Monday, 14 March 2011

Notes From a Small Roof

Well hello, hello, hello! he said in his best impression of Lord Stephen Fry of QI, though without the criminal record and wonky nose.


I have grave news: this post comes to you without the space-filling benefit and, perhaps more importantly, evidential properties, of my photography. Just as a whole genus of Fritillarias reach their peak; stenanthera has all three flower buds open and picture (bad choice of word) perfect; raddeana has overtaken all competitors and while only a cute 8 inches high, its creamy bells are beginning to open in the fulfilment of of horticultural ambition matched only by the rapid progress of the stolons of Iris "Dardanus"from sulphur dusted sticks of root sitting on a bed of gritty compost to a half a dozen groups of green swords with purple bases that are growing at half an inch a day.

But can I prove any of this?

Are Moraeas, Babianas, Lachenalias, Gladioli and Dahlias really germinating outside in a cloche after a quick spell in the heated propagator, having won their place in the spa through familiarity or curiosity, thrown up one cotyledon before being whipped out and crammed into a cloche that affords some protection from the elements. Yes they are! No I can't!

No, because a friend accidentally pulled out the card reader from my laptop and, forgive my language, buggered the computer right up (it's a MacBook Air, I've had it about three months . I've done it myself from time to time without negative consequences but this has done something awful, with the computer not accepting the card reader as valid or that card in the new reader I bought, hoping that might fix it. It won't accept any memory card in either of the two readers as existing. I reinstalled iPhoto, I tried to restore the disk but all was in vain so until I go to World of Mac in Regent's Street tomorrow afternoon, I can't show off all the Frits as they conveniently come good in a nice orderly queue, can't show my Impatiens namchabarwensis seedling or the Meconopsis x cookei flower bud's progress to priceless pink poppy perfection.

It's fixed!

I've been out snapping but the battery needs to charge up properly before I can show you everything I boast about. Oh, and the Alsroemeria Hookeri in the frost-free-ish cloche has flopped. So I won't be showing you that. Luckily I have another pot somewhere, greenhouse I think.

I was too busy showing you pix of Gladioli last time so please forgive me if I repeat myself; it's not to fill up space (although that is a bonus), it's just getting so hectic now with bulbs arriving daily (usually Lilium lietchlinii for some reason, I mean, it's lovely, but I've got 12 now!) and seeds popping up and backing up and then being eaten up by slugs or something more sinister. I can't remember what South African or Chilean bulb I've told you about or not so stick with me.

Moraea Ciliata fighting back against whatever snipped it's growing tip off. It's about 1.5cm now. I'm hoping for a second stem because I don't think I'm going to get any more plants, although it is only mid-March. The compost looks soaking: it's not, it's just the morning dew dripping off the cloche roof, which is flat.

The offender doesn't even do anything with the top of the blade, like carry it off to feed a fungus or build a nest, it just leaves (ha!) it lying there. Perhaps I should pack it in a bag of mini frozen peas and try to graft it back on? I've also had the "permanent" marker bleached off loads of stuff, inevitably seed pots and Lilies so while I can identify the Lilies (if they bloom), many of the seeds were chosen deliberately for their obscurity so even once the true leaves start to appear I'll be struggling.

Moraea ciliata, also comes in yellow and white

Mind you, the local wildlife has been so busy digging up the contents of pots indiscriminately, I've lost whole pots of seeds (and the excavations have to go somewhere, usually on the top of the surrounding seedlings. They're also attracted to anything bulbous (oh, missus) and I came home one day to find a huge pot of Lilium Leichtlinii excavated to a depth of 3 or 4 inches, despite there being flat bits of plant supports placed carefully over pots. If it got that deep I suspect it got its meal so it's just as well I have another two pots  but it's annoying. Still, seeds of Dahlia "Bishop of Lanstaff", which I didn't get round to protecting in any way, have whizzed up:

Well, he's got God on his side!

