Saturday, 28 May 2011

Oriental Poppies (28 MAY 2011)

I'm not one to brag, usually ...  but my oriental poppies are ENORMOUS.
These plants have featured in gardening blogs and magazine articles, so what can I write in addition ?
I have found that oriental poppies are hardy plants which are easy to grow from seed, even for a novice. (This was probably written in bold letters on the seed packet). Maybe, I'll just tell my story ...

In March last year, I sowed poppy seeds outdoors and waited. Nothing happened by the end of May, so I sowed some seeds indoors in seed trays. As with the foxgloves, strong & runt oriental poppy seedlings sprouted. The four strongest seedlings on the left were planted outdoors in a flower bed a few weeks later. Then replanted further apart in autumn. The middle photo was taken in winter after the snow melted, leaving them bedraggled but still alive. Then in early spring they perked up.

By April, the four poppy plants had merged into a messy tangle of leaves.
Fearing over-crowding, I decided to remove one plant to a pot. It flopped within a couple of hours.

The next day I was looking at the messy leaves in the floor bed, thinking that removing a plant hadn't really improved the situation, when I noticed a prickly bud with a hint of red, giving a clue of what was inside.
I immediately checked amongst the limp leaves in the pot and found another bud starting to form. Guessing that the plant would struggle to revitalise the leaves and bloom simultaneously, I made a rash decision to cut off most of the leaves, just leaving a few small ones.

During May, more buds continued to form in the flower bed.
The bud in the pot died, but the leaves sprung back to life miraculously. Well, I thought it was a miracle until I read Carol Klein's article which suggests cutting the whole plant to the ground after flowering finishes, and a second flowering may follow in the same year.

I wish I had been around when the buds popped. The bees discovered the poppies before I did, rolling about on the fluffy bed of stamens in the reflected red glow of the poppy petals, their own seedy motel room booked for one week only.
Hopefully, the potted plant will flower later for them.


As Ursula Buchan points out, oriental poppies are out of proportion in the small gardens that we have in the UK.  However, I rarely look at my garden from a distance these days, I used to before I became a gardener. My visitors do, and probably see a confused collection of allsorts, they remark politely on how they can tell that I love plants.

I staked the poppy plants in the flower bed, because the flowers were falling over. When tying to the stake, I bunched the leaves as well as the poppy stalks together loosely, which gives a neater appearance. I should have done this earlier, but then I wouldn't have removed the potted one and seen for myself how resilient these plants can be.

The petals start shedding within a week after the bud bursts open. I'm guessing that the flowers are short-lived because they attract so much attention from bees that fertilisation is completed quite quickly. That is the purpose of flowers after all.
Apparently, seed heads must be removed if you want the plant to produce more buds. Needless to say, I'm removing heads from two plants but leaving one untouched to see what happens.

The remaining plants grown from the runt seedlings are just coming into bud now, the buds look large compared to the size of the miniature plants and the leaves are neater. As with the foxgloves, I haven't figured out yet if these are smaller because they are a different hybrid or because they were deprived as babies. Either way, enormous poppies or runts, both are welcome in my garden.

Carol Klein explains how to propogate oriental poppies by taking root cuttings :

Ursula Buchan writes about the various cultivars of oriental poppies :

An unusual view of an oriental poppy  ....  please visit Rosie@Leaves&Bloom :

Sad poppies in the Orkney Islands  ...   please visit Fay@Wind&Wellies :

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

Monday, 23 May 2011

Spring (23 MAY 2011)

According to the Meteorological Office, the seasons in the UK are defined in neat quarters, the period from March to May is Spring, June to August is Summer, September to November is Autumn and  December to February is Winter.

Astronomically, seasons are separated by spring & autumn equinoxes (days when lengths of day and night become equal) and summer and winter soltices (the longest and shortest days of the year). According to these definitions, Spring begins around 21 March, Summer begins around 21 June, Autumn begins around 21 September and Winter begins around 21 December. However in my garden this year, spring quite clearly began phenologically in mid-February, when the first crocus poked out of the lawn (I'd written my last post on winter flowering plants just the week before). Camellia & daffodils were already in full bloom or starting to fade by 21 March.

