Sunday 29 January 2012

A peak behind the scenes.

I don't know about you, but any off-limit green house always has me peering over the fence or barriers. having to walk past the the fences seeing the glimpses of massive green houses at Kew is always a strain. So it was an extra treat on the last visit to get to go behind the scenes and finally get a look in those hidden areas.

Oh course glass houses is something Kew has lots of,  there are the Alpine and Princess of Wales I showed in the first post, Then the Palm house which is the most famous:

The Temperate house, which is currently undergoing a much needed re-vamp.  The poor thing has rotted and rusted away over the century and pretty much needs to be re-built.

Then there are the little ones; the water-lily house and the childrens Jurassic zone. Anyway I was looking forward to seeing what the behind the scenes glass houses looked.  I guess it is no surprise that the main building is a simple industrial sized glass houses, but there were one or two smaller ones.  I quite liked the practicality of these with their roll up and down sides.

 And what I wouldn't give for one of these.  You seem them all across traditional English manor house gardens, often used for fruit and veg, often with some very clever natural heating built into the base. As alpine or succulent houses they are perfect,  I can see all my pots neatly lined up all safe for winter, and then nicely displayed without the glass in the summer.

The fact that all of these were totally open in mind January shows you how warm our winter has been.

You can see the big green house in the background, which may not be very exciting as a building, but what is inside certainly is. When you have rooms like these, what is not to like!

The aloe room was awash with flower spikes, even the overflow area was:

It wasn't just the flowers that were colourful:

Then there were the more unusual ones:

And the ones that went straight onto the wish list:

Not to be outdone the agaves were pretty good as well, these agave mitis albicans were the best blue I have seen:

I got told off for not knowing that there is another hybrid with the same parentage of agave blue glow, you can see similarities but it is definitely different.

They didn't have many yuccas, must are outside, but this one caught my eye.

Needless to say my wish list is a little longer yet again.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

The first visit of the year: part 2.

My last post started a quick tour of the main succulent bed in the Princess of Wales glass house at Kew.  The plants are pretty much grouped with agaves down the right hand side and aloes down the left.  Yuccas, cacti and other plants are mixed in throughout the bed. Around this time of year the majority of aloes are coming into flower.  It is a little early for the best display and sadly I think some of the displays are not as good this year.  There are flower spikes everywhere though:

There are some nice aloes in among the plants:

One of the bits they have dug up is now planted with little aloes, including a couple of little aloe plicatilis. I'm not sure how they have kept the leaves so small.

The green aloe on the right is one of my favourites, aloe vanbalenii. I searched for ages to find mine and it is growing nicely, although it's not quite as big as this one yet.

There are a few little aloes just in front of this group, the aloe somaliensis flower is almost open.

Finally aloee vacillans, it was this clump that made me go out and look for mine. Again the flowers this year are disappointing at the moment, but the blue colour is enough to brighten any bed.

Having finished in the succulent area we made the most of having a friend who is training at Kew to get another look behind the scenes. So no surprise what the next post will be about.

Sunday 22 January 2012

The first visit of the year: Part 1

The year hasn't properly started until the first trip to Kew.  While some part of the grounds may not be at their best, the bulbs are not out yet and lots of work is going on the main glass houses.  The aloes are in flower make the succulent section almost at it's best.  However before I was allowed into the candy store, I had to earn it by walking around some of the other areas.  At least the sun was out:

The glass house on the left is the alpine house, and the large one is the princess of Wales house. It is still a little early for the alpines, but there were a few out:

Finally I was allowed inside and they have had a big clean up after the agave flowers last summer left huge gaps in the bed.

This is now the only large agave, looks a bit sad all on it's own:

There are a few new agaves in the bed, including this very nice agave titonata (I told you I liked them).

The agave ovatifolia is coming on as well:

The bracteosas are looking good as well:

I particularly like the view form above:

I'll cover the aloes in the next post and then get to the behind the scenes tour!

Thursday 19 January 2012

It catalogue time

One of my favourite plant catalogues turned up in the post today. Cotsworld Garden Flowers (CGF) is a lovely little nursery which is full of unusual plants.  It is a real plant enthusiast's nursery, thousands of plants all crammed in together that you have to just get in and rummage around to see what is there.  As well as the unusual plants, it also has great descriptions, always worth reading.

