Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Plant of the month - February

Crocus tommasianus

This is one of the most amenable crocuses in the garden. At this time of year there's something so cheerful about a clump of these brave little things, nodding in the breeze (well, howling gale if we're talking about today) and opening wide in the slightest glance of sunshine. They naturalise beautifully, in grass and through the border, and need little or no attention all year round. One of the best-value plants in my garden.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Remind me never to...

1) plant bamboo in my garden

2) use weed-suppressing membrane with pebbles/stones over the top unless I'm planning to move house within 5 years

3) plant ivy in my garden

Just been spending the day working up a serious sweat in a client's garden wrestling with all the above three problems. First, I had two massive black bamboos (Phyllostachys nigra) to pull out - the clumps were about three foot across. Said clumps had also send out inch-thick runners across the top of the weed-suppressing membrane, something akin to iron hawsers in thickness and durability. I do like Phyllostachys, but it's not quite as well-behaved as the books would have you believe, and you do need plenty of room for it.

Then there was the membrane. The trouble with designs that use these otherwise very sensible precautions against weeds is that they don't actually envisage the garden ever growing, or developing, or in any way behaving like a garden. Shrubs and other plants (like the bamboo), surprise surprise, GROW!!! And if you ever want to look after your plants - that is, lift and divide them, pull them out, or move them - you then have the awful task of pulling back stones and destroying the membrane to get to the plant. The result is a lot of expense: we're having to consider replacing the membrane completely (without the plants - the client wants it cleared for a paddling pool, thank god). And most of the stones either disappeared into the ground or got covered in mud during the wrestling match with the bamboos, so we'll have to replace a lot of those, too.

And don't even get me started on ivy... why this is presented as a cultivated plant is beyond me. It is, quite simply, a weed, and a very invasive one at that. When I moved into my house five years ago, the previous owner kept what must have been a national collection of different ivies in the back garden - he really liked them, and it's true that they have pretty leaves, grow in tricky places, etc etc etc. But I'm still pulling out their wretched invasive little fingers five years later. Never, never, never plant the stuff. However pretty it looks. Under that delicate exterior lurks a thug with a heart of steel.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A taste of the tropics

Maybe it's because I'm fed up with the winter (and who isn't) but I'm in the throes of planning the area around my pond at the moment, and I'm going for the tropical jungle look.

It's partly inspired by the seed distribution list I've just received from the Friends Society of the Ventnor Botanic Garden. I love these horticultural groups - at the very least, you meet lots of other enthusiastic and knowledgeable gardeners, and often, if the group is attached to a botanic garden or similar, there's the sheer delight of a seed distribution. I have a particular affection for Ventnor, too, and make a point of visiting it at least once a year to see its fabulous semi-tropical and mediterranean displays. It's on the Isle of Wight, which is well worth a visit in any case as it has its own microclimate and they can grow some wonderful plants there which are borderline hardy in the rest of the country. The gardens there are wonderful.

Other seed distributions are pretty good - I did the RHS's wonderful seed distribution this year, mainly for a client who wants to stock up her garden at minimal cost, and it was like being a kid in a sweet shop. But the Ventnor distribution list is something else - a horticultural odyssey through the wierd and wonderful, from every corner of the globe. You always find something you never knew existed but sounds utterly sumptuous. How about Myoporum sandwicense? Ever heard of it? Me neither - but it's a gorgeous plant, tiny pink or white flowers and big leathery-looking leaves. Another one I might try is Sinocalycanthus chinensis - I read about this just recently in an article by Roy Lancaster and thought it sounded absolutely fabulous. And here it is for free... can't believe my luck sometimes!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Earth stood hard as iron...

Woke up this morning to a hard frost, one of the few we've had this winter. Since I can't get a fork into the ground, even I have to stop gardening - so I went out with my camera instead. Is there anything more beautiful than sun on frost in a winter garden?

This Trachycarpus fortunei is a baby - in a pot on my sheltered patio at the moment and surviving the winter remarkably well.

Ceanothus - here a "Puget's Blue" trained against my fence - holds frost particularly well and looks great in winter cold.

This is Helianthemum "Henfield Brilliant" - a very useful evergreen ground cover (also known as Rock Rose) with fabulous pure orange flowers. As you can see, it also looks good in winter!
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