Saturday 28 August 2010

It's all go in the succulent garden

Yesterday it was babies,  today it is flowers, who says succulent gardening isn't high octane fun!  Ok admittedly that may be going a bit far, but the plants are strutting their stuff at the moment with lots of firsts for my garden.

Todays subject is echeveria Cante. A particularly nice variety whos leaves have a fine pink edge. The whole plant is covered in a fine white powder giving it its luminous colour.  While the powder (or bloom) makes for a stunning plant, it is a right pain when it comes to re-potting or even watering.  There is nothing worse than finding a finger print on a leaf which you know is going to spoil the look of the plant for months to come.

And don't get me started on visitors who touch the leaves to see why they are white.....

Anyway returning to the happy times, the flowers on this one have finally opened, having been promising to do so for over a month, and it was worth the wait.  They are strange almost ghost like, being white like the rest of the plant.  Bloom only forms on the outside of the flower so as it opens you get these bright pink stripes. (The colour in this photo is pretty much spot on and this is probably due to using the light tent my OH made recently. Will be testing it out more in future posts).

The red tip is caused by nectar, so the bees are going to love this one. Lets just hope they don't leave muddy little foot prints all over the plant.

Friday 27 August 2010

I'm a grandad!

I was doing my usual look around the pots today, and spotted that the label on one of my prized plants was falling out of the pot.  I went to push it back in and spotted the cause was a pup.  One the the highlights of owning succulents is when they produce offsets or pups.  I get excited whenever this happens, but this one is particularly special:

What do you mean, what's all the excitement about!  Ok she doesn't look much at the moment,  but here is the mum and hopefully the pup will grow up to look equally glamorous.

That is better.  A variegated  Haworthia Limifolia, took me ages to track one down and having owned it for a couple of years it is still one of my favourite plants.  There is obviously something in the air, as a few other plants have also been busy.  It is good to have something to brighten up these wet days.

Mother and baby both doing well.

Thursday 26 August 2010

Beware of spikes

I mentioned in my first post that my spiky obsession started with one agave in a pot. It was an agave as, unlike aloes, there are enough that will cope with our winters or at least that is the idea.  Winter hardiness is a huge topic with exotic/tropical plants and there are three types of exotic gardening (whether succulent or not) :
  1. Only owning hardy plants that can cope unprotected over winter
  2. Protecting plants in the ground using temporary cold frames or by wrapping in fleece
  3. Moving plants into greenhouses (heated or not) or into the house
I started out aiming to be in the first category, at least the first 2 plants I bought have stayed outside without problems.  However it was not long before I was being tempted by rarer varieties which at least need protection from the wet, and finally the very tender ones that need to be somewhere heated over winter. So like everyone I ended up having plants in each category.

Agave Attenuata
Part of the problem is the generosity of other people; it is amazing how many plants you get given from other collectors and when someone offers you a lovely plant it is very difficult to say no just because it may need to be protected over winter. Strangely as I have got more plants I have got better at saying no, and now have a strict rule that it has to be something very special and on my wish list to warrant being brought inside over winter. I would like to say this was purely due to my will power, but it has far more to do with the looks my better half gives me every time she opens or closes the curtains and gets stabbed by an agave on the windowsill.  Thankfully I only have one large agave that needs pampering over winter, agave attenuata.  Luckily this is one of the softer spineless agaves and so you can brush against it without getting spiked.

Agave Potatorum Kissho Kan  Marginata Alba
The other agaves that get brought inside are the variegated ones, the really rare ones go for silly money and there is a whole industry of producing new variegates.  My current favourite (partly because it actually grows) is agave potatorum kissho kan marginata alba, this plant has all the characteristics I like in agaves; a very neat form, good spines, and it is compact so does not take up much space. If only all agaves were this fast growing, often I am reduced to marking one of the leaves at the start of the year to try to spot if they have grown any new leaves at all.

Agave Romanii
Most of my plants however have to cope to some degree with being outside over winter (either in the garden shed, or a cold frame or simple rain cover).  It is amazing how many are fine as long as they can be kept dry. This one is agave Romanii which have a nice red edge to the leaves.

Agave Bracteosa
The final group are planted and in theory don't need any protection at all. I'll stick to my two favorites today, which are agave bracteosa (another spineless agave, but the edges of its leaves are sharp so you still need to be careful). I have a few of these dotted around, both planted and in pots, and even small plants have survived the winters unscathed.  Sadly there are very few places that have caught on and sell it, but hopefully this will change.

Agave Montana
Agave montana is the other and has the most lethal spines out of any of my agaves. This is the plant I worry about when friends bring their kids over, I haven't quite gone as far as sticking corks onto all the spines, but I have thought about.  It is a beautiful plant though and one of the joys of not having kids is that I can have this lethal plant without having to worry too much.

