Wednesday 31 July 2013

This is why I love growing succulents

I tend to grow my plants in three setting, (or I did/will when I have a dry bred): planted in a rockery, in pots in the garden, and finally as a collection of more tender/ special plants.  Out in the green house this evening and looking around summed up why I love growing succulents so much.

Normally the greenhouse is so neat and ordered, then at this time of year with everything in flower, it is a mass of stalks and yellows and pinks.  As you look in more detail you get the structure and colour

haworthia limifolia variegata
The combination of having a greenhouse and all the hot weather means there are a lot of first time flowerers. The echeverias are still flowering, just when you think they have finished the next group start.

echeveria setosa
The echeveria subrigida x peacockii flower is covered in the same white bloom as the plants.

Finally with flowers come the possibility of seeds.  I tend to leave the aloes to get on with it, there are so many flower spikes it is impossible to stop nature getting its own way.  The aloe firebird flower seems to have been popular this year.

Surprises are the final joy of succulents; if it's not seed pods, it's offsets.

Of all the offsets, the ones that form on flower spikes are my favourite. Perfect miniature versions of the plant, growing up above the parent. The original vertical garden.

Sunday 21 July 2013

Sempervivum Sunday: S. 'Lively Bug'

First of the properly hairy varieties, S. 'Lively Bug' is a cultivar from the US.  This photo shows why it is worth a spot in any collection

This is a young plant with its summer colour; a brilliant purple/red. For the rest of the year they are green. The young leaves are covered in fine hairs, which are less prominent as they age. The spiral to the leaves, is very neat and is another of the draws. It fits in the medium size category about 6 to 8cm.

New plants form on short stolons from the lowest set of leaves.  These tend to be well distributed around the plant forming a neatly clustered group of plants, matching the very symmetrical rosette of the parent. Once the offsets grow and the whole group take on their summer colour there make a fine pot to have out on display.

As with many of the very structural forms, these tend to look best in their first few generations, before the pot gets too crowded and the clump becomes a bit messy.  At that stage I tend to select the largest plant and start over again.

They flower early summer with pink flows on top unbranched stem. Not the strongest colour, but beautiful flowers if you get in a bit closer.

Copes without problems with winter rain, although does die back a bit. Summer heat seems to be as big problem (which we found for the first time this year). Growth stops totally and getting the balance right yo ensure you get the summer colour without drying the plant out so much is a bit trial and error.

The stats:

  • Cultivar
  • Size: medium (6-8cm)
  • Summer Colour:Reddish Purple
  • Rosette: Neat, very structural spiral
  • Offsets: Lots, coming from the base of the plant, on short stolons
  • Clump: Clumps quickly, forming very neat groups
  • Flower: Pink on thick stalks
  • Winter hardiness: Good, no problems with being wet and cold.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

We're melting

A fair amount of the UK is having quite a heat wave and it is causing havoc. We are literally melting, part of the biggest motorway had to be closed as the tarmac melted. Yesterday one of the London's main stations had to close during the evening rush hour due to the track buckling in the heat. It must be hot, everyone from abroad must be thinking, low 40s or at least high 30s.  The temperatures causing these problems 30C!

We are into our second week of actual summer weather and given we have not had a summer for 4 years it is a bit of a shock.  It is typical though as I now have a green house to give some heat in our bad summers, and the poor plants are being cooked.  I am going to have to move them outside, which is going to risk scorching them in the sun.

Those plants that are outside are mainly really enjoying the heat, even though they are probably a bit shocked to get treated to such warmth. There are all exceptions though and I have managed to kill this one again, scleranthus-biflorus-sso-uniflorus.

Does anyone else have those plants they really want, should be able to keep and just keep killing.  I will give it one more go, if anyone has any tips, please let me know, but I suspect it is simply too much sun and not enough water.

Apart from that, I am loving this summer, this is what we have been missing for the last few years.

Sunday 14 July 2013

Sempervivum Sunday: S. 'Lion King'

Let's get the tacky jokes about this being the king of the semps out of the way form the start.  A very aptly named cultivar from the UK, which really is one of the best of all varieties out there (of those that I have seen so far anyway). 

It is is very slightly hairy around the edge of the leaves, and is green, with brown tips.  Size wise, it fits into the large group, although at around 10cm it's not the biggest semp available.  It sizes up fairly quickly under the right conditions, but can be a little fussy at times and it is worth watching to find somewhere it likes.  The young plants are very upright in form, and tend to flatten out as they grow. The mature plants are great, but the young plants probably fit the name best.

Once settled, offsets are produced on stolons from the base of the plant.  Although doesn't seem to form big clumps.

They flower a bit later in the summer than many, with good thick flower spikes which branch along their length instead of just at the top.  Flowers are pale pink

Seems good for winter, although there is some shrinkage and a slightly paler colour, this is not that noticeable.   It does take a little time to settle as mentioned before, so I would avoid purchasing it or planting it after mid summer, so it has time to acclimatise to the new home.

