Thursday, June 30, 2011

Oplopanax horridus

We have grown Oplopanax horridus for several years and this year we were rewarded with a flower spike and now a healthy crop of berry's.  This plant has a reputation for being difficult to establish, and we were warned by the nursery to plant it out of the way and not to disturb it, by following this advice and keeping it well fed and watered has obviously worked for us.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cottesbrooke Hall Plant Finders Fair

Mark and I had an enjoyable day off work on Friday and drove up into Northamptonshire to the Cottesbrooke Hall Plant Finders Fair, an annual plant fair held in the grounds of a large country manor house. Although we knew of the fair by reputation we hadn't visited before, now we have been I suspect we will be back next year.

The plant fair is laid out in the naturalistic landscaped grounds of the hall, just beyond the formal lawns and gardens, leading down to a lake, complete with picturesque bridge. The attention to detail was exceptional, each stand clearly labeled and rather than a mix of tables and awnings, a consistent set up of tents and large white parasols added to the summer feel. Each stand had tables set up that were wrapped in hessian and turfed on top - a quirky feature we both enjoyed.

Where to start...

On entering we were slightly bewildered at first by the huge number of exhibitors, selling a wide range of plants and other garden accessories. We started out by taking a fairly casual walk round, buying one or two smaller choice plants along the way. After getting our bearings we stopped for some refreshments before exploring in more detail.

As we expected we were drawn to the stand of Crûg Farm, where Sue and Bleddyn had a fantastic selection of plants from their own seed collecting trips in Asia. Hardy scheffleras over 6 feet tall grabbed our attention, and we just had to add a few more gems to our shopping list.

We made a number of trips back to Crûgs stand during the day before finalising our shortlist.

Just across from Crûg was the stand of Edulis, a nursery we had heard about but so far haven't been able to visit yet. They specialise in exotic and unusual plants and we were not to be disappointed, buying a Schefflera macrophylla and Zanthoxylum schinifolium (Szechwan Pepper). When we wandered back later in the day they had sold out of these plants so I'm glad we picked them up when we did.

Edulis also had rather fetching metal seed pods, which we were rather taken by, although we didn't end up buying one - maybe next time!

A new nursery to us and one which we must make the trip to visit this year was Olive Grove Nurseries, who had a fine selection of hardy palms and other big exotics, all at very reasonable prices. Despite being tempted by quite a few plants we chose a very good sized Dasylirion wheeleri that Mark felt would make a great addition to one of the beds being planned by our new Koi pond.

I have always been drawn to alpine plants, such as saxifrage, sedums and sempervivums, and although we do grow a few we have never really explored these plants in much detail. After seeing the plants on offer by Slack Top Alpine Nursery I feel this may change! I was drawn to a number of unusual silver alpines which will also form part of the planting in the new beds with the dasylirion from Olive Grove. These are not just attractive plants, everything on the stand had been though the winter at the nursery (-17C) so should be more than happy in our garden.

As well as plants there were a number of stalls selling various garden accessories, tools, ornaments, furniture and even subscriptions to gardening magazines.

Brooks Furniture from Dorset make unusual garden furniture, gates and even tree houses from English hardwoods such as Oak and Chestnut. But rather than use machine prepared timber, they work with the unusual shapes or lines of the wood and encompass these into the design. Although we didn't come away with any furniture, the examples on display gave us a few ideas for future projects.

The only downside to the whole day was the traffic chaos ahead of entering the grounds, it took nearly an hour to drive the last half mile and get parked up, the problems caused mostly by the organisers taking payment as cars entered the site, rather than by allowing visitors to park up and pay an entrance fee on foot. Having spoken to several of the exhibitors they were well aware of the traffic problems and hopefully more suitable arrangements will be made next year.

The weather at times looked like it might decide to rain, although we were lucky had no rain until we got home, in the end it was quite a warm and sunny day.

No plant buying trip would be complete without a couple of photos of what we came away with, so rather than disappoint here's a selection of our haul!

Planning how to fit it all in.

Success, it all fits in.

Some of the plants once we were back home.

... and a few mor

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Stopover at The Palm House

Every time we travel down for our holiday to Cornwall it’s almost a tradition for us to also visit our friends Lucien and Laura. They live in beautiful Exmouth in Devon which is about two thirds of the way to our final destination, so we take the opportunity to pause our journey, have a much needed break at their place, and more importantly catch up and have a good old natter with them (over plenty of delicious homemade cakes and hot tea of course).

