Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Layers and layers of colour

I've just planted up a potful of bulbs - yes, I know, much too late really, but these were a freebie from a magazine and they missed my main bulb-planting push, so I've only just got around to putting them in.

To make matters worse, they didn't put in quite the combination they'd promised in the freebie - result, I missed out on the one plant I wanted (Allium neapolitanum) and ended up with a mish-mash of nice plants, but in colours which don't go with my colour schemes so left me a bit non-plussed as to where to put them.

So I took the easy way out and put them all in a big pot on my patio. I used the "layer" technique - where you plant the tallest bulbs on the bottom layer, then just cover them with soil and plant another layer of shorter bulbs on top.

So here's what I did:

  • Layer 1: Ranunculus asiaticus: this will be the latest one to flower of them all, putting up big powder-puffs of blowsy flowers in July in lots of wonderfully vulgar colours!

  • Layer 2a: Allium ostrowskianum: a new one on me, so I'll be very interested to see how these come up. They look very pretty on paper - pale mauve flower heads in June.

  • Layer 2b: Tulipa tarda: these are among my favourite tulips, a lovely species with pale yellow, cheerful little flower heads in April. I put them in a circle around the Alliums.

  • Layer 3: Pushkinia libanotica: these tiny little gems will be the first to flower, in February or thereabouts, and since they're so tiny I've popped them in on top.

I'm so looking forward to it - the last time I tried a layered pot it was one of the most beautiful displays I'd ever had on my patio. Fingers crossed I haven't left it too late, that's all...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Uninvited guests

I've had to take my uninvited guests in hand this week - in other words, thin out the self-sown seedlings in my borders ruthlessly to allow my other newly-establishing plants enough room to develop properly.

Self-sowers are a wonderful benefit to the garden. In my garden, there are some which just come back every year in greater and greater numbers - usually because the conditions suit them so well.

I'm over-run with Californian poppies, from a batch sown in my first year here and revelling in my dry sandy conditions ever since. I love their sunny orange flowers, and always end up with a few which turn up excitingly different shades from white to pink just to liven things up a bit. But they do form great thickets of seedlings, all deeply rooted with a carrot-like taproot and taking a bit of digging out.

Then there's Phacelia tanacetifolia, again from a few seeds I popped in in the first year I was here (when I relied heavily on annuals while I was waiting to see what else there was in my newly-acquired garden - answer, not much, unfortunately). This is a big, lush, sappy plant with really wierd powder-blue hairy tails for flowers, and grows like mad so it overpowers everything near it. I do love it, but it's done for too many of my more precious plants for me to want to encourage it too much.

Another much-loved self-sower is love-in-a-mist, Nigella damascena. As well as the usual - but nonetheless beautiful - blue, I have a gratifyingly large number which come up that stunning white, sometimes with blue throats, and I just adore them. They are terrible little hussies, though, and scatter seeds indiscriminately and in their thousands.

This year I've also had the delight of a new self-seeder - Cerinthe major "Purpurascens". I germinated about 10 plants of this last year from a free packet of seeds, and fell for them big time. There's something about those big, luxurious mottled leaves and the sultry dark-purple nodding flowers that's a devastating combination. Well - they seem to like it here, which is fantastic, so I've left in a dozen or so where I think they look best, and either moved some of the others or... difficult to do, this, and demands the hardest of gardening hearts... put them on the compost heap.

These are the ones I need to control, though you might also add forget-me-nots which are gradually gaining more and more of a foothold. I'm encouraging them this year, though, because of the newly-planted tulips, so I'm being a bit kinder to them just for this one season.

The others, though, will be subjected to the Christopher Lloyd treatment: he advises weeding out around 99% of your self-seeders, which always seems horribly brutal. I just know I'll congratulate myself come summer, though, when I can enjoy my lovely uninvited guests without cursing their numbers and wanting them to go away and leave my more cultivated party-goers alone.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Late-season planting

I was expecting to have finished my planting until spring by now - but to my surprise, an order I put in for the next leg of the Christopher Lloyd border turned up just a couple of days after I'd placed it. All credit to Beth Chatto's wonderful nursery - but it meant I've had a hectic weekend getting the plants in as soon as I could after getting them.

So I've now added to my increasingly packed border:
  • Helenium "Moorheim Beauty": The classic Helenium, burnt bronze and copper in a strong, long-lasting daisy.
  • Papaver "Goliath Group": Another classic, this time the reddest oriental poppy you can think of.
  • Santolina neapolitanum: Silver filigree leaves and pompoms of yellow in summer. Not usually my kind of plant, but I'll take a punt on it, and besides I know it'll do well in my dry conditions.
  • Libertia peregrinans: part of the structural planting of the border, a lovely greeny-yellow evergreen that puts up spectacular flowers, too.

I've only got a few more of the main structural plants to put in now, and then it'll be a matter of putting in the annual contingent and waiting for the perennials to beef up a bit. It's all coming together easier and more quickly than I'd hoped!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Plant of the month - November

Prunus subhirtella "Autumnalis"

This is the view outside my front door at the moment. The mature winter-flowering cherry in my front garden has many virtues - flowering all through winter being one of them - but for two weeks in November each year, it catches fire. Palest yellow in the lower leaves darkens to burnt orange at the centre and erupts into richest red at the top. Utterly gorgeous.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Coming up roses

The construction of my little tribute to Christopher Lloyd continues... I got my roses in the post today from Peter Beales, all very exciting as I ordered them at the Chelsea Flower Show. Gardeners are patient folk - can you imagine anything else where you pay for something for delivery five months later...

Anyway - I whipped out this afternoon to get them in the ground as soon as possible. The "conventional" one is Rosa "Perle d'Or" - lovely old-fashioned scented shrub rose. Then I've indulged my passion for species roses, in my opinion criminally under-used. These are fantastic roses, super-reliable and tough, and without the "blowsiness" of the cultivated types. I know most people want romance with their roses, but they're fantastic plants in their own right if they're allowed to show what they can do. Just look at a Rosa canina (dog rose) scrambling through a dense hedgerow and putting out its shell-pink blossoms - or Rosa alba, also known as the White Rose of York, which has to be the toughest rose I know. It grows happily in shade and on poor soils, making it a really valuable rose for people who can't usually grow them.

My two species roses are Rosa setipoda - mainly for its long, wierd hips in autumn - and Rosa pimpinellifolia, an ancient low-growing variety with black hips. The hips are actually one of the best things about species roses - they haven't had them bred out of them so they keep them well into autumn. It rather puts the lie to the idea that roses have a short season.

The only disadvantage is that they're all, without exception as far as I can tell, extremely prickly! Rosa pimpinellifolia's other name is Rosa spinosissima, which says it all really. I'd better invest in some heavy-duty protective clothing when pruning time comes around...

Friday, November 10, 2006


Haven't had a moment for the last couple of weeks as every five minutes I've been shooting outside to plant a few more tulips.

It's just the right time of year, so I've bought myself nearly 100 bulbs to plant. That sounds like a lot but it still won't quite make the carpet I have in mind - the plan is to add to it gradually over the years. I've got white Triumphator, purple Purple Prince and fabulous scarlet Apeldoorn, all planted in blocks of colour.

I've underplanted them with forget-me-nots, which grow in self-seeded clumps in my garden but have never really been allowed to come to the fore before. I've hit on the rather handy trick of transplanting a little clump onto each tulip bulb, reminding me where the bulbs are without having a graveyard full of labels everywhere.

With luck, I'll get away without digging them up every year since I have sharply-draining light soil, so there's no danger of rot. Just hope there's enough nutrition in there to keep them flowering from year to year. We'll just have to see.
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