Friday, 24 March 2017

Starting on designs

Last weekend was spent putting up the new fence aroud the bottom of the garden. It's good to have the garden bact to being enclosed.


Now comes the work designing that end of the garden. So this week was spent measuring, drawing and going through different options. The first decision is what to do about the greenhouse.  The idea is to build a lean-to in the space next to the workshop. 


We went through several options for the size; continue to the corner, or stop and allow space for planting or a bin store.  As this smaller design is still bigger than the current greenhouse it will be good to use the remaining space for planting. 

Then onto the lawn.  Lawns are always contentious, too big, too small, requiring too much water.  I like our little lawn, and the dog likes it even more.  The original idea was to extend it slightly up to the railway sleeper hammock post. Looking at this on the scale drawings it was all a bit square. I quite liked it but my better half wanted more curves, so we are playing around with ideas to add some curves.


If nothing else this has given us a scale drawing of the garden to play with.  The right hand side is all planted and can't be changed due to be all the builders rubble and being full of the succulents.  So the question is how to make the new bit work with this.   No doubt there will be a few different designs put other there.

In the mean time, two gardening friends came over and had a nosy around.  They are both garden designers, so I got them to draw what it could look like. It was really interesting to see two different options.  One was very minimal, neat, ordered and how I like to see myself.  The other was slightly more relaxed, and practical to cope with how I am actual am.  The picture of the minimal one hasn't come out, but this is the other.


It still has the square lawn, but it is amazing what a diferent seeing it with rough planting makes.  I have yet to master the whole drawing plants like this.  It looks so simple, but usually goes horribly wrong when I try.

I think the next stage will be to select the paving, then I can decide how to do the patio and how to balance the sleak vs realistic designs.  Let's face it, any empty space risks being filled with pots!  The garden orientation means hopefully the terrace outside the workshop will be a little more shaded, we may put a sail over it in summer to ensure there is somewhere to sit out of the sun. 

So the summer looks likes being lots of little projects:
  • Lay the new terrace
  • Build the lean to
  • Remove the old greenhouse
  • Re-shap the lawn and the finish the paths
  • Plant the green roof
  • Plant up the beds.
That should keep me busy, especially as there will be the usual re-potting and looking after the pots to fit in.  

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

New year and a new project

I'm back from my winter hybination of not thinking about plants or computers. Today was such a lovely day, I thought it was perfect for my first post of the year.

March is my least favourite month; just when you think winter is over and your plants have made it through, the last grips of cold and wet mean things take a turn for the worse.  I am keeping a close eye on the forcasts to watch out for any real cold or long periods of wet, but until then the garden has been uncovered.


Forgive the mess on the terrace, more on that later.  The plants don't look at all bad, one agave filifera is going to need a big hair cut, and the agave nigras look a little worse for ware but that's it.  The agave nigras are starting to annoy me,  they were fine at the last house, but here just have to be cut back each year and are just starting to look good when we get to next winter.  May be time for a re-think on them.

The main group of agaves looks great with no damage.


I am especially pleased that agave parryi hk1684 is looking so good.


The aloe saponaria variegates seem untroubled by this winter.  We had two weeks of cold, but it was very dry and sunny at the same time, this obviously helped.


I may have to split them this year, keeping the best and moving the less interesting ones.

The only damage was to the echeveria agavoides red edge, and a few of the elegans in the echeveria river.


I took all the dead leaves off, and will see what happens this year.  They just don't seem to have much wet tolerance, the ones under a cloch were fine and totally undamaged. Such a shame as they are great plants when large and I was really hoping to have a row of big plants.

Anyway the big news as mentioned earlier is the new project.  Up until 3 weeks ago the view from the terrace was of this:


The garage, which apart from being ugly and too large, restricted access to a section of garden behind it, so time for the next stage in the garden plan.


Remove the old garage and the concrete pad to give an extra 3m of garden, and build a new smaller workshop behind.


It is great to have 3m more garden to play with, plus a little bit to the side of the new workshop.  Hopefully this will allow the final stages of the original garden design to fall into place.  No longer will the path end half way down the garden, or the olive have to sit in its pot waiting for a spot to be planted.

The most exciting part is the roof.


The idea is for a green roof, some hybrid between a traditional sedum matt and a more lush grass roof. Now I just need to figure out what I want and how much to allow space for growth or go for  instant impact.  Either way there will be regular updates as my plans progress.

Sadly the less interesting bits have to be sorted first, it will be a mud bath down there if the paths aren't put in. It makes sense to do the landscaping first and save the roof until all that is finished.  It will give me something to look forward to.

It's going to be a busy year.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Echeveria John Catlin

This is a strange one: a beautiful white echeveria, but I know very little about it and have not see it anywhere else.  It was purchased at the BCSS national show 8 years ago, from Eau Brink cactus nursery, so a really good source and I would have expected to find more out there.


This was it back in 2011, as you can see it has more pointed leaves than Lauii but is just a white and attention grabbing.

It is one that never offsets, and despite all my efforts, none of my tricks have worked to get that first pup.  Then I tried top cutting  and again nothing.  The top rooted, thankfully, but the base did nothing.  At that point I sort of gave up trying at least in the short erm.

