Friday, 30 October 2015

autumn colour

For the season, it is a-changing.

bryony garlands crimson bonfire aubergines
vine on the turn leaf on the grass cherry tree
grapes leaf-cutter bees blueberry leaf

I still haven't quite dared try the orange aubergines. They look so much like something I shouldn't be eating.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

cactacae and succa

At Tent, I was wavering between which present I should buy myself. There was a pendant in the shape of a French curve, and a small concrete dodecahedral planter. The waver was brief and the concrete came home with me. The planter was for cacti or succulents (the designer used the term succa* which I wasn't familiar with) and it occurred to me that the front windowsill is already half full of succulents and that winter might be the perfect time to cease my front-windowsill  habit of slowly murdering supermarket pot herbs and replace it with one of torturing cacti and succulents.

Four days later I wandered out to the florist that often has very cheap and tough pot plants for the student market, and they had an expansive selection of cut-price tiny cacti on sale, three for two. I bought four. A few weeks later I've packed them all into more-or-less acceptable pots (the most interesting one got the concrete jungles geometric planter) but I still have no idea what any of them are.

The local library had no single topic books on cacti (much to my surprise) so I'm now peering at the House Plant Expert (which is weirdly judgemental -- one plant is judged a "slow growing grotesque mutant" and another "nothing special") and concluding sadly that it might be struggle to identify them. One might be an Old Man cactus of some kind, and two of them are probably some variety of column, and the other two (no idea) but to be honest  it probably didn't help that I picked the odd looking ones. They're certainly not in the top ten.

I note with some trepidation that the most interesting one already looks a bit bigger since I first put it in the planter. It was flattened and irregular in shape, like a little rooted cartoon cactus cloud, and I've not yet spotted anything remotely like it online (it's probably some kind of var.).

Still at least and as ever HPE gives me the basics. Tepid water, just enough to keep it ticking over until light levels increase in spring, keep above 15C, and then up water levels as light and warmth increase, and see if any flowers appear.

And then I might be able to figure out what they all are.

*Google suggests that a succa more normally means a wooden framed temporary structure built for Sukkot celebrations, although urban dictionary suggests (as ever) that it's a word for your mum.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

jewels at dusk

I've been on the buses more than usual this month, looking down into gardens, and scuttling home fast at the day's end. This year has been phenomenal for berries and fruits of all kind, yet warm enough that the gardens are still full of flowers and everywhere in the dim, flowers and fruits gleam together on the trees and in the borders like jewels, rich reds, pinks, oranges and golds.

fuchsia space shuttle anenome clematis final hurrah

The leaves have just started to turn, but only some; so reds and golds and oranges sit among the dim and dark greens of late summer and evergreens in the hedges. Yews have so many berries arils this year that when the sun hits them from the right direction it looks like they're covered in posh Christmas lights. Hawthorns are a riot of red, gold and green, with foliage on the turn and a massive berry crop. Here and there a late butterfly picks up the last of the sun and the nectar on autumn flowers. In the low evening light everything lights up like a torch.

oranging leaves butterfly autumn colour

In rapidly-shading shelter of my back garden everything is racing to fruit and flower before winter closes off light and warmth. The golden raspberries are jostling with fuschias (still in resplendent flower) and the dahlias and marigolds are finally outracing the slugs as winter closes on pest and plant alike. Peppers and pelargoniums and aubergines and begonias are all still all over the patio. There's a lot to do before the first frost, but no sign of that yet. Cuttings and late summer plugs are racing to put on growth before it gets too cold, and the grapes are striving to ripen (I fear they'll fail).

