Monday, 31 January 2011

The shattering echeveria

Continuing  my aim to get you all growing echeverias, this is one of my favourites and one I would recommend to everyone.  What is not to love about e. difractens.  It is relatively small staying under 10cm in most cases (smaller if you keep it pot bound) and while not hardy (although a couple I have in the cold frame seem to have coped with -7 this winter) it is small enough to be kept in a pot bringing it inside over winter.

It's a good lilac colour all year, and this strengthens depending on how much you water it and the intensity of the light. This means no matter the time of year it always looks good sat out on display.  Then at this time of year it flowers.  There are three plants in this little pot but most of the flowers are off the main plant. In a week or so the flowers will open as yellow / pink and it will stay flowering for a couple of months. Even my OH approves and little pots regularly appear on tables instead of cut flowers.

Then there's its other name, the shattering echeveria, given for its habit of dropping leaves off the flowering stems at the slightest touch. These fall onto the compost or into other pots and a few months later you have new plants. (If you look closely at yesterdays post  you can see a leaf in one of the pots that must have been knocked off as I took the plant out to photograph.)  This means you have a never ending supply of plants to give to friends or other collectors, you don't have to tell them straight away that you have hundreds of the things. Although if anyone reads this that has been presented with one by me, yours was different and was grown especially for you!

So now you know, go out  find yourself one and pot it into a pretty or fun little pot and keep it somewhere you can enjoy it all year long.

To water or not?

One if not the key to growing succulents in cold climates is controlling the water.  Keep them dry and most will cope with much lower temperatures. The interesting bit is how far you can push this; there is a big difference between a few hours of cold followed by a day of sun and days or weeks of never getting above freezing. So controlling water is a bit of a no-brainer.

The traditional view is that you stop watering plants in greenhouses at some point before the first freeze and start again once everything has warmed up. It is amazing how strongly this view is held or just taken for granted.  Last spring I went to visit an echeveria nursery and the owner had the most amazing collection of plants.  He was in the no water camp, not so much out of strength of feeling, but because this was the "official line".  As we looked around he told me how he never had any luck with certain plants.  We went through those he struggles with and they were all plants that liked more water to grow. It had never occurred to him that not all echeverias will cope with no water for 4 - 5 months. I suggested that if he didn't want to water all the plants, it may be worth setting part of one greenhouses aside for plants that needed some water.  Next time I visit I will find out if he did and if this solved the problem.

For me though it is not just about keeping plants alive.  It is at this point in winter, after a couple of months of no water, that the plants are starting to show the effects; leaves have lost their plumpness and are saggy and often cracked.  Older leaves may have died altogether. The echeveria pink frills below is a sad sight compared to normal:

As is this agave, you can see that the lower leaves have started to crack.

So at around this time I wait until we have some sunny weather forecast and give them a little water.  I do mean a little water, there is obviously a fine line between giving them a little drink and getting them back into growth. I have learnt to my cost that too much water and you get leggy growth. In my experience this top up not only helps to keep the plants looking a little better over winter but also means they are in better condition to get going in spring.

I have no doubt that some people will be horrified that I water my succulents over winter, but for me there are very few rules in gardening that work uniformly and I prefer to take my experience of growing each plant throughout the year to guide my treatment.  Most of the time it works, although some times I am wrong.  Thankfully I keep records of the failures as well as the successes and this guides the treatment for future years.

Friday, 28 January 2011

It's weekend

I'm sure most people who have ever worked a 9-5 job know the joy of getting home on Friday and thinking IT'S WEEKEND! Especially in winter when the days are short, being able to fully enjoy the garden can often be limited to weekends and that makes them even more precious.  Over winter I get my fix from the pots stacked around the house, but there is only so much tending you can do with plants that you can't water, aren't growing and don't need any care!

That Friday feeling deserves to be celebrated and so from now on I will be marking it with a photo to start the weekend off. Todays offering is another my OH took at Kew, not spikie, but don't worry there will be lots of those to come.

Now go out and make the most of these precious days off.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Mid winter check up

It has been a strange winter so far; the coldest and snowiest December on record and then a very wet but warmer January.  The coldest temps are usually in February or March so sadly the worst may still be to come.  But as we seem to at least be having a slight respite for the worst of the weather I thought I would  have a quick check of the plants in the back. This table holds the smaller plants in the cold frame:

As you can see no real damage at all.  One plant had the first signs of some mold so that has been removed along with the end panel allow better ventilation.  The larger plants were mainly fine as well.

 I took a few leaves off one or two of the echeverias just to avoid them going moldy.  Strangely the aeoniums are still looking fine, these are usually the first to go, so not sure why they seem untouched.  Not that I am complaining about that one,  it is good to have some good news in a bad winter.  Sadly the young aloes are not doing so well and almost all have perished, whether in the cold frame or in other locations. You can just make out some in this group, and they are typical of all the baby aloe speciosa,  ferox and arborescens.

Everything else looks OK,  This group are right at the edge of the covered bit and got snowed on but don't look any worse for ware.  I am particularly please to see that one of my echeveria hybrids coped with this without problems hopefully it will stay this way.

