Monday, 30 April 2012

Foxgloves (30 APR 2012)

I haven't done much gardening recently due to the incessant rain - just waiting for the seedlings to grow. Canary creeper, lavatera and sweet pea are ready to plant out, there's no risk of them drying before they take root, which is my usual worry. The cacti seed packet said that they would germinate over a period of months, but it didn't mention what to do when the soil shows signs of becoming mouldy. The only other failures so far are the broccoli seedlings which started with a growth spurt, then withered except for one.

I took these pictures yesterday for The Patient Gardener 's End of Month View ...


I thought it would be a good idea to spend my gardening time trying to find a book to read for Sage Butterfly's Earth Day reading project. I searched the local library and bookshop but couldn't find any books that I wanted to recommend. I don't buy stuff off the internet unless absolutely desperate - as that wasn't an option, I searched on-line for a poem instead.

After all the wind and rain we had yesterday, this seemed appropriate : Earth Voices
A poem written by Bliss Carman, who was awarded the title of Canadian Poet Laureate - officially or unofficially, it's not clear from references. However today, it seems that he's not recognised as one of the great poets - according to critics, he wrote prolifically but his work didn't show much development through his career. I actually don't know the difference between a good and bad poem, I know there are some that rhyme and some that don't, hopefully Earth Voices is remembered as one of his better ones. I suspect it rhymes a bit too much, like a nursery rhyme, but I like the pictures of nature that it paints and how it emphasises that this planet belongs to the elements - what's taken needs to be returned.

 But the end of the month is today  ...

The views above don't show the foxgloves which are all that I can see. Now might be a good time to make some notes, before they get infested ...

Below on the left are self-seeded, second generation foxgloves in the woodland. I made a conscious decision to leave this area untouched after planting the first foxgloves here in 2010. A large population of babies started to appear soon after the parents finished flowering, I had to resist the temptation to thin them. Compared to plants on the right grown from packet seeds sown a few months earlier, transplanted into a nursery and thinned; there's not much difference in size. 

It was worth the trouble though, because it seems that "my creations" are going to flower first.
Below on the left is one of the plants from my nursery that was transplanted after thinning. On the right are my deliberately stalled seedlings, which have taken to their new home. Even though they still look tiny, it could be possible that they flower later in the year as they have been over-wintered. Possibly saving the best till last, as they were grown from seeds collected last year from my favourite foxgloves - lime-green with olive speckles and white with burgundy speckles.

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Inspiration (26 APR 2012)

The Latin word SPIRARE : TO BREATHE is the root of a number of English words
which can be found in the garden ...

          EXPIRATION : Bergenia takes its last breath                         SUSPIRATION : cherry tree sighs under weighty blossoms

PERSPIRATION - Weeding the patio can leave a gardener panting (mind the worms !)

CONSPIRATION - Buttercups & dandelions whisper plots to take over

ASPIRATION - Wisteria wishes it could clamber into the cherry tree (but I wont let it)

INSPIRATION  - Crouching by the woodland, I can literally feel it breathing into me

In return , I attempted to inspire this plant, rescued from the guys at work who were pouring tea dregs into it.

Today I'm linking up to Donna's meme Word4Wednesday : INSPIRATION.

Please check out the other interpretations of this word :

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Cacti (22 APR 2012)

There are some advantages of living at the edge of a metropolis such as being able to eat breakfast in world-famous hamburger chains, taking train rides underground and nipping into the supermarket in the middle of the night; not to mention honouring close proximity to celebrity, royalty and central government decision-making. One of the down-sides is coming to terms with the fact that our taps deliver reclaimed water. It's just speeding up the natural process - after all, historically Londoners have been drinking diluted waste from upstream towns for centuries. I would be more comfortable in the knowledge that my drinking water from whatever source had soaked deep into the ground and percolated up via a mountain spring a long time later, but to be honest my palate can't detect the difference between water from the kitchen tap and bottled mineral water. I don't take either for granted.

Winter and early spring were relatively dry in the UK yet it was a surprise when we were informed that there would be a hose-pipe ban in the south-east of England, starting this month, to save 5% of our water consumption. Water was privatised in the UK in 1989; my water supplier reports a 25% leak rate, attributed to 44% of London's water system being over 100 years old.

It might seem exaggerated to highlight at this point that the Maya civilisation collapsed after a drought (and it wasn't the only one) when the rainfall over the Yuctan peninsula decreased by 40%. Scientists investigated the chemical composition (which varies depending on the quantity of water evaporated) of slugs and snail fossils in lake basins to estimate that the final drought experienced by the Mayans was not their worst. It's suspected that social and political issues combined with the mild drought to precipitate their demise.

