Thursday, 20 June 2013

Tree Paeony (20 JUN 2013)

I’m pretty sure that the herbaceous paeony which starts flowering with pink petals and a yellow centre then produces a further bloom of pink petals from within is paeony sorbet because I found a certificate with the name and pictures on the internet look similar.

The slow-growing tree paeony with enormous, peachy flowers, but without credentials, might be kinkaku. Some descriptions mention a lemony scent, which I can't detect.
As a stake isn’t sufficient to support the plant when in full bloom, the major branches are strung from the garden fence like a puppet, which allows it to sway gracefully with the lightest puff of wind.

Recently I’ve been obsessing about reproducing this plant, maybe because it’s more challenging to propagate tree paeonies compared to the herbaceous varieties. They are grafted onto herbaceous root stock for commercial production, not to control their growth, as for apple trees, but to boost their chances of taking root.

I can see why because I have taken cuttings for the last three years; during winter there’s still a little bit of hope as the plant itself looks dead, but come spring-time foliage and buds magically sprout forth while my cuttings remain lifeless twigs.
Alternatively, the roots can be divided, but that seems too risky for such a precious plant. In frustration, I nipped off a tiny shoot and stuck it in some soil. Unbelievably it’s still alive ten days later; I don't mind waiting a long time just as long as I can see some sign of progress.

     yet another dead cutting                  a live cutting at the moment

A fellow blogger once commented that you shouldn’t be constrained by the planting times on seed packets. Paying heed to this advice has been quite liberating, releasing me from the spring-time frenzy and spreading the thrill of creating new life through the seasons, though I may have to wait till next summer for some flowers.
However, in the case of tree peonies the RHS advises to sow the seed as soon as it’s ripe which is why you can’t find packets of their seeds on sale. The seeds are double dormant, needing two cold spells, one to prompt the roots to develop and the other to prompt the leaves. After clearing away the weeds from the base of the tree, I could find no signs of new shoots from the tree itself or its graft, so I planted some fresh seeds in that spot; it being the most obvious place to look if I should remember to check when two winters have passed, or maybe by then another gardener might check for new shoots and find my seedlings instead.
More likely, they will just enjoy the flowers ...


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Sunday, 2 June 2013

Bluebells (02 JUN 2013)

When I saw the “woodland” at the bottom of my garden for the first time, I marvelled at what I thought was a unique feature. Then I started blogging and it became apparent that most keen gardeners save an area for shade-loving plants.
I added quotation marks when I referred to it so people would know I was pretending.

My memory is that it was filled with bluebells then, but over the past four years they have gradually been replaced by monster buttercups - may be because up till now I have given this part of the garden a vigorous spring-clean every May which included cutting back the bluebell leaves. I was more considerate this time.
I started a project to extend the "woodland", which was left half-done last summer. The part that I uncovered has filled with spreading African daisies and self-seeded foxgloves already, no bluebells though.

a half-finished project
Here are the few bluebells left.

Bluebells in my garden
I decided it was time to visit the forest again with the ramblers. What could be better than seeing bluebells in their natural habitat?  Unfortunately, I arrived late so had to make my own way to the pub where they were going to stop for lunch. I passed some bluebells along the way which was a reassuring sign.

The main road to the pub started with residences on one side and forest on the other. Gradually, the residences disappeared and I was literally walking through the forest alone. Even though it was almost intoxicating to be surrounded by nature, I was grateful for the traffic driving by.

Epping Forest
I peered into the depths but there wasn't a bluebell in sight. Nettles and ferns grew in the clearings. The sunny spots where trees had broken would have been a perfect place for bluebell seeds to fall.

I asked a fellow rambler if she knew anything about the strangely-shaped trees. She said it was probably due to wood-cutting in the past. I checked on the internet later, which confirmed that even though only royalty were previously allowed to hunt in the forest, pollarding and coppicing were practised there by "commoners" since Saxon times until 1878, when an Act was passed to protect its future due to the increasing population.
Coppicing is when trees are cut at the base of the trunk to encourage new growth from the remaining stool.

A curved trunk is a characteristic of coppiced trees.

In a previous post, I mentioned that the difference between forest and woodland is that the latter lets sunlight through the canopy to allow understory plants to grow. It was just something that I googled at the time without much thought, but a few people commented on this definition. Checking again, it seems that the difference is not so clear because sometimes the terms are used interchangeably, and in Britain there's the added confusion that forest originally referred to royal hunting ground regardless of whether it was covered by trees.
However after researching coppicing, I realised (though it sounds obvious) that woods were places where wood was gathered. When this stopped, the forest grew back thicker than before - hence no bluebells.
Historically, coppicing was rotated to ensure that wood was always available for harvesting, with the side-effect of creating biodiverse habitats for a variety of plants and wildlife. This process has been replicated in a managed woodland which has grown over a decomissioned cemetery in central London, now designated a nature reserve.

Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

Back in my garden, I came pretty close to coppicing this whole forsythia bush as it's not my favourite and has grown completely out of control. As the light flooded in, I felt a connection with the woodsmen in ancient times.
In that moment, it occurred to me that woodland is created when man meets forest and treats it with respect.

My Woodland

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