Monday, November 28, 2011

Anatomy and Treasures

Schefflera digitata
Business as usual! After a much needed (and well deserved me thinks!) short break it's back again to tending to the garden during the weekends. I was actually really looking forward to it after not seeing the garden properly for several days, almost two weeks in fact. Although we have only been away for a few days the lack of daytime light impedes in seeing the garden properly during the week, being that it's dark when we head off to work and already dark when we get back. So it's only at the weekend that we can give everything a proper look over and continue with things that needs to be done.

The shorter daylight hours in the winter has both bad points and good points; bad being that you only have a short amount of time to get crackin' in the garden with natural light, and good being that at least you are forced to pack up and head indoors much earlier and do something else. Artificial lights are never the same really, you get to see better detail with natural daylight.

In the summer we can continue outdoors till nine in the evening, now we start packing up just before four. I'm still getting used to the routine of being indoors relatively early but it's good to be able to catch up on a few more 'indoorsy' activities that gets sidelined in the summer. Mind you, we don't exactly stay indoors most of the time. Four pm is still early and there's plenty of time to go shopping and places after being in the garden, fantastic!

By the way, if the title seems disjointed it's because this entry is actually a small collection of updates of what we got up to last weekend. It'll make sense pretty soon!

The Heart of the Pond

The pond build continues but with the shift in season and temperatures we have to focus on the wood work aspect of the build, and that includes the Filtration House. It was just the two of us this time as Dad was unavailable last weekend but we were still able to do plenty. Most of the thinking, hammering, and sawing is done by Gaz and my role is mainly to just pass things around and hold things in place as he hammers away. My role is not as physically intense compared to the other aspects of the project but I regard it as just taking a rain cheque, considering how much hard labour I've put in sorting the base.

One of my colleagues at work christened this part of the built as building the 'Heart of the Pond'. As romantic as that may sound, it's not really the heart of the pond but more like the ribcage. It will be the Ribcage that will enclose and protect the three Hearts (pumps), Lungs (aeration), and Livers (filtration);  and it is these hearts that will keep the entire Vascular System (pipework) circulating and making sure that the water is at it's best for the health of the fish and clarity of water.

The Filtration House is very much part of the design and plan of the overall area and deserves it's own dedicated attention. I somehow underestimated the amount of time needed to build this but it's clearer to me now that this will take much longer than I expected. There's actually a lot to, both inside and and out, aesthetic and functional bits.

So far so good, the main timber frame of the walls and roof are already built and the waterproofing membrane has been fastened, bar the apex of the roof which has been left open to let more light in temporarily. We have now started putting up the exterior cladding which will be the face of the structure. 

Funny enough, most of the cladding work that was done last Saturday was to the back of the structure facing our neighbour's garden so at the end of the day it looked like nothing was done. On Sunday we were able to do most of the left side facing the temporary greenhouse and most satisfying of all, have started the front of the building. After days of building the Skeleton (timber framework), it's great to see the Skin and Face slowly unravelling. But unlike real anatomy, Muscles and Fat (insulation) won't be applied until much later on when the Skull Cap (roof) has been applied and the interior is mostly watertight.

Treasures in and out of the Greenhouse

It's not all building works that we did last weekend, we also had time for some gardening as well. First was I started grouping some of the plants that are likely to be planted out on to the raised beds which includes the lovely Buddleja 'Silver Anniversary' that has matte and silvery leaves which will reinforce the colour scheme of the first raised bed; and Edgeworthia chrysantha which has lovely, bluish foliage that will be perfect for the second raised bed, with the blue tone picking off the scheme from the first raised bed.

Buddleja 'Silver Anniversary'
Edgeworthia chrysantha

And then on to the greenhouse. It always makes me smile that whenever we have visitors they are just as curious as what's inside our greenhouses as to what we have growing outside. The temporary one is jam packed for the winter and I took some time to do some tidying up, removing dead leaves that may attract excess fungal growth if left in situ, as well as some watering. I've also done some rearranging to accommodate a few more plants in, like a Dichroa febrifuga and three pots of seed grown Schefflera digitatas.

Dichroa febrifuga
This Dichroa febrifuga was going to go in the compost heap, treated as an annual. It was already uprooted from it's summer residence but somehow I forgot to pick it up from where I've put it and it stayed there for weeks, bare rooted on it's side and exposed to frosts on one occasion. And then I found it again a few days ago, full of buds. It wants to live! Such resilience has called on to me and it deserved to be kept so it has since been repotted and now earns a rightful place in the greenhouse.

Schefflera digitata
As for the three pots of Schefflera digitata, one of the plants seems to be keeping the serration that are typical of juvenile leaves, unlike the other two which already are already exhibiting the mature leaf form which has smoother margins. An unusual looking Schefflera and I'm hoping it carries on with its unusual (and more desirable) trait. It seems to be a weak plant though, slow yet demanding with water requirement. The sort of plant for collectors only.