I can't remember exactly when it started to rain heavily - the easter holiday was definitely a wash-out and it's been raining ever since. Nevertheless, the predicted drought is still anticipated.

bird bath - 25 FEB 2012                                              left flower bed - 09 APR 2012

I haven't watered my garden with a hose-pipe much so far; now I'm not allowed to.
The woodland garden fends for itself, tolerating my occasional interferences.
The left border is so shaded by the fence that the plants grow sideways and they never seem short of moisture.
The right border is the worry, exposed to direct sunshine, yet sheltered from rain by the neighbouring hedge. The foxgloves in this bed would have died if they weren't watered last year. Some of this year's plantlets have died already in the dry spell before easter.

 right border 01 APR 2012 - dead foxglove                                       woodland 09 APR 2012 - self-seeded foxgloves

Some plants do thrive in the right border. Oxalis is a handful of wetness when it's pulled out, hydrated from below by a never-ending chain of tubers but there are also weeds with hardly any roots that survive remarkably.

unknown weed in the dry right border                                                                oxalis as far as the eye can see

I have to make a confession. To date whenever I read about xeriscape planting, I took a polite interest, even appreciating the sparse, minimalist designs but didn't really absorb the details.
Now I'm wondering how many divisions I can take from my existing (hopefully drought-tolerant) sedum plants and I've sowed cactus seeds just in case ...

two generations of sedum                                                                                   cacti seedlings ?

The other day, I was researching pots when I stumbled across an article about ollas : water-filled, unglazed clay vessels buried in the soil for plant irrigation, confirmed by a picture of a man in Sri-Lanka with a healthy-looking plant. I was about to click over, when it occurred to me that I might need to learn something from him. He applies a technique practised in ancient times where plant roots are allowed to sip sparingly through porous clay instead of drowning them by conventionally excessive watering.

As an experiment, I prepared a similar set-up with a new clay pot (the method may not work with a clogged, aged one), blocking the drainage hole with a ball of putty and varnishing the rim to reduce evaporation from the top surface. I've buried it next to a jasmine, which was definitely suffering from dehydration before easter. If it stops raining and starts droughting, I'll top up the pot, cover with a saucer and report back.

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Pinks (15 APR 2012)

I'm not a fan of pink flowers but I've been thinking about which twelve plants I would choose if I had to start a garden all over again from scratch, it was Diana@Elephant'sEye's suggestion, and I can reveal that at least two of my twelve are this colour.

I decided to limit my selection to plants that I have grown for at least a year, their pros & cons understood yet still recommended. (Now is not the time to indulge my gardenia fantasy.)

bergenia - definitely not included in my Dozen for Diana

Continuing to follow Diana's guidelines :

My favourite tree would have to be a choice between apple and cherry blossom as they're the only trees that I've lived with in the garden. The down-side of a home-grown apple tree is clearing the rotten, squelchy, windfall apples and cutting out the maggots from the remaining edible fruit. Generally ornamental cherry trees are either sterile or have inedible fruit.  I would be prepared to compromise my fluffy, double blossoms for a variety with simpler flowers optimised for delicious fruit with a hint of tartness, but I have yet to confirm from my own experience if organic cherries are guaranteed maggot-free.

There's no shortage of cherry blossom trees in London, they can be seen while out and about, lining avenues of the suburbs - do I really need one in my garden too?  As I gaze up at the pink clouds this week, and look forward to the scattering of the delicate petals over the woodland, I can't imagine my garden without it - cherry blossom tree despite its cracked bark and gummy deposits goes into my dozen. (I reserve the right to change my mind in early autumn when the waft of apple crumble is in the air.)

cherry blossom - my favourite tree ?

I originally assumed that pioneer plants must be a South African phenomenon, as I'd never heard the phrase before Diana mentioned it. Little did I know that there was one right under my nose ...

Second succession pioneer plants revitalise land which was previously soiled and planted but suffered a man-made or natural disaster. British heather moorlands are an almost unique man-made habitat for specialised flora and fauna, created by native heather pioneering cleared land. It's not known how much of the moorland today was initiated by nature or by farmers cutting down woods centuries ago.

Moors are exposed to controlled fires which burn patches of older heather (their seeds germinate better if they are exposed briefly to intense heat), without this intervention they would eventually revert back into woods. Managing moorland in this way is made economically viable by using it for sheep grazing and grouse shooting.