But back to these desert-dwellers that are germinating in cloches at 5-20C, depending on whether the sun is shining. I'm no expert but I think once conditions have been agreeable for long enough to break the dormancy in one seed it's likely (but by no means guaranteed) that most viable seed in the pot will germinate, providing that conditions are reasonably conducive (light, moisture, oxygen and seed and cutting compost. All carried all the way from Sainsburys along with new gardening gloves, a misting spray, plant ties, bug spray to see if I can save anything that has already germinated, most importantly the red and the yellow Delphinums [I'm not a fan at all of the back-of-the-border hybrids or even worse the regimented lines of suburban show enthusiasts seen from the communter train, I just like the unexpected, which is perhaps why I paid good money for a packet of seeds from Chilterns, a very reputable company, called simply "Delphinium unknown"] and granular fertiliser, picking up another 70 litres of multi-purpose on the way home ).

Delphinium semibarbatum (syn zalil) is yellow and something I'm so desperate to have that I have two seedling just about clinging to life but decided to find an online source for a mature plant. I found one, placed my order only to find out they have a minimum order of £20. So I duly spent ages making £2.95 into £20, only to receive a call from them this week to say it's out of stock and would I like anything else instead? I nearly exploded! When I placed the order ages ago they should have set one aside like everyone else does! So I've got £20 of shit I didn't want and hole in my life where a f*ucking yellow Delphinium should be. She didn't even apologise. If I could remember the name of the nursery I'd warn you but I can't remember what day it is.

What do I have to do to own one of these? I'm willing to offer sexual favours... although I'd need to see a pic first
The other stuff I'd bulked out the order with is worth having anyway, especially the yellow Pulsatilla.

Pulsatilla alpina x sulphur. Phwoar!
I have a pot of mixed Allium cernuum like these ones but the sodding local wildlife  has been doing the mashed potato on it so whether any remain near the surface to germinate I doubt. I think Allium is a genus that has to be carefully chosen from because most look like broken onions. And I bet the mature one delivered is bloody pink

This Bletilla striata alba was sold as hardy so it must be. There's no possibility it can't be. None at all

Anemone x lipsiensis. More yellow. Orange is my favourite colour but strangely absent in the plant world, apart from the Meconopsis weed. And marigolds

Okay, I didn't get my yellow Dephinium but not a bad haul, I'm sure you'll agree. This is Dodecatheon hendersonii

Okay, what have I been planting? Tonight, in the dark, I potted up a lovely old terracotta pot I bought in a bargain batch from the antique shop next door, six mixed for a tenner, probably because we have to move the moped and recycling box etc every Saturday night so he can set out his wares for the Sunday flower market (it's not just flowers). It was, of course, a mini Gladioli hybrid called Flevo Laguno.

Red and green should be seen, except after an exhaustive amount of hybridisation.
It's getting a bit confusing with some suppliers refusing to include Acidanthera in Gladiolus as the taxonomists have decreed. So I've some doubles that I won't really know about until they come up. For example I have Acidanthera murielae which is exactly the same as Acidanthera callianthus which is exactly the same as Gladiolus callianthus which is similar but not identical to G. nanus albus.
Gladiolus x collvilli nanus albus (bit of a mouthful, and that's the new name!

G. acidanthera (syn. murilae). Confusing but bloody beautiful and not to be confused with the nanus group of hybrids, largely bred with the help of the creamy yellow species G. primulinus, which I was sent along with G. Imbricatus and dalleni. Hybrids are reliable, easy to obtain and the miniature ones can be beautiful.

G. imbricatus (can't find a suitable pic of primulinus. I'll show you my own in a few years)

G. dalenii, I think I have this as a corm but will have to check. Definitely got seed, possibly germinated. 

G. nanus "Nymph" (and a good place to get them, Pottertons are great for alpines, unusual perennials and bulbs)
Gladiolus wilsonii. I've got a couple of bulbs from a guy in SA with stems attached so I should be able to not fuck this one up
So I've got about 40-50 Gladiolus species in various stages of likelihood to survive: from the likes of mature cardinalis and saundersii alive in pots to hyalinus, segetum, undulatus and watermeyeri seedlings; those planted but yet to germinate such as venustus  and virescens. Finally I've just taken delivery from of the really obscure species like quadrangularis, scullyi and pritzelli and if I can find any roofspace I'll sow them today, along with the rest of the Moraeas.

