Monday 23 June 2014

Rocks, gravel and finally some plants

It's been a hectic few days, after two false starts the rocks and gravel turned up for the rockery and paths, 3 tonnes of rock and 1 of gravel meant it was always going to be a hard work weekend.  It didn't get off to the best start, the first pallet of rock off the truck the pallet snapped the stone was not balanced and the whole lot fell off.  So much for the nice gentle start. The rest wasn't much smoother but we got there in the end. (This is the two pallets that made it to the curb, the other tonne is sprawled over the front garden.)

The afternoon was spent entertaining the neighbours, to apologise for monopolising the parking during the build. The weather was perfect for gardening, so I had to stop myself from thinking this was interfering with the things I should be doing.  Once people had left it was time to get on with the paths which was the focus of Saturdays post.

On Sunday, I had a little help from my oldest nephew, who luckily happens to be a rapidly growing rugby playing fitness fanatic. It was time to move all the rocks and to at least get the cycad rockery started.  Moving them went well, although with only 2 tonnes in the back, and the main rockery not built yet, it takes up a lot of space.

For my last garden I used river boulders, this time it is a grey sandstone.  The colour is good, but a lot of the rocks are thin and flat meaning it is harder to get the look I want. I guess it is just getting used to the different shapes and is one reason for starting with a smaller section.  Hopefully by the time I get to the main succulent bed, I'll have worked out the best way to use the rock to show it off.

Anyway, by about 4pm there was enough complete for the real fun could start.  For the first time since moving we actually had plants coming out of pots and into the ground.

Originally I used the same gravel for the path and rockery, but the bricks looked out of place. While they will weather, in the end I felt the more traditional gravel worked better overall. I am sure it will evolve as I live with it.

For a first run I am quite pleased, it will definitely do for this summer as it settles in and I see what likes the location and what struggles. The plant list is quite limited with agave parasana, agave bracteosa, aloe striatula, aloe aristrata, aloe poyphylla, echeveria elegans, a twin headed yucca gloriosa and the cycad revoluta.

So far I've only planted up to the posts. The next stage will be to plant up the other half most likely with alpines. The flat rock would actually lend itself to the garden style of the moment: a crevice garden.  It's tempting try one out, but undecided at the moment.

In the mean time I'll enjoy getting used to the different views and give my body a chance to stop aching.

It is very exciting to finally have plants in the ground!

Sunday 22 June 2014


Today in the garden was all about shapes.


The is the matting used for the path.  It has a membrane to restrict weeds and then when plastic hexagons which hold the gravel and keep it nice and firm.  Amazing even this small relatively thin sheet is rated to take vehicles including vans when used for driveways.

Filling it, you can leave the hexagons showing if you wanted.


Whose idea was it to have a circular seating area.  The sheets click together nice and easily, and can be cut to shape.  There is a separate sheet for the man-hole cover, it's been left for now as sadly the builders are back next week to finish off and may need access.


The S shaped path seemed like a good idea at the time. Amazingly, the measurements worked out as expected and there was enough matting to do the entire area without having to go and buy any more.


So was it worth it?

Thursday 19 June 2014

Look plants!

Sadly the rockery stone didn't turn up today as planned.  Apparently the person who took the order didn't bother to write down that they were to be delivered today, although strangely they did manage to take all the payment details and take that from my account. 

So to cheer myself up and so the day wasn't a total waste, I started to put plants out on the rockery.  I find it easier when building a rockery like this, to set the plants out before the gravel and stone gets added. That way I can place the stone around the pots, and plant it up as I go. It is much easier than having to try to dig holes in gravel.

I'm sorry about the photo, the light was all wrong, but it was so exciting to be placing plants.

The cycad has to go in the middle and that will change the feel a lot, but it isn't quite right yet.  I may move the variegated yucca to where the agave bracteosa is at the back, then move the aloe striatula to where the yucca was, and then agave bracteosa to where the aloe was. No doubt there will be a few games of musical chairs until it is actually planted.  There are some echeverias ear marked for there as well, it will depend a bit on space. Currently I am thinking to keep this as a very neat bed, and not a more lush look, but a stream of blue echeverias running through it could look good.

The big advantage to these types of rockeries is that large bits of concrete and stone should work as a heat sink and provide a bit of extra winter protection.  I know by the time the cold arrives the heat will have gone, but even so plants against big rocks still do better.

I also decided the vertical posts were too harsh without plants, so until the bamboo and tree ferns arrive, they make ideal vertical panters.

It is great to have plants out in the garden and not just in pot storage areas.

Monday 16 June 2014

Still not looking good, but getting better.

We had a lovely weekend away with family, which gave a break from the work in the garden.  Before we left the seating circle was set out properly.

It was nice a nice change to be working with bricks for a change, a lot of work in the garden at the moment seems to be around fixing bits of wood, if it's not fences, it's battens. Then today it was back to wood, although a little more interesting as it was time to fit the vertical slats as a slight divide to the side garden.

It took a while to work out heights and exact locations to give them a nice curve.  The paths had to be laid out to get everything in the correct places, currently the bricks are just placed on the surface, at some point I'll have to properly set the levels. 

