Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Farfugium Collection

Farfugiums are a group of plants that I enjoy collecting and planting out all over the garden. The genus belongs to the daisy family (Asteracea) and produces daisy like flowers if given the chance to bloom, which it usually does between December and January. If sited in a mild, sheltered spot or grown under glass then you might get the chance to see it bloom, but planted out this is very unlikely to happen in the UK. 

Until recently the hardiness of this genus has been unknown but is generally regarded as only being borderline hardy and unsuitable for planting out for most parts of the UK (apart from the milder regions in the south). However it is proving to be a lot hardier and tougher than previously thought of based on the experience of several gardeners including us here.

In previous winters all of the ones we have remain in leaf until the prolonged cold spells arrive, in which some die back to the ground whilst others remain evergreen. It was only last winter that all of them got cut back to the ground, but all sprouted back again once it warmed up in the spring. I can say that they are hardy to at least -10 celsius, with several days of continuous subzero temperatures based on our experience here.

Farfugiums thrive well in a cool, moisture retentive spot, tolerating light to medium shade but preferring to be in a bright spot that doesn't get too much direct sun on it either. If sited in too much shade it produces leggy growth, and if the planting area dries out and often then the leaves start to wilt and succeeding growth are not as lush as before. 

This year I decided to make a small area dedicated to my Farfugium collection so I've taken divisions last spring from some of the ones planted out and placed them side by side in wooden troughs, so the difference between them can be easily seen. I've also dug up a couple of specimens earlier in the summer as they were struggling in their planting spots due to lack of moisture. I'll pot grow them for a year or two so they can recover and bulk up, then hopefully divide them later on so I'll a few more extra plants I can try in other parts of our garden.

Farfugium japonicum 'Aureomaculatum'

A yellow variegated Farfugium that is one of my favourite plants in the garden and is one of the more frequently asked about plants by visitors to the garden. The leaves are large, glossy, and marked with bright yellow spots. It's one of those plants that look great when sited in a lightly shaded area as it helps brighten up the spot with it's fluorescent yellow markings. A very exotic and tropical looking Farfugium that looks great when used in tropical themed borders and gardens to help reinforce the atmosphere. It associates well with traditional and cottage style gardens too, providing contrast to other plants with its unusual looking foliage.

Farfugium japonicum 'Tsuwa-Buki'

A plain green cultivar that has angular, crested leaves and growing a touch smaller than the other plain green types. It is typically mound forming and looks great in a pot where it can look like a ball of leaves resting on top of the pot. Another one that I found much tougher than the others and have remained evergreen on previous winters. This one is a division of the original one planted out in the garden and is enjoying the extra moisture it currently gets in the wooden trough.

Farfugium japonicum 'Argenteum'

My favourite variegated form; easy to cultivate, very stable, and a vigorous grower. Each green leaf is randomly marked with sections of pure white and smudges of it in certain areas, producing a pleasing pattern that is easy on the eye. Occasionally it throws out all white leaves too, and if sited well does not burn and remains pristine for a long time. A very, very attractive Farfugium that I can't praise enough and love using all over the garden.

Farfugium japonicum 'Bumpy Ride'

A large and leafy plain green cultivar that has angular leaf margins and looks great in most borders, associating well with both summer flowering plants, and other foliage plants with leaves contrasting to its own. I find this vigorous growing Farfugium easy to cultivate and versatile enough to use all over the garden.

Farfugium japonicum 'Kaimon Dake'

Another variegated form with almost pure white leaves emerging in the spring and intermittently throughout the growing season. The new leaves initially look like they've been lightly dusted with brown powder which it gradually loses as the leaves get bigger, turning more glossy and speckled green on a white base. A collector's Farfugium and appeals only to gardeners who are keen on this sort of variegation. It's not as vigorous a grower as most other cultivars, more likely due to having more white on the leaves than green, but has also been surprisingly tough here. It was one of the few that remained evergreen on previous winters but it was planted under the canopy of Trachycarpus leaves which gave it some shelter. I decided to dig it up this summer as it was struggling due to it's spot becoming more dry as the other neighbouring plants take in more moisture than before, and bulk it up in a pot so I can divide it in a year or two. At the moment it is huddled with my other potted specimens.

Farfugium japonicum 'Crispatum'

A lovely cultivar that has new leaves emerging very crinkly and looking like it was dusted with brown powder, and as the leaves enlarge the leaf margin remains crinkly and curly, reminding me of lettuce leaves. I find this Farfugium very attractive and love the overall clumping, mound forming habit of the plant. It's another one I had to dig up this year to bulk up in a pot for a year or two.

Farfugium japonicum var. Giganteum

If you like big leaves then you'll love this plant. This variety produces very large leaves for a Farfugium and glossy too, which adds to it's impact and attractiveness. Give it lots of moisture and extra feed during the growing season and site it on a bright spot, then stand back and watch it grow. Of all the Farfugiums here this is almost always the last one to come back in the spring, but once it does it more than makes up for its late start with vigorous growth in the summer. If you have a jungle style garden then I'd say this plant is a must.

