Sunday 30 May 2010

Planting out

Today has been ideal gardening weather, with moist soil after 7 mm of rain yesterday giving perfect conditions for getting things into the ground and growing - there was quite a build up. A late spring planting gives an opportunity like few other occasions to really assess the garden and think about how its interest can be prolonged through the year. Thoughts might go something like this:

Just the place for that penstemon! Wish those tulips would die down. How have I missed that Ash sapling so long? That hellebore has black death, got to go - shame, it's Helen Ballard's 'Laura', wonder if I'm still in credit with Gisela from that 'Diggory' - it flowered so beautifully - what big roots these things have, better get them all out though: perfect place for that Podocarpus - oh look it's got a berry - hope it doesn't mind lime - need to find something to go at its foot. Must prune that, Sibylle will enquire. Wretched colchicums. What's this big gap? oh yes, candidissimum - that lily would be nice there - well perhaps if I go carefully... sorry snowdrop! (only "Backhouse"). John Weagle's black Dahlia will go with that Monarda - don't forget the pellets later. More colchicums. Can I get these chrysanths round those pansies? Have I got all that Ground Elder? - yes, stolon is dark at the end - more where that came from... Better look after this, its Adrian's. Can we get away with white here? Is that REALLY the time?

Friday 28 May 2010

Three interesting roses

In his contribution to the posthumous 'auto'biography of Henry John Elwes, Gardening and horticulture: personal impressions and recollections, E.A. Bowles wrote of plants he had seen growing at Colesbourne during HJE's lifetime, leaving us with a tantalising glimpse into the richness of the garden in those days.  One of the plants he mentioned was  'a wide stretch of a very good seedling form of Rosa spinosissima altaica, called after Mrs Elwes - its white flowers are large, and I think contain more than the five petals of the older form'. Bowles was writing seven years after Elwes's death, so it is not surprising that he was slightly hesitant about details. I have not been able to locate any other mention of a rose named after Mrs Elwes, nor have rosarians I have asked heard of such a thing - this brief mention is the only description we have.

However, I think we still have the rose, which is currently in full flower and wafting its strong scent around. It is a lovely, vigorous plant, suckering freely as all burnet roses do, and for a short time bearing masses of large creamy-white flowers. Many do have one or two extra petaloids in the centre, supporting Bowles's memory and suggesting that this is indeed the original 'Mrs Elwes'. Its drawback is its short flowering period, but this no shorter than many much-admired early shrub roses, and a few flowers appear through the summer.

The other two roses are much less attractive and both are grown in the polytunnel for protection against the worst of the winter. Rosa abyssinica is a big prickly 'dog rose' with smallish white flowers that are at least pleasantly scented, and have a profusion of golden anthers. It would be of limited horticultural merit even if hardy, but when I tried it against the cottage wall here it was killed to the ground each winter. It is, however, of great botanical interest, as it is the only rose native to sub-Saharan Africa, occurring in the Ethiopian highlands and the mountains of Yemen across the Bab el Mandeb, a distribution paralleled by Primula verticillata and a few other plants. In the wild it grows on dryish banks and forest edges, scrambling about through other shrubs and trees. When I last saw it in the wild, in Ethiopia in 2007, I was amused to see it showing the unmistakeable black spot fungus that plagues rose growers here. The plant here, however, is of Yemeni origin.

Thirdly comes the most miserable little rose I've ever seen - any bramble could show a finer crop of flowers than this Rosa x beanii. I got cuttings of it from Jimi Blake of Huntingbrook in Co. Wicklow, seduced by its narrow leaflets - the foliage is light and feathery in appearance, but always rather chlorotic-looking here- and the name, though now I'm not even sure if it commemorates the great William Jackson Bean, he of Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles. It seems to be a hybrid of uncertain ancestry, but Rosa banksiae seems to be in the mix. An old garden rose known as 'Anemoneflora' with white double flowers is also attributed to R. x beanii. Another plant grows against my hen run here, but has never flowered and looks even more yellow than the potted specimen, but it was not harmed by the winter.

Earthworms eat seeds and seedlings

A news article by Matt Walker, 'Earthworms eat live seeds and plants,scientists find' posted on the BBC website last week makes interesting reading (available at ). A team of biologists from gottingen have found that instead of confining themselves to the consumption of plant debris, earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris, the familiar subject of school dissections) actively seek nutrient-rich seeds and seedlings, especially of legumes, thus altering completely our perceptions of them. The principal author of the published research, Dr Nico Eisenhauer, calls them 'seedling predators'.

The article suggests that this information could be of benefit to those wishing to encourage healthy worm populations, as they could be encouraged by the sowing of favoured seeds. On the converse side, the spread of earthworms into areas where they are not indigenous is already causing the disappearance of some native plants and this discovery may prove to be the explanation for this. For most of us, however, this is merely a curious extra fact about an amazing creature, and shows how little is known about the most familiar of organisms and their roles in their ecosystems.

The details and abstract of the original paper by Eisenhauer et al. may be found at:

Thursday 27 May 2010

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2010

Back at home and reunited with my USB cable, I have now had chance to download my images from Monday and Tuesday at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The following (actually preceding posts) give some idea of the things to be seen - mostly those that I liked, with a few I didn't... The selection is somewhat constrained by available images, as conditions for photography inside the Floral Marquee are not ideal, so some things that I would have included, such as Geum 'Totally Tangerine' are missing.