In one last effort I have been letting it grow, forming that perfect trunk.


So a few weeks back I took the plunge and top cut it again, the top was planted up and I was pretty certain it would root without too much problems.


The big question would a few extra years of experience top cutting pay off with offsets forming on the base trunk.


Yep three precious little babies on that trunk today. You can imagine how pleased I am, even if it isn't the best time for them to have formed. You can guarantee that this is one plant that will be watched very carefully over winter.

Obviously this success has gone to my head and I am now picturing a greenhouse full of them in a couple of years. To be honest I'm not going to push my luck, I'll be happy if these offsets make it to rooted established plants.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Manfredas and mangaves

Like most people the preparations for winter have started to gather pace, and this weekend saw the pots put in the greenhouse to start drying them off.


It was a lovely autumn weekend, lovely and warm in the sun, then cold as soon as it goes in.  It made moving everything in easy, but is sad as summer is over.


Putting the plants away is an important time for me; as each pot goes in it gets a little health check looking for bugs and damage.  Then once they have dried out, they get a final water for the year this time with a dose of anti vine weevil stuff.

I've had a big cull of plants over the last year or two,  getting rid of plants that no longer held their own and a lot of duplicates.  The only set of plants that has been totally unscathed are the manfredas and mangaves.  You can see my largest manfreda in the photo above, a manfreda guttata.


Manfredas are a great family of plants, very underestimated.  In the UK there are two or three more common ones you can find if you search for them: M. Virginica, M. undulata, M. elongata. They seem to come and go in popularity and at the moment M. guttata seems to be in favour.


I'm not surprised as the colour is great and the leaves have good spotting.  There is a form called "spot" which have really big spots, but I have not seen it or sale in the UK.  This big plants came from a nursery earlier this year, I was a bit worried about the state of my little plant and wanted a spare. Expecting to find a small plant you can imagine how quickly this one jumped into my car on seeing it for the same price as all the little ones on the shelf.  I'm pleased to say my little plant which had been struggling for the last couple of years, has finally started to take off as well.

The other manfreda really strutting its stuff is manfreda undulata chocolate chips.


It is living up to both parts of its name: good spotting on the leaves and rocking the crinkle.


I'm hoping for flowers on both these plants next spring.  Unlike agaves they are not monocarpic so the flowers are not something to worry about.  It is the repeat flowering that make them an important feature to agave collectors as they hybridise with agave to produce X mangaves.  The most common being X mangave bloodspot which is thought to be Agave macroacantha hybrid x Manfreda maculosa.


My plant is only little and seems quite slow, but they are beautiful once established and well worth tracking down.

The other common one is the mangave macho mocha.  I'm still struggling to find the best conditions for this one, it hasn't liked being ignored, so will be getting a lot more attention from now on.


The colour on these tend to be really good, especially if given less water. The variegated form managave espresso seems just as temperamental for me.


Both forms are snail magnets, they love to take the top layer off the leaves. It is always the case that just as they are getting back to no damaged leaves new damage occurs.

Just recently there seems to be a lot more mangaves hitting the market in the US, sadly they have not reached the UK yet so it is more pot luck finding someone who has made their own hybrid and is happy to let you have a seedling or seed.  I managed to get two different hybrids from a friend, the first M. maculosa x A. obscura.


This plant has very triangular section leaves and good spotting.  It was one of the plants that I almost lost due to negligence last winter.  Strangely not because of cold, the reverse, it was so mild and having no water for such a long time in the green house almost killed it. Thankfully it is quite a strong grower and so has recovered and with a bit more care over this winter will be back to it's best next year.

The second is M. virginica X A obscura.  A more relaxed plant and initially I was not really taken with it, apart from the purple colour it was a bit too floppy for my liking.  Then this year it has really started to come into its own, the leaves have become more upright and the spotting has developed.


If it carries on with the same growth rate next year and the spotting continues to develop it will be a stand out plant. It is the joy with X mangaves you really don't know how they are going to turn out and a batch of seeds can give you a range of different forms.  Sadly Paul passed away two ago and so we'll never know how all the other seedlings turned out

Hopefully a lot more mangaves will become available in the UK soon, along with better availability of manfredas. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

British Cactus and Succulent Society national show

The good thing about having been busy over the summer is having a backlog of trips and other posts.  First up the BCSS national show, which  sadly is only once every four years.  Apart from a good plant buying opportunity it's a chance to meet up with like minded friends and to drool over some show plants.

I didn't take too many photos, but did manage to take some of my favourites.


This pachypodium densiflorum var brevicalyx is a good place to start, there is always one of the densiflorums at the showt.


What's not to like about these strange bulbous plants.  These and the euphorbias were probably the biggest groups in the show.

Euphorbia horrida
One of the stand out pots for me was an aloe I have been trying to grow, Aloe haworthioides x descoingsii.


There are always a few aloe erinaceas, usually single plants given how slow they are, so it was good to see this clump


Not a great photo but this haworthia nigra var diversifolia 'nana' was too good not to include.


