Sunday 31 October 2010

Spiky Halloween

For halloween I thought I would dig out one of my more scary plants.  I got this agave titonata a couple of year ago from a local nursery where the plants had been neglected for a few years.  The combination of neglect and the chunky form make this a particularly gnarly plant.

Strangely it was this look that attracted me and it is my favourite form of this agave.  Much nicer than the slimmer, more ordered plant that you usually find.  Its terminal spines are so large that they tend to catch on each other and it has real problems unfurling each new leaf.  This distorts the spines more adding to the look.

So scary it may be, but no one else has one quite like it.

Saturday 30 October 2010

Prop up

I have mentioned before that my OH is not a huge fan of my spiky obsession, top of her dislike list would be being attacked by the agaves, and having hundreds of pots cluttering up the garden.  You can therefore imagine her reaction at this time of year when the plants start to migrate inside for winter and all the windowsills are cluttered with pots of agaves waiting to ambush her when she opens the curtains.

At the start of the year in an attempt to reduce the number of pots on windowsills, I got a three level propagator kindly made by my father-in-law.  This will be its first full winter and it has started to fill up.  The three levels allow me to store different plants,  the bigger pots on the tops,  then small pots on the middle level  and seedlings on the bottom (which also has a heat matt if needed).  The two lower levels have lights to avoid the plants form getting leggy. It is not full yet, so there should be enough space for the last of my plants to be moved in for winter, and for a few new seeds should any turn up.

So with this new area,  and taking all the plants to work  obviously my OH is now thrilled to have empty windowsills.  Well she would have been if I hadn't bought one or two more plants to fill the available space.  Maybe next year ....

Wednesday 27 October 2010

The 'liberate list': fact or fiction

The main way I decide which plants I want is through seeing other people's,  I don't have time to randomly search through books and the internet looking for plants that I may want and seeing plants in person gives you a much better idea of the plant.  I have lost count of the times I have seen photos on the internet and not thought much of the plant only to see it in person and gone WOW!

Sadly due to the type of plants, it is not as simple as seeing a plant and then popping down to the local garden centre to buy it. I learnt very quickly that often it can take months if not years to track down a plant having seen it in some collection, so it is much easier if you can get an offset off the person at the time.  As mentioned before, I am not above dropping hints and generally being a bit cheeky especially with friends.  I have actually sneaked plants out into my car, when the owners are not looking, but hasten to add always as a joke and I have always returned them with a big grin (although perhaps followed by a quick exit)!

It became a bit of a joke among my friends that when I visit they worry about plants I have expressed an interest in. My personal favourite is this photo when the person went as far as building a cage around a particular plant, and it still makes me laugh to see the photo. Before I knew it,  people started referring to my 'liberate list' which allegedly contains the plants from each persons collection that I would like to liberate. 

While I admit that each time I visit a collection if I see any plants I like they get added to my list of plants to find. Is there is a second list which also includes who owns the plant just in case I haven't found it by my next visit? Well that remains unconfirmed. 

So for the time being at least, the 'liberation list' is confined to the realms of fiction and that's the story I'm sticking to!

Monday 25 October 2010

From dogs to dragons.

One of the highlights of my spiky obsession is meeting others who share it. So I took advantage of being in Yorkshire to arrange to drop in on another agave fan.  I love these visits as apart from having the opportunity to have a nosy around their plants,  it is great to be able to sit down and talk with others who are as obsessed as you.

That reminds me. Clues that you are spiky obsessed No. 2: You always try to sneak in one visit to a collection or garden whenever you go away.

This latest trip was a fine example,  and I was welcomed by the whole family who kindly let me gate crash their Saturday.  One thing I am always interested in is how involved partners are.  I am sure my OH will be relieved that she is not the only one to look at windowsills full of plants with resignation (but I am pleased to say not without a smile).   But enough of the sandwiches and cake (thank you by the way), there were plants to look at and it was out to the greenhouse.

