Sunday 20 January 2013

Winter: protection, experiments and snow

Ok after dribs and drabs of snow we now have proper crunchy underfoot snow. There isn’t quite enough to make a snowman yet but I’m hoping for more!

The cold weather has led to just staying home which is actually really nice...we have sorted and cleaned cupboards, made plans for housey things and I’m about to sort out my seeds which live in an ever growing box in my fridge and order more. Occasionally I venture to the garden and hide in the summer house under a few blankets with the biggest and hottest cup of tea I can find surveying the scene and planning for next year.

Wandering the garden taking the ubiquitous snow photos I also thought it would be good to show how I’m taking the garden through the winter. I am nowhere near an expert on this and if you look at the HTUK forum there are lots of people who fleece everything and have houses that are so full of tender plants that you can hardly move. I’m also really impressed with people who build temporary structures around tender things and heat them with heating pipes or discount rope lights!

 Musa basjoo: all of my clumps have been wrapped for a month or so...I tend to chop off the leaves, tie them to the top then put dry twigs next to the stems to keep wet off them, then pile up compost bags full of autumn leaves around them and then wrap the lot in fleece, I then cap the top with a compost bag/plastic to try and keep the rain off a bit
You can see the wrapped banana behind the pond with its black plastic cap

Two others wrapped up behind a rather elegant cump of Iris confusa
Musa lasiocarpa, Musa sikkimensis and some Cannas: These have been dug up and are now living in my covered sideway where they get the heat of the house, and a dry. This year I am trying an experiment where I haven’t immediately taken off all their leaves and am waiting until they are dead before I fleece them.....I am surprised they still have leaves, but wonder if this may be a bit of a mistake waiting to happen. I must admit to not being entirely convinced by fleece as I think it tends to trap moisture in and also without the airflow they are more at risk from fungus

Ensetes and Cannas:  The Ensete were all dug up, leaves and roots cut off (so they looked like  giant leeks) and then stored upside down in my metre cupboard (it’s kind of outside, but covered and warm).  They were upside down to dry off, but are now upright.....this worked last year but it’s an experiment with the smaller ones which may need an occasional prayer to aid survival as they are a bit small.  Also in the cupboard are most of my cannas which were just dug up and put into pots/old compost bags in a way where they can dry out. They seem to be a bit too warm as they are all starting to grow!

Giant Echiums: these have died every year when left out, apart from 2006/7 when they flowered and were an immense beauty. Last year I grew them as much for the foliage as they are a fabulous mound of giant leaves, however flowering would be nice.  Last year I overwintered one in a pot, however it only grew to about 5ft....This year I have them strategically all around the garden to try and find the more sheltered places however nearly all are looking very sad today L however I’m experimenting with one which has a loose layer of fleece to keep the worst of the weather off and hopefully keep the crown dryish...we shall see!
This masterpiece of wrapping has a banana at the back and Echium at the front!
Salvia cuttings, Cyathea, Echium seedlings, Kangeroo apple: These are all in the unheated greenhouse which only has a layer of bubble wrap to help it. I really hope the Cyathea survives as I love it! I have a feeling I killed it last year from it drying out as it is still using a lot of water...

So that’s what I do, but this is still learning and I will keep you posted. So enjoy pictures of the garden in the snow...

The bees are all wrapped up, however can get very confused by the snow and can fly out upside down (as the ground is brighter they think it is the sun)

I rather wish I has wrapped up this Washingtonia as the leaves are getting very battered


Wednesday 16 January 2013

Grass and a few miracles

Firstly a few miracles, then some ponderings on grass...

1.       We have a cleaner again, hurrah! A cleaner is one of the three bits of the holy trinity which helps keep my relationship peachy along with a dishwasher and bad memory.

2.       50% off sales at Urban Jungle and Amultree: ooh I had a moment when I realised I had missed the Amultree sale which included free postage (more notice next time please) however both sales are still on....ordering lots of plants does lift the mood, hurrah!

