Friday 30 December 2011

A little christmas surprise

It can be bit boring at this time of year for the UK spiky obsessed, the plants have slowed down, most are tucked up for winter.  About the only bit of excitement is the odd aloe or echeveria flower and these can be painfully slow. So you can imagine my excitement looking around the pots to find this:

Yes a pup on my prized aloe viper. It is a lovely plant I wanted from the time I first saw a photo on-line. Having finally tracked one down this summer, I have watched it grow wondering how it would do in the UK (some varieties of aloes and agaves just don't do well with our lower light levels). The pup is a promising sign, although it has lost some of the red colour.

I am guessing I will be very popular with my other obsessed friends when they see this one.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

As winter arrives

This week we have finally had our first frosts, along with some very blustery storms. Bringing to an end our wonderfully warm start to the winter and starting the period of wondering how the unprotected plants are going to cope.  Already the fluffy plants in the garden like gingers and brugmansias have wilted and need to be cut back.  So far all the succulents are undamaged and it is not until our first -3 that I would expect to see any damage.

I have mentioned before that I have limited space for winter storage, and no space for a proper green house.  Instead I have my little cold frame (posted about here) and a few lucky plants get space in the garden shed.  Sadly the shed can not be totally turned over to plants, it has to store the tools and bikes which limit the space to a few shelves on either side.

The left hand side has two large windows which with the polycarb roof keep it good and light.  These shelves are mainly full of the echeverias and aloes. Even at this time of year there are still a few echeverias flowering which bring some colour inside. 

There are of course one or two agaves mixed in for good measure:

The other side is a bit more closely packed with plants to make the most of the space, again a mix of echeverias, aloes and agaves.

Finally to make the most of the limited the space I have a few hooks in the roof from which I can hang watering trays for more plants.  This was something I saw at a nursery and it works well for limited space.

So that is the tour of my little winter storage shed. Who knows one day I may have the space for a greenhouse until then, it does a very good job of looking after some of more tender plants.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Funny how things work

It's funny how often coincidences happen; my OH was looking at my last post on the green wall and got out her camera and produced these two photos. The first one shows much more clearly the planting pockets.

It seems she was up at Edgeware road station and saw the green wall and took some photos for me.

Strange that we should both come across this wall independently at almost identical times.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Back again

The last few months have been filled with work trips, which normally I like but do get in the way of looking after my garden. At least at this time of year there is almost nothing I need to be doing apart from watching out for snow. My Latest trip was to Nigeria which was let's just say interesting.  Sadly yet again I was confined to seeing the hotel and airport with a long car drive between the two, so no looking around for plants.

Hopefully I have a break in travel for a bit now amd I'll be back to more regular posts. To start that off a friend sent me a link to some vertical planting on the side of a station in London.  This wall was designed to look only look nice but to see if it can help reduce pollution. 

Image from the Londonist
It seems the planst were selected specifically to capture polutants and it will be monitored for the next 18 months to see what happens. More can be found on the Londonist website. There have been a few initiatives like this in London; to look at the use of vegitation to help reduce pollution. I know this is why the university were very pleased with our courtyard garden.

I look forward to the day when there are green walls and roofs on every street.

Friday 25 November 2011

One last treat before winter

I tend to stop buying plants when the weather shows signs of winter.  There is nothing worse than ordering a plant only for it to turn up as mush having been frozen during delivery. Although we have had a beautifully warm start to winter it can't last, so I have decided it is time to stop purchasing for this year.  I couldn't resist one last purchase though and I have had my eye on this one for most of the summer.

Aloe cv. 'Sunset' is a cute little aloe from KG.  Unlike a lot of the new hybrids, it has a more upright habit which is one of the reasons I have been watching it.  It still has good teeth though which form a red/orange trim around each leaf. I have no idea how it will grow, so it is a case of watch this space.

It came from a trusted seller on Ebay and this is why I have been watching it and not buying it.  I have mentioned before that many plants go for over a sensible price, as people get carried away.  Often simply searching the internet will show that the same seller has a shop where they sell the plant at a fixed price.  This is not the case with this seller, but as they were putting a plant on every week, it was simply a matter of deciding how much I wanted to pay and then waiting.  Prices tend to go down at this time of year as others feel like me and stop buying, so there is less competition.

