Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

Magnolia laevifolia in bloom for Easter

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wingardium Leviosa!

"Wingardium Leviosa!"

Oh how I wish I am able to just wave a magic wand, utter those magic words and effortlessly levitate and direct things to its proper place without flexing too much muscle, and more importantly, get things done in a much shorter period of time!

'Wingardium leviosa' is a fictional spell used in the Harry Potter series, together with a magic wand you are able to levitate and move things mid air towards where you want this object to be. It would have been handy if I had such capability but alas, I am (and we are all) but a mere mortal, and the words are nothing more but a product of someone else's imagination.

In here, doing it yourself, hard graft, and a generous helping of perseverance is as magical as it will ever get. Just as effective though, albeit alot slower and very, very tiring at the end of the day.

Gerhard of Bamboo and More prompted me on Facebook to post some photos of the rubble that we have removed so far. Rather than one massive mountain of chalk and subsoil, the rubble has been piled in a series of smaller heaps, spread out on certain areas of the new garden, to be compacted later on to raise the current ground level. The topsoil however were saved and will be used to fill in the raised beds currently being built.

The volume of rubble now looks much bigger than it really is (although it is alot of rubble!) but once spread around and a ground compactor has been used, it shouldn't remain as bulky as it looks now. Most of the rubble aren't in their permanent positions just yet so there's still plenty of shifting left to do in the future. It would have been handy if the magic wand did exist and I'm capable of casting this spell, but it'll be more like me muttering those two words whilst I shovel and shift the rubble then.

Overdoing it over the Weekend

I must admit I think we overdid it last weekend and we pushed our physical capabilities to the limit. With the delivery date of the cement mix for the base of the pond getting closer we've put ourselves in a little bit of a panic mode. Overall I'm pleased with our progress and what we've done at the end of the weekend, with the dig nearly completed and the final ground dimensions already demarcated. But come Monday morning we were both absolutely shattered and it trickled on till Wednesday, going on auto pilot mode both mentally and physically. Normally I still do a little bit of chipping after work but I have to listen to my body and just take it easy for a change. So there's me signing off the project for a few days and no touching of spade, pickaxe, nor shovel. Just good old fashioned gardening and planting which I find very relaxing and invigorating. Come the long weekend we'll be raring to get going again I'm sure.

Coming back from work on Monday evening, I found this on our drive...

"Wingardium leviosa!", I say in my mind but... 

Oh well, looks like this will keep me busy for several evenings next week, shifting the blocks three at a time, bag of cement one at a time...

Nevermind! For all the humanly labour and non supernatural hard work the project entails, I'm sure it will be magical in the end :-)


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring has Sprung

Spring has sprung, the grass is ris,
I wonder where the birdies is.
Some say the birds on the wing,
But thats absurd!
The wings on the bird!

My Grandmother used to recite this to me when I was just a toddler, and it has always stuck in my mind. I had always believed that this poem was by Spike Milligan, but double checking now it seems that it is often attributed to Ogden Nash, a New Yorker, but this also seems to be disputed. Regardless of who first penned this short poem it always brings a smile to my face just as the first signs of Spring do in the garden.

The UK, as many will know, had one of the harshest Decembers on record with plenty of snow and cold weather, however since the start of the year we have actually had quite a mild winter, so many of the deciduous and herbaceous plants are well on the rise again.

Here's a selection of what is springing up in our garden now.

Chusquea culeou

Schefflera rhododendrifolia (formerly S. impressa)

Hosta 'Sum and Substance'

Matteuccia struthiopteris

The fernery is waking up, in a few weeks the tree fern fronds will cast a lot of shade over the Oplopanax horridus in the centre of the photo.

Rhododendron mallotum

Farfugium aureomaculatum

So like the poem says "Spring is Sprung".


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

And speaking of Beeches

It seems an appropriate follow up post as I've mentioned planting out a Beech on our previous blog post. Rather than a plant, it's about Beeches Nursery which we visited last Saturday morning.

It was a gloriously sunny day but still feeling tired after a hard week's work, we opted not to get stuck in straight away in the garden but decided but to have a leisurely drive down to Beeches Nursery in the morning and taking in the beautiful scenery of Cambridgeshire and Essex on the way there. It's not too far away from us, perfect as we were back early afternoon feeling refreshed and ready to do some gardening.