Another  big delivery was an order I placed with Crug Farm Lilies some months ago which arrived this week in a box that would have been more suitable for a large litter of Doberman puppies but had it got trapped in the PO depot it would have helped keep them alive. Actually, I think my tactic of complaining every day I got a red card despite being in has finally worked: although it might have something to so with the time I caught him about to leave when I asked if there was anything needing signed for and he sheepishly retrieved a box of three yellow martagon or pumilum, depending on who you believe, from the van.

So first the yellow Lilies, sold as martagon "Yellow Bunting". But everyone else has it as a form of pumilum. And looking at the flowers, they don't have any markings like martagon does and pumilum doesn't.

Anyway, there were three gloriously healthy bare-root sepecimens (bit late for bare-root now and the shoots were as long as the bulbs were deep). Can't remember who the seller was, yes I can, Hart's
The other Lilies are a mixed bunch, all coming with collection numbers, as do most if not all Crug's plants. The first out, the only with any foliage (and I won't bother giving you the collection numbers cos they mean nothing to anyone apart from the collector!

This is labelled "Lilium aff callosum" meaning the expedition members were unable to identify it definitively and so have hedged their bets. Having been on such an expedition myself you'd think I'd have asked someone what it meant but I'd always assumend if meant "affinity to" .

And I hope it does have an affinity to this! Yummy! This is the species callosum

Also in the doggy bag were auratum v. platyphylum

A stunner which could be mistaken for one of the blousy Asian hybrids but, while it is from Japan, it's 100% natural!
I've already got Lilium tsingtuense but won it on eBay and this order was put in some time ago. Anyway, no two specimens of a species will be identicle, unless asexually reproduced (in the case of lilies by rooting scales or the little bulbils that grow in the lead axils of a few species, but not all species are suitable candidates for both, or either, so the slow bulking up of bulbs is the only way to increase a favoured variety). There is also micro-propagation where a hormonally active part of the plant such as a growing tip is rooted in a nutrient agar gel in a lab. Only worth it if you're Dutch and selling billions of disposable pot plants or a top boffin at Kew or similar trying to save the very last specimen of a Chinese Prunus or the Wollemi pine (which you can't move for in garden centres now, just 17 years after David Noble stumbled across the presumed long extinct tree in a remote part of the Blue Mountains of Australia).

The petals are star-shaped and orange, neither of which are in its favour, I think because my mum used to grow a similar but more robust looking lily that she called a Tiger Lily (but what lily hasn't?) but I think must have been a dwarf hybrid or bulbiferum v. croceum

L. bulbiferum v croceum. I do have a pot of seeds but fortunately they haven't germinated yet

Next up is Lilium taliense (which I think I might have a double of too, no wonder I can't turn around without falling into a Rhododendron - speaking of which, it's really sunny here today and I may have at least one dwarf out by mid-afternoon)

Similar to L. ducharteri, I could fill a roof with these beauties!

Another double but this time for good reason because the original plant came from China in a batch where it was the only one named, so my faith in its nomenclature is shaky. L. Poilenei is a peach of Lily but not easy, so probably just as well I've got a back-up...

I don't really need to write anything here, do I?
And finally, L. speciosum

It is, as you'd expect, very similar to speciosum v. rubrum but with a bit less red. I'll be able to show you the two together if they flower at the same time
Also in the batch was Iris Barbatula

As an avid Iridophile I must admit I'd never heard of this but I'm glad I've got one now!
Now, before we catch up with other recent acquisitions (and leave me with nothing to write next time) let us zip forward to now. It's a lovely sunny morning and ideal for photography so here are three Fritillarias I was desperate to get the camera working in time to capture in case you think I'm sitting in some bothy in the Shetlands making this all up.

Got F. stenanthera just before it goes over. I'd never have expected this to be the first one out cos it's a tricky one. Supposedly

Next up another "tricky" one that was a ball of leaves a couple of weeks ago and then just rocketed up, F. raddeana

Shame about the background ...

This is about life size (erm, depending on your screen size)

And finally (so far, another couple of species have probably come out in the glorious sunlight) F. michailovskyi multiflorus. Only one of the 5 corms, the central one, has put on much of a show so that's the one I've concentrated on.

