Friday, 28 August 2015

The railingbaskets outside the council offices

Every morning, a ways after the sad remnants of the mature plane trees (would I like to add this picture to the Cruelty to Trees - Bad Tree Work group? Why, yes I would) I walk past the railingbaskets. These are not as plentiful as they once were, but still put on a good show in season, contrasting cheerfully with the concrete brut of the council offices.

Last year's boisterous electioneering colour-schemes have been replaced this year with something icier and more restrained; and in every pot, hanging-basket and trough, the same plant predominates; hardy, reliable, easy-to-maintain Petunia Surfina.

hanging basket hanging basket
hanging basket hanging basket
None of your cheap pinks and magentas, though. This is Blue Vein, which gives something of an insect's eye view of the plant (insects see in unltraviolet, and have markings invisible to the human eye which often make a dark "target shape" around the centre).

It's been used so consistently and thoroughly that I'm sold. Anything that can thrive so thoroughly in those tiny municipal spaces can cope with my lackadaisical watering and tiny containers. Plus it is perfect as background, filler, foil; neither dull nor spectacular, but interesting.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Other people's gardens: the cactushouse

This heated and lit greenhouse (at a friend's) is an astonishing mass of happy cacti. Prickles and flowers. Note the watering trays. They need an occasional, proper soak, and nice warm fresh, dry air. The greenhouse even had that slightly arid feel, like the desert house at the Botanical gardens -- though that may just be the difference between warm, civilised London and damp old Oxford (my greenhouse is at times positively soggy).

hairy and spikey logical expression flowers!!!
cactus field red flower bunches
A bit fuzzy wiggle in the middle worshipful knob gang

In the usual way, there were a bunch of cuttings on a lower shelf merrily sprouting in pots from the plants that shed rooting stems and leaves (a bit of a habit among succulents). I was sent home with an Orbea Variegata, AKA the Stinky Feet Plant (though I think this might be a family name as I'm not seeing it online! Aasblom is almost as funny, though - and it really does smell!) At a bend in the North Circular, it promptly became three Aasbloms, though as I lack cactus compost they are both now potted up in regular houseplant compost, while desperately seeking sun in my verandah, so they may not survive.

They're not in the best place, either for heat or light, but it has a sprawling habit that isn't interacting well with the windowsills. I wonder if I can find it a tiny tower from somewhere?

Friday, 21 August 2015

Produce at season's collision

This bowl is full of vine leaves, usually a spring treat. The dry weeks, followed by the sudden wet have produced a second flush of new leaves and I am wrapping meats and layering cheese with the wreckage of tearing off tendrils that were about to invade next door's garage. The grapes... probably won't ripen this year. Rain and dry at all the wrong times.


The yellow cherry tom came on some bizarre plants from my sister-in-law. Unusually for tomatoes, they had rounded, smooth leaves (I discover that this is called potato leafed, which might explain my anxiety over the fruit being poisonous -- it's not, of course). I've had trouble finding what it is (she couldn't remember). Blondkopfchen, maybe?  Galina's? Tumbling yellow? None seem quite right. Or it might just be a mutant Sungold, I suppose!

The dull looking medium tom is Pennard's First in the Field. It's a tough year to judge a tomato on, but it didn't come early and the flavour's not going to stop you in your tracks. To the bench with that one next year.

Last but not least, that's a Nosferatu chilli, fully ripe. I overwintered the plant indoors where it sulked mightily all winter while wilting under pests apparently manufactured from thin air. It's still not the healthiest looking plant, but it's now covered with fat spiders and ripening its chillis nicely. When you slice them, the black/purple colour shows in the pith, and each time I see it I think it's a pest, just for a moment.

The first flush of delicious Krims all got blossom end rot but only one or two went to the slugs (as below). The rest had their ends chopped off and went into a puttanesca sauce to go with Sunday dinner. Wonderful.

for the slugs

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

John Henry's very smart garden

Since I became a student again (at the same time as having a job, which I guess is going to be more common in the future) I've been enjoying the utopian glory of university buildings, in particular the John Henry building, an insane cantilevered learning facilitation space containing a coffee shop, a library, lecture theatres, IT suites, the union, etc. I expect there's even a wildly overdesigned bar in there somewhere.

Just outside there is this, which is the garden nearest to a show garden I have ever seen.

Student Central Garden, Brookes University Hardy perennials gapped wall and small trees
contemplation lawn Student Central Garden, Brookes University Student Central Garden, Brookes University
The 60s side of the quad Ferns and trees peeking through the birches

I like the multiple underfoot textures; it's a pleasant thing to walk across. The plane tree bark picks up the block paving, and the cheerful blue panels on the sixties building peek impishly through the delicate birch tree screening. Some of the beds look a little dry and shallow - especially the ones in the paving area. You can see which of the trees are poor relations, starved of water and light. And that yew hedge has brown trees where the dry summer has bitten down hard.

