Tuesday 30 November 2010

An oddity amoung oddities

When it comes to cristate plants there is no sitting on the fence. I have a few now and have my eye on a few more, so no prizes for guessing which side I sit on. One of my favourites is aeonium sunburst,  here is the plant when I first got it in 2008.

As you can see it was growing normally when I bought it. Here is is earlier in the year,  it has formed a really wide trunk that is getting better every day.

The only question is how long can it go before the narrow part to the trunk snaps?

What makes this one of my favourites is that it has a really strange habit that I will never truly understand. Normally if a cristate plant grows a normal head and you remove it at some point it will revert to being cristate (there is something in the genes) but with aeonium sunburst if you take a normal head off that is how it stays and it does not revert.  As if that is not strange enough, you may be wondering where all the cristate versions come from, well plants like mine that are seed grown will almost always turn cristate!

So to get a cristate plant you start with a normal one, and to get a normal plant you start with a cristate one. Isn't nature great!

Sunday 28 November 2010

A flower for all seasons

One of the misconceptions of succulent gardens is that there are no flowers. I have already shown the spectacular agave flower spike,  and the glorious yucca flowers and there is nothing brighter than a green house full of cacti flowering. There is pretty much something in flower ever day of the year and one of the best plants for this are echeverias.

Apart form the different shapes, sizes and colours I have mentioned in previous posts, another unusual aspect of these plants is that they flower at different times; so you have spring, summer, autumn and winter flowers. In fact this year I have had at least one plant in flower on every single day and despite being so cold outside, I still have many varieties flowering both inside and out. 

I have to start with echeveria blue prince, simply because it started flowering in July and is still going today. I can't think of many plant that have open flowers for 5 months! I have had to move it inside as I don't want to risk it, so it is now hanging up in our porch.

One of the plants that is worth trying outside is echeveria black prince, smaller than e. blue prince but it's hardiness makes it a welcome addition to dry beds.  It also flowers very late and is just starting to get into it's stride.  Sadly heavy snow normally kills the main plant and flower so it is always a race to see if it can get its flower out and over before the first heavy snow.  I have some under simple plastic cloches and they get through my winters without problems at all.

For people who like the larger frilly plants echeveria mauna loa is one of the best.  Sadly it is not hardy and is in fact one of the more tender ones.  I lost mine last year as I just left it under my rain shelter. This year as I have back ups my main plant is in a cold frame and we shall see if that gives it enough protection tot get it through.  It flowers very later and is at it's best right now,  Whenever possible I take the lid off to let the flower stretch out a bit.  The pant flowering in the front row is echeveria blonde as you can see another later flowerer.

The shed where I over winter a lot of my plants is full of little flower spikes at various stages of development. Echeveria FO-76 has a pretty yellow flower.  More often than not you will find this one sold as echeveria sachez-mejoradae, which it is not, but for some reason no-one ever bothers to change it's name (including me). When I was sold mine it was sold as "The plant that is not echeveria sachez-mejoradae".

One I have been trying to cross for a while is echeveria john catlin.  It is probably the echeveria most people ask if I have spares of, which I have never understood, as I don't think it is as nice of many of the other white ones. But it is very hard to find and I guess that may be the attraction. Long flower stalks with pale pink flowers which are just past their best now.

Finally one that is just starting to flower echeveria difractens, also known as the shattering echeveria due to the ease its leaves fall off.  This one flowers twice a year for me, which I can not believe is normal.  Every year it's flowers get better and as you can see it is now a pot of  snaking flower spikes.

So no matter how cold or grey it gets  there is also a little bit of colour to brighten up my days.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

No yuk in yucca

I love yuccas: they cope with our winters without problems, they give a bit of height to a dry bed and of course they flower (even when you don't want them to!).  There are of course lots to choose from many readily available, and being hardy this is one plant I do not need to sneak past the OH under my jumper. Recently there have been a few variegates turning up: one of the best has to be yucca gloriosa bright star.  Photos do not do this plant justice, in reality it is very sunny yellow.

I'm not so sure about yucca recurvifolia banana split, I keep feeling it is a bit too fluffy and I have been conned by the name.

To make up for it there is also yucca whipplei, this definitely fits into the spiky category with lethal spines.  Thankfully it is out of the way and so not one you walk past or get caught on too often.

Another unusual one is yucca baccata, thick leaves with little filaments.  It should form a trunk but given mine has only grown about 1 leaf this year  I think I may be waiting some time for that.