I intend to continue collecting them as more cultivars become more available in the UK. Lots of Japanese gardeners and plant enthusiasts seems to have a love affair with variegated types of this plant, as well as those with unique leaf shapes so more will become available here eventually. There is one cultivar that is easily available here but somehow I haven't got yet, F. j. 'Ryuto' which has scabrous marks on the leaves that make it look more diseased than ornamental. A curiosity cultivar that I don't find attractive myself (hence I haven't got one) but for the sake of collecting I might acquire one later on

I think Farfugiums are fantastic foliage plants and can't recommend it enough, especially to other foliage gardeners like me. I'm not keen on the flowers, I could do without them especially after seeing swathes of them in bloom under glass inside the main glasshouse at RHS Wisley and growing outside in several gardens in Madeira. But the foliage alone makes it well worthwhile growing and a worthy addition to the garden.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Moving a Greenhouse

In what will eventually become our growing on area we had erected a small greenhouse last year. However we had realised a few weeks back that we had put it up too close to the pond, so it would encroach on the future pond filtration house.
So with that in mind we spent the morning taking all the glass out of the frame.

This allowed us to move the frame about two feet further away to give us the extra space needed for the filtration house. I know it seems like a lot of effort for very little gain, but moving it was needed so we decided it was worth the time.

Knickers inspecting the new location.

Having temporarily removed all of the plants inside, we also took the opportunity to give each of them some extra TLC, some weeding or trimming as necessary.

And voila! The greenhouse in its new position. 

This was one of those jobs that takes up quite a lot of time but the extra space gained will be very well used in the future filtration house!


Friday, August 26, 2011

Plantsman, Plumber, and a Cat Lover

Real life gets in the way of blogging sometimes!

Graptopetalum paraguayense
It's been a very busy few days here again, with the garden and the project, and on top of that life in general. Oh yes, then there's work. Busy, busy times at work for the both of us and when we get home we have to sort out a few other things too. But all good, with a dash of stress to spice things up.

When we both get home from our full time jobs we only have a narrow window of free time to sort out other things, including doing a bit more with our new pond and maintenance of the rest of the garden. We're at the stage of sorting out more technical parts of the pond build too and that takes alot of time and thought.

A new and still enlarging Trevesia palmata leaf
Lately I feel more like a plumber than a plantsman, so many things to figure out and decide upon. Pressure pipe, soil pipe, solvent weld, ball valve, gate valve, etc. All new to me and not what I usually encounter in my everyday life (nor I have previous experience and interest in this department!). And I have to choose and make decisions. So lots of researching, learning, planning, and discussing with more experienced pond builders. No room for mistakes here. But at least I know once the set up is done, it is done and I can move on to more exciting things, like plants perhaps.

So not a lot of time thinking about plants in the past few weeks, been mostly thinking about 'building' stuff. However, a quick walk down the garden; a bit of plant  tidying, pruning, and sweeping is the refreshing tonic I need when things get too 'technical'.

One thing I do enjoy and keeps the 'plantsman' in me ticking is reading The Garden magazine which we get every month as part of our RHS membership. There are loads of interesting and helpful articles, and definitely something new to learn everytime within the wonderful realm of horticulture. A relaxing bed time reading material for me.

So at the moment, it's pipes and plumbing that takes the prime spot in my spare time, but the 'plantsman' will always be there, it's just taking a side step for now, but not too long.

And I hope to be able to do more plant blogs in the next few days :-)

As for the Cat lover bit, here's our newest kitten Twinkle. A little bundle of love which also  makes blogging difficult by lying on my keyboard whenever she gets the chance.

Our new kitten Twinkle


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Romancing the Stone

The beauty of natural stone, it is beyond words sometimes. The look and the feel of such a natural product can be beyond compare. A creation of nature, no other material can bring so much character to it's surroundings, and so effortlessly beautiful whether used indoors or outdoors. And outdoors, the garden is for me where it looks its finest, looking at home and rarely out of place. No other product can you put in a garden that is inherently unique, architectural, statement, and complemental to it's surroundings. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mighty Fine and Dandy Dandelion

Mighty fine and dandy indeed is the tree dandelion of the genus Sonchus, rather than the common and often noxious weed Taraxacum officinale

A Cornish friend gave us a tiny seedling of the tree dandelion Sonchus canariensis last May. Not fully sure what to do with it, we planted it out anyway in a border that used to have a mature Phormium tenax in it (which got severely damaged last winter and consequently removed since then) to let it do it's own thing, hoping it would do well and make a good display in the summer, treating it as an annual.

Fighting it's way through other foliage plants
And a good display it is making now indeed, attracting attention and compliments from visitors whenever they wander around our middle patio area. It is turning out to be a truly beautiful foliage plant, with it's fern like leaves, size, and vigour in growth. And to think it's nowhere near it's potential maximum height yet, it is still relatively a small plant. With my fondness for this plant increasing, rather than treating it as an annual I'm intending on digging it up in the autumn and overwintering it inside our heated greenhouse.