Hmmmm.....Two days and six hours each day. Not bad! :)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

National Botanic Garden of Belgium - Part II

Following on from the tour of the Plant Palace in Belgium's National Botanic Garden, here we explore the rest of the gardens. As I mentioned previously the weather had already turned much cooler in Belgium than at home, so the gardens were further into Autumn. Nethertheless we had a very pleasant walk round in the (cool) sunshine.

The garden moved to its current home in the grounds of Bouchout Castle in 1938. The castle is still very much at the centre of the garden, and still surrounded on several sides by water. 

The castle dates back to the middle ages and has had substantial redevelopment over the years. I believe it's possible to stay in the Castle, although I don't know whether you have full freedom to explore the gardens out of hours if you were to book it for a holiday.

This photo doesn't give the scale of this tree justice, we were walking up one of the pathways and were both drawn to this. Many of the trees in the parkland pre-date the botanical garden. 

A smaller glass house was filled with Agaves
And they claim to have over a hundred types and species in their collection
Wandering round the parkland and as you can see Autumn was very much in full swing. I think the yellow carpet here was from a Ginkgo biloba.


This Cypress was in full Autumn mode. I am always fascinated by the strange roots that these grow near to water.
Many of us have to protect plants in winter, but how many have to go to such lengths as these? The plant being protected in the second picture below is easy to work out as it still has leaves poking out of the top (Musa basjoo). However what do you think is being protected by the metal sheeting?

Hopefully we will get the opportunity to visit again during a summer month sometime in the future.


National Botanic Garden of Belgium

Monday, November 21, 2011

National Botanic Garden of Belgium - A tour of the Plant Palace

Mark and I have had a well deserved short break in the Belgian capital Brussels. Although we did all the typical tourist activities (Atomium, Grand Place, various museums, waffles and chocolate! to name a few), we also decided to pay a visit to the Botanical Gardens. 

The first Botanical Garden in Brussels was situated in what is now part of the financial district and closed its doors in 1938 (the glasshouses eventually becoming concert venues). The important plants and botanical collections were moved to the present location in Meise, in the grounds of Bouchout Castle, just to the north of Brussels. Meise is about 4km from Atomium and the Heysel underground train stop, so it was just a short taxi ride (which almost ended up with us going back to the old botanic garden site) to the garden.

With the continental weather a little colder than at home, autumn was much further on than in our garden, however there was still plenty to see.

First off and we headed to the large glass house, grandly named the Plant Palace, which is a series of 13 interconnected glasshouses. The palace is currently undergoing some restoration so the main entrance was closed and we had to walk round to the back.

On entering, the first section was a Mediterranean themed area. Many of the plants in this glasshouse were in pots awaiting this section's turn for building work to create the new beds. The pots were so tightly placed together they didn't detract from the overall look.
Sonchus canariensis

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Scheffleras in the Garden

One of the group of plants we are frequently asked about are the Scheffleras growing in our garden. In relation to my previous post about having blog backlogs, this is one of the topics I was meaning to feature much earlier in the year but never did get round to. I did however start to write a lengthy post about it a few months ago and was halfway through but some other things got in the way and now it belongs to the list of our 'unfinished entries'. I'm sure I'll still be able to finish that lengthy post at some point, but also it might be spring by then and I will have to add a bit more to it as an update.

The least I can do for now is to show how some of them are currently doing in our garden, coupled with a more condensed write up. Without further ado, here are just a few of the several Scheffleras we have in the garden (a photo of a bigger S. taiwaniana can be seen in the post Mornings and Weekends) .

Schefflera aff. chapana
Schefflera rhododendrifolia (syn. impressa)
Most of these Scheffleras are relatively new introductions to the western world, from collections done by individual, modern day plant hunters. Coming from high altitude areas of China and Vietnam they have the potential to be suitable for permanent planting in certain parts of Northern Europe and the US. One or two types however have been in the UK for a few decades now, sourced from earlier expeditions undertaken by various botanical institutions and have been growing in their collections since then (and a bit of material made it's way into the nursery trade and propagated successfully).

Schefflera taiwaniana
Schefflera aff. brevipedicellata (or what's left of it as it's currently going deciduous)
It's one of my favourite group of plants and I find them elegant and attractive, hence I enjoy collecting them. I'm also keen on trying out these new introductions in our garden as they come along, to see if they sail through the winters here and consequently thrive. The results have been mixed but mostly it's been good and several are doing really well now. I do however, choose which ones to plant out and try (rather than risk all of the new introductions I can get my hands on) based on the altitude of where the original material was collected from. Collections made above 2000 meters above sea level have a good potential for cold hardiness, between 1500 to just under 2000 meters can be borderline, and anything lower than that is more likely to be too tender for our location. This is just a rough guide given to me by a couple of these plant collectors and is not definitive.