In the end I got a bit of a bargain so am very happy.  Just don't tell my OH as I may have sneaked it into the house onto one of the windowsills while she was out, and they were already fairly full.

Monday 21 November 2011

No forgetting the small plants.

It is very easy with my obsession to spend all my time with my pots and prize plants and forget about everything else. I often go as far as calling other plants "fillers", which suggest they have no beauty of their own and instead are purely there to fill the gaps until something more interesting can be found, or plants grow. This is a little unfair and I thought I would rectify it by giving one little plant a post of its own.

Graptosedum 'mediterranean mystery' is a cute little succulent. It has many things going for it that warrant a mention.  It has a good form that stays compact and does not tend to get easily leggy, unlike many plants of similar forms.  If it does you just cut that section off and plant it, these cuttings take and grow quickly. It does not go wild and take over; no need to prune constantly or worry that you will never get rid of it. It has pretty little flowers, although it is probable fair to say you wouldn't grow it purely for the flowers.  Finally it has good cold tolerance.  I haven't tried it totally unprotected yet but kept dry it has been fine under a rain cover.

So there you go, graptosedum 'mediterranean mystery' worthy of a place in any garden on its own rights not just to fill space.

Saturday 19 November 2011

When good care is a bad thing.

I though it was time for an update on the deformed agave potatorum var verschaffeltii.  In the last post I showed this picture of the latest deformed leaf. The hope was that all new leaves would show this deformity ultimately giving a really unusual plant.

It has had the summer to settle in and has been carefully looked after. It seems this care may have been a mistake and the plant has recovered to full health with normal leaves.  I am sure it will now grow normally and go on to have a full and happy life.

Obviously I am devastated by this return to normality, there is a certain irony that looking after the plant and getting rid of any pests and disease has resulted in my beautifully deformed plant recovering into healthy boring one. It is not every day I say that.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

If only it was that easy.

I mentioned in my last post that echeverias are great plants to experiment and practice on. This is especially true when it comes to propagation methods.  You can try top cutting, coring, root damage and leaves, and while not every method will work with every variety it is fun finding out what will.  Once you know the quickest and easiest method this can be used whenever you want duplicates or more plants.

E. pulvinata is a pretty little variety which has hairy leaves and in time will form a small bush.  The 'ruby' form has red edges to the leaves and is my favourite.  It is an easy plant to grow although can get leggy over time.  It also propagates easily using almost any method you want. This particular plant was damaged and in recovering threw out a few variegated leaves.  Variegation in echeverias is very rare and so whenever this happens you always find yourself hoping it will continue.

Sadly, as is usually the case, the plant reverted to normal once it was fully recovered.  It does have those few variegated leaves though, and as it will produce new plants from leaves it had to be worth a go. When taking leaves, it is always best to use younger leaves, once past their best they are more likely to die before producing the required new plant. The variegated leaves were still young and so ideal for this purpose.  In theory the new plant should be a copy of this leaf and so variegated.

Given the ease with which echeverias propagate variegated plants should be more common.  The reason they are not is that while new plants are produced without problems, the majority of the time they revert to normal. Even leaves off fully variegated and stable plants usually produce plain new plants. So there is little chance that I will get my dream variegates plant form the leaves.  It doesn't stop you trying though.

Sunday 13 November 2011

The last cross of the year

Echeverias are great succulents. They grow quickly and can go from seed to flowering within 2 years.  They can be propagated using different methods and recover quickly.  Finally different varieties flower at different times of year, so there are always some in flower. All of these make the ideal plant to hone you skills.

The first hybrids I tried were echeverias and now every year I can't help but try one or two. The selection of parents depends on what I have on the go; in quiet years I may try a few different combinations, in busier times it may just be one choice pair. This year I had planned to do my crosses at the start of the summer, but got distracted and hadn't done any until the last few weeks.  The main cross I have hopes for are two of my favourites. The first parent is one of the very white varieties e. 'john catlin'.  I get a lot of requests for this plant as it doesn't offset and is difficult to propagate.

The other parent is one of the rarer varieties e. walpoleana. This is a small clump forming plant, which has longer leaves and larger dark pink flowers.

I will be happy with any resulting cross, but a blonde (white) version of e. walpoleana would be particularly good.

