Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Object of desire: Campsis Indian Summer

I've been eyeing up Campsis Indian Summer ever since it turned up in a garden catalogue marked "new". Also known as Trumpet Vine, logically enough. But I was having problems relating to how it would look (and what it would need) in the real world.

My walk to the university library takes me up some smart urban streets that step up steeply from the Cowley Road (takeaways, hipsters, cocktail bars, supermarkets and restaurants of every nationality) with houses that shade from grimey HMOs at the bottom to challenging millionaire conversions at the top.

In between, the gardens get showy, and spill out their riches into the street; and look, there's a Campsis. Here teamed with a velvety purple Clematis, for maximum complimentary colour-pop.

Campsis and Clematis

This tells me two things about Campsis (apart from the obvious, i.e. the flowers are the exact right size for your Action Man to cosplay Angel Gabriel with). It grows fast, if it likes the conditions; and it'll break through fences looking for the sun. It also wants shelter (RHS recommends a 13ft south-facing wall, to which I have to say ah-hahahahahaha) and takes a few years to establish and start flowering (aw precious).

I also catch a hint that it may only flower some years. The clue's in the name. But for those years, what a plant. I might not team with purple, though; it's a gorgeous combination, but a bit too colour-wheel perfect for my taste. Maybe Morning Yellow instead.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Tow path gardens

Late summer, early autumn is one of my favourite times of year on the tow path. The low light slants across the river, where inexpert new term rowers are getting used to our feisty geese and swans, and the mallards are moulting out into their winter finery. On misty mornings, you see cormorants and sometimes even mergansers. The sudden startling stoop of a Heron, huge against the sky.

It is also the time of year that sudden startling floral displays appear, like this gorgous combination of nettle, Purple Loosestrife and Native Balsam. Those quivering stems are worthy of a show-garden; and look how the uncertain lines of the loosestrife bisect the green reflections beyond; and the sudden, subtle blast of the bright orange balsam.

Tow path gardens

This is growing in one of the native plant rolls that protect the retaining wall here. In season, they have yellow irises, kingcups; but I like them at this time of year the best. This one is tucked under the rail of a footbridge.

Tow path gardenst>

The yellow starry Ragwort has thin, spikey petals this year; my marigold (the only one that made it past the slugs) has similar, and so do a lot of the Michaelmas Daisies (wild and tame) so I think that might be down to conditions rather than a mutation.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Rhododendron Rescue Part Two

Two weeks on, the Rhododendron is doing a lot better. Which is not to say that the leaf drop wasn't alarming. Here are just a few of the discards - yellow edged, spotted, curled (I've selected the flattest here, so they would arrange for the photograph). As it sat in the trug soaking it threw off leaves with abandon. Not all of them looked like "bad leaves", either - plenty of green in them. But it can be hard to tell with evergreens. Maybe there had been some toxins to dispose of. They're now in the green waste bag, as Rhodies (even their dead bits) don't play well with other plants.

Rhododendron rescue part 2

The new compost was a mixture of the loam-based John Innes and a heavily textured Levington containing Rhody rootgrow, water-retaining fibres, and an undisclosed amount of peat. Seized by guilt, I increased my standing order to the RSPB. I placed it carefully, low in the pot, and hacked off the scraggly heather which is the only thing I have ever found that will grow in the same pot (or even in a different pot, but underneath) the Rhody. No competitors!

Discoloured leaf Bicolour leaf puffs
Wreggly leaves Mysterious wound

It was a sorry sight. The old leaves, spotted and stained, the new leaves, brown and wreggly (I had to invent a new word to describe their condition accurately). I also found some worrying wounds on one of the stems - maybe a crack from flexion (it never puts enough into making the stems strong) or a cat-scratch, though I'd expect the plant to shrug either off (a few years ago it laughed through a chunk of our neighbour's massive twisted willow shearing off almost a quarter of the crown, with the rip going down to the rootstock, following some pruning carelessness).

Either way, the gold star treatment (and the September rain) has my irrepressible Rhododendron back on track. It's lost leaves, but the new leaves are now straightening, greening and stabilising. I have high hopes for next year's flowers.



Friday, 18 September 2015

autumn plantings

September is the perfect point in time to be planting things. Perfect, I tell you! Which is exactly why I got given an eight of viola seedlings for FREE at Homebase. That got me started. Then the special offers started rolling in...

So next I bought some plugs - the Verbascum look a bit minimal (and over a week later, there's only a bit of standing upright going on) but the Lobelia Scarlet Starships are bright and healthy. My Foxglove and Coleus seedlings are also raring to get out and get eaten by slugs going.

