Friday, 29 May 2015

the mutants are coming

I was startled to see pink on my fuschia bush, long before it was time for flowers. An early flower!

leaf-flower a closer view
Hmm. That's no flower. But nor, exactly, is it a leaf. It's a leaflower. A flowerleaf. Something got twisted, mutated, grew a bit wrong there. The effect is weirdly organic and fleshy, with those veinous reds twisting back into the verdant green - a dryadic flower fairy emanating malformed and startled from the green.

striped camelia ribboned wallflower stem
It's not the only mutant about this spring. Conditions have been hard; hot, then cold, dry then drenched. Flowers have come on early, leaves have turned up late, and things have not been as they usually are. Check out this beautiful white Camellia, shocked with a flash of red; and this round wallflower stem somehow ribboned into something thick and thin.

I've always been a fan of the plants that have drifted from their varietal path, grown too big, too small, differently coloured, weirdly leaved or startled by pests or pressures into bizarre new forms. But you can't keep them all. The fuschia can stick around (apart from anything else I want to see what becomes of the leaflower) and the camellia was never mine to start with (although I am SO tempted to nip off a cutting next time I go by) but there have been wallflowers gowing out of that crack in the concrete foir about four years now, and they're not supposed to be good for much more than two. Away it goes, to make way for new pretty mutants.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

May is laburnum

Each night the evening persists for a little longer. I'm tramping home at speed, having lingered too long at a friend's, and the gardens are teeming with flowers. Something sweet is on the breeze; a little too early for jasmine, but a similar scent. It's probably Weigela or Viburnum. The specimen, standard, and high interest shrubs are coming into their own right now, spilling over the walls in old Cowley village, discreetly screening main-road houses, peeking over the side-road fences. May is laburnum, wisteria, rhododendron; all the prestige flowering shrubs and climbers peeking out through trees which are fancy, variegated, flushed with red toxins where the growth is fresh and new. In the gloom, the last of the tulips are lit by the first of the solar lights coming on. They're almost gone for the year, and in the intake of breath before the geraniums and honeywort arrive to take up the strain, weeds struggle up fast, bloom to clock in days. The faster growers (Marguerite, Euphorbia, Fennel) are already making their play for dominance; up in the trees, a vigourous round-leaved variegated ivy is doing the same thing on grand scale. Beneath the smothering green-and-gold scales of its leaves, a laburnum gamely pokes out a few golden waterfalls of blossom. Here and there a garden shows the distinct signs of a spring tidy-up - bare soil punctuated with smart bedding plants; petunias in fashionable colours, bellis, pansies, verbena... and the earliest of the fuschias, some of which barely stopped flowering this winter. Then there are the lilacs, of course; British and Californian, purple to the pinks of the rhododendrons (which are late this year, or in the case of my plant, completely non-flowering) and the dark stars of large-flowering clematis taking over from the fairy falls of alpine varieties, now gone to puffball seeds. As night pulls tighter, colours fade, except for around the streetlamps, where the trees flush green and bright with candles of blossom.

A week later, and I am walking uphill to the library. In seven days, plants have thrust up from every crack and crevice, and have moved from nodding gently over fences to thrusting excitedly through them. Spring is shading into summer with imperceptible speed; and the plants' need to grow is unstoppable.

lilacs is there sun on this side of the fence? we are here!!!
my urge to grow is unstoppable we appreciate there's no soil here sweet chestnut
Above: low light lilacs, heeeeeeere's weigela!, intrepid snapdragon #1, adventitious mullein, intrepid snapdragon #2, sweet chestnut candles around a street-light.


Friday, 22 May 2015

Spriggy gets a trim, 2015

The moment had come. Spriggy had become shaggy. Out came the Tescos Value garden shears (none of your Burgon and Ball Topiary Trimmers for me) (mostly becuase I can't figure out how to use them) and up the stepladder I went, to trim my topiary lizard.

Raising Spriggy's tail Defining Spriggy's eyes

As usual I got a few thumbs ups and wows from passers by (very nice) so I thought I was doing quite well this year. I had enough on top to start raising the tail (eventually there will be proper daylight through that) and enough on his head to get the shield and swivelling eyes going.Still needs more height on his back, and off-side legs (not photographed) are a bit vestigial. and those eyes aren't round enough, but... look at that. That's a Chameleon, isn't it?