The lovely George at the Palm House
After spending some time with them we resume our journey but we all leave together this time and pop ‘round to another traditional stop over us, The Palm House which is only about 20-30 minutes away from Lucien and Laura’s place and along the way to our journey too.

And one sunny afternoon last May on our way to Cornwall was no exception :-)

Gaz and Lucien, with George looking around the polytunnels
We always look forward to visiting the Palm House and catching up with George who mainly runs the nursery. George and his business partner grow palms from seed (mainly the very architectural Trachycarpus wagnerianus), raise them inside their polytunnels, and then sell them on to individuals or to trade.

The quality of the palms they sell are always top notch, I couldn’t praise them enough. The palms are field grown inside the polytunnels and once they reach certain sizes, they are dug up with a decent sized root ball, repotted, and left to re root again in the pot before they are sold on. They make sure that the palms are healthy, in great condition, and well rooted before they sell any of them. There are different sizes of palms available to suit most people’s needs and budget.

Laura checking out the palms

There’s also something special about buying palms that were grown and raised within the UK. A lot of palms sold here are imported from other European countries like the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, etc; and some more coming from as far away as Brazil and Korea. With the imported ones, it is not uncommon to buy specimens that are relatively freshly dug up and just about re rooting in their new pots (and the odd chance of inadvertently buying palms with no roots at all which did happen to us once!), and also some specimens being noticeably ‘force grown’ under glass with over long petioles. With the palms they sell, they are already acclimatised to British conditions, hence having more natural looking proportions to the leaves with the general size of the plant amongst other things. And since they only release well rooted palms, they are able to establish much quicker when planted out in the garden.

Field growing Trachycarpus wagnerianus

The field grown palms are dug up with a big rootball, potted, then re rooted before being sold
Potted and re rooted specimens ready for sale

Apart from T. wagnerianus, this is also my favourite place to buy palms such as Chamaedorea radicalis and microspadix, as well as a few other types of Trachycarpus which they also stock. If you spot any C. radicalis on some of the photos of our garden, chances are they originally came from here. Another thing I want to highlight is their success in propagating the bamboo Chusquea gigantea, a notoriously difficult to propagate bamboo and rarely available in smaller sized pots to purchase. They are however an exception and if you’re after one in a small pot then they are the place to source them.

Chamaedorea radicalis and other palms
A possible Trachycarpus takil, this specimen has been in the ground for ten years, slow growing and has very little trunk to it. A growth rate and trait unlike the usual T. fortunei

It may be a stopover but our visits are rarely short as George always happily shows us around and have long chats with him talking about the lovely exotics they have in the nursery. On our last visit we happily went away with three T. wagnerianus and a possible T. takil, taking them all the way to Cornwall with us. Now talk about bringing your own ‘houseplant’ with you on your holidays!

Definitely not our last visit, looking forward to popping ‘round again the very near future ;-)


Monday, June 20, 2011

The Dating Game

I do like my play on words, so sorry if you're expecting to read something about 'dating' in reference to the activity you do when you're looking for a partner (that's certainly not needed here), but rather a different sort of 'dating' which is more related to gardens and gardening :-)

The garden sofa and chair set - I like this garden furniture a lot, it's like bringing out your lounge into your garden space. We've always toyed with the idea of acquiring a set but it's not the sort of furniture that would comfortably fit in with a rustic jungle setting, and seems more at home to a contemporary one. Most areas of our garden would not look right with such a furniture set, until recently that is, when we will soon have that space that would be appropriate for it.

We were looking in a garden centre the other day, checking out the different ranges, colours, and sizes of basically the same design. Not that we were going to purchase a set now but it's good to keep an eye on whatever particular set we fancy. There is usually a window of opportunity in the autumn wherein most garden furnitures are put on greatly reduced price, sometimes even more than 50% off, and that's the best time to purchase them. These things are rarely sold out of stock before the sales so then would be the best time to buy them. (And it is for this same principle that I very rarely buy any garden furniture at full price during the spring and summer, the only snag is you'll have to store them and wait till next year to use them but that's only a minor inconvenience.)

Going through the selections, and making a mental shortlist, I suddenly thought something. 'Hmmmm, I'm not so sure now about any of these', I said. And Gaz asked, 'How come?'. And then I replied, 'This design has been out for quite some time now, what if it soon becomes dated?'. And we both nodded in recognition. And so we went home shortly, back to square one.

So, will this furniture set likely to become dated soon? Now that is the question.

