Sunday, 23 October 2016

Irritating Plant of the Month - October 2016

This month's tale of woe is indeed one of woe.  I am sad that this plant has entered these hallowed halls of disappointment but, dear reader, there is little hope for this one. I am just not sure if I am disappointed with the plant, or with myself for letting this happen.

I give you my beautiful, my beloved, Sorbus cashmeiriana:
At first glance you might understandably think that this is a case of extreme pruning that has got a little too extreme.  I wish I could say that is correct.  The other day when wandering around the garden with a gardening chum there was an exclamation of 'what's that?  It's dead'.   'Dead!' I replied 'I hope not, that is my precious cashmeiriana.'  A closer inspection later and this young tree looked flayed of bark higher up its trunk and there was that spongyness, you know what I mean, that spongyness of death.  I muttered an expletive or two and decided I would dig it up later.

When I returned later to dig it up I weakened.  I decided to cut it down to below the dead bit, which has left this stick that is around 12  inches tall.  I think in the spring time I will probably dig up a dead stick, but I thought I would give it a chance.

Please stop laughing at the back.....

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Exotic Border reviewed

The Exotic Border has been through more iterations than any other border in the garden.  It has in truth lacked direction and yet there has been a slim thread of consistency running through it year on year.

The border was firstly the Dahlia Border.  I mused about it as being a riot of colour.  It never quite got there in reality. it was less of a riot more of a mild disturbance.  Some years it did better than others, but generally it was always short of the mark.  The border is perfect for growing dahlias as it is probably the sunniest and best drained area of my clay garden. This border, unlike most in my garden, does not contain any roses.  Every now and again I get tempted to just pop one in, but so far my discipline has been good.

Some years pass and the tree lupin takes up residence.  The border is now rightly renamed in its honour as it is a fantastic plant.  Then there followed a large Phyllostachys nigra which has grown really well.  Every year I planted dahlias into it and it has bumbled along fairly happily.

Last year I went to Great Dixter for a course on exotic planting.  This made a huge impression on me as did other visits at that weekend and in particular my visit to Ulting Wick which gave me huge food for thought.
So I began planting with more of a purpose.  I added a Melianthus major, a gift from a friend.  Also a callistemon found its way into the border.  I wanted to put in some structure that would look a bit exotic.
The view from this angle shows the tithonia that are a great favourite of mine.  There is the Twinings dahlia in the foreground that is never lifted but comes back year on the year.  There is also the blue of the Salvia atrocyanea shining its blue wonderfulness.
Some bananas also were added and some vietnamese coriander.  This coriander has really nice foliage and I thought it would add something a little different.
The foliage and grasses have worked quite well  I think.
There are also some sunflowers that have added some more height and contrast to the tithonia.

Am I happy with it?  Almost, it has not been too bad for a first year.  It is, in truth, just short of the mark.  Will it better next year?  I hope so!

I've enjoyed appraising this border so I think the others in the garden might be due a consideration as well.  I shall return to this theme soon.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Product Review: Wilkinson Sword Razorcut Comfort Medium Bypass Pruner

I was contacted recently to ask if I would like to trial some Wilkinson Sword garden tools.  I had a look around their website and the first product I chose was the  Razorcut Comfort Medium Bypass Pruners.  I do like a good pair of secateurs and this offer to trial just as my trusty secateurs were on their last legs.  I had had them for a good ten years so I think they had lasted me well but I was in that limbo of not knowing whether to replace with the same or try something new.  Whilst I was in this undecided state I purchased a pair from a local garden centre for £3.99.  I told myself if they lasted me a couple of months whilst I came to a decision that would be fine.  Dear reader, they did not last a week. 
The Wilkinson secateurs duly arrived.  My first impression was that they were very comfortable to hold; they fit well into the hand.
The packaging says that they have high quality Japanese steel blades.  They certainly are very sharp.  Compared to my old secateurs that have become blunted with age and poor sharpening skills on my part, they cut through stems with complete ease.  I might have got a bit snip-happy with them when I first took them out for a spin,

