Sunday, 25 September 2011

Sedum Spectabile (25 SEP 2011)

I wrote about sedum spectabile in winter, but I appreciate them even more now than I did then, so they deserve another post ...

There were originally two sedum plants in the garden, now they are all around, filling what would have been empty spaces.  They are easy to divide and replant because their roots are relatively shallow and their succulence helps them survive till the roots establish in their new locations. Unlike some other hardy perennials, they only grow where and when you want them to; they don't produce unwanted suckers and they don't return once removed.

In winter after the leaves had shed, the dried stems and coppery flowers stayed intact despite wind, rain and snow.


I broke off the stalks when the shoots appeared, they looked like little jade rose buds, developing quickly in early summer into compact, pin-cushion-shaped, self-supporting clumps.

In late August, the baby-pink flowers bloomed to the delight of the pollinators.
Soon after, the leaves started to turn translucent limey-yellow, brightening up the garden even when the sun wasn't shining.


All of the photos below were taken yesterday ...

The sedum on the left lives under a bush; its leaves are bigger and darker than the other plants and it's growing horizontally searching for sunlight. The little plant on the right was a stray stem, without any roots, remaining after dividing the sedums last autumn. I just stuck it in the soil of the driest flower-bed and it stayed alive. It's ageing quicker because it's exposed to more sunshine.

What I learnt about sedums this year is that the bigger the root-ball, the bigger and longer the stems of the herbaceous plant. Maybe that's obvious, but I didn't consider it. The photo below on the left was one of the original plants from which I split off portions of the root-ball with a fork, but I didn't take enough as the stems have grown too tall this season and are now splayed apart. On the other hand, a tiny portion produced the tiny, though perfectly-formed, plant on the right. This autumn, I'll remove the entire root-balls of the bigger plants instead of splitting off. Then they can be divided accordingly, estimating the size of next year's plants better.

Realising that the dead-line for the GGW Photo Contest is today, several photos were taken of the view below, as the sun shone with intermittent brightness. Trying to take attention away from the weedy patio, I attempted to show three sedum clumps in one line-of-sight, the luminance of the leaves, the warmth of a late summer's day; moreover I wanted to show how much I love sedums. When the photos were loaded onto the computer, none of them looked exactly as I had envisaged and the focal points were at various depths. Editing down to twenty shots, I couldn't choose between them so this one was finally selected because it shows a ladybird which went unnoticed, a rare sight in my garden; apparently, it loves sedums too.

I am posting this picture for the Gardening Gone Wild Picture This Photo Contest.
The subject for this month: LATE SUMMER GARDEN.

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Rhubarb (22 SEP 2011)

I remember as a child ladling custard onto stewed rhubarb to try to neutralise its sourness, resulting in a bowlful of custard with quite an unappetising colour; as I grew older I began to appreciate its tart flavour. Rhubarb is an acquired taste enjoyed in the West, mainly stewed with sugar as a pie or crumble filling or stirred into whipped cream to make rhubarb fool. A different type of rhubarb (rheum palmatum) is grown in the East, valued more for the medicinal properties of its roots. There are also ornamental rhubarbs which are not edible. The leaves of all rhubarbs are poisonous containing oxalic acid and other toxins, the stalks do too but to a much lesser degree.

In spring I bought Red Canada Rhubarb roots in a small packet and planted them at the front of the "woodland" in dappled shade. I assumed that the plant would take a few years to mature, but less than six months later what looks like ready-to-eat rhubarb has emerged and the plant has potentially paid for itself.

So far I haven't harvested any of the stalks, because I was waiting for them to turn red along their entire length like the picture on the packet. However, as time passes the stalks are withering not reddening. You're supposed to feed rhubarb with a good dose of well-rotted manure; this year it went without. I was beginning to wonder if I should have made the effort to drag a sack of manure to and through the house. Checking what was available at the DIY store, the only option was processed manure from dairy cattle which contains hormones & antibiotics, I guess. It may seem strange that I drink cow's milk without a thought, but I'm not prepared to fork dairy manure into my soil until I've researched it properly first.

all rhubarb leaves are poisonous
not-so-red    Red Canada Rhubarb

That's not the only reason why I haven't harvested, I have a romantic idea of forcing rhubarb as practised in dark sheds in the north of England. The rhubarbs are grown outside to store energy, then taken to the sheds. As they search for light, they rely on starches from their roots rather than photosynthesis to grow, which results in a sweeter vegetable with a sherbert-pink colour.  Traditionally, rhubarb is forced by candle-light, but even in a romantic state of mind I realise that this would be a fire hazard, so I'm hoping that an unwashed window at the side of my garden shed will allow in just enough light to direct the rhubarb to reach upwards. The disadvantage with this method is that once the rhubarb has been forced, the roots are spent and are thrown away. Therefore, I'll divide the plant and keep half growing outside for next year.

