Sunday, 28 February 2010

Did you say something about my Hellebore?!

Did you say something about my Hellebore?!  Of course I'm referring to Helleborus foetidus, pictured in my garden today.  I'm not usually confrontational but I think this plant deserves a bit of a helping hand.  

Commonly referred to as the 'Stinking Hellebore' or 'Dungwort' (charming), I'm not entirely sure which common name I dislike most actually.  Either way this plants name does it no favours whatsoever.  On this note, isn't it strange how plants receive their names?  For example there's also a 'Stinking Iris', on which Robert Webber blogged about last week which is a great plant to grow.  I think if that I was in charge I could rename a few plants, although I would probably be guilty of giving many blousy, over bred beasties a bit of a doing down.

As you may have already picked up, I think this plant is great.  Here are a few qualities that make it worthy of a spot in your garden.  It is evergreen, it has a lovely growing habit, it will grow in woodland settings, it will grow in alkaline soils and it is drought tolerant.  Yes, it releases a little scent when you touch or crumple its leaves but it is in no way "stinking".  In fact I held its flowers when photographing it and it left a scent on my hand which was not all that unpleasant.  A fresh, spring foliage scent in fact, which is quite welcomed after a cold Winter.

If you have a difficult spot in the garden that could do with some interest then this may be the plant for you.  I for one adore it and it is a much better grower than many of the popular H. orientalis species.

Now that I've had my unplanned rant, I hope I've inspired you to grow a plant with a rather unpleasant and unnecessary name.  

Do you grow this plant?  Do you have any views on this plant or the names of other plants?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Am I late to the party? Hippeastrum (Amaryllis) care.

Am I late to the party?  No, I just planted you late.  If you grow or have grown Hippeastrum (Amaryllis) then I may have some hints and tips for you.

Fashionably late as ever and just in time for the close of London Fashion Week, my gorgeous Hippeastrum 'Snow Queen' has decided that it would finally grace us with its presence.  Blooming on a 2ft (60cm) flower spike and growing in an old terracotta pot sat on my hall console table, this really is a welcome sight when coming in from the cold on a wet and wintery day.

This beautiful bulb is often forced to produce blooms around Christmas time.  I always think it sad that once the plant has finished flowering many of these bulbs are discarded in the general waste or composted never to bloom again.  In fact these bulbs will grow for many years, flowering year after year if cared for correctly. 

The easy part is starting your bulb off.  When you have bought the bulb, plant it in a suitable pot, a pot a little bigger than the widest part of the bulb is fine.  You then choose a suitable planting media, general compost or bulb fibre is fine, and then all that's left to do is water it.  

But what do you do once it has finished flowering?  My advice is don't throw it away.  Just continue to care for it as a typical house plant.  It may not be the prettiest of plants at this point but it will pay for itself in blooms the following year.  Once the flowers have faded completely,  cut off the flower stem, much like deadheading any other garden bulb.  You will now be left with the plant leaves and it is important that you continue to water regularly taking care not to water log the bulb.  Plants should be fed every 2-3 weeks, just as you would any other house plant.

The key to success is timing.  July is the month in which we get ruthless.  Well not really, we just want to reproduce a period of dormancy.  Stop watering the plant and allow it to dry out completely.  Move the pot to a cool place, such as a garage or shed, and forget about it until October.  My advice to you would be to add a reminder in your diary, 'phone or calendar, telling you that your Hippeastrum is still lurking somewhere and needs bringing back to life. It's so easy to forget these things.

When bringing your plant back in from it's slumber it is a good idea to check its general health.  Trim off any dead top growth, remove it from the pot ensuring that the roots are not damaged and look over the bulb for signs of rot or pest damage.  If everything is fine you can repot the bulb in compost or bulb fibre, just as you did the first time, and away you go.  This will lead on to another period of Christmas flowering and save you from having to buy new bulbs year after year.

If you follow these instructions your beautiful and graceful Hippeastrum should grow strong for many years to come.  If you're anything like me though you will continue to buy more bulbs each year and end up with a house full.

Did you find this post useful?  Do you have any other hints or tips?

Friday, 19 February 2010

Have you pruned your Clematis?

Do you struggle knowing how or when to prune Clematis?  Pruning any plant can seem like a daunting task,  not too dissimilar to brain surgery actually, but it's not all that difficult really when you have a little know how.