I'm not sure about the "nana" aspect tot he name, I always associate that with a paler or yellow form. The plant above was the darkest colour I have seen in a succulent.

Then onto the echeverias. The plant that seemed popular this year was echeveria agavoides ebony.


It was good to see more echeverias this year, there were some nice plants. You can often see the progress of plants that were shown at the previous shows, the ebonys for instance were all much more established this time, although I think my main plant is still bigger than those at the show. One year I will have to actually put one of mine in.

Then the agaves.


This agave polianthiflora x victoriae-reginae hybrid was lovely; very neat and compact.


There were the usual suspects as well; agave utahensis var eborispina


My favourite agave this year was agave echinoides, rare to see them in shows and even more so at this size:


One thing that was noticeable was the amount of plants in nice pots. I have mentioned before that we seem to be behind the States in this respect, this year a lot of the plants were in nice pots. It transferred through to the staged pot section.  There seemed to be two thoughts, the fun side and the more sensible one:





Then to top it off a new UK potter was showing some of their pots. I first saw their plant and pot in the show, sadly I just couldn't get a good photo (a little ironic as I have since learnt that the potter is also a photographer). Anyway there were cards on another table with his website, so I was able to make contact.  His name is Mark Follon, you can see his website here.

By coincidence he posted a picture of this pot on facebook a few days later, so I was able to find out a bit more about his work. Needless to say having been through his site I have already selected a pot which he is kindly keeping for me while I decide if any others should end up with me as well.  Seeing the new pots he is putting out, I am guessing a few more will end up at mine in the future. Great to have someone else in the UK producing pots specifically for succulents.

After looking around the show tables, it was time to shop. I  was very restrained, but along with a few little things I did pick up this aloe polyphylla


It is already spiralling and I selected one that spirals in the other direction to my main plant.


I also picked up some aloe polyphylla seeds, there may be a major new project next year and I'm going to need a few of these.

As usual it was a great day, now just another 4 years until the next one.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Time for the tough choices.

You can relax, this is not another episode of "Live or Die" but instead an update on the last problem areas in the rockery.  I have been looking at this yucca purpurea since spring. It has been leaning more and more since being plants.


It now almost perfectly mirrors the yucca rostrata and  with winter around the corner it was decision time. I thought about moving it, replanting it there and cutting the main plant off.  In the end I went with the final option and top cut it.


Doesn't look as good at the moment, but they seem to grow quickly for me,  so in a year or so the two pups will be nice and big.  The main trunk will be dried for a few days then potted up.


We have had such mild winters since these have been planted they haven't really been tested.  The top should root quickly and then can be planted somewhere to go wild. Has anyone seen a really big clump of these?

Anyway the real benefit of cutting the main stem is that I can now use a simple cloche to cover that corner this winter.


It hasn't been covered before, but the aloe polyphylla is just too nice now and I should be able to rig the cloche into an L shape so it covers the aloe, the yuccas and the agave parryi.  I'll probably set it up as a test and then take it down until we have cold or snow forecast, hopefully not for a long time yet.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Time for an agave update

It has been a while since there has been a post on the agaves planted in the main rockery, especially after all the damage back in Spring 2015. It is obvious some have grown but not so in others.

Starting with the agave filiferas, the normal form I would guess has grown, it looks much bigger now, so the March 2014:


And August 2016


Probably only a little bigger, but a lot fuller.

The form with no white markings: March 2015


August 2016


Not sure I can tell the difference in that one at all.  It definitely seems to be slower than the standard form and not sure that the lack of white markings on the leaves really add anything.

The largest agave montana: June 2014


August 2016


The middle sized one has been moved to the front garden, so onto the smallest agave montana: March 2014


August 2016:


These have grown a lot, a shame the angle is different. Not really a surprise as they love being in the ground. They seem to be one of the agaves that stops growing for me when it gets warm (yes even in the UK).

Next up probably my favourite form of parryi, agave parryi HK1684. March 2014


 Then August 2016


Another one that has really grown, although not so obvious from the photo.  I'm not a big fan of the narrow leaf forms, and this one not only has wide leaves, but the spines are a really good colour.  It is now a proper artichoke shape.

The agave ovatifolia has been one of the quickest growers. There is no doubt that this is one of the best agaves for the UK, even from a small size it seems to have a lot of cold and wet tolerance. March 2014.


It had to be moved at the start of this summer, which has set it back a bit, but still impressive growth.


A second much larger plant has been added elsewhere in the rockery as well.


There are a few other other agaves in there as well, I don't seem to have multiple photos for these.

Agave bracteosa

Agave parasana
 
Agave xNigra
Finally the scary one, no photos needed to tell if this has grown, but as I have them here is teh agave salmiana var ferox in 2015:


and then in August 2016


What is more worrying is the new pup, This was not there last year, so that is one years growth and it is already over 30cm across and almost as big as the the agave gentryi which has been in the ground since  2014.


Having been to a garden a few days ago with one of these, I have seen what they can become.  More on that once I have checked the owner is happy for me to write a post on his garden.

I think come spring next year the pup will be dug up and moved to take over somewhere else!