Wednesday 14 November 2012

Echeveria golden towers

Looking around the pots, I noticed how well this echeveria is doing.  It was tiny when I got it and I wasn't sure it would survive, then it got mealy bug, so it is nice to finally see it healthy.

It has a little flower stalk forming, you can just make it out, but sadly I think this will most likely get frosted off.  A clump of these in a nice bowl style pot would probably look stunning.

Sunday 11 November 2012

A bit of protection for the bigger plants

Having been dug up in the summer and as I actually have space, almost everything is getting protection this year.  I started to move the bigger plants into the greenhouse today as I would be very upset to loose the after three years planted outside unprotected.

First in were the yucca rostratas.  They are totally hardy for me, but have a very annoying habit of dropping all their roots if disturbed, so are having to be re-rotted.  This should in theory be easy, but it is a worrying time as if they are ever going to suffer from rot it would be now.

They are two of the stars of by old dry bed, with the larger one being a perfect blue colour (not that you can tell from this early evening photo). The other one has had more shade for a lot of the time it was planted as is greener. 

The middle sized cycad was also brought in. It flushed over the summer, and for once I would like it to stay pristine and not have to cope with snow. The smaller one will go in another cold frame and the largest will get a fleece cover. 

The large agaves will mainly be in the other cold frame as it means I don't have to move them; I don't fancy having to carry them through the very narrow greenhouse door.  A few more may make into here along with some more of the aloes, but ideally I want to keep space to potter in there over winter and not totally fill it. 

I'm not sure what all the plants that are usually left totally unprotected are going to make of this special care.  They had better not get used to it, it will be a return to the tough life again as soon as the new dry bed is designed and built.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Crete Lodge garden

I have been meaning to do a post on this garden for ages.  It belongs to Keith and Melissa and is a real labour of love.  I have posted about it before but not shown the main garden, so it is about time I rectified this.   I first met them in 2008 and have been lucky enough to be allowed to visit a couple of times every year since. Melissa is responsible for me going on the cactus field trips every year (here is the post on the last one) and is a very bad influence when it come to buying plants. I don't think she has worked out the difference in size of our gardens. This post is a mixture of my photos (both old and recent) and some supplied by Melissa where I do not feel mine do the garden justice.

The first obstacle to overcome are the guard dogs

If you do manage to somehow sneak past them you come out of the house onto the terrace. This photo is a bit old now and they re-modelled it last year.

The edge of the terrace looks over the top of their arid bank which is one of the main reasons for visiting.  I say "one" as the garden has so many areas that stand out, this is their little swimming pond with the lovely telegraph pole hut built by Keith. Sadly the last couple of bad winters have not been kind to the tree ferns or some of the palms around this areas, but like his this older photo.

I never stop being amazed at how much they manage to do,  it's not just things like digging the pond out, but all the beds have low walls made from bricks and objects they have been given or found.

So the arid bank. It forms a sweeping curve around the back of the house and is spectacular.

Photo by Melissa
The rocks are local, either from where they have excavated or from a local gravel pit.

Photo by Melissa
The bank is mainly planted with a mixture of agaves, cacti, yuccas, with other xeric planting filling in the gaps.

As if that lot wasn't enough, for the last couple of years they have been extending the bank, moving the greenhouses and adding a water storage tank. This is the size of green house I want, it looks even better now it is filled.

Photo by Melissa
Mind you their little lean-to isn't bad either.

Photo by Melissa
The other side of the end wall is going to be a cactus house with all the plants in the ground, which I can't wait to see when it is finished. This was the area between the new greenhouses and the bank at the tart of the year.

I haven't managed to get back since it has been fully planted up, but Mel has kindly let me see photos of it recently and I can not wait to see it in person:

Getting some of the plants in looked fun.

Photo by Melissa
But it was really worth it. Again it is the little details that make the garden stand out. Remember the telegaph pole hut? There were some left, so they have been used to form rasied edging to some parts of the garden.