But out of all the ones I have yucca rostrata is my favourite.  When I got this plant it looked a bit like Worzel Gummidge, with its old leaves all wrapped up.

A quick hair cut and it looked much better, or I think so.  Some people prefer to leave the old leaves but I like them to look nice and trim.

Since being planted it has filled out and now has a friend to keep it company.

There are still a couple I want to get hold of, but I am going to have to find more room first!

Monday 22 November 2010

Back to where it started

There seems to be a theme at the moment that plants I don't want to flower do and plants that I want to keep small grow.  I got this aeonium bronze medal when it was a single headed cutting.  This was it in 2008.

In 2009 it branched to produce a lovely little bushy plant. I was very pleased with the way it had grown and how it had stayed compact. One of the problems with aeomiums is that many can get leggy and constantly need to be cut up to keep them under control.  This is it at the end end of 2009

I'm not sure if it was winter growth or the wet summer but it lost the nice compact look and is becoming a bit leggy. Here is is a couple of weeks back as I was packing things away.

I am now thinking of cutting it up to start again to get that nice compact look back.  My OH is always torn when I cut things up; at first she thinks one less large plant.  But then it dawns on her that I may not get rid of all the spares and she may be stuck with several plants instead of just one. As if I would use it as an opportunity to get a few spares!

Sunday 21 November 2010

Unwanted flower

I mentioned in a previous post, that despite having several yuccas I have yet to have one flower.  Well I finally have my first yucca flowering and typically it is the one plant I did not want to flower!

I rescued a yucca gloriosa variegata from my parents house towards the end of the summer.  It has a 3 - 4 foot trunk but the head is in terrible condition having flowered in previous years.  They wanted to get rid of it,  so I dug it up and have been carefully nursing it back to life.  Checking on it the other day I found this:

Flowers can seriously set yuccas back,  they put so much energy into the flower that it can take years to get back into full growth. Given that I have been trying to nurse this one back to full health,  the last thing I wanted was for it to flower. How come I have all these other plants that I have been desperate to flower and nothing and now just when you don't want a flower along it comes.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Name this plant.

In an earlier post I showed a few echeverias which are one of my favourite groups of plants. Alongside propagating through offsets and leaves, I have been experimenting with growing them from seeds.  They are easy to propagate this way the only problem is knowing exactly what the other parent is as they will hybridize very easily.

Taking advantage of this every summer I play cupid and using a small paint brush take the pollen from one plant and spread it inside the flower of a second.  For my first attempt there were a few varieties in flower at the same time, so I choose two of my favourites, echeveria pulidonis and echeveria rosea.

Echeveria pulidonis is a very neat compact plant, which offsets well and has pretty little yellow flowers. While not being totally hardy,  it does have some tolerance of cold.

Echeveria rosea is a more bushy plant which for much of the year can look a little messy.  However come winter the whole plant turns red and then from very early spring the end of each stem becomes a flower spike the biggest of any variety.  It also has the distinct advantage of being by far the best suited for growth in the UK and can be left outside unprotected in many parts of the country.

To be honest as a first attempt I didn't expect it to work, so was amazed when one of the seed pods opened to reveal tiny seeds.  I thought there was no harm in seeing if they would germinate,  and again was surprised when after a couple of weeks the tray was covered in new seedlings.  I mentioned yesterday that my skills at killing seedlings is unmatched and as usual I I did kill a fair amount but some made it through.

But what chances they would be anything different?  At first they looked similar to e. pulidonis, but by the end of last summer they were already starting to show differences,  the leaves seemed longer and the rosette looser.  To test the hardiness I left a few in various places, although only small they all survived despite our terrible winter.  At the start of spring they looked like this:

 As the summer progressed they grew and I'm not sure what I was feeding them but their growth rate was much quicker than normal, by July it was a fine plant and was obviously something special and had started to offset.

I am particularly pleased that it has kept its blue colour.  At this stage it was about the size that pulidonis normally gets to, but this one carried on and had to be repotted.  It now looks like this:

It is about 20cm across and has loads of offsets forming. A monster by plain e. pulidonis standards, I will be watching it closely next spring to see if it can get any bigger! I have also left a few outside to again test the hardiness.  While I love it, it has now raised a new problem of what to call it.  I have already been asked for offsets by a couple of nurseries and so I have to think of a name to stamp my mark on it.  Originally I had thought of combining the two parents; something like "pulosia"  or "pulidosia"  but was recently informed that this is not allowed.

So what to call it?  Any suggestions?