So what would I do with an annual supply of sherbet-pink, sweetened-by-darkness rhubarb stalks? ... 
I would cut them into big chunks, bake with sugar, then layer them with cooled custard and crushed ginger biscuits; that nostalgic rhubarb and custard combination, with less custard and a slightly more elegant presentation.


Xanthe Clay explains how rhubarb is forced (grown in dark sheds) in the Rhubarb Triangle, West Yorkshire, UK ...

... and here is a magical video of a farm in the Rhubarb Triangle.

In February 2010, Forced Yorkshire Rhubarb was added to the EU's list of foods with protected designation of origin which includes Cornish Clotted Cream, Stilton Cheese & Jersey Royal Potatoes. Shortly after, shops in the UK ran out of rhubarb supplies when Delia Smith (doyenne of British home-cooking) demonstrated this recipe on a TV advert :

Dan Eisenreich attempted to compile all the information about rhubarb that he could find on the internet. He explains that medicinal rhubarb grown in China (rheum palmatum) has roots with purgative properties.
Garden rhubarbs grown for culinary use outside China are probably less potent hybrids of rheum rhabarbarum. Here are some varieties  :

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Thursday, 15 September 2011

GBBD (15 SEP 2011)

Today is Garden Blogger's Bloom Day at MayDreamsGardens.
Please visit Carol's site to see what's flowering in gardens around the world today.

In my last post I was moaning about the recent bad weather, but the sun has been shining for the past couple of days  ...

The asters are survivors from the first set of seedlings sown this spring. The other plants below were grown from late sown mixed "cottage garden annual" seeds. The names of the plants weren't listed on the packet, but it turns out that they don't match the picture anyway. Delighted with them all, big and small.

Self-seeded lime-green nicotiana and cosmos, the children of Mrs. F's plants given to me last year. I'm going to spread their seeds all over the garden to ensure that I don't have empty flower-beds again next summer.

Oregano and strawberry plants from my neighour. The strawberries have already fruited twice this summer; their timing must have confused the pests that usually spoil them. I've eaten more home-grown strawberries this year than ever before.

These are inherited fuschias which I have split and replanted. I've seen tree fuschias in other people's gardens; I'm not sure if they are a special hardy variety or if it's possible to turn herbaceous fuschias like mine into trees. 

Apparently buttercups and anemones are in the same family. I love buttercups but I have a love/hate relationship with the anemone because it grows suckers under and between the patio slabs. I've seen it growing wildly in neglected gardens, clump after clump. In keeping with the spirit of this, I leave its portion of the garden to grow wild with grasses, bindweed and all.


The pink flowers on the left grow all over the garden uncontrollably. They can't be pulled out completely because their rhizomes are nodular, snapping off when tugged. I weed them out as I go along, but I don't mind when they return. Sedums can do no wrong; in my (short) experience, they are the best behaved perennial.

A gladiolus blown over in a wind-swept flower-bed, yet still blooming while recumbent on a bed of houttuyia.

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Summer (13 SEP 2011)

Before I started blogging about gardening, I would have guessed that the summer season would provide the most opportunities for writing posts, but that hasn't been the case. I've been delaying publishing a post about summer 2011, waiting for a miracle to happen, but with the weather getting colder, heavy rain last week and winds bellowing for the past few days, it seems unlikely. The plastic greenhouse remains on the ground where it blew over, broken jars where they crashed, sprinkling the seeds of the offspring of last year's plants. This summer was supposed to be my chance to put right all the mistakes I made last year, my first year of experimenting with plants, but the truth is that my garden looked more impressive then with much less effort.

That's the joy of gardening, sometimes it delivers more than one expects or deserves, sometimes less. It adds an element of unpredictability to an otherwise mundane existence. When I was younger, I used the word mundane in a negative way, it meant boring because each day was the same. I spent most of my youth being bored, expecting everyone except myself to make it more interesting and spent more hours than I'm prepared to admit watching TV. Then I would see people living in hardship around the world and feel guilty for describing my life in such a way. As I get older, I am grateful for the sense of security that the repetition of each day brings, realising that it might be temporary; well aware that sickness, job loss, family troubles or an unforetold problem could be looming around the corner to interrupt the routine of my days.

So this summer, superimposed over the base-line satisfaction of completing everyday chores and duties, the peaks and troughs of delight and disappointment experienced in my garden have added a new excitement, which I can take or leave as I please. As you might have gathered, I'm grabbing with both hands.

To illustrate my point, here are some photos taken of the same section of flower-bed during the past couple of months ....