The slats don't obstruct the view from the seating area, and really need the plants around them get the full effect. It will be a while until we really know if they work, but we like them so far.

Then it was time to start building up the first raised rockery.  There is around 3 tonnes of rock turning up on Wednesday to make it look pretty, but to save money rubble from the works has been stock-piled ready to build the levels up. The big cycad, visible in the large pot at the bottom of the garden, will be planted next to the slats. It needs more soil, so a well has been built out of bricks to keep the area clear.  This way it can simply be planted into it, instead of of having to struggle to make space.

The whole pile will be covered in a layer of gravel and soil, with the rockery stone used to form pockets to plant into and to hold the gravel in place.  Hopefully you will never know this lot's buried underneath once it is all finished. The I get to plant it.

The main garden side will be succulents planted around the cycad.  I think it will be a good spot for a some echeverias and a few small agaves.  The other side, will be mainly alpines, I am undecided if it is going to be strictly alpines, or an alpine style planting. 

It finally feels like the garden is getting close to having some plants in the ground. Although there is the certain matter of 3 tonnes of rock, and a tonne of gravel to sort first.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Update on the "temporary" echeveria planter

It is strange to think that it's 2 years since the dry bed was dug up for the big move.  At the time some of the echeverias were placed in a long planter until a new home could be found for them.

It didn't turn out to be such a short term solution and the poor things are still in there.  What's worse is the planter has been placed in front of the garage door out of the way and left to get on with it, no water and no winter protection.  So who would have guessed it would do so well.

The e. rosea have got a bit leggy and need a drastic chop to force them to shoot from the base again. Part of the problem is that all the heads flowered this year, and now the new growth has started above the old flowers.

The central group of e. black prince, e. agavoides red edge are a decent size. The e. agavoides red edges stand out against the pale blue of the e. secunda.

The e. deresina x agavoides hybrid is one of my own and now it is a decent size is an interesting plant. Also good to have some hardiness to it.

At the end, the e. secunda and e. elegans have taken over and are fighting for control.

Typical isn't it that plants that are ignored and left where they are not on display  are the ones that thrive.

Monday 9 June 2014

Finally getting to set some of the pots out

The work on the garden continues, interspersed with finally starting to sort the pots out after winter. It's so strange to have had a very warm early spring, and yet be setting the plants out later than ever before.  The echeverias could probably do with a little cleaning up and extra water, but generally things are looking good.

While the succulent beds are being built, some of the pots will be put back on the temporary deck form last year.

It's a bit of a juggling act this year.  I was originally only going to put plants ear-marked for planting in this space, but it ended up being anything that looked good. There are too many pots and too little time to split everything, it can be sorted as the planting spaces become available.

First of the plants looking good right now is agave parasana, which has a little pup.

Good specimens of this agave are hard to beat, but it is one that is often overlooked for some reason.  There is a really good blue form as well, which I have yet to track down. It is borderline here, larger plants should be fine without protection in my garden, but undecided if it will get planted when the time comes.

The next one is probably just a sport of something, the label is no use at all.  It is lovely whatever it is, the bud in-prints, the big gummy teeth, what's not to like.  Anyone have any suggestions please let me know.

One that does have an ID and I have been nurturing since it was a little seedling, is this agave parryi HK1684. There are so many forms of parryi, tall, round, blue, compact you can get them all.  This one is not only nice and blue but has really dark spines.  The good news it that it's reliable from seed and is one you can pick up around the place.

The agave mitis albicans is slowly getting bigger.  It is much slower than the normal form, but that colour is worth it. Sadly too much rain dilutes the colour, it's a shame not to have it out on display though.

Finally my long term unknown agave. I picked this up from a collection years ago and since then no one has been able to ID it.  I have given up, it could be one of the horrida forms, it has also been one of my favourites.

I should probably have taken a picture of the bracteosa as well, it doesn't seem to mind being in a pot, and has offset profusely. When it gets planted, I'll probably split it and spread the pups around different pars of the bed.

One of the aloes, this one really shouldn't be hardy, there are very few aloes that will cope with London lows. It gets a rain cover and breezes through every year. In fact this is the first time it has not flowered. It is one where the leaf tips die and curl up.  I don't like them and cut them off each spring to tidy the plant up.

Finally one my bulbine latifolias. The plant hasn't grown much, which is not a surprise as it gets so badly treated for such a good plant.  I has started to flower properly though which is great. It tends to flower slightly later at the end spring, so missing the main rush of alpines. Whenever I see them in greenhouses in large gardens they are always in flower no matter the time of year. A week or so and mine should be looking its best.

Apart from getting the garden all planted, maybe my resolution for the year should be to treat it better and try to get the plant looking good as well. I'll have to keep an eye out for slugs for a start if last year was anything to go by.

Saturday 7 June 2014

Graptopetalum tacitus bellus

Take two: I posted this a couple of days ago only to find out it had vanished, so lets try again.

I have a love hate relationship with this plant. It has a very compact and neat form which is part of the attraction. Sadly, not the fastest grower, although offsets nicely once finally settled and the clumps it forms make a good specimen plant to have out on display. At this time of year, each plant throws out several flower spikes with big flower for graptopetalums. Apart form the size and the colour, each flower has a ring of anthers which seem to hover above the flower itself.

