A bit of wall construction

Whilst I haven’t had much time in the garden over the past few weeks due to the weather and a sick cat that time has been quite productive.  There is of course a lot of tidying up that needs to be done, weeding etc but I needed to have something which would give me more instant gratification so I have decided to tackle a project that’s been on my mind for a while.

The border with the cherry tree slopes quite steeply to the path and I have struggled for years to make this area work.  The plants I want to plant here are generally small alpine type plants which benefit from the drainage and the sunshine but they get lost in the border so I needed some definition something to set them against.  Given that we live on the side of the Malvern hills and dig up Malvern stone (granite) all the time we have a reasonable supply of stone so it seems sensible to use it to create a sort of retaining wall.

The construction started off fairly well but dry stone walling is an art form that I have little practice off and it seems to me that its very much a matter of luck as to whether you can find stones that fit together or not. You need fairly flat stones at the bottom to rest the next layers on but many of the stones we have are anything but flat so there is a lot of fiddling around and carrying stones back and forth trying to make it work. Also there are only so many of the larger stones and I am finding that the stones are getting smaller and when I stand back and look from a distance the wall seems to go lower.  I think there are some more stones further up the garden which I might be able to use but it is what it is and it has allowed me to reduce the slope and the plants have a nice foil to grow against.

I’m hoping to use some of the gaps between stones for succulents and maybe lewisias or auriculas.

All told though I am pleased with the change and hopefully there will be enough stone to get to the far end of the border but if not I will have to come up with some sort of artistic way to make a shorter wall look intentional!

My Garden This Weekend – 26th October 2014

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A nice horticultural weekend has been had with yesterday spent at my HPS group meeting.  As ever an excellent day was had with an interesting group discussion in the  morning about what is looking good in gardens mainly chrysanthemums. A bit of plant buying over lunch including a rather nice Nerine ‘Kinn McIntosh’ and a Polyxena corimrosa to add to the bulb collection. I also was given a rather large Viburnum which has been planted today; I am always amazed at how generous gardeners are not just with plants but with knowledge as well.

Polyxena corimrosa
Polyxena corimrosa

The afternoon talk was on mistletoe which I have to admit I thought might be a little dull but as with the fungi talk last year it was completely fascinating.  Our speaker, Jonathan Briggs, dispelled many myths about mistletoe, explained amongst other things how they were our only native white berry evergreen semi-parasitic plant, and how the real centre for mistletoe in this country is the Severn Valley including Herefordshire and Worcestershire.  Hardly surprising given that there seems to be mistletoe everywhere around here but I don’t think I had really noticed how little there was elsewhere.

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Despite the weather temperatures being warmer than normal for this time of year we have had really stormy skies and strong winds so some of the trees around the boundary are nearly bare of leaves and I need to start the big leaf collection.  I am particularly keen on the autumn colour of the Prunus kojo-n0-mai which simply glows at the moment.  Having planted the viburnum my focus today was planting the latest bulb purchases and making a decision about what should and shouldn’t be overwintered in the greenhouse.  I have been procrastinating and dithering because I didn’t really know what winter conditions I should give my bulbs or some of the borderline hardy plants.  Thanks to

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the contributors on the Alpine Garden Society forum I have received advice and I plan to leave the greenhouse unheated and open for the winter unless the temperatures really drop in which case I can shut the door and if really bad turn the heater on.  Research has made me decide to overwinter the tenders in the garage.  The majority will be allowed to dry out but there are some that need a bit of moisture and I will put these to stand in saucers so I don’t flood the garage.

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Having finally decided to dedicate the greenhouse to the bulbs I have relocated all the succulents and the bulbs have now taken over the whole space.  There are also some primula marginata which I have a love/hate relationship with as I haven’t managed to get them to flower this year and some crusted saxifragas which are the nearest to alpine dome plants I plan to get.

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I have even had a go at some cuttings which are in the propagator on the shelf.  I know how to take cuttings but I never have much luck.  Most of them, the fuschia and pomegranate, are from display stems brought to the club meeting yesterday but I have also had a go at some cuttings from Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’.  I expect I am a bit late doing these but who knows they may take which would be fab.  Actually I did manage to get the Malmaison carnation cutting I got from the club last year to take so who knows my luck might be changing. Moving all the pots around was quite time-consuming but at least its done now.  I have a few succulents I want to dig up from the garden and overwinter under cover but the rest will be left in situ and get a thick mulch of used compost  topped off with straw.

