Turning Japanese


I have to start with declaring, as it will quickly become obvious, that I know nothing at all about bonsai.  But with the power of google I am willing to have a go.

At our recent horticultural show one of the members donated a couple of bonsai trees to the plant sales table and my youngest bought one.  He has always had a fascination with Japan and had wanted a bonsai for years so at £5 it was rude to turn it down.  As the show drew to a close and we were clearing up there were a couple of small cotoneaster shrubs which were being grown as bonsai but in a standard plastic pot.  The gentleman who had donated them, having noted my son’s interest, gave him one of them and needless to say it ended up sitting on my patio table waiting for something to be done.


Having found an old shallow square terracotta pot while tidying up, the germ of an idea started to form.  I looked around the garden and sourced some bits of Malvern stone and set to creating a Japanese masterpiece – being a natural optimist what else would it be!  It took some time to tease the roots apart and clipping the more tangled fibrous ones so I had something manageable to handle.  I then carefully assembled the rocks into an outcrop, although I am sure it is completely incorrect geologically.


Getting the little tree to balance on top of the rocks while I spread the roots over the rocks was very tricky and fiddly. I can spend ages doing embroidery but this sort of thing I find very difficult and have little patience with probably because the roots didn’t want to stay where I wanted them to.  I weighted them down with gritty compost and then top-dressed with gravel.  I think maybe bonsai are normally topped dressed with moss but the gravel will hopefully hold everything in place until it establishes and then I can always add moss.  You will note in the top picture there is a small cane holding the branch up and this is to try to push the tree into a more upright position.  Saying that I recently saw some photographs of venerable old trees in Japan which were supported in just the same way!


Continuing the Japanese theme I was thrilled that little fernlets of Cyrtomium fortunei (Japanese Holly Fern) have started to appear.  The spores were collected from my own plant so this makes them extra special.  Building on this success I sowed Pyrrosia lingua ‘Ogon Nishiki‘ spores which I got from my favourite nursery Growild in Scotland.  You have to sow spores on sterilised compost and my preferred method is to bake the compost in the oven – leading to cries of ‘What is for dinner today? Oh the old family favourite John Innes!!’.

There’s a chance I might be going to Japan next year so maybe I will get to see these growing in the wild which would be amazing.

Saxifraga Silver Velvet

My plant of the moment is Saxifraga Silver Velvet.  It is just a haze of delightful sugary confection.

I have a growing interest in Saxifraga due to my burgeoning interest  in alpines but I also like the larger japanese Saxifraga.  This one was purchased in the summer from Cotswold Garden Flowers.  I have hesitated to plant it out  as it was an impulse buy; the velvety leaves coercing me to part with more money; and I haven’t decided where it should live.

I think this plant is aptly named as the leaves certainly look very velvety and quite exotic.  The trouble is firstly I find dark-leaved perennials hard to place in the garden.  The leaves are so close to the soil so can quite simply disappear from view.  I think it will need something light and bright planted alongside as a contrast and to highlight it but I haven’t thought what.  My second problem is that I’m not 100% convinced it is fully hardy.  I lost a similar Saxifraga two years ago when we have very low temperature (-18C) for several weeks, although a larger and older plant was fine.

My research indicates it is a woodland plant.  Which makes me think that maybe planting it under my Acer where the bright red leaves will fall around it might be good but the rest of the year….well  I don’t know.  It real bonus is that it flowers from now (September to November) and the flower are tiny dainty pink and white confections.

So while I ponder this further, like many a good gardener before me, I have planted it up in a pot and it is sitting on the Table of Delights where I can  see  it from the living room.

Table of Delights – May 2012

The Table of Delights is looking less than elegant at the moment.  It isn’t quite groaning with plants  but is definitely heading that way.  My seedlings which are being hardened off are sitting on it away from the slugs.  As you can see the rain has been pretty relentless in recent weeks and the temperatures have been low so I am behind with planting out.  However the low temperatures have meant that the seedlings havent progressed as quickly as normal which does mean that I have a bit of a chance to get ahead if the weather is fine this weekend.  Well it is May now so  its about time we had  some sunshine and reasonable temperatures.

The observant  amongst you  will spot that there are some Auricula seedlings on the table.  I was given  these  as tiny seedlings last year by a work colleague of my youngest who knew I was into gardening with strict written instructions.  Anyway, I don’t know what sort of flowers these will have but I am thinking on buying some nice terracotta pots and making a display of them on the wall.  I do like waiting to see new plants will do, for me its part of the fun of growing plants from seed.

The Table of Delights March 2012

I started a blog series last year which I then forgot about featuring what I like to call The Table of Delights. 