This sort of furniture is inherently expensive compared to other types of garden furniture, and you would expect that it would at least serve it's purpose (looking pretty and a comfy place to sit and relax) for many years to come, and for me that's ten years or more (Ok, that sounds a bit tight but hey, how often do you need to change your living room sofa?). So it's the sort of purchase you'd hopefully only do once and not do again for quite some time.

I like the design, the streamlined look and how comfortable it is to sit on and relax. And the material looks natural and easy to clean, durable enough to withstand outdoor conditions. But this 'look' has been out now for a few years and is steadily appearing in most people's gardens. Will it carry on remaining popular and in demand for many years to come? 

A bistro set, another one to consider and requires less space too. Difficult to sleep on it though, unless you have had too much red wine! (Photo from

I guess the answer to both questions is that only time will tell. Will it be a timeless classic as the quintessential black leather sofa or even the wooden garden bench (Ok, maybe not as mega timeless as that), or will it be a trendy signature piece definitive of a certain era, the nineties and the 21st century noughties?

Still widely available, is it timeless or simply 80's?

My prediction would be, it will remain fashionable for at least the next five years, if it goes further than that then again only time will tell. If you own one already then I think you'll be fine, however for the likes of us who is still considering purchasing a set, if we do would we end up buying something that's already halfway towards the end of a current trend?

'That' high back rattan furniture, very 70's!

Ultimately, whether a furniture will date or not it doesn't matter as long as you really like it and you'll enjoy using it. That's the important bit, not whether it is trendy or not :-)

As for me, I'm also starting to wonder whether this design is actually really 'me' or not (Oh yes, make that 'us'). I think that's also one of the (unspoken) reasons for our hesitation in the end. Certainly other designs and styles are also worth considering (maybe stick with the same material). There's plenty of time to browse, think things through and make a decision, I'm rather enjoying the process I must admit!

Blagdon Affinity Pond, a ready made pond to match your 'contemporary' rattan furniture. I'm a bit sceptical about this, I think it belongs up there with the '2 in 1 Pond and Table Set' i.e. a short lived fad.

Recently I spotted Gaz poring through the Habitat catalogue again, and I enjoy popping 'round the Conran Shop as there is one near where I work. Both avid admirers of the designs of their furniture (and occasionally acquire indoor furnishings from them) they sure do have lots of nice things, including outdoor furniture. And the range is more individual and unique too. Maybe I should just take the hint, after all they have autumn sales too... :-)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Garden in June 2011

After a particularly warm and dry spring, it has been a wet start to the summer here but it's not too bad as it gives plants the good soaking they need, and promotes even more lush growth for a better display later in the season. Fortunately it hasn't been continuously wet like we had in previous summers and the rainy days are interspersed with bright, sunny ones; and it's those sunny days that I've managed to take a few more photos of the garden. 

The long term forecast seems good too, after a few more days of unsettled weather we're likely to come back to stretches of warm and sunny days again, cross fingers!

I haven't posted general shots of the garden in a while now, here's a few more taken recently. 

In the Jungle...

An all white leaf from a clump of Farfugium argenteum. It occasionally throws out an all white leaf but not as big as this one before. All white leaves are prone to burning so I'm glad I've taken this photo before it showed signs of it, but so far so good and it's still looking pristine now.

Echeveria 'Mauna Loa' in a summer display pot, surrounded by several Hederas and the dwarf bamboo Pleioblastus pygmaeus

Aeonium arboreum 'Variegatum'

Our resident king of the jungle, Knickers, ready to pounce...

Arisaema speciosum flower. It's the most reliable arisaema in our garden and reliably comes back every year with very little special care.

The delightful Ginkgo biloba 'Troll', a dwarf ginkgo variety that looks great in a pot.

The lovely hardy tree tomato, Cyphomandra corymbiflora. Throws out plenty of flowers throughout the season. Hopefully I'll get fruits later in the summer!

My favourite seating area in the garden....

Looking forward to the rest of the summer! :-)


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Seize the Day!

What would you do if you know you'll only have one day of the weekend with good weather and you have lots to do, or at least raring to do some gardening? Seize the day of course!

That's exactly what happened this weekend. We were planning to have a day out to Brighton on Saturday but decided to cancel and stayed at home to do a few more things in the garden. The weather prediction here was sunny and dry on Saturday, then near constant rain on Sunday, quite a contrast! Having had a rather busy working week for the both of us, we had a bit of catching up to do and it looked like Saturday was our only chance for the weekend.

This flushing Cycad revoluta is enjoying the rain!

It turned out to be a very good decision indeed, as whilst sat inside writing this blog on a Sunday afternoon it's raining heavily outside and it's been pretty much drizzly at least since the morning. And there's no sign of it stopping soon.