Photo by Melissa
One section of the new bit is a massive water storage tank which is hidden by a green roof.

Photo by Melissa
At first I thought it was strange not to have added more plants, believe me Mel has no shortage,  until you see it from the terrace, or should that be don't see it for the terrace.

Photo by Melissa
The only problem I have with their garden is that I always leave feeling very inadequate in how much I manage to get done in my tiny little garden.  They do everything themselves including all the brick work. I still believe that Melissa has managed to clone Keith and has a garage full of him somewhere, can two people really manage to do this all on their own! It really is a beautiful garden, and visiting is always one of the highlight of my year.  They except visitors by appointment and if you are ever going to be near Norwich I highly recommend arranging to drop in.  (Here are links to their facebook page, and their web page).

Sadly the dogs have been trained to follow me around and bark if I go near the greenhouses unsupervised, but I always come away with at least one gift and a head full of ideas. I wonder if Melissa would hire Keith out when I come to do the hard landscaping in my garden.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Must find more time for the plants.

The clocks changing, trips to visit the in-laws, decorating, and being busy at work mean that I'm not spending any time in the garden at the moment. This is particularly frustrating as my other final treat of the year turned up in the form some staging for the greenhouse.

I am planning on making most of the staging for the planned final greenhouse, but thought it wouldn't hurt to have one little bit set up for this winter.  It looks sadly underused at the moment which is partly due to not having time to move the plants in.  As the greenhouse is unheated and has large gaps, it is more of a rain shelter than anything else, but that is fine for me, as these plants were pretty much the left overs or those that were planted in the dry bed until we moved.

It feels a bit strange to have all this space and not to have to cram everything in on top of each other. It almost looks like I don't have that many plants, maybe I need to buy some more after all. It definitely makes placing the cacti a lot easier!

The top has become a little echeveria nursery and assuming there are no problems this winter they should get a really good start to the year here. 

Next to go in are all the big agaves and the yuccas that I am re-rotting after being dug up.  Even with all the space something tells me that is still going a painful process.

Friday 2 November 2012

Ok just one more

Echeveria 'Rainbow'
Spontaneous end of year purchase. Echeveria Rainbow one of few variegated echeverias you will actually find for sale. Still not widely available, but you will at least be able to find this one if you look.

No one is exactly sure where it came from, it could be a variegated form of e. perle von nurnburg, and I can see definite similarities. A lovely little plant, although annoyingly it has a tendency to loose the lower leaves very easily, as proved when mine turned up with a few loose in the box.

Echeveria 'Compton Carousel'
Normally I wouldn't buy this late in the year, but I have been after variegated echeverias for a while with little luck and when I saw this one I though why not.  Given how easy it is to propagate echeverias I am amazed they are not more widely available. Instead there are only three that you may find readily: e. 'compton carousel', e. 'Bess Bates' and this one. There are others but these demand really high prices and you almost never find them for sale. 

Echeveria ' Black River'
One issue is that many are not stable, so even if you start off with a variegated plant it may not stay that way.  I had it recently when a friend finally managed to get a variegated plant from leaves on his e. 'black river' (another e. black prince variegate). Within a few months the plant had reverted to normal, much to my frustration.  The result is that instead of using leaves, you have to grow them form offsets and few people will risk their valuable plants to top cut them to produce more. 

This leaves the market wanting for more; very frustrating when you're looking, but very rewarding when you do finally manage to get hold of one.  It also makes for a lot of envy when other collectors turn up to see your plants.

Sunday 28 October 2012

I can't help it.

Ever since I was very young I have enjoyed drawing geometric shapes,  instead of using colour I would pick up my ruler, compass and pencil. It was a major reason I went on to study civil engineering, with the surveying and technical drawing being my best subjects.  So getting to design a garden (and working with an architect on the extension to the house) is very exciting.

