Saturday, 26 February 2011

Apple (26 Feb 2011)

If it's possible for a plant to become a member of one's family, then for me it would be this apple tree in my mother's garden. I've eaten it's de-maggoted fruit, stewed with crumble-topping and custard, for as long as I can remember being alive - my soul food. 

As children, my brother & I spied on the neighbours from a crate perched in its branches, until it cracked under our weight, and as a teenager I stared at it from my bedroom window, when I should have been revising for exams. Then several years passed by when I didn't spare it much thought (except briefly when tucking into  crumbles), however since I've become a gardener our relationship has been rekindled.

When I'm pottering around in my own garden, I sense that something is missing, and whenever I'm at my mother's, I pity its broken, bent form but dread to imagine the garden without it. I guess it could be easily replaced, if I knew its species - bigger, tarter and more fragrant than a braeburn from the supermarket, but this is one garden plant that I wont be attempting to classify because I would rather consider it unique.

In the summer, I noticed that not far from the base of the tree, there was a little plant which seemed to sprout apple leaves. My heart leapt for joy, then sank when I realised that the parent could just as well be the neighbour's apple tree. When I tried to dig it out, it tugged back with a much stronger resistance than I expected, digging deeper, it appeared that the plant was a sucker connected to a large root. I convinced myself (due to its direction) that it was the root of my family tree and cut the sucker off. It had its own rootlets intact, so I potted and watered it, but over a period of two weeks, the leaves dried up and the plant died. I was relieved in a way because after potting it, I kept picturing a scene in my head, decades from now, when I bit into an apple and was disappointed when the memories of my childhood didn't come flooding back because it tasted like the neighbours'.

In late autumn when the harvest was over, I was scraping up the rotting windfalls when I found a whole apple which hadn't even been riddled by one maggot. Out of curiosity, I cut it open to check if there were maggots inside, but there weren't any, just dark brown seeds. I thought this was a sign from Mother Nature instructing me that it was about time I did something productive, so I collected the seeds and left them to dry out on a window sill.

Back in my own garden, I set about preparing to plant the seeds but I had run out of compost, so I took an old pot with some winter sown seeds, poked in three of the apple seeds then left them unattended in my little plastic greenhouse over the winter. I didn't expect anything in there to survive, especially after it started snowing, but a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the soil was seasoned with unlabelled green growths and above them a brown apple seed was sticking in the air with a pinch of green seedling.

I wondered how long it would take for the seedling to mature enough to bear fruit. I researched on the internet that it would take 6-10 years, but also discovered information which makes this post less a fairy tale and more a prologue : If my apple seed came from an orchard where all the trees were the same completely true species, then this story would end happily ever after. However, it is more likely that my family apple tree is a hybrid in itself, which means that the seeds have varying levels of genes from its ancestors. Even if it was a true species, the insects pollinating it may have transported pollen from the neighbours tree, hybridising the seeds. This means that there is a very low probability that the seedlings will grow to produce the apples which have been feeding my soul.

Fruit growers succeed in reproducing varieties of apples by grafting stems (scions) of fruiting trees onto rootstocks by cutting interlocking faces into the mating parts and taping them together. Dwarfing rootstocks are specially chosen because apple trees would naturally grow up to 30 feet tall.

So what should I do with my apple seedlings?  They germinated so easily, and they look more robust compared to my other ones, I have no choice but to let them live for a little longer at least.  The answer that I can't extract from the internet is whether these seedings grown from one apple are identical or non-identical triplets. Either way, I can't rely on them to grow into rootstock or scions. As buying a rootstock would be cheating (according to my Promises), I'll wait for another sucker to grow in my mother's garden, it wont matter if it comes from hers or the neighbours' tree, then I'll graft on a scion from the family apple tree. I'll keep you posted ...