What next? Well, seeds, obviously. I have a Garland Super-7 standing fallow right now. I just need seven seeds that fancy growing right now. So, what've I got?

  • Fox and Cubs - I bought these from a wildflower stall at a garden show. I quite fancy planting them in the front lawn, to set off the regular lardings of catshit. Any time of year indoors, it says here.
  • Teasel - Fine to plant until October. I have a lot of seeds, so can try a variety of approaches, indoors and out. We have lots of goldfinches, so I really want to get this memorial to our much-beloved cat planted and growing well.
  • Tree Spinach - I've grown a few of these so far this year, but let them bolt rather tried eating them. Winter should see me more enthusiastic about trying weird bright magenta leaves which I'm sure will be lovely when drowned in pepper and butter.
  • Nigella Oxford Blue - I'm pretty sure these will want sowing outside, really but given how many seeds come in a packet, I'm sure I can spare a few for the propagator.
  • Ladybird Poppy - as above, though I'll need to disturb some soil. 
  • Cerinthe - I tried growing these from plugs last year and didn't get them big enough in time. Maybe a late sow will do better?
  • Calendula - I have some pretty varieties, but the slugs almost always get them. Is it late enough in the season to rush through a flower or seven that won't get eaten by slugs?  
That's off the top of my head. Who knows what I'll find when I actually get out the seed box? I've already put out some cow parsley and yellow rattle (it grew in the bathing area meadow this year, and I harvested seeds) and I'm quite sure there is some ancient cowslip in an envelope somewhere. 

And there's always one more thing that looks tempting.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Late summer OTT

Flowers!!!! It's hard to get a sense of scale from these photos, but if you're getting the impression that's a big Begonia (bottom left), it is. The trunk (I can give it no other word) is as thick as a recorder. The bloom is the size of a cat's head. Next year I'm going to find it the biggest pot available and see if I can upgrade it from the height of a toddler to the height of a tween.

Nothing that's not a tree is taller than my Hollyhocks, of course (top right). This one's a bit Barbie (they come up different colours every year).

fuchsia hollyhock
Begonia Calla Lily

The Fuchsia (top left) is no slouch either - it;s a big bloom variety, with flowers that fill your hand. I now (since the multiple Fuchsia incident) officially have waaay too many fuchsias. They're never going to all fit in the greenhouse. Here's hoping some are hardy, although Quasar (for it is she, in coy mode) is a dreaded HHP (half hardy perennial) and it's not going to like sitting on a cold patio all winter.

The Calla and the Begonia will both need whisking into a cosy dry compost bed for the winter. Thus the garden becomes ever more complex.

Friday, 11 September 2015

In praise of border sunflowers

I've only grown one sunflower this year, and that was an accident. It's sprouted, incongruously, in a tiny hanging pot which I had planted with a Crazytunia and Sweetunia (the crazy outcompeted the sweeties, though that may have been down to position rather than vigour) and has a teeny tiny protoflower. A+ for effort; in my usual way I've not done any removal. I reuse old potting compost (OMG diseases trumped by continuation of biome - which in so many ways are essntially the same thing) so a seed probably went in in that. I have lots of sunflower seeds, most from the first glorious year of sunflowers, before I put in the fennel and the raspberries and the sunflowers had the fertility hotspot all to themselves. Lots of other people have planted sunflowers this year, though (there are some lovely giants right in the my street!) including my local park:

Florence Park Sunflowers Florence Park Sunflowers Florence Park Sunflowers
Florence Park Sunflowers Florence Park Sunflowers Florence Park Sunflowers
Florence Park Sunflowers Florence Park Sunflowers Florence Park Sunflowers

Water and temperature stress (and everything has been stressed this year, whether they like it warm, cold, hot, wet, dry or mild) makes for interesting variety in the mutable petals of the sunflowers. I especially like the ones which show little green flashes of sepal above their petals. But of course you can't order that.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Rhododendron rescue!!!!

There are times when you look out of the window and think - actually, it has to be today. That plant is going; it is nearly gone. So Tim and I struggled the White Rhododendron (it's not white) out of its huge heavy pot, with its spotted, floppy, failing old growth and its curly, withering, pallid new growth (which looked initially promising after I pulled it up, root trimmed and refreshed the compost earlier this year) and dunked it into the biggest trug with two cans of water for a proper soak.

Rhododendrons love the rain. Near where I went to school, the cliff slip zone had created a tiny soggy microclimate, where it seemed it was always raining. Rhododendrons escaped from the local estate had run riot through the native temperate rainforest (ash, alder, elder, large leaved hazel) and when it rained, their leaves perked; the flowers expanded; there was an almost audible vegetable expansion as they delighted in the rain. More, they seemed to be saying all through the rainy Mays of my childhood, more like this.

