Monday, 25 June 2012

Flower Baskets (25 JUN 2012)

The pubs in the UK have a tradition of hanging flower baskets outside in the summer. I went on a pub crawl of sorts in my local area to illustrate the point but only found half-dead, bedraggled displays in need of refreshing, probably because outside seating is not an option due to all the rain we've had recently. The local council, on the other hand, have allocated a portion of my taxes to tending flower bowls hanging from lamp-posts, watered early in the morning by a man with a hose on a pole. Cheap and cheerful, they compensate for the high proportion of front gardens which have been converted into precious parking spaces.

lamp-post flower bowls planted by the local council

On Saturday morning I had to give someone a lift to the DIY store. While I was waiting, I passed by the sick plants shelf (the only place where I've bought plants so far) to see what could be rescued. A box labelled “variegated trailing veined petunias” caught my eye, a few of them seemed healthy enough to live a while longer and perhaps flower. I bought them for £1 with a particular flower basket in mind.

My Mum never tires of telling the story of how she was the first person in the street and the family to plant and hang a flower basket at the front entrance of the house, a pioneer in her own way. Gradually, the neighbours and relatives followed suit; not me though, preferring to keep my passion for plants private.

However, on arrival at her house, instead of being greeted with gratitude, I was scolded for thinking that four small plants would be sufficient to fill a hanging basket - it would be an embarrassment for all to see. I pointed out that four small plants which had the potential to trail down eventually and bloom with veined petals might be more decorative than the weeds sticking out of the basket which had been left untouched since last year. Little did I know that she was still at the planning stage.

She directed me to a small nursery, like a farm shop, selling inexpensive plants for bedding and baskets. I'd never been to a nursery before, there was a steady stream of customers, all very knowledgeable and friendly and the lady in charge assisted to find what we were looking for. I couldn't help but compare the rows upon rows of newly propogated, healthy plants with my festering seed trays and the neatly labelled but unloved specimens in the DIY store.

It didn’t take long to realise that working on this project together would be problematic. Despite her spartan dress-sense and lifestyle, my Mum aspires to have the colours of the rainbow represented in her flower basket, crowned with a signature fuschia; I go for the less-is-more approach. We finally compromised to limit the pallette to her favourite purple (matched by a velvety verbena), with contrasting lilac and cream (combined in nemesia) even managing to find a fuschia with cream sepals. Some volunteers of vinca from the garden completed the collection.

left to right : variegated petunia, verbena, fuschia, nemesia, vinca

Assembling the basket alone (as Mum seemed to distance herself while I was pulling out the vinca), I began to understand the attraction. It's sanitised gardening that can be done with bare hands without worrying about that hidden worm or slug.  It's a totally absorbing pass-time, started and completed within a few hours. It captures the emotions and fancies of the moment and shouts out : "This is me!"

hope it fills out ... or I wont hear the end of it.

Before hanging the basket outside, I looked around sheepishly to see if anyone was watching, feeling guilty that neighbours and visitors would think that this was my Mum's best effort. Finally, I could see her point. I never thought I'd be the kind of person to plant flower baskets; maybe I shall assemble my own this summer, but I'll definitely hang it in the back garden if I do.

How to assemble a flower basket properly :

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Sunday, 17 June 2012

Snapdragons (17 JUN 2012)

It's time to think again about my Dozen for Diana selection, twelve plants to start a garden again from scratch. This month is more difficult, being spoilt for choice.

Snapdragons are the dark horse, I hadn't even seen or heard of them till last year. Included in a packet of cottage garden annual seeds, though proving to be perennial, now they are self-seeding.
They grow about 3 foot tall if unsupported, taller if grown through shrubs, and cover the full colour spectrum, including two-toned and multicoloured blooms. They love the sunshine, creeping horizontally through shade then rising to greet it, their blooms reminding me of pirates' hats from childhood stories. I can't get enough of them, however to be fair, compared to their companions, they lack the delicious scent of blue moon rose and the tantalising speckles of foxgloves excelsior - so I'll pencil in all three plants for now.

Tried & tested, reliable - snapdragons

In London, a gardener can grow almost any plant he desires, but sometimes in gardening, just as in life, one can't help the imagination wandering to what's just out of reach ...

Fantasy plants : the ones you admire in other blogs but can't (or can't be bothered to make the extra effort to) source or nurture them. Unattainable, they remain in your head, a picture of perfection.

So in parallel to the tried and trusted, sensible plant suggestions, I'm juxtaposing some plants I fancy - I haven't a clue what diseases they're prone to, their ideal growing conditions or even what they look like in the vascular tissue.

Fantasy plant #1 : Lotus flower (as seen in One's, Holley's and Alberto's blogs.)
For calmly floating on water, their huge blooms with suspended layers of petals, expansive tray-like leaves, and unusual seed pods.

It's possible to grow lotus flowers in the UK but it's a fantasy because I don't have a pond and have no intention of digging one - there's enough slimy wildlife around here as it is.

Lotus flowers came to mind due to an uncanny occurrence this month ...

A huge plant made its way into the garden without my noticing, looking like an escapee from the neighbour's pond it took a while to identify, as Google Images didn't recognise my photos.

OMG! what's this ?!

I made the mistakes of searching for "ribbed stem" and "pure white flowers".

pure white baubles transform into thumbnail size double flowers

I couldn't believe my vision when the flowers opened fully.

a dream come true ?

Back to reality, I searched through all the "daisy-like weeds".
After studying stem structure, I finally pinned it down by googling "daisy, winged stem". (I'm no wiser on the purpose of a winged stem.)