Schefflera aff. rhododendrifolia
What I find most fascinating about it all is that, like most people we are familiar with the Schefflera arboricola, a common houseplant found virtually all over the world. Even in tropical regions where this plant can thrive permanently outside, it is still used as a houseplant there. Then all of a sudden there are now Scheffleras available that can be grown outside, in our gardens, in cold temperate UK. And for a plant exoticist like me it is extra exciting.

Schefflera kornasii
This blog post might rouse more questions than answers especially to those interested in trying out these plants for the first time, or thinking of adding more to their existing collections. This is just a condensed post and hopefully I'll be able to do the lengthier version  in the next few months. There are several more new species about to come out from some of the nurseries here, also from high altitude collections and I'm keen to try them in our garden as they come along. And yes, more blog opportunities in the future :-)


Monday, November 14, 2011

Blog Backlog!

Gunnera manicata and me!
A few moments ago I finally had the chance to sort out some of the numerous photos we've taken earlier in the year, of the garden and various other places we've been to. It's all part of getting the computer organised and making it easier to look back at these photos at any point in the future. Skimming through some of these images I am reminded of the amount of backlog we have about things and subjects we wanted to blog about but never had the chance to write them.

So much to blog about, so little free time! This year has been exceptionally hectic for us, with the pond project on top of the other things we needed to do in the garden, plus increasing work commitments and taking the time to do other things we enjoy. It's been a blast, loads of exciting things happening, much more so than in previous years. But also there were moments of physical exhaustion and tiredness, but never miserable. So far so good but they all take their toll on our free time.

Blast from the not so distant past, this photo taken last April.  I've forgotten what the fences looked like unpainted. Can't wait to get them levelled once the decking has been built.
I suppose we can always write about the things we were meaning to blog before during the colder months, almost like a pool of subjects we can discuss on the usually horticulturally more quiet time of the year. Certain subjects and events seems a bit strange to blog about in retrospect though, either they are way out of date and don't feel right any more to refer to in present tense, or simply the subject matter has gone past it's momentum. Other subjects are probably best left to be featured in the future when we get the chance to revisit and/or re-experience them again.

An all white Knotweed. Fallopia japonica var. compacta 'Milk Boy'. I had planned to write about
various ornamental knotweeds a few months ago but never had chance. Maybe this winter...
But plants are plants, and plant-y subjects are fine enough to feature even if they are out of season. At least if we feature a plant and our readers like them they can add it to their spring list of acquisitions. The odd pond and fish subjects will creep up too of course.

Snow in Madeira. Yes they can occasionally get some of that white stuff too but only on higher elevations. I was going to write about the 'T-shirt to Coat' journey in two hours in Madeira but...
So there you go. I'm hoping we'll get the chance to sort out some of our blog backlog in the next few months. Saying that, I'm also looking forward to next year when we repeat the horticulture cycle of events and the chance to acquire some more new plants. One lesson I'll try to adhere to is that most of the time it's best to write about a subject or an event just after it has happened, when the momentum and buzz is still there. Once the momentum has gone by postponing or delaying writing about it then it makes it harder to revisit the subject again. One never stops learning or gaining wisdom.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Autumn Bonus!

As it's been such a mild autumn so far, one of our very late flowering Dahlias actually had the chance to flower this year.

Dahlia excelsa currently in bloom
We grow Dahlia excelsa mainly for it's foliage and stature rather than it's flowers, growing very tall during the season which makes it perfect for specimen planting or at the back of a border. This one is currently towering over 12' tall. If you trim off the lower side branches and leaves you can even get a bamboo culm effect from this plant. As it normally flowers very late in the year, well into autumn, the first frosts and sub zero temperatures normally induces this Dahlia to go dormant before it has the chance to flower. As it's been such a mild autumn, this year was an exception and it's delicate flowers is giving the garden some extra cheer at this time of the year. A rare occurence!

Dahlia excelsa towering at the back of the border at over 12' tall

This plant was given to us a few years ago by a friend, which he originally sourced from Crug Farm. It has been reliably hardy for him, with his location much colder than ours, and as expected has been reliably hardy so for us too. It is deciduous in the colder months and sprouts back from the ground again in the spring. I tried to overwinter one in a pot before, inside a heated greenhouse wondering if it will remain evergreen, but it still went dormant regardless.

It's one of the most statuesque Dahlias you can grow, and I highly recommend if you want a foliage plant that looks majestic in just one season. And like this year you might get an autumn bonus and get it to flower too!


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Ginkgo biloba 'Troll'

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


At this time of year towards the end of the main garden path we get quite a lot of fungi, whilst we don't know what type these are they are nevertheless quite fascinating.  