Dahlia grapes geranium

In the dim special attention space of my lean-to, this year's new begonias, zinnias, chrysanthemums and other oddities (a ginger, some cuttings) are finally beginning to flower. Every year I try and grow zinnias. Easy, it says on the packet in large, mocking letters; but they cannot cope with my voracious slugs and heavy clay soil. So I grow them in modules and sow them in pots and seed trays, but then I forget and neglect, and they're so thirsty they'll dry to dead in a week. Of three survivors this year, two are in flower, so I'm pleased. It's often none at all.

crispa marginata red zinnia pink zinnia

The sun's failing faster and earlier every day now; soon I won't be home when there's light on the garden most days of the week. But those evenings I do get home and there's still a golden sunset in the sky, pinking the houses and skimming the treetops, I'll still be surrounded by flowers like little torches in the evening gloom.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Up on the Southbank roof(garden)

Brutalism is having a bit of a moment at the moment, and  we're both keen on all flavours of future so off we went to the South Bank to hear about the ultimate brutalist people's palace, and how it had been inspired by natural landscapes. The aim had been to create vistas, gulleys, grottos, ravines, views, vistas and aspects, as if Capability Brown had been reborn as a concrete-pouring socialist robot. The National Trust Concrete Enthusiasts who were leading the tour were men of great modernist passions, but they also had a fine eye for detail; explaining which woods had been used for the concrete casting, for example, and why.

The South Bank is in need of renovation, and wraps are about to go on, which is why the tours are happening, This meant that those with an eye for urban decay and plant invaders had plenty to snap.

These are mostly from one of the sculpture courts (the one at the bottom is next to one of the staircases).  It wasn't that long ago since we were watching a car do weird things on a loop out here -- 6 months, maybe? So this is this summer's growth, only:

crack gardens of the sculpture court sculpture court crack garden weeds and shadows
colossal weed wire and concrete crack gardens of the sculpture court
Wallflowers lawn and feature plant one last concrete garden

The Southbank Roof Garden is not far from here so seeds have probably blown over. There's all sorts in the roof garden, from a shady grove of birches to cheerful raised beds full of veg, but here we're mostly seeing the classics of the urban landscape; couch grass, buddleia, and weeds. I can't readily identify them, but not one is a plant you'd keep. Yet every single one has made this National Monument absolutely  their own.

The Sculpture Gardens are going to be resurfaced, told us the man from the Southbank with a slight wrinkle in his nose, as I cheerfully snapped the weeds in the cracks. Something more hard-wearing, and more in keeping with modern surfacing.

But I doubt they will be able to keep out the weeds.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

great balls of fairy lights

I'm not a big fan of the hanging plastic box ball, as seen (often faded to shades of blueish grey) outside failing pubs on grimey roundabouts, or hanging like tiny green warnings outside unappealing takeaways. But maybe I am being unreasonably harsh. I walked past this striking view the other night (going home just after dusk).

Lights at night

Do you see the plastic box balls, hanging there, either side of a doorway in all probability (it was too dark to see), their sprinkling of fairy lights mimicking the luminescent sky behind? It is at that perfect moment of the evening when real life mimics Magritte's Empire of Light series; day hangs in the sky, but the night has come to the street.

At this moment, burnt to a black silhouette and scattered with surreal sparks of solar powered fairy lights, the artificial box balls come into their own. Oh! I bet they're this one. It's a good price, too.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

green walls without the work

Every visit to London now, I walk past green walls - tapestried masses of greenery webbed into a matrix of plastic pots and watering systems, rugged plant cover nodding cheerfully in the increasingly unpolluted air. It's a good look, but to run it effectively you need to install a vertical hydroponics system (and thoroughly waterproof your wall). This isn't something that's going to happen in my back garden any time soon.

However, I am doing the cheap version, by trimming narrow shrubs and vines to verticality and swaddling them in creepers. My walls become ever greener, though some of the plants I've picked are slow and steady (though the grape vine, the passion flower and the ivy all show signs of taking over).

It doesn't have to go slow, though; meet this year's growth on the back of a garage I walked past on the way to the library the other week. There's a garage door under that, not that you'd know. Virginia Creeper and Russian Vine, having a lovely time and aiming fr full coverage. The former is classy like Wisteria is classy - if you have it, you probably also have a gardener to keep it in check. The latter is an invasive weed, though I did once (when much younger) plant one to cover an ugly garage full of the landlord's rubbish spare furniture. It ended up being outcompeted by the lawn. British lawns are nails.

vine medley

My neighbour, a few years after he uprooted the large-leaved decorative ivy that was starting to prise open the windows and invade the loft, has now planted a Virginia Creeper in the same place. It's doing well, and looks lovely, but I wonder if in three year's time, it might go the same way as the ivy, and in another five, Wisteria will appear, as the next gentrification shockwave ripples through the front gardens.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

it lives: the 2015 cuttings

I've had some success with my cuttings this year. The geraniums propagated nicely from their trimmings (I now have too many geraniums, and will probably have to give them to people). I started a flowering currant from a twig snaffled from my local park, though it's coughed and complained through most of the year. About twenty softwood forsythia cuttings yielded two healthy plants, of which but one remains, but it's doing well.

