Sunday, 31 July 2011

Luscious Lily exposed, sexy seedlings and other search engine optimisers

Here's an idea: take something beautiful and, phenotypically, half a country mile away from an Iris, and call it something mysterious and exotic such as Belamcanda chinensis. Everyone of a horticultural bent is  captivated by this orange flowered wonder from, we assume, the Orient. And then let the taxonomists have a gander at the DNA and shove it into the Iris genus, with the most pedestrian of attempts at nomenclature. Ladies and gents, opening this very day (Sunday July 31), I present Iris domestica (so it's from the kitchen cupboard, just beside the Cillit Bang®):

It's not fully open and, of course, there are many more blooms per spike. They're just not open yet. But I think I've done an alright job considering my hands were shaking (just got up, medication and excitement, I don't drink) and a gentle breeze was tossing it around just enough to be irritating. Why it's flowering four months after all the other Irises it could be related to, has no falls or standards but does have acne, a problem I've never had with, say, Iris chrysographes, I'm not qualified to say. But in 2005 Mr Goldblatt and colleague Mr Mabberley were sufficiently convinced by a strand of DNA and it officially became an Iris. I could understand Dietes, I must show you mine, totally forgot about that, from a purely visual aspect but, hey, I forgot how to read DNA about 20 years ago and I didn't really get why we had to keep murdering fruit flies to do it (there was actually someone at the university whose sole job was breeding Drosophila, not the most challenging of occupations) when a bit of grass would do!
Dietes grandiflora, from South Africa, where it is widely used in municipal planting (their version of UK councils' obsession with the awful Lonicera nitida or Senecio greyii), is drought and frost hardy. I don't know how frost hardy because it spent last winter as an adolescent at the bottom of my spiral stairs, where no amount of draught exclusion round the door prevents it being 10C colder than the rest of the house but is frost-free. It certainly didn't suffer in the draught, leaves remained green and glossy until I planted it out in April. However, I barely watered it and I suspect a wet winter in poorly drained soil would do for it in this country. A well-drained, lightly shaded spot is ideal: it flowers best after rain (or a session or 10 with my hose). It will take full sun or deepish shade but the flower show will suffer accordingly. But it looks a hell of a lot more like an Iris than the orange thing above. It also flowered several months ago, right at the end of the Iris season.

And now back to my original introduction …
Labelled "auratum" by someone who should know better but clearly a superb selection of Lilium speciosum rubrum. It would have been challenging for Lily of the year but for its tendency towards horizontality. The petals recurved a bit more but I had to capture its beauty before torrential rain or wind tore it to pieces.
Hello, I've just climbed in the window from the roof after playing with my great new hose attachment which has about half a dozen settings although only two are usable if you want any compost to remain in the pot: fine mist which is great for seedlings and plants with disposable petals such as the above genus. The other is like heavy rain and is perfect for giving pots a good soaking because so many people (none of you, I'm sure) think that as long as the surface is damp that's the job done. The only thing this achieves is to cause the roots to head upwards because that's where the water is.

Unfortunately, success requires standing there until the water is running out the bottom of the container (if it isn't, you've forgotten to make holes in the bottom and, unless it's a Water Lily, you're wasting your time because the plant died a long time ago, its roots having drowned. It's amazing the number of planters I've bought with no drainage, so many I actually had to buy an electric drill (okay, I was building a shit flat-pack cold frame from Creative  Garden Ideas which I notice is now £22 cheaper than the £60 I paid for some bits of wood lacking many of the features advertised, such as holes for the screws, a full compliment of brackets to hold the cracked cheapo plastic roof on and, essentially,  watertightness, a problem when I bought it to protect juno, regalia and oncocyclus Irises from winter wet).

The only problem with drilling through anything more adventurous than plastic and wood is it tends to crack, thus negating the need for any crock in the bottom for there isn't really one (thin metals such as aluminium I just turn upside down and use a hammer and phillips screwdriver to punch holes. It's important to punch some at the bottom of the sides too, in case the planter ends up sitting on a flat, wet surface, in which case the excess water would go nowhere).

