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!

Sunday 9 October 2011

A house project for a change

Between the piƱatas, living pictures, there is always something in the making in my house. Many of the non-garden ones tend to involve my OH and it is always fun sitting down together talking through ideas.

Some of the current projects revolve around the sea urchins we found recently.  Short of doing some sort of picture, we are still considering what to do with them. One of the things I have always enjoyed is making molds and casts. The shells are very delicate and have an amazing amount of detail and so I have been experimenting with different molds and materials.

I had never tried two part molds before, and still have a few things to tweak. They are getting better though and having tried casting in resin, instead of plaster, helps to stop air bubbles ruining the result.  This is the latest attempt, you can just make out the amount of detail in the mold. 

There are different stains available for resin, so I can see a whole line of different colours appearing a soon.  The other good thing about being able to cast my own shells is that I can make a series for the garden.  I think they will look good scattered in among the points.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Dry bed in Autumn

My last update on the dry bed, was all about it being low maintenance, at this thime of year it looks a bit different.

I would show how well the yucca bright star, and agave bracteosa have done,  but it is hard to tell:

The echeverias did well and the e. roseas are nice bushy plants, surrounded by e. agavoides and a few other more hardy varieites:

As you can see, at this time of year we have a slight leaf fall problem.  We are surrounded by big trees, which I love, but at this time of year creates a little extra work.  This is only two days worth of leaves, and over the next month or so I'll be out every day trying to stay on top of it. It would be very unhealthy for the plants to be covered in wet and rotting leaves. Sadly They have to be picked up by hand, which is a dangerous job with hidden agaves and delicately fishing the plants out from between the spikes!

Having collected them all, depending on how full the compost is, they often moved out into the street to form a nice neat pile. It usually doesn't stay neat for long though, who can resist a fresh, crisp pile of leaves.  Don't you just have to shuffle through them?