Heather flowers for at least six months of the year, calluna during summer and autumn, erica during winter and spring. I collect the dried ericaceous leaves shed from the past year which accumulate under the bush to mulch my azalea pot. The only disadvantage of this disease-free plant is that the inner parts of the bush become woody while it continues to flower at the ends of the branches.

bluebells are in bloom but I'm focussing on Heather today

Heather is not the most spectacular plant by itself, but the vision of rolling moors covered in it was impressed in my imagination by reading Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte :
"He said the pleasantest manner of spending a hot July day was lying from morning till evening on a bank of heath in the middle of the moors, with the bees humming dreamily about among the bloom, and the larks singing high up overhead, and the blue sky and bright sun shining steadily and cloudlessly. That was his most perfect idea of heaven’s happiness"

I've yet to walk across a moor or lie on a bank of heath - my heather plants are reminders that I should do that one day, so they make it into my dozen.

Bleeding heart is in its prime now - it was invisible a month ago. Rising, blooming and dying within a few weeks, it doesn't stay around long enough to attract pests or disease. I'll make sure to secure its marker while it's here to remind myself not to plant anything a handspan radius around it, though sowing annual seeds on top of it didn't seem to do any harm.  Will it be my splash of colour ?

bleeding heart - for a splash of colour ?

Crimson and black oriental poppy which flowers later is a stronger contender in terms of bold colour, the bees went crazy for it, not so much for bleeding heart. The purposeful restriction in the flower's form forces the bee to rub pollen from a previous flower on the stigma, its own pollen doesn't get a chemical signal to activate. Some bees cheat and pierce the base of the heart-shaped petals to access the nectaries without cross-pollinating the flower - I've yet to witness either approach.

Oriental poppy is striking as a stand-alone plant but it can't support itself and doesn't blend into my garden like the bowed racemes of bleeding heart. I need to think about this one and the remaining eight later in the year so that my Dozen for Diana isn't biased towards spring-flowering plants ...

These photos were taken in my garden this week.
Please visit Carol's MayDreamsGardens blog on the 15th of every month to see what's blooming in gardens around the world.

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Monday, 9 April 2012

Parasites? (09 APR 2012)

The word parasite, originating from Ancient Greek parásītos : one who eats at another's table, refers to an organism which relies on another organism for nourishment and shelter to survive. A subgroup, parasitoids progess to predation, eventually biting the hand that feeds them.

A couple of weeks ago, the first siting of green fly on the tulips snapped my attention out of the reverie where there are just plants and I inhabiting the garden - I warned myself that precautions needed to be taken to prevent the black bean aphid infestation that ruined the foxglove display last year. Poking around the foxgloves wondering if they would benefit from being sprayed with soapy water sooner rather than later when the buds emerged, I sensed that I was not alone. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw greyish, green aphids lined up on the lupin stems. (I knew there had to be a down-side to planting perennials.)  After the horror had subsided, I was intrigued at their orderly queue, tracing the stems so completely that they almost merged into them.

Black bean aphids feasted on my foxgloves last year.                                                    lupin aphids leave traces this week.

If my garden was a balanced environment, the aphids would breed and feed on my host plants, and in turn they would be eaten by ladybirds and other insects or kept under control by tiny parasitoid wasps which grow inside gradually drawing life from them. It occurred to me that if I left the aphids in situ, over time, the ecological balance might develop. After all, when I first arrived in the garden, there were no foxgloves, lupins or aphids; ivy, brambles and weeds filled the spaces between inherited bushes. It might be my interference with the garden that has caused this problem.

However, my newly acquired gardener's instinct directed me to sacrifice the occupied lupin for the sake of the rest. It duely received a pre-chelsea chop down to the ground. There's a chance that it might grow back this year, fuelled by the storage nodules located at intervals along its roots, though it probably makes more sense to abandon lupins and try growing a different plant that doesn't have its own aphid. It's too late to back-out of growing foxgloves ...

Aphids are usually labelled as plant pests, sometimes plant lice but they aren't described as parasitic - I'm not sure why. I presume that plants that live off other plants or creatures that live off other creatures are generally called parasites but a creature living off a plant isn't.

Mistletoe is hemi-parasitic because even though it is capable of photosynthesising by itself, it can't grow roots in soil, attaching itself to a tree with a root-like organ to obtain mineral salts and water. Its sticky seeds are usually smeared or pooped onto tree bark by birds, if a number of these  plants attach themselves to a tree, they can kill it by sucking out its sap.

Ivy is not a parasite. It roots into the ground and does not draw nutrients from trees. It doesn't try to impede their growth, merely tracing them as a means of support. If a tree suffers damage from ivy its more likely due to its weight rather than strangulation. In its juvenile state ivy forms vines which seek rite of passage until they obtain enough sunlight to trigger puberty, a genetic transformation into its adult, arboreal form. Then, its days of creeping over, it settles into life as a flowering bush producing black berries.

ivy in a local wooded park                                                                                   .... traces nearly every tree

Today I'm linking up to Donna's meme @ GardenWalkGardenTalk : TRACERY

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Thursday, 5 April 2012

In My Pots (05 APR 2012)

A plant pot may seem like a simple object, not worthy of being called an invention, but the idea of transporting live plants in vessels must have been thought up by a genius. Even though there are modern innovative designs available on the market, they boast minor enhancements compared to the original concept.