Restrained palette, simple lines, bold structures; it's a very background, restful, comfortable, undistracting place. But it is a bit cold maybe, a bit like an architect's drawing of a garden, rather than an actual garden. Maybe in a few years, when it's grown in, things will seem a little less, well - straight.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

the suffering of the overcrowded tomatoes

There's a sequence in Nick Harkaway's Tigerman where the hero finds himself hacking furiously through a patch of madly overgrown tomatoes of all shapes and sizes, leaving his skin welted and his throat raw from the noxic dust that coats the tomato plants, and when he has exhausted himself and picked up a few pests and pains and injuries, he looks at the tomatoes and sees the complete lack of impact he has had. In fact, it looks like the plants are actually growing.

That was me, this afternoon, nipping and tearing and chopping (where the vines are thick) in a blind attempt to thin the vine enough (I didn't pinch out; I failed to water twice a day on the hottest days; and perhaps worse, I didn't fully refresh the compost) to rescue my poor tomatoes, which I overcrowded in their pots (old kerbside recycling boxes) and which are now rewarding me with blossom end rot, moisture-starved fruits, speckled and yellowing leaves and the odd patch of mirkiness.

At the end of it, the greenhouse was still pretty much solid with tomato. But I could see the fruits, and some of them were getting colour, and apparently I can just cut off the blossom end rot and still have a sweet fruit.


Just a couple more days of sunshine.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

dead in the dry of summer

It's raining today - not the gloomy month-in-a-day storm predicted by my phlegmatic driving instructor, but still, enough to make being outside cold, damp and disagreeable. But it doesn't seem to be enough to water the plants. I did a quick circuit, head thick with grumbles as I got rained upon and most of the pots are still bone dry, sullen, sulking. The snails were all perked up, and swarming out to feed on anything stressed. That's everything, then.

Later I'll probably face the indignity of having to water in the rain. But before then, a roll-call of this year's dead in the dry. Ave et Vale, bold pot-dwellers. We shall not see your like again:

dessicated chrysanthemums lovely fern Petunia blueberry ripple
pansy all dried out decorative pinelet
dessicated spindle strawberry spinach sticks daphne mezereum

The chrysanthemums (top left) live in the bright shed, for reasons of stability of environment and slug protection. But they need a lot of water, especially on hot days. More than I remembered to give them, anyway. That fern was waiting for a bigger, cooler pot to come free - for too long. It has since shown a tiny sprig of green, so may yet recover. Petunia Blackcurrant Ripple was struggling in a small pot (like those two ex alpines in the middle) but the actual death happened when slugs stripped the stem. The two shrubs at the bottom have gone to emergency measures - the spindle is now in the flower bed (and probably still water stressed) and the Daphne has a saucer.

Hope springs eternal.

Friday, 7 August 2015

other people's gardens : a heady profusion

I spotted this tangle from afar, over an old wall retaining some exciting modern architecture. What could that exotic creeper be, I thought, with its lovely pink-purple flowers lit up by the summer sun, and those translucent green leaves?


Up close it resolved into two great thugs of the garden duking it out over an old stone wall. Bindweed and Willowherb - the flower fairies the others don't talk about. It looks like there's a tiny gap between the modern fence and the ancient wall; and a tiny gap is all either of these two need. They'll probably be competing to pull down the wall come next spring, but for now they're doing that thing that fabulous heady profusion thing that weeds revel in, that makes it really hard to tear them out before damage is done.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

other people's gardens : lavender on the battlements

I'm back at 4 Folly Bridge again (home of Goose Castle) but this time, the evening sun has caught the roof, where a bright green little garden is nestled among the statues, battlements and dramatic chimneypots. It must be vertiginous - the house is at least four stories high.

rooftop garden

Soft pine trees are just visible over the turning-japanese fencing, with box balls and other low pots enclosing a small, private space (if anyone is up there, they would have to stand up and look around for me to see them). Either genuine lead troughs or a more practical plastic facsimile put lavender at shoulder-brushing height as you head for the steps.

The third lavender pot his suffering in the dry, but also has a suspicious gap in the centre of it; almost exactly as if a pigeon had nested there.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

other people's gardens : the tiny green car-park yard

This little double-gated car-park garden (I've slipped the camera through one gate to look at the other) is occasionally lit up (as it is here) by a ray of sunlight, but I can't imagine that it sees much sun. Sandwiched between college utility rooms and a day-care centre for children and young adults with severe learning difficulties, this car-park is always firmly barred, and presumably belongs to the upstairs flats. But whose is the tiny garden? Is there a concierge tucked into a buildings office, cycling to work, fixing problems in the flats and nipping out each lunch-time to water the plants? The ladder hints at some practical role lurking back there.

tiny yard in a carpark

I've never seen anyone (bar once, a window cleaner's van) exiting or entering this car-park, so for now, a mystery garden.