These articles explain why you are unlikely to get the same apple by growing its seed :

This article clearly explains how to graft a scion (of your favourite apple) to a rootstock :

For more Pinch of Green  posts visit  Roses and Stuff

Friday, 18 February 2011

Crocus (18 FEB 2011)

Last spring I saw drifts of crocuses amongst grass left to grow long at the edge of a local park. I fancied recreating the scene in my own garden, so in November I stood on the lawn, threw two handfuls of clothes pegs in the air and planted bulbs where they fell. This is the first crocus bloom which battled with the weeds  to make an appearance.

In fact, my entire approach to gardening is fanciful and I wouldn't wish it any other way .....

If I was relying on my plants to feed my family, would I chuckle to myself when I discover yet another broccoli decimated by my garden friends - leaving me just one and a half nice ones ?  The hellebores sheltering slugs and snails would have to be dug up and the broken birdbath which welcomes pigeons into my garden replaced by a scarecrow.  

I never intended to be an organic gardener, I'm afraid there isn't a strong conviction underlying this decision. It's simply that I personally don't take medicines unless I'm forced to and I apply the same principle to introducing chemicals to my garden. However,  if I entered vegetable-growing competitions as a hobby, would I maintain an organic regime if it meant sacrificing the opportunity to grow perfect specimens required to win a gold medal and all the prestige that goes with it ? 

Confucius said : “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
 .... but if I gave up my office job to pursue my new passion and breed plants in the fresh air as a 9-to-5 occupation, would my enthusiasm keep me buoyant if profits were low and my mortgage payments pending ?  Isn't there something to be said for keeping business & pleasure well separated ?

If I had a display garden, would my random colour schemes and carefree attitude to garden planning create a spectacle fit for public viewing ?  I don't think the "I'm going to plant it here because I want to" strategy would work somehow. Even if I was just keeping up with the Joness, would it be worth my while to research my weeds as closely as my other garden plants, when I could be persevering with the never-ending task of deweeding my patios ?

It would be true to say that my gardening lacks substance, but the resulting pleasure, peace of mind, connection with higher (& lower) forces has had such a profound effect on me, how I deal with problems, the way I view the world and the future, and my relationships. Before I used to be concerned about what people thought of how I looked or the way I dressed, but I don't care any more because my garden is beautiful (even if it is mostly bare soil at the moment). I used to wonder when others would accept me for what I am, but these days it seems easier to convince them to understand my point of view - and that's substantial.

For more Blooming Friday  Fanciful  posts  visit  Roses and Stuff

Friday, 11 February 2011

Blooming Friday - Winter (11 FEB 2011)

This week we enjoyed a rare sunny interval in London, so I took the opportunity to compile a photo collection of the blooming plants in my garden.

Before I started gardening, I never opened my back door in winter ....

The huge hellebore leaves, which protected the emerging buds when it was bitterly cold, have been cut away, to allow the flowers to receive applause, their work is done. The snails, grateful for their shelter, didn't eat the hellebores.

Multiple flowers on bare, haphazard branches are certainly more striking without foliage to distract the eye.

Winter jasmine and chaemolenes have been blooming faithfully since the autumn leaf shed. I haven't noticed any pollinators around, so I guess they must be feeling somewhat frustrated. Maybe that's why the flowers appear enlarged and even more attractive, in their yearning, as the months go by.

I didn't appreciate the beauty of bushy heather, until I saw close-up the magenta bead-like florets with their black protusions.

Lamium (a weed ?)   rises through the thawing lawn readily adorned with its lilac hooded flowers.

The primula has lost last year's leaves, seamlessly superimposing them with plantlets, giving the impression of immortality. The apparently delicate violet and gold petals have been covered by snow and icy frosts but remain unscathed.

This hyacinth, presented to me by Mr. T, is the first spring bulb to bloom in my garden,  a signal that winter is drawing to a close.
The leaves of my own bulbs are literally inching out of the ground daily.

Snails made sorties to feast on broccoli leaves at night. By day, pigeons ripped off healthy snacks when the soil was too hard to peck for worms. People tell me about their failed attempts with broccoli, as the leaves grow huge without a hint of delivering the goods.
Patience is required -
don't forget that broccoli is also called winter cauliflower.