I have been trying not to think about it as we are nowhere near ready to start any real planning, but it doesn't work.  You lot don't help, yes you readers who have blogs with beautiful gardens, photos and lots of creative ideas.  It seems I can't turn on my computer at the moment without someone showing something that gets me thinking about what I want in my garden. Perhaps the ultimate was a recent post by A growing obsession, on the amphitheatre created by Sue Dadd and James Griffith. I will leave the description to them, here, If you have not seen it go and read it now! They have kindly said I can show one of the photos.

Photo by MB Maher (
What is not to like about this, it ticks every box I want in the new garden: different levels, seating subtly incorporated, various routes through the area, using available materials and lots of succulents.  There seems to be something about amphitheatres and succulents that go together.  I first saw it at Minac Theatre in Cornwall.

If you are every in the area it is a must to visit.  The question is how to incorporate these elements into our flat garden.  I am wondering about using raised beds to form terracing around the edges of the garden, leaving space in the middle. Maybe even digging out the centre to create further height difference. I can work different seating and paths into this, plus of course there is plenty of space for my plants.  It would also allow me to incorporate a bank into the garden making the most of the south facing aspect.  I could also re-use materials from the various walls / building as we do the other work. The ideas are starting to form, but fitting them together into the space in a way that really works is going to be the hard bit.

This is where the garden designers earn their money, to take an idea like this and turn it into something unique without just copying someone else. I have nothing but respect for them and other artists and creative people, if I had the money there is no doubt I would use them more. This time I will have to do it myself, I hope I will be able to come up with a design that works, but they would add those little extras that turn a garden into something special.

On the plus side I will make the most of the fact that I get to get out my surveying stuff again, draw lots of scale drawings and see if I would have been any good at the design side had I gone down that path.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Look what I've got.

Yes a greenhouse!

Having visited my friends house to see his new greenhouse last weekend, he commented that he was going to be taking down his old one and storing it for a year. So did I want it? Not being rude, but I wasn't too keen at first; I would have to find and clear someone for it, sort a base, and the greenhouse itself was bashed about, with several twisted struts.  It is also cobbled together, as he was given the frame and cut some polycarb sheeting to fit.

Then having thought about it, I decided it was too good to turn down.  I could find somewhere for it, and it would give me a chance to test the size and also start on some shelving for when I get my full sized one. 

So today I invited my nephew over to play with some power tools and he jumped at the chance.  Although I was given strict instructions by his parents to bring him back with all his fingers still attached. First we cleared part of the flower bed on the road side as this was the least likely to be used for any building stuff next year. In no time at all we had the base knocked up as a 2.4x3m deck.  I know stone or concrete is better, but I wanted something I could re-use and wood was the only thing I know for sure I can use (even if not as a deck).  This should be a good location in that it will get sun on everything above the fence all day, so will heat up quickly.  I doubt I would use the same spot for the final greenhouse as you can see we are quite overlooked from that side, so I will most likely want to plant some taller plants in that bed to give us some privacy, shading that side of the garden.  But for this year it will be fine.

The greenhouse went up in no time at all, it actually took longer to clean and dis-infect than it did to do everything else.  I was going to wait until it was complete and filled before posting pictures, but I couldn't wait.  Hopefully I will get time to finish it off tomorrow, I have washed most of the polycarb and just need to tape the ends and fit them.  So it looks like all my plants will be spoilt this year, but don't worry I am sure it will be back to the rough treatment again next year. I can't have them going soft on me.

Monday 22 October 2012

A new photo spot

It is probably particular to collectors who have most of their plants in pots, but when I'm photographing pots I tend to move them to the same spot for the photo, unless they are too big to move that is. At the last house this was either on the table in the garden, for a more "I'm an actual gardener" feel. I was more trying to convince myself than anyone else.

Or if the photo was for my records then I would get out a bit of black card and put the plant on that in the hope of getting a better photo.  I love the way that I actual believe placing a bit of card behind the plant is going to improve my photographic skills.