So I'm also drenching the leaves, twice a day. Not a foliar feed - there's still a lot of nutrients in that fresh compost - just rainwater. I may also consider the compost. For the first time, I'd splashed out on John Innes, the Rolls Royce of the composting world (complete with the ecological guilt), rather then my usual peat-free go-to. It seems to be drying out a lot faster - the organic material is finely minced. There's none of the rough bits I'm used to - and I'm wondering if the plant is missing them, too. I might pick up a bag of the cheap stuff and make a mix.

I've also got about a potful of my own ericacious mix (rotted down remnants of evergreens, heathers, firs, rubber plants, etc.) which might help establish soil biome. Every little helps.

Inside the pot the roots weren't looking great, but then Rhody roots just look like a bunch of brown wire, so what do I know? The soil looked dull though - nothing living in it.

Friday, 4 September 2015

The herbs on the windowsill

I just cleared out the herbs on the windowsill. I like to have fresh herbs to cook with, but basil gets shredded by slugs, mint gets ravaged by mint moths, tarragon gets flooded and orgeano bolts. So I grow them on the windowsill. But they were dead, again; dryed out and gone to pests and disease. Nasty accretions under them on the windowframe. The Basil and Mint and Chives have gone out in the garden now, and every fifth plant or so (yes, I have done this many times) roots and starts to grow, given an outside world to grow in, so they may revive yet. I keep those three in bright cheerful 50p pot holders from IKEA, and they were still showing a touch of green. Hope springs.

But oh dear my oh-so-clever self-watering plant pot contained nothing but dusty, dessicated stems. It's a reasonable on-the-the-face-of-it set-up, with four small pots around a central watering stem with a water reservoir in the bottom connected to the pots via a capillary matting spacer. But I can't get along with it. The division into four has left such a small scrap of soil that nothing seems to thrive - whenever I've had something doing OK, it's always been because it's somehow managed to invade the neighbouring potlet. Although the reservoir will take 100ml, there's no way to check the water level - and the overflow has a slight delay, and the overflow saucer is very small. There have been puddles. Then there's the problem that if you put different herbs in the different pots they all have different water needs; the capillary mat gets choked with roots (usually from just one plant as it outcompetes the others) and it does seem to get a lot of little flies.

Anyway, I've decided to retire it. If anyone wants one, let me know. You'll want somewhere that won't mind the odd puddle, and it would probably work best if you took a clump of a single plant and divided it into four. Oh, and the capillary matting might need some roots clearing out of it. Appealing!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

A minor demolition job

I went around a friend's to help him with a sort-of rabbit hutch/coal hole/pot shed which had been cluttering up the corner of his semi-concreted wilderness patio since (before) he moved in. It was also acting as an ivy incubator, getting the ivy big and strong before sending it on rapid sorties up the wall, aiming for the roof and whatever makes ivy happy. Wasps? Roofspaces? Windows to destroy?

Hearing of his plans I had naturally volunteered my sledgehammer (best wedding gift ever - no household should be without one). Here I am switching from hammer to lever action, having loosened the side "wall". I'm using my leg to lever it away from the brick wall, ripping out nails in the process. But it's resisting.

Gardening wth Sledgehammer

Here I've switched to using a crowbar to haul out what I've just discovered is a wooden pallet with a few planks and some roofing felt tacked lightly onto the top. You can't see it from this angle but I'm not best pleased because the pallets - seasoned, solid and able to withstand rot and tonnage - are why it didn't fall apart the moment I started whacking it with a sledgehammer.

Gardening wth Sledgehammer

Pallets are very tough (they need to be) so pallet-built constructions can often be surprisingly solid. You can see how the side came out in a solid lump. Both sides came out with the pallets pretty much intact (fortunately the batons securing them to the wall had fallen to damp and insects). Once I had two pallets out the next step was getting them into small enough pieces to fit into a hatchback, wheelbarrow, or wheelie bin (our three disposal options -- the wheelbarrow belonging to a friend down the road with a bonfire space).

Gardening wth Sledgehammer

I started carefully taking apart the first pallet with the crowbar, but about three planks in, snapped and went back to the sledgehammer, dredging up the technique from some dim corner of my mind. It made for a somewhat splintery pile, but it would now fit in pretty much anything, as long as that thing didn't mind wood spikes and rusty nails, and wanted a pile of splintered old wood.

After all, we weren't saving the wood for anything.