Anyway, those were two of the most tedious paragraphs I've ever written but it took a flipping hour and I got straight in from work at 9pm and it was 10 and completely dark by the time I clambered in wearing soaking trainers. They'd better do some proper growing now. At least I was able to confirm that I do at last own Digitalis thapsi, its flowers having opened today, confirming it's the real deal and not purpurea. Photo to follow when there's a bit more to see. Actually, I'll see if I can find a free pic on Google … here we go:

As you can see it does have many similarities to D. purpurea which is why I had to wait for it to bloom to be sure because while I fully trust Chiltern Seeds ( and use them all the time, mistakes can be made with seeds that look exactly the same as another species. The main difference is that Thapsi is less erect and bushier than other Digitalis, a bit like D. obscura. I don't know how perennial it is but now that I've achieved it, I've had my thrill! Now I've just got to coax Obscura into behaving itself. I mean, look:
Actually I left it in a sunny spot for the last 48 hours and it's looking much more rigid. The floppy appearance must have been caused by too much water and insufficient drainage. A clay pot would probably help since they dry out in 25 seconds. Maybe it just objects to having "campanula" printed on the pot.

Anyway, I'm afraid it's more sodding Lilies but fear not, we're almost done and there's tonnes of other stuff too. And then maybe a few more mini gladioli hybrids, autumn bulbs if they come to anything, Bomarea blooms and then I'll just re-post some old stuff and see if anyone notices. I jest, of course. About the last bit.

It is finally the school holidays so I write this with the peace and quiet of traffic, power tools and a film being shot in the road outside. Bliss! As long as those piercing five-year-old trainee dog whistles are glued to their PS3s or whatever replaced the Commodore 64 and not polluting the peace to the extent that open windows on sunny days are unimaginable, I'm happy. And with any luck their headmistresses' plane will crash (her "school" is the greatest bane of my life, along with Indesit's service centre, where the word "service" clearly doesn't translate well from Italian. Still, with any luck Italy will default on it's sovereign debt repayments, Indesit will be unable to export and go bust and the six engineers and myriad call centre witches who failed to organise the repair of the simplest of faults on my washer/dryer will lose their jobs. That will teach them not to repay me the £50 I had to spend washing my partner's clothes in the laundrette while they filed their nails and made up totally inconsistent stories that are going to look very foolish in the small claims court. Anyway, enough of my standing up for the little man. Hath he not legs?

And while that deadful woman is in Benidorm, Blackpool or Bognor Regis, I can get on with tidying up a few loose ends in the garden and actually enjoy it without worrying where the next rock is coming from or what she's coming over to moan self-righteously about now. Do they have sharks in Blackpool?

Anyway, so the prize for the best performing Lily species in the face of adversity goes to Lilium rosthornii, narrowly beating the seemingly everlasting leichtlinii (one bulb still has unopened buds after two months at least of continuous golden glory; and tied for second is Mackliniae, which bloomed so long ago it overlapped with the Frits.

L. rosthornii, if you can spot them between the Mina lobata, Lathyrus sativus azureus and Ipomoea.
Rosthornii and Henryi, which I knew I had but I grow too many Nasturtiums to hide the lack of normal plants and they have a habit of camouflaging their more interesting but less healthy neighbours. At first I thought I had myself an extra Rosthornii and it had been mislabelled as Henryi. As they are at opposite ends of the roof and Henryi right in the thick of the Tropaeolum jungle (masses of T. peregrinum twisting itself around and budding up nicely for a yellow show while T. pentyphyllum is a little more restrained, already well into flower but less invasive and a bit on the fragile and, secretly, disappointing side. I was expecting more vigour but it seems to be more of a specimen plant). Back to the Lilies: I had to wait till I'd photographed them to get to the bottom of this week's Lily-based conundrum.

OK, it would normally by pendant but I assumed you wanted to see it so I carefully (there's one stem) manipulated it before capturing it without falling off the roof. So this is Lilium henryi, right?