3.       Snow...well we had it for at least a few hours in the morning when the blinds opened to white magic. I love snow, although wandering around outside the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre gazing at the sky and slush wasn’t quite the winter wonderland I was thinking of. Bizarrely it still hasn’t been that cold and I have cannas and bananas in my side way with lots of leaves on

4.       Bricks: my lovely neighbour had some spare ones which he has given to me, which is amazing that after 2 years of wondering what to do with bricks and getting rid of them I now want more!

5.       Positivity:  garden wise I’m realising how I’m not at my happiest in November and December as they are kind of dead months where everything is being killed and is on a downwards slope....I know it is purely psychological but the new year makes things feel fresh, and where I used to see a dead Tithonia now I see crocus’s coming up and a place to try out a new plant. Generally this all means I’m feeling a lot more positive, and rather than be at the end of something it is the beginning

The final miracle was a realisation at how much I am now liking the grass family...I never thought this would happen, but a quick straw pole reveals that I grow 9 different types of bamboo and 8 other grasses. I don’t know if this stems from allergies... I am allergic to cats (so I say I hate them, but like the odd one) I also say I’m allergic to children (but some cuties such as baby Whitney have changed this) and I have hay fever so I’ve hated grass. I must say how I’m still not a big fan of grass flowers as it’s the leaves I like and would cut the flowers off if I could. I also don’t like the pom pom flower ones and am not keen on sedges...especially ones that self seed everywhere

However in my recent plant order I have asked for 12 more grasses in total and when I was in Bali I realised how large grasses are everywhere and can be quite tropical looking, especially when just in leaf. In the UK there was a bit of a trend for grasses about 15? Years ago and a recent resurgence with prairie style planting which I like in a more tropical style....

Anyway a few I like which work well in jungle style gardens...
Miscanthus giganteus is the one I’m most excited by...I have 1 already which has slowly been getting bigger however I think it has huge potential for screening as it gets to about 10ft+, making people look small.  It also is unlikely to flower. Interestingly it is actually a hybrid of M.scacchariflorus and M.sinensis and is also being grown in Europe as a bio fuel which shows how fast it grows.

Miscanthus  scacchariflorus seems to be very similar to M.giganteus so time will tell which is better. I have 2x 1 yr olds by new pond which I thought rather nice all year, although I cursed them all the way home on the train from Hampton Court Flower slow as they cut my hands up with their sharp blades!

Miscanthus zebrinus: I have had one of these for 8? Years and it never gets funky...always looks to be a bit sulky which I wish it wasn’t as these look fabulous when happy, stripy foliage in a non ott way

Miscanthus sinensis gracillimus: this was a bit of an impulse buy, but looks great in the garden where I grow it next to the path as edging...nice fine leaves of an interesting green, I’ve just ordered more in a less is more way....

Miscanthus ‘Cabaret’: well once I saw this one’s name I couldn’t resist...and it plays to a fantasy where I have a garden full of plants with comedy names. However beyond Liza it is a good plant to have, but it doesn’t like it that dry
Arundo donax: I was never keen on this, but jumped on the bandwagon when trying to fill my trolly at the Big Plant nursery. I’m also not that keen on variegated plants as I think they are difficult to blend into a garden and don’t really work that well in a jungle as they don’t look very natural...however this plant has proven me wrong, and been a trooper giving height and tropical majesty to its corner. This clump is 5 years old and hasn’t yet been divided.  There is a cream variety out there which I haven’t decided if I like yet , however I have just ordered the plain green one as I have a feeling it could look a bit like sugar cane and give me some of the height I want.

Cyperus alternifolius: I love this plant and have grown it for is currently mainly in the pond, and on the terrace in submerged pots as it is a great filler...I find it just about hardy unlike its cousin Giant Egyptian Papyrus who I would grow lots of if I could over winter it...

Ok so my love of grasses is a bit Miscanthus focused, however I could be persuaded...I do flirt with the palm grass (Setaria palmifolia) as it looks so tropical, but haven’t yet tried it as it is tender and I was chatting to a guy who said how its leaves stings you a bit. I’m also keen to get into Hakonechola’s ....however pampas grasses should be burnt! I’m also not counting restios and I’m too much of a botanist to talk about black lily grass here...