The top image here, of Ranunculus acris 'Citrinus' and Milium effusum 'Aureum' (staged by Hall Farm Nursery on its stand for Riding for the Disabled) shows what I thought to be the most attractive plant combination I noticed, although I wonder how it would work in the garden. Cactusland's display of cacti in full flower was dazzling and Medwyn's beautiful vegetables thoroughly deserved the President's Award, though the choice cannot have been easy.

Plants I liked, Chelsea 2010

In no significant order: Silene dioica 'Firefly' (Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants); Dahlia 'Etheral [sic] (Winchester Growers); Hyacinthus 'Blue Eyes' (Pennings); Hosta 'Snow Mouse' (Mickfield Hostas); Quercus leucotrichophora (Mallet Court); Primula pulverulenta 'Salmon' (unrecorded); Eriophorum russeolum (Waterside Nursery); Lilium 'Arabian Night' (Jacques Amand); Nepenthes truncata 'King of Hearts' (Borneo Exotics).

Chelsea sculpture 2010

I do not know the official titles of these beautiful pieces, standing out among much meretricious stuff, so here are their creators: David Harber; David Watkinson; Robert Till; Tom Stogdon; Jenny Pickford.

Chelsea orchids 2010

There seemed to be more orchids than usual at Chelsea this year. Thse ae a few that particularly caught my attention: Cypripedium kentuckiense (McBean's Orchids); Paphiopedilum callosum (Jardin du Luxembourg); Cymbidium Little Black Sambo 'Black Magic' (darker in real life); Anguloa virginalis (both Orchid Society of Great Britain); Miltonia Nicholle Tower (Eric Young Orchid Foundation)

Chelsea hideosities 2010

Things I didn't like, but took pictures of anyway: 'Progression' for Interflora; Narcissus 'Trepolo'; Blackmore & Langdon's beautiful delphiniums and appalling begonias ...

Tuesday 25 May 2010

C POTY - Chelsea Plant of the Year 2010

An innovation this year at the Chelsea Flower Show is the selection of the Chelsea Plant of the Year by members of RHS committees. To this end exhibitors were invited or cajoled to select new introductions for consideration. The result was that most seem to have chosen specimens that didn't quite make the cut for their exhibits, and these form a very unprepossessing display on an unimaginative stand in the Floral Marquee. This is not Chelsea at its finest.

But there are some good plants among the twenty selected - they are just not shown to good advantage in this format. I liked two in particular, the very bright pink and not too dwarf Gaura lindheimeri 'Ruby Ruby' and the floriferous, long-stemmed Geum 'Totally Tangerine' both from Hardys.

About four o'clock about 100 committee members sat down in a stifling marquee to hear first, Roy Lancaster's selection of six plants of interest in the show (but of course it turned out to be seven), and then to hear a form of hustings, when breeders or growers gave a 90-second presentation on the merits of their plant. This was done with some ingenuity and humour and proved rather enjoyable in a curious way. The promoters then left, and we judged the plants on a show of hands. My choice, the Gaura, came second, but the clear winner was the remarkable yellow and blue-flowered Streptocarpus 'Harlequin Blue' bred and shown by Dibleys of North Wales. When seen on their stand, nicely displayed, it is indeed a magnificent new introduction, and it's clear that in future years the plants for judging for this accolade need to be better presented to both judges and public.

Monday at Chelsea 2010

West Country Lupins: The Hesco Garden 2010: Iris Cayeux: Avon Bulbs: Laurent Perrier Garden 2010: HM The Queen, Giles and Sonia Coode-Adams

Sunday 23 May 2010

Supper by the pond

Peonies at Green Cottage

We finished an enjoyable afternoon outing to the Forest of Dean, in glorious hot sunshine, with a visit to Green Cottage, Lydney, home of Mr & Mrs Baber and their National Plant Collection of early peony cultivars. These are grown around their charming cottage garden, through which a selection of hens and ducks wander, with many other interesting plants and trees, of which a fine Picea breweriana (lowest pic) was particularly notable. Although we were too soon for the main display provided by Paeonia lactiflora, some beautiful cultivars were in flower. I particularly liked the pure white 'Campagna' (top) and bright pink 'Rose Garland' (upper middle), both raised by the indefatigable Dr. Saunders in New York before the war. An old European clone in full flower was P. officinalis 'Anemoniflora Rosea' (lower middle), known from the sixteenth century and still considered worthy of an Award of Garden Merit.

Saturday 22 May 2010

Oxford Alpine Garden Society Group conversazione

The Oxford & District Group of the Alpine Garden Society held its annual conversazione this afternoon in the garden of Alice and Paul Munsey's home just outside Oxford. The warmest day of the year so far, it was a perfect opportunity to relax with friends in a lovely garden full of interesting plants (e.g. Fritillaria affinis, top, Daphne altaica below). The group is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, and is open to anyone interested in a broad way in alpines - we are really very herbaceous - and a member of the Alpine Garden Society.

Dangerous beauty

A few weeks ago there was an incredible, much-commented on, display of dandelions on verges and in fields up and down the country. The flowers have now mostly turned to clocks, whose winged seeds are poised to take off and populate the earth with progeny. This field, actually perhaps a couple of days now beyond its whitest point, is just down the valley from here: I hope the wind remains westerly...