And this is one of Lilium rosthornii's many blooms to have opened since Sunday (it's Tuesday) and a week and two days later than that but there are even more out now, also pendant and in a more convenient position to be photographed. I've checked the labels  (both from expert suppliers) and, more importantly, trawled Google images and they are this similar: although there would normally be more than a day (a month or so, depending on geography and climate etc) between the start of blooming; both are pendant with huge sex organs; both have those odd bumps and, crucially, green flashes on the petals.  The only visible differences are henryi being a slightly richer shade of orange and rosthornii having vague but definite whitish borders to the petals. If I didn't have both in bloom a few metres apart, I could never have seen the difference. From a sample of one, Henryi seems happy to flop, whereas Rosthornii, even under the weight of annual tropical climbers gone mad, has an erect stance.

A hoverfly investigates Mina lobata, an extremely easy climber which is now running rampant everywhere. Not bad for four seedlings! 
The Liles (lancifolium splendens) and some dark red hybrid that was meant to be black) finished flowering about a week ago (leaving the aforementioned Rosthornii which you can just make out at the bottom but the show is now stolen by the tropical Mina lobata, a red/orange/cream climber (cheap, cheerful and SOOOO easy from seed, yet your friends will think you're Monty Don) and that almost carnivorous looking Ipomoea. I think, by process of elimination, it's either ex-"Crimson Rambler", which could be anything, if you remember that Austrian monk, Gregor Mendel, and his peas and Chi squares. I don't, much, but then I only got a B for Higher biology, hence my dismal failure at Uni. Oh no, that was because I hadn't done chemistry since I was 14. Everyone else was post Higher.  And the then undiagnosed bipolar shite didn't help. Or it could be "Kiss Me Quick", which I recall going around poking into pots here are there with Tropaeolum peregrinum and Nasturtiums.

Ipomoea "Kiss Me Quick" courtesy of Suttons seeds. Hey, when mine actually get around to flowering I'll replace it, OK?  And I paid you £1.69 for a packet of what are basically weed seeds so I don't think you can claim any moral high ground here. And just to prove it, here's "Crimson Rambler", which is more often purple, not crimson.

Now, I promised the search engine some Liliaecious pornography so I'd better make good on my promise. It's a hybrid I don't remember buying but it is extremely upright, thick stemmed and has very slow to develop blooms (I've been watching them for weeks, camera poised) which are a creamy white with a hint of lime, and they are absolutely perfect! I hate white trumpet Lilies, I'm sure as a result of seeing too many L. regales arching to a muddy end. But this is like it's been starched and it's huge!

First, the sex organs in literally gynaecological detail:

I cannot find any mention of what is labelled (in my hand) "White Knigh" (sic) anywhere on the Web, nor "White King" or any similar name. Any ideas, feel free to let me know, there's a comment box at the bottom of the post.

There are one, possibly two, more lilies to flower, pending a miracle. One, L. poilanei, is looking very healthy, as one would expect from Crüg Farm ( I can't remember what I paid for one bulb but I think it was £10, which isn't too bad but enough to clear my conscience about nicking their wee picture of the flower. The dull bud pic is, of course, mine. You can  have the spider for free.

Pretty special, oui?

I just have to make sure this opens without being damaged in any way. The schoolkids at Columbia Road primary being on holiday should help with that, not that any of the little vandals would know a Lily from kelp. One more and we can move on to some more varied interesting species ...
L. wallichianum, a white trumpet from the Himalayas and apparently, in these parts anyway, one of the last of the year to flower, suggesting the mystery white above may have some parentage from this. But there are dozens of boring white trumpets so what do I know or, really, care? For some reason (enthusiasm and bad planning, that's two) I have another specimen of this but it's literally 3cm tall and really doesn't look like its heart is in this. But a lot of Lilies take a season or two to settle, that's why I haven't chucked any yet, even the ones that haven't broken the surface. Did I tell you that L. nepalense, famous for its stoloniferous wandering in open ground, has decided to sprout from a crack near the bottom of its pot? It's just as well I noticed or I'd have surely mangled it. It isn't going to flower, which is a shame because along with my other non growers/bloomers: canadense, primulinum burmanicum, majoense and fargessii, it's a real stunner (thanks to Wikipedia for the pic, next year, if my world hasn't imploded, it will be my own!):