I think it is safe to say that these trips are one sure way to add to the list of plants you want in your collection!  Having seen some photos of his collection before the trip I knew which plants I was looking forward to seeing,  but they are so much better in person.  This little agave filfera is beautiful and was on my list before seeing it. Sadly despite a couple of very unsubtle hints,  and even trying to carry the pot out with me,  it will have to stay on my list for a little longer.

This agave gypsophila ivory curls was also stunning.  It is one I have been considering since seeing photos and plant in another friend's collection,  but this one was enough to tip me over the edge and I am now going to have to go out and find one for myself.  Again hints and tricks were unsuccessful, but at least I left with the knowledge that they are in a good home!

There were of course many other lovely plants all in fantastic condition so here are a couple more, just for pure indulgence!!

Agave parasana variegate
Agave kissho kan variegate
Agave isthmensis variegate
Thanks again to my host and his family.  While I was a little distracted by the plant talk,  I did have time to see a toy that allows you to build lots of different aliens, very clever and I may have to look it out as a Christmas present for one of my nephews! Of course you never leave these trips empty handed, and while I couldn't wangle either the plants mentioned above,  I was kindly allowed to liberate the pup off this lovely little agave parryi var patoni.

I couldn't end without giving a mention to Indy the Bearded Dragon who seems to have a taste for cockroaches and sunbathing. He was absolutely stunning, and I'm pleased to say more than a little spiky!

Sunday 24 October 2010

Something a little more fluffy.

It has got cold and we have had our first proper frost of the winter.  While the cold is worrying for the plants, the first snow of the year was almost perfectly timed for me and OH to cash in an I.O.U of husky sledding.  I love huskies and have always wanted to try going sledding with them. So I was very pleased with a Christmas present from the in-laws of husky sledding in Yorkshire.  So as to not overheat the huskies, they only operate in winter, so we had to wait until now to claim.

We started with a trip around the kennels, they have 30 dogs all beautiful and friendly.  Looking down between the kennels, they were all desperately sticking their heads out eager to lick anything they could get their tongues to.  This was one of the older dogs,  who is now retired (he has obviously decided that all the licking is too undignified for a dog of his stature).

Having met all the adult dogs we were introduced to this little cutie, who was the last of their latest set of puppies. I think everyone wanted to take him home, although I think the diet of raw chicken may have put us off slightly.

Obviously you can't guarantee snow in the UK, so they use large scooters, specifically designed to be pulled by dogs.  Two dogs are attached and after a short set of instructions you are off on a lap of the test track.  The dogs, seem to know this is only a test track and they don't put much effort, which is lucky as it gives you a chance to get used to them.

Once you have the hang of it,  the real trek starts.  The dogs seem to sense this one is for real and the difference is huge.  Before you set off you can feel them straining ready to go, and with one word they are off.  The power is amazing, one of mine obviously wasn't into it on this day and decided to lag slightly behind leaving the other to do all the work,  despite this one dog managed to pull me along at a fair old pace for 3 miles. I would have loved to have them both really put some effort it it would have been even more exhilarating.

Sadly it has proved what I already knew; that as much as I love huskies they are not a suitable dog for London.  So I will just have to be content with the odd husky sledding adventure, this time was Yorkshire,  maybe next time it will be somewhere more in keeping and hopefully with some real snow!

Saturday 23 October 2010

Light at last

There should be a saying: you can choose where you work,  but not the desk you sit at.  Up until May this meant I sat in an office without windows.  So while it may seem unexciting to most people I was very exciting to move to my new office where I had not just one but two windows!

Obviously the main reason for my excitement had little to do with the natural light I would now be getting during the day,  but the flat surfaces in front of the window which make perfect places to over winter a few plants.  So for 10 days my OH was thrilled to see two plants each day leaving with me to work,  (and unusually nothing coming back).

Clues you are a spiky obsessed No. 1: You look at windows and windowsills, not as good sources of light for you, but as perfect places to overwinter your plants!

The windows were being cleaned over the weekend and so they had to be moved off the windowsills onto filing cabinets. I quite like them all lined up like this,  plus of course it means the windowsills are empty again!