So new house, the card seems to have got lost in the move, and I am having to experiment with a new spot. The table has moved with us, but the background is messy. Having built my cold frame it seemed a simple place to use for a start (although I may have to paint the wall one colour instead of the two tone it currently is).

I quite like the effect you get form the polycarb sheeting when taken from above, you can just make out plants in the cold frame.

A better photographer than me could probably produce some very creative shots of plants through the polycarb. I really should invest in a proper camera and maybe even do a course to improve my photography skills.  I am always very jealous when I see the amazing photos on other blogs, one that stood out for me recently was Rhone Street Gardens, post on Wind Dancer gardens. Mind you I could just as easily have selected countless other blogs which regularly feature amazing photos.  In the mean time, maybe I should just be less lazy and dig out the light tent my OH made last year, it definitely helped when trying to photograph this echeveria cante flower.

I guess I will have to continue experimenting until I find somewhere I like.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Beautiful but deadly

Today I took some time off to go and visit a friends greenhouse. He has a range of plants, but his big thing are the dyckias and he has built up quite a collection.  This is the main bench

The plants are amazing


Out of all the spiky plants dyckias have some of the most lethal spines, I wouldn't like to have to pull out individual pots from that lot.  But when you look at individual plants they are beautiful.

There were one or two dyckias scattered around on the other benches as well. Every now and then there are agaves and aloes mixed in. 

It's good to see the aloes in full flower and with lots of new plants forming on the old flower spikes as well.  Anyone growing the new aloe miniatures that are so popular, remember do not cut off your flower stalks!

That is a greenhouse I could cope with and the plants aren't bad either.

Thursday 18 October 2012

The long term forcast is in

and it looks like we are in for another cold winter in the UK.  I am always interested in these and how true they turn out to be.  Apparently the proper cold (by UK standards that is which is about -8C for me) is due to start around mid November and last through until January.  Could also be a good year to bet on a white Christmas.  Looks like we are also in for a warm patch starting next week which will be great giving me a chance to actually do some non succulent garden clearing as I haven't started at all on the garden.

These Indian summers are becoming a bit of a fixture, although they are a mixed blessing as often it goes from warm to very cold within a day or two.  It is not great for the plants as they continue growing and suddenly get hit by the cold and are not dormant which does more damage. 

I finally feel I am on top of packing things up, I spent a happy hour this morning re-packing the cold frame, this time properly arranging the plants to allow two layers.  The bottom layer are the slow growing plants like the agaves.  These can cope with the lower light levels without getting leggy. Then on top of that goes a second layer of the faster growing plants, that even in winter tend to get leggy if it's too dark.  These are mainly the echeverias for me.  It is always a bit sad packing them up as it means cutting the last of the flowers off, in some cases, like e. blue prince, there are still flowers yet to open and it would carry on flower for at least another month given a chance. But drying them out is vital and I still have the indoors ones to admire.

I seem to have managed to clear this area of snails finally. Having been out there every evening to check and dispose of any and checking for trails it seems to have done the job for now.  The cold frame is away form the rest of the plants so hopefully I will get away without any end of year damage on that front.

I also set up a table for the spoilt plants that are inside.  This will be useful to allow me to arrange them into groups to make the most of the available spaces.  I find almost as bad as loosing a plant to the cold, is spoiling the look of one because the light was too low and it got leggy.  As with the cold frame, I therefore try to place plants according to light vs speed of growth.

I have already move a lot off the table, which was full when I unloaded the crates. Sadly it wont be allowed to stay there once the decorating starts, but there is a similar bay window in the room below (which we are currently working on) so I will have to ask permission to set it up there instead.  It is fun having so many plants inside, I don't have to go out all at the moment to be able to fuss over them and with quite a few of the aloes and echeveria still flowering they are bringing some colour to all the bare plaster walls. Mind you it has been noted that my decorating productivity has decreased significantly since they have been set out. I can't think why.

Monday 15 October 2012

First frosts!