I could almost smile at the slugs and snails, as they look at me innocently with stretched tentacles, for eating my seedlings, some of which were destined for this flower-bed half-filled with houttuynia and marigolds. You can just about see the scraggy lupin plantlet with fingered leaves, one of the few which survived the attack. On the positive side, I love marigolds and the menacing multi-coloured houttuynia which I feared would invade the whole bed, especially with the recent wet weather, continues to maintain a discrete and beautiful presence.

faithful marigolds

waiting for summer to arrive JUL 2011



The gladioli were a surprise, way too beautiful to inhabit my garden. I saw the leaves in July and assumed they were remnants of daffodils. I had dug up all the gladioli from last summer for storage but the bulbs looked rotten in spring so I didn't bother to replant them. I must have missed these; they seem to have multiplied by themselves because I don't remember planting them so close together. These bulbs will remain in situ.
surprise gladioli bloomed during a couple of days of sunshine      02 SEP 2011

Just when I was thinking that the flower-bed didn't look so bad and my fickle attention was drawn from the marigolds to the gladioli, heavy rain battered down the latter whilst they were still in their prime, only to reveal that the scraggy lupin had recovered and started to flower, even though the seed packet said it would bloom the next year after sowing.
after heavy rain  08 SEP 2011
early lupin - 6 months old

When I look at this lupin and the hollyhock in the previous post, it feels worthwhile making the effort to raise seedlings (the marigolds raised themselves), planting them in nursery patches then transplanting them in their final positions. All of this was possible because I wasn't able to go on a summer vacation this year, but it's probably been the best summer I've ever had. 

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Hollyhock (03 SEP 2011)

The 5th of the month is Hope Grows day at :
Bloggers post about their gardening hopes for the coming month and link up.
This post is a story of hope which began last year ...

In spring 2010 I sowed some perennial giant hollyhock seeds. The dream was to display a row of hollyhocks against the left fence of my garden, to contrast with the row of roses on the right.
Some seeds didn't germinate, others germinated then died, but the last one remaining just got stuck. I related to it in a way.

By last September, it was the size of my thumbnail and the vision of the dream had faded away. I knew that if I left it in a seed tray in the plastic greenhouse, I would forget to water it, so I found a sheltered, moist spot in a flower bed and planted it there to give it a chance to live through the winter. I didn't expect much from it, I was just glad that it was alive.

When it snowed during December, the flower-beds were covered in several inches of snow, deeper than on the ground. Yet when the snow melted, I wasn't surprised to discover it hanging in there : still alive, just a bit soggy.

30 SEP 2010

01 JAN 2011

It remained in a miniature state till early summer. Then it had a growth spurt which was not ignored by the slugs and snails. At the same time a dormant fuschia awoke next to it which is a useful reference point for the following photos.

11 JUN 2011

03 JUL 2011

I wanted to capture in one photo : where the hollyhock had come from, where it was going to, the slug-eaten leaves at the base, the fresh growth at the tip reaching for the sun, the buds about to burst open in the middle, and how much I am in awe of it, but it wasn't possible.

At the beginning of August, slender bamboo canes were sufficient to hold the plant upright, as left to its own devices, it would have leaned over into the camelia bush.

06 AUG 2011
14 AUG 2011

By the end of August, I began to wonder if I had made a mistake selecting giant hollyhock seeds instead of the regular variety as trying to support the plant with slender canes was futile. When it was too tall and the girth of its stem too wide to benefit from their support, they were replaced with a thicker cane offset from the base, to accept the plant's tendency to lean over and to reduce its height. This had the unexpected effect of encouraging side-shoots to turn into upward-growing shoots.

23 AUG 2011
28 AUG 2011

Then it started to bloom. The promise of the deep burgundy buds and the revelations of the flaring crimson trumpets, starting in the middle and spiralling up the stem were what I had dreamt of fifteen months before, except in pale pink like those I've seen in other people's gardens and there was a row of them. I now day-dream about the crimson blooms on this stand-alone specimen, and if they had been any other colour I would be visualising my hopes in that instead.

31 AUG 2011

02 SEP 2011

Yesterday as I was walking along admiring people's front gardens, I noticed that all of their hollyhocks were not supported, they just stand erect by themselves. I'm not sure if self-support develops year-on-year. Anyway, noticing that the ex-side shoots, now upward-reaching plants in their own right were developing buds of their own, I made a rash decision to remove the supporting cane. I now have a row of hollyhocks along the right fence.

02 SEP 2011

02 SEP 2011 

And what do I hope for in September ?

In September, I'm going to stop hoping and just enjoy the plants that I have till autumn sets in ....
(though I wouldn't complain if I walked out of my back-door one September day and found the whole row of hollyhocks in bloom at the same time.)

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for
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