This is my patio table which sits outside the living room patio doors and I  use for showcasing nice delightful things in pots. Though if the last few years are anything to go by it will soon get covered in seed trays.  Anyway at the moment it is host to an Erodium pelargoniflorium which is flowering its socks off.  I am sure this is flowering far too early.  I bought the plant last year from Coton Manor and I seem to remember buying it in April in flower but it has been quite mild.  It was even flowering back early February before we had some very hard frosts and almost snow.  I really must plant it out in the border somewhere especially as I think it is becoming pot bound but I can’t decide where and it is so pretty to see out of the window. More pondering….

I also thought I would  show you the wonderful oak box my eldest made for me for Christmas but has just finished off.  As I said it is made from oak and the lid has Indian rosewood inlay with ebony stringing.  I am so proud of him.  He is only 21 and has been a trainee cabinet maker for just over a year now.  He has also done a joinery apprenticeship so can rustle up window frames, doors, staircases but found it unrewarding.  He now works for a local company who makes high end furniture and also Shaker furniture.  He adores his job and is learning so many skills.  Maybe one day he will have time to make me the long promised bookcase!

The Table of Delights – Mid Summer 2011

The Table of Delights is an arid place at the moment and somewhat neglected. I made a conscious decision this year not to have lots of summer bedding in order to avoid lots of watering and I am really pleased that I made that decision given the dry weather we have had more or less since April.

The only occupant of the Table of Delights is an Agave which I got at a plant swap at Cottesbrooke Plant Fair last year.  I think it works well in the blue glazed pot.  I did go to get the label to tell you which Agave it was but the name has vanished so if anyone knows the name of this Agave please let me know.

I realised when taking this photo that the table and chairs are overdue for a freshen up and the patio needs a serious weed in this area.

I might do a bit of a swap around and replace the  Agave with one of my many pots of Aeoniums and Echiveras the trouble is I can’t decide which one so now doubt  the Agave will stay put for a while.

I’m wondering what to put on the table for Autumn – maybe a pot of Colchicums we will have to see


Table of Delights – April 2011

I introduced a new series of posts back in February entitled My Table of Delights.

The posts feature the table on my patio where I have a habit of placing smallish plants that are at their best, or sometimes new acquisitions, that I want to be able to admire from the living room.

Sometime there is a small collection of pots on the table but this month there is just one pot.  It contains an Erodium pelargoniiflorum which I bought earlier in the month from the nursery at Coton Manor in Northamptonshire.  To be honest I had never heard of Erodiums when I bought but I was drawn to the flowers which reminded me of species Pelargoniums which are  new fascination for me.

Therefore I was very interested to discover it mentioned in the President’s Letter in the latest Hardy Plant Society Journal.  Roy Lancaster, the President, says that he acquired a “true Erodium pelargoniiflorum (as against E. troflium) with its swollen base”.  I had looked the plant up in my Plant Encyclopedia but it wasn’t listed so I pleased to find this reference and the article seems to imply that it is easily confused with other Erodiums so I went and double checked mine and yes it has a swollen base.  Interestingly the label even says that it is a very popular plant when the nursery have it in stock although this could be a clever selling ploy!  I understand that it likes the sun, is fully hardy and can be treated as a rockery plant but for now mine is potted up and placed in pride of place on the Table of Delights where I can admire it until the flowers finish or something else grabs my attention!

Do you have somewhere special that you display your gems or new purchases?  If so why not write a post about it and leave a link here in the comment box it would be great to hear about.

The Table of Delights

I have what I like to call ‘A Table of Delights’ on my patio.  It is just outside my living room doors and is part of an outdoor table and chair set but being a keen gardener I rarely sit down at it.  However the table is where I put my favourite small plants and I thought I might do a series of posts through the year showing you what is on it.

Over the winter it has been home to a stubby terracota pot of Viola and Cineraria.  I don’t think I wanted any bulbs in it but my memory really isn’t that good.  It’s funny as this simple pot is the best winter display I have and it was created from leftovers of other pots I planted up!.

I prefer Violas to Pansies as they are dainter and I think flower better.  These little Violas have been flowering on and off all winter despite frequently disappearing under snow and being frosted.

Next to the pot is a small wooden tray which appears to be just full of gravel but I can see, if I squint hard enough, that there are Iris Reticulata beginning to emerge.  I am hoping that they will flower as they are bulbs I saved from last Spring and I don’t always have success with getting them to flower a second year.  Time will tell.

The other pot on the table contains my Eranthis Schwefelganz which I bought in the Autumn from Avon Bulbs. As I have been moving a lot of stuff around where my spring bulbs normally are I decided to plant it up in a small  pot and then I could plant it out in the Spring when I had a better idea of where it was going to live.  Then I couldn’t find it.  I had cleared out the old cold frame and been ruthless throwing out pots of plants that had died and I was worried that I had accidentally thrown this out but no there is was the other morning winking at me from the bottom of the new cold frame.  I have put it on the table so I can enjoy its flowers from inside as well as outside.  My only comment is that  they aren’t as pale as I was expecting which is a disappointment.

When these pots have finished I will move them and replace them with something else small and pretty to cheer me up when I am stuck indoors