One reason the number of agaves have grown so quickly is meeting a real agave enthusiast Paul. Obsessions are dangerous at the best of time,  but when you have someone else pointing out new plants or competing to get plants that's when the real trouble starts. Earlier this year I made the mistake of offering to help him build a website of his agaves and we set up North South Succulents. The idea was to show our plants and provide information on growing succulents in the UK. Obviously I didn't think this through (a recurring theme I think you'll find) as apart from providing information for others,  it has also shown me all Paul's plants and my wish list tripled in size there and then.

A garden full of agaves in the ground, in pots and hanging from fences is not without its difficulties.  Swearing tends to be minimal in our house, but every now and then some colourful language will be heard through one of us being attacked by an agave.  Less 'Beware of the dog', more 'Beware of the spikies'.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

From South Africa to South London

(Photo by Thomas Schoch)
If I could have any garden at all it would be a South African aloe garden.  It was photos of these gardens and landscapes, in particular of Aloe Dichotoma, that really made me dream. Unfortunately apart from the climate, this monster wouldn't fit in my garden and so I had to set my  aspirations a bit lower.

Aloe Aristata
I started with Aloe Aristata, I would bet many people have this in their gardens without really clicking that it is an aloe. It does have the advantage of coping with winters without problems, but doesn't quite match my idea of dramatic impact plant.

Enter ebay which proved there were lots of lovely plants out there and that I was going to need a second job to get them.  While I did get a couple of small plants,  it was the discovery of a local nursery that really opened the flood gates.  It is a strange little place called Hare Hatch, and on arrival I was really not sure I was in the right place.  However entering into the main sales area I was greeted by a row of large aloes all in flower and tables of smaller ones.  It turns out the owner is an avid succulent collector and these were all plants he had grown himself and was now selling.  The collection was in a shocking state having been neglected for years, but this did mean it was being sold off cheap and I was a kid in a candy shop.

Aloe Zebrina
This Aloe Zebrina was one of the purchases and my first big plant.  It also marked the start of  the plants taking over the house as it lived in the house for 2 months until it had warmed up outside.  Thankfully I learnt that it will actually cope fine if I cover it with a cold frame every winter. Since then I have added about 30 varieties, and ventured into growing from seeds, but that is for anther post.

Aloe Pink Blush
Sadly every time I think I have all the aloes I want, I find a new one.  There is always a new hybrid being produced not to mention variegates. No doubt new purchases will be a feature of future posts.

Aloe Plicatilis
I've been good and not got an Aloe Dichotoma, although I did cave and get its baby bother Aloe Plicatilis, I should have a few years before it takes over the garden.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Growing up.

Living in London with limited space I guess it is no surprise that I have been interested in vertical planting in its various forms. It started having seen photos of villages in Spain where the walls of the courtyards are covered with pots. Cordoba is the most famous, where every year there is a festival when the courtyards are open to visitors. We went on holiday there a couple of years ago, but unfortunately missed the festival so had to be satisfied with the courtyards on the hotel and bars and restaurants. I started to look at my ugly fences as an opportunity and last summer started putting up strips of wood or battens along the visible fences. I had several home made attempts (far too embarrassing for photos) at attaching pots to these battens, but finally found a couple of companies who supply purpose built rings that attach  to trellis. The one I tend use now is the Spanish Rings. Over the last year I have got a few of these and the fences are starting to fill up.

They also do a pipe ring, which I have used on posts.  This one is my "manfreda tree" and has most of my manfredas and mangaves.

Lately I have seen a lot more vertical planting in the form of walls, firstly at a one of my favourite nurseries, Urban Jungle in Norwich . They have been experimenting with more affordable ways of building a planted wall, and in the end settled on battens and cloth.  They have described it more fully in their Blog.  This seems a very simple solution and even when we saw it in it's early days it looked amazing (although a little fluffy for my garden).

Most recently someone directed me to a site, Flora's Blog, showing some amazing pictures of framed vertical planting.  I love the pictures (and who wouldn't want a bathroom like the one shown at the bottom of that page!).  I think sempervivums come into their own when used like that.

Maybe now is the time to be a bit more adventurous with my vertical planting.

Monday 23 August 2010

The begining of the spiky obsession

In beginning there was a pot and in that pot there was an agave. Unfortunately it did not stay as one pot but rapidly became one hundred pots and what's worse is they didn't restrict themselves to the garden, but also made themselves at home in the house. If an obsession is described as soemthing that takes over your life,  then my love of succulents has become an obsession.  Mainly because they are everywhere, if there is a flat surface I have covered it in pots full of succulents, and I haven't stopped at just the flat surfaces,  but have started using the fences and posts to hang plants off as well.
Despite being horribly slow growing, and some not flowering for decades, there is always one strutting its stuff in the garden. So I thought I would start this so share my obsession, the joys of that first flower and the pains of being spiked while weeding. There should be lots of photos and maybe these will inspire others to try the more spiky side of life.
Who knows if I spend enough time on here,  then I may have less time to find new plants to add to the obsession.