There are so many forms of L. canadense, due, I suppose, to it's massive distribution, beyond the "confines" of Canada and down well into the US.  A red is particularly common, often called "rubrum". I have no idea what colour my two dead specimens are/were. Probably orange, knowing my luck.
L. primulinum burmanicum. I got mine from Prof Paul Christian ( and it's a healthy plant, very similar looking to Poilanei, only without the flower bud atop. Photograph ©flowerbreeder.
L. majoense. Yes, I know these all look the same but that's just because you don't know what you're talking about. Or perhaps I've been tricked into spending an average of approx £20 a bulb of the same thing. No, there are subtle differences and while all but Canadense are Asian, only Nepalense spreads further than a few small enclaves. It does grow in Nepal but also India and China, where all the coolest plants grow. We get Foxgloves, Dandelions and Thistles while they get hundreds and hundreds of Rhododendron species, Meconopsis and all the best Primulas. I think I've made my point. And I like Digitalis, I'm just too snooty to grow the common or garden form.
And finally L. fargessii, also green and brown but in a recurved, splattery way. It wasn't described until 1986 and comes from, you guessed it, Hubei, Shaanxi, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in China. That makes it sound common. It's not: you don't hide from people like the Cox dynasty until the mid-80s by making a show of yourself. Being entirely camouflaged might well have been in its favour.
I can only hope for a better show from the live specimens next year and that the ones that didn't even break the surface are just having a little rest. I've been a naughty boy and had a very careful poke around and only one bulb is rotten and that was part of an ill-advised eBay experiment where I bought several un-named (and several named) bulbs from a guy in China. Two were simply described as "Lilies from Sichuan" which could be very exciting, one is even looking healthy but blind (flowerless), the other is the squidgy dead one. There's also another L. poilanei which also looks good but immature and a couple of Nomocharis, not pardathina (got that elsewhere) so must be aperta as I don't recognise any of the other species in the list I've just looked up. It is about 5cm tall.

So, what I'm going to do now is show you a few of the species I have grown experimentally this year (I can't show you the dead ones, conveniently). This is by no means comprehensive: some have turned out to be so dull as to not warrant recording, some I want to revisit next year (if I'm still here) such as my 39 species of Gladioli seedling (I have another 10 unsown due to uncertainty over my future but the things are as easy to germinate as turf. In fact, the cotyledons look like they're off to a fancy dress party dressed as a blade of grass.

A small selection of Gladiolus specie seedlings. The monsters at the back is the "Suicide Gladiolus", G. flanaganii, so called because (legend has it) it only grows in cracks in inaccessible cliffs and collectors risked life and limb to get it. They can't be much older than 4 months, or a bit more for the first few which germinated in the heated propagator but I was only able to use it in such a shaded position it meant playing draughts (or checkers) with the germinating pots to get them a bit of light. These are by no means all my seed-raised glads, and if you include the half-dozen bought-in semi-mature species such as the gob-smacking, red and yellow G. dalenii (below, not flowering) and the 10 or so packets of seed I am banned from planting, I must have at least 50 species. I had none and no interest in the genus two years ago. Yes, I do have Asperger's!
"I WILL flower next year having made it through the winter. Somehow."

I haven't time or the wit to look up each species individually and find out whether it's a wet, winter flowering species or summer dormant blah blah, I just lay the five seeds generously provided by some suppliers flat on the surface of a gritty mix in a small, square pot (for space saving purposes) and cover with 5mm of fine grit or perlite (that's the white stuff, not the shiny stuff, I think). Stick them outside once the frost is no longer a danger and check daily, not because there's any threat to them (apart from gastrpods) but to bask in the self-satisfaction of these southern African species, used to life on baked clay hillsides, under waterfalls or in nutrient-free sand, popping up in your garden or, in my case, on my roof. Of course they'll all die in the winter but where on earth would I put 50+ mature gladioli species, never mind the miniature hybrids I already have.