Another tree dandelion that I like and used to grow is Sonchus fruticosus, with it's much bigger leaves and more lush appearance that looks great in a jungle style garden, or as a focal point of a summer border. We used one as an annual one year and let it get frosted to the ground in the winter. It never came back again of course and I expected that. But on milder locations in the UK (like coastal Cornwall, inner city London, etc) and during that recently bygone era of milder British winters this particular tree dandelion can sail through fine, going herbaceous and coming back from the roots in the spring at least, but grows fast enough to be of a decent sized specimen again in the summer. 

In exceptionally mild Tresco, this remains evergreen. Here's one we saw whilst visiting:

It is possible however to keep this in a pot permanently, going out on display for the summer and back in the greenhouse again for the winter. More likely you won't get huge growth treated this way, the restriction on the roots due to pot culture will stunt it's growth but at least you can keep it to a more manageable size. And if it does eventually get too leggy and unhealthy looking it is easy from seeds and cuttings and from there you can start again if you wish.

Hmmmm.., I might just do that next time I get hold of one again!

There are several tree dandelions out there. None are reliably hardy for nearly all parts of the UK, but most are fine overwintered under glass that is heated to at least a minimum temperature that doesn't go down below zero Celsius and remaining frost free all throughout. 

So if you want a unique annual to grow in your summer border in the future then this plant is worth considering. Or if your location is mild enough then grow it outdoors permanently, where it will become a bold, stately plant. And if you're lucky it might even self seed on your lawn ;-)


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Weekend with Interludes

It's been another busy, action packed weekend for us as we got stuck in and carried on building our pond. Throughout the working week we have been gradually building up the walls on two sides of the pond and have achieved significant heights on both of them. We are not yet up to the final level, it will be awhile before we can build up to that, but it is at least at the level of the 'new' ground level, and when I'm stood inside pond the walls are nearly my height. It's great to see this visual reward after months and months of digging! 

Two walls have been built up and now it was time for the third, and most difficult one to be prepared. For every wall that needs to be built, more digging has to be done so concrete footings can be laid, and that's what we mainly did on Saturday. We have finally chipped off the two buttresses holding up our neighbour's old fences and once the ground and side has been levelled we had to dig up a trench for the concrete footings. It sounds easy peasy but it's not, far from it. It is hard work, and probably the hardest of all the digging sessions we've ever done.

That area is mostly solid chalk, very hard to chip off, and an awkward area to dig a trench. Heavy duty digging fork and spade cannot penetrate this area, only pick axe could and pick axe job it was, all day. And of course shovelling and hauling of rubble on top of that. Determination is a good antidote for body aches and pains but calluses on our hands are much more difficult to hide.

But it wasn't all monotonous hard work, we took a break by visiting a couple of garden related places very near us.

On Saturday we checked out the Mediterranean Nursery  which is only half an hour's drive from where we live. We encountered them for the first time at the Chenies Manor Plant Fair last July but prior to this we have never heard of them before. So we've put it at the back of our minds to check out the place soon and we had our chance that day.

It was a pleasant exotic plant nursery, packed full of your usual exotic plants with reasonable prices. It reminded me of a Cornish nursery with the lushness of the stocks (and that's a good thing). After years of moaning to ourselves that there are no exotic nurseries reasonably near us, we now know of at least two, this and the Olive Grove Nursery. Two places we can conveniently visit whenever we want some quick exotic plant retail fix!

Then on Sunday we checked out the grounds of the majestic and historical Luton Hoo which is only 15 minutes drive away from us.

Luton Hoo is a large stately home, which has been converted into a 5 star hotel. The Current house was built at the end of the 18th Century for the Earl of Bute, with the landscaping provided by Capability Brown. Although various changes were made over the years, Brown's landscape is reasonably untouched and still very much as he built it.

In the late Victorian period some additonal areas were added, such as the Rockery - a huge area that is reminiscent of a Cornish valley Garden.

Located on the edge of Luton, the grounds make you feel as if you could be miles away from the hustle and bustle of a busy town centre, until you see planes taking off from London-Luton Aiport on the next hill!

Sunday we have mixed and poured concrete on the trench, levelled and left to dry ready for the wall to be built up in the next few days. Afterwards we have shifted 25 bags of cement and half a pallet of high density blocks from the front of the house to the back, then did an hour or so of gardening in the afternoon. We decided to pack up early and go indoors, in by 6:30pm when we're usually still outside up to 10pm. We've done loads, best to listen to our bodies and take it easy. We both work full time afterall, at this rate we both go to work to get some rest!

I'm pleased with our progress, very hard work but not a dull moment. Body is all achy and sore yes, but there is a wonderful, satisfied feeling on top of that.

Even more wonderful to know that this weekend was a milestone, that the worst of the pond dig is now well and truly over :-)