Monday 16 October 2017

When photo records fail.

It has not been the summer I expected.  Having started well, it got to mid July and the workshop floor was down, so the proper work on the garden restarted. Then I hurt my knee and had to spend 6 weeks not using it, strictly no gardening.  Then I had to go to Uganda for 2 weeks for work, followed by two lovely weeks in Spain (I come back to that in another post). Then got back to the UK and spent every weekend visiting friends or them visitnig us, and suddenly it is October!

So much to catch up on. Today I was cleaning up in the front garden and noticed how much the buttlers sink had filled out.

It was a mixture of left over plants, so a bit of test.  I love the little mound forming alpines and have been looking for some that give me the look I am after. These have grown much quicker than

I thought these were suppose to be slow. In my defence the one on the left was tiny when planted last year.  It will have to be moved next spring, I think I'll re-do the whole planter as I love this end, and the other is to diverse.

So having taken some photos, I come inside to check the plant names and nothing!  Normally when I do a planter like this, or any pot, I take a photo of the whole thing and each plant with the label.  Then if the label vanishes I have the photos for ID.  There is no chance I wouldn't have done it, I just didn't upload the photos.

I hate not knowing plant names. I sense there will be a few weeks of searching in the hope something turns up.

Monday 17 July 2017


This week seems to be full of finds.

There was the lost and found. With the new bed, I moved the agapathus.  You know the feeling that you may have missed / lost a plant somewhere.  It seems I missed one.

Then the new find. Agave parryis have a reputation for offseting, so it was only a matter of time.  This is the main view of my two different agave parryis.

Looking down from behind them today noticed this

Thankfully the two forms are very different.

That pale blue colour and the orange spines are a give away that it's HK1684. As this is my favourite parryi form I am happy.

A surprise find.  We have been having a great summer, the succulents are loving it but someone is struggling to find somewhere cooler. 

She is not allowed on the flower beds, I may have to let her off this time.

Friday 7 July 2017

It's all about aloe polyphyllas here

So the main event in the garden so far this summer has been the aloe polyphylla flower.

They are strange flowers, as it grows any lack of water on hot days results in it just flopping around. 

I kept a close eye on the bees to see if they found it and what other aloe flowers were in flower at the same time.  The aloe striatulas were flowering away and I brought a big pot of aloe aristata over from my parents.  They are moving and I agreed to look after the pot until they were settled, very convenient.

The orginal plan was to take some pollen to a friend house, but their flower was way behind mine, and the two did not overlap.  It shows how far ahead the rockery can get. So plan B, have as many flowering aloes around as possible, and hope the bees do their job and something is compatible. 

A long shot, but you never know.  Although now we do as look what I found.

Not exactly a massive seed pod harvest, but one is better tha none.  I'm out there each day checking on it.  The aloe aristatas also have a few seed pods, the aloe striatula still have flowers, so time will tell how many seed pods develop there.

The next stage is to see if any of the pods produce seeds.  Then a whole other set of fun.  To prepare I have also been trying to germinate a set of 50 aloe polyphylla seeds I purchased at the end of last summer. There is lots of information about germinating them by putting them in water, so this was the methd used.

After about 10 days half the seeds had germinated. By 20 days all but 4 had germinated which was amazing. They were potted up into groups and given my skill at killing seedlings I expected most not to make it.  One pot full succumbed within a few days, going from the water to soil obviously wasn't popular.  I hoped to maybe have 2 or 3 left to grow into plants.  So was pleasantly surprised to have managed to keep 12 alive in one pot and 4 in another.

They are almost past the danger stage, hopefully they will not be so susceptable to damping off or to drying out. I have great plans for a few more polyphyllas; one in the main succulent bed, a couple in the new bed by the workshop and then some on the planned green roof. There is probably space for a couple in the front as well.  Can you ever have too many?

Sunday 18 June 2017

Looking through old phots

We have bee looking for a photo to use on something, so looking through some of the old photos. So a quick set of eye candy for you.

 I have cut down the number of cacti in pots, but there was no doubt the flowers were spectacular

The other succulents don't let them have it all their own way and have a different type of beautful flower

Tuesday 6 June 2017

The planter issues continue

The new bed is proving problematic, if it's not problems finding the plants, it's the central raised planter.  The idea was to build a poured concrete circular planter for the olive. It seemed simple, the plans put into action, but became obvious very quickly that it wasn't going to work.

Next up 60m of rope.

We had already made a circular raised bed out of several layers of bamboo barrier so it was more about the looks than strength.  The top was going to be the most important bit, and to ensure it was level we started from there.

Once the top row was all glued and set it was a much simpler case of wrapping the rope around and ensuring it was firmly up against the row above.

