Saturday, 23 April 2011

Foxgloves (23 APR 2011)

Yesterday was Earth Day.   Stacy@Microcosm invited me to join a blog meme proposed by Sage Butterfly : Earth Day Reading Project.   In turn, I invited DD@The Sundial Garden.

I was beginning to wonder why I had accepted this invitation because I’m neither well-read nor am I intentionally going green … but then Stacy reminded me of words written about 7 months ago when I started blogging, then forgotten, about how I double-planted : half for the slugs & snails and half for myself, rather than dispense slug control pellets.

Therefore, I'm writing this post to explore myself in search of greenness. It extends beyond the comfort zone of my garden, but I did promise I would venture outside at the beginning of the year ....

So why this aversion to using slug pellets? I would like to say it’s because I’m concerned about the long-lasting effects of releasing chemicals into the atmosphere or because the slug pellets may appear appetising to other creatures seeking habitats in my garden, not just the slugs.
The truth is I don’t know if slug pellets contain harmful chemicals (Mrs F informed me it is possible to get bird-friendly products) and due to my town up-bringing, I can’t even look a slug in the tentacles without releasing a shriek quietly to myself. The only answer I have is that it seems unnecessary at the moment, the slugs are not doing a great deal of damage and I have a theory that when slugs eat leaves, plants are prompted to flower prolifically for survival.

My first book choice for Earth Day is "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle. This is the first book I owned and now I like to buy it for small children. I think everybody knows, but in case you don’t … it’s the story of a caterpillar that eats its way through a leaf and then gorges on various foods (not usually for caterpillar consumption) before turning into a butterfly.
It is made of thick cardboard pages including holes chewed out. As a child, I remember poking my finger through the holes and wiggling it about. It’s such a simple idea, yet the book is still on sale over forty years after it was first published.

Psychologists claim that the human beings personality is formed by the age of two, and it sounds a bit far-fetched but I feel that subconsciously the reason why I accept slug & snail damage in my garden is partly because of this book.
I am not expecting that I’ll be so laid back forever. There may be a day when the pests in my garden are totally out of control or my plants get sick and then I’ll have a difficult decision to make, or maybe it wont be so difficult, but until that day my garden will survive without artificial pesticides or fertilisers.
My second book choice for Earth Day is "The Ornamental Kitchen Garden" by Geoff Hamilton. He gives practical guidance on setting up, planting and tending organically, a small back garden where flowers, fruit and vegetables are all grown together resulting in a natural balance between pests and their predators. This is the type of garden I aspire to create. However, I wouldn't call myself green based on this, because in contradiction I wear cotton clothing and I've read that vast amounts of pesticides are required to grow cotton commercially.

My third book choice for Earth Day is "The Private Life of Plants" by David Attenborough.
Until I saw the accompanying TV series, with revolutionary time-lapse photography, I never thought of plants as living lives comparable to animals, with the same value. In a manner typical of his usual wildlife commentaries, he travelled around the world introducing us to plants that I had never seen or heard of, describing their life-cycles and the challenges they have to overcome to survive in their native landscapes.

I understand that native planting is believed to be important for Earth’s sustainability, to compensate for all the species that have been culled as man progresses with world domination. 
My contribution so far is ten foxgloves excelsior which, as you can see, are just coming into bud now, but apart from these, the plants in my garden are quite cosmopolitan. I do question what native actually means though, because even before homo sapiens evolved, there were changes in climate, and land masses were shifting, which would have caused plants to move around and find new homes.

What does Sustainability mean in the context of Earth Day?
According to this short video …
 .... there are four aspects to going green, or bearing in mind Earth’s sustainability in daily life, taking care not to ...

exhaust fossil fuels – I’m guilty of driving a car to work and to buy groceries but I also use public transport because in London we are fortunate to have reliable services. My local council helps me recycle paper, plastic, tins and garden waste weekly.

release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere – I’m guilty of using cleaning products which contain bleaches etc. I admit that I should try harder to find some environmentally-friendly products.

cut down trees and vegetation – I like to think I am doing good work for the planet in my garden.

distribute the world’s food resources unfairly – I have heard that large areas of the Amazonian rainforest are cut down to rear beef cattle and that there is enough land to grow food crops for everyone in the world but it is not shared equally. I used to be a vegetarian, because I didn't think it was right to eat meat that I was not prepared to slaughter myself, but I have lapsed since and now eat a small portion of fish, chicken or meat, about three times a week.

In summary, I believe there is a hint of green in me, especially considering the small piece of land that I manage. Maybe this is just the beginning ….

Finally, just a note about the foxglove experiments. The photos are arranged in the same order as January's post for comparison, a final set of measurements has been recorded before they flower. I'm not sure how I'm going to factor in the effects of the heatwave during the past week, I was hoping to leave them to their own devices, barely watered. Then while I was wondering how I am going to quantify flowering performance, I noticed that a couple of plants have more than one flower spike. It's going to be complicated.