Beeches is one of my favourite nurseries and was really looking forward to visiting for the first time this year. It's not an exotic nursery as such nor do they sell lots of large or mature specimen plants, but a nursery specialising in herbaceous perennials and shade loving woodland plants. Most of their plants do originate from far flung areas hence can be classed as exotic in that sense, if not at least some plants do help create the look. We needed a few more understory plants this year so was really looking forward to it, as expected I wasn't disappointed.

It comes across as a small nursery, situated in a residential area with a rather unassuming entrance way. But beyond that it's like an Aladdin's cave, it goes on and on on different levels with treasure troves of plant gems to dazzle anyone who visits and into such sort of plants.

The plants are conveniently grouped together depending on their type and general requirements, and alphabetically arranged too which makes it so convenient to browse and track down plants that you may be after for. Because of this, browsing is always such fun here, not only is it easy to find what you're after but you also discover lots of beautiful gems along way, a delight for plants people but bad for your wallet! But it's hard to just leave some of those gems behind, you just have to have them. But speaking of wallets, it's actually one of the most reasonably priced nurseries we've ever been to and you can go home with lots of plants for your buck, so not so bad for your wallet!

One thing that also strikes me whenever we visit is how neat and tidy the place is, it is immaculate and the plants for sale are totally weed free. Quite how they manage it with just a handful (but obviously adequate) of staff is a bit of a mystery but it is admirable nevertheless. And if you have any question or queries, the staff are more than happy to help and guide you with your purchases.

Erythronium californicum 'White Beauty'

Beschorneria albiflora

Erythronium revolutum 'Harvington Wild Salmon'

Euphorbia x pasteurii
Whilst there we were also telling each other how 'Cornish' the place is, and that this nursery is the closest to having that Cornish Nursery feel to it, outside of Cornwall that is and being reasonably near us. I adore Cornwall and the plant nurseries you can find there, with the myriads of exotic and unusual plants not available elsewhere, and usually run by dedicated plantspeople who are knowledgeable (and usually very helpful!) in their trade.

It was an enjoyable morning spent there, helped a bit by the gorgeous weather but mostly due to the fine selection of plants they have. We came back with a modest but well chosen amount of plants, a bit more than we were expecting but it was all part of the experience. Most of them have been planted out in the afternoon and looking forward to how they progress in the season, and for years to come.

So if you are near or find yourself within the area, and you like the sort of plants they sell, do pop round there and have a look. You probably won't come out of there empty handed :-)


Beeches Nursery

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Devon Inside

"Keep it in the greenhouse for a little while longer, the growth will start quicker. It may be Luton outside but it will be like Devon inside."

Is an advice a nurseryman once told me when it comes to starting off plants in pots in the spring. They start their growth in the new season earlier and the rate much quicker. It makes perfect sense as it gets much warmer, faster in the greenhouse compared to outside hence plants are stimulated into early spring growth. And the warm temperatures are held on for much longer even if the temperatures outside dips down during the evenings and early mornings, a risk that is often associated with early to mid spring.

Devon is part of the west country area of England, a generally milder area as they benefit early on (and much more) from the warm gulf stream air. Because of this the growing season there is earlier and slightly longer than the rest of the country.

It's a really good advice but I made an exception to it when I planted out a special Beech (Fagus sylvatica) cultivar a few weeks ago. It’s a beech after all, definitely hardy and I’m not in a rush to see it in leaf and it can take its natural course, Luton time. (A Beech in an exotic garden I hear you ask? We’re not just into exotic plants but also ones with interesting foliage, and this cultivar certainly has some, but more on this special cultivar at a later post.)

Greenhouse late February
But apart from that beech, pretty much everything else in this particular greenhouse stayed an extra couple of weeks or more inside, just to give them a good head start before they get eventually planted out or placed in their homes outside for the summer. Most of the plants in here were intended to be planted out, but either they are too small still or their intended homes aren't ready yet so we overwintered them under glass.

It may seem unnecessary to put most of them under glass, with frost free heating to boot if they were meant to be planted out anyway, so why not just leave them outside? Some are simply too small still to expose them to the harsh elements of winter, so giving them protection and keeping them ticking during the winter is vital and when they reach a certain size then they can be planted out. Another reason is that they may be fine when planted out but whilst in pots they are more vulnerable and some of them cannot tolerate prolonged rootball freezes which potted plants are more prone to.