Spriggy Stardust 2015


Just as I was sweeping up my privet trimmings my neighbours came out and we had a bit of a chat (like you do). "We were talking about how hard it is to get topiary right," said herself, "But you can really see the ears now."

If I'd been near a desk my head would have been on it.

How Spriggy looked last year.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

the tulips are going over

The tulips are almost over in the garden now. The flaming exotic parrots are (as it turns out) the latest as well as the largest of the tulips. That one in the middle is the size of a dinner plate. Subtle they're not. Deep mulch this winter, I think, to see if they can be persuaded to come back again (I don't lift ...well, any bulbs, if I can help it). The interlopers are Anagallis (top left) which normally sulks and dies for me, but it looks like I've finally found a tough one; Sparaxis which I have finally persuaded to come up by putting it in the Fig Tree's pot (coincidentally the sunniest spot in the garden) and my very first Petunia.

final flashes almost gone tiny blues
withering big as a plate sparaxis
flaming parrots Petunia blackcurrant ripple Flaming exotic parrot

That top centre one, with the exquisite curled lavender-brown petals, was a fringed variety that faded from deep crimson to gold-touched pink like a fancy curtain left in the sun, draining off the last of the colour before flinging its petals aside just this week. Hard to believe they're the same flowers (below).

fringed tulip side view of fringed tulips almost gone

Friday, 15 May 2015

green walls and tree boxes

Along the tow-path, there are flashes of orange and purple where an Aquilegia has rooted, where a wallflower has blown in; along the bypass, a mass of Clematis Montana is romping over the screening trees and on the roundabouts, Opium Poppies are popping up, cheerfully pink and reverting fast from their fancy ruffled varieties. Along the side roads, Erigeron, and Nigella are sneaking out of the garden into the gutters and cracks in the tarmac. I can't bring myself to feel irritable about these tame escapees. Bees don't care if a flower is native. Although the roads feel different about such things, of course, and I often see them with hoes and sprays, tidying up the street. That wallflower (tucked into a tangle of plants by the tow-path) is safe. But the Erigeron (around a bollard on Divinity Road) may be less lucky.

  escaped wallflower Erigeron, self-palnted

Divinity Road has socially sanctioned space for garden escapees; tree boxes in the traffic calming, loaded with a couple of sacks of compost and planted up; my guess is that it's by the residents rather than any professional, as the boxes are crowded and the planting imaginative and optimistic.The Fennel, Wallflower and Perennial Sweetpea mix (bottom left) might have come from seeds from a back-garden; the Honeyworts (top right) look like plug plants bought from the internet. The result is a brilliant anarchic jumble of colour under every tree. Every street should do this.

BIG GREEN WALL early honeywort
superbright tree box Green wall & road, towerblocks

The green wall, a favourite of Prestige London Building sites (this really spectacular one's next to the West Way, right by Joe Strummer Subway) is not a beast that can be built by the occasional attentions of neighbourhood improvers, no matter how dedicated. Internal irrigation systems must be filled and maintained, the porous pockets and waterproof backing kept in steady state, the slow-release fertiliser topped up, and of course there is the necessity to replace plants, as they grow too large or being to falter. I love how they look - that tapestry of rich green textures softening our environment of flat planes and sharp angles - but they're a job for the professionals.

That said, I think there's a good possibility of escapees from that wall; maybe later this summer there willl be lime green Euphorbia nodding along the West Way, pink wallflowers and geraniums finding purchase in the cracks in the concrete, and on ledges crusted with rain-smeared particulates, and lavender setting off across the roofs, setting up new stopping points for London Bees.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

it's bright out front

This weekend it was time to take the front garden in hand. The Forsythia had overshot, and branches were lurching in all directions; my tiny patch of grass/message post for local tom-cats was shaggy and shitty; and Spriggy Stardust the topiary Chameleon was losing his definition. Time to clip and chop.

