Monday, 25 April 2011

Beauty and the near East

The original first paragraph read: "I like to think that when Russell Tovey has nothing better to do of an evening (West End ovation, playing various Dr Who characters all done for the night, he enjoys nothing more than logging into a computer  just to check out what I've been photographing, just to make sure he's still the most beautiful thing in the world, despite the self-cool ears." And then I met a very drunken him. So even Ragwort is winning.

Here he is:
A jug-eared load-mouth
Now, the Aril I showed you last time was either Heindahl or Jehosephat's Revenge. This is the one that the other one isn't.
Well, I know which I'd rather have by the bed( It fits in a vase

You've got a real fight on your hands, mate!

See, It isn't just the other one with some heavy duty photoshopping!

I am still a bit shocked that I have managed this, in my first year too. Even if stolonifera and did "Dardanus" don't bloom, they not only survived but grew in the right way at the right time. So three junos and two arilbreds. I'd have taken that at Christmas! Oh, Russell, your next BBC3 series had better have you playing an invisible alien (it probably does) as that's the only hope  in hell you have of winning this beauty contest.

If only, what I really mean is here are a load of pics that didn't fit into any particular article and it would be a shame to waste them. Or me have to write much since I do it for a sodding living too.

But first, news: two of the mystery Lilies from Szechuan (no more info provided by Chinese vendor on eBay, really hope he didn't just dig them up... No, that's racism. A Nomocharis aperta (to join formosana and pardathalina, also responded to a naughty little rifle about the top layer of bark by revealing a perfect shoot. It should surface naturally any day. This is the same guy who sent me two L. ameonum, which I won for £20 on eBay, but sadly the arrived rotten. To be fair he was instantaneous in refunding my money.

His L. poilenai, a very rare Vietnamese native, is also going strong, a few mm tall now. The one from Crüg Farms is romping all over the roof but I'm just extending the season, right?

L. poilanei. Later I should have my own pix to show you.

I've been secreting Tropaeolums whenever I plant something in a pot big enough to take it. Which means the bare Lily stems are going to be covered, Victorian chair leg-style (that's a myth BTW). No Lilies have flowered yet but I'm pretty sure mackliniae is going to win. Let me just go and find a pic of progress, I took one the other day...

This L. Macklinaie was taken this morning and looks pretty likely to be the first of that most noble of genus, the Lily, to flower.  Someone, somehwere must have the national collection, probably a park of pile somewhere like the lost gardens of Helligan. But, and I know from experience, if you tried take a while to build up a National Collection,  with something like Lilies you would NEVER be fnished. You would have to make it Martagon types or Asiatic trumpets. Imagine the poor bugger who got stuck with something like Aubretia or Achillea!! 

The other contenders are L.cernuum or any of those "tree" hybrids I bought as a kind of screen. They're the ones with the most Tropaeolums in them, some just Nasturtiums but T. ciliatum, a yellow monster that may be added to the same banned list as Japanese Knotweed (one man who lived in a terrace of houses planted it in his back garden and it came up in the front, having travelled all the was under the foundations!) Fortunately mine's in a pot so if it gets too excited i have secateurs! Also courtesy of Paul Christian is T. pentaphyllum. There's also Tropaeolum tricolor and two Nasturtiums: one almost pastel beauty in off-white shades of pink, yellow, orange, etc called "Caribbean Crush" and, in total contrast, "Jewel Cherry Rose", a screaming magenta that could be used instead of flares at sea.

T. pentaphyllum. everything a Tropaeolum should be.
Paul Christian also sent me L. primulinum burmanicum which only arrived a week or so ago so no action above ground yet but it should look something like this:

This doesn't give you a fair impression of the size of the flower, which is about small saucer sized.
Anyway, a lot of seedlings have come out, things like an Aqueligia with flolourescent red and yellow flowers and another with chocolate flowers. The problem is, in this scorching weather, they are burnt before I even notice them. So I end up ordering the plants themselves which is not just a waste of money but makes one feel a failure too.

It's really hard to grow from seed up here. I can get amazing stuff to germinate, all sorts of Andean, Himalayan and southern African stunners; some amazing Alstroemeria (which I'm keeping going) but anything that needs a bit of shade just shrivels and dies. And then there's the sun bleaching the labels (which the pigeons with then pull out anyway). It's a bugger because a lot of the stuff I want to see can't be bought as mature plants or even rooted cuttings.