The stats:

  • Cultivar
  • Size: Large
  • Summer Colour: green with brown tips
  • Rosette: Nea, very upright when young
  • Offsets: Few, coming from the base of the plant, on stolons
  • Clump: Clumps slowly
  • Flower: Pink on thick stalks
  • Winter hardiness: Good, no problems with being wet and cold.

The annual flush

Over the years 3 cycad revolutas have made their way into the garden, a small:


& large.

They seem to be borderline hardy in London, the fronds deteriorate over a two year period, so it is lucky that mine seem to flush on a two year cycle. It is well know that the trick to getting cycads flush is to mimic their natural rainfall, and provide copious amounts of water, along with high nitrogen feed, from the start of spring.  Some people have great success in getting yearly flushes, so far mine are every other year. The two smaller ones flush together with the large one flushing the following year. This year it is the turn of the large one.

It always amazes me how quickly things develop, this was last Sunday, with the old fronds still left on the plant and the new ones just starting to appear.

Then today, the old fronds removed and the new ones well on their way.

It helps that we are having a proper heat wave (for the UK) with todays high being 32C. They basked in the sun all day, then got a good soaking in the evening. If the heat continues it will be great for all the plants, giving them a proper chance to put on some serious growth ready for winter. 

Sunday 7 July 2013

Sempervivum Sunday: S. Virgil

Todays selection has to be one of the best varieties in my collection, S. Virgil

There are a lot of things going for this plant. Starting with the colour which in summer is a dark grey/purple and in winter is more lilac. Either way it stands out.  Size wise, it probably fits into the medium category, with individual plants being about 8 - 10cm across. It clumps very quickly with the new plants forming on short stolons, giving a tightly pack clump. 

It is not the most symmetrical variety, but all the clumps I have look like the photo above. It seems to look after itself, not needed any interference to stop clumps getting too messy or requiring gaps to be filled in.

They flowers mid summer with good thick flower spikes topped with pale pink flowers.

Finally it is fully hardy, coping with cold and wet without problems.  There is very little die back, so the clump looks good all year round. You can just plant this one and let it do what it does best.

  • Size: medium
  • Summer Colour: Purple / grey (more lilac in winter)
  • Rosette: Neat
  • Offsets: Lots, coming from the base of the plant, on short stolons
  • Clump: Clumps quickly and stays compact
  • Flower: Pink on thick stalks
  • Winter hardiness: Excellent, no problems with being wet and cold.

Friday 5 July 2013

Update: The work garden

It has been a while since the work garden was featured, so it was time for an update. 

The shade or fern bed has matured.  As the courtyard is in central London it doesn't get cold enough to kill the fronds, so the largest tree fern has built up quite a head of fronds. This has had the unexpected result of stopping rain from getting to the smaller fern and it has suffered.

The people on the first floor love the ferns and there are always comments on how nice it is to sit at the table by the glass window and look directly into the fern. One of the other plants in there that is doing well is the podophyllum kaleidoscope.

The bamboos as always have gone mad, here they were when planted two years ago:

You can see we had plenty of space for a banana as well as summer bedding. Then yesterday.

Finally my favourite part, the rockery.  This gets not protection at all over winter and has been a bit of a test ground for plants that don't quite make it for me. 

A lot of the plants have survived without any problems at all, the knophofia northiae are getting bigger by the day.

they are starting to swamp the small agave parryi and agave bracteosa

It is no surprise that these have been untouched by the winters, the agave utahensis have been more of a surprise.  These are known to be very cold tolerant if dry, but cold and wet is a big no, two of the three have shown no damage at all.

It is proving a good advert for succulents, with everything in flower and the unusual plants, I often get questions form staff about the plants and would would be transferable to their gardens.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

The secret life of snails

I should probably start this with the type of warning you see on programs now.  This post contains images of a sexual nature. It may not be suitable for everyone.

This year I have been following a daily routine of checking behind and under pots for snails and slugs.  It seems to be working and I have had a lot less snail damage on my plants.  Today I was a bit surprised to find this.

I have seen wildlife photos and programs about snails mating, but never caught any in the act.

I considered leaving them to their moment of happiness, but then remembered my plants and they were disposed of.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

UK common spotted orchid

The new garden is going to have to contain more than just succulents. It's likely there will be a fair amount of shade planting along one side and with that in mind I have been slowly adding interesting plants for under planting. 

Every year on the trips around Savill Gardens I notice the native spotted orchids, dactylorhiza fuchsii, they seemed an ideal addition.  The fact they can have different colour flowers and can hybridise only added to the attraction. At this years plant fair I invested in a couple.  They were small and not very interesting at the time, but in the last couple of weeks have come into their own. 

As you can see these all have pale purple flowers, which is a bit of a shame, but they are still lovely plants.  A friend kindly sent me a link on how to divide them; removing the soil, looking for the new tubers and splitting them off.  Apparently if done at the right time, both plants will then multiply over the rest of the summer dramatically increasing the number of plants.  I am obviously going to have to try it once the flowers start to die back.

With extra plants I can try them out in different locations; at Savill Gardens they are found in almost every location including the gravel garden. They would look good, scattered in among my succulents, giving a different set of colours to the flowers at this time of year.