This year for the first time I noticed a series of quotes /stories at the bottom of some pages, some are plant related others are not.  But my favourite has to be:

A toddler was found chewing on a slug. After the initial surge of digust the parent said "well what does it taste like?"  "Worms" came the reply.

Monday 16 January 2012

Agave Titonata

This is one of my favourite agaves mainly for the range of spines which can be large.  There are several forms and it is one that causes heated discussions in the agave world as to what constitutes the form, or if they are all the same agave. The one below was my first form and I have posted it before, under a Halloween scary post.

This one has by far the best spikes but my current favourite is one of the variegated forms.  This one belongs to friend. I have had my eye on it for a while now and always photograph it when I visit. This was it last year:

It has been fairly obvious it was on my wish list and last year he surprised me with a little offset. At the time the variegation was limited; you never really know with very young plants how they will develop.  This is it today and the leaves are starting to get a really good variegated edge. 

If you look at the older leaves you may be able to see they are split.  This is one trait of this agave, if you don't water it for a while and it starts to shrivel up when you do water it the leaves are prone to split like this.  This is unusal for an agave and takes a bit of time to get the watering right, especially in winter when you would usually keep them dry for months on end.

If it carries on like this it may look even better than its mother and that is not going to go down well.   It is part of the fun of sharing variegated plants, wondering if you have given away a real star. Of course now I have this one,  there is another one on my wish list; agave titonata black and blue!

Friday 6 January 2012

2011 a very strange year

At this time of year it is no surprise that there are lots of posts looking back over the previous year and I was trying to avoid the same here. Today however was a glorious day, one of those lovely crisp winters days, with blue skies and some winter sun.  It was a balmy 14 degrees in the garden and 20 degrees in the cold frame and shed.  It was this that got me thinking about 2011 as it could not be more different than this time last year. 

Many people will think of last winter as a terrible one, we had the earliest snow on record, and almost a month of cold weather before christmas.  But with the new year came a change it warmed up and London had almost no cold for the rest of the winter. We then had a very early spring with a hot (by UK standards) March - May. Then of course the summer arrived and it was a true English summer, cold and wet.  I mentioned before how cold the summer was, the nights especially with only about 4 over the entire summer when you cold sit outside without needing to wrap up. With the end of summer came the sun, who would have thought it.  We had an amazing Autumn; hot, lovely warm evenings and it went on and on. So long in fact that even in November when we should have been into winter, it was still lovely and warm. So into winter and the end of the year, the warm weather continued with only one or two nights below freezing. So all in all it was extremely mild and had a LONG growing season.

2011 more than any year showed why growing succulents in the UK is so problematic.  Compare us to the rest of Europe (and world) we do not get any real cold (or at least I don't) yet plants tend to struggle more in the UK than else where.  The reason comes down to two things; the fact that summer can be a total non event and the wet.  Most countries may have the odd colder or wet patch in summer, but in general manage at least one extended period of hot dry weather.  This year we had no period in the summer with more than one or 2 days of hotter weather. As for the wet, it is not the rain in the summer, but our snow being so wet that does the damage. (Strangely this time the problem is because we are not cold enough to keep snow frozen).

The strange year did continue teaching me about growing succulents in the UK and confirmed some of my theories. The main ones being:

1) Most agaves and aloes do not grow without summer heat. I have kept a close eye on my plants over the year and noted which have grown and which have just sat there.  Most just sat there, many only started growing in the Autumn when they should have been slowing down.

2) Using fleece to keep the snow out of the crowns of plants was enough to avoid the damage I have seen in warmer winters. This only works given that my minimum temps are only around -9, but the difference between plants that I cover with fleece before snow and those I don't is huge.

3) As I have said before, watch your plants, both for problems and how they grow. For me part of the fun is experimenting, learning and letting the plants show me how far I can push them.

The very mild winter continues here and looking in the cold frame many plants continue to flower and are looking good.  Fingers crossed 2012 wont see a return to this, but if it does it will no doubt continue to teach me more about how far I can push my long suffering plants.