Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The post-Christmas purples

I've got that post-Christmas feeling. Lazy and languid, more inclined to look at the outside world than get out into it. I'm in a very pleasant sofa-space right now; overfed, pampered, fussed and spoiled. Cat and chocolates easily to hand. I feel imperial, but towards the fall of the Empire; richly lazing in my ruined environment, replete and delighted, but haunted by a slight purple wistfulness. The end is coming; new year and the new term approaching like the unstoppable rise of decaying trade routes, annoying warlords and squabbling inheritors. The raven calls across the falling embers of 2015... and quoth the Raven: here is my faaaabulous 2016 seed catalogue.

There's no shortage of beautiful purples. Here are my top eleven purple seeds, plus a stray corm, because Christmas.
  • Zinnia Elegans Giant Purple Prince - proper Imperial Purple, and likely to be a proper fusspot that needs repeatedly staking. Ruffleicious.
  • Silene Armeria Electra - the humble Catchfly gets an imperial makeover. A proper rebel - likely to prove invasive, and may revert to its pinker origins.
  • Opium Poppy Blackcurrant Fizz - everyone's favourite fling and forget seeds in a ridiculously ruffled blackcurrant pop-party dress. OTT, bonkers, beautiful.
  • Shizanthus Dr Badger - little orchidaceous stunners with petals like tiny lilac butterfly wings. This variety has patches so dark they're almost black, hence the badger.
  • Phlox 21st Century Blue - foxes the digital cameras with its incredible deep indigo flowers, little orange eyes peek out of the centre of the flowers. Proper showgarden.
  • Sweet Pea Blue Velvet - ridiculous watered-silk ball-dress petals, heavily scented, unfussy, huge wows. You can plant them today if you've got a bit of shelter.
  • Scabious Burgundy Beau - Wine-dark pincushion plant. Looks at its best decorated with a small bumble bee. Lovely white stamens like tiny fairy lights. Fireworks.
  • Purple Cobaea - The cup-and-saucer vine's purple variety is green on the outside, lilac on the inside, like a fancy couture skirt. A scrambler, but classy.
  • Larkspur Mauve - poisonous, fussy, fancy and almost certainly irresistible to slugs. A good looking prestige item available as plugs later for when your seeds fail.
  • Hibiscus Tronium - The flower-of-an-hour has a dark maroon eye in a sweet white flower with glossy shiny dark foliage. Uplifting.
  • Foxglove - nothing fancy, just the hedgerow plant; a drunken leaner, annoyingly biannual so it will spend a good year sprawling dull leaves over everything until it achieves dominion or leaves your garden. Perfect opponent for your Hollyhocks.
  • Dahlia Edge of Joy - and here's the stray corm - a pale, fashionable, bee-friendly semi-single flower streaked through with a brushstroke of purple. Gorgeous.
Of course I've made myself a firm promise that I'll use up the seeds I already have before buying any more, so this is strictly fantasy shopping. 

We-ell. Maybe just the badger.

Friday, 25 December 2015

A host of Golden Santas

So, er Merry Christmas!?



I photographed these at Solstice in Cambridge. You can't see the bees, but there were bees.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Spring 2016 Collection

Here come the emails! Are you suffering retail withdrawal now that Christmas shopping is over? Don't worry. Spring is coming... and with spring, comes the new spring collection.

I'm not baking a cake this year (and I've come to terms with the shame of that) so yes I have time - for a quick break from Christmas to see what's strutting down the garden path for 2016.

First up - the unexpected colour explosions collection. Think you know Amaranthus? You don't. Amaranthus has had a multicolour makeover. Amaranthus is a food crop - Fat Spike was probably an attempt to boost production that turned unexpectedly decorative. Some crazy has made a multigrafted Brugmansia - three colours on one plant; and if insufficiently dazzled, psychedelic bedding that will also please the bees; Calibrachoa Candy Bouquet and Bidens Beedance.

Next up - the global warming collection: can you grow exotic red-flowered sprawling/climbing shrub Glory Pea, aka the Lobster's Claw outside in the UK? We think so! So why not give it a go? Will your Mexican Dayflower (so achingly blue) survive the winter? Mulch it! It'll be fine! Will it be bright enough for Ancistus Australis, aka the Blue Angel's Trumpet? Worth a try! And what about your very own Frangipane? Give the British bees a thrill with something really exotic.

Finally - the dark collection. Flowers for gothic drama, with betrayals and beheadings. Chop them down and put them in your cruellest vase, while reflecting that gardening is all about death, really: Snapdragon Black Prince, Eucomis Burgundy, dark and stabby - the sickly pallor of green Galtonia, the terrifying Fuchsia Voodoo and a properly dark Petunia - Table Red. Topping it off; the frankly terrifying Starfish Lily with its weird brown bobbly bits. Nothing is mentioned of its scent, but I note from elsewhere on the internet that it is nicknamed Carrion Lily, so not one to plant anywhere you'll be eating...

This mild winter, it feels like spring is here already. But this collection says 2016 will be hot, bright, vivid, decadently scented - tropical spring.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Unwise Christmas purchasing decisions

I stand up. I raise my hand. I admit I was seduced by the pretty pictures in the Christmas catalogue and thought, oooh, pretty flowers for Christmas. What a great idea for my sister/mum/aunt/etc. Yes! And I ordered Christmas plants for delivery. To me, rather than their recipients, thank goodness.

