Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Time to Say Goodbye

Astelia nervosa 'Westland' (centre) in 2006
By the way, before it causes any confusion this post is not about us leaving the blog-o-sphere (nope, far from it!) but rather about one of the plants we've had since we started cultivating this garden and going for the exotic theme. A plant that has been with us since then that I decided to let go this year.

Astelia nervosa 'Westland' appealed to me from the very beginning with it's metallic, silvery-bronze, arching leaves which turns even darker in the heights of summer and again in the winter. A lovely looking, architectural plant from New Zealand that is rather undemanding in its growth requirements, naturally growing as a terrestrial epiphyte in its native habitat. And indeed it has been undemanding in its care, living in the same pot since 2005 and has been moved all over the place as a mobile display, from full sun to full shade and everything else in between. No special treatment either, almost bordering on being neglected with it being watered only when I remember to and feed it every so often (it is an epiphytic plant after all). And it never seemed to complain in all that time, looking happy and growing away and sailing through the some of the harsher winters we've had with very little damage...

Back in 2006
Until the winter before last that is...

It started to look scruffy last year, perhaps due to the very cold winter earlier in that year or it's finally outgrown the size of the pot it is in and is showing signs of distress. Or it could be both. I don't know for certain but for a plant in a reasonably big pot which makes it very visible wherever I place it (bar placing it inside a shed) it is no longer serving its main purpose: looking good.

Fast track to 2011
There is a fine line most gardeners have to tread on from time to time; between nurturing and caring for each and every plant one owns until they look good and do well again as long as there is life to them; or about being pragmatic and objective in managing ones garden and plants and are able to decide whether to keep a plant or not with very little emotion to it, even if the plant is very much alive and healthy.

In this case, the plant was very much alive, it was just looking very scruffy and despite leaving it for an entire year with extra year and it carried on being scruffy (if not looking worse) and it was testing my patience.

So I took the pragmatic route and made the decision to just let it go. Because of the awkward shape of the pot I had to trim it down to a stump and sever the roots before pulling it out. Perhaps I could have just divided what was pulled and tried to propagate from there but I thought it was too much time and hassle for it's worth.

Or was it worth it?

Normally when I have to get rid of a healthy plant I'm pretty stoic and self assured but with this one I felt a bit doubtful if it was the right thing to do or not, to just bin it just like that. After all, it is one of the original plants we had when we started this garden and there are associated memories attached to it. But I just did it anyway, thinking that I'll just be wasting my time if I keep hesitating what I will eventually do anyway.

So now it is gone and out, and I have an empty pot and I'm trying to decide now what to do with it.

Out it goes, 2012
And speaking of pots, it's worth considering the shape of a pot when choosing the type of plant you will put in it, whether it will stay there longer or not. The more awkward the shape of the pot, the more difficult it is to repot the plant in the future without harming the plant or destroying the pot in the process.

So a blog post about one plant and one pot, so what? In this way it also demonstrates the general approach one has to take when it comes to managing a garden. Sometimes you have to be pragmatic and make decisions for the long term good of the garden or other plants you wish to keep, even if it means getting rid of plants that are still truly well and alive. It's not always nice to do and not for the faint hearted but it has to be done. A gardener is the steward of his own garden and is responsible for shaping it and caring for it, not just on individual plants but as a whole. For often what turns out unpleasant at first turns out for the better in the long run.

Like now I have more flexibility in re-arranging this little area without dragging a large pot of Astelia, and I have an empty pot ready to be filled with something new.

Mark :-)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Open Sesame!

Open Sesame! 

Like a lady that lifts up her crinoline skirt to reveal all that surprising space underneath those layers of fabric!

It's my overactive imagination again of course, one can easily conjure images of a door opening using those magic words or a rock magically moving to reveal the entrance of a cave behind it (as in from the story Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves). It's just that somehow the first image that conjured in my mind when I exclaimed 'Open Sesame' to myself was a 19th century lady suddenly lifting up her skirt.

But one word that I did say out loud was 'Voila!' after a particularly good session of removing palm leaves and stripping down lower branches of some of the bamboo culms, then standing back and admiring the fruits of our labour.

Space...all that space we seem to have suddenly gained. Precious space that is a perfect opportunity for underplanting.

And it is also a little realisation and reminder of the faith we had of what we're trying to achieve with the planting scheme in this part of the garden.

