Tuesday 29 May 2012

It's been a long time coming

but the cold frame can finally be taken down.  I nearly took it down back in the warm patch we had in March, thankfully I didn't as we had the wettest April on record and then a cold start to May.  Well that seems to be behind us now, so it was time to take get the majority of plants out of their winter storage and into their summer spots.

Normally I would spend ages deciding what goes where, but this year with the impending move I have been more lax and just fitted plants in where I can.  This is the main collection of larger pots,

Now I can just sit back and watch them grow. Oh and figure out how I am going to move them all!

Sunday 27 May 2012


The wait is over. I have yet to have a flower on any of my more exotic plants, like the yuccas, agaves or manfredas. I see them in everyone else's blogs, and was beginning to take it personally. Then looking around the today, I found the start of the first flower on a manfreda chocolate chips. It's only small but should grow quickly, especially if this hot weather continues.

Plus it has been a lovely sunny weekend, so all if good in the succulent garden.

A merry little dance.

I have mentioned before that I like re-potting; it gives me an opportunity to check on the plants health and to take the annual progress photos. The only problem with the constant upgrading of plants into larger pots, is they take up more space.  Given how limited my current garden is, I try to minimise the amount of extra space and re-potting has become a sort of dance. The first stage is to group the plants into sets, going from small to large pots.

In this case the large echeveria setosa has got leggy and doesn't warrant all the space, so it was for the chop:

Now the largest pot if free and the agave ferdinandi-regis could be moved up a pot:

Next was the little aloe:

Then agave lophantha:

Maybe a little bit over-jealous with this one:

On the plus side it can go in a smaller pot, and next was agave parrasana meat claw:

The one the agave ovatifolia:

Finally the largest echeveria setosa cuttings could be rooted into the smallest pot.

And we're done.  All plants potted up (or down in case of the accident) so they don't take up any more space. Of course it would be considerably quicker and easier just to assume I am going  to have more space in the next garden.

Thursday 17 May 2012

Echeveria agavoides ebony: 1, 2, 3.

This is the third year I have been growing these plants and strangely I have got three sets of plants with pretty much equal gaps between them.  The first was take from leaf propagation in July 2010, the second was also from leaf propagation in April 2011, while the third was from seeds in November 2012. Growth has definitely been slower than I would expect due to the cold summers we have been having, they have also not coloured up anywhere near as much a I would like.  The stronger the sunlight the darker the colour. They do however show how the plants develop from year to year. I will be giving them as much sun as possible this year to try and get them as dark as possible.

I quite like seeing them all together, it is time lapse photography in one photo.

Monday 14 May 2012

A sunny morning in a woodland garden

I know woodland gardens are not the normal topic here, but a couple of times a year I visit Savill Gardens. While the gardens have different sections by far the most interesting are the woodland gardens, which at this time of year are stunning. With the cold wet April, the gardens are a little further behind than usual, but the rhododendrons are all out.

The paths wonder between the trees and every now and then you come out onto a larger patch of grass allowing you to take in the views from a distance.

They also have an excellent collection of acers

With everything being slow this year we got some different views to usual. The ferns are usually well established by now.

The difference was even more marked in the gunnera

I like this hosta 'Great Expectations'

The blue poppies were at their best as well

 There is an alpine section which is always good for some little plants

One of my favourite parts of the alpine garden is a little garden shed, it has a slate roof with a few sempervivums attached.  I was surprised to see a lot of almost white ones this year.  I have never seen that before.

Finally the gravel garden which was looking at bit tatty at the moment. The main group of plants dominating the views were the euphorbia. You couldn't really get close enough to get a decent photos but this e. griffithii fireglow is one I will be looking for.

It was a lovely day with friends in the sun. It only seems fair to end on a rhododendron

Friday 11 May 2012

Still going strong

It was over a year ago now that I last did a post on my cristate aeonium sunburst (here). At the time I was wondering how long that skinny trunk would last, it looks even more ridiculous today.


As the cristate heads have grown, they have branched forming some interesting shapes

It will be even more spectacular if it makes it to this time next year!