Several Clematis grow quite happily in my garden and I find them particularly useful for catching the eye and drawing your focus vertically.  This is important in my small garden as space is always at a premium.  Any method at my disposal to increase impact or increase room for plants is most certainly welcomed.  I particularly enjoy C. ‘Elsa Spath’ and C. ‘Madame Julia Correvone’. These grow up the boundary wall with the added support of Hazel bean poles.  They continue to wind their way through an ornamental quince and finally onto a trellis panel, which is bathed in sunshine, something that Clematis really enjoy.  Aside from the vertical draw that the Clematis offer, they also add interest to the otherwise green and leafy Chaenomele speciosa when its blooms have faded.  Clematis love having cool shaded roots and their heads in the sun and this position at the back of a border appears to suit them very well. If you have a shrub, hedge, tree or another structure that needs some additional interest, consider using a Clematis.
At this time of year your Clematis should be coming in to bud. It is this unmissable visual cue which signals a need to prune.  With the increase in daylight hours (which I think I enjoy just as much as the plants) pairs of plump buds form along stems, ready and waiting for the chemical nudge to burst and grow.  By pruning just above a healthy set of buds and following the rules below you will create a new set of growing points and stems upon which your flowers will be produced.
It is worth noting that Clematis fall in to three pruning groups:
  • Group 1  - consisting of those that flower early in the year
  • Group 2 - consisting of the early large-flowering hybrids which flower in early summer
  • Group 3 - consisting of those which flower from mid-summer onwards. 
Before making the cut it is essential that you know which group your Clematis belongs to as this will dictate your practice.  You can usually find this information by carrying out an online search or by asking your local nurseryman.  At this time of year most groups are ready for pruning, however, the group 3 plants, such as my C. ‘Madame Julia Correvone’, will be our main point of concentration in this post as it is these late flowering species which flower on new growth.  Group 2 plants, such as C. ‘Elsa Spath’ , can also be pruned in a similar fashion but this is not as essential.

Pruning has two main functions.  It increases general vigour and helps to ensure a good flowering season.  Like many other garden plants, Clematis appreciate an annual structural overhaul.  Not only does this allow us to keep unruly plants in check and remove dead or diseased plant material, but it also reduces the opportunity for stems to overlap, form open wounds and become infected.  By pruning the plant back to two strong buds on each stem, around 8-10” from the ground, we can encourage plants to flower profusely.  Group three plants flower on current years growth and by pruning in this way we improve the plants overall health and help it to put its energy in to creating new healthy shoots and blooms.
I would also recommend that after pruning you apply a good feed for your plants, blood, fish and bone is ideal.  I always follow this with a good layer of mulch and lots of protection from slugs, which are extremely problematic when it comes to any form of new shoot.   
Do you have any tips on growing Clematis?  Did you find this post useful? I would be interested to hear from you.

*The main photograph is new growth from Clematis 'Madame Julia Correvone' taken in my garden today.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Guerilla Galanthus

Today I passed a small display of Galanthus nivalis, guerilla styley, and I couldn't resist snapping a quick picture to share with my readers.  I must apologise for the picture quality as I only had my mobile phone to hand.  

A simple ring of snowdrops around the base of a large tree doesn't seem to be the most inspiring or controversial of insurgent planting schemes but it is the position of the of this display, in relation to surrounding buildings, which is quite inspiring.  Guerilla gardening is usually carried out to make an otherwise dull area more appealing, useful or improve the look of an area, see here.  Often colourful and useful guerilla gardens add purpose to unused land but in some council patrolled areas, such as the area in which these snowdrops are planted, grand schemes are not always achievable.  The display I came across can be found outside the town court building and it is a most welcomed sight to behold in an otherwise grey and uninspiring place.  Within this setting I think that the demure but beautiful snowdrop is pitched just right to be able to slip under the radar and escape the council compost heap strimmer or ride on lawn mower.

I can only imagine that a member of the public planted the snowdrops a few years ago.  The other trees in the area are collared with moss and grass and when I  think of it there are no other flowers in sight.  A small protest in an area dominated by large concrete structures, concrete paths, patchy lawn and a few mature trees most certainly gains my approval.  Who knows, in the next year or so other guerilla protests may pop up!

Have you spotted any Guerilla schemes?  Have you planted any yourself?  Please leave a comment with your experiences.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Painswick Rococo Garden - 'Snowdrops in a Snowstorm'

Do you hanker for serious garden design critique?  Lesley and Robert of 'The Hegarty Webber Partnership' are professional garden designers who battled the elements to visit the Painswick Rococo Garden exclusively for Ryan's Garden.  
‘You are taken to a pompous and gilded building, consecrated to Venus for no other purpose, or so it seemed, than that the squire riots here in vulgar love with a couple of orange wenches from the purlieus of the play-house'.  

So wrote a 'garden reviewer' in the 1750’s!  This quote succinctly sums up the frivolous and short lived Rococo style of garden design.  From about 1720 to 1760, tastes moved away from the French formal influence towards the more natural landscape gardens of say Stowe or Blenheim.  A very quick affair in garden history terms, Rococo was an intermediary stage which amalgamated elements of both movements, but lacked the gravitas of either.  Combining straight lines and informality side by side, the style was ornate, curlicued, whimsical and folly laden.  In what amounted to horticultural theatres, aristocrats could indulge in fetes champetres.  This particular garden fashion quickly became a joke and ended before it got a firm foothold.