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Bluebells (15 APR 2011)

Highlights of the garden this week are bluebells growing around my foxglove plants in the shade of the cherry blossom tree.


Bluebells are sometimes coloured white or pink, and I'm fortunate enough to have the complete palette on display in my garden, but I'm afraid to say that's where the good news ends...

I've always thought of the bottom of my garden as my small piece of woodland, it's only the width of the garden shed. I inherited it this way from the previous owner - it has a cherry blossom tree with all its suckers, a wisteria tree, various shrubs, and in between them, bluebells have naturalised. My only contribution so far are foxgloves which I planted there to compare flowering performance with others situated in brighter locations. I've dreamt of extending the woodland forwards, by removing two rows of patio slabs, and transferring the cherry suckers to give them room to live their own lives, but more importantly to create space for more foxgloves. My dreams come true more frequently these days, since I started gardening.

After many reminders about the importance of native gardening and creating habitats for wildlife to thrive, it occurred to me that I could dedicate the woodland to this campaign, as the work had begun already, bluebells and foxgloves being indigenous to England.

However, while trying to find out if the pink and white bluebells had their own name, I discovered a photo almost identical to my pink variant listed as "hyacinthoids non-scripta x hispanica hybrid" in a gallery of “Alien Species & Garden Escapes”.

Hyacinthoids is the botanical name for bluebells which are in the same family as hyacinths. Non-scripta, meaning unmarked (compared to hyacinths), is the species native to England (Scotland has it's own), whereas hispanica originates in Spain. According to the British Natural History Museum's classification, the most obvious difference between the two is that the English native only has bluebells on one side of the stem which causes the stem to bow, it's rarely seen in white and even more rarely in pink. On the other hand, the Spanish native has bluebells around the stem, making it easier to balance, it holds itself upright. On closer inspection, the former has tubular, sweet-scented bells while the latter has cup-shaped bells, with less perfume.

Having made this discovery, I am now faced with a dilemma.

Should I dig up my alien, naturalised, multi-coloured bluebells and replace them with natives? ... or leave them be?  Spain isn't so far away after all.
Where would I obtain natives anyway? - is there a guarantee that bulbs labelled as "hyacinthoids non-scripta" will be such and not hybrids?  
Having said that, aesthetically, I do prefer the tubular bells of non-scripta, the way they bow down meekly, and I'm curious to know what they smell like.
Something to think about ...

Finally, featuring heavily in my garden at the moment, but not exactly highlights, are dandelions which along with the bluebells are blooming at least a month earlier than usual as we are experiencing an unusually frost-free April.

To determine if your bluebells are English natives ....

Bluebell (hyacinthoids) Hybrids are amongst Aliens and Garden Escapes found growing in England ....

This post will be linked to MayDreamsGardens for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day which is the 15th of every month. Visit Carol's site to find out what's flowering in gardens around the world today.

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Tulips (10 APR 2011)

In late autumn I planted about 200 bulbs, most of them were tulips which I bought from d-i-y stores, supermarkets and £1 shops. I am a little disappointed because all winter I had been dreaming about a spectacular spring show, I didn't realise that the daffodils would die before the early tulips and the early tulips would die before the late.  I couldn't imagine what the final result would look like because I would plant a set, thinking that my work was done, then see more bulbs on offer and couldn't resist, digging up the previous bulbs while planting the new. Even though I expected more than this, I am happy with what I've got.

Double & Fosteriana Tulips                                       Single Tulips

When I  first  encountered a bulb stuck on the end of my fork, I wasn't sure what to do without planting instructions, but a tip a gardener gave to me is to dig a planting hole at least three times the height of the bulb. Its common sense to place the bulb in the hole roots first, but with some bulbs you can't tell which way round they should go. It doesn't matter, because plants can sense gravity and the roots "know" that they should aim downwards. If you plant bulbs deeper, they will still grow, and the advantage is that you can plant annuals over the bulbs without disturbing them, saving you digging them up and storing them over the summer. The bulbs may start to naturalise or propogate, in which case you will need to dig them up every few years and separate them to improve their flowering performance.

The flower is already formed inside the bulb. Looking at a photo of a tulip in its early stages gives a clue, as you can see the flower head poking out of the ground intact, drawing its energy from carbohydrates in the fleshy surrounding layers. As the bulb grows, the leaves, exposed to sunlight, photosynthesise replenishing its food stores. This is why it's important to continue taking care of bulbs after the flower has died but while the leaves are still green if you want to recycle bulbs next year or leave them to naturalise.

Growing bulbs is foolproof, it's what I would recommend to a novice to provide them with guaranteed results which would encourage them to seek further challenges in the garden. I've heard people lament about underground slugs boring into their bulbs. I haven't experienced this yet even though I don't use slug pellets. I just hope that by planting so many bulbs, I haven't turned my garden into a haven for these pests. I have countless regular slugs and snails which eat leaves but so far this hasn't interfered with flowering. I do have problems with foxes digging up my bulbs and leaving deposits on my spring flower beds. Covering with netting till the leaves show helps.