Having said rooted cuttings, at the end of last year, after a trip to the glasshouse at Kew where I was really taken by their species Pelargoniums. So taken, I got home and on to the internet here I found a nursery called Fibrex who had a HUGE range of modern named Pelargonium hybrids, sports and general freakery. But they also had many if not all of the some 200 original species. So I promptly ordered a mix of 10 of the coolest species and species hybrids (very first generation crosses).

They only strike the cuttings when you place the order, to save money one would assume which means if you order in spring you get them in the autumn and if you order nearer winter you get them when frost risk has past, so you can order any time but you'll have to wait months for them. I went for flower form and colour rather than foliar scent (not bothered in the slightest). One has died already for no obvious reason (it's not too hot on the roof for established Pelargoniums. These things grow (and survive) on the Skeleton Coast in Namibia!). I can see it from the window but not the label. It had quite different leaves to the others. A bit like a Whitebeam. Let me do some research ... It's P. "Splendide".

I have ordered a replacement - £7.99! But worth it for those flowers!
One has started to bloom already, and its leaves are a daft shape but not in a stand-out way so that's fine, and they smell of Pelargonium. Which is not neutral, not unpleasant but not very nice either. P. fulgidum. The plant is also somewhere in the parentaage of many modern hybrids. It grows on exposed, windswept granite outcrops or on sand hills, near the coast. The species is confined mostly to the western coastal districts (of southern Africa). It's only just out so...

The flowers are very small, about the size of a penny when fully open, but a winning colour, combined with a compact habit, so you can see why their genes abound in the modern "Geraniums" you'd put in a window box today.

That was a rare chance of me taking photos and the timing being right to show them to you!
So I keep taking photos and never getting the chance. Hopefully if you're really into Arilbred Irises you can find my set of actually quite good shots of mine on Twitpic. I just went to check the other Arilbred and it's at the annoying stage where it isn't open enough for a photo but may well be perfect in the morning.

Oh sod it, here are a few tasters:

It's hard to tell exactly what it's going to look like when it unfurls but one thing is for sure: it will be beautiful! It's called either Heimdahl or Jehosephat's Reliance but a label mix up occured, infuriatingly

Here are some shots that fell through the cracks:

The Littlest Rhodo: keleticum. To be found in very windy places where pebbles count as wind breaks.
Rhododendron yakushimanum "Cup Cake". I have a nameless Yak hybrid in my garden in Scotland that the Cox's gave me when it missed the final cut. But as this has never been out  of its pot, it might be better able to
come to terms with the fact it never will.

Bearded Iris hybrid "Rare Edition", aply, though I'm not the sort of person who'd choose a plant by its name. My mum collected Fuchsia's and every year (this was pre-internet days) she'd go through saying things like: "Oh, you've got a great aunty Susan, shall we get [insert variety with "Susan"] in the name."

OK, so Iris flower stalks can be a bit fragile (I blame the breeders): This fell off and, what's worse, I can't  work out what it fell off! If you really like it Cayeux Irises of France can provide you with an excellent and very cheap rhizome. These all arrived last spring and all but one of the 15 or so plants, which arrived as a rhizome with trimmed leaves. You'll notice this was taken in the dark but fortunately the flash on the Canon series in question is quite good.

This is what they looked like when planted up (they arrived bare-root) and it was still possible to turn round on the roof. This is no longer the case.

A weeish Iris called Hocus Pocus. It had a similar accident and I had to get it photographed that night in case it flopped over night. So this is taken without a flash but in a very well-lit room. The only problem is the majority of the bulbs are Halogen, which casts an orange glow over everything when photographed (it's possible for digital SLRs to reproduce the foibles of film too much).

Iris "Dark Vader", I'm not going to class it heightwise, it's too tall for a dwarf but too short for an intermediate. It's about 6in. Here we have perfect falls (downward hanging bits), beard (go on, guess) and standards (the upright bits).

Fritillaria hermana ssp amonis. A bit of a mouthful, but easy and a bit more fun than a Crocus. And bad news on the F. persica front, the flower buds developed but then shrivelled. Dunno why because it was well but not over watered.

So this is the last of the Frits for this year, F. pontica. Hardly a stunner but it's a hard worker: the po's full to overflowing but I thought it best to focus on a single  bloom.

I wonder if this Lewisia cotyledon "Bright Eyes" knows about the 25 or so pots of "Sunset Strain" in the open greenhouse. It ought not to be jealous, this is exactly the coral pink/orange shade I was after anyway so I bought it. A yellow one would be good. I've also got one with a double-barreled name that has smallish white flowers with feint pink lining called cantellovii var cantellovii.