Christmas Begonia disappointing amaryllis
Hibiscus Christmas Begonia

Two battered parcels turned up (out of three) and were left in the rain by the wheelie bin, one upside down, despite the prominent "this way up" sign. The third turned up the following day, having clearly been found under a pile of something. That's it bottom right, with its distinctive "sat on" look. The petals on the Begonias are browning, done in by the cold or the rain. The Hibiscus flowers are fretting and fading before they're open. Here's hoping one of them will be fit to gift by Christmas.

This year's Amaryllis (top right) was as usual found at a checkout (this time I went upmarket - Sainsburys!) but it's not happy. You can see the brown rot on the bulb. Still that bud should make a flower at some point.

I think I'll not bother with any more flowers this Christmas. Fairy lights all the way.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Trees of the winter city

The fairy lights are on the trees now, but my camera can only see them sometimes. Top left there, mistletoe lights are visible as a black bundle of twigs, the lights disappeared into the sky. In these four photos, Witney is grey and Oxford is blue, but all of the fairy lights on the trees are tastefully white.

decorated tree Christmas Lights 2
Christmas Lights 1 trees in witney

The seasonal interest on the tow-path is of a different nature. I've observed Psychotic Robin (below) picking a fight with a magpie; here he is picking a fight with me.

the boldest robin

Honestly you weigh less than an orange

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Going to ground

The garden is full of jobs to do. Plant the bulbs, clear the leaves from the patio, strip the grapes from the vine, cut back the raspberries, pot up the apple tree, thin the columbines, trim back the passion vine... but actually I find myself looking out of the window and thinking of new ways to curl up indoors and stay warm. Like a badger I have gone to ground; not proper hibernating, because every weak ray of sunshine has me rushing outside to synthesise some emergency Vitamin D, but a sort of bedding down, crawling under the blankets and the cat and drinking hot drinks to soothe the minor winter ailments that seem to run back-to-back nowadays.

Like the badger, I am also grumpy. Annoyed with this year's Amaryllis, for taking too long to sprout; irritated with next door's twisted willow, not for the leaves (a blanket for my flower bed) but because of the endless fiddly annoying twiglets it drops with them; impatient with the raspberries and grapes, still throwing out fruit which has soured and dampened with autumn until nothing wants to eat them, least of all me.

The orange aubergines were too bitter to eat; their tattered remnants are waiting to be cleared away. I might grow them next year as decoration, but they're never going to be food, sadly. The last of my tomatoes are ripening on the windowsill, astonishingly sharp-sweet under their tough skins. I have cyclamen and heather waiting for me to decide where to put them.

But all I want to do is curl up inside and sleep.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Container clematis - go again or change tack?

This year, my Clematis Fragrant Oberon fell to the vine weevil menace. Oberon is a relatively new plant, but I fell for the tiny green intensely scented flowers and the glossy fussy lacy foliage (it's evergreen, so the foliage matters) right away.

While I'm prepared to admit that it is possible for Oberon to grow in the ground, mine took objection to the soil or the shade or the competition and sulked desperately until I hoiked him out and put him in a good long pot and gave him a little pyramid to smother. Smother it he did; but every three months I needed to remove some wilt or trim some pests or (groan) drag him out of the pot entirely for a full de-weevilling.

This spring I was too busy or possibly out of patience with the plant we now called Tragic Oberon. He didn't get his roots combed for weevils, and subsequently in the first warm wet snap I gave the (now drooping) plant a little tug and up it came, roots all nibbled to nothing. Alas poor Oberon.

Since then, the pot's sat empty (well it's been colonised by some strawberries, Herb Robert and Armpit Plant) and its little pyramid has been sat in the shed. Which leads us to the question, try again with another Oberon? Or find another thing just as good? Oberon has a big sister now - Nunn's Gift - or I could go blue, if I want to keep it Clematis and fragrant, with many more options if I'm prepared to drop the fragrance.

Of course, any Clematis I buy will still be vulnerable to weeviling. There are things that aren't, but it's limiting, and I'm not going to cover that little pyramid with ivy. We've got enough of that already!    

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

first frost on the garden

First frost is here, though this antirrhinum did not get the memo. Over a week since I took this photo, and it's still going strong.

first frost

Those plants you think of as tender, annuals, some keep lingering. The last time planted Alyssum, for example, was four years ago, and the same plants are still happily growing. It's not merrily self-seeding through my patio, as I once hoped it might (neither is the Erigeron or Campanula) but my garden is a hard place for seeds to start, between the cold, the dark and the slugs.

I've now definitively missed the autumn perennial planting window for 2015. But mild days have returned, so I may be able to slip my current batch of seedlings (foxgloves, verbascum and, er, something else in a similar height about which the only thing I can remember is that the cultivar name is Red Rocket) into the soil for them to start spreading their roots out in time for next spring. They're all tall, so they could do with the extra time, and since the first two frosts, the weather has been sweet and mild.

There will be a certain amount of clearing to do first, though, as Fennel, Aquilegia, and Alpine Strawberry have all run riot through the bed, and the Alkanet and Geraniums are asserting their "spreading, clump-forming" nature.

And I might slip in a few suitable seeds under the blanket of willow leaves and spent compost I'll cover everything with afterwards. You never know.