The Jungle Area - July 2006
With jungle style gardening, canopy and layered planting is important and unless you start out with big specimen plants for that instant height and impact (which is an expensive way of doing it) you are likely to start out with smaller plants, hoping that they will eventually get bigger for that all important height and canopy.

And starting out with small plants, the journey towards height will entail lots of patience, faith, and self belief in what you're trying to do as it can take years to get there. A good dash of knowledge and elbow grease is needed too, in choosing the right plants to begin with and giving them the much needed maintenance to help them along the way.

July 2006...
Same area now, April 2012 (note to oneself, must tidy up the cables to the pond!)
When you start out with small plants, apart from the lack of height it's also sometimes astonishing how much foot print they can have, occupying so much horizontal space whilst  at the 'short and squat' phase. But the more they grow the more space they will eventually free up as they start getting towards the 'tall and slender' phase.

As long as you choose the right sort of plants of course. Go for ones that, in time will grow upwards and out of the way, providing height and canopy as opposed to ones that mainly go bulky without a significant increase in height.

Now which plants to choose choose from? So many to mention and some deserve a blog post in their own right but in our location the solitary trunking Trachycarpus palm fits the bill well, and so does Fatsia. Cordyline australis used to be a good candidate but with recent harsher winters it has proven not as resilient as perceived and just keeps getting cut back, resprouting from much lower down or from the ground. And that's not good if it keeps going backward rather than forward (or upward I should say!).

Then at June 2006...
Now April 2012
And yes it can take years, but when you start getting there it will still surprise you. Thats how it felt for us at least, that after all that trimming and cutting we suddenly realised how much some of the plants have grown, how much height some of the palms, trees, shrubs, and bamboos have attained after years of being planted out. And how much space has been freed now that some of them are tall enough.

And the best bit is, they're going to get even taller and bigger!

Now you can't just leave the space underneath them empty for too long, especially if you love plants and love the lush look even more...planting opportunities for shade lovers!

Aralia cordata 'Sun King' - a shade loving perennial now occupying this 'new' space. Should light up this area!
I remember someone saying to us last year that "I never really liked your garden until recently, with all those leaves brushing past my face as I walked along the pathway before. But now that plants have grown taller I enjoy wandering around now. After all those years I finally understand what you're trying to achieve". 

Open Sesame! Some new space have opened up for us. A bit more room for a few more plant treasures!

Mark :)

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Promise of Things to Come

The Hype!
At this time of year the plants are in full Spring grow mode. We are getting a lot of rain at the moment (you can tell we just had a hose pipe ban, its not stopped raining since!), and the weather is on the cool side, however the hardy perennials are all busy growing, so much so you can almost hear them (well maybe not, unless you add some special effects to a time lapse recording).

One plant we have high hope for this year is Hosta 'Empress Wu', this went into the ground as a small plant 3 years ago, with just one set of leaves, since then it has slowly bulked up, and looks like it might finally start to live up to its hype and give us some large leaves as its reported to have.

So far this is the reality!
Finger crossed we start to get the large leaves promised by so many of the Hosta sellers.


Friday, April 20, 2012

The April Garden

April is usually the month where the garden springs back into life, and this year is no exception, despite the cool rainy weather everything is bursting back into life. So with a camera in hand I had a wander round the garden this evening, purely for the enjoyment of having a look at everything. Something just taking the time to look at the garden without having a job to do can be a rewarding experience.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An Australian Garden at Chelsea

With The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2012 fast approaching, its a good time to have a look at some of the designs and plans for this year. One of the show gardens that has always caught our attention in the past has been the gardens by Flemings, an Australian nursery, who are showing at Chelsea again this year.

Their designs are often very bold and typically Aussie, with dramatic outdoor living spaces, cool looking pools, and fantastic tropical plantings.

This years design looks to continue this theme of dramatic outdoor living space. Flemings pride themselves on creating gardens that could actually be lived in (albeit the plantings would usually need to be modified for a permanent UK garden). With a dramatic outdoor room at its heart, towering palms and a spa pool the design looks like its going to be another fun design.