For more Blooming Friday posts about Winter visit  Roses and Stuff

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Hellebores update (10 FEB 2011)

The hellebore flowers finally opened, and I have joined the fan club. I couldn't understand why people are so passionate about them before.

When the enormous leaves are cut away, the flowers are so prominent on their spindly stalks.

This pale hellebore looks like an older lady with a powdered face, beauty spot, ruffled collar and a floppy hat with a feather.


This darker hellebore reminds me of a kaleidoscope toy when the sun shines through it (yes, I did have to lie on the wet ground to take that photo!)

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Wisteria (06 FEB 2011)

There are shrubs that just live in the garden, extracting nutrients from the soil, like the inherited camellia bushes. They stand inanimate, with their dark, glossy green leaves on show all year round then burst into flower without any attention from me. It makes no difference to them if I exist or not.

Creeping plants, however, are truly alive and responsive. I gave birth to my morning glory with some difficulty. Despite a shaky start, it developed into a fine flowering climber, more exquisite than the camellias beheld in it's parent's eye. It grew obediently, casting a new coil around the washing line post every day, just as I had hoped for, without any guidance. The canary creeper was a naughty one, diverting into the rose bushes whenever I wasn't around. I was sad when they both died in autumn.

Then there's wisteria, a member of the pea & bean family Fabaceae, which I would describe as dictatorial rather than responsive.  In fact in some US states it is classed as invasive, though in Japan, where there is a specimen reported to be over 1200 years old, it is reverred for its longevity. 

Wisteria stands apart from the other plants in my garden, in a class of it's own, and certainly has the upper-hand over me.
It looks innocent enough, branches naked in winter and vines laying cross-ways, showing off its suppleness, contorted limbs forming a confusing optical illusion. There is some order in the chaos though, the branches always twist in an anti-clockwise direction typical of Chinese wisteria. The green, fleshy vines which sprouted in the summer in search of higher support to reach closer to the sun, have hardened to the stiffness of bamboo over winter, the leaves which fell in autumns past fertilise the roots.  I'm not sure how old this plant is, but there is evidence of initial attempts to train it, several years of neglect and recent brutal amputation ....

When I first arrived in the garden, I didn't take in all of the details, I had too many other things on my mind at that time. I just saw foliage at the bottom of the garden and a lop-sided cherry blossom tree. After the cherry had shed its initial pink pompom blossoms, it flowered again more profusely but with cascades of flowers like lilac sweet pea. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen at such close proximity and I could hardly grasp that it belonged to me. Everything was blissful in the garden for a short while, until someone pointed out that the lilac flowers actually belonged to the neighbouring wisteria which had overgrown and taken hold of the cherry tree.

My reflex action was to masterfully hack down the wisteria, as soon as it had finished flowering, until it stood forlorn in submission. Some of its upwardly twisting vines still remain to tell the tale, clamped by rigor mortis around the cherry branches. I didn't stop to think that the wisteria may have been left to grow into the other tree on purpose, utilising it as a support. (This is a recognised technique, though it can result in sacrificing the health of the supporter.)  Last year the foliage grew back bushy despite the culling, but the plant expressed its dismay by producing just one stem of flowers to show me what I was missing. In retrospect, I must have been in need of some sort of stress relief during that period of my life, these days I would pause for thought before executing such butchery. It is advised to prune wisteria at the beginning of the year and in the summer, but I'll be leaving it alone, as the edges of the branches cut 18months ago look rotten and the bark leading up to them is squashy, I've done enough damage. I should have paid more respect - the wisteria will be the master from now on.
References :

The Human Flower Project is a brilliant web-site that was started in 2004, reporting on the relationship between humans and plants in the style of news bulletins.... This article highlights news stories concerning wisteria and describes how to identify if your wisteria is Chinese or Japanese.
As some of the links in the article above are no longer valid, I've found these more recent links. ..

How wisterias evolved ...

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