Friday 11 November 2011

Attempting an aloe hybrid

While we're on the subject of seeds, nothing shows the depth of my obsession more; I just can't help myself.  Every year I try a few seeds I have purchased and also try to create a few hybrids of my own.  Normally the hybrids are echeveria as they grow so quickly. This year I thought I would also try an aloe or two.

I wanted to try something I could not find else where; maybe more cold tolerance, or a darker colour.  This time I thought I would go with colour.  I've had this group of aloe midnight child for a while, it is a cute little plant with very dark, at times almost black leaves. The colour is amazing, but the leaves lack a little bite; they are slim and smooth with limited teeth.

This year I managed to pick up this little aloe donnie. The plant has a much nicer shape and good texture to the leaves, a trade mark of KG hybrids.  Both would enhance the aloe midnight child. 

In the US KG plants are protected by plant patents so can not be used for commercial propagation unless under license. The patent is not binding in the UK although the importers have to have a licence and my plant came from a licensed supplier. As this experiment is purely for my personal collection there wouldn't be a problem even is I was in the US.

With the parents selected, I had a couple of other aloes in flower at the same time and I cut those stems off to ensure there was no random pollination. Then using a tiny paintbrush transferred pollen from the a. donnie to the a. midnight child. 

After a week there are 4 seed pods forming and it shouldn't be too long until they open and I get to see if they contain any seed. Even if there is, there is no guarantee it is viable. So it will be a waiting game for germination and finally keeping my fingers crossed that I don't kill all the seedlings. All of this in the hope that one of the resulting plants will be something different.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Growing from seeds: why do I keep trying?

I have mentioned before that one thing I have never been good at is growing plants from seed. Succulents should be easy, simply scatter the seeds onto compost, cover lightly and then place in a plastic bag in a warm place. Depending on the variety you will get seedlings appearing after as little as a week.  Leave for another week, remove from the bag and place in a propagator so you can reduce the damp over a few days.  Water carefully until they are on their 2nd or 3rd leaf and split into pots.

Simple, or so it should be.  I can get to the seedling stage without problems and then it all goes wrong. I always seem to end up with 5 or 6 that survive, no matter how many I plant. A sensible person would have stopped by now but for some reason every year I continue to torment myself with a few sets of seeds.  This year it was aloe polyphylla (I'll cover that in a different post), echeveria agavoides 'ebony' and a hybrid echeveria subrigida x peacockii.

Echeveria agavoides 'ebony' was a bit of an experiment.  I have shown this picture before of a plant at a national show, it shows the darker tips to the leave this form is named for.  I am interested to see if the seeds will come true and the plants will have the dark tips, or if they will have the usual red tips.

You wont be surprised to know that out of the 100 seeds I have 5 left.  They are still small but some are already starting to show the very dark tips (you need to look very closely to notice).  Time will tell if they will stay like this.

The second set sounded like it could produce something interesting. Echeveria subrigida is one of the best echeverias and if kept pristine is a beautiful specimen plant.  Echeveria peacockii is one of the pale blue / white varieties.  Again 5 or 6 seedlings have reached the stage when I stop worrying about them, and at least one is looking very pale.

For me it is partly the search for that unusual plant I hope for; the almost white, or dark tips, or even better variegated plant. It seems there will always be an excuse to torment myself. Who knows one day I may actually crack the seedling stage.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

An African interlude

I have been quiet recently as I have been in Ethiopia.  My OH is always telling me that I'm a lucky lucky man and the part of my job which lets me travel is definitely lucky.  I have been to Africa a few times, but this was my first time to East Africa and Ethiopia was somewhere I had always wanted to visit.  Sadly this was not a holiday and so I didn't get to explore and only saw Addis Ababa. I could get very carried away writing about my trips but as it's got nothing to do with plants, I will just post a few pictures of the city.

It was much greener than I expected; in fact the flight was over the most beautifully patchwork of fields with a multitude of greens not something I think of when I pictured Ethiopia.

The entire city is surrounded by mountains and is a mixture of the smaller, older, ramshackle style of building and the more modern buildings.  As with any city in the world the skyline is changing as buildings get taller. As my original degree is in civil engineering, I love looking at the different construction methods.  Many are the same, but one that is different in each country is the scaffolding materials. In some countries bamboos are used, but in Ethiopia it is local wood

 No matter how posh the building, the materials are always the local wood.