Now as spring turns to summer, the roses and african daises are highlights of the garden. Due to being distracted by my foxglove fetish, I haven't blogged completely as I would have liked the events that occurred in my garden over the last couple of months,  between the camellias and african daises. I just have a few photos to compile into a catch-up post.

The hellebore leaves first peeked through then totally overwhelmed the flowers.


... reminding me of a scene a few months ago, when I wasn't aware of the identity of this plant and I thought these leaves were so ugly. Now I know it's story ... the leaves are storing food in the extensive root ball so that the plant has the energy to push up buds through the hardened soil in winter. It was a surprise visitor, but next year I'll welcome it back like an old friend.

The tips of the iris leaves which pierced through the snow- covered soil have now reached
my height.

The buds disguised themselves in leaf-like sheathes then burst into flower overnight.

I've seen irises with prettier colours than mine, but I have no intention of replacing these as they are part of the history of the garden.

The dicentras resurrected themselves in the spots marked by the dead remnants of last year, just in time to catch the fortnight overlap of the blooming daffodils and tulips. Both dicentras cleverly holding their racemes in horizontal lines, multiplying the weight of each bleeding heart with it's distance from the anchor point in the ground and counterbalancing against the strength in the stems according to the laws of physics.

My fear of bees and wasps was cured when I saw them enjoying the nectar in my flowers.
I can't remember exactly when the pollinators arrived in hordes, but they got in the way of my photos of french lavender and allium, sometime after the bleeding hearts were shed and before the poppies popped open.

There wasn't much to pollinate here though ....over-wintered seeds of insect-eating saracenia flava bought at the Chelsea Flower Show 2010 (I haven't entirely given up hope yet) and cuttings from my mother's garden which looked so promising a couple of months ago when the foxglove spires were just a twinkle in my eye.

I have never planted with colour schemes in mind, instead I trust  Mother Nature to blend textures and colours in a timely manner.  How was I to know that the supposedly chartreuse romanesco broccoli would proudly sport a bright purple head complemented by the late-flowering tulips that I planted around it ?  ..... or that the magenta and white roses would bloom at the same time as the dianthus which shares their flower bed.

I had great expectations of the wisteria, but it produced just four blooms while the neighbouring cherry blossom tree flowered prolifically. Then the wisteria proceeded to strangle the cherry again, forcing me to intervene, just like last year and the year before.
The actions of pruning it back were somehow more reminiscent than a birthday or christmas. Increasingly, it seems that my garden is defining my calendar and my memories, whether about gardening or not, are set in the context of my experiments with plants.

The seasons in the UK, as defined by the Met Office :

The seasons in the UK, defined astronomically :

The UK Phenology Network relies on support from members of the public to track the first signs of spring around the British Isles every year, following the initiative of Robert Marsham in 1736 :
©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Foxgloves (15 MAY 2011)