I have been testing a few variegated agave parryis as well.  The normal form is one of the the better agaves at coping with UK winters but yo never know how the variegated version will cope.  I have a spare or two so thought I would test them, so far despite being a small plant it is looking promising.

I wish this was the end of winter report as I would be very happy with the few looses to date. Lets hope the second half is more forgiving than the first!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Searching for that elusive plant.

Loosing one of my prized aloes got me thinking about the different ways I go about searching for the plants on my wish list.  What with the internet and its forums, blogs, and other sites providing photos of all the wonderful plants out there, before you know it you have a long list of plants that are not available locally and that's where the fun starts.

Agave filifera hybrid
The usual starting point are the specialist nurseries. While the climate may not be great one of the advantages of the UK is that it is small and it is relatively easy to get to any part of it.  I don't think you can call yourself a real collector until you have driven hundreds of miles purely in the hope of finding a plant. I will often get up early to jump in the car to go and meet friends at some distant nursery for the day. Something my OH finds strange given my inability to get up early at any other point. There are a few specialist nurseries scattered around the UK, these are often grouped together and you can visit two or three in a day.  After a year or so I have my favourites and try to visit these each year. Over the years they get to know you and this allows you to ask about specific plants on your list and if you are very lucky get to sneak a look in the usually out of bounds areas. I love looking around the private sections in nurseries, you never know what you will find; whether it be a private collection, plants being propagated for future sales or occasionally the special plants not for general sale. Over the years I have got a lot of plants from these visits some from my wish list, but many more just as spontaneous purchases like this agave filifera hybrid.

Aloe saponaria
The internet is the other obvious place plant collectors gather and sites like ebay do a roaring trade in plants. I have bought the occasional plant like this variegated aloe saponaria but whenever I do I always check if it is available else where first, as often you end up paying more on ebay than you would else where. In fact I know many people will buy two plants at a nursery and then sell one on ebay covering the costs of both.

Agave stricta nana
While ebay maybe a good source for rarer plants,  I find it a bit soulless and it just lacks something. Maybe it is the personal touch you get from meeting the owners,  or the challenge of persuading someone to part with a plant not initially for sale. The other end of the scale is visiting other collectors.  I have said before how much I enjoy this and you almost always come away with at least one goodie.  Sadly, and I say that purely from the perspective of my OH, I find that these visits usually end up adding more plants to my list than removing them. The other good thing about these visits is that as you get spares you are able to take presents along with you as a thank you for the hospitality. Something my OH approves of, in fact she will often carry the plants out to the car for me.

Echeveria pinky
Wherever you find them it is always great to track down that plant you have been looking for. The longer it has been on your list the bigger the joy at finally finding it. This echeveria pinky took me almost 3 years to find (at a price I was willing to pay), I'll have to do another post on where that one came from.

No matter how good it feels to search and track down that elusive plant, for me the best feeling is that surprise find.  Nothing beats visiting a nursery and stumbling across a plant, often wrongly labelled stuffed in a corner somewhere and realizing what it is.  Apart form the satisfaction of finding the plant, you often get it for a bargain price. It is a feeling I will never tire of.

Strangely no matter how many plants I cross off my list, it only seems to get bigger.  Just when I cross off that plant I have been looking for for years along comes something else that I must have but is impossible to find.  I keep telling my OH that this is perfectly normal so please tell me I am not alone in this!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

A sad day.

One of my recent posts was on distichous plants, in which I showed this photo of one of my favourite aloes, suprafoliata.

It is one of my prized plants having managed to track down a mature plant which are rare in the UK (plus I got it for a bargain price which is always good). Anyway I have been in Stockholm for a week and got back to find this:

I am sad and puzzled in equal parts as I can not figure out what has happened.  It looks like cold damage, but is inside. It has not been watered and the soil is totally dry.  I have basically treated the same way as I have for the last two winters. 

Whatever the reason the whole plant has rotted and beyond saving. I will obviously replace it, but doubt I will find one this large and will most likely have to start from one in its juvenile form. I have never lost a prized plant before and it is not a feeling I want to go through again.  If it was prized before it will be even better looked after next time!

Monday, 3 January 2011

New year, same resolutions

January can be a bit depressing; the celebrations are over, the days are short and the worst of winter is still to come.  While all of this is true (and given our winter so far this is a little worrying) I actually love the start of January as I have fun planning what I want to accomplish in the year. I don't do resolutions as such,  more things I would like to do. I may decide what countries I want to visit on holiday, or something new I want to learn. This includes my plans for plants and garden and I think this year will be the year of the mafreda and mangave.

I have been interested in this group of plants for couple of years now,  and have slowly been building my collection. I have already posted a photo of the manfreda/magave tree which contained most of my plants last summer.

The good thing about manfredas is that they don't die after flowering. This yearly flowering means they are often in flower along side agaves and so mangaves are created.  Every year there are more mangaves becoming available and you never quite know how they are going to turn out.

This year I plan to see how many more I can track down and try a few more from seeds. I have said before that I'm an old hand at killing seedlings, so maybe that is one thing I will try to change this year!