Monday 30 May 2011

Back form the brink

One of the best feelings for me is when plants you thought were on the way out surprise you by making a come back. I have had an agave parrasana in my dry bed for 3 winters now. In 2009/10 the snow damaged it so badly I thought that was it,  but it bravely thought on.  Then this winter with all the snow and cold I thought that surely it wont cope this time.  Come spring when all the rest of plants got going this little agave parrasana just sat there looking very dead.  You can just make it out in this photo, (front row in the middle) looking very sad for itself.

Then out in the garden today doing a bit of spring cleaning and I noticed that not only was it still alive but it was growing more actively than it ever has. Here it is today:

Only three leaves, but each one is better than the last and for the first time it is starting to show why agave parrasana is a plant every agave fan should have.  Another one to add to my hardy agave list, although maybe treat it better than I have.

Friday 27 May 2011

Tools of the trade

Seeing a post on Danger Gardens blog made me thing about the unusual tools we use in our gardens. Most of us seem to have our favourite tools and they seem to rarely be actual gardening tools.  Top of my list are needle nose tweezers, which are pretty well attached to my hand I use them so much. They are perfect for fishing dead leaves out of crowns, pulling dead leaves off to keep plants looking their best, holding small plants in place while re-potting, to list a few uses. I was put into a total panic the other week when I lost them.  My OH made it perfect clear that I could not use her sewing ones until mine turned up, it seems that there are some sacrifices she is not will to make for my obsession.  Thankfully they turned up and are now back in their proper home.  Here they are with my other main tools 

The small pointed scissors are another as they allow you to get right under plants when taking cuttings and to be far more precise than normal scissors or secateurs. The paint brush has several uses including cleaning crowns and of course for hand pollinating my echeverias. 

I think my tools show how much time I spent on the little details of my plants in pots. So what are the tools you can not live without?

Thursday 26 May 2011

Garden updates and silver linings

I have posted a picture of my echeveria blue prince before. It is a beautiful plant and flowered all summer and well into winter.  It didn't quite make it onto the A list for winter, but made it into the porch.  It breezed through and I was looking forward to seeing it develop this year. 

A couple of months back I re-potted it and everything looked healthy. The pup had grown nicely but I left it on to grow as a clump. Satisfied I put the pot to one side not thinking any more about it while I continued re-potting other plants.  Then disaster,  I spiked myself on an agave and moved my arm too quickly and knocked the pot off.  It was one of those slow motion moments as it fell to the ground landing with  sickening snaps.

I gingerly picked it up not wanting to see the damage and found I had snapped off or broken all the leaves on one side of the main rosette. So much for my idea of having it as one of my prized plants this year. You can imagine how annoyed I was, not helped by the throbbing you get when you get a particularly nasty agave spiking.

Of course I knew the plant would recover, the main thing was to decide what to do; take the pup off and grow that as my main plant,  or wait and see what happens.  In the end I went for wait and a couple of months later there are lots of new pups growing from the damaged stem.

I am still upset to have spoilt the plant,  but on the bright side I now a few spares (did I say I was cutting down on propagation this year?) and I get to decide what look I want for the pot.  Currently I am thinking of taking the top off the damaged stem and the cluster of three pups and leaving everything else to form a big clump. It may not look great this year but should look spectacular next year. As long as I can avoid dropping it again that is!

As I am on the subject of recovering after damage I thought I would also give an update on the two other plants.  The aloe striatula is growing at an amazing rate, here is the picture I posted a little over a month ago:

And here today,  I am probably going to have to thin out the clump to allow them space to grow.

There is no doubt that the spring we have had in the UK allowed it to recover like this.  Just in case you are wondering about the rubber snake in the bottom right, it was a joke present from a neighbour, who thought my arid landscape needed some matching fauna. I had heard that cats are scared of snakes and have left them on there to deter them from using it as a litter tray, and amazingly it actually seems to work!

The aloe striatula x aristrata pups are also growing, although at a slower pace.

I would love for one of the pups to stay variegated,  but sadly most have already reverted to green with the new leaves.

