Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Experimenting with concrete planters

A few months back a video started making the rounds showing how to make concrete dragon eggs. You can watch the video Here.  The video used them as candle holders.  Being keen on experiments that weekend out came the plaster-of-paris and the balloons, yes sadly we have both lieing aroud the house. The plaster ones came out really easily with only minor modifications of havig to turn the eggs constantly for about 10 minutes then leaving for about 30 minutes.


A few more were made and have been put aside ready to invite one my newphews around to decorate.

While they would make excellent candle holders my first thought was always as planters, especially if the concrete worked.  So a trip to the hardware shop to buy some quick drying concrete and time to try my first concrete egg.  It looks so easy on the film: mix the concrete with water, pour into balloon, turn every two minutes for 2 hours.  I ended up with a lump of concrete.

Four attempts later


I have watched several different videos now and they all simply say, turn every two minutes. I don't know if I am usig different cement, but it just doesn't work for me.  Instead I have found shaking, then turning, then shaking, then turning. The reason for the shaking is that if the concrete hardens giving the ballon a good shake softens it again, giving you another go.

Tip: leave the eggs for at least 12 hours to harden before bursting the balloon.  Again after only 2 hours it was no where near enough, and even after 6 or 7 if the concrete was too thin, the egg just crumbled.

Now the big warning.  Do not do this inside, especially not in your best room, while sitting on your new furniture with you OH and the dog.  Yes sadly I do speak from experience and amazingly I am still married and alive!  We both wish we had taken a photos, as it went everywhere.  I'm not sure if you have ever tried bursting a balloon filled with water, but shaking and then looked at how far it spreds.  It is very effective, the carpet, walls, furniture, pets and us all covered.

So lesson learnt.  In fact I found puttting the ballon in a plastic bag saved a lot of mess should things go wrong when popping the ballon as well. 

Once you have the eggs, you can make holes.  Again the video makes it look easy, but make your egg too thin and the slightest pressure and they crumble.  I have a nice collection of concrete bits in a bin in the greenhouse.  My tip here would be to leave the egg for 24 hours to let it harden a bit more, and to check it over for cracks so you know the weak points.

Then you can reinforce it. This was probably the easiest bit, mix some vert liquick concrete mix, pour it into the egg and swivle it around to coat the inside. You do have to keep an eye on cracks don't be tempted to over do it the first time. It was better to do three layers, leaving the layers to dry between.  The first layer is the crucial one, especially while turning the egg as it's easy to crush it.


While doing all of this I tried adding different coloured powder to the concrete to colour the eggs.  The red looks great when wet, but is very pale dry.


Black probably has the most promise.  This was the last egg I tried and is the most sucesfull.  I learnt that blowing the ballon up and leaving it blown up until you are ready to pour the concrete in allows you to get more in and so to have thicker walls.


I am toying with differet ways to finish them.  The first few were soaked in water for a couple of weeks, changing the water every day.  This should help leach out some of the stuff plants do not like.  The other options are concrete sealer, and painting.

Then you can drill drainage holes and plant them up.




I've got a few more to plant up, I'll save them for another post.  I'm probably going to try a few differet plants for differet parts of the garden. They probably lend themselves more to the clump forming plants than the agaves, but I'll have to try one with an agave in. I think they would be great with a mound forming succulent flowing over the egg.

Now go away and try them for yourselves and show me how you would plant them up.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The agaves

So the last post focused on the aloes and echeverias, this time it's the agaves.  Most look great, apart from suffering from the usual cherry blossom issue at this time of year. Starting with the biggest, the A. montanas have no damage at all.


The bud inprints on the largest are very defined, the blue powder gives them extra definition.  The smaller one is growing rapidly and is not so small any more.


The two A. filiferas were also almost totally untouched.  I did notice a couple of black spots on leaves, so cut these off.  I'm not taking any chances, and while there have been a re-emergence of major problems, better safe than sorry.


The largest is one the original plants from the old garden.  You can see one of the smaller ones behind, which seems to pup much more freely.  There is a much smaller third plant planted in another section of the rockery and that is not looking so good.

There are 4 A. bracteosas scattered around, no surprise that they are all looking pretty much prestine.


The newest agaves are the A. ovatifolias.  The largest plant has settled in and the new leaves were undamaged.


I love this plant, it is great to be able to sit on the wall and look down onto it, but it is probably too close to the wall, and ultiamtely may make sitting there a little dangerous.  My seed grown plant is still struggling a bit after being being moved.


It's not clear in the photo, but the lower leaves have a few black spots so these will be cut off.

The monster, A. Salmiana var Ferox, continues to grow at an alarming rate.  It's in the worst place, right under next doors cherry, almost hidden by other plants, but nothing seems to slow it down.


You can see how big the pup has got.  That would be a great plant for the new section if it didn't get so big. I am tempted to move the pup to the front garden and let it do it's thing, or maybe it's just a spare for swaps. In front of them is an A. gentryi, strangely it seems to have been missed off the photo shot.

The problem plants are the A. nigras.  They just look terribe at this time of year and enough is enough.


The front one is going to dug up,  any damaged leaves removed and then planted else where.   There are too many plants that want space to leave those that just dont seem happy.  It is such a shame, they were fine at the last house and should be here. Hopefully I can nurse it back into good health so it can shine elsewhere.

Another that has been slightly more damaged by the winter is A. parasana.


I'm torn what to do about this one. Big parasanas are amazing plants and it is one the edge of its cold and wet tolerance. Maybe it is one to be dug up, cleaned up and given a nice pot.

Last for planted agaves is the A. parryi HK1684. I love this plant, it is a strong blue, the teeth turn a fantastic colours in summer and it just looks good.