I tried searching on the internet for the history of pots used specifically to contain plants and found this picture of Ancient Egyptians transporting myrrh trees .

... but there's not much else,  just lots of web-sites about the other sort of pot, so I'll write this post free-style with the information that I know.

Surely, lightweight and inexpensive plastic pots revolutionised the gardening industry, but I can't find the date when they were first supplied to nurseries.

A gardener may opt to keep a plant that he has purchased contained in its pot for a period of time to allow acclimatisation to it's new environment before transplantation. Alternatively, he may decide to pot a plant himself if he desires full control of it's watering, feeding, growing medium and location. In this case, he has basically two types of pots to choose from, porous (eg. clay or tufa) and non-porous (eg. plastic or metal). Some gardeners prefer porous pots as they regulate the temperature, aeration and watering of plants, others debate that non-porous pots keep the soil moister for longer. I've found that clay pots soak up water when they're new, but this isn't such a problem as they age.

In December, it dawned on me that if I didn't plant more varieties of bulbs I'd have the same old daffodils and tulips to blog about come springtime. Due to the unseasonably warm weather, all the bulbs on sale had started to sprout and prices were slashed. I bought some snowdrops, which had almost dried out, and some miniature iris bulbs to grow in pots on the patio, so that I could look at them while gulping down toast and my first cup of tea of the day in the back-room. By early March, one snowdrop bloomed successfully and a few more irises - my breakfast beauties.


snowdrop & miniature irises

Apparently, plastic plant pots are not environmentally-friendly as they are made from a different kind of plastic compared to food packaging so most recycling centres don't accept them. I, personally, don't have a surplus plant pot mountain as I don't frequent garden centres, attempting instead to propogate my own seeds and cuttings in as many pots as I can find. The garden of my childhood home is my main source of cuttings and perennial shoots. I usually help myself as I do the more labour intensive chores for my mother, however a couple of weeks ago she presented me with two baby peonies - much more precious when they're given rather than taken.

one year old hydrangea cutting, camellia seedling and two new shoots of peonies

In return I gave her a sucker separated from my dwarf flowering quince which I had been saving to grow as a bonsai tree. I'm not sure if a quince with unknown parentage is a fair swap for two peonies, one of which was originally bought in the last day sale at the Chelsea flower show (that scored at least two points in my mum's mind, one for a bargain, two for Chelsea - ultimate place for her to buy a plant). Hope she's not keeping tabs ...

dwarf flowering quince and its separated sucker

Of all the cuttings that I've tried to propogate so far, only one has survived - a year old lacecap hydrangea, but it wasn't the one that I willed on the most; magnolia tree cuttings elude me. I've tried to encourage them to root for three years, unsuccessfully.

my mother's magnolia and its cutting in my (not so) lucky pot

My other tree experiments have been more successful ...
I gave up on my cherry blossom sucker a long time ago. Then in early March, I noticed some white flecks amongst what looked like dead branches, which turned out to be perfectly-formed blossoms. Just as these are dying, the buds of the parent  are about to burst open.

separated sucker from my cherry blossom tree

The fig tree is about three years old, bought as a sick green shoot. I keep it in a pot because constraining the roots concentrates its energy on fruiting, though it will be a while yet.
Three apple treelets, now one year old, are in pots because I'm not sure where their final home will be. I forgive their slow growth, because it means I can view them in my garden for longer. Keeping the memory of our family apple tree alive is more important than apple crumble ... for now.

a fig sapling and three potential apple trees

Finally on the subject of crumble ...
I meant to bring my rhubarb into the darkness of the shed to force it to produce tender stalks as farmers do in the North of England, with the aid of candlelight. Then I read a post about rhubarb forcing pots by Janet@ PlanticruNotes, a simpler technique for the home gardener, if less romantic. Unfortunately, the rhubarb sprouted out of the ground before I could catch it in time. I harvested the first stalks last weekend and covered what remained with an improvised forcing pot. Fingers crossed, my crumble will be sweeter and pinker next time round.

red canada rhubarb grown naturally - now being forced under a pot

Today I'm linking up to Christine and Barbara's meme at The Gardening Blog : Garden Bloggers Harvest Day ...
... and to Katarina's meme at Roses & Stuff : In My Pots

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for
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