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I have a couple of days off at the end of the week as hopefully, weather permitting, the tree surgeons are coming to tackle the weeping willow which swamps the top of the garden.  This time next week, all things being equal, this view will be very different which I find exciting but also a little scary.

 

Potted Delights – Oxalis perdicaria ‘Citrino’

Oxalis perdicaria 'Citrino'
Oxalis perdicaria ‘Citrino’

I have a bit of a thing about bulbs. I just love them.  I love the fact that you plant a small dry bulb and within 6 months you can have a stunningly beautiful plant. I love the anticipation of waiting for the first shoot to push through the soil. I love the ephemeral nature of the flowers and I love the variety from the tiny crocus and snowdrops to the large giant lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum).  So it’s hardly surprising that due to my recent dabbling in the vast and intriguing world of alpines that I have been expanding my bulb collection.  Added to this I have this year joined the Pacific Bulb Society so, as a friend said to me yesterday, all hope is lost.

For those who haven’t come across the PBS they generally produce a list of available seeds and bulbs one a month which you can apply to so recently small packages have been plopping through the letter box from California containing all sorts of delights.  These have been duly potted up in terracotta pots and added to the bulb collection in the greenhouse. Coming home from a weekend away the other day I was beside myself to discover Oxalis perdicaria ‘Citrino’ in flower.  Only a few leaves were present before I went away so to discover these dainty pale yellow flowers was a delight.  Oxalis perdicaria ‘Citrino’ is a bit of a rogue Oxalis.  It sends up leaves in spring but no flowers, then it dies back, only to reappear at this time of year with flowers.  The flowers only open when the light is good and apparently have a honey scent but I am yet to detect this.  I am becoming intrigued by Oxalis having been bewitched by Oxalis veriscolor when I visited the Alpine House at RHS Wisley back in February.

Oxalis veriscolor - RHS Wisley
Oxalis veriscolor – RHS Wisley

If you look carefully you can see that the flowers have a red and white twist of colouring.  When the flower bud is tight shut it is red and the petals are wrapped a bit like an umbrella would be. Then the flower opens out and it is white inside.  The Oxalis perdicaria ‘Citrino’ does the same except the flower is the same colour inside and out but when you look very closely at the buds you can see the same twisting of the petals. I think they are beautiful and intriguing

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So now you know why I get excited about bulbs and yes my friend is right – there is no hope for me

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Why I love the world of alpines

Cyrtanthus epiphyticus
Cyrtanthus epiphyticus

I had an enjoyable, although warm, day today at the local national Alpine Garden Society show.  Long term readers will know that I have a growing fascination with alpines and have started showing myself in the Novice section.  Today I added a first, two seconds and three thirds to my tally; however I have a way together before I can exhibit the quality of plants I am going to share in this post.  I thought I would show you why I love the world of alpine showing.

Androcymbium striatum
Androcymbium striatum

Whilst there are the cushion plants that many of us associate with the term alpines and plants such as the many campanulas and hardy succulents it is the other categories that draw my attention.  Firstly I have a passion for bulbs.  I think this is  progression of my enjoyment of growing plants from seed.  I get excited to see plants germinated and I get the same thrill when a bulb first appears above the soil.  Also I think bulbs are more suited to my lifestyle as I can store them away in their dormant period and this makes life more manageable for me.  But to be honest it is the beauty and exotic nature of the flowers that really appeal – who couldn’t resist the amazing orange of the Cyrtanthus epiphyticus above.

Allium kurtzianum
Allium kurtzianum

Take this amazing pot of Allium kurtzianum – the flowers remind me of some mad fluorescent ’70s outfit.  I do like the small Alliums and won a first today with Allium sikkimense which has vibrant blue flowers. I am now on a quest to source the Allium kurtzianum.

Ledebouria ovatifolia
Ledebouria ovatifolia

Another bulb I have never heard of and how pretty is this.  I love the broad leaves with the flowers nestling in them.  Yet another one for the very long list.