All done, and is fine, but I'm not sure. It needs to weather in, and for the plating around it before we can say for sure if it is going to work.

What do you think?

In the mean time, the plants are starting to go in. There have been a few purchases, an agave Blue Brian and a yucca rostata from Urban Jungle.  They turned up perfectly packed with no damage which is always a good start.  The agave is lovely, and I'm torn if it should be planted or not.  I'll do a post once I decide. Having got a fair few of my hardy agaves from them there is no doubt that Urban Jungle are one of the best the places to go in the UK for hardy agaves, and they have just added a larger selection of Cacti as well. Plus they have a great cafe, which I understand on colder days has not just blankets but hot water bottles.

One of the plants going in the planter is trailing / creeping rosemary, one of my local nurseries, the Palm Centre, had some in stock so I went down to get a couple.  Bad idea. visiting any tropical nursery means a look around their succulents.  In their yucca rostrata section was a double header, in the smaller / affordable size!  I looked at the price expecting it to be more expensive, but no. The same price as the single headed plants.

So now I'm the proud owner of a double headed yucca rostrata. It could be two separate plants, washing off all the soil would give the answer, but then I may be tempted to split them. So better to just keep it as a double.

At this rate I'm going to have to be supervised when I visit nurseries!

Wednesday 31 May 2017

The flower update.

I have been keeping a close eye on the aloe polyphylla flower as it develops.

It took over 6 weeks to get to that size and the growth was really slow. Then we finally got a bit of warmth and that made a big difference. 

 Over the course of a long weekend it grew, coloured up and the individual flowers started to open.

It makes going and coming back from work each day interesting as thre is noticable change.

There are a few other aloes in flower in the garden, the usual A. aristata, and a hybrid A. aristata x A. variegata. The A. striatula are a little behind ssome so there should be overlap there. Plus my variegated clump of A. saponaria. 

I am going to leave polination to the bees, they love the aloe flowers and have got used to landing on them.  Strangely we don't seem to have any honey bees, it is worrying.  We do however have lots of bumble bees.  They have been very persistent working out how to get into the aloe and echeveria flowers. It's funny to watch them fighting their way in.

They actually have quite a few flowers to choose from at the momet, the succulent rockeries are putting on quite a show. Some are subtle, other not so much.

The purple is still not going down well with either the OH or the bees.  This is its third year in flower and still the bees don't go near it.  The very occasional one will land on a flower and then mover straight on.  The litte white dianthus on the other hand they spend ages on each flower and then move onto the next. 

The echeveria elegans river of flowers was better than ever.  In the evening the sun shines through them. I've been trying to get a photo, this is as good as I've managed so far. It still doesn't do it justice.

It seems the bees have got so used to succulent flowers they are confused when faced with anything else.  It seems Lilly flowers are just bad taste.

So are the Star of Bethlehem flowers. I love them, they really glow, but the bees don't seem to agree.

The plants are expensive in the UK, but I realised the bulbs are a fraction of the price.  So come autumn I will be planting a lot of these throughout the garden. They are currently part of the new bed, which is coming along.  There have been a few succulent purchases as the style developes. Hopefully we'll have a post on the new plants soon.

Tuesday 23 May 2017

Experimenting with concrete planters

A few months back a video started making the rounds showing how to make concrete dragon eggs. You can watch the video Here.  The video used them as candle holders.  Being keen on experiments that weekend out came the plaster-of-paris and the balloons, yes sadly we have both lieing aroud the house. The plaster ones came out really easily with only minor modifications of havig to turn the eggs constantly for about 10 minutes then leaving for about 30 minutes.

A few more were made and have been put aside ready to invite one my newphews around to decorate.

While they would make excellent candle holders my first thought was always as planters, especially if the concrete worked.  So a trip to the hardware shop to buy some quick drying concrete and time to try my first concrete egg.  It looks so easy on the film: mix the concrete with water, pour into balloon, turn every two minutes for 2 hours.  I ended up with a lump of concrete.

Four attempts later

I have watched several different videos now and they all simply say, turn every two minutes. I don't know if I am usig different cement, but it just doesn't work for me.  Instead I have found shaking, then turning, then shaking, then turning. The reason for the shaking is that if the concrete hardens giving the ballon a good shake softens it again, giving you another go.

Tip: leave the eggs for at least 12 hours to harden before bursting the balloon.  Again after only 2 hours it was no where near enough, and even after 6 or 7 if the concrete was too thin, the egg just crumbled.