I love this idea, a secret outdoor bath, perhaps it works better as an idea in the warmth of a real Australian garden,
but maybe a hot tub in a similar location would work well as an alternative here. 
The planting list is equally interesting, and contains many plants we grow (some permanently outside, and others in pots). Plants such as Philodendron 'Xanadu' are too tender for permanent planting for us, but does well in a pot, coming into the kitchen for winter, but others such as Aspidistra elatior and Chamaerops humilis thrive in our garden.

The 2012 Chelsea show page on Flemings website shows a hint of the design, currently only visible in CAD form and remind me of the computer game "The Sims", but Chelsea is not that long away, so the actually finished product will soon be on display.

Monday, April 16, 2012

April Showers

A Pleione bloom
The weather here last weekend was rather interesting, especially on Sunday. Sun, rain, hail, then sun again and the cycle continued. I have been assured that this is rather normal for the time of the year and it's called 'April Showers'. I knew that anyway, it's just that I can't help but comment about the curious cycle happening in short successions, and also whether I should eat Ice Cream to cool down or have a cup of hot tea to warm up (I opted for the latter but had the former indoors, now that's compromise).

Friday, April 13, 2012

An Afternoon Af-Fair

Last Tuesday I had the chance to pop round to the RHS Great London Plant Fair which was being held at the Horticultural Halls in Central London. It was a two day event and fortunately it was open up until 7PM on the first day so I had the chance to go after work. And as if I haven't been visiting plant fairs and nurseries recently, it was time again to check out another plant fair for yet more plant goodies.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Grab your Raincoat and head for the Beeches!

What to do on a rainy day!??
Meconopsis paniculata
It was only on my last blog post I mentioned that we have barely had time to undertake any nursery visits recently so it is with irony that I'm writing this post on our recent visit to Beeches Nursery last Monday. We were intending on spending the day mainly gardening on Monday but it was raining non stop, and perhaps we were feeling a little bit lazy too, so we decided on an impromptu visit to this wonderful nursery in Essex.

Neither rare or unusual but I do love the pink flush of this Yucca gloriosa 'Variegata'
Any old excuse to have a day out! I'm sure there were plenty of other things we could have done if we had really wanted to stay at home but we were due for a spring visit anyway so we just opted to grab our raincoats and head for the Beeches!

My blog post about this nursery last year was a visit on a very sunny day, this time it's the opposite of that as it was a very rainy day instead but the treasures to be had there remains the same, if not a bit more than last year.

A dazzling selection and not a weed in sight!
We have been several times but still it never fails to amaze what sort of new surprises we find there every time we visit. And as always the place remains pristine and immaculate.

Beeches is great for rare and unusual trees, shrubs, and climbers. So many to choose from and so many varieties. 

Even they stock these now - Schefflera rhododendrifolia
Magnolia laevifolia
Sophora x molloyi 'Dragon's Gold'
New growth on the Himalayan plant Euonymus lucidus

But for me, the best attraction is their outstanding selection of herbaceous perennials and shade loving woodland plants. The section for these types of plants are right at the top of the nursery and it always gives me a sense of excitement every time I approach this part, thinking and anticipating the rare gems to be had there. On our visit that day we spent an hour and a half browsing on this section alone.

Now this is what we mainly came here for!
Cardiocrinum giganteum
Lobelia tupa
Spot the difference! This group of Alchemillas (Lady's Mantle) was an instant reminder that even with familiar plants that always seem to look the same there are lots of varieties out there...

The colour of the new growth on these Paeonies is fantastic! Almost worth growing them for the early spring colour of the foliage alone.

Pretty and invasive Petasites japonicus var. giganteus 'Nishiki-buki'
Eremurus selection
The nursery has a large selection of Eremurus or more commonly known as Foxtail Lilies. Eremurus are one of those cross over plants that look good in different styles of garden as long as you provide their cultural requirements of full sun and a well drained site, preferably on a nutrient poor soil too. Although admittedly I tend to see this plant more in cottage style gardens or courtyard gardens of heritage properties rather than more contemporary ones. With their preference for full sun and drainage, as well as having an attractive foliage and habit I think they would also associate well with alpine and xerophytic plants in rockeries and gravel beds. Their flowers are certainly lovely but like other plants I'm drawn to them mainly for their foliage and I'm intending on planting a few in our raised bed, should look good with the green slate mulch!

So what did we bring home in the end? Here's some of them:

After a few hours browsing we came back with a relatively small but well chosen haul. Some of them we have already (for you can't just have a few of a good thing, you have to have several!) but most were new ones for this year like the Eremurus, Jeffersonia, and Iris.