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Eye candy

I thought I would use the cold and wet weather as an excuse to show some pictures of one my favourite groups of plants; echeverias.  For me they are the lookers of the succulent world; coming in lots of colours, shapes and sizes.

There are the bright metalic colours, like afterglow

The neat rosette forms, like pulidonis

The frillie ones, such as mauna loa

The more solid ones, this one is agavoides ebony (not mine but from the national BCSS show)

The hairy ones, one of my best clumps of setosa

Ones covered in fine powder giving them a blue or white colouring: a practically nice one is john catlin.

The ones that provide colour over winter, the whole of rosea turns red from January to May.

And finally the variegated ones, without date is compton carousel

So there is no excuse not to have at least on of these brightening up your house over winter (or at least that is what I try to persuade my OH).

Sunday 17 October 2010

Raising the roof

One of the joys of living just down the road from Kew Gardens is that we can pop in for an hour or two whenever we want.  So a sunny day and visit from a friend was more than enough of an excuse to warrant a visit.  Normally when we visit we spend a lot of time in the green houses, but given the weather we decided to take a slow amble around the gardens themselves. Like many gardens the change of seasons meant that a lot of the beds were past their best and others had been dug up to swap from the summer to winter planting.

Obviously we couldn't not visit the green houses so in our wandering we took in the alpine house and the Princess of Wales house where the succulent collection is.  Walking through is a graphic reminder of how big some of my plants could get.  I tend to forget that many aloes and agaves grow in huge plants several meters across (let alone the tree aloes).  This one is still growing and if mine got to this size it would take up half my garden.

The sad thing about agaves is that once they reach this spectacular size they then flower, putting all their energy into one final flourish before dying.  Agave flower spikes in the UK used to be a real novelty but there are now enough older collections that it is not unusual to see at least one flower spike when visiting these gardens.

However no matter how often you see them,  the sight of a tree-like flower stem towering above the plant is always awe inspiring.  They are not without their problems though and even Kew is not immune to the problems a 30 foot flower spike causes.  It does make for some unusual photos.

Sunday 10 October 2010

All tucked up

Took advantage of the lovely sunny day to put most of the plants to bed for the winter. The A list get moved into the house, but that is limited to a few very select plants.  The B list get a place in the garden shed. The C list end up in a cold frame that gets put together every winter.  Here they are before the front and top goes on.

 For some plants this is their second or third winter in there, I am always amazed that the large aloe zebrine (back right) makes it through each winter and its flower is normally the reason the roof has to be taken off come spring. For others this is their first winter, and if forecasts are correct it is going to be a tough test for them. Once they are all in the front is put on, and a top (which can be removed on sunny days).

The remaining plants (D - Z list) are split between different shelters, where possible I try to ensure duplicates are split up to test how much scope I have to protect them less each year.  I have several planters which I use for experiments, both in terms of how they grow over the summer and what survives over winter.  One is my echeveria bowl:

This contains a set of echeverias that have either shown they can cope with cold or that I think may be promising. The large one middle left is a hybrid of my own making: pulidonis x rosea. I have been really pleased with both its growth rate and how it coped with last winter, so fingers crossed it carries on this winter. This bowl gets a simple plastic bell cloche, which just helps to keep them dry.

Now it is just a matter of waiting for spring when we see what has survived my cruel experiments.

Saturday 9 October 2010

Posh shanty

One of the problems with growing succulents in the UK is that the combination of cold and wet is a fast track to problems. At this time of year thoughts therefore turn to winter protection. The trouble with protecting plants over winter is that most of the available options, whether you choose to wrap in fleece, build a rain shelter or use ready made plastic bell cloches, end up making your garden look a bit like a shanty town.

So partly to avoiding this look, I have been doing a stained glassed course and used the opportunity to make a couple of glass cloches. This one is more traditional looking:

While the second is more minimal and I'm really pleased with how it works with the agave filifera inside it. It is like a little installation.

So no shanty town for my plants, it's all 5 star accommodation (I just hope they don't notice there is no heating.).

Friday 8 October 2010

Almost time for bed

Not only has it stopped raining but the sun has come out and my dry bed is no longer a sodden bed. I thought I would take a few photos before tucking it up for winter.