Now the big warning.  Do not do this inside, especially not in your best room, while sitting on your new furniture with you OH and the dog.  Yes sadly I do speak from experience and amazingly I am still married and alive!  We both wish we had taken a photos, as it went everywhere.  I'm not sure if you have ever tried bursting a balloon filled with water, but shaking and then looked at how far it spreds.  It is very effective, the carpet, walls, furniture, pets and us all covered.

So lesson learnt.  In fact I found puttting the ballon in a plastic bag saved a lot of mess should things go wrong when popping the ballon as well. 

Once you have the eggs, you can make holes.  Again the video makes it look easy, but make your egg too thin and the slightest pressure and they crumble.  I have a nice collection of concrete bits in a bin in the greenhouse.  My tip here would be to leave the egg for 24 hours to let it harden a bit more, and to check it over for cracks so you know the weak points.

Then you can reinforce it. This was probably the easiest bit, mix some vert liquick concrete mix, pour it into the egg and swivle it around to coat the inside. You do have to keep an eye on cracks don't be tempted to over do it the first time. It was better to do three layers, leaving the layers to dry between.  The first layer is the crucial one, especially while turning the egg as it's easy to crush it.

While doing all of this I tried adding different coloured powder to the concrete to colour the eggs.  The red looks great when wet, but is very pale dry.

Black probably has the most promise.  This was the last egg I tried and is the most sucesfull.  I learnt that blowing the ballon up and leaving it blown up until you are ready to pour the concrete in allows you to get more in and so to have thicker walls.

I am toying with differet ways to finish them.  The first few were soaked in water for a couple of weeks, changing the water every day.  This should help leach out some of the stuff plants do not like.  The other options are concrete sealer, and painting.

Then you can drill drainage holes and plant them up.

I've got a few more to plant up, I'll save them for another post.  I'm probably going to try a few differet plants for differet parts of the garden. They probably lend themselves more to the clump forming plants than the agaves, but I'll have to try one with an agave in. I think they would be great with a mound forming succulent flowing over the egg.

Now go away and try them for yourselves and show me how you would plant them up.

Tuesday 9 May 2017

The agaves

So the last post focused on the aloes and echeverias, this time it's the agaves.  Most look great, apart from suffering from the usual cherry blossom issue at this time of year. Starting with the biggest, the A. montanas have no damage at all.

The bud inprints on the largest are very defined, the blue powder gives them extra definition.  The smaller one is growing rapidly and is not so small any more.

The two A. filiferas were also almost totally untouched.  I did notice a couple of black spots on leaves, so cut these off.  I'm not taking any chances, and while there have been a re-emergence of major problems, better safe than sorry.

The largest is one the original plants from the old garden.  You can see one of the smaller ones behind, which seems to pup much more freely.  There is a much smaller third plant planted in another section of the rockery and that is not looking so good.

There are 4 A. bracteosas scattered around, no surprise that they are all looking pretty much prestine.

The newest agaves are the A. ovatifolias.  The largest plant has settled in and the new leaves were undamaged.

I love this plant, it is great to be able to sit on the wall and look down onto it, but it is probably too close to the wall, and ultiamtely may make sitting there a little dangerous.  My seed grown plant is still struggling a bit after being being moved.

It's not clear in the photo, but the lower leaves have a few black spots so these will be cut off.

The monster, A. Salmiana var Ferox, continues to grow at an alarming rate.  It's in the worst place, right under next doors cherry, almost hidden by other plants, but nothing seems to slow it down.

You can see how big the pup has got.  That would be a great plant for the new section if it didn't get so big. I am tempted to move the pup to the front garden and let it do it's thing, or maybe it's just a spare for swaps. In front of them is an A. gentryi, strangely it seems to have been missed off the photo shot.

The problem plants are the A. nigras.  They just look terribe at this time of year and enough is enough.

The front one is going to dug up,  any damaged leaves removed and then planted else where.   There are too many plants that want space to leave those that just dont seem happy.  It is such a shame, they were fine at the last house and should be here. Hopefully I can nurse it back into good health so it can shine elsewhere.

Another that has been slightly more damaged by the winter is A. parasana.

I'm torn what to do about this one. Big parasanas are amazing plants and it is one the edge of its cold and wet tolerance. Maybe it is one to be dug up, cleaned up and given a nice pot.

Last for planted agaves is the A. parryi HK1684. I love this plant, it is a strong blue, the teeth turn a fantastic colours in summer and it just looks good.

To the right is another agave parryi. I like the rounder leaf forms and after a few years that little one may finally be growing. Ironically this year will see the small one being dug up and planted on the green roof and an offset of the HK1864 that has been growing on in a pot planted in its place. 

So that's the planted agaves covered.  Looks like it will have to be the potted plants next. That post may be a little longer!