Painswick is thus one of the few remaining and most complete examples of such a garden in this country.  Stuffed with enough follies for the squire to conduct affairs with a whole playhouse full of orange wenches, it is also the kind of ‘lost and found’ story which newspapers love.  Two centuries of decline and adaptation had blurred the original design almost to extinction, when in the 1960’s the owner, Lord Dickinson had a bright idea.  He concluded that the garden shown behind the family’s mansion in a painting he owned was actually buried under a tangled wood which he himself had planted!

Heligan, but without the hype, because it was genuinely lost, the Rococo Garden has become a story of discovery, dogged determination and painstainkingly slow renovation.  Trees have been felled, ponds have been drained and ground regraded. In some cases the follies have been completely reconstructed.  Lord Dickinson and the Painswick Rococo Garden Trust have by now restored a huge part of the garden - a mammoth and heroic task.  But is it anything more than a partial record of a brief stylistic fling?  Does it make a successful garden?

In point of fact the fundamental design problems are still there.  The combination of the sinuous and the straight is not successful.  Wedged into a slender Gloucestershire combe the central vegetable garden with its strong diamond shaped pattern somehow manages both to lack conviction and jar.  Formality on a slope, without using steps and terracing as the method, always seems odd.

More use could be made of water is this garden.  There are abundant springs of startling clarity to have made this a really sizeable feature.  The central pond of the vegetable garden for example is pitifully small. It seems possible that a fairly central bowling green might actually once have been a large shallow pond.  If so that might start to pull things together.

As it is, the disparate architectural elements, since they lack in themselves a cohesive style, need somehow to be linked up and with some conviction.  As you pore over the painting that inspired the restoration you sense other follies and linking hedges and paths which might somehow have made rather more sense of it.  But you are also tempted to think that even if they put it all back together it would still be a hotch potch, because that is what the original style was.  The word ‘rococo’ itself as a term applied to the arts and architecture derived from a combination of the words rocaille meaning rockwork and coquille meaning shell, themselves two very different materials.  In the world of Rococo garden design there appears to be a similar incompatibility of elements.

However, these days Painswick Rococo Garden has a second claim to fame – as one of the premier snowdrop gardens in the country.  No one knows for sure how it all began, but one James Atkins, a snowdrop grower for who ‘Atkinsii’ is named, certainly lived in one of the estate cottages during the 1800’s.  Of course these Cotswold combes, with abundant moist and dappled shade, are exactly what snowdrops crave.

Even in the 1890’s there were so many that locals used to be let in to gather bunches of them.  But now that the snowdrops are big visitor business this is no longer allowed. It is obviously imperative that the snowdrop season goes with a bang since it is very clear that without the lucrative early visitors the rest of the garden would never have progressed to the stage it has today.  There are volunteers and stewards on hand and crucial paths are strewn with aromatic, shredded conifer to protect your feet.   

The display is fabulous.  We are great fans of massing plants.  Almost anything used that way works and the commoner the better!  While there are liberal quantities of snowdrops throughout the garden and we do sense some serious bulking up taking place to play on the fame they now have, the real location to see these wintery stars naturalised is the Snowdrop Grove at the bottom of the garden.  Here on the banks above a tumbling stream the ground is frost-white with them.

We looked round in half a snowstorm.  But even so there were plucky galanthophiles showing the true brit Dunkirk spirit as they braved the elements.  Fortunately it wasn’t settling so they could still see the snowdrops for the snow.  So get yourselves to Painswick Rococo Garden  asap to make your own decision about the garden and enjoy the snowdrops in one fell swoop.  You can’t have worse weather than we did!

Lesley and Robert

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Do Dogs Design Better Gardens?

Rachel Matthews of 'Successful Garden Design' recently wrote that garden owners who lack  formal design training, often create better gardens than trained designers.  This is most certainly a statement used to spark debate and Rachel makes some good points.  You can read the full post here.

But what has this got to do with dogs?  Well, I can only imagine that both my dogs also read the post as they have taken it upon themselves to point out areas of the garden that they are not happy with and have attempted to remedy my design.  Yesterday I ventured in to the garden only to find that there had been a few changes coupled with some guilty faces.  I  am not entirely sure who contributed to each element of the design but I have my assumptions. 

Maggie, my Border Terrier, has pointed out that she is not amused with the many pots of  propagated plants from last years material.  Occasionally, I have witnessed her destroying the odd potted plant, however, this time she has gone one step further.  She made her point by systematically removing each plant from its pot, removing the root growth and then chewing the plastic pot.  It appears that she is some what of a minimalist design fan, having no tolerance for clutter in the garden and disapproving of my use of many plant species.  I'm guessing that it was also Maggie who uprooted and shredded a Viburnum davidii that has barely had time to put down any roots.

