Pulverised Penstemons

Penstemons grow so well here in Cardiff by the sea that unless you have a bad aversion to them, it would be rude not to grow a few. It’s the gulf stream. Being a little on the tender side, further inland they get knocked back by the cold. You should cut them back by half in autumn so that there isn’t so much top growth left that they get pulled about too much in the wind, but there’s enough to protect the stems (and shoots) at the base of the plants from the cold.

My rather sad looking Penstemons (unknown variety)

Here, in the mild sea air, they can often get through the winter pretty much untouched, and the purpose of cutting them back is mainly to stop them growing too big and leggy. Not this year though. This year my penstemons came through the winter looking worse than Monty Don’s, even though he lives in Herefordshire, which is generally much colder than here. Maybe he got less snow than us. I was away, in warm sunny Australia (more to follow in later posts) so I didn’t see it, but I’m hearing tales from my customers of how the snow drifted and piled up against their doors five feet high, so that they really were snowed in. Will the Penstemons pull through? I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but I’m quietly confident.

And the Penstemons aren’t the only casualties of the weather. Here’s that Kangaroo Paw I was crowing about before I went away, but which took a pounding once the weather turned.
Anigothanthos manglesii (Red and Green Kangaroo Paw) – though I doubt even it’s mother would recognise it now.

The perennial wallflowers can make a good show. I particularly like Erisymum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’. They’re short lived plants, quickly going leggy and unsightly, but it’s really easy to take cuttings. Taking the cuttings might be easy, but I’ve never had much luck growing them on. Maybe they don’t like my soil, but they never seem to make good, bushy plants. But the snow seems to have just about finished them off.
Erysimum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’ – Not exactly gracing the garden.

Still, at least not everything in the garden is looking sadder than Harvey Weinstein at an awards ceremony for gentlemanly behaviour (what – too soon?) Here are a few of the success stories:
Camassia cusickii – I split one clump into six at the end of last year, and they’re all romping away. The flower spikes are a lovely pale blue.
Some of the lilies in pots are beginning to get going – this is ‘Original Love’, a large, deep red variety.

We’ve quite a few other bulbs coming through as well, in pots as well as in the ground. We’ve got Tulips, including ‘Ballerina’, ‘Prinses Irene’, ‘Purissima’ and ‘Queen of Night’. We’ve got Daffs, including ‘Hawera’ and the lovely ‘Thalia’. And we’ve got some very pretty little blue numbers, including Scilla sibirica and Chionodoxa.

Chionodoxa luciliae Boiss

 

 

Text and pictures © Graham Wright 2018

 

Never Take the Weather for Granted

Strelitzia reginae in Brisbane Botanical Gardens

I’ve just come back from visiting relatives in Australia, where I became used to a rather different climate to the one we’re ‘enjoying’ over here. Daytime temperatures were in the low thirties, nights were balmy, meals were mostly eaten outside, and the only protection needed was against the sun – bliss!
Snow in South Wales this morning

I’d left the UK in mid February, and until then the winter had been relatively mild. I had a kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos manglesii) thriving outside, against a protected wall, and with a flower spike about to bloom. My main concern about leaving the garden was that I might not be back in time to see the best of some of the spring bulbs I’d planted in pots – particularly the daffodils, the Chionodoxa, and the Scilla sibirica. Rather stupidly, I assumed we’d got far enough through the winter not to have to worry about a frozen snap, let alone snow. I’d even hedged my bets by leaving the greenhouse door open a little, as the late winter sun had been bringing the temperature up too high.

All was fine for a while. And then news of the ‘beast from the east’ reached us in Australia. Oh well, I thought, at least it’ll delay the bulbs from flowering. And I was pleased to have escaped the weather. And I still had hopes that, sheltered from the worst of the weather by a sunny wall, my ‘roo paw might get through the storm and be ready to burst into flower when I got back. But we had it bad here in Cardiff by the sea, apparently. Though it only lasted three days, the snow was deep, with many roads being closed.
Unidentified eucalypt in the incomparable King’s Park, Perth

When I left, the garden was looking quite perky, with lots of buds and shoots. I came home to find it looking sick. Many of the plants in the greenhouse hadn’t faired too well (leaving me wishing I hadn’t left the door open!) And the flower spike on the kangaroo paw had rotted. The plant itself was looking poorly, but probably retrievable. The weather was mild though (although it felt cold to me, still being in Australia mode). On Friday, when I checked the greenhouse, the temperature was up to twenty-three degrees, so I opened the door partially, to let out some of the heat.

And then of course yesterday, the weather turned cold again. It’s late for snow but that’s what I woke up to this morning. The forecast is for snow to continue throughout the day, with the worst of it here in South Wales. Looking out at the snowy garden, having just got out of bed, I suddenly found myself wondering whether or not I’d remembered to shut the greenhouse door on Friday. I reluctantly went out into the cold (in my dressing gown!) to discover that yes, the greenhouse door was still open, and the snow had drifted in and covered some of the pots on the floor. While I was out there, I took the opportunity to blow as much of the snow as I could off the kangaroo paw, and put it in the greenhouse (the plant, not the snow!) All in all, I’m carrying a large quantity of guilt for having neglected my plants so badly.
Olive and Agave plants basking in the Mediterranean sunshine on our balcony!

The weather in Australia wasn’t all good. In Brisbane, we encountered rain like we’d never seen before (and which was so extreme that it, and the associated flooding, dominated the news channels in Queensland). Streets turned into rivers, and we were wading ankle deep through it. But it was at least warm enough that getting wet wasn’t likely to leave you shivering.

While in Australia (and on our stopover in Singapore on the way home) we visited lots of gardens, and wild areas, and saw some amazing plants and flowers. I might even share some of these with you in subsequent posts.
Orchids in the ‘Cloud Forest’ glasshouse in Singapore’s ‘Gardens by the Bay’

 

Text & images © Graham Wright