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Better late than never!

It’s been a while!

I normally start feeling the urge to blog some time in February/March, but 2016 has seen such a dismal start to the growing season here in my corner of the UK that I simply couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for it.

The year began promisingly enough. We had a mild January following on from a very mild December, and it looked at that point as if we were destined for a pleasant, early spring, but it wasn’t to be. Without ever being especially harsh – we had no snow to speak of – the cold temperatures arrived in February and proceeded to roll all the way through March, April and May leaving the garden more or less in a state of suspended animation. Plants that had started to stir in January, mainly clematis and roses in my garden, were stopped in their tracks almost until June. Daffodils that should have been flowering in March didn’t make an appearance until almost the end of April; brunnera and pulmonarias, usually in full bloom here in April, didn’t really hit their stride until May. As for my Flagpole Cherry tree (Prunus amanogawa), the blossom on that was the latest I’ve ever seen it in the 16 years since I planted it, more or less coinciding with the unfurling of its leaves in mid-May rather than April.

So spring barely happened, and there has been little respite since then. I don’t know what the records say, but to me this has felt like the coldest, dampest June ever. Plants have grown, but oh, so slowly, because there’s been so little warmth and sun to fuel them.

And then there have been the pests. Winter and spring might have been cold for plants (and humans!) but not cold enough to see off the slugs and snails, whose numbers have been truly epic this year. I lost several emerging perennials before I’d even seen they were on their way, and it’s been a battle to keep seedlings and young plants from being decimated.

All things considered, I’m glad I decided not to grow any veg this year other than a few tomatoes – watching them struggle to get anywhere would have been too disheartening.

Still, enough moaning!

The calendar says that it is summer, and I do have some pretty things to look at, so I dusted off my camera and took a few photos yesterday.

Firstly, there are the remnants of my foxgloves:

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I believe they are Candy Mountain Mixed, though as it’s a year since I sowed them and I disposed of the packet, I’m not 100% sure! (note to self: labels!) Whatever they are, they’ve been gorgeous, rising to a stately 5 feet or so and persisting for many weeks. They are also a magnet for bumble bees, which is nice to see.

Then there are the alstroemerias – or what’s left of them after repeated slug/snail attacks:

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They’ve probably come in for the worst mauling of any of my plants this year – from afar they look good, but up close the foliage looks distinctly tatty, and I’ve more or less lost a couple of clumps. At least some have survived, though.

Next is a grouping consisting of Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Blue Wave’ (which is pink because of my mildly alkaline soil, but still pretty!), Lysimachia punctata (Yellow Loosestrife), Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ (heavily munched by slugs, sadly),  and the golden-leaved Heuchera ‘Marmalade’:

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The heuchera and brunnera were new last year and are slowly establishing themselves, not helped, it has to be said by the cold spring. I was hoping to propagate them this year, but they’ve taken forever to get going, so I think I’ll leave them for now.

Another new acquisition from last year is the pretty blue hardy geranium ‘Rozanne’ which is seen threading its way through some yet-to-flower hemerocallis and crocosmia:

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It’s supposed to have a long flowering season, and as I’d like it to be a foil for other flowers (when they finally arrive!), I hope this is so. I certainly like it in association with the golden spiraea to the right, so that’s a good start!

My hanging baskets are gradually filling up:

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They’re just my usual mix of fuchsias, petunias, verbenas, impatiens, helichrysum and begonias planted in 12″ Easy Fill baskets. They can require rather a lot of watering on hot days, but thus far we’ve not had any of those, so I suppose I should be thankful for that, if nothing else!

Last but not least is a new plant to this establishment, a dahlia called ‘Ambition’:

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I am in love with this colour, especially of an evening when the setting sun slants across the garden and catches it alight:

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My grandfather grew wonderful dahlias when I was a child, but I’ve never grown one myself, so this is something of a challenge for me. I bought it as a tuber in March and started it off indoors in a tray of compost (no heat, other than ambient), eventually potting it on and hardening it off outdoors in May. I couldn’t think where to plant it out in the ground, so in the end I put it in a large pot and it seems quite happy, producing a number of flower buds on its 3 stout stems. I’m under the impression that they are greedy feeders, so I added a handful of Vitax Q4 to the potting mix of bought multipurpose compost and well-rotted garden compost, and will give it a weekly liquid feed of Phostrogen throughout the growing season. Come autumn, I will probably have to think about giving it some protection over winter, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

In the meantime, let’s hope there’s a glorious summer waiting in the wings to surprise us all…

 

 

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Counting the Cost of Winter

Every Spring it’s about now that I start looking around to see what has and hasn’t made it through the winter season.

Last year was exceptionally mild, so mild in fact that my non-hardy fuchsias in containers not only survived but didn’t even drop their leaves, which is a first for me in this garden. I didn’t lose a single plant, as far as I can recall.

This year was a more typical Southern British winter in respect of temperature with many nights touching or dipping below freezing, so for the past few weeks I have been casting anxious eyes at my newer and as yet untested-for-hardiness acquisitions to glimpse signs of re-emergence.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, the plant I was perhaps most concerned about was Agastache “Blue Boa”. I have grown agastache from seed in the past but never had it survive a winter outdoors; “Blue Boa”, however, is clearly made from sterner stuff and is already sending up some sturdy little shoots. Not only that, but a couple of insurance cuttings that I took late last summer in order to hedge my bets also appear to have survived the winter in my coldframe, so that’s a bonus!