The other plants that are offsetting like mad are the sempervivums.  This one produced 12 pups when I planted it last year so I guess it is no surprise that each of the pups has now produced 6 - 8 pups of their own.  It was a mass of tentacles stretching out around the bowl, so I spent some time to tidy it up.

The original plant is starting to flower as you can see.  I don't think I will have a problem with gaps when they die afterwards, given how many plants there are now.  I have quite a few sempervivums coming into flower, sempervivum lively bug is another.

It is very symmetrical in the way it is flowering,  with one central spire and 5 at almost exactly equal points around it. These little flower spikes will be appearing all around the garden in the pots and dry bed for the rest of the summer. Not the most dramatic of flowers but they look great sticking up between the other plants. Maybe this will be the year I get around to doing the sempervivum picture I have been planning.

Saturday 21 May 2011

A kew fix.

Popped along to Kew for a quick visit with some friends and to check how the agave flower was coming along.  It has already gone through the roof and wont be long before the flowers open.

They have taken the pane of glass out so it can continue growing, it will soon be visible from outside the greenhouse as well as in.  The plant is going to leave a huge gap once the flower finishes but I am sure they will find something to take its place. 

Most of the aloes have finished flowering but one or two were just starting.  I love the flowers when they are at this stage.  They seem more dramatic than when they start to open and separate into the individual flowers.

The bromeliad log was was doing well.

In the Palm House the jade vine had mainly finished flowering,  but the fruit is still there.

Hardly anyone seems to notice it hanging there and I imagine even less know exactly how rare it is.  Apparently it has only been managed anywhere in the world about 4 times before so it is a huge event.  We were talking about it and a few people looked up to see what all the fuss was about and seemed very underwhelmed.

They have a whole series of metal sculptures there at the moment, some better than others, these are some of the good ones


I'll end with my personal favourite.  It reminds me of some one, but I can't think who.

Are blondes more fun?

Many succulents are covered in a powder or bloom, in some cases it is thick enough to change the colour of the plant to pale blue or white. Often these are the more sort after varieties and it I find that the plants visitors ask about are the white/blue ones. Here are a few of my white echeverias:

I get the most requests for echeveria john catlin (back right above) which is a very pale blue / white and has probably the heaviest bloom. 

Personally while this is one of the palest varieties it can be a bit scruffy and I prefer echeveria cante (top and bottom left in the first photo).

It is a more delicate plant and has good pink tinge to the edge of the leaves.  It also has the most amazing flowers of any echeveria and I have shown this photo before.

It is not just the echeverias who dress up,  the agaves like to get in on the act as well.  One of the best is agave ovatifolia and as is becoming more common someone has taken a particularly white plant and tissue cultured it to sell under the name ovatifolia 'frosty blue'. 

With some of these named varieties it is marginal if there is any difference, but if you want the best colour many people feel it is worth going for this variety to ensure you get what you want. Another good named variety is agave mitis var albidor:

It is not as white as the frosty blue, but it is more obviously different from the normal form of agave mitis. Out of all the named forms of agaves  this is one I would highly recommend. Sadly as it is still rare in the UK, and you never know how the variation will effect hardiness, I over winter this one in a cold frame. Thankfully the bloom does not seem to wash off in rain, not that we have had any so far this year.

I have mentioned before  that you have to watch people around these plants as they have a tendency to touch. There is probably a look of panic on my face when those little hands reach out to touch. Apparently it is not polite to slap guests hands away from your plants. So at least in the plant world  blondes seem to get more attention.

Saturday 14 May 2011

Lucky dip.

It's a good time of year for growing echeverias, the garden is full of plants in flower.  Every where I look there are little spikes of colour vying for attention.

Normally I would be looking around trying to decide which plants to cross, but it seems there is a very good reason that experts hybridize in more control environments.

The bees have decided that echeverias are the flower of choice. You don't have to watch a plant for long before the next one comes along for a top up, often there are two or three on a plant at once. It is funny watching them trying to get into the delicate flowers, but they have worked out how to do it, going from flower to flower on a plant before moving off to the next one.