Gladiolus communis ssp. byzantinus; one of an indefinite number of almost identical magenta species almost exclusively from around the Med region, one, I think it's G. illyricus has naturalised in Britain but they tend to prefer spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and, bravely, considering the political situation there at the moment, north Africa. I don't know if it's only me who is confused by these almost identical species but I aim to get to the bottom of it without buying a book. Having said that Google is bollocks all use. Unless I can actually buy mature bulbs I can't compare the subtle (and they are subtle) differences without having them beside each other (great excuse to waste a load of dosh on low-rent bulbs).

The moment I've been waiting for: my first arilbred to bloom which isn't bad considering I only got it last yearr, once it had entered its dormant period. A cross between an Oncocyclus or Regalia (the spots hint at the former) and a standard bearded Iris (species or hybrid, it's up to the man with surgical kit and the cotton buds). I've lost the label for this but I know it's either "Heimdahl" or "Jehosephat's Reliance". There is a tiny possibility it's an un-named hybrid that the nursery (whose name I've totally forgotten) included as a gift, rather sportingly of them. I wish I could remember their name because they deserve a mention. There's another on the way, I think it's going to be a pink with the  signature spot and will be called what the other one ain't. The Oncocyclus "Dardanus" is still growing steadily as is I.stolonifera but, despite being a country lad I'm far better at telling whether a fan of leaves from a Tajik Iris  stolon is hiding a flower spike than whether a sheep is with lamb.

Primula Japonica "Apple Blossom", one of the sprawling candelabra group. This is growing in a large pot in an extremely moisture retentive compost as the whole group, and many of their relatives such as P. florindae and Sikkimensis which don't display the distinctive whorls of flowers around the central stem that Apple Blossom is developing. I have a whole packets' worth of Harlow Carr mixed seedlings (many will have to go free to good homes, I just haven't the room for them all. I have three mature plants that I bought last autumn and they take up a single 30cm tub and are a bit behind Apple Blossom but have split into several crowns each go we should get a good show. I've also secreted some Naturtium seeds around the pot so there's colour right up to the first frosts.

The intermediate bearded Iris hybrid "Red Zinger" (I'm trying to make these look interesting. If you want a boring picture most of the Irises are on twitpic.

"Brighten Up". A more appropriate name for this intermediate bearded would be hard to think of. Those orange beards really set off the golden yellow blooms which sit a well above compact leaves.

Primula Auricula "Sarah"

Camassia quamash

Meconopsis x Cookei

Well, there are more but I'm going to save them up, although when the Lilies start blooming I am going to have more than enough material for the rest of the year. Unless those little red beetles I keep squishing manage to get through the whole lot and that's going to require a plague!

In the meantime, please have a look at my Iris art on twitpic, some of it's really rather good, according to strangers!

Have a lovely, short week and thank goodness that sun's going in for a bit, which means pricked out seedlings have a chance of survival!

Take joy in your plants and throw away the bloody privet and anything that looks at bit like a daisy (Dahlia's excluded). 

Thanks for your support

The Plant Boy xxx

PS, Russell, you probably don't remember staring at each other outside Urban Outfitters in Covent Garden. I thought you were someone else I'd had a crush on a few years ago. You probably thought, who's this poof? I thought, "Why's that potential husband material such a fuckwit?"

Thursday, 7 April 2011

100, plenty out

Hello, welcome to my 100th post. I thought we could celebrate by me rambling on about what's going on in pots on my roof – probably much the same as is happening in your garden, but with more greenfly. Is it just me or is it a bumper year for the little suckers? But first, some pics of my Fritillaria pallidiflora.
It's an international bulbous bonanza – Iris bucharica from Afghanistan, Tadjikistan and Uzbekistan and, above, Fritillaria pallidiflora from China and Siberia. so, yes, they're both very hardy

Nice, eh? I won't patronise you but note the lack of tessellation. There are a few brown flecks on the inside of the bells but they're frankly not worth showing you. My plant is about a foot tall and I'm very happy with my three pallid flowers.
And just to clear up the Fritillaria acmopetala confusion once and for all, it has finally bloomed, leaving persica as the only Frit to bloom although it's halfway there with a topping of chocolate bells that should reach perfection in a day or two (it's hard to tell in this weather). I've already watered extensively, like, with the hose, and you wouldn't know it. And I know you have to soak each pot or you're doing more harm than good by enouraging the roots to head upwards because that's where the water is. Remeber that, any sprinklers out there – and you water the soil, not the leaves.