And so it was an activity packed Saturday, starting with getting some of the weekend garden routines done like sweeping the patio and cleaning out the filters of the pond. Then off to four different shops to buy some fish food, paint, garden bench, and stone slabs. Even squeezed in popping round car showrooms en route to these four shops.

Some of the shopping could have been done on a rainy day like today but I had run out of fish food so I can't delay that, plus in the same shop we met up with a fellow member of the Koi club to show us some of the filters we're considering (hitting two birds with one stone). Also at the moment the summer sales are on and a reduction on the costs of the paint we need will be much appreciated. Oh yes, and a garden bench too which we needed at the jungle area. As for the stone slabs, there's a rockery centre near us and we needed a few bits to complete the project Gaz has started on our new garden last weekend. We'll be back to purchase a whole lot more from that rockery centre in the next few days, I love that place, so much to choose from and definitely worth it's own blog entry.

And so as soon as we got back, Gaz got stuck with angle grinding the slabs and cementing them in place whilst I got stuck in doing some more tidying up in the garden, including sorting out a massive pile of Clematis armandii on the bottom patio which we chopped off a few days ago. We still left a bit of it to grow back but I'm starting to consider removing it altogether and replacing with Actinidia chinensis, or just let the Vitis vinifera 'Chardonnay' on the other side of the pergola to take over totally. Anyway, one to decide later on.

One fine day and it was well spent I think! It's too wet and drizzly outside this Sunday so not much we can do. Not complaining though, forced rest indoors now and again is a good thing! :)


Monday, June 06, 2011

Leafy Woodland Wonders!

Woodland plants with big leaves play such an integral part in our garden. Used as under story planting to other, much taller exotics, they help reinforce the atmosphere in our jungle themed garden. 

Here's a few of what's currently looking good in our garden. 

Diphylleia cymosa

This has been in our garden for four years now and never fails to perform with it's curiously shaped leaves that remind me of bat or moth wings. The leaves it throws out gets bigger as it gets established and despite being partially hidden from view, never fails to catch the attention of most of our visitors. A wonderful plant, I can't get enough of this and have several planted in different places of our garden. It thrives very well on dappled sun to full shade in a moisture retentive site. I've tried it on dry shade, although it still comes back every year, it struggles to get produce bigger leaves.

Astilboides tabularis

A well established specimen in a moisture retentive, shady spot is always a sight to behold. It can truly live up to it's common name, the Dinner Plate plant as it can produce huge, circular leaves the size of a dinner plate (or more like a round serving tray I think :-)). An old favourite, it associates well with shady cottage style of gardening, ferneries, and of course jungle style of gardening.

Sanguinaria canadensis

This gently spreading North American woodlander has gorgeous spring flowers, but the main reason I grow it is for it's interesting, and relatively big leaves. Even the smallest of gardens can have room for a few

Peltoboykinia watanabei

A lovely woodland plant with interesting foliage originating from the far east. Younger specimens and leaves are palmate but as the plant gets established it throws out much bigger leaves that are more circular/less lobed. I do like this plant but I must admit that it's cousin is my favourite...

Peltoboykinia tellimoides

Another plant I can't get enough of! I absolutely love it's stellate leaves that gets bigger as the season progresses, and improves in overall habit as years go by. Unlike other woodlanders, this one seems to tolerate a sunnier spot and doesn't wilt on warm, sunny days. I think it's gorgeous! If you're only limiting yourself to one Peltoboykinia, this is the one to go for.

Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'

A relatively new introduction that is proving to be very garden worthy for many, with it's huge, marked, and patterned foliage, and curious red flower borne in the late spring. The one on the photo has been on the ground for four years and it just gets better every year. It prefers a bright spot with indirect sun, or dappled shade in a moisture retentive site. Full shade and it fails to bulk up, full sun and the leaves take on a light green shade and you lose the intensity of the markings. 

Petasites frigidus var. palmatus 'Golden Palms'

A naughty plant but I think is very nice! I love the shape of the foliage and the yellow speckles on the big leaves. It can be invasive but I find it easy enough to control by regularly pulling up new shoots as the rhizomes tend to be superficial. Site with care and not for the low maintenance gardener.

Syneilesis palmata

I'm so impressed by this plant, in the spring you get curiously odd looking hairy shoots coming out from the ground (and plenty of reaction too when I featured it on a Wordless Wednesday), then you get heavily dissected leaves that get bigger and bigger, very architectural! Gently spreads out to make an even more impressive stand. Wonderful! :-)