I am pleased to say that the garden is full of bees this year. Last year was terrible and it as noticeable how few bees were around, but they are back with a vengeance this year. It has been interesting to watch them with the succulent flowers.  Whenever I bring a new variety into the garden they usually take a while to work out what it is.  I would have thought that any flower would be attractive,  but right now they are all flying straight past the cactus that is as bright as can be.

With all the activity any selective hybrids are out of the question, so I guess I am going to have to see what nature comes up with, my very own lucky dip.

Thursday 12 May 2011

Some actual planting!

I may have managed to acquire one or two pots during my spiky obsession; some are plants that can not be planted, some are waiting for a spot and many more are plants being propagated.  Last year I used one of the old raised beds as a sort of prop / holding area, with the idea of keeping them out of the way.

I loved this little area, all the pots neatly lined up, the plants growing away, easy to see what I had spares off to give to people.  To me it worked really well, but it seems not everyone agreed. Apparently raised beds should actually be planted, and we don't need so many pots.  I know crazy talk, but my OH has been known to speak the truth at times. So this year, for several reasons, I am working my way through the garden sorting all the flower beds, trying to spend more time actually gardening and less concentrating on plants in pots.

Despite being distinctly fluffy, I had always thought this area would make a good fern bed, a few larger ferns that thrive in some sun,  with under planting of other shade loving plants.  It almost sounds like I know what I am talking about, but my record with plants that need care is not good. This is where friends come in,  and with a bit of help a few plants were selected that will give the look I am after and hopefully survive my lack of care.

Over the weekend the area was cleared,  all the junk removed, the soil improved and plants actually planted. This is such a novelty in my garden that my OH actually looked confused when she got home to find me putting the finishing touches to it. This is the only good thing about a small garden, in a couple of hours you can make a huge difference to the look of the whole garden. There is still space at one end for more plants, but it looks quite lush and has that lovely promise new plants settling in and filling the space.

Although it was lacking a certain something.

OK, a few pots may have sneaked back into the area, I am guessing that wont come as a big surprise.  In my defence, most of these are temporary as all these plants are just out of their winter storage and the leaves need protecting.  There is a myth that because agaves and other succulents come from hot sunny locations they can not get damaged by the sun in the UK. In fact like any plants, when you move them outside after a long period inside, they need to toughen up slowly. It is amazing how easily succulents scorch at this time of year and there is nothing worse than getting a plant through winter only to loose half the leaves just when you think they are safe. Every year some of my bigger plants get scorched and every year I swear I will be more careful next time.

So this year to avoid damage, plants are initially placed at the back in total shade,  then every few days all the plants get moved forward into more sun. The next set of plants can then be placed at the back.  The ones on the wall are almost ready for full sun. By the end of the month all the plants should be moved and there will be minimal pots on the bed.  So far it seems to be working fine and actually I quite like the two groups of plants all mixed in together a sort of lush-spiky.

The problem is now having said this, my OH is going to expect all the pots to move once they are able to cope with the sun. What do you think the odds are that I will actually manage to keep this area pot and spiky free?

Sunday 8 May 2011

Busy weekend

It has been a busy and productive weekend with a bit of everything, plant shopping, looking around a public gardens and a good amount of time in the garden. This is a lovely time of year, with all the echeverias in flower along with the aloes.  Over the last couple of days I have actually been planting stuff, which is unusual for me.  I am much better with plants in pots than I am at plants in the ground, to be honest I am not a very good gardener but that is for another post. 

I did make time to take a picture of this recent purchase in full flower.  As the day went on the bees were buzzing around it, although the ones in my garden seem to prefer the yellow flowers of the echeverias to reds and oranges.

I will have to go back to being lazy again, so I have more time to blog.

Saturday 7 May 2011

Unusual sign

We were visiting a garden last week and found part of it closed with this sign on the gate:

We had all sorts of images going around our heads of trees behaving inappropriately.

Friday 6 May 2011

Another lovely surprise.