Bamboos are also grasses, and I’m not going to go into them now as they deserve their own posts...this week I am in a super positive bamboo mood as I’m very optimistic about them growing big this year and making more of a show of themselves.....last year’s rain was also great for them, with a clump at the end growing 50% bigger than usual. My blue bamboo has also just put out some new culms which double its size. Wahey!

Anyway, happy sales shopping to one and lots of grasses!
no grass but i love this picture!

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Goodbye 2012....planning for next year, what worked and what’s didn’t in 2012

So that’s it 2012 is over, and it all seems to have been very speedy although thinking back I have done a lot particularly plant wise with discovering and establishing the new formal pond, clearing all the remaining areas of the garden, establishing the basic layout and putting in a new summerhouse. I was also a lot more comfortable with opening for the NGS with our actual opening day being a fabulous success and great opportunity to celebrate the garden and meet new people. The huge learning curve was becoming a bee keeper which has been really interesting, but far more work (and stress!) than I had thought...

So with 2013 dawning I wanted to reflect on what have been my big bits of plant learning and what I will do next year. So here are my big successes, things that weren’t great, those the jury is out on and those that are heading towards the compost bin.


Giant Dahlias: D.imperialis and D.excelsa have been great reliable plants...and I like imperialis so much I bought another one as they grow huge and look very jungly. D.excelsa has only been with me for one year (I got it after seeing Mark and Gaz post about it and how they preferred it to imperialis) its still too early for me to have a preference but they are different and I like how this one clumps a bit more.
D. imperialis os on the right... this bruiser is a must!
Big flowered Dahlias: in general I’m finding Dahlias really reliable, although it was a battle with the slugs this year...I particularly liked a huge red flowered type called ‘Babylon red’ although so did the earwigs

Nicandra: Shoo fly plant: this was a new one for me which is now a must have plant as they were very easy from seed, grew very quickly and were good fact they grew too much in lots of places and I needed to prune them back

Canna musifolia: I love this plant! A new one for 2012 for me, but one I now always want as it grew big and fast, and lived up to its name of looking like a banana tree with elegant leaves of the same radiant green. It actually grew a lot better than the bananas I had, especially M. Sikkimensis. So lots more for next year please!
C.musifolia with M.basjoo behind...I love you!

Paulownias: the love affair continues with these trees that once stooled grow like rockets from the soil. Looking like giant sunflowers/cabbages they are a must have for exotic style gardens and I am very happy I have 7 through the garden and can’t wait for them to get big

Ensete venticosa: These Abyssinian bananas were stars in 2012. I was a little sceptical as I shy away from very tender things as I dont have facilities to over winter tender stuff and I don’t like the hassle...however overwintering them using the method where you chop off all their leaves and roots and storing them dry worked a treat and made it very easy. My 2 yr old plant grew huge and encouraged me to get 5 more.

Helianthus (H. salicifolius, Jerusalem artichokes and H. Lemon queen) My plant lusting for H. Salicifolius and the similar(ish) Eupatorium capillifolium was fully repaid...gorgeous green spires of lacey feathery foliage which I spent many a moment gazing at. H. Lemon queen, although not so jungly, didn’t disappoint and grew to be a 6ft mass of flowers which the bees went crazy for, and I think I will bulk this up for my more regular front garden. The Jerusalem artichokes (sunflower family) were also great for screening and added that lush jungle feeling...
ok not a great picture of the Helianthus (on left) however it has reminded me how great the Rudbeckia Herbsonne was.....ok not jungly in a traditional sense, but it was in its exuberance

Coleus: where have you been all my life? I love you! easy plants which make a big impact and are very jungly, I need more next year! Im not so convinced on having lots that are all different however one or two varieties would be fabulous
mmmm I miss you, Im sorry I let you die horribly in the frost....

Bad year for....

Cannas: I bought loads this year from Hart Cannas which I thoroughly recommend. I had hoped for great things, and I got them from C. Musifolia and foliage types but the ones I got for their flowers sulked and never really started flowering. I think this was because they were young and it wasn’t a hot/sunny year but it was a shame

Ricinus: also suffered from the bad weather as last year they were about 8foot, this year they were 4-6 L I have a feeling I also didn’t fertilise as much but it wasn’t good as I rely a lot on them for structure and lost out a bit...