Pinus mugo 'Sea Urchin'
Pinus mugo ‘Sea Urchin’

Moving on from my first love bulbs we have the conifers which are creeping into my affections and interest.  My friend Brenda and I were particularly taken with this Pinus mugo ‘Sea urchin’ which we felt really lived up to its name.  I bought some dwarf shrubs today as this is the second group of plants I want to focus on.  They are very slow growing and tend to look after themselves most of the year so again should work well for me.

Cheilanthes tomentosa
Cheilanthes tomentosa

My third group to focus on should come as no surprise – ferns.  The more I look at ferns the more I am amazed at the variety not just of leaf form, colour but also growing environment.  I have bought so many this year that I made a conscious effort not to buy any more today.  However, I have identified some of this year’s purchases which might do well in pots and be acceptable for showing.

Saxifraga longifolia
Saxifraga longifolia

Finally Brenda’s Saxifraga with which she won her first First in the Open section (that’s as the top class).  Like me she has been exhibiting in the novice section but today has earned enough firsts to move up.  However, there is nothing stopping any one entering a plant into any of the categories or levels if they think it is good enough and her gamble paid off.  She was beaming all afternoon, even more so when she won a lovely shiny trophy for the most points in the Novice section.

So this is why I love the world of alpines – there is so much variety, exquisite plants you will probably struggle to find outside of the alpine showing world and great passionate people who are only too happy to pass on tips and encourage you to have a go.

Taking the Plunge

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I decided finally the other week that I wanted to use the greenhouse more for my alpine and bulbs.  I have lots of pots of bulbs and they are currently stored under the staging in the greenhouse with the aim of them drying out over the summer.  However, I have read that plunging the pots in sand is very beneficial.  It is particularly good for plants that don’t like their roots too wet.

The new staging arrived the other day sooner than I expected which meant a chaotic couple of hours which the staging was assembled and plants moved around.  I hadn’t really thought about such simple things as how you fill the plunges but strangely it turned out to be more involved than I had thought.

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If you just tip the sand into the plunge it really doesn’t work and you don’t get the neat appearance you see in alpine houses.  It turns out you have to fill the plunge with a few inches of sand and then compact it with something like a brick.  Then you carry on doing this layer by layer until the plunge is full. This makes the sand bind together and means that when you cut the holes out for the pots the sand doesn’t collapse.  Having typed this it does sound a little OCD but it does work and it is strangely satisfying!

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I have struggled to find information about setting up a plunge bed; no doubt the audience is a little limited.  However, I came across a wonderful resource on the Alpine Garden Society website – The Wisley Diary.  This was written from 2007 – 2012 by Paul Cumbleton the head of the Alpine section at Wisley.  Of course reading such articles is like signing up to the council of perfection but I suppose it’s a starting point.  Paul advocated laying out your pots in advance so they aren’t crowded and it looks neat.  Anyway, it was quite entertaining a bit like making sand castles but in reverse.

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Of course having filled the plunge with my alpines I realised that part of the plan was to accommodate the pots of bulbs! So these are still in the trays under the staging but the plan is now to move them into the plunge as they are coming into flower.

I have no idea if I am doing things right but it seems to me that the only way to learn is to have a go and see what happens.  Seeing the plunge full of alpines makes me smile and I have a suspicion that this is the beginning of a slippery slope.  The only obstacle is space for more frames, although there is a plan fermenting in my mind.

The Greenhouse Year – June 2014

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This side of the greenhouse looks quite good.  I have spent an hour or so this evening moving the last of the succulents out onto the outside staging and moving all the pots of bulbs into the greenhouse.  They are stored under the staging and on the back shelves with the intention they will dry out in the summer.

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This side is slightly more disorganised.  There are seedlings which need looking after, young aloes that need potting up and other pots that need a new home.

They need a new home as I have decided to replace the slatted staging with some plunge propagation staging.  I will then fill this with sand and use it for my alpines and bulbs.  I have been umming and arhing about this for months thinking there was no way I could accommodate all my interests and where would I sow seeds etc.  However, I have realised this year that my interest in growing annuals is more or less non-existent and most of the plants I grow from seed need the cold to germinate.

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It will take some careful organising and balancing of the needs of different types of plants but I think it will work.  I should also have room to overwinter my pelargoniums and other tender plants.  Hopefully by the time I write the July Greenhouse Year post the new staging will be in place.