G. albus on July 28 (and there are more buds). I first photographed it at the end of June. Now that's what Geoff Hamilton would call a "doer"! Dead-heading, something I don't believe in (prissy and hard work) unless I'm building up a bulb or similar, will keep it going and it hasn't complained about a fairly weak fortnightly feed with a specialised liquid bulb fertiliser. The two "nanus" hybrids from the previous post remain laden too. I reckon I can get this through the winter with minimal protection too. God bless the London bubble and a southish aspect! I believe it is a member of the x colvillei group of mini Glads.
"Atom" here, however, is a member of the Primulinus group of wee hybrids (and probably the most famous example, which must be why I've ended up with three pots). I have a semi-mature (ie purchased) G. primulinus which, all being well, should manage at least one flower if it gets through the winter so it will be interesting to compare the two. At the moment the parent looks more like an Iris, based on foliage alone but then the foliage of an infuriatingly unlabelled (PIGEONS MUST DIE!) almost flowering sized corm that came in the same order as G. Dalenii, Wilsonii, Primulinus and something else I can't be bothered climbing out the window to look for (it involves changing shoes and covering a chair with a refuse sack and very gingerly placing a toe on an upturned bucket without touching "Atom" up there as well as several other varieties and a pot of yellow Tigridia pavonias (which of course are all flowering one by one, rather than forming the mass display I'd imagined in my head. Anyway, this mystery plant has two, 60cm almost cylindrical leaves. It's either G. cardinalis (which only grows in waterfalls so that should be easy to flower, although it looks quite happy if utterly bizarre now, G. flanaganii or a Moraea. I know it's one I'm very keen on because I expertly repaired the pot with a whole roll of twine when the schoolkids scored a hit. But my point, longwindedly made I admit, is that juvenile foliage is just that, so don't be fooled.
There are more to come, most in this "butterfly" group which look the most like the gaudy hybrids that are so unfashionable, saved only by their diminutive stature. This is "Flevo Laguna" (no idea) and I've a yellow with red centre called "Stella" which has yet to open as well as others I forget. There are also several pots of what was until recently Acidanthera but is now G. callianthus. The flowers are quite large, star shaped and white with a dark purplish brown centre. I get annoyed when the taxonomists start fiddling with genera but actually, looking at the leaves and sprays of flower buds, I can see the logic. Unfortunately the nurseries haven't all got round to catching up so I've got three pots of the same thing with three different names. Oh well, they will keep the Dahlias company when there's nothing else but tired Nasturtiums.

Now, these little beauties are a piece of piss to raise from seed to flowering corm in a season. I've been after them for ages and only recently realised that what was happily living as Anothameca laxa "Joan Evans" has been lumped into the genus Freesia. Who'd be a taxonomist (no, not stuffing dead animals, it seems mainly to involve counting chromosomes these days when in the past you got to count petals and fun stuff like that. F. laxa also comes in an identical form but without the white (ie, the flowers are a deep pink). I pricked out seedlings from both varieties into the same pot and, while there are no typical flowers yet, there are several plants with markedly reddish leaves. These should be hardy and can even become a garden nuisance but keep sheltered and on the dryish side in a pot until spring when watering can begin slowly, remember, they won't flower till August in most of the UK.

Many of the species germinating now were ordered from afar many moons ago before all the unpleasantness with the school and were intended to replace the annuals and wet winter witherers. But whether there will be any place for them now, even though I sow tiny quantities, remains to be seen. What I'm not going to do is let extensively sourced and really rather expensive species, none of which I've ever grown before, go to waste. So I at least sowed some. There are still two plastic boxes of seeds stuffed with amazing goodies (including those 10 gladioli species and all manner of Rhodophialas, Moraeas and at least five or six species of Alstroemeria, three others of which I have successfully grown (but only Ligtu has flowered) this summer.

Bear in mind these all received the standard treatment of an open, brand compost mixed with perlite and sown on the surface (unless huge) of a 7cm or occasionally 9cm pot before being covered by either 5mm of fine grit or nothing (Mimulus, Isoplexis etc, ie the ones that are smaller than a grain of sand (which, mixed with the seed, at least helps you to sow evenly(ish)). I water these from below as even the finest rose on a watering can will blast them all into one corner of the pot, making pricking out impossible (All three Mimulus species grown this year have been allowed to grow several sets of real leaves and then torn into four or six "plugs". They soon recover and flower for months. Perhaps the biggest shock was the length of time (about three days) it took this to begin:

I know it's another creamy trumpet but with Lilies it's often a case of buy first, research later. In case you can't read the label it's Lilium leucanthum from Sichuan, China.
This is my third Rhodophiala species to spring up, along with montana and splendens. Bagnoldii is a Chilean yellow with Amaryllis-like flowers which either follow the leaves or precede them. Here's what it might possibly look like in five-seven years (I'll be in my 40s!) if homophobic schoolchildren and school staff, frost, partners and landlords don't conspire to disappoint me again:
Thanks Mikhail! Be sure to check out his seed site as imprinted on his photograph above: because much of Chile is high and dry, some surprisingly stunning flora, such as exhibit A here, can survive cold winters as long as they are dry. Treat them like alpines, that's pretty much what they are, spending winter under a blanket of snow and never getting too cold or wet. There are some very unusual species of common genera too! So remember that web address: The seeds arrive very well packed, you get LOADS and often something you don't remember ordering (my last lot included a species of Beech. I definitely didn't order a 30m tree for the roof. Prices are in dollars but range from $2 to, very rarely, $12 for something new or really special. There are a lot of un-named species too, I'm currently growing Montiopsis sp.1403 for example. There are many Alstroemerias, cushion alpines, Tropaeolums and bulbs/tubers/corms etc, all with photos, usually taken by Mr Belov himself. Seed is fresh and plentiful and the site will help with germination and growing tips (not that I've ever read any of them).

My other two forays into the Rhodophiala seed (I'd already bought a disappointing R. bifida bulb which has so far managed a 10cm leaf) made several months before the above was added, also germinated within a week and sit right now much as the yellow beauty, only with taller and thicker leaves. In fact they're still the cotyledons, I'm assuming all the energy is going into forming an energy store below ground to get through the harsh, extremely windy and extremely dry Chilean winter (the Atacama Desert in the Andes is the driest place on Earth (although Antarctica actually has the least precipitation – in some parts it hasn't snowed or rained for millions of years). I sowed them more thinly as I didn't know what to expect in the slightest and with geophytic (that's bulbous to you and me) seedlings I like to leave them for at least a year before disturbing (often because the bulb is the size of a grain of rice) and potting up individually (like I have room to do that!)

R. Splendens. See how sandy the soil is and I note the leaves are there. They look a bit tatty so I'm totally guessing they precede the flower stem but,  as I say, I have no actual knowledge here.

R. montana. This also comes in a peachy sort of form, suggesting a bit of promiscuity. The bulbs don't offset in the wild, don't know about captivity, so sexual reproduction is the only way to continue the family line and I suppose if the chromosomes add up, a certain amount of hybridisation is inevitable. But most of the pictures I've seen are this pure yellow. Other species are magenta (andicola and laeta), very light pink (ananuca) and orange (aruacana type B, no idea about type A!) and there's an almost white of rhodolirion very slighty suffused with the pink of the type. It also has moderately recurved petals and hugs the ground in a very sexy way. Naturally, it's out of stock at the moment! But a packet of around 30-40 seeds will set you back just $4 when back in stock.

Right, that's enough nicking of Mikhail's photography for the time being, although I hope he appreciates the plug (and the £300 I've spent with him!). Moving on to other seed-based adventures …
And this is Lochroma australis (beware the many spelling variations, I've even seen it Iochroma Australe). I have no recollection of ordering the seeds or knowing what the plant looked liked but I'm glad I did. I was a bit shocked when they came through, partly because they look like bulbs (it's a shrub) but also it's just not the sort of thing I'd try. Apparently it's hardy down to at least -12C. Here, take a gander …

Well, it looks nothing like those seedlings but such phenomena are not unique. Fuck knows where I'd put it.
Speaking of enormous shrubs, they don't come much shorter than this little groundhugger, Fuchsia procumbens. The flowers could not be described as stunning, unless you are a person of considerably restricted height and even then they are interesting rather than beautiful. This is from seed sown just two months ago! I have another, clearly related plant, F. Walz Polka, which shares the habit and some of the alien flower characteristics. I have no idea where I got it.

Fuchsia procumbens turned out to be a dawdle from seed, germinating in fewer than 10 days with absolutely no special treatment. And it's growing so fast you can almost hear it!
See what I mean? It's fascinating but tiny. That flower is about 1.5cm long so you'd need a lot at once to get any real effect. It's used more as groundcover and may be relatively hardy in the UK but please don't take my word for that (although I do have more than a few replacements).