The main reason for me though is for aesthetic purposes. Leaving most of them out in the winter, apart from risking their very existence, can take its toll on their appearance and come spring you're left with very tired looking and scruffy plants that will take weeks to recover. There's space available in the greenhouse so why not use it to its full capacity. Come spring you have a group of pristine looking plants ready to be planted out, and makes an instant impact as they look so good for the time of the year.

One thing about gardening and cultivation of plants for ornamental purposes, they are there to look pretty and it gives you a sense of satisfaction when you plant out something that already looks good, instant impact as I've just mentioned. And boy did I make the right decision. Had if I left most of them out they would have been through the harshest winter we've had here for the past hundred years or so. Either half of them would have died or at least I would have been left with a bunch of tired looking plants that would have taken an entire summer to recover, let alone look pretty.

It's a case to case basis of course, there's the nurturing side to every gardener to consider and not all plants benefit from receiving protection in the winter months. Topics worth exploring in the future :-)

The Greenhouse late March, spot the difference...
Anyway, slowly and gradually I've been taking out plants to acclimatise them to the cooler life outside of the greenhouse. First out were some of the arids and palms, then a few of the shrubs as they were planted out. The only other arid left inside is a trunked Yucca linearifolia. Although well rooted, the pot is small and the top too heavy that if left outside any gust of wind will just knock it to its side, so best left there until it's ready to be planted. With the reduction in numbers, the remaining plants are no longer as cramped as they were before, enjoying the extra space. One plant enjoying the extra space, especially it's starting grow to a relatively huge size is the Zantedeschia 'White Giant', which is currently flowering. I refer to this plant as 'The Belle of the Greenhouse' with its beautiful flower set against a backdrop of foliage, like a pretty maiden surrounded by dapper men.
The Belle of the Greenhouse (Zantedeschia 'White Giant')
Gradually, almost one by one I'll be taking out plants until nothing will be left. Most of them can't stay in there too long either. As the season progress and the temperatures and sunlight intensify, left too long it will have an adverse effect of drying/burning them to a crisp which is just as bad as winter damage. Unless you put some shading but I don't intend to do that as this greenhouse is only temporary. Once all of its winter and spring residents are gone it will be dismantled to make way for some construction work, to be positioned somewhere permanent once that is sorted :-)


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Cycads and sunshine

Monday, April 04, 2011

A visit to The Palm Centre

This large Jubaea chilensis dominates the entrance to the car park.
Nestled into the former walled garden of Ham House near Richmond, West London is The Palm Centre. Despite its name Palms are not the only plants on sale, over the years we have bought a good selection of bamboos, ferns and of course palms.

We called in on Saturday morning before our trip to Kew, as we knew they have had several new deliveries recently.

One palm that we were particularly looking forward to seeing was Lytocaryum weddellianum, the miniature coconut palm. We knew in advance that they had had a delivery of these, and were not disappointed with the selection. The only problem was which one to choose, sometimes you see a selection of plants and its easy to choose the one you want, but we had real trouble deciding between a tall one and a very lush but smaller trunked one. In the end we decided to go with the heart and get the more lush plant, and now its home. I'm sure we made the right decision. Lytocaryum weddellianum is not a hardy palm tree, but will take some cooler temperatures and can cope with low light levels. We won't be planting this out but keeping it in a pot and moving it into an outbuilding for winter.
A row of Lytocaryum weddellianum. We eventually made a decision!

A greenhouse packed full of ferns
A recent delivery of Chamaerops humilis var. cerifera were particularly impressive
A large selection of Trachycarpus fortunei
We had planned to have quite a quick visit to the nursery, but ended up spending nearly two hours looking round, and as you can see we ended up with a car full again, although Mark at least didn't have to have a plant in the front of the car with him.

A car full of palms
The Palm Centre

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Magnolias at Kew Gardens

Mark and I visited Kew Gardens this morning. We are members at Kew and so visit regularly, today we were keen to see the spring colour, and in particular wanted to see the Magnolias in flower, especially as we had tried last year but were a week or two late.

Fortunately we were not to be disappointed and we thought you would also like to share in the sights!

Magnolia x soulangeana 'Lennei'

Magnolia x soulangeana 'Lennei'

Magnolia heptapeta

Magnolia stellata 'Two Stones'

Magnolia 'Galaxy'

Magnolia x soulangeana 'Picture'