Wednesday 9 November 2011

Shy retiring wallflowers and Russian princesses

I’ve just returned from a weekend in Grimsby to visit the in-laws, I can probably be a bit mean about Grimsby (clue is in the name: boom boom) however it was all very nice. The part we go to is also not Grimsby proper, and Grimsby folk are of course very different from Laceby and Caistor folk. Grimsby its self is full of things to do, indeed there were lads on a stag do walking down the street drinking beer at 10:30 am, and a rather obese lady falling/rolling off her scooter in the high street. The Wolds were delightful with the sun low in the sky over rolling fields, there is also a good splattering or nurseries where I managed to get some cheap plants and bulbs for spring.

I haven’t really done much to prepare for spring, usually I get carried away with bulb catalogues but I’ve come to the conclusion that whilst I’m still moving lost of perennials around there is a high chance of bulbs dying from me putting a spade through them. The squirrels are also delighted at the annual Easter egg hunt I put on for them and very good at finding bulbs wherever I hide them. However I’m a sucker for a bargain and bought some discounted bulbs in Wilkinsons and also bought a tray of wallflowers from the market.

I love wallflowers as they are a flower that really reminds me of the garden where I grew up, and scents are one of those things that can transport you back in time. They are also so cheap as I was buying bundles of 10 plants for £1, and they show you how incredible some plants are at surviving as they are just bundled together in an elastic bands with just a couple of tiny roots, yet by spring they will be flowering the hearts out. BUY SOME NOW!

The garden is transformed in spring, and in a way peaks first in May and then again in September when it is at its exotic best. In May the forget me nots will be a carpet of blue with wallflowers everywhere and the odd allium I haven’t sliced up poking its way through. It all then comes out for the summer plants and to make space for things to grow through. I love this successional planting and wish I was better at it, as growing exotics which break through the ground late gives you a good window to have other stars in their place. The forget me nots are so easily pulled out, and the Eremurs which look stunning then die back almost immediately.
A little different to now, where you need a machete to get through (as stated on Gardeners World)
One of the good things about going up north has been seeing friends, all of whom were asking about Gardeners World and asking what I’m doing next. Its funny how a few of us seem to be having our moment as we saw Skip who had just been filmed for Come dine with me, a British TV thing where you take turns cooking dinner for 4 strangers over a week, scoring each person as you go. My friend Nick has just produced a fabulous album of his quirky folky harpy cool music....check it out! I find the whole media thing very amusing, although I’m not brave/foolish enough to do something like Come Dine with me. Nick is very cool to have an album, especially as he can now say that he has been remixed!

Anyway...plants! Things have been winding down but what is interesting is the difference between my two Paulownias.... P. Tomentosa (the one everyone has) lost its leaves about a month ago whereas P.fortuneii ‘Fast Blue’ is only just beginning to lose them now. I know the tomentosa is more exposed, but I do think there is a difference.

P. fortuneni is on the left, the other is a stick to the right
Paulownia is one of my must have see it fairly often in the UK, usually as a tall tree in parks which has foxglove like flowers in the spring (thus its common name Foxglove tree). In the exotic garden you can cut it down each year to the ground (stooling) and then it shoots up like a rocket, with my plants getting to be about 12-13ft tall with huge very tropical looking leaves. I try and grow it from root cuttings in spring but where they worked last year, this year I was rubbish!

It is named after Anna Paulovna (1795-1865), a Russian princess who then became Queen of the Netherlands however originates from China where they grow it near to houses to bring good luck and attract the Phoenix. In Japan there is also a tradition that one will be planted on the birth of a daughter, and when she was married it would be cut down and the timber used to make a wedding chest. Interestingly it grows wild and is a bit of a pest in Eastern USA after making its way there in the 1800’s when seeds that were used as packing material for ceramics escaped

It’s very fast growth and dense rot resistant wood has led to many calling it the ‘tree of the future’, it is also used as a tree to help with reforestation, and also with intercropping to prevent soil erosion. China is still the biggest grower and the wood is used to make everything from houses and furniture to electric guitars.
So there we go a good plant to grow if you want something jungly as it is very easy, and you can encourage a Phonenix to come visit!


  1. I must admit I didn't realise there where 2 Paulownia's I shall definately keep my eyes open for P.fortuneii ‘Fast Blue' as these are very successful in my garden.

  2. We used to stool our Paulownias and do get huge leaves which are fun to look at, but lately we don't bother anymore. Left to grow untouched, the leaves are on the big side anyway.

    Succession planting is an art but is one of the keys for year round interest in the garden. Takes awhile to get the 'rhythm' right but once you get the hang of it is very easy :)

  3. Great still seeing the blogs. Sorry I could not see you on TV:( Sounds like you were smashing though. Our garden is done for the winter. Have had a couple of hard freezes... I leave all the seed heads on till spring though so the birds can enjoy. Major clean up in the spring. Ah to plan for the next year...bulbs and all. Keep up the great work.

  4. Clive, I am a new reader to your blog. Paulownias are completely unknown to me, but sound fascinating. Wallflowers I have grown, but I'm not sure mine are the same variety as yours.

    I was reading about your TV experience with a great amount of interest, I went to Gardeners World site but wasn't able to view your segment. Our humble garden was featured on public television this year, too. It was kind of unsettling seeing (and hearing)myself on TV; not at all what I expected. And I know what you mean about all the editing they do, it's very different from the original interview though the film crew did a wonderful job on the photography. It was an interesting experience! I laughed when you said you felt like you should be wearing dark glasses afterward, I know the feeling...maybe ten people called to congratulate us and a few emailed, but gosh, fame was fleeting for me. Nobody wanted me to autograph any seed packets either.

    I hope to see your segment someday, it would be a treat!

  5. Paulownias are fab, and I love getting the leaves to be as big as possible.

    Karen thanks for your kind words, I think the download has come and gone now, and was only available in the UK. I’m sure one day our potential for TV will be realised, till then we sit by the phone, waiting.....