Book Review: The Plant Lovers Guide to Epimediums

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I adore Epimediums.  If there was a plant that I might collect it would be these so when I was asked by Timberpress if I would like to review Sally Gregson’s new book The Plant Lover’s Guide to Epimediums I didn’t hesitate to say yes.

I met Sally some years ago when I spent a day at her home learning about plant propagation so I knew she was a good plantswoman but I didn’t know she was a fan of epimediums like me.  Well not like me as she has been researching and collecting them for a number of years now whilst I only really discovered them two years ago.  The book opens with an introduction in which Sally shares her passion for this dainty plant and explains how she discovered the wealth of new varieties that have become available particularly since the Chinese varieties were introduced.  In her view Epimediums are about to take the gardening world by storm. They are already popular with some designers like Dan Pearson who recognise that the plants are excellent for providing ground cover even in tough dry shade whilst at the same time providing interesting foliage with the added bonus of flowers in the early spring. And what flowers.  If you look at one of the newer Chinese species such as Epimedium ‘Egret’ the flowers can be the size of a 10p and they hang from long arching stems just like a fine fishing rod.

Anyway enough of my obsession and back to the book.  Essentially it follows a similar style to the other titles in this series.  Firstly you have a section in which Sally describes different groups of epimediums so ones for good ground cover, ones for acid soil, with small flowers, large flowers, good autumn foliage.  She talks about what plants they associate well with and how to create a woodland setting particularly to show off the plants off well.

Then the main bulk of the book is an alphabetical reference of 123 varieties which are easy(ish) to come by in the UK and USA.  I say easyish as I was particularly struck by Epimedium acuminatum ‘Night Mistress’ and I have yet to source one.  Each description is over one or two pages per variety and has a good size colour photograph, the background of the plant ie: where it was found or who bred it, and a description of the plant and its preferred conditions. 123 varieties! And I thought I had a good range with 12!

The next section is on Growing and Propagating including improving the soil, all epimediums even the drought tolerant ones need improved soil, how to plant, how to maintain the plants, even how to grow them in pots and containers, which hadn’t occurred to me, propagating by seed and division.  We also have the obligatory section on pests and diseases which seem to be mainly limited to vine weevils and rabbits.

Finally, in  my favourite section Sally talks about the history of epimediums, how the Japanese and then the Chinese varieties were introduced into the West and the future of hybridising.  We finish with an introduction to the various plants men and women around the world who are breeding new varieties and, for me, some new nurseries to seek out.

I can see this book becoming a bible for me.  I have already made a list of the varieties I have in the garden, well the ones that I still have labels for, and I will be reading up on them to learn more. But what I really like about this book is that it is clear that Sally is passionate about epimediums.  You can always tell when the writer knows their subject or when they have just done a bit of research before hitting the keyboard and Sally is definitely in the first category.

I suspect that the lovers of epimediums are currently few but if you like woodland or shade plants or are into foliage then you really should consider looking at this book as I am sure you will be stunned at the variety of epimediums available both in flower and foliage colour, shape and size.

In a Vase on Monday – Floating Saucers

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Well here I am again for the second time featuring a vase on Monday – well to be a pedantic its a dish.  As I am joining in with Cathy’s weekly meme I thought I would follow her novel approach and instead of showing my vase on the modern fireplace I have or on the dull coffee table I would go outside.  So here you have a dish of floating hellebore flowers.  In my head the dish was much larger. I am sure it has shrunk over the years in the back of the cupboard. So I couldn’t use all the hellebore I had picked.  The intention was to include one from each variety I have.

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So here are my favourites and prettiest hellebores.  Starting top left we have Hellebore niger which has been flowering since before Christmas, then an unknown dark hellebore (the subject of the watercolour painting I didn’t finish) , Hellebore Ashwood Neon Star,  Hellebore Ashwood Yellow, Hellebore (Rodney Davey Marbled Group) Anna’s Red, unknown  Hellebore seedling (in centre).  In case you are wondering Ashwoods Nursery isn’t far from me!

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I think next year I will have to acquire  a larger dish as I do like displaying hellebores this way. I wonder what other flowers display well like this – any ideas?

For more Vases (or other receptacles) on Monday posts visit Cathy and check out the comments box.

My Garden This Weekend – 22nd March 2015

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The spring equinox has brought a weekend of heavenly gardening weather.  The sun has shone and there was a light breeze which wafted the big lumbering bumble bees around.  The scent from the hyacinths which are planted just at the top of the first flight of steps is absolutely wonderful.

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It is amazing how much the plants have come on in the last week.   I have two camellias both of them bought from the bargain section of a garden centre.  This one is stunning, covered in flowers and seems to be thriving since it was moved to the old Bog Border.  The other camellia which is planted next to it has two flowers and the leaves are still sad and chloroitic in appearance.  I think it is due to be removed as I have struggled with it for years.