Hopefully one of our followers will be able to tell us what they are.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Autumn Days

We are well into autumn in the UK, and the dry mild weather is continuing. We have been able to take advantage of the weather and continue with the pond project, as well as a couple of other jobs that have needed doing for a while.

One of the paving stones in the side passage had started to get quite wobbly recently and I thought I ought to sort it out. I had assumed a rhizome from the neighbouring bamboo might be the cause so I lifted the flag and was amazed to see so many rhizomes that had all grown under the stone.

Fortunately they had not got into the soil - just between the cement and the flag stone, so after cutting them all out and removing the old concrete I was able to relay the slab and a couple adjacent to it reasonably quickly. I'm glad I didn't leave this until next year as the bamboo may have done a lot more damage by then.

My dad helps with quite a few of the building jobs in the garden and complains that he doesn't get fair recognition in our blog! He was round this weekend to help me with the construction of the filter house for the pond.

The filter house will be clad in wood, with a reclaimed tile roof. Once it is complete I will show more details of what we have done, but here's a sample complete with my Dad, who is getting the first roof timbers ready.

With the weather so kind the garden is still looking great, so here's a selection of plants that caught my eye today.


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Mornings and Weekends

The clocks went back last weekend, switching from British Summer Time (BST) to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Whilst it was a little treat gaining an extra hour of the weekend it also meant that from now on, gardening is mostly a weekend pursuit. Of course there are also the odd mornings I can spend some time gardening when I don't have to rush to work but even so, morning times are limited and it's usually just an hour or so before I reluctantly peel myself away from the garden and get ready to go to work.

It takes awhile to get used to gardening in the dark, or at least aided by a torch. I had a taste of the awkwardness of it last night when I tried to do some watering in a packed greenhouse using only one hand whilst the other is holding a torch. No good, I was only able to water a few plants before the awkwardness threatened to do more harm than good in the greenhouse. Ah well, they had to wait till the morning.

Ladybirds snuggling on a new flush of Cycas revoluta leaves. This cycad flushed late, 
fortunately it has been so mild it had a chance to harden off.
Sonchus canariensis still looking great. Must remember to lift this next weekend...
A scarf and a bonnet for our tree ferns, Dicksonia antarctica. They are easy enough to lift off on milder days.
Despite that there are always lots of other things to do and if the lack of light is an issue then you can always use floodlights or set up a lighting system in certain parts of the garden. A permanent artificial light source in the greenhouse is certainly handy, if not necessary, but in our case our greenhouses are relatively small (and one of them is temporary) so it doesn't merit the extra effort needed in setting one up in them (for now anyway).

A close up of Schefflera taiwaniana flowers 
This Schefflera taiwaniana is flowering away despite being only 18'' tall, not that unusual as this 
plant is a rooted cutting rather than seed grown.
One of my greenhouse gems, Persicaria runcinata. Easily sourced in continental Europe but 
not so easy in the UK, it took me ages to get hold of one (thanks Remco!)
Fortunately I didn't have to come in early to work today so I had the chance to have a look around the garden this morning (and of course finish the watering). Autumn is well and truly here with lots of plants shedding and changing colours to their leaves. But autumn has it's own unique charm and it was pleasurable enough to see the changes happening in our garden.

Autumn and Acers, perfect combination!
Aesculus parviflora about to shed its leaves
Even an outdoor grown Schefflera taiwaniana is joining the bandwagon with its older leaves
It has to be blurred eh! (L-R) Firmiana simplex, Toona sinensis 'Flamingo', and Kalopanax septemlobus
Just shows that deciduous trees don't all change colours of leaves at the same time.
The usually graceful Zingiber mioga 'Dancing Crane' is starting to go dormant now
Whilst the Staphylea holocarpa 'Rosea' and Catalpa speciosa 'Pulverulenta' are still resisting the urge to shed  their leaves.
Around this time last year I did a blog on harvesting grapes on our pergola, only for all of them to go straight into the bin. This time around with such a mild autumn so far they had a chance to fully ripen and the grapes actually tastes nice, yummy! I've been munching on them recently, not minding the pips, but there's so much more than I can gobble up so I will have to do my annual harvest and bin routine quite soon again.

Our Tetrapanax papyrifera 'Rex' got cut back last winter but the biggest shoot is about to flower again.

I've shifted the small potted palms displayed here last summer under cover and changed it to these pots of hardy (and very ornamental) black grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'. Winter isn't just about hiding and tucking plants away, it can also be about displaying them too.

It's another late start for me tomorrow so I get another chance to spend some time in the garden. One hour only though, one golden hour. So many things that I'd want to do, so little time. I'm spoilt for choice, I guess I'll just be spontaneous :-)