On the other hand, Millie my Golden Retriever, has focussed mainly on the hard landscaping element of the redesign.  She has very kindly identified areas that require ponds or reflective pools.  Excavation was performed very well and I must commend her for the amazing effort.  As a result of such effort, I am now the proud owner of three new "pond sites" in my borders and she has also kindly spread the remaining earth over the rest of the garden so that there is no need for me to mulch this year.  It appears that although she enjoys creating a habitat for pond creatures, and wildlife in general, her appreciation for naturalising bulbs has dwindled in recent times.  Clumps of Galanthus nivalis and Narcissus pseudonarcissus have forcibly been removed.  

Both have helped to fertilise the garden in the way dogs do best, and who knows, this may have removed the problem of the visiting felines?

Do you have pets with a flare for design?  Do you appreciate their efforts?  I would love to read your stories.

* The main photograph is of a spent Hydrangea flower head taken at the National Botanic Garden of Wales.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Garden Shows, Blooms and a Garden Bloggers Meet Up

Have you planned in advance for the coming year?  There are tell tale signs which say that Spring is imminent and I for one cannot wait!  Bulbs have started to flower, buds are popping and the days are getting longer.   Winter seemed like it was here for an age and I know that the growing season will be over in a flash.

Late last year I rearranged my borders  and created a new area in the garden. The new area is quite small and I think it shows a more considered approach to gardening, which aims for year round interest and better design.  I find that it's easy to get bored with a small garden and this led to me wanting to do something new.  I divided many large clumps of perennials and planted hundreds of bulbs.  I also added three new trees to add height and I gave friends and family plants that I didn't have space for or no longer wanted.  This Autumn (fall) preparation should ensure that my garden will require little input in the coming year.  All I have left do is fill gaps in borders, plant three container herb gardens and keep up with general maintenance.  In all honesty I'm not convinced that I will be working all that much in the garden this year.  

What will I do with my time?  I still need to fulfill my hankering for horticulture and start to hunt down some of the plants on my plant wish list.  I'm planning a very full schedule of garden shows, which should satisfy me quite nicely.  I've been thinking about which shows i'll be making an appearance at and although I would love to visit them all, I think I need to be restrained, after all, I have a life outside of gardening that needs my attention now and again.  

I've made a preliminary list of six shows to visit including: RHS Orchid Show, RHS Cardiff, Chelsea, Malvern Spring Show, BBC Gardener's World Live and Hampton Court Flower Show.  I have been to RHS Cardiff a couple of times and although it is only a small show it improved year on year and is particularly accessible for me as it's just down the M4.  Last years visit to the show can be seen here.  Last year I also attended 'BBC Gardener's World Live'.  This is a different kettle of fish altogether.  Coupled with the 'Good Food Show' this show is quite busy but none the less enjoyable.  All the other shows on my list are new to me, in the sense that I've never attended before.  All my visits will be posted on the blog as they happen so keep your eyes peeled.

If you are already thinking of visiting the Malvern Spring Show, you may be interested in this added incentive.  'Meet @ Malvern', set up by the wonderful VP and Helen, is intended as a get together for garden bloggers.  Our friends across the big water have regular meets and this is sure to be an exciting date for the diary.  I will be in attendance on one of the days, probably the Friday, and it has all the makings of a great day out.

What do you have planned for the coming year?  Will you be attending any shows?

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Hamamelis: Winter Scent and Autumn Colour

There are very few plants that are in bloom at this time of year and even fewer that are scented.  Hamamelis or Witch Hazel, as it's commonly known, does both.

In my last post I photographed a Robin which landed when I was taking a photograph of Hamamelis x intermedia 'Ruby Glow', which as the name suggests has ruby red flowers.  There are also other cultivars and varieties that flower anywhere from lemon, through orange and blood red.  As well as being heavily scented, a spicy floral scent, this plant also has wonderful Autumn colour.  A real contender if planting for year round interest.  The plant photographed above is Hamamelis x brevipetala

A hardy plant which will tolerate hard Winters; Hamamelis prefers a sunny or partially shaded site on a free draining, neutral/acid soil.  As with any heavily scented plant I would advise that you plant it in a spot near to a window or that you will pass regularly so that you can appreciate its true beauty and intoxicating scent.  

Do you have any comments, tips or experience of growing this wonderful plant?  Are you thinking of growing Hamamelis?

In other news I have also been awarded an honest scrap award by the very kind and gifted garden designer Tim Matcham.  If you don't already know of Tim please check out his blog and check out the picture of him accepting an award from Joe Swift (Tim's the one with hair).  In the true style of the award I am supposed to reveal a few things that you may not know about me or something that may prove interesting.   So click here for a similar post I wrote a little while ago.  Please feel free to join in the Meme style post if you so wish and say Ryan sent you!
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