Next on the will-it-get-hit list was my collection of alstroemeria. I bought them early in 2013 so their first winter was no test at all: this year they have had to contend with protracted periods of freezing, but from the looks of the fresh green shoots that I am beginning to see pushing up through the mulch, they have passed with flying colours. All five varieties, the two in containers and the three in the ground, appear to be present and correct, so I am mightily chuffed at that!

It hasn’t all been good news, though.

As ever, I have lost a few things that were over-wintering in my coldframe, namely half of my rosemary cuttings, 3 or 4 lavender cuttings and my orange-flowered diascia cuttings (all the pink-flowered ones survived, strangely enough!).

And once again I have failed with my begonia tubers: only 2 out of the 6 that I attempted to save show signs of life. Whether I left them outside too long, kept them too damp, too dry, too warm or too cold I just don’t know, but they were mostly rotten when I came to examine them in late January and have had to be replaced. Better luck next year, I suppose!

Daily ramblings

First post for August!

Thought I should do an update on what’s in bloom now:

Geranium “Buxton’s Blue”

Lysimachia punctata (just! the clump in the shadiest, dampest spot seems to have lasted longest)

Lysimachia ephemerum

Knautia macedonica

Clematis jackmanii (still full of bloom and looking a picture)

Lilies, my 3 Oriental Tree varieties

Hemerocallis (Lemon Bells is on its last legs, as is Egyptian Ibis, Georgette Belden and Luxury Lace. Stella de Oro is still throwing up new flower stalks, though!)

Alstroemeria (Sirius is fully in flower, Uranus and Sedna have a couple of flower stalks, Spitfire just opened today, Cahors is still to come)

Ten week stocks

Sun diascias

Phlox (Prospero still in full flower, Giant Elite Purple just starting. Waiting for all the others…)

Nepeta (such a good doer – and the bees love it!)

Fuchsias

New Guinea Impatiens

Tuberous begonias

Rose “Flower Carpet”

Rose “New Dawn”

Lots to enjoy, then, along with lots to ponder,  for instance, the difference in flowering periods when a plant is grown in several locations within the same garden.

My Lysimachia punctata grows in three places, and by far the most successful appears to be in an open but shaded spot where it’s been getting a fair bit of water whilst I’m watering other plants. In sunnier spots where the watering has been more infrequent, the plants looked a tad unhappy and stopped flowering a couple of weeks ago. Lesson learnt!

I continue to be impressed by my alstroemeria. They’ve been slow to flower – I guess that has a lot to do with the lateness of spring/summer – but once those blooms are out, they take so long to fade you almost wish they would! I’m not a huge fan of denuding the garden display  to provide flowers for the house, but I have to say that I’m tempted to pull a couple of stalks to see if the vase life is equally good.

My various cuttings all seem to be coming along fine. Probably time I moved on the second batch of diascias  from their shared pots into individual ones, but apart from that, there’s nothing much to do at the moment.

Indoors, my citrus cuttings are still looking good with one or two beginning to show signs of side-shooting from the leaf axils: getting them to root may well prove to have been the easy bit compared to the aftercare required to grow them on!  I’ll have to decide as I go along when to move them to individual pots, what medium to pot them into and when/if to move them to a lighter situation. Get those things wrong and it might still have been an awful lot of waiting for nothing (hope not!)

One last thing: my Phlox “Giant Purple Elite”, which has just started flowering, has turned out to be neither giant nor purple. Had they called it “Magenta Dwarf” they would have been much more on the money…

Alstroemeria “Sedna”

The first bud opened a couple of days ago:

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Another very pretty flower, but in truth its colour is a little too similar to Sirius, and if it weren’t for the fact that they came in a collection, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to own them both.

Having said that, their habits appear quite different: Sirius is nearly 3ft tall now and requires a bit of staking, whereas Sedna is a mere 1ft tall and supports itself without any assistance, so I suppose they both have their place dependent on space and height requirements.

It seems to be happy in the partially shaded spot it occupies (east-facing, so it gets the morning sun), but I’m tempted to move the pot to a slightly sunnier location to see if it grows any better or faster.

I’ll update this post as time goes by so that I can record the eventual height, how long it flowered for and my end-of-season thoughts – also, how well it overwinters.

Alstroemeria “Sirius”

First, the eye-candy pic:

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Alstroemeria is new to me this year.

I bought 5 bare root plants of the “Planets” series in spring, potted them up and looked after them carefully in the coldframe until the frosts had passed, then planted them into a couple of 12″ pots as their final destination for this season.

Sirius was always the most advanced of the 5, so I wasn’t surprised that it was the first to flower. They’re curious plants in that they appear to send up small, non-flowering “test” shoots first, then progressively taller bud-bearing ones thereafter: the initial shoots were only about 6″ high, but the later stalks are rising to 28″ and more.

I believe they’re not supposed to need support, but the taller ones look rather vulnerable to me – a decent downpour might test them a shade too far! – so I’ve put in some flower stakes and twine as a precaution. I’ve been watering them every day during this hot spell, and feeding once a week since the beginning of June (Miracle Gro first, now Tomorite), and that’s pretty much it as regards care.

When a flower stalk finishes blooming, the appropriate way to deadhead is by pulling the whole stalk out of the ground, like a stick of rhubarb, so I’m ready for that when it happens. I believe that’s supposed to promote more flowering shoots, so well worth doing correctly if true!

They look way too exotic to be hardy in the UK, but apparently in milder areas they are, as long as they are planted with their tubers about 4″- 6″ below the surface of the ground and given a good mulching. I don’t know if they’re likely to survive in the containers I have them in, so I may hedge my bets come autumn by dividing the plants into two and putting half in pots in the coldframe and the other half out in the ground. That way I should get some survivors, hopefully!