Thursday 10 May 2012

Beheading the medusa

One of my recent purchases was this euphorbia pugniformis

Also known as a medusa euphorbia for obvious reasons. You probably know by now that I can't help but try to propagate my plants, the more difficult it is suppose to be, the more I want to try it.  This is one of the euphorbias that wont come true form simple cuttings. Apparently if you cut a branch off and get it to root, the branch just keep growing and never splits.

So how to increase your stock?  It is far to nice to top cut, I am not that brave.  A bit of research online suggests there may be one sneaky method that works.  It is a two step process, with stage one being to root one of the branches.   Once rooted you cut the the top off just above the roots.  You have effectively carried out a top cut and this should (fingers crossed) force the offsets you want.  So I have take a few branches to try rooting them in different ways.


Now I just need to be patient, not one of my strong points. The good news is that if it works,  you can start again with the top of the branch, re-rooting it for a second attempt.

Monday 7 May 2012

The hardy succulent garden: Aloes

My dream succulent garden is full of aloes; from the small rosettes to the branching tree forms.  It is difficult to imagine a true succulent garden with aloes, which makes writing this post all the more difficult. I often read posts by people saying which plants they have tried and almost without fail these posts tend turn out to be from people with very mild winters.  The choice of aloes for UK is pretty much limited to 3 plants if we are dropping down to our -10C (or even below -7C).

1) Aloe striatula. This is the most interesting hardy aloe for the UK.  It grows quickly, even in the UK, and the use of tops cuts can not only increase stock, but force it to form a good clump.  It is a fairly reliable flowerer, although I have found flowers depend on heat in spring, other wise they either don't appear or are small.  A few years back we thought they are relatively bullet proof, sadly the winter of 2010/11 proved otherwise.  They are however root hardy even in bad winters and plants seem to come back strongly.

2) Aloe aristrata. By far the hardiest of the aloes, but also one of the less interesting.  Most people tend to think of them as alpines not aloes.  There are a few different forms, mainly relating to size. I saw a monster form last week and was luck enough to be give an offset to try in my dry bed.  They form good clumps and flower every year with problems. 

3) Aloe polyphylla. The most interesting almost hardy aloe. Out of the three plants mentioned here, this is my favourite.  Also known as the spiral aloe, the spirals can either go left or right and it gets to a decent size.  The flowers are the most imposing of the three. So why is it not in position 1?  The reason is that it is a pain to grow;  to much water, too little water, anything in the crown will all cause the plant to fail.  It does require more water than other aloes to grow and even hates drying out for too long in winter.  You must keep the crown free of debris if you want this plant to survive, so planting on a slope seems to work best for this plant.  All of these factors mean that although the cold is not a real problem having an un-protected plant in the ground can be a challenge.  Simple rain shelters seem enough for more mature plants, ensuring that you don't get snow in the crown.  Even this may not be enough for these fussy plants,  and you can expect to loose some while you figure out the conditions that suit them in your garden, (I lost my first 3 and it became a bit of a personal challenge to grow this one). If you want proof that they flower in the UK, then Clarke Brunt's website is the place to look.  

Photo from Clarke Brunt's website
That is it I am very sorry to say.  There are a few others that people have reported as surviving for them; a. brevifolia, a. saponaria and a. cosmo are the ones I hear about most. None seem reliable and more seem to die than survive. I do have a few that are fine in my cold frame, but given this is about plants in the ground, that is no help.

I can't finish without mentioning aloe hercules.  There are some suggestions this one may have some cold tolerance, but as yet there are so few in the UK that none have been tested.  Most likely it will be years before anyone has one to test outside. But a hardy tree aloe would be the ultimate and you have to have something to dream of.

Sunday 6 May 2012

It's all about the spines.

This cold wet spring is just going on, and on, and on, and on...  It is amazing to thing that it was actually colder in the garden today than it was on Christmas day! We even have a 0C predicted for tonight, which for London I can not remember ever happening in May.  Normally by now the cold frame has been taken down and a lot of plants our outside in their summer positions. It did at least finally stopped raining long enough to get out in the garden for a bit for a bit of repotting. Todays plants were the cacti, as some desperately needed potting on.