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The main area of my focus this weekend was at the top of the garden which has been sadly neglected.  I have struggled with this area ever since it was created.  The soil can get dry and it is quite a sunny site, probably more so now that the adjacent trees have been loped.  I find that I need an idea/theme, call it what you will, to get my head around planting a border and this just hasn’t happened with the top of the garden.  Last weekend I weeded the border and realised that it wasn’t actually too bad.  The three bamboos are fairly well established now.  There is also  a fig tree which I had started to grow against a fence but decided to move up here and let it grow more naturally rather than train it. Today I added two evergreen shrubs which I hope will bulk up and add substance to the border as well as mask the fence when you look up the garden.  The white flowered shrub that you can see (apologies for the quality of the photo but my camera has broken again and I was struggling with my son’s camera) is Vibrunum tinus ‘Eve Prince’ and right at the end is an Elaeagnus x ebbingei which I am hoping will cope well with the dryish conditions.  I have also added a Lathyrus vernus and Nepeta Giant Six Hills’ which should work well with the already established Geraniums palmatums. Less obvious from the above photo is the work I have done on the other side of the path.  This is part of the slope that goes behind the workshop and was a mass of weeds last week.  I have dug it over and added garden compost and green waste to break up the clay.  Then I planted out a collection of plants which had been living on the patio for far too long.  I think I might call this the waifs and strays border as they are all plants that I didn’t know where to plant for one reason or another.  There are a couple of hydrangeas, a miscanthus, a mahonia, and an agapanthus as well as some small shrublets.  Who knows they might all establish and gel together but at least they are in the ground and have a chance now rather than languishing in pots on the patio.

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Elsewhere in the garden the first Epimediums are starting to flower.  They really are impossibly difficult to photograph.  This one is  the first I acquired some years back, the label long lost.  I now have 11 or 12 different ones and I was thrilled to see flower buds appearing on last year’s acquisitions including Egret which I had been warned could be hard to establish.  I also spotted the fat snouts of hostas beginning to push through the soil, the first fern croziers and the fresh young foliage of geraniums.

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Looking at the garden there is plenty of colour from the fresh green shoots and spring flowers but it is so hard to catch.  I especially like the way the low spring sunshine lights up the garden. I did some weeding and sorting of the Big Border rescuing two geraniums and an aster which had been engulfed by the Euphorbia characias ‘White Swan’ which seems to want to grow a foot across from where I intended it to grow.  Having replanted the rescued plants and moved a couple of grasses which were planted poorly last year this border has moved into the ‘watching brief’ category by which I mean that I have no plans to add to the planting, aside from some annuals, and I want to see how the plants develop and whether I have gaps or have planted too closely.  I feel as though I have got the majority of the back garden to this point now which is very satisfying and allows me time to focus on propagation and  day to day maintenance which will help me achieve the garden that lives in my head.

 

 

Sampler Finished and onwards to beads

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I have finished my modern band sampler and I am really pleased with it.  I just need to find a nice frame now and voilà it will be completed.

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My stitching is straighter than the above photo implies.  The wobbliness is because I haven’t reshaped and pressed the fabric yet.  I really enjoyed the effect of the tonal threads although the pale pink/white on the zig zag does make it look from a distance as though some of the stitches are miss.  But the most important thing is that working my way through this sampler has given me back the confidence I used to have when I did embroidery many years ago.

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So on the back of this new found confidence I have decided to take a leap of faith and jump in at the deep end with a project I have wanted to do for some time.  The instructions are included in Hazel Blomkamp’s Crewel Twists and the design includes a lot of bead work which is relatively new to me as well as some new crewel work stitches.  For me the attraction of Hazel’s designs is that they take the traditional Jacobean Crewelwork motifs and stitches but bring them into the 21st century with bead work and additional stitches from other areas of embroidery. In my normal way when I am pushing out of my comfort zone I have been dithering around finding the right supplies.  As the book is written by someone based in the Southern Hemisphere I have had to research what equivalent materials will be and search for suppliers. It is no bad thing as I have learnt that linen twill is the best fabric for this kind of work albeit hard to source and that there are a vast range of beads available out there in all sorts of sizes and colours but generally not the ones I want.  Luckily thanks to the power of the internet and a lot of patience I have tracked down suppliers for everything and the small, but expensive, parcels are starting to arrive. Next up is to learn how to use the light box I received as a Christmas present to transfer the design to the fabric.

Foliage Follow Up – March 2015 – Geranium palmatum

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This month I have decided to focus on one particular plant for the foliage follow up as I keep showing the same old plants month in, month out.  My chosen plant is Geranium palmatum which I personally think is a wonderful foliage plant before the electric pink flowers appear.  Read any description of the plant and you will see it is frost hardy and short lived.  I have a number of these plants grown from seed several years ago and they have come through the last two winters unscathed although admittedly the winters have been mild.  I think the lowest temperature we have had is -4C.  However, we have had some real frosts which have left the Melianthus major leaves scorched but the most the Geranium palmatum has suffered is some of the older leaves going a blotchy red colour.

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I like the leaves as they have a nice ferny texture to them and quite different to other geraniums.  They are called palmatum I think due to the palm leaf shapes.  You will also see how fresh and glossy the leaves are even in March and they stay like this all year.  The only maintenance is to remove the older leaves as they fade.

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And look at this wonderful fresh new shoots forming in the middle.  As you can see Geranium palmatum grows from a central stem, like Geranium madrense, so cannot be divided like many other Geraniums.  I think the only way of propagating it is by seed and I plan to collect some seed this year as an insurance policy in case we have a hard winter this year.  But….2015_03150007what really fascinated me where the shiny red leaflets clustered around the leaf stems.  So vibrant and attractive and I don’t remember having spotted them before.  I only noticed them when I was cutting back dead leaves and weeding around the plant and became completely fascinated by them. They remind me of onion skins, the ones just under the dry outer skins, almost silk like. Its amazing what you discover when you really look at your plants.

For more Foliage Follow Up posts visit Pam over at Digging