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.