The first thing to consider when dealing with cacti is how to handle them, it is not just about avoiding ending up looking like a pin cushion, I also want to avoid damaging all the spines during the process.  Everyone has their favourite tools, tricks to do this, I simple use some kitchen sponges.

Most of the plants were going into a little bowl, inspired by the ones I saw last weekend. These should also be easier to transport than lots of individual pots.

I love the spines on this gymnocalycium etianaum kk520.

A few more went into this fake stone trough.

Both of these will be left outside under under a rain cover next winter, although with the weather we are having at the moment, they wont have to wait until then for their first test.

Friday 4 May 2012

Kniphofia northeae

I'm not normally a fan of red hot pokers however there are two varieties that have managed to sneak into my garden.  The first is kniphofia caulescens, I'm a sucker for those blue plants.

The second is kniphofia northeae, which looks similar to an aloe and I thought may be a suitable substitute given the lack of hardy aloes. For those that do not know, it is the big daddy of the group. This one is almost 1.5m tall.

Mine has a little way to go to get to that size, but I am pleased to say it got through the winter and is looking good. It pretty much has the bed to itself and is in the best spot in the garden, so there is space for it to reach full size.  Looking today I noticed its first flower is forming.

I can't take every plant with me when we move, so this one will be staying and I wont see it get to full size. I guess I will just have to start again in the next garden.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Road trip: part 2

The first day of the trip was all about the large cactus nurseries. Day 2 was far more relaxed, a quick tip down to the local nursery and then time to look around my friends garden and greenhouses. The local nursery is Urban Jungle, a great little nursery with an good range of unusual plants.  I have posted a few pictures before, this is the vertical planting wall that one of the staff put together. It seems to have got through the winter without any problems.

The largest greenhouse has a large planted area, with a Koi pond.  There is a little coffee area to sit and take in the plants.


You have to feel for nursery owners, in March it was so hot and all the talk of draughts meant people were not buying plants as they wouldn't be able to water them. Then it rains all of April so gardens are the last place people want to be.  All the time they are having to juggle young plants and new deliveries.  The nursery was chock full of lovely plants with some new rarer forms all putting on growth ready for it to warm up enough to go out into the sales area.


We did our bit and bought a few little treasures and thankfully more people were turning up as we were leaving.

So shopping finished it was back to the house for the rest of the afternoon.  It was too wet to properly look around the garden, (I promise I will do a post on their garden at some point), so we stuck to the inside areas.  Mind you with a conservatory like this you almost don't need to  go outside.

One of the best plants at the moment is the flowering agave gypsophyla. I don't think it matters how often you see agave flowers, they are always a great sight.

It is a lovely plant, such a shame it will die afterwards, but fingers crossed this pup will survive to continue the line.

It is by no means the only agave to admire, everywhere you look there are lovely plants:

I took particular interest in this agave victoria reginae hybrid, it's a stunning plant, now I just need to track one down.

I love agave mitis albicans, it really is a much better form than the normal.  This one has a good set of pups forming, it is going to make an spectacular clump, either that or a good set of plants for swaps.

One of the things I look forward to on my visits is seeing all the succulent bowls. They always look amazing, so well designed proportioned. I can never get mine to look as good.

There is a joke that the house is turning into a succulent rescue centre.  This is one of the plants they have rescued, not bad for a freebie.

There was also the biggest echeveria I have ever seen.  It's huge and thankfully offsets freely so I was able to add one to the plants leaving with me.  You would need quite a garden to have a clump of these!

Then it was out to the greenhouses.  The smallest is a lean-to against a purpose built wall.  It is probably the emptiest, which gives you an idea of how many plants there are.You have to tread very carefully as you walk through them.

At this point I became far to busy admiring the plants to remember to take photos, but did manage to take one of this variegated aloe polyphyla.

As I was walking past their alpine propagation area (they are stocking up for a new area in the garden) I noticed this lovely little mound.  I don't know what it is about a simple mound of green that is so pleasing on the eye. Sadly this gypsophyla aretioides is another one to be added to the wants list, at least I know I can find this on easily when I decide to get it.

I could post so many more photos of plants in her collection that I am envious of, but she watches me closely enough as it is without drawing attention to the plants I would like to liberate!