Tuesday 28 June 2011

A slight change in the weather

Having had a couple of warmer days, we had a change this afternoon with a huge thunder storm.  These are rare in London even more so with serious hail.  My OH happened to be at home at the time to catch it with the camera

The thing about hail is that after it finishes and you have got over the sound and stones, you start to worry about your plants.  A friend had a lot of his prized plants seriously marked in a similar storm last year.  Thankfully I got off easy; there are a few marks on the odd plant, but most are fine and there is no really noticeable damage.

Looking at the photo at first I thought that the blurs were rain on the window, but then realised my OH was standing outside at the time and they were actually the hail stones.  I also like the splash in the bottom right, which is even better blown up:

My OH has a knack for taking good photos.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

A prince amoung aeoniums

Of all the succulents I have collected, aeoniums have been the most up and down.  Their peak was in 2009, at which time I owned 10 - 15 different varieties.  Sadly loses over winter showed how difficult they were to keep in the UK, needing above -3 to survive. So I have not been replacing them and anyone who shows interests in one of my plants often leaves with it. Going into last winter I had 4 left, two of which have since been given away, leaving me with my cristate a.suburst (which I posted about here) and a. nobile.

It was actually a.nobile that got me interested in aeoniums in the first place.  They are a little different to most of the varieties not really growing a stem but having huge very thick leaves. These leaves form much slower than other forms and get really big.  In time they develop huge heads, one of the biggest of the group.  They also change colour depending on water and light levels. Finally if you are lucky enough they will flower with the usual huge flowers that's one of the selling points for aeoniums.  Sadly they don't really offset or branch although if you are feeling very brave you can force offsets by cutting the top off.  But this is not for the faint hearted as unlike most form they are not easy and when a friend tried he got only two plants from the cut and said it wasn't worth the worry. To make up for it though they are easy from seed and so you need never be without as many plants as you have space for.

Personally I think they are one if not the best aeonium, well worth the pampering you have to give them over winter. This is one aeonium that is going to start in my collection, so hands off.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

The perfect plant pot

Pots seem to be a common theme in things I read at the moment and searching for that perfect pot can be almost as hard as searching for the perfect plant. Most of the time the only decisions I make over pots are: plastic or terracotta, and full or half depth. I tend to automatically put all my agaves in unglazed terracotta pots to ensure they dry out quickly, limiting the amount of pot hunting I have to do. One of my favourites at the moment is this lovely little starter pot.

I don't know what it is about this one that I love, it just seems to have the perfect proportions and has been ideal for one of my bonsai experiments on echeveria minima. It came with a cutting from a friend and was so much better than the little take out coffee cups I was using for my seedlings.

Not all pots fit in the tasteful category and novelty pots are everywhere.  So far I have managed to mainly avoid them but I do have two that go with my African 'garden tat'. This one is the hippo and currently has an flowering echeveria john catlin on its back.

Moving swiftly on, the thing about the perfect pot, is finding a pot that works for the plant and in the location.  How often do you see something that looks amazing only to know it wouldn't work for you.  Pots more than anything need to fit in with the garden.  I have shown these painted pots before, I loved them this garden in Morocco, but they would never work for me.

One other thing about pots is that they don't have to be filled to be part of the garden. The friend that gave me the little pot has a great used pots pile.  She has the most amazing garden full of different sections with hidden bits, I will have to do a post on it at some point soon.  Last time I was there I took some photos of the behinds the scenes areas and one of those was this pots pile:

She is very embarrassed about it, sorry Mel, but I think it's great. Apart from looking good, I imagine it is an ideal wildlife refuge. Most of the pots are broken and are stored here until they are given a new life in a mosaic style wall somewhere in their garden.

I doubt having all my plants in fancy pots would make them more acceptable to my OH, so for now I do not need to expand my search for pots. No doubt I will continue to keep an eye out whenever I visit a nursery as you never know when you will find that perfect pot.

Sunday 12 June 2011

I was wrong, I don't have enough plants!

A couple of posts back, I mentioned that I had been having a clean out and getting rid of a few plants.  Having taken all my spares and duplicates and propagated plants to work to free up some space, typically I go and choose now to start a project that requires a few plants.

I blame the internet and all you bloggers who constantly post interesting ideas and pictures of gardens or shows you visit. While I had known about vertical planting for a while, I had never thought about doing a living picture or something small, until someone posted a link to Flora's Blog. This post, showed some of their pictures, which lets face it are pretty impressive.  So the idea gets filed away for something to do when I have some free time.  As our summer seems to have returned to its British best and rainy days, I thought I would start looking at trying one of these living pictures.