Fuchsia "Walz Polka" is a trailer but the leaves are far more like one from the garden centre. It's that bizzare brown flower that gives it away. I could be quite wrong, my knowledge of Fuchsia genetics is limited to the fact that they are related to the evil Rosebay Willowherb (or Fireweed in the US) and can share pathogens. Unfortunately it's always the Fuchsia that catches the disease, not the weed which is a total bugger to get rid of, being rhizomatous and thus requiring complete elimination unless you want it to pop up again next week. Image © Little Brook Fuchsias, try if you fancy trying this. 
On to more seedlings now, with a close relative of my beloved Digitalis, Isoplexis, which seems to favour the Canary Islands as a home so they obviously don't mind wind, sun, salt, volcanic soil and drugged-up homosexuals. As for cold, we'll cross that bridge when I come to it. these took a couple of weeks to show and are making slow progress, which is a little worrying for winter but I have another packet so it's not a problem.

At last! Seedlings that look like proper seedlings!. This is I. canariensis which resembles Digitalis obscura a little but with the leaves of the brown or yellow species and a bit more solidity about it. The flowers, on spikes like Digitalis, are orangey bronze and a bit more tropical looking than a Foxglove.
I've not had much success with the more interesting Impatiens, my one and only seedling of the legendary blue Tibetan (here we go) I. namchabarwensis lasted a day or two and I can't even get "Red Wine" to grow so I was delighted when I took a punt on the yellow I. scabrida and this happened:

These are of course very ready for pricking out (and thus taking up MORE room but I cant do my trick of five plants to a pot, they take too much watering although one does get an instant effect. These have that classic Balsam shaped flower with the tail and lip … I'm not explaining this very well, sneak a look at Wikipedia's pic below. The shade varies and the flowers can have various brownish markings inside. It's just a shame it's an annual! Sometimes it pays to do a little research!

You know what I've just been doing? Yep, for the second night in a row I've been soaking my pots, especially the ones nearest the public who will flock into my courtyard tomorrow to make noise, chuck litter around and generally mill around the area very slowly. Even so, I'm considerate enough to make my containers very heavy with soaking wet compost so they won't fall on any of the irritating tourists getting in my way as I embark on an expedition to buy a newspaper and milk from the newsagent a gruelling 50 metres away. What people buying the live flowers from the flower market that has set up in my road every Sunday since time immemorial (and I know from personal experience) is that your purchases, unless indestructible things such as Pelargoniums or Petunias, will probably die, having spent the previous 48 hours on a marathon journey from Holland, passing through a zillion different environments before ending up on a stall in the street whether it is -10 or 30C, windy or calm, wet or dry. The orchids are particularly good at this. If you can keep the flowers on a Phalaenopsis for more than a week you get awarded a green thumb.

So, back up the Andes, eh? When I first saw a picture of a Schizanthus I was gobsmacked: bright pink and yellow has always been a favourite combination of mine, which is probably why I used to collect international copies of Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols which has a flourescent yellow and pink sleeve (I had around 50). Except in North America and the first 250 copies in Greece. Oh, and one of the myriad French editions. They're pink and green.

Anyway, this brilliant (in both senses) flower had me captivated and it was actually this that got me interested in Chilean flora. I have two species, S. hookeri and coccineus. The latter has been growing for months and months and while the plants look very healthy and 10cm tall, there is no sign of flowering. And it's an annual so it's either going to have to put on another 50cm before winter or go into some sort of stasis for the winter (it often spends up to eight months under snow in its natural home just above the treeline. The Hookeri seedlings are making faster progress.