Dry beds in the UK have to be carefully planted or covered to protect them from the elements.  So far I have left it unprotected, but last winter damaged some of the plants and it is only just starting to look lush again.

Most of the plants will stay planted, with only a few plants like the aloe plicatilis being moved to give them more protection.  Many things like the yuccas and agave bracteolata don't need protecting and just get better every year.

The agaves in this photos have all been planted for a couple of years now and getting to be a decent size.  All were slightly damaged by the terrible winter we had last year, and so I will be giving them a little protection this winter just to keep the rain and snow off.

The good thing about this bed is how easy it is to maintain, all it requires is picking up leaves every now and then. The only hard bit is keeping cats off, and for that I have a few of these that do the job for me.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Tough love

It is always fun looking in other peoples front gardens as you walk past. Around here there are a surprising number with palms, cordylines, and yuccas.  There is also the odd agave americana including one massive one I will have to take a photo of at some point.

There is one garden I walk past every morning on the way to work that always makes me feel a bit jealous.  They have this lovely yucca and ever year it gets better and produces more flowers.  This year it has done particularly well and is now on its third set of flower spikes.

The jealousy comes from the fact owners never go out in the garden, do anything to look after it and in fact the whole garden is unloved.  This yucca obviously loves it though and flowers every year.   I guess it just goes to show that tough love really does work.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Distraction from the rain.

It has been horrible weather here lately, windy, wet and generally not the type of weather that invites you out into the garden. Sitting inside looking out the window at the rain, I was reminded of the games we used to play when young and it was miserable like today.  One of them was where one person would start off writing a story on a piece of paper, then fold the paper over and pass it to the next person.  They would write the next bit and repeat etc. At the end you unravel the paper to read the full story,  which of course normally makes no sense at all.  I am sure most people have played this at some time.

Being new to blogging, and still exploring all the blogs out there I thought I would try a blog version of this and use the "favourite blogs" section to explore.  I thought it only fair to start on my favourites, so I started with Danger Garden. Todays topic was tomatoes, which I have to admit I did not mind as you have to be mad not to love tomatoes! Seeing those roasted goodies made me hungry, so it was lucky it was lunch time and I was already eating my lunch. So where next, there were a few blogs to choose from but one name jumped out at me, the dandelion wrangler.  What a great name and so with one click I was off.  While I did not learn how to wrangle dandelions (something that would come in handy in most gardens!) I did find some lovely photos, I particularly liked this one. 

Photo from the dandelion wrangler blog.

But no rest for the time limited, so off to dandelion wrangler's favourites list and Rock Paper Lizard seemed a fun variation on the games theme. Lots to read here, but the snapping turtle story looked like it would make a good read and I was not disappointed. But where next?  Given the play on words, I thought I would continue on that and try Heavy Petal, which strangely proved that the world is in fact round and we were back at roasting tomatoes!

Unfortunately my lunch break was now over, so I had to stop my little tour and get back to reality.  But at least I had forgotten it was wet and miserable outside.

Friday 1 October 2010

Strawberries and cream

We have a little thin raised bed which is full of strawberry plants.  Although we only get fruit at the start of the summer, when we have about 3  - 4 weeks of strawberries. Unfortunately my OH is much more of a morning person than me and so I often come down to find evidence of strawberries for breakfast and head outside to find all the ripe ones gone. It seems that nice as strawberries are they are not a big enough incentive for me to get up early!

At this time of year the plants are looking their best with lots of new lush growth and they have now totally taken over.  The walls are of course covered in pots full of succulents which normally is an ideal little location to show off some of my favourites.  Looking at it now though, the strawberries have hidden most of the plants with only the tall ones poking their heads above the sea of green.  The most striking being this aeonium sunburst which has a lovely colour even when on its own but has been particularly well highlighted by the strawberry leaves.

It is also at this time of year that the strawberries make their break for freedom. It can be fun following the tentacles of new plants as they sneak out into the flowerbeds and pots, removing them before they get too comfy. If only the succulents spread as quickly.