It would be an ideal way to free up even more space, without actually having to get rid of any plants. Initially everything was good, I have the perfect bit of wire mesh for the front to help keep things in place, the perfect place to hang a picture of around 40 - 50cm across.  I even had an idea of the type of plants I wanted to use,  and had started to propagate them.  The sempervivums I have shown before, I thought these compact forms would be perfect for a small picture:

Then this echeverias which has the catchy name of FO-48 after the collection number would work well, plus I has a few sitting around:

Then for some colour another sempervivum virgil, which is slightly larger but still has a neat form and a very good lilac or purple colour.

I figured it would be best to try and do a rough design first, it would be a shame to spend all the time putting it together only for it not to work.  Besides I may have mentioned before that I have a geeky side and have a few tricks for times like this. It is actually fairly simply, firstly take a picture of the plants you are interested in from above.  The in a photo package clip the image to only cover the plant and re-size it to be the same size as the plant., for example this image of s. virgil is 8cm across:

The next step is a bit more fiddly, as you have to trace around the plant to select the central plant only.  You can then cut this out and past it into a new image of only a single plant:

You just repeat this for each plant of interest and then put them all together to give your flower bed or in this case living picture:

If I was doing it properly I would give the image a brown background or a picture of some soil and change the size of some of the plants to give a more realistic look. While the method works fine, by this time I had figured out two things: firstly my design was not going to work, and secondly I was going to need some more plants! I hadn't properly sat down and thought about how many plants you actually need even for a small picture.  If I had stuck to my very first idea of only using small sempervivums of around 2 - 3 cms then I would have needed around 300 plants to fill a 40cm square!

I need more variation in the size and texture of plants to give a more natural look to the scene. One of the reasons this one doesn't work is it is too flat (and that is not just the fault of the image).  So it is back to the drawing board to figure out a different set of plants. Maybe a couple of agave utahensis would add some interest and some of small but more vertical echeverias or sedums to give a bit of variation in height.

Whatever plants I finally end up with, I am going to need to buy a few more to fill the picture.  I didn't think I would be saying that this year.

Saturday 11 June 2011

A few different plants in the garden

For several reasons, I usually only show the spikie plants in the garden, but I do have a few other plants and some of these are worth a mention every now and then.  If I had a lot more space there I would love a woodland garden, there are just so many good plants you could have. Who doesn't like walking through a wood on spring or autumn days, and they are almost as easy as the succulents.

One group of plants I was introduced to a few years back were the arisaemas.  I just loved the flowers and rushed out and got my first one. I am always surprised when they come back each spring, but come back they do,  and even spread.

Some have such delicate hoods, it is a shame they are so hidden away.

At my next house I will have to have a shade bed I can properly show these off. Currently they live beside and under my schefflera taiwaniana which is also having a very good year:

Finally today I noticed that my smallest cycas revoluta was starting to flush. Normally these don't do too badly in my winters, but this last one damaged all of mine, and I have been waiting hoping they all flush so I have something other than stumps to look at.

It is only the start but no matter how many times you see it, a cycad flush is always exciting.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Cutting back

I used to define one aspect of collecting plants as having to track down every form of a plant.  Thankfully so far I have mainly managed to avoid falling for that one, although there are plants like agave parryi, or agave filifera where I have various forms. In vary rare cases the different forms have come about as I learnt more, echeveria agavoides is the best example of this. I first purchased this one as it is meant to be hardy.  The first was an un-named form

It didn't really stand out for me and having owned it for a while I wasn't even 100% it was agavoides. The next one I stumbled across was e. agavoides corderoyi:

A much better form and it was easier to see why it was called agavoides with the shape similar to agaves. The pink tinge to the leaf margins was not the strongest colour, so the search went on.  Next was e. agavoides red edge (also often sold a lipstick)

This I thought was the best form, a good strong shape with the dark red edges. So my quest was over. Until I saw the real must have form e. agavoides ebony.  This is the plant everyone wants, and as such it still hard / impossible to find in the UK.  I managed to track down a little plant from a friend who was trying some leaves, it has grown but still needs to darken up to fully live up to the name.

Compare it to this one I have posted before, from one of the BCSS national shows, and you can see what I mean.

Since then I have got a second plant which is much darker and hopefully means I can end my search for the perfect echeveria agavoides. So what started out as looking for a hardy plant I ended up with 4 different forms, and of course many many offsets

You may be wondering what this has to do with cutting back on the number of  plants. Recently in an attempt to free up space, and dare I say it cut back on the number of pots, I have been going through my plants and trying to get rid of a few.  Obviously the work garden has helped and I have taken almost 100 pots to work. For anyone who commutes to work on public transport, it seems that carrying an agave is the perfect way to stop people invading your personal space on a crowded train!