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The tall bulbous plants are Peruvian daffodils (Hymenocallis festalis).  This is their second year and I am hoping that the flowers are as wonderful as last year.  I only saw them as they were going over as they flowered when I was away in San Francisco.

So that’s my greenhouse mid June still full and busy and not a tomato plant in sight!

 

 

A Trophy and too many Camassias

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I have never ever won any trophy for anything so you can imagine how thrilled I am at winning the trophy above.  It is  even better given that the trophy is a wooden bowl when you consider my eldest son is a wood turner so we have a passion for wood in my house.

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I won the trophy at the Alpine Garden Society Malvern show which was held today at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival.  Like the other AGS shows it is a one day competition with competitors entering from around the country.  The plants above are in the Open section which a mere novice such as myself can only dream of aspiring to.  Many of the plants have been grown and cosseted for many years so the amount of commitment and dedication from the top exhibitors is to be admired.  This is my second national AGS show; I entered my first one last July when I got the bug for showing alpines.

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I entered six classes in the novice section and I have to admit some of the plants I nearly didn’t bother entering but then I am my own worst critic.  I achieved three firsts – 3 pans of rock plants (Semiaquilegia, Saxifraga fortunei and Arisarum proboscideum); 1 rock plant grown from seed (Erinus alpinus); and 1 Sempervivum as well as a second for a Saxifraga and two thirds for a Rhodohypoxis and the other for a Primula marginata in the foliage category. Having staged my plant at 7:30 this morning I returned just before 10 to get the results. Thrilled at my awards I went off to spend the day working for Avon Bulbs at their stand.

Grevillea Mount Tamboritha
Grevillea Mount Tamboritha

I knew we would be busy in the floral marquee; Avon Bulbs are always popular and I have queued many a time to buy one of their treasures, but the stream of customers for the six hours I was on duty seemed endless. I sold so many Camassias and Gladiolus byzantinus that I will be happy not to see any for some time as well as Scilla peruviana which we  ran out of around lunchtime.  We also had regular demands for Lunaria annua Chedglow which had been featured on Gardeners World yesterday evening.  I loved every minute of it. I learnt lots of stuff from Chris (the boss) and also the customers themselves. I enjoyed sharing the excitement of customers at finding a plant they had been looking for, their indecision as to whether or not to splash out on another plant and the general sense of fun they were having.

Cypripedium calceolus
Cypripedium calceolus

Suddenly during the middle of the afternoon one of my fellow AGS members, Pauline, appeared in front of me.  She had come over especially to tell me I had won the Hartside Trophy for the most points in the novice section but I had missed the trophy presentation.  I have to say it hadn’t occurred to me to even look to see when the trophy presentation was as I didn’t think I would do that well.  But at least I missed having to go up in front of lots of people to receive the award!

Androsace bulleyana
Androsace bulleyana

As I said I have never won a trophy and I have to admit to feeling quite excited at the prospect as I made my way back to the AGS show at the end of my shift for Avon Bulbs.  It is a rather lovely trophy I think you will agree and is on my mantlepiece in pride of place.

Sadly, my camera is over exposing pictures at the moment so the photos on this post were taken with my son’s phone when he came to help me collect up my plants.  The plants I have featured are ones that caught my eye in the last 15 minutes which I would like to acquire – my love of red shows.

So I will now be seeing what I have that might be up to show standard for the next show I can get to in July.  I think I need 10 firsts before I can go up to intermediate but I’m not in a rush.  Talking to Pauline who was a novice last year she found the step up challenging as her plants had not yet bulked up enough and the number of exhibitors was greater.

All in all a full on, tiring but satisfying day.

My garden this weekend – 23rd March 2014

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The weather this weekend has been more than changeable.  One moment brilliant sunshine, *as you can see, the next grey and hail stones.  The constant theme has been a cold and biting wind.  In some ways this didn’t matter yesterday as I spent the day at the Hardy Plant Society AGM held at Pershore College.  The local group I belong to was hosting the event so I spent some time handing out badges which I enjoy as you get to meet people and its a good way to break the ice.