Griegii Tulip                                                               Parrot Tulip

Tulips hybridise easily and there are several varieties. The early flowering types need to be exposed for a couple of months to cold (though frost-free) conditions to stress them into flowering. It's advised to plant them before the first frost in autumn, pressing the soil over them firmly with the heel of your boot to stop the frost getting in. Having said that, they are amazingly forgiving, I once found some forgotten hyacinths in a garage which had started to flower in their storage box.

After my first attempt at growing spring bulbs, I've learnt a few lessons that I'll take into account next year :
- Plant in threes for a better visual impact, rather than distributing bulbs evenly around the garden.
- Don't pick the tall varieties. They look gawky, fall over easily and don't last as long as smaller varieties (the petals on mine flopped down from their cup shape within a week).
Pay attention to flowering times to prolong the tulip season. Tulips come in early and late flowering varieties.

Tulip fields in Holland can sing along if no-one's around .....

Tulips inspired Monet's masterpiece ....

If you would like to classify your tulips ....

What is a bulb? ...and other bulb FAQs, including an interesting article on twin scaling - multiplying your bulb stock by cutting and planting sections of bulbs.

Photosynthesis in the leaves replenishes the bulbs food stores ...
2n CO2              + 2n H2O      + photons         →     2(CH2O)n         +    2n O2
carbon dioxide    + water         + light energy    →    carbohydrate    +    oxygen

The Keel slug burrows underground to eat tubers and bulbs ...

How to store spring bulbs after they have flowered ...

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Japanese Blossoms (04 APR 2011)

The blossoms of Japanese Cherry and Quince are the eye-candy of my garden, gorgeous to look at but you wouldn't go so far as biting into the fruit ....
Just like most apple trees and roses, ornamental cherry trees are grafted. The rootstock is usually a hardy dwarf variety, while the grafted stems are taken from a specially bred hybrid, as demonstrated by my cherry blossom tree. Remembering the flowers that bloomed last year, I would classify it as a kanzan, with mid-pink flowers consisting of several petals, but after peering up at the tight buds a few days ago I noticed down below, sprouting from an exposed root, a thicket of suckers which have already started to flower.

It was timely, as I was introduced to the Plant a Billion Trees campaign this week. Was this Mother Nature's way of asking me to plant more trees ?  I'm not sure, because as I walked along the streets in my town I noticed that several cherry blossom trees have suckers, not flowering like mine though, because they hadn't been allowed to grow for so long. Why have trees evolved to progress like this ? Surely, if left alone the thicket would start draining nourishment from the tree, unless the purpose is that the strongest survivor will replace the tree when it dies. Why do cherry trees grow suckers but camellia bushes don't ?  I've searched the internet but I'm still clueless.

I know that my tree was once grafted because the five-petalled flowers on the suckers resemble wild cherry rather than the flowers of the parent tree. They have a frail beauty with their semi-transparent, blushed petals and out-reaching stamens and it seems unfair to me that this species has been considered worthy only as root-stock.

I wonder if grafted trees grow suckers because it's the only way that the root-stock can reproduce itself ?
... and doesn't every living organism have that urge ?  

In a bid to help the root-stock fulfill its desire, I'll apply a layering technique, packing soil around three suckers, to encourage them to grow roots. I'll do the same with three more except for cutting a notch at the base to see if this speeds up the process. If successful, I could separate a sucker from the parent and plant a tree.

However,  my flowering quince has suckers and I don't believe that's grafted because the whole bush is covered with homogeneous salmon-pink petals, suckers and all - so much for my romantic notion. Hence, my second theory is that plants grow suckers if they bloom in winter or early spring when there aren't so many insects around to pollinate them .... but then I managed to turn one sick shrub rose into four plants by dividing off the suckers and I anticipate them to flower in the height of summer. Enough theorising, sometimes there are more questions than answers ...  I'll just have to accept that some plants grow suckers while others don't - it's difficult for a scientist, whereas a gardener can't be hung up with analysis paralysis especially at spring-time.

Taking advantage of the fact that the flowering quince does reproduce in this way, I pulled off a ready-rooted sucker which grew from underground at Christmas time and planted it with the idea of creating a bonsai tree. The execution was admittedly rather crude, but at least it's settled which is the first step. Even though there's the beginning of a bud on the left, I'll probably cut the entire branch off eventually, because it's the twig on the right that I'm interested in as it has the potential to be styled with the aid of garden wire into a classical bonsai image of an overhanging tree. 

Cherry Blossoms in Japan
"Cherry blossom trees are so ubiquitous all throughout Japan, that they are used as an official measure of the changing of seasons. There is something called the sakura zensen (桜前線) or the cherry blossom front, which tracks the blossoming time of cherry trees throughout the country."

Laura @PatioPatch writes about Wild Cherry Blossom

How to create a Bonsai tree ...

For more Blooming Friday  Eye Candy  posts  visit  Roses and Stuff on 8th April.

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved.
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