I find it a little surreal seeing these glass building surrounded by the wood like this.  The other thing that changes is the cost of labour.  Where labour is cheap, everything is done by hand; breaking up stones, mixing concrete and loading and unloading trucks:

I did not envy these guys having to fill the truck with the left over gravel.  It was quite hypnotic watching the two in the front working in perfect synchrony.

Sadly I had no time to explore, especially as Ethiopia has some lovely native aloes.  These were strangely missing from the street plantings which consisted of agave attenuata and various palms. So it looks like I will have to go back to properly see the native flora. There is probably a post on how plant addiction affects holidays.

Friday 28 October 2011

Common does that matter?

Agave americana is probably the most common agave world wide.  In many parts of the world it is almost a weed, with the prolific offsets. Even in the UK as one of the hardy agaves it is the one you will see in peoples gardens, and the odd news paper when they flower.  The different varieties of this plant can pretty much represent the changes many succulent collections go through.

The plain plant is often the first agave you own, I know it was mine, and I remember how excited I was to get a given a few of them.  This pretty much sealed my fate, and I was soon searching more varieties of agave.  It was not long before I realised that there were far more interesting plants out there and unless you have a huge amount of space to fill, as new plants come in this one goes out.

Once you have a few agaves many people start to look at variegated plants, only slightly less common is the marginata form.  Again my first variegated agave, and it was given pride of place in the garden for a while.

The problem with obsessions though is that you are never happy with what you have,  there is always something better out there.   So having gone through the common plants, you start to look for slightly more unusual plants.  The medio picta alba plant fits perfectly into that category.  It is not so common that you see them every day , but when you start looking it is easy to find.  So out with the marginata form in with the medio-picta albas.

Where next, you have the plants that are easy to find,  so onto those that are harder to find.  Now you are slipping into obsession status; it's no longer just about seeing plants and buying them,  it changing to searching for that elusive variety that few people have.  Yet again agave americana pops up, this time in the striata (stripy variegation) and the medio-picta aurea (yellow stripe) forms. 

By now, you are probably getting fussy and each plant is worthy of a place.  This means that it is more difficult to decide what to do when space runs out.  Medio-picta alba is a lovely, too good to just bin, so it gets shifted into a less prominent place and this is the dance that happens with each new plant.

You may feel that agave americana is too common, so lets change to the plants that have come out recently.  Starting with agave blue glow,  soon you're moving on to the variegates snow glow and sun glow.  What's that a new one just about to be released! The plants may have changed but the story is always the same. I wonder what we would think if agave americana wasn't on every street, if it was a hybrid just coming onto the market?

Thursday 20 October 2011

Winter protection part 1: Who's made the cut

A selection of the smaller pots.
Sadly there is now no denying that winter is about to arrive, and it is time to pack up the plants and decide which get the pampering and which get the tough love or worse.

First stage was to gather the smaller plants together, it seems my OH may be right after all and I have too many pots.  Actually the small pots are fine, no matter how many, they fit on shelves, in gaps, anywhere with a bit of a rain cover.  The problems are the larger pots that are too heavy for shelves, but need to given more protection than a simple rain cover. More about that in the next post.

First in the rain shelter were the medium sized pots.
Many of the plants in here are considered tender by many people, but seem to scrape through for me every year.  Admittedly I doubt I would have tried some of them if it wasn't for lack of space.

This year along side the usual experiments with echeverias, the big trial is of agave utahensis. I was lucky enough to rescue a set of mature plants at the start of the summer (they are painfully slow, so to get to this size I would guess they were over ten years old).  I posted about them at the time, here, and always had in mind to try some with different levels of protection.  In theory they should be hardy down to silly temperatures if kept dry, so time to put it to the test.

With the bottom layer full, the small table goes in for the smaller pots.  Amazingly I had judged it about right and there is still a little space on this for the odd pot I am bound to find somewhere.

The cold frame is a step up from the various cloches and plastic rain covers that many plants have. I'm not sure I'd like to be a plant in my collection.  I am sure that when the real cold arrives I will be wondering if I made the correct choices, especially if the winter is anything last last year. 