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There were a number of nurseries selling plants including Julian Sutton of Desirable Plants.  He is an Epimedium nut, which I also seem to be becoming, and had some wonderful specimens for sale including Epimedium Egret (above) which I just had to buy.  Two other epimediums went in my bag along with Soldanella and an Amenone lipsiensis.  Julian gave the morning’s talk entitled The Botanical Garden which I really enjoyed as he talked about how particular plants fascinated him and why.  He argued that the Botanical Gardener takes more of an interest in the plants they grow than how tall they are or what colour the flower etc, which mirrors how I feel  about plants. The AGM followed lunch with talk about how the Society can increase membership etc – seems to be a theme amongst the various groups I involved with.  The afternoon talk was by the head gardener at Aberglasney in which he highlighted changes he intends to make to the garden.  Apparently there is a new woodland garden which looked fab in the photographs so I think I might make a visit later in the year to see how much it has changed since I last visited.

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Due to the intermittent rain my plans for today were limited but I did succeed in planting the Edgeworthia chrysantha in the patio border and also dividing the snowdrops and spreading them down towards the greenhouse.  I think I can now leave this border be for a while.

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2014_03230008In the garden you can tell we have passed the Spring equinox and there are emerging shoots everywhere.  The moments of sunshine really lit up the spring flowers especially these Epimediums – an early acquisition so the label is long-lost and any ideas on the variety would be helpful.

The Cottage Border is filling out but I want to add a bay standard half way down and also another Delphinium which are loitering on the patio waiting for a home.  Then I think it is a case of filling in with hardy annuals later in the year and maybe some more geraniums and primulas.

I managed to plant another hellebore and fern at the far end but by this time the ground was too damp to do much else with so I spent another hour or so repotting various primulas and other alpines which I hope to show if they decide to flower at the right time.

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So it has been a nice and gentle weekend.  I have done a lot of planning, reading and thinking and I think ideas for the Big Border are beginning to come together in my head at last so hopefully next weekend the weather might be kind enough to let me start putting them into action.

*The top photo is the view from my living room window which was well received earlier this week on Facebook.  I thought I would include this view on a regular basis but it goes without saying that there will often be reflections on the glass from the sun.

My Garden this Weekend – 5th January 2014

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I think there is only one word to describe the garden this week – soggy! The ground is sodden to the extent that the woodchip and grass paths are becoming challenging to negotiate and the patio floods quickly.  It really doesn’t make for good or mildly alright gardening weather.  That said I have little energy left after decorating my bedroom this last week  to do much in the garden so the endless rain means I’m not wishing I had some residual energy.  Instead I am enjoying the faint blue haze that is appearing on the prostrate rosemary which grows over the wall outside of the kitchen window.

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During one of my many trips to the DIY store I picked up these three cyclamen which were very reduced and looking quite forlorn.  They were simply labelled ‘Cyclamen’ so I have no idea which variety they are and they could well be of the less hardy variety but they are full of flower buds and I am hoping they will  add a little colour over the coming weeks to the border under the Prunus which I was tidying before Christmas.

I seem to be drowning in seed and bulb catalogues at the moment and the number of turned corners and asterisks is quite worrying.  I decided to try to rationalise my ‘wants’ by sorting out the seed box and discovered that  I already have five packets of cosmos seeds of various varieties, as well as numerous wallflower, snap dragon,  rudbeckia, nigella and calendula seeds.  Some are bought and some I have  collected myself.  So there is no need for me to buy annual seeds and I can focus my intentions on perennials which are more appealing to me anyway and reduces the list a tiny bit.

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I have ventured out a few times over the weekend and tidied up in the greenhouse and cold frame.  I am trying very hard to look after my alpines and particularly the primulas so that they may just be good enough to show although I really don’t have a clue what I am doing just following my instinct.  My collection of bulbs seems to be thriving with virtually all the pots having noses of leaves pushing through the gravel.  In the greenhouse the Iris reticulata Cantab I moved in under cover last week is definitely pushing ahead of those outside and I decided to bring two of the Cyclamen periscum I have grown from seed in to the house.  I am hoping the increased heat might encourage the flower buds I have spotted to open; the first time the plants will have flowered.

Its back to work on Monday which will mean that I won’t see the garden again until next Saturday morning.  I find this time of year a little challenging in this respect so I am glad I have a meeting of one of the garden clubs this week so at least I will get some sort of horticultural fix.