Not much going on in the inside either but there you have it, thank god for the wendelboi variety which has much more pronounced markings

Don't you just love pricking out anonymous seedlings, hoping like hell that they're something cool and then remembering that you wouldn't have ordered anything but the weirdest, rarest, least suitable for London rooftop seeds. I would be apoplectic at the ghostly fading of the indelible marker pen that means I have dozens of pots with no indication as to what is in them other than the seed leaves and then, fortunately, the true leaves. This has worked to an extent; I have identified one as a primula and another as an Iris. And by a process of elimination I think it must be Iris laevigata. I don't want Iris laevigata, I have a finite amount of space and non-descript members of my favourite genus are not welcome. But I did by the seed, almost as if feeding some sort of addiction.

Definitely Primulas, and I'm pretty sure some Delphiniums. But what the hell is that bottom right?

Lilium amabile (let's just call it "yellow form" while the taxonomists argue about pairs of chromosomes and dead languages, one of which I speak, to O-grade level. Guess what? "garden" is "horto" in Latin. You'd have to be dead not to work that out. 
However, much excitement at seedlings that do have labels, particularly Lilium Amabile (controversial yellow form that has never been officially named - it's usually deep orange/red), Lilium regale (I've never seen the appeal, I think partly because it always looks like it's about to fall over,  and Lilium pomponium, which I was good enough to show show in the previous post but if you can't be bothered, it's a short little thing with a huge amount of leaves and one perfect red flower atop them. I'll take six please. Actually I've only got three up so far but these things tend to happen in a flash so I'm expecting more over the next few days. I could show you photos but you know what lily, and actually most monocot, seedlings look like now:like a lover case "n" that straightens out, one end having been the root, which gets to explore compost, the other the shoot tip, which gets to see the shitty old world and pray for stem rot.

But here are the flowers because they're pretty:

A great shot by "Gunera" of amabile growing by the road somewhere in Europe, most likely France. I want to know what the pink thing in the background is now!
The instantly recognisable but often impersonated (sargentiae, wallachianum, are you listening). I don't know why I wouldn't grow it in my toilet, it's a beautiful plant but you've probably noticed I like my plants a bit scrappier!
Regardless, seed is now my favourite manner of propagation, mainly because I don't have ready access to the perennials and shrubs of the Himalayas to strike cuttings from. And you can't take cuttings from monocot plants anyway (that's anything that looks a bit like grass: almost all bulbs/corms, rhizomes and tubers, although there are dicot (generally pairs of leaves such as Roses, Rhododendrons and Runner Beans (see the lengths to which I am forced to travel to complete a Ciceronian triplet and thus keep my copy flowing like water over pebbles in a babblig brook, overhung by ancient Beech trees and with a resident Kingfisher shaking the water off his back before tilting his head back and swallowing his tiny catch in one).

Plenty of the seeds from have germinated with no help from artificial heat, as have more Gladioli. These is a theory that this is down to extremes of temperature in the same 24 hours, something that the spinning of the earth on its axis takes care of for us. You know about the three species of Rhodophiala: bifida, splendens and montana. I also showed you a stunning magenta Oxalis. Well this week something called Solenomelus segethii zoomed up – and when you see it you'll see exactly what drew me to it!

Yeah, it does have a certain Iris-like quality, doesn't it?

The Clematis tower has been draped with the gorgeous Jacqelin du Pré and it's mates, given a good chopping back a month or so ago (container grown Clematis have a far more rigorous pruning regime than those in the ground. Unless they're about to flower, they're cut to about a foot in Feb/March)

And sunshine too!

It has been a mixed week: The Lilies are almost all through, some of the species such as hansonii and latifolium, and the white martagons which I somehow managed to have three pots of (and seeds!) while forgetting to buy the type and it's sexy dark red, almost burgundy form (now rectified) can almost be heard growing, the big, chunky hunks. I've also snapped up what was advertised as martagon "yellow bunting" and this is growing nicely, three bulbs having a huge pot to themselves but this seems to be offered as a variety of pumilum by everyone else and it lacks the flecking on the petals that are such a feature of the martagons. But one thing is clear: I have too many lilies crammed into too many small pots. This will be fine this year (although toppling is going to be an issue) but I don't want to go repotting after just one year, I'd rather get them established first.

Many, bought from extremely reputable suppliers, have been a bit of a disappointment, sending up just a few single leaves or short, blind, shoots that won't flower, despite them being sold as being of flowering size and looking pretty chunky when I planted them. Plants such as L. ducharteri, in 2litre pots, have just sent up half a dozen stems with three or four small leaves, which is very disappointing. But at least there's something in there. I'm concerned about about my two pots of L. Nepalense, which are showing no signs of life. I also took a gamble on eBay and bought a few bulbs from a guy in China. The first, L. amoenum, arrived rotten and the others, apart from L. Poilanei (so sexy it's worth taking a risk on!), were described simply as Lilies from Szechuan. They arrived looking well but there's no sign of growth yet and I know there's still time but it's a bit of a coincidence that none of his Lilies (nor his Nomocharis aperta)  have shown themselves.