So all the duplicates went without problems,  but I still needed more space for new purchases. This is where the tough choices had to be made, it is never easy to get rid of plants that you had actively been searching out maybe only a year ago. Where I had multiple forms of a plant seemed one place to start.  So there has been a cull of forms in the garden . Some have been moved to work, some have been planted in the dry bed to take their chances next winter, with only the best forms having survived in pots.  In the case of echeveria agavoides this means the ebony and the red edge.  It would purely have been ebony, but the red edge has grown into a beautiful specimen, about 25cm across, and who could get rid of this plant:

I guess collecting is no different to gardening in general,  plants come and go to make space. But don't worry the cull has been limited. I still have too many pots and have just found another form of agave filifera that I must have.

Monday 6 June 2011

A constant in an ever changing world

Like most people, my favourite plants change on an almost daily basis depending on what is in flower, looking good, or perhaps just something I have just re-discovered. There are however a few plants that would always warrant a mention. One of the agaves is potatorum kissho kan, which every succulent fan should own. It is a dwarf form of potatorum and so has the advantage that it never gets too big, an important factor when considering limited winter storage space. It is also very fast for an agave, meaning you actually know it has grown and can have a more mature form within a year or two.

The plants you will normally find for sale are the variegated forms. Strangely they are usually sold with the same name without any of the usual add-ons about the variegation.

The normal form is not bad either, a lovely blue colour and dark red spines make it an eye catching plant.  I know there is an obsession with variegated forms, one I share, but when the normal form looks this good, it should be more widely available than it is.

Should I ever have to limit the number of plants I keep, these two would both get a place as I am not sure I could choose between them.  Fingers crossed I never have to.

So are there plants that are always in your favourites list?

Friday 3 June 2011

Design or participation

I have mentioned before that we have a large courtyard at work that is slowly being turned into a garden for the staff and students.  It has been an interesting process, not least as it has made me think about what is more important the over-all design of a garden or the participation in making it and being surrounded by green. 

I have been getting more interested in the design and planting of gardens and when they announced that they were allowing the staff to design the garden I thought I would go along. Sadly at the first meeting it became obvious that there was a huge range of ideas and that it was going to be designed by committee.  I am sure anyone reading this knows the importance of having an overall picture of the garden, it even applies to a collection of pots. So the thought of there being no over-all scheme, or person in charge, filled me with dread. Sure enough now the garden is almost finished it is not pretty, some of the planting is not very interesting and I can't help feeling that we missed an opportunity.

But the strangest thing has happened, the group of staff that have given up weekends, hurt their backs, and got their hands dirty building the garden, have had a great time.  People who have not got a garden, have never grown plants have designed raised beds and are looking after them.  There are flowers, a veg patch, and plants that just don't go together. Yet no one, (apart from me) seems to care, in fact they love it. There have been compliments, you can not get a seat at the tables which are used all day and the powers that be want to green more areas.

The plants are happy as well. The tree ferns have thrived,  and the bamboo is going to be a monster. I can't wait to see how big these new culms get, they are so much chunkier than the existing ones as you can see.

I still want to ask if people are looking at the same garden as me, but I have also realised the power of getting involved and having green space around. Does it matter that the garden is not all it could be? Not one bit. Though it pains me to say that, and don't expect me to say that in relation to any other garden. But in this case people seem so pleased to have some green to sit among, and just to have the chance to garden that they don't notice the haphazard nature of the green.

Who knows with time,  I may be able to bash the flowers out of their heads and get them to appreciate the beauty of proper plants.  There are already signs a few a turning towards the more spikie side of gardening. I am pleased to say we get the most comments about the rockery.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

The wait is over

Back at the start of March I posted on the return of  the Eremurus stenophyllus planted in the dry bed. The post said that I had yet to get it to flower, but after 3 years the wait is over. This was it last week:

No need to ask why it's also known as the fox tail lily.  The flower stalk sat like this for weeks with the individual flowers not actually opening. I was beginning to wonder if it was one of those that waits until it is totally ready and then everything opens at exactly the same time. Then today the bottom row of flowers finally opened.

Hopefully they will stay open for a few days to allow more to open, giving a more dramatic yellow to the whole flower.  You have to look closely at the moment to notice them, although the flower does look great against the yuccas

It is probably because I have been watering the dry bed this spring that it is flowering.  It seems the rain we normally get has headed over to parts of the USA.  As I feel it is important to get the plants going, I have been watering the bed every now and then.  It seems I really shouldn't have planted it in the dry bed.