These should turn into this:
So eyecatching – and it's not even the best one! S. grahamii is even better and brighter but my seedlings damped off
Shame. There's always next year, it's not like I can make the same mistake twice. Surely …
S. coccineus. They don't call them the Poor Man's Orchid for nothing. Actually, I think I might move to the Andes and become an Alpaca farmer so I can spend eight months of the year waiting for the snow to melt so I can look at stunningly beautiful stuff like this.
There have been some other surprising successes and failures: I'm fed up up with obscure Tropaeolum species failing to germinate, although T. tricolor did, although I have yet to see any flowers and peregrinum, which is basically knitting the whole roof garden together is just coming into bloom so there should be a burst of yellow any day now which is just as well as the Nasturtiums look awful when they start to go leggy, sending out multi-metre flower shoots from a bush of yellow shrivelling leaves and dessicated flowers that you can't reach to tidy up because all the other plants in the way are bound together by all the other members of the genus, Mina lobata and Ipomoeas and you can't move anything without snapping a shoot that has its roots in a pot four metres away.

A success (so far, I haven't pricked them out although I should) is Corydalis sempervirens:

So what if it's more pink and yellow, it's rare, it's sex on roots and I grew it from seed almost by accident.
And it wouldn't be me without a couple of Irises thrown in, I. lutescens and pumila. Both European bearded species confined to small areas, I'm largely convinced that most if not all bearded Irises, except the attractive ones like the Arils, are all subspecies of the mythical I. germanica. All of them: I. aphylla, atticans, albicans … I don't even have to do B to Z. Anyway, some miniature Iris leaves poking through some grit:

Give it a chance, it's only been a few weeks!
See? It doesn't even have to be properly yellow! It's called "lutescens", that's a strong indication of yellowness. Half of them are totally blue.
At least these Iris pumila in the Czech Republic are just about the right colour. According to Wikipedia (caution alert!) this isn't even a proper species but a natural hybrid between pseudopumila and attica Tineo (whatever that may be). So if they're all shagging naturally anyway, when does a hybrid become a species? When it breeds true, I suppose. But they don't. You can sow a packet of Iris lutescens and get anything from white to cream to yellow all the way through reddish brown to many shades of blue and purple with bicolours prevalent all the way through the spectrum. I suppose that's why it's called an Iris, after the Greek goddess of the rainbow.
Well, on that grumpy note, here a photo I'm very proud of, although I can claim very little credit for the plant other than buying the root thing off the shelf (I know, bad Plantboy!) and planting it up before snapping this really rather good photograph. Gosh, I am clever. Sometimes.

Zantedecshia "Picasso'

Right, it's after 1.30am, I'm off to read the same sentence of my novel five time with one eye shut (it's a long story involving a brick, a chav, my head, an exploding eye socket, urgent surgery and a lot of titanium where once there was face). Not the book, real life. This means that when my eye muscles get tired I get one half of the information at 45 degrees to the rest.

Goodnight, happy August, may you reap the rewards of your spring efforts (if you live in western Europe). If you're in Australia or Argentina or somewhere else in the Southern Hemishere, I've no idea what the season is.

The Plant Boy x


  1. Your rooftop garden looks beautiful! The photos of the flowers are amazing. You really know your botany. You really are a green thumb. Soon there will be a gathering of butterflies and bees in your garden. That's going to be exciting. :-)

    Galliena Gornet

  2. You have some gems to look forward to!

    Not convinced that this is Iochroma (that is correct - formerly classified as Acnistus) though. Keep us posted on that one. It's a gem of a plant! Take the minus twelve with a large pinch of salt though - a friend had a large (4metre) specimen that he lost a couple of years ago at far less. As they're deciduous, mine comes through the winters in the garage perfectly happily.

    1. Hi Keith, I started having doubts as soon as I saw that Iochroma was apparently a dicot and, having seen the actual cots! - these are mono. I'm growing them, purely by coincidence, next to a pot with three Veltheimia bracteata which have very similar foliage indeed but Im certain they are not the same things, unless an unbelievable mix-up happened at a supplier. The Vethleimias (yellow and out all winter with no visible damage!) have sturdier foliage with slightly crinkly edges. A wait and see job!

  3. Hello Chris,

    How are you? I checked your blog again. What an interesting re-read. :) The mislabeled Auratum look like Black Beauty and the white trumpet lily could be White Heaven. Hope you had a happy Christmas.

  4. hello
    is a very interesting blog!
    I'll plant some seeds rhodophialas, and if it goes well, I think I'll have 40 when flowering, germination with some advice?
    thanks for this blog