The front gardens are having a moment right now - everything that's not been concreted or tarmaced over is looking good, whether it's (from top left) elaborate and carefully tended, run to wildflowers, thoroughly neglected and overgrown, or brightly coloured and plastic. It's also a good moment to plan for the future. That brave little pattern of box spriglets (bottom left) will one day be a smart formal fronting, the bare soil smartened with gravel or infilled with herbs, bedding, tulips... so many possibilities.

enclosed bird table front lawn wild-style
spring growth pub garden
dreams of formality what are you?

That pink flower at the bottom (also in someone else's front garden) is a puzzle. It looks like Batchelor's Buttons, but there's not a pink variety of that. An internet search later I've found someone else saying the exact same thing; it looks like a Kerria, but pink!?! 

Friday, 8 May 2015

other people's gardens: the wisteria house

I'm a walking commuter, and it's usually the tow path. Except for the four months of the year that would mean walking hopefully through pitch darkness while the brave and the bold among the cyclists hurtle along a narrow path lit only their high brightness of their LEDs... yes, usually I take the road. It's dull, but it does have its compensations.

This house, for example:

the pink wisteria house

It looks good at any time of year, but I suspect that right now is the moment in time that this house's occupant looks at it with satisfaction and thinks yes, that is exactly what I was aiming for. The felt-tippy pen combination of wisteria lilac and thousand-island dressing pink is not a whit twee or mimsy, but unapologetically bold and brae. Later on, when it's a froth of lime green leaves, it carries on looking beautiful. Note also the big Rosemary bush to brush past on the way in, and the pot of basic bright red tulips. Fabulous.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

the scion, the root, the reversion

As the spring growth comes through on the ornamental trees, occasionally a problem becomes visible. Grafts can suddenly chuck up vigorous shoots as the scion decides to have another shout at outcompeting its graft, chunks of a previously pretty mutant can suddenly revert to its origin species. The scion, the root, the reversion is always more vigorous, tougher, more resilient than the elegant gardener-made filigree of careful selection stitched over the top.

Sometimes the results can be positively surreal. This is what's happened to a pretty, salmon-coloured ornamental sycamore in the local park:



You can see where the parks have tried to persuade this monster reversion sprout and/or graft sucker to give it up - a bark cut which should have stopped nutrient flow to the newly establishing canopy. But Sycamore is truly one of the toughest trees. The bark cut is healing, new leaves are visible and the sprout's trunk is now as thick as the ornamental it is growing on; which is itself showing signs of damage, dead wood and weak branches. The ornamental has leafed first, but that may be a sign of desperation. The fresh growth is thick with aphids, another sign of stress (and the mild, dry spring).


Then there is the size differential. Brillitantissimum (also known as Shrimp, for both its colour and its size) is a dwarf - it tops out at an adorable 3x3 metres. From the look of it, the monster sucker is heading for full size - and it's massive. This can't end well for either tree.

I can see why Parks are nervous about just chopping, though. At that size it might just kill the whole tree. Hence the bark cuts. The tree is right next to a playground. I wonder if a child ever asks: why is there a tree growing on another tree?

Friday, 1 May 2015

This space needs tulips

A Cherry Tree needed to be taken down on court corner (the close where people wait to pick up their friends or clients coming back from court) last year. It was a favourite of mine - sparse blossom that gave way to bright green leaves, all smothered in a rough, whitish, untended Wisteria. That's the view up through the branches in 2012.



The Wisteria went at the same time - there's a hint of smothered street-lamp in that shot, perhaps hinting at reasons why (there were also, suddenly and unexpectedly, people's windows behind all that chaos), and the bounce-back began almost immediately, Hellebores and Forget-me-nots leaping up to fill the cleared space.

This spring it looked like this (left). The tulips are new, and the homogeneity and number suggests someone thought, that needs a spot of colour and bought a packet of bulbs from the Pound Shop or M&S or Robert Dyas or maybe filled a paper bag at the Covered Market and snuck out at twilight to bung some bulbs in, no don't mind me, it's just that this space needs tulips. It's looking good!



I noticed some similarly how-did-they-get-there tulips on the weir below the castle. This looks like someone got a bucket of mixed bulbs from somewhere and spent a happy half-hour burying them in the grass. The houses opposite have a good view of the weir, and you can get out onto the weir island via a little access bridge. There's often a Grey Heron sits there, fishing the fast water, and if I lived there, I might think that looks great, but it would look even better if there were some tulips.