Saturday, 5 February 2011

Up, up and away! (and silicon implants in plants)

You know what's really annoying? I'll tell you what. To clamber around the roof with your digital SLR and its collection of macro lenses taking pictures of tiny seedlings, knocking stuff over and generally putting in a great deal of effort only to climb back in the window, change your shoes to avoid trailing mud into the house. And then realise you've forgotten to put the memory card in! AAAAARGHH!

Well, it's now three days later and I'm actually glad I waited because  I had been attempting to photograph the first flowers of Iris danfordiae (it beat the snowdrop by a day). But when I went out today in the howling gale to try again, not only did I spot Iris reticulata "Halkis" bobbing away in a corner but as I moved the pots along the windowsill to cram Halkis in, who should I notice but "Katherine Hodgson?" So it's February 4 and three of my favourite genus are out already! Now, before you scoff at the amateurish nature of these photos, please remember: a ) It is VERY windy; B) I am balancing at unnatural angles with one foot between some pots of Rhododendron seedlings and the other balanced on a huge clay pot with a Lupin taking up valuable space (might have to be brutal with that fella); and c) I am an amateur!

"Halkis" with those unique almost black ends to the petals

All very nice and the first time I've grown it, having spotted it in some catalogue or other and deciding I had to have it. I've also been coveting the next offering for 20 years: Katharine Hodgkin is a  hybrid of Iris winogradowii and Iris histrioides. When it first opens, the flowers have an ethereal color scheme that's hard to describe; a tinge of sea-green suffused with powder blue and fabulous intricate markings. It was just coming on to the market around the time my nascent Iridophilia was growing into full-blown mania but one bulb of this beauty 20 years ago would have cost you at least £30. For one bulb. And my pocket money was £5 a week. These days it has bulked up to the extent that it is quite affordable (though still the pricier end of cheap, if you know what I mean). Like all Reticulata irises it will grow anywhere except a bog but thrives in open, well-drained soil. If you have heavy clay, try digging in a bit of grit (I've discovered that pet shops - look under aquarium supplies - are a handy source of 4-6mm grit - and they deliver in quantities that don't require a crane). 

The bloom isn't fully open yet but you can get an idea of the complex markings here

I suppose you'll want some danfordiae too now? Better be quick before the bulb does that odd thing they always do in year two and, well, disappear. I assume little ricicles form during the season and take four or five years to mature, by which time the pot has been neglected or even binned. Any theories or similar experiences? I know I'm not the only grower to have suffered this phenomenon.

Well, whether or not I see it next year, we'll just have to wait. At least with three pots I can empty one out and have a good rake around! 

The Wind has knocked over Fritillaria montana which is not a disaster as half the bulb had rotted (it was left to the elements over winter, I just don't have room  in the bulb frame for everything. I had been beginning to think that the Frits that had failed to show any sign of life were probably goners until I spotted a lovely, fresh green shoot poking forth from F. carica...
Copyright  SRGC

... So I'm not giving up hope on the rest yet. At a rough count I'm winning with affinis, camschatcensis, michailovskyi (the hydra-headed variety), uva-vulpis, verticillata, pyrenaica, and, erm, that's all I can remember at the moment.

Fritillaria uva-vulpis looking most acceptable!

F. michailovskyi multiflora

Also got all my juno Irises in rude health, although aucheri's leaves are still looking a bit wavy at the edges. I'd put this down to a beastie and sprayed but it made no difference and as it gets larger they seem to dominate less. Is it meant to be like this? Iris stolonifera continues to go great guns as do orchiodes, zenidae and svet-something. The five bucharicas that were so incredibly healthy when I got them remain steadfastly underground. Maybe it's just because I started them a bit later than the others. They were certainly corking bulbs. Hmmm.

Oh, I've got a couple of these layered planters because if you can't go horizontally, and believe me, it's like a news editor trying to fit 2,000 words on to a tabloid page with a sidebar and nice picture up here, you must go vertically. They're brilliant, I think I might get one more. 

You plant it up layer by layer, backfilling with compost and then adding another layer of three space planter, giving you 9 pockets and the top layer to do with as you wish and watering is no problem because it all drains down from the top layer. The other one is a different brand which is slightly different but works on the same principle, but has three flattish water-soaked bags in the centre of each layer. They come dry, obviously, and you soak them for half an hour in a bucket (not a watering can like I did, it makes it very difficult to get them out once the magic filling eats up the water and expands massively. It has to be said, they look exactly like the silicon bags used in boob jobs, and have a similar texture (I imagine, never having had a breast enlargement operation myself, in fact I spend a huge amount of time trying to go the other way!) The centre of the top layer is empty, awaiting weather suitable for Tropaeolum incisum, which is waiting patiently in the cold (I don't have a hot) greenhouse for clement weather. The idea is the dwarf Rhodies, Iris collettii,  Primulas chionantha and secundiflora, Corydalis flexuosa, Anemone viridiflora (actually I think it might be dead) and a Tricyrtis hybrid, the name of which escapes me and is probably Japanese and hard on the tongue anyway, do their thing, covering the harsh plastic with green and bloom and then the Tropaeolum tumbles over everything. Although I hope the Tricyrtis and that primula at the bottom keep going.

I'm so good to you that I've limbed out the damn window in the dark to take a few photos of the the other and and example of the silicon implant (good flash too).  By the way,  if you buy one of either make (both sit in plastic trays) please be sure to get the drill out or, my favoured option, a phillips screwdriver and a hammer, and make plenty of drainage holes because neither tray comes with any, which is madness and WILL kill the plants in the bottom row, unless they're Gunnera manicata in which case I think you should go back and read the Ladybird book of gardening again as its 3m leaves may prove a handful in confined spaces. Speaking of handfuls...

I'm no expert on ladies' funbags but it does look alarmingly like the sort of thing you see on Nip/Tuck or whatever that US show about plastic surgery was called. They do expand impressively but I'm not sure how long they'll last or whether   they're really necessary if you have a watering can or hose - and, amateurs, I suggest you invest in one or other, a watering can is easier to control and less apt to blast seeds from their pots. (I'm being sarcastic.) And do they re-inflate? Don't worry, I'll do the test run, spending money I could have wasted on a £30 Lily bulb from Mr Christian and his Rare Plants. Actually my latest order cost £62. And I've already got one of them, oops!

So this fella largely continues the Himalayan theme with dwarf Rhododendrons round the bottom (the one you can see is a (presumably-German) hybrid called Baden-Baden). Above is Meconopsis x cookie and Primula maximowiiczii and something else round the corner, oh, I know, a lovely Lychnis x arkwright with orange flowers. Not Himalayan but that's the beauty of just growing whatever you feel like

Lychnis x arkwright
Primula maximowiczii

I'm hoping mine doesn't get this big

Iris/Anthurrhinium combo looking good, as are the early planting of massive Lily hybrids:

Right, it's late, I might update tomorrow with some seedling action or I might not, if there isn't any. I probably kicked it over anyway.
Would love to tell you  about all my lovely seedlings such as the red Delphinium nudicaule,  Primula laurentiana, Clematis Ladakhiana and many more but me have people coming round so I'll be banned from going outside in case I bring the garden back in with me so I'll save it for another post (ha, genius!)
Enjoy the spring sap rising and gardening too! 

The Plantboy


  1. Lovely irises! Those photos are great. Your lilies are growing already. Mine are buried in 20 inches of snow. Lovely and informative post as ever.

  2. Thatnks Lily, don't worry, most of my lilies remain firmly tucked up in their pots of fluffy woodland soil. Which means they might get a shock when they do wake up and have to fight their way through Mina lobata and a red ipomea! Keep warm! Cx