It was a bit of a shock to wake up Sunday morning to find a hard frost all over the car.  I quickly checked on the plants expecting to find at least one pile of mush and was relived to find they were all fine, but it was a real wake up call to how unprepared I am.  I haven't even got around to drying most of the plants off let alone getting the remaining shelters up.

It was this that inspired the last post and the game of "Pamper or Freeze".  For anyone interested my answers would have been: Aloe plicatilis over speciosa.  While the flower of speciosa is amazing, the plant especially when small is not that special and plicatilis is so much more interesting to look at. Agave charazoi over agave bovicornuta. While I think that bovicornuta is probably the better looking plant, I couldn't ignore the fact that charazoi is fairly newly discovered and a bit of an oddity. It is also a more manageable size for a small garden. Aloe snowflake over aloe firebird.  This is an easy one I think, the snowflake is a much stronger colour (or lack of it) and stays as a really nice clump without getting too messy. Finally aloe lavender beauty or aloe spinosissima variegata.  It is rare to see plants that are lavender in colour all year although it is a bit of a whimp and I do actually prefer the spinosissima as a clump.

I was going to add a couple of bowls to the list, the first contains some of my cacti

While this second is a collection of three different forms of echeveria agavoides, the two small ones are red edge (or lipstick depending on if you believe there is any difference in the two forms), the purple one is called romeo and is a new introduction and the other is ebony which is probably the most sort after of all forms.

Having seen some of the comments (if you have not posted your selections please do), I am pleased I didn't. I am not sure poor Loree over at Danger Garden could have coped.  As it is I should say that all the plants featured will actually be found homes for inside so please do not worry. What is so interesting about that post and having to make the decisions in real life, is how hard people find it.  You would be amazed how few people could actually bring themselves to make a selection. I am probably a little extreme in that I haven't had the space for a green house so my collection has grown with the knowledge that many of my plants are going to get much less protection than they should get. This has meant that I have pushed the plants and found out what works for me, and also tried different methods.  The bowls for instance are now simply covered with plastic cloches, unless we have a very bad winter that should be fine for both these sets of plants. It is more keeping them dry that is important with the type of lows I am expecting.

Needing to get a bit more organised, I also set up a rain cover for a few more of the plants, this should allow them to start to dry out until I can get a more permanent cold frame up for them.

While the game was just fun, I do actually have to make a lot of choices in what gets protection.  I am pleased to say that in the majority of cases this is done based on information on hardiness, not on looks.  The first thing I do is to move all the plants that will cope with my minimums out of the way so that they do not add to the confusion. Plants that I feel may be able to cope get placed at the side of this collection. I know when people come to visit they are surprised by how many agaves I have in this set, I place all my a. victoriae reginae, a. utahensis collection in this group and kept dry they all do fine.

Next I select all the plants that need to be brought inside, I start with those that are really special and I do not want to risk and then work down using hardiness information, so plants like agave attenuata get brought in as they turn to mush at about -3. If there is space I then add other plants based on my favourites, or smaller plants I want to give a bit of a start.  If I have duplicates then the best plant will be brought in the rest given less protection.  These plants get placed on windowsills and in the shelf unit with lights (here it is with a few plants in until I re-arrange the plants better to best use the space).

Next is the cold frame this is really where the tough choices have to start.  I know some of the plants going in here should really get more protection, and there is not enough space for all the plants, so this is where the real fun starts.  Again decisions are based on hardiness and which plants will be hardest to replace or I am most attached to.  Once full everything else gets put under rain covers or in those cheap green houses which just keep them dry and maybe help keep worst of the frost out. 

I am always amazed each spring when looking through how few plants I loose.  I have lost one or two plants I care about, but the alternatives would have been worse. There have also been times when I have got confused and moving two pots placed them the wrong way around, giving one more and the other less protection than they need.  Most of the time however the damage and looses tend to be to spares or tests I am running to see if I can provide less protection.  I really couldn't have my collection without taking some risks and for me this has been invaluable to show what plants can really cope with, not what some of the reports say they will cope with. Of course there are always changes of heart and I will rush out before a cold spell to move something last minute.