Glaucous leaves and sun loving, this lot are destined to go in our first raised bed with slate mulch.
Are they butterflies or a plant? The delicate foliage of Jeffersonia diphylla. This shade loving perennial appears in the spring and goes dormant again by summer.
Inspired by our recent acquisitions we still managed to do  some gardening when we arrived home even if it was still drizzling. Spending time away from the garden sometimes gives you even more urge to do a bit more given the chance despite less than favourable conditions.

Nevermind, I'm actually glad of the rain and would actually prefer if it carries on being rainy here for a few more days. The garden needs it and there is something endearing about April showers.

Mark :-)

Monday, April 09, 2012

Pretty Plants and Bob Brown

Yucca rostrata is on the 'list'
For the last few weeks I've been itching to go plant shopping in a specialist nursery but alas I have had to restrain myself as life in general has been busy and tidying up the garden has taken priority above everything else. After all getting cleared up first puts you in a better mood to think about the growing season ahead and in an even better mood to go plant shopping.

We have been to Crews Hill several times in those past few weeks but I regard it more as a place to acquire bigger items as opposed to smaller, more obscure ones you can find in specialist nurseries. And speaking of Crews Hill, the weekend before last we met up with fellow garden bloggers Victoria, Julia and Paul, and Rob for a spot of shopping in the area as well as some needed pub lunch. The fab Victoria has just written a blog post about it and you can read it here.

But back to the itch to visit a nursery I had a little reprieve last Saturday when we met the lovely Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers (CGF) at our local Hardy Plant Society meeting, and we were able to buy some of the plant treasures he had brought with him. We also heard his talk about his favourite plants from a 'Plantsman's Perspective' (i.e. devoid of emotions, objectively selected based on performance and garden worthiness, etc.) and it was interesting to know what his criterias were and how many on his list we have got in our garden already. And more importantly how many we don't have yet and might be worth acquiring for our garden. I always welcome ideas and suggestions from various sources, and most especially from esteemed plants people like him as you get a good insight of great performing plants or simply get to know ones you haven't heard of before.

Say cheese!!!
As for the ones in his list that we have already in the garden; Beschorneria septentrionalis, Trochodendron aralioidesCobaea pringlei, and Yucca rostrata were there. A lot more weren't of course and of the ones that appealed to us I have jotted down their names to be included in our wishlist so can keep an eye on them on our future nursery visits.

Bob Brown, as mentioned above did bring lots of plants with him grown at his nursery and not just the ones on his favourites list, loads of other plant treasures too that caught our eye and made their way back home with us, here's just a few:

Saxifraga nipponica 'Pink Pagoda'
A pretty shade loving, woodland plant. I'm not that fussed with the flowers but rather attracted to its foliage.

Sanguinaria canadensis f. multiplex 'Plena'
Ok, we have a few of this plant already but I thought it would look nice introduced somewhere else. Upon picking it up I was immediately told it doesn't travel well as the petals of the flower are delicate and falls off at the slightest touch. Again, pretty the flowers may be I grow it mainly for its foliage.

Primula auricula 'Matthew Yates'
I found this primula very attractive with its dark purple, almost black flowers and rounded grey-green leaves that would look great with green slate mulch. A plant for one of our new raised beds!

Helianthus salicifolius
This is a fantastic foliage plant with fine, filigree like leaves that grows really tall and sways as it catches the wind, lovely! Not much to look at now but as the season progress the growth rate should accelerate too. This plant is included in Bob Brown's list.

Saruma henryi
One of my favourite woodland plants that grows reasonably large leaves later in the season. Again a plant that we have already that I thought would be nice introduced somewhere else in the garden.

CGF is definitely up there as one of our favourite nurseries and we have visited several times before through the years, and more likely visit again several times this year. So it was a pleasure to meet the plants man responsible for this wonderful nursery and discuss a few plants that we both grow in our gardens (and some of them were originally bought in his nursery!). It was not a substitute for a visit to his nursery of course, rather it has whetted my appetite and I'm even more raring to visit again very soon!

Mark :-)

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Happy Easter

Magnolia x soulangeana 'Lennei'
Happy Easter everyone, Magnolia x soulangeana 'Lennei' in flower at Kew Gardens.