Tuesday 18 October 2011

One final taste of summer

Outside today, putting the last couple of plants away and found these.  The last strawberries of the year, they are tasty in summer when the main crop is, but to find some at this time of year was pure delight.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Update on the work garden

A while back I posted about the garden in the courtyard at work.  Now it has had its first summer I thought I would post an update.  Here it is back in May and again today:

In my last post on the garden I mentioned how I was torn between design verses use.  I still feel that way, but everyone loves it; the tables are still in use even in October and the I get regular emails about the joy of being able to go out and pick veg in lunch breaks.

The tree ferns in the fernery have filled out as have most other things.  Sadly the shuttlecock ferns, that were suppose to give a bit of height in the middle of the bed, are not looking so good.  Hopefully they will get going next year.

The most dramatic changes though are in some of the other beds, here was the bamboo when it was planted.

And then today

The banana has grown into a great plant and because of the sheltered position the leaves have not been shredded like they usually are.  Next to it is a colocasia, another plant that was purely planted as summer bedding until the bamboo filled out.   As they both look so well, it seems a shame to let them die, so we have decided to dig them up and put them into large pots. Bringing them in, to sit on the inside of the glass wall.

 These brugmansias were planted as small cuttings and have totally taken over this bed.  I am going to have to decide what to do with them, as again they wont survive the winter if left where they are.  We don't have space for both, besides their growth this year shows how big they can get in just one season.  It is more likely that I will take a couple of large cuttings and over winter those.  By next spring they will be rooted and can be re-planted to once again take over the bed.  It's a great trick if you are short of space, so long as you are willing to mist every now and then and keep a keen eye out for spider mites!

I couldn't end without showing at least one photo of the rockery.  Most of the plants seem to have settled in, with the echeverias showing the most growth.  There have been a pleasing amount of comments about it, with most people un-aware that you can plant directly in gravel like this. Some of the plants are trials, having shown they are marginal in my garden, I am hoping the warmer inner city location may just be enough to get them through. This is the main agave section, I am going to have to decide if I provide any protection to plants I don't have spares of.

I am always going to look at certain beds and think they are wasted, but as long it at continues to be used like it was this year, I can just about turn a blind eye to them.  Besides who knows what opportunities next year holds.  I have my eye on all the flat roofs for some green planting!

Thursday 13 October 2011

Echeveria flowers, third wave.

The late summer echeverias are in full flower now.  It seems these late ones are often the best,  I'm not sure if it's that there is less about, or that any flowers give you a last hope that summer is still with us. Quite a few of the ones flowering at the moment are red and it is unusual to get a really strong colour in echeveria flowers. Echeverias blue prince and black prince are both doing well.  They seemed to have flowered a bit earlier this year which means we get to admire them more.

A first for me is e. walpleana.  This plant was new last year and has grown well.  I got it for the unusual leaves which are more long and thin than most forms.  It seems to clump nicely which is good especially if it is going to flower like this.  The flowers themselves are big and a nice strong red.  It is just a shame that they are on such long stalks, but can't complain too much when the heads look like this:

Most of these will carry on until the first frosts and will then be replaced by few winter flowering varieties which are kept inside (if I can sneak them past my OH). For now though, I will hold onto the last of summer.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

The dry bed cleared of leaves.

Having shown the dry bed covered in leaves, I though it I ought to show it cleaned up.

Not the best photo as it was a bit of a dull day.  It has not been a great year for succulents in the UK, we have had a cold summer and it has really effected the growth.  About the only group of plants that have grown are the yuccas. One that has done particularly well is yucca whipplie. I manage to badly damage this plant when I stupidly covered it with a bit of fleece before the snow, the weight of which snapped the growing point.  It doesn't seem to have slowed the plant down at all though and I am really pleased with the growth rate.

I know it is common, but the agave gloriosa variegata has turned into a lovely plant.

It has got a bit big for the space and is now starting to grow over the agave gentryi.  This is another plant that has done well this year, having been badly damaged last winter.

Speaking of hardy agaves, the true star for me is agave bracteosa.  It never shows any damage despite not being protected at all last winter.  Again the bad summer has meant it didn't grow as much as I would have liked.

The lack of growth was a common theme for the agaves this year, even the a. montana has been slow.  This one usually grows more in cooler weather.  The a. parryi, filifera and nigra haven't been much better.

Over the next couple of months I will be getting the plants ready for winter.  A lucky few will have rain covers, and the fleece will be got ready for when snow is forecast. The rest will be left to fend for themselves.  No pampering here!