It's called ammobium alatum or winged everlasting because its flowers, with their papery petal-like bracts, are suitable for dried flower arrangements. They can be dried naturally by hanging bunches upside down in a dark, dry, airy place. Flowers continue to open while they're drying so they should be picked just before they look ready.

An Australian native, it's also called sand flower as it can thrive in sandy soil.

A compact hybrid of ammobium alatum ( 'Bikini' ) won the 1996 Fleuroselect Gold Medal.

I don't think this is the "Bikini" variety

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

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Foxgloves (12 JUN 2012)

My foxglove fetish had started to consume me to the point of hallucination. I even thought I spied them growing in the trees.

"foxglove tree" in my local park
Googled it to check my sanity ... such a tree exists! : paulownia tomentosa

I was soon brought to my senses though, as they were missing the mesmerising markings in the throat which lead the bees or folks (fairies) to the nectar deep inside the glove.

first signs of foxgloves this spring - not one black bean aphid in sight ...

To think I almost decided to give up growing foxgloves after ten specimens nurtured for two years were attacked by black bean aphids last summer, which reproduced faster than I could wash them off. Fearing that it would take years for the ecology in the garden to rebalance in my favour, I couldn't face watching the sap being sucked out of the leaves and buds, crumpling them to submission a second time. However, it was the sight of healthy self-seeded offspring from the infested plants which taught me that life goes on regardless and prompted me to hand-rear foxgloves of my own again in addition.

the biggest so far this year - reared by hand in my foxglove "nursery"
But biggest isn't always best, the blood red spots on white are more pronounced in the small foxgloves, merely sprayed on the flowers of this enlarged specimen.

Until today I have left a patch of the woodland untouched after planting the first foxgloves in 2010. Delegating to mother nature the responsibility to create harmony beyond my own imagination.

The seeds of the parent foxgloves germinated simultaneously under controlled conditions indoors. Their flowering last year passed in a relatively short time coinciding with the bluebells and the falling cherry blossoms, leaving me pining for more. The next generation came to life at different times depending on the spots where they fell in the woodland; the display during the past few weeks ranged from early plants which have lost most of their gloves to later plants which are still in bud. I've taken hundreds of photos since late spring but can't definitely label one as the point of climax, when all the plants in the woodland resonated together.

offspring from two foxgloves planted in the woodland in 2010  ...

Maybe harmony can't or rather shouldn't be sustained (dare I say that my heart stopped skipping a beat). The emerging roses, weigela and buttercups made odd companions with the foxgloves; the shade offered by the cherry's young leaves forced the spires to grow spindly reaching for sunlight.

... and here they are without those pesky roses in the way
The two parents of these foxgloves were mid-pink and pale-pink.

I had reached a state of acceptance (or apathy) when we experienced a bout of heavy winds and rain which is still ongoing.

... after a battering

My hybrid foxgloves excelsior have been bred to grow flowers around the stem which enables them to stand upright whereas their ancestors, species foxgloves, have flowers on one side of the stem only which gives them a bowed appearance. After recent winds and rain I understood why - bowing saves at least one side of the hybrid's flowers.

The foxgloves were battered but realising that this could be my chance, this morning I cut off all the flower spires to energise the side shoots together.
What lies between dissonance and harmony ?  : acceptance then anticipation - yes, the twinkle in my eye is back again.

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

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Harmony (03 JUN 2012)

I am a scientist specialising in plant propogation during my spare time.

lavender legato                                seedling staccato                                broccoli etude

OK - I just do a bit of gardening now and then ...
Lavender cuttings planted in winter continue to develop slowly.
Sacrificial seedlings of my least favourite plants have been dotted around outside to check if predators are lurking.
So much for experiments - all eight sets of broccoli seedlings are thriving and progressing to develop their true leaves, regardless of factors and levels. The yellowing and dying of their predecessors remains a mystery.

My garden is a functional plant laboratory.

asparagus solo                                               cactus duet                                                azalea a capella

The azalea is blooming for the first time.  I'd like to think it is because I amended its soil with spent tea bags but I  have to accept that there are other forces at work which are beyond my control. Asparagus and cacti have eventually made an appearance, maybe as a result of my willing them on ... or not.

However, during the month of May, as the spring bulbs expired, the tree blossoms were glorious and the roses started to bloom, I could sense a change in myself.

May medley
I view the branches covered in blue blossoms for free - thanks to my neighbour.

Kneeling in front of the wisteria, I no longer felt the urge to align my measuring tape to record and tabulate the length of the racemes, as I would have done before.

wisteria grazioso
Have you noticed that wisteria flowers look like upside-down lupins ? - they are in the same family.

While beheading the wilted perennial poppies, I didn't bother to count the number of buds per plant and plot them on a graph even though I'm sure there are many more than last year.

a chorus of poppies

Despite the individual, measurable success story of each plant, I yearned for something unquantifiable : cohesion.
If only they could all sing together.

quince encore                                                      tropaeolum crescendo                               buttercups allegro

The inner branches of the quince bush have spontaneously burst into flower, resulting in many more pollinated fruits compared to the winter blooms on the previously bare outer branches. Clematis and tropaeolum are climbing exactly as I trained them while buttercups are doing their own thing, freestyle.
A beautiful but disparate ensemble.

Can harmony only be created by artistes ?

my local park in May 

This whole grove has been dedicated to azalea bushes which flower harmoniously with the horsechestnut trees but for just a few weeks of the year.

Is it possible for harmony to be sustained ?
What lies between dissonance and harmony ?
How does a scientist comprehend harmony when it is composed of more than the sum of its parts ?



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

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