In March 2010 I bought a packet of Foxglove Excelsior seeds for 78pence (0.88E, US $1.28, 3.85MR). At that time, I didn’t know that Excelsior was a man-made hybrid which produces erect flower trumpets around the entire circumference of the stem, and for this reason more sophisticated gardeners turn their noses up at it. At that time, I didn’t own a camera, I didn’t make gardening notes, I had no plans for carrying out experiments with plants.
I have never been disciplined enough to pay attention to instructions on packets. I didn’t sow the foxglove seeds thinly enough, finally I had a tray full of seedlings with a wide variation in size at my disposal. The strongest seedlings were planted outside first, in the most prominent locations of the sunny flower beds and at the forefront of the woodland area at the bottom of my garden. Some of the remaining runt seedlings, exhibiting a willingness to live despite their small size, were planted in empty spaces, as an after-thought. Photos of all ten specimens are listed in Appendix 1.
When I wrote my first post about foxgloves in November 2010, I was just glad that they were still alive. Their foliage alone had already started to feature strongly in my garden. Then in December, I was applying Design of Experiments to an engineering problem at work, when it occurred to me that this technique could be applied to the plants in my garden to understand in one growing season what makes plants tick, knowledge which would otherwise take a gardener years to learn (unless of course they take the trouble to read the instructions on the seed packet).
Simple experiments can be carried out by changing one factor at a time and taking measurements, starting from a base-line control.  Design of Experiments is a systematic way of measuring, in addition, the effects when (or if) factors interact together. Sometimes interactions may demonstrate synergy where the effects of the factors combined are greater than the effects of the individual factors.
The first step of Design of Experiments is to define factors and levels. I chose two factors, upbringing and location. I set  two levels for upbringing, strong seedling versus runt,  three levels for location, sunshine, dappled shade and complete shade. The experimenter needs to be aware of confounding factors which may affect the results. These became apparent as the experiment progressed, unusually hot weather in April caused the plants in the sunshine to wither, aphids attacked some plants and not others. I attempted to deal with these uncontrollable factors by watering the plants in the sunshine just enough to keep them alive and spraying the aphids as they multiplied with a water and household soap solution.
The next step is to choose a parameter to measure which will gauge the effect of the factors. This dogged me from the beginning as I couldn’t figure out how to measure flowering performance. I decided initially to count the number of flower trumpets , but this is easier said than done because the flowers bloom and fade progressively from the base to the tip of the flower spike. I opted instead to measure not only the final heights of the plants, but also the final height to original width ratio to enable the performance of the runts to be compared fairly with the strong seedlings. I accepted that my results would not take into account that some plants produced more flower spikes than others and that I didn’t have a full set of trials in my unplanned study to be able to draw statistically significant conclusions this time.
The graph in Appendix 2 shows that a strong seedling in dappled shade grew the tallest and a strong seedling growing in the sunshine was the shortest. Specimen 6 was the only strong seedling growing in complete shade, it suffered a reduction in width between January and March this year when the rosettes of leaves from last year were superimposed with new growth,  and by May was outgrown by specimen 9, a runt also growing in the shade.
The graphs in Appendix 3 average the results for the different factors and levels to show their effects separately and as interactions. If the results are taken at face value, they suggest that runts whether growing in the shade or dappled shade had the greatest growth rate (comparing final height with original width), plants grown from strong seedlings were very sensitive to levels of sunshine and shade.
My conclusions from these experiments is that if I find myself in the same position this year with runts and strong foxglove seedlings, I’ll plant the strong seedlings in the precious dappled shade locations, the runts in complete shade (because it wont make much difference) and save the sunny locations for other plants. I realise that most gardeners probably knew all of this already !


Grown from a runt seedling. Located in dappled shade. Two extra flower spikes are growing from the base. Infected with aphids.

Grown from a strong seedling. Located in sunshine. Two extra flower spikes are growing from the base. Leaves shrivelled due to lack of water.

Grown from a strong seedling. Located in sunshine. Leaves shrivelled due to lack of water.

Grown from a strong seedling. Located in dappled shade. One extra flower spike is growing from the base, five extra flower spikes are growing from the main stem. Infected with aphids.

Grown from a strong seedling. Located in dappled shade. Three extra flower spikes are growing from the main stem.

Grown from a strong seedling. Located in complete shade.

Grown from a runt seedling. Located in dappled shade. Two extra flower spikes are growing from the base.

Grown from a strong seedling. Located in dappled shade. One extra flower spike is growing from the stem. Infected with aphids.

Grown from a runt seedling. Located in complete shade. Infected with aphids.

Grown from a runt seedling. Located in complete shade.

Performance of runts versus strong seedlings - grown in sunshine, shade & dappled shade.

Plots of means (averages) : final height    &    final height/original width

For more information about Design of Experiments :

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