I have shown quite a few pictures of bromelaids so you may have guessed I quite like them.  For me they are one of the plants that symbolize jungle / tropical planting.  While I keep meaning to get more so far I have only bought one, blibergia nutans variegata. You sometimes see this touted as hardy in parts of the UK, so it seemed a good place to start.

I have had it for 3 years now and left it in the cold frame over the winters. It has coped without any problems, not even marking.  In fact it is more at risk from me forgetting that this is one plant that I actually have to water. I have been desperate for it to flower but nothing.  This year as it had formed a clump I split it, which will allow me to try some out of the cold frame next winter.  I have also made a concerted effort to actual water my plant this year, it feels very strange to be sayig that at the start of May, but it has been such a dry Spring and we have had no real rain at all.  Then outside this evening and I found this:

Looking forward to seeing how it develops.  With everything going on in the garden this year, it is rapidly becoming my best year so far!

Thursday 5 May 2011

Sempervivum virgil

I have had this sempervivum for a couple of years now and is one that I would highly recommend.  It has several things going for it:
  1. It offsets like mad so you have a lovely clump in the first year
  2. While it changes colour throughout the year it always stands out from the crowd
  3. It doesn't suffer from major die back over winter, unlike many semps
Here is it yesterday and as you can see despite me taking countless offsets off already last year it has formed a lovely clump and will only get better through the summer.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Another weekend, another road trip.

The beautiful spring continues, this time it was a trip to Norfolk for a few days to see some friends, look around some nurseries and visit a cactus mart. Norfolk has two fantastic nurseries for the exotic garden fan, Amulree and Urban Jungle. There are always things that catch my eye at both, this year at Amulree it was these stunning agave ovatifolias.

At Urban Jungle, part of the fun is walking around their different planting sections, sadly it is totally the wrong time of year for the edible jungle, but it was great to see the planting wall had survived despite the terrible winter. The ferns in the gaps are mainly starting to grow again and in a month or so should be back to its best again.  This is a clever very way of creating a wall, with full descriptions on the blog of Jamie who built it before heading off on his travels (Tumbleweed Traveller).

Then it was off to see the friends which I will cover in another post as they deserve it, if for no other reason than the very memorable line dancing disco night they took me to! The whole reason for the trip was to join the local British Cactus and Succulent Society trip to a catus mart on the Saturday. There is always a difficult choice at these shows; do you walk around to see all the stalls before deciding what to buy, or do you buy as you go so you don't risk someone else getting their hands on the best plants. Normally when shopping, as my OH will confirm, I like to look at all the options, comparing them before finally making my decision. At the shows though there are far too many other eager shoppers and you can't risk someone else getting their grubby little mitts on that prized plant. Having got most of the way around, I found someone with two trays full of aloe hybrids. You wont be surprised to know that I spent quite a while on this stand going through them all, checking I hadn't missed any and which were the best plants. 

There is another great point at any event like this, when everyone re-groups and you all have a nosy through what the others are taking home.  There are the looks of envy that someone else got the one plant you were after, discussions about plants you don't know about and sometimes quick trips back into the show to try and make a last minute purchase. This cactus caught my eye in one of the members boxes,  it almost looked stitched and I had a feeling my OH would appreciate the patterns / textures.

After a very nice lunch, it was off over the border to probably the largest cactus nursery in the UK.  Only a few days before I had been talking with some friends about why we don't have any really large succulent nurseries in the UK.  They had just come back from Germany and shown pictures of these giant green houses full of succulents of every description. So walking into Southfields, I was proved wrong when I was greeted by this:

The place is huge, rows and rows of tables stuffed full of cacti of every form.  Anyone who things succulent gardens lack colour needs to visit somewhere like this:

While shopping at a show requires one set of tactics, shopping here required another, leaving plants until you have looked around risks you never finding the plants again. It was not unusual to bump into people wondering up and down the many isles muttering to themselves about why didn't they pick that plant up when they first saw it.

After a fantastic couple of days, it was back home to pot up my purchases, here are ones from Southfields and the show.

I think my OH is slightly concerned about the appearance of cacti on top of the agaves, aloes and echeverias, but she need not worry I more than enough to keep me going without getting interested in cacti as well.