Also, nothing from my two pots, from different sources, of L. Nepalense although a tiny leaf has today poppped up in Oxypetalum v. insigne. Canadense remains somewhere east of Newfoundland and superbum is biding its time too.

Still, lots of little flowers to show you:

Rhododendron "Wee Bee"

Rhododendron "Little Ben"

Dodecatheon hendersonii, 3-4inch stem emerging from a perfect rosette. It opens slightly further in a Cyclamen stylee. It really is a gem, get one now for a shady but of the rockery!
And now a couple more to keep it company, which will enjoy the same semi-shade and that ubiquitous moist but well-drained soil. I can only assume it means plenty of humus (the soil, not the chick pea thing) and perhaps a bit of grit, especially for the gob-smacking Pulsatilla I'm about to show you. In a bit.

Anemone x lipsiense, a woodlander,  so plenty of leafmould or rotted bark and a spot where it won't get the mid-day sun or too much of it at any other time of the day. It spreads underground, I'm not sure by what means because I don't want to tip it out of the pot but stolons of some kind. Probably.
In the same delivery I also got an Allium flavum but it would be like showing you a spring onion with the bottom chopped off. I hope mine's orange, they come in the same range as Lewisias but paler. If it's pink I'll be annoyed. I had a pot of seed but it was well and truly squirrelled so, while I've left it as I found it, I'm unlikely to get much luck and I'm not sure the roof can handle many more bulb seedlings, what with 40 or so Gladioli, a number of Moraeas, and, just lately, Irises and Lilies. Fortunately I get to leaves the Glads in their 7cm square pots for a year. There are so few seeds (never more than 10 to a pot)  and success varies from 100% to 10 – I only want one anyway) they don't get crowded and have a chance to build up a bulb, sorry, corm, before they are distrurbed.

Anyway, that other Alpine ...

Pulsatilla alpina sulphurea: demure, diminutive and delicious (in a visual way. I wouldn't recommend eating it).

I'm slightly overwhelmed with rare and choice bloomery so let's just have a look at them, yeah, starting with a plant that wouldn't have been possible 20 years ago when Meconopsis punicea, an extemely delicate red thing thought extinct but fortunately it wasn't and neither was Meconopsis quintuplinervia, a rather drab (if the genus could ever have a member  so described).

Actually, it's not that drab, it was just never going to win against betonicifola. Now, these plants are delicate, apt to live short if exciting lives and have a chromosone thing going on. So some bright spark by the name of Cook got his/her paint brush out and came up with a not purple but a lovely coral pink hybrid with all the best bits of both. Usually in hybridisation you'll end up with a stunningly coloured bloom on a stem that can't support it or a fabulous scent from a grey flower. So when these two fell in love and produced the following, we all got a bit excited.

Papery perfection: these are both the same bloom, even though the lower looks slightly bluer. I don't know why, time out of the spikey bud I suppose. And guess what the best thing about this is? Unlike its parents, it doesn't die after flowering! You can keep punicea and quintuplinervia gonig for a year or two but if you grow them I suggest collecting and sowing seed annually. Fresh seed will germinate more readily but you can store it in a paper envelope in  a dry place  for a year or more but the longer you leave it the more sporadic or non-existent the germination.

Recent deliveries include the 10 species Pelargoniums (which we'll go into detail next time)  I ordered last year, five named Auriculas and, today, a Lily order I have no recollection of ordering but I must have. I would have been a long time ago because the last thing I need is another Lilium leichtlinii! also in there were superbum, davidii, suberbum, pumilum (I think I have double figures of this now). It was a joy to receive another lophophorum because my current specimen has yet to show signs of life and "Fata Morgana" is a bizarre thing worth having. Also, the picture of davidii on their website is a lovely shade, rather than the typical bright orange. Whether mine will be this shade, time will tell, but I hope it is:

And to round off, the first bearded Irises of the season (the stem of one broke within hours of me realising what it contained).

Iris "Extra"

Iris "Hocus Pocus"

And that's all for now, I have an appointment with a hose. Sigh. Brits, enjoy the weather, everyone else, you probably see the sun most days but enjoy it anyway and everyone, enjoy your plants!
The Plantboy