought six bulbs and countless seeds (I'm not including the European one's like Italicus or Papilio, beautiful as they are but I think I've mastered them) and I've had to do a lot of research on them and even then most of it is written by Americans which doesn't help much. The same applies to Moraeas (they look too much like Irises for me to ignore). Does anyone have any success with Gladioli species in the UK? I have limited glass cover (juno and regalia Irises) and an unheated polythene thing masquerading as a greenhouse. I am in central London's microclimate but if winters like the one just passed(ing) are to become the norm I will surely fail. Any advice would be great, even when to plant them is a mystery to me...

Till we meet again, put a spring in your step for me

The Plantboy

PS Fritillaria whittallii is germinating. This excites me more than David Beckham with his shirt off. The label has blown away but by a process of elimination I have identified it as such (F. whittalli, not topless footballer". Will confirm in 3-4 years. Of course, not trusting my own brilliance, I bought a mature corm, although it's still sleeping.