To the right is another agave parryi. I like the rounder leaf forms and after a few years that little one may finally be growing. Ironically this year will see the small one being dug up and planted on the green roof and an offset of the HK1864 that has been growing on in a pot planted in its place. 

So that's the planted agaves covered.  Looks like it will have to be the potted plants next. That post may be a little longer!

Sunday, 7 May 2017

The succulent rockeries are getting starting to put on a show

It is going to be a year of firsts flower wise around the garden, the aloe polyphylla flower is getting bigger


As is the plant itself.


The variegated aloe saponaria is also showing what a mild winter it was.


I may dig these up this year and replant just the main variegated one, the others are a bit more green.

The aloes in pots don't want to miss out. This one, apparently called aloe Tiki Tahi, got in early. 

There are lots of others in flower as well, but as they don't stay outside all year, I will limit this post to the really tough plants. Strangely the more common plants are being really slow; no sign of flowers on aloe aristrata, or striatula. 

The big question is going to be what to do with the polyphylla flower; do I try and polinate it?  Apart from the aloes in the garden, a friend has just found theirs is flowering as well. So there is a chance to swap some pollen.  Sadly she's not in the closest of locations, but it would be an excuse to drive over to see her garden and she lives around the corner from two great nurseries.

The echeverias after also flowering away, the echeveria elegans stream gets better every year.


There are a few gaps where plants didn't make it, but they are fillig out quickly and by the end of this year it is going to be overflowing.  The echeveria agavoides in the front should also have filled out. They are not as wet tolerant, so next winter I may have to bite the bullet and cover them. 

I know I said it was plants that live outside only this post, but my agavoides bowls are just looking too good.


Lots of offsets in the mixed pot, but pretty hard to get past the ebonys!


They are still getting darker having been in the unheated greenhouse all winter. I'm torn if I want to keep them together or give one it's own pot just to see how big it will get.  As you know, I tend to over fuss my plants, so maybe this time I'll just let them get on with it and see what happens.

I'll save the agaves and greenhouse for another post, but it feels like we have got past the dangerous time of year and everything is into growth and can just be enjoyed.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Back taking shape

It is funny to think that the original time table was to have the workshop built for this weekend, so I thought it was time for an update on plans. With the lighter evenings, and some nice weather, it has been possisble to go out after work, so there has been slow progress.

With the space cleared it was poassible to set out some options for the new bed.


Even at this time of year it gets the last of the evening sun, so is going to be a lovely place to sit and enjoy a drink or two.

Then onto the new terrace, leveling and setting out the slabs to see what they look like. This is where the old garage was, so the ground apart from being very compact is full of rubble. Great for a patio, terrible for digging flower beds, we have already removed 15 bags full of rubble, with more still to go.


We lived with this for a while, then the slabs were layed properly. One thing that still has to be worked out is the interchange between the gravel path and the slabs.




This bed has been named the paisley bed, for obvious reasons. I think we are going to take a break from the boring stuff for a bit and actually get onto some planting. With this section finished, we can plant the whole way around to join the succulent rockery. Moving the greenhouse can wait. Two of the three trees are already here: the olive, and a trachycarpus fortunei.  The third is proving elusive, a strawberry tree, Arbutus 'Marina'. Ultimately it will go where the greenhouse currently is, when I manage to track one down and the greenhouse is moved.

Hopefully the next post on this section will be it all planted up.

Although the focus is on getting this area ready, the green roof is always in the back of my mind. Ideas and plant list are forming, soruces for bulk buying plants explored and there may have been the odd visit to local nurseries and a few test purchases.

 
I'm saying these are all for the green roof, this may or maynot be true.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Front garden update.

There hasn't been a front garden update in a while.  It has all been a learning experience, with far more bulbs and traditional plants than in my usual rockeries. The mild winter means the bulbs are behaving very strangely; they are suppose to be a continous stream of flowers from the early snowdrops and crocus to the late anemones. While the crocus and snowdrops were at their usual Feb and march flowering, come march everything came into flower including the anemones which are not suppose to flower for months.


It does make it very colourful out there at the moment.


These iris are still some of my favorites


The alpines don't want to miss out on the party, at least they are flowering at the correct time of year.



The excitement in the front are the eremurus himalaicus. Three bulbs were planted, and I've got to say I was a little skeptical having had no luck in the past. Not only have all three come up, but all are sending up flower spikes. At a possible 6 feet they should look great in a few year when they have bulked up into small groups.


The little circular bed, is filling out, and the candytufts are a mass of white flowers.



The succulents had a mixed time.  The echeveria elegans are mainly OK, with only the odd plant suffering any major damage.


The echeveria agavoides were not so lucky, as in the back the main plants all died, with only offsets getting through where they were protected from the rain.


The agaves were all pretty much untouched which is good.


The large one, has a good blue colour to it and doesn't have a single bit of damage.  There is also a small one,  I really didn't need another (my fourth) but this one is a little different, big gummy teath and a good red colour.


I'm hoping now it's in the ground it should grow quickly. If it stays with those teeth and the colour it is going to be my best agave montana.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

More exciting news

I have been excited about the new section of garden and planning the green roof. Then having been away for a weekend, on my usual walk around to check on the progress of the succulent bed, I spotted this:


Yes my aloe polyphylla is flowering!  An aloe flowering is nothing new, but this is perhaps the one everyone wants to flower, at least in the UK.  It's in the perfect place, right next to the steps down to the garden, so I get to admire it each time I go in or out of the house. 

The plant itself is looking good now and has continued to grow.


 The rain cover keeps the main weather out of the crown and so there was very little damage from the winter.  Annoyingly there is one very visible black spot, I am sure I will get used to it, especially as the flower develops. 

Now i just need my smaller one to grow and flower at the same time so I can get seeds.

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.