I am guessing you may be thinking it doesn't sound bad, so what is the problem? Firstly it is a mealy bug magnet. I have no idea where they come from, but this plant manages to find some.  The problem could be that because of its very tight form, it is very difficult to treat, meaning you have to constantly apply any treatment far more than usual.  I never really trust I have cleaned it up and keep mine separate from the rest of my plants just in case. Finally it tends to suddenly give up the ghost and die.  I can never find anything wrong, and it seems to happen just as it forms a great clump making it even more annoying.

Of course these problems could be unique to me, maybe everyone else grows it without problems. Plus no matter how many I kill, I always end up replacing them and can't seem to not have it in my collection.  You see love / hate relationship.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Now I remember why I love succulents

Today I am fondly remembering the days when my gardening consisted of  pulling up the odd weed, and removing dead leaves.  Planting was easy in the gravel and most importantly there was NO DIGGING!

You may have guessed that the digging and levelling at the side of the patio has progressed with mixed fortunes, surely it shouldn't take that long to double dig such a small area, should it? I'm not sure what hurt more the repetitive lifting or the judder every time the fork hit a bit of concrete (of which there was lots). I obviously jinxed it mentioning yesterday that it was not too bad. I should probably have had a day off from digging. However most of it has now been dug, except along the edge of the patio where it is too tough to get a fork through.

The garden end is softer, so after a rest I will try again from this end and see how far I get. It would be nice to have the whole lot dug, but if we can't the plans should be ok with minimal soil on that side.

I was too sore to try this evening, so instead spent a bit of time playing with the layout for the paths and flower beds.  Those bricks from the old patio came in handy.

The first go wasn't quite right, so some fine tuning.

A couple of changes and a bigger curve to the path seemed to work better, it should make the end more private. The aim is to have a little shady seating area with a cafe style table and two chairs. The flower beds on the left will be filled with bamboo and tree ferns to make it nice and green.  The area on the right will be more spikey, with a raised rockery to home the large cycad among other things.

Hopefully when sitting there we won't be overlooked from the houses in the cul-de-sac. Currently the greenhouse hides them a bit (although this will be moved at some point), but it will look much nicer when there is a lush green screen instead.

Apart from giving somewhere more shady to sit, it will bring a bit of variation in planting to the garden. To tie everything together there will be a lot of rock with almost the whole garden being a rockery of some form or another.  This will give me a chance to try a little moss garden, that is if I can keep it damp, watering not being my strong point.

Then it was on to test a run of vertical posts that will continue through the garden (somehow). I saw this somewhere and it looked great to provide different views as you move through the garden. We set up a few to see what they would look like. The actual ones will be taller and will vary in height but have to decide what size and type of board to use. I like the effect though.

It's a little strange to be doing all this for non-spikey plants. Don't worry though, this is just to get me started, I will move around onto the succulent bank once my thoughts have developed a bit on that area. There may be a post on that one soon, to help with the decision on which way to go with the design.

Now all I need if for the weather to hold so the work can continue.

Sunday 1 June 2014

The final weekend of pre-preparation

It was a lovely weekend, which made a great change after the cold wet week.  I would have liked to spend the entire time outside, but the weather and the builders being gone meant lots of people wanted to come over to see the house. So instead it was a case of fitting work in between visitors.

One of the jobs for the weekend was staining the fence.  Stain doesn't go very far and it ran out half way through Saturday, so it was time to see exactly what the builders had left under the top bit of soil.  I didn't want to start digging up the main garden area, and thought a good place to start was along the fence towards the house.  The plan is still to make this a little enclosed shade garden, so it needs to be dug over, levelled and then paved (or something).

The first bit was fine, the ground was compact but nothing too bad.  With people turning up for the evening it was time to call it a night. Sunday started with finishing staining the fence and then back to the digging. Sadly the bit by the house proved more typical of builders as we came across a brick, in fact quite a few bricks.

It turns out that instead of digging up the brick patio (which we think had a coal bunker on at some point), they just shovelled soil over it. To be fair it may have been buried before they started, but with diggers on site it to turn the soil over before they left, I'm not sure how you miss a brick patio!

On the bright side those bricks will come in very handy and it wasn't too much work to dig them out. Then they also protected the soil below, so there is no concrete mixed in. One aim for today was to set a final level for that part to the garden (the top of the manhole cover).  The idea was to dig and level a strip along the fence to see how much it slopes from the house into the garden and how much soil needed removing.

I hoped that I wouldn't have to shift too much soil around, or dig through too much concrete. Thankfully it looks like it wont be too bad. There will be some shifting required, from house to garden end, but it will be manageable. Once it's all dug, simply raking should grade it nicely without needing more strenuous work. Not that my body feels like the last two days were easy going. It is going to take a few days to get back into the physical sides of gardening again.

The fun part is going to be avoiding the drainage pipes that run through that bit of the garden. The bricks will come in handy to mark out the pipes so I don't accidentally dig them up. Then we can get onto the real fun of working out how to plant it all up!