Musa sikkimensis: I love bananas but 2012 sucked for the sikkimensis as they were very slow to get going, didn’t grow much and I lost one...compared to M.basjoo they are a better plant in that the leaves are more upright and don’t tear but basjoo is a lot more reliable and comes through the winter better
This sikkimensis sulked, then the main stem died and all this growth is from this year. Not great considering the amount of effort they take to keep....M. basjoo is a lot more reliable in comparison
Kangeroo apple: after having a fabulous 2011 where they burst into life forming thickets of jungly niceness in 2012 they suffered with thrips and didn’t really get going. I have 5 Im overwintering in the greenhouse so fingers crossed for a better 2013..

Heading towards the compost bin

Hedychiums: Only H. Densflorum performs for is reliable and jungly and has been bulking up nice and I won’t be without it, however the rest of the family sucks! I don’t know it is just me but of the 6 other species none do very much beyond emerging late and then growing about 1-2ft. Where are the thickets of Will Giles’s garden?
I do love you, but please tell your brothers and sisters to buck up!
Ipomea: I just can’t seem to get them to grow well from seed...they get to be about 2ft tall and really stumpy which is bizarre considering how well the Convolvulus used to do. UG!

Fatsia japonica: ok ok I know this is supposed to be a backbone of a hardy exotic garden and really easy, but I just cant get them to do well as they tend to get all stumpy, loose their leaves and die back. Part of me thinks this is a bug, or that they don’t like drying out but I am a little stumped why they don’t do better. However whatever is going wrong they are looking a little embarrassing to have in the ground and the half that are looking ropey need to go...


Less is more: ok ok I know this is a classic, but I’m seeing how true it as I gradually decrease the density of planting and simplify things, repeating patterns and bulking things up to give a continuum. I’m trying to do this by propagating lots of black lily grass and polypodiums to give a continuous underplanting, and also with lots of Tetrapanax although they are slower growing than my impatient self would like.

I like big grasses: I never thought I would say it but I’m loving the grasses...particularly big Miscanthus and ones which don’t flower. I hadn’t really thought of them as jungle garden plants, however after going to Bali and seeing them everywhere I’ve changed my mind.

Helping the borderline: I am increasingly giving more shelter to things which are borderline hardy to improve their chances and bring them on quicker...yes my Opuntias and musa lasiocarpa will survive outdoors, but by putting them in my side passage they sail through winter rather than limping through with war scars...


Goodbye fences: I hope that this year I can fully hide all the fences with climbers and big things...I may also need to be more professional with this and not just tie random bits of cheap wire as this doesn’t quite work

Go go bamboos: after a couple of years of sulking I hope this is the year that they start bulking up and getting tall. Pretty please bamboo gods?!

Thick clumps of unvirus’y cannas: the houses outdoor metre cupboard is now full of overwintering plants and cannas which I hope make it through and are nice and bulky

Ricinus thickets: I will buy 3 packets of seeds this year as I use even more than I think I need. I will also try one of the dark varieties this year...

Grow my pretties....I have a structure of perennials in which I just hope grows faster! My 8? Tetrapanax are still only about 3ft, Paulownia babies were about 6ft, bamboos were sulking and Pseudopanax very mini... clumps of Musa basjoo are also slowly producing pups but I want it all now! Thickets of bananas, huge bamboos, 10ft Tetrapanax obscuring the neighbours. Lots of fertilizing and watering in the summer me thinks...

Visiting lots of fabulous gardens: I am looking forward to getting the new NGS book as I like to visit other peoples gardens as much as my own. I also want to visit more gardens which are open to the public...Visiting Great Dixter remains my favourite garden I saw last year (see my blog post here Great Dixter) and I have been inspired by the many gardens featured on the Galloping Gardeners blog. I also want to visit the vicarage garden in East Ruston which looks fabulous, and wouldn’t mind a trip around England to visit some of the exotic nurseries.... mmm!
I love you Great Dixter!

So lots of things to do...I also hope to be a better artist, more relaxed beekeeper who actually produces honey and win the lottery, but I think baby steps may be the best way forward. Good luck with your own new year’s resolutions and plans!