Monday 15 November 2010

Out of danger at last

One of the plants I always check in on when I visit Kew is Bulbine latifolia.  This plant is from South Africa and resembles a red hot poker. Be careful not to get this confused with Bulbinella latifolia ssp latifolia which is a bulb also from South Africa of which there are two forms.  Apart from the shape of the plant one of the things I like about it is that it is always in flower, I don't think I have ever visited when it has not been flowering, (although I do not think this is normal).

Having decided I wanted it,  I started trying to track one down and managed to find some seeds.  There are now a few suppliers who sell seeds of both varieties so hopefully it will become more common in a few years.  As usual I had no problem getting the seeds to germinate, and then had a very anxious wait while one by one I managed to kill the seedlings before they developed into young plants.  Keeping seedlings alive is something I am really not very good at.  I know the theory but some how either manage to over or under water them.

Anyway I was left with one plant and this was just getting going when to my horror it got attacked by some bug and lost its growing point. You can imagine my disappointment at seeing the damage, but I didn't give up and sure enough a month later it was pushing out two new growth points.  I have been watching it determined not let this one slip away and I think we are finally out of the woods.  The plant is now into full growth and shows no signs of being weekend by my shoddy early care.

Hopefully in 1 - 2 years I will be posting pictures of the plant in flower (or 3 - 4 years if I ordered the wrong seeds)!

Sunday 14 November 2010

Stuck on Kew

Kew has a large fairly permanent display of bromeliads which has really settled in now and looks very lush.

I like broms but don't have any space for them and so have always had to admire from a-far. You can not go into a garden centre without seeing little displays of tillandsia, these are much bigger, and at this time of year are just getting into flower.

Then if you have a few plants to get rid of how about a tillandsia column.

I am pleased they have decided to leave these alone as in the past they have tended to move them and only use them as a temporary display.  It is just a shame there are not more hardy ones as it would be great to have some scattered in among the spikies.

Monday 8 November 2010

Autumn colour

The best part of visiting Kew is always the arid part of the Princess of Wales greenhouse. Even before you get in the door you are greeted by a bed of succulents.  Admittedly at this time of year it has been reduced to a fraction of its normal size and only planting under the eves is left, but there are still a couple of nice plants. Sadly the label off this one had vanished

I liked this little clump as well, it was hidden away so not as obvious as the others.

Inside, they still haven't removed the label from this one.  It has become a bit of a famous plant for the wrong label that they refuse to update.  But look at it, how gorgeous is this one!

I have a soft spot for the white / blue agaves and they all seemed to be out on this visit. A particularly nice agave potatorum

While other plants are slowing down for winter, the aloes are just getting going and many are starting to come into flower, it makes it a great time to visit. This aloe yemenica was one of the early ones

I look at this aloe vacilans every visit, it is a lovely blue colour and by the looks of it is a good flowerer.

Finally another of my favourite aloes: ramosissima.  I have a little one of these, and have been thinking of bonzai-ing it.  This one confirms how good it would look:

The perfect tree aloe for a small garden!

Sunday 7 November 2010

The bugs are back in town

Another trip to Kew Gardens and I thought I would spread the posts over a few days as I took lots of photos. So starting with something different, in the Princess of Wales greenhouse they have a few sculptures of giant insects.  Most are made of metal, I particularly liked this fly as it rests on a plant covered rock.

The rest are flying around between the plants.

But to me the best is this moth made of wood in the orchid section.

It is so cleverly done using the different pieces of bark.

The orchids were not bad either,  I love the way they hang the pots from the roof and let the flowers dangle down so you have to wander between them.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Back to symmetry

I should start with a photo to put everything back on the more ordered track after my Halloween post.

sempervivum ciliosum
This is one of my favourite sempervivums, I split all the offsets off at the start of summer and planted them around the pot and I am pleased with the way they are filling out.  Neat as this group is, some are even more symmetrical.

sempervivum ashes of roses
I have managed to accidentally acquire a few of these this year and even had to put a little alpine trench along the front of the dry bed to house some of them.  They seemed to appreciate the work and quite a few flowered this summer.

sempervivum ohio burgundy
I like the fact that you can get so many different colours, Virgil is particularly good almost lilac and it has the added benefit of being a good clumper.

And how about this for a red!

sempervivum arachnoideum x nevadense
I quite like the furry ones (but don't tell anyone)

sempervivum lively bug
But mainly I have been trying to get ones that get big.  This is is Othello and should get to over 20cm if I cut the offsets off to allow it to grow.

Hopefully this has reestablished the order of things.