The easy open 'squeeze me' mechanism works very well.  You just squeeze the handles slightly together and the secateurs pop open ready to use in your hand.  To lock the secateurs though is a little more fiddly.  I think this is partly because at first I could not train my brain to lock them in a different way to my old pair.  It is a different action and so I had to learn not to do what my hands just automatically wanted to do.  I can just about do it with one hand now but quite often it takes me both hands to lock them.  The lock works well though and that matters.  A pair of secateurs popping open when you don't want them too is both annoying and a risk.
I have been using the secateurs now for a couple of weeks and it is pruning/cutting back time of year.  One of the first jobs I used them for was the pruning of this rose 'Maidens Blush', that sits in front of my kitchen window.  It had grown to over six feet tall this year and so it was in need of some reduction and thinning out.  As I prune I could hear the words of Monty Don talking about pigeons flying through things.  That was not about rose pruning but you get the idea.
The secateurs made light work of this.  Some of the stems are quite thick, more than a centimeter in diameter, as it is a well established rose but I did not need to resort to loppers to cut through them.  I was very impressed.

The secateurs have now become my primary pair.  I am very pleased with them and I can happily recommend them.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The year of the snail

We have had a couple of relatively mild, wet winters; followed by relatively wet springs and summers and autumns.  Earlier in the year there were warnings in the press that this would create the perfect conditions for slug and snail reproduction; this was an understatement.
This year the slugs and snails have feasted well.  This is the first ever courgette-less year I have had since I have been growing them.  I did not know the words 'none' and 'courgette' were ever a thing.  I am used the to the word 'glut', I am used to asking the family 'what do you want to eat with your courgette tonight', but to have not one is astonishing.  The slugs had every single one of them.

The slugs have the courtesy to hide, the snails however flaunt their rebellion.
Snails have a hardness to them that slugs do not (this might be the shell....), they care not for opinion, they care not that I pick them off plants and thrown them over the hedge.  They limbo back under the hedge swaying and a singing 'Lets go fly a kite' in a sardonic manner.  Oh yes, I hear them, oh you sneaky sneaky snails.
They know they have a beauty that slugs do not, they know that there is something a little charming about their house that they carry on their back.  What they seem to fail to know is that if they wander about on the path after rainfall I might not see them and all might end with a crunch.

I am not a slug-snipper, or a snail-cruncher on purpose, I dislike what they do to my garden and this year the odd organic pellet might have made an appearance, But I have also have allies on my side.
There is the shadowy Ms P the hedgepig.  I do not see her very often, but she pootles around the garden like she owns the place (in truth she does more than I do).  She is my secret weapon in the war on slugs.  I do not have a photograph of the mistle thrushes that help out with the snails, but they beat them out of their little houses and feast on their soft innards.

I could say I do not wish the snails/slugs any harm.....

.....this would be a lie.

and if you want an earworm to go along with this post I give you Al Stewart 'The Year of the Cat', just replace cat with snail and you're away.
No need to thank me.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

A bowl of happiness - verbena and bacopa

Earlier in the year I was sent some plug plants to trial by The Vernon Nursery.  I have various plants from them previously, especially some rather nice pelagoniums, but this time I decided to choose something different.

I chose two plants: firstly Verbena 'Sparkle Purple', I already grow Verbena bananarama but this is a much shorter bedding version.  The second plant I chose was Bacopa 'Blue Hollyhock'; a plant completely unknown to me which is why I chose it.  I wanted something different to try.
The plugs duly arrived and I planted them into a shallow bowl that I am very fond of, but if you look closely you can see it has been frost damaged and therefore on its last legs.  The verbena started to flower quite quickly, this is how they looked in May.
By June the bowl has moved to the front door step and the bacopa is starting to flower as well.  It is a bowl of cheeriness by this point.  The little flowers are just a delight.
In July it is still going strong.  I kept dead-heading it and this seems to have kept it going well.
Slip forward a couple of months and it is quite often getting dark when I arrive home from work.  Even in the porch light the verbenas are sparkling away as they name suggests.

I am really glad I chose these plugs.  They have given months of happiness and have taken very little looking after.  I cannot look at them without smiling.