Knowing how I work, it really is interesting to see what selections other people would make if they had to, why not try a "Pamper or Freeze" post with your own plants and see what reactions you get, (even if you do not need to worry about frosts in your garden!) If you do, please let me know by commenting here so I know to look in and make my selection. And Loree, I promise that sadistic sunday will not be a regular feature so you can continue to look in.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Sadistic sunday

Welcome to the new Spiky Obsession game show "Pamper or Freeze". The rules are very simple you will be shown two plants that take up roughly the same amount of space. One will be brought in and pampered over winter. The other left to struggle in the cold. But which is which, the decision is yours. 

So lets bring out our first contestants, both from South Africa where it is a little warmer than the UK.

Contestant no. 1 is aloe speciosa, also known as the tilt head aloe.  A lovely aloe with perhaps the best flower of all.  This particular plant was grown from seed 3 years ago and is the last remaining from the batch.

Contestant no. 2 is aloe plicatilis, one of the tree aloes. This the the more common tree aloe you will find in collections as it is slightly smaller.  What it lacks in the simple flower it makes up for in that shape.  This plant was grown from a simple cutting a few years ago and flowered for the first time last year.

So there you have them, both spectacular plants worth a place in any collection.  Sadly only one can secure that precious place inside this winter, but which will it be?  The decision is yours.

Without further ado lets bring out our next contestants this time from South America, so please welcome agave chazzaroi and agave bovicornuta

Agave chazaroi is one more recently brought into cultivation, it is one of the varieties with no marginal teeth, instead having a sharp knife like edge.  It is not totally defenceless though with a solid terminal spine.  This plant has been in my collection for two years and has grown constantly during that time.

Agave bovicornuta also known as the cow horn agave on the other hand is known for it marginal teeth.  The young plant is just starting to show the distinctive red and should only get better every year. Another solid grower despite the colder summer.

So I guess the question is do you like your agaves with or without teeth.  Again only one can make it through, the other will have to take its chances out in the cold.  The choice is yours.

Remember you have to vote to ensure your favourite gets the pampering they all deserve.

Now time for the designer plants, the so called lookers of the succulent world and it is back to the aloes with aloe firebird (which i suspect is actually aloe lizard lips) and aloe snowflake.

Aloe firebird, perhaps the only wrongly named plant in the show this week.  To me it looks like aloe lizard lips. Whatever its name  it is a pretty little clumping variety, with strong green and white leaves.  It seems to flower freely even though it is young and I have only had it just over a year.

Aloe snowflake, one of the palest of the small aloes more white that green. Unusually for a pale plant it is a strong grower, clumping quickly and then going on to flower reliably every year. Again this was a single plant which I got it a couple of years back

There they are the models of the aloe world.  Who can deny that they are beautiful plants, but do you prefer green with white specks or white with green specks?

Time our last contestants of the week are less well known aloes, but no less special. Sticking with the miniatures it is aloe lavender beauty and aloe spinosissima variegata

Aloe lavender beauty is not the showiest of the miniatures, it doesn't have the lumps and bumps of some of the new varieties instead going for a simple charm.  It is selected for its colour, a clear lavender, something rarely seen in the aloes. 

Aloe spinosissima variegata doesn't have the most defined variegation, again opting for subtle.  A bit like a compact arborescens which clumps.  Like so many of the miniatures it clumps quickly and has been a good performer.

So there you have them our last contestants in this weeks show.  The choice is subtle colour or subtle variegation.

Right the lines are now open, lets recap over your choices:

Aloe speciosa or aloe plicatilis
Agave charazoi or agave bovicornuta
Aloe firebird (lizard lips) or aloe snowflake
Aloe lavender beauty or aloe spinosissima variegata

Remember you are selecting one plant from each pair purely based on which one you like best. So which ones would save? 

Now the legal bit: no plants were hurt in the making of this reality show.