Failures included a pink blueberry, a mysterious purple Batchelor's Button type plant which I still haven't identified, and as always, the trimmings from the grape vines. As usual, one or two rooted, sprouted, then died. Something about summer kills them, though I don't know if it's the dry spells or the wet spells. We get both.

Cuttings from two, three, four years ago (mostly decorative shrubs of the fence clinging variety; cotoneaster, jasmine, lonerica, etc.) are now starting to contribute flowers, fruits and leaves in earnest. I like cuttings. I may even try taking some from the crazy green chrysanthemum this year (mine is Green Mist) as it's grown to the full height of the greenhouse, which will necessitate trimming.

As every, I find my hapsadaisical approach to the jam-jar stage of starting the cuttings produced manky, algaed water. I really need some sort of addition to the jars to keep the stems steady, and help keep the water clean.  The floating forest series from Michael Anastassiades imagines such a thing; cones, plates and clips to help hold plant or stem steady, all made from friendly shiny brass. These are things of extraordinary beauty (and doubtless expense) but perhaps something similar might be created, with a little time and effort.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

skoda mossgarden

Implausibly, my car (obtained last year from a lady owner who had most recently loaned it to her daughter to learn to drive in) remains road legal. Permanent minor electrical fault, self draining battery and slight (there is no other word for it) moistness notwithstanding. And that's before I even start on the filth, the substrate, the grime in its crevices which has now started to sprout:

Skoda garden Skoda garden
Skoda garden Skoda garden
Skoda garden Skoda garden
Skoda garden Skoda garden

Spiders throng round every hidey hole. Algae blooms wherever water gathers. Someone has scrawled a tag in the filth on the roof, which is now visible as a space of different griminess.

The state of the seals round the windows probably tells you everything you need to know about why this car has never been near a carwash. Rain mostly stays outside. Mostly. But the greenery sprouts. It's a reminder of how close my car is to reclamation by nature.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Object of desire: a patio greengage

This year, Sainsburys has been stocking greengages; and therefore has my lunchbox been including Greengages. They're very non-acidic compared to most of their plummy brethren, with a fresh, gassy flavour. And small - they seem to have escaped the size swell that has driven peaches and nectarines to be mostly too big for my lunchbox. That tomato's one of mine. Sweet little yellow cherries so vigorous I've saved seed. We're keeping those.

What's in my lunchbox 2015 OMG Nectarine

So I've been watching OMG Nectarine (above, right - it's probably this one) and Dwarf Peach Crimson Bonfire like a hawk as they both appeared be having heavily fruiting years. But as usual, they threw off their fruit as they ripened, and I am now down to one and none respectively. Even unripe, Crimson Bonfire's peaches are amazing. But it's going to need a bigger pot, better soil, fewer slugs and snails (they nibble round the stem, and down come the fruits), something.

Maybe a super-dwarfing gage would do better. My yellow raspberries are left alone by pests, and then I would be able to have my own gages in my lunchbox; and look, Spalding say they have one. Growth height 150 centimetre. But are they to be trusted? I can't find any of the usuals selling a gage on anything smaller than a Pixy. A few people are raving about a new Russian rootstock, but if it's the Krymsk, it's no smaller than a Pixy.

Wait, I have it; Sibley's gage, a compact Reine Claude grafted onto new Russian rootstock Sibley, guaranteed to remain under 4Ft, fertility boosted by the proximity of peaches and nectarines! And here's another, Dwarf Cambridge Gage, from my usual suppliers, though sadly out of stock.

Let the elaborate justification for this purchase begin....

Thursday, 1 October 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.