Dull but I've never succeeded with them before, despite them being regarded as among the easiest species. Well, I have now
Speaking of the sunshine, these were just a bit of red poking through their green coats this morning:

This is a wee Tulip called "Scarlet Baby". My original, and quite brilliant, plan for the outdoor windowsills was to plant up my most aged clay pots with tulip bulbs covered by a layer of violas to provide winter interest. But there were three  problems: firstly the violas came in big plugs, three of which just about squeezed on to the top of 10 bulbs but, secondly, the windowsill doesn't catch the rain, even during winter, meaning the violas never really left their original plug shape and, despite my semi-vigilant watering, the tulips just pushed them up, rather than growing through them as I had hoped. Still, at least I have some nice pots of tulips to look forward to. Although not as many as I planted because the third problem involved the wind but, more commonly, my foot as I clambered in and out the window, and gravity.
There are a few random bulbs I have to bore you with, several I may have mentioned already so let's get that out of the way: I definitely haven't told you about Amacrinum Howardii cos it only arrived today. It's a cross between that tart the Amaryllis and a Crinum. It's not fully hardy and flowers in the autumn so it may have to become a houseplant for a while. Quite a big one ...

It's about the size of a baking potato
But the plant in bloom, the leaves develop properly later, can easily reach 60cm

Crinum campanulatum came in a little batch from a guy in South Africa. He recommends growing it permenantly sitting in a bowl of water, which goes against the grain for a bulb but that's what I've been doing, having confirmed this on the internet. It also keeps it evergreen (although probably not at -5!)

That reminds me: must top up the water if nature doesn't do it for it for me. An hour ago I was snapping away in glorious sunshine, now it's as gloomy as a witch's fanny

This is a marsh, by the way
And now for the real giant: the almighty Amaryllis belladona (I have no idea where I'm going to put this in the winter but I'll worry about that then

It looks a bit dried out an wrinkly but it is perfectly firm and quite prepared to do this:
The leaves come later which is just as well as the planet might be knocked off its access
More diminutive, and something I've been searching for for a long time to the extent that I have seeds and a bulb, just to be sure, is Lycoris radiata, a perfect red South African bulb. There's a yellow version too, but don't sorry, I'm on the case!

It's perfect!

What else did I spot today?

A nice pink Corydalis I ca't be bothered to climb out the window to name but if you really want it, let me know.

The smallest seedlings in the world, Mimulus naiandinius, how the hell am I meant to prick them out?
Lilium Hansonii (one of two pots)
The main image is L. martagon album, of which I have three pots, forgetting to buy the pink and dark form, both of which arrived to day
Gladiolus Italics/byzantium syn. a million other names. One of the one's with the magenta flowers held in a secund

 Oh yes, and I have to show you the blue impatiens seedling:

See, it's true!
So, I've probably gone over ground old and new but at least the sodding thing's finished till I start the next one on Thursday. I honestly hope you enjoyed it, if I've stolen your pictures and you object please let me know. Otherwise, I hope your gardens are showing as much promise as my roof. Happy gardening!

Oh, almost forgot the answer to the question at the beginning: it's the climber Mina lobata, a touch of tropical flavour for the summer garden!

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  1. Those are beautiful Chris! I'm wishing it was spring here makes me want to grow more bulbs now LOL. So your favorite colour is Orange, made me start to think what plants flower in that colour, and your right there aren't that many. But I'm going to look because I'm curious about that. Those liliums just beautiful and the way those iris and tulips flower in a clump at the base of the leaves is fascinating. Re; the backdrop what about covering a piece of cardboard in black cloth to use as a backdrop? It would also accentuate the colour of the flower. Sigh, I'm envious.

  2. HI! It's so crowded up on that roof that it's a toss up between me or a backdrop blocking out the sunlight! Unless I find out when the sun shines west to east, I have a bit of white card that would do the job (and possibly blind me). It's amazing at the moment, every day there's other lily, Nomocharis, notholirion or erythronium up and another Frit in bloom. I can't wait for the Irises: juno, regalia, arilbred, oncocyclus and beardes from 2in to 3ft! I might have an orange in there, I forget... Cx

  3. Roof top gardening. I love very much. I also started in my own house. Photography.