Stars of the Autumn Border

By this time of year, so many of our flowering plants have done their thing and are in various stages of decay – some more decorous than others. In autumn we rely on the turning leaves to provide colour and interest in our gardens. But there are some flowering plants that are at their peak now. One of these is the plant we know as sedum.[1.]
A dark-leaved sedum, sold as an unnamed variety, but which is probably ‘Xenox’).

A closer view, showing the intense colours of leaf and flower.

Another Autumn favourite is the aster, or Michaelmas daisy. The one below was actually taken last month at Picton Garden, near Malvern, which holds the national collection of autumn flowering Michaelmas daisies. Continue reading

Is it autumn already?

With leaves changing colour all around us there’s no chance of pretending autumn isn’t on its way. All we can do is to embrace the season and enjoy the show. What’s your favourite plant for autumn colour?

Parthenossisus cinquefolia (Virginia Creeper) is early to colour up.

It’s been an unusual growing year. It began with an apparently very early spring, which turned out not to be spring at all; just a mild spell in winter. The cold and the snow that followed was harsher than anyone would have expected and the winter, far from ending early, dragged on.
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Pruning a Rambling Rose

…in this case, Rosa ‘Francis E. Lester’; a beautiful single-flowered rambling rose with clusters of pink tinged white flowers. Like most ramblers, it delivers all of its blooms in one magnificent show of colour, in June. When the flower buds start to form and swell there’s a great sense of expectation. And when the first blooms begin to burst open, like bright stars in a lush green firmament, you know that summer has truly arrived.

RosaFrancis E. Lester’, late June 2018

Rambling roses epitomise the optimism of early summer, when the winter just passed is finally forgotten, and the one to come is so far from our minds as to seem improbable. For a few weeks in June they re-assure us that life is good, and that summer will last forever.

The flowers begin to fade all too quickly of course. Luckily, that’s when many perennials and annuals are coming towards their best, so it isn’t too difficult to distract attention away from the slightly messy, uninteresting background that the rambler has become. Even then, it does the job of covering a bare wall or a fence with foliage. And all the while, the faded flowers are gradually forming attractive rose hips that will give another, albeit more muted, burst of colour in the autumn.

The hips are swelling and beginning to colour up – due to the prolonged hot weather, they may well be early this year.

You don’t have to prune rambling roses. If you plant them under a medium to large sized tree they’ll happily clamber all over it and provide a fabulous show every year without your having to touch them. Alternatively, some of the more vigorous varieties are capable of colonising a large section of your garden. As you can see from the photos, this one is busy sending out long shoots in every direction. So now is the time to knock it into shape.

Francis Lester attempting a ‘land grab’!

The Basic Principle

… is to cut out some of the old shoots, and tie in new ones to replace them.
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Ness and Eucryphia

The weekend before last I visited Ness Botanic Gardens, on the first dull and cool day in a very long time. Though the grass was brown here and there, the lawns were in better condition than in most places, so they must have had more rain than many other parts of the country. Some of the plants were suffering as a result of the drought – quite a few heathers had died for instance – but the gardens were looking surprisingly good. In the herbaceous borders there was a nice mix of grasses and perennials.
One of the highlights, for me, was a plant you don’t see much. I remember seeing a specimen of Eucryphia on previous visits, and I was glad to round a corner and see it still there, still flourishing, and in full flower. The first time I saw this tree I was amazed. Imagine a rose bush smothered in flowers. Now imagine it grown to the size of a small tree. Eucryphia flowers give roses a good run for their money (although they don’t have much scent, and unlike some roses, they have a limited flowering period). It makes a good, upright tree, so it can be used in a limited space; in a small garden it won’t outgrow its welcome. Many species are evergreen too, so you still have the leaves over the winter.
Mary Agnes Eames – isn’t she a beauty?!

How many trees can you think of that give such a wonderful show of flowers?

One problem is that most Eucryphias prefer an acidic soil, but there is one variety – Eucryphia nymansensis, which will grow in neutral soil. My faulty memory had me thinking this was the specimen Ness have, but in fact it’s Eucryphia glutinosa ‘Mary Agnes Evans’. My RHS book tells me that unlike most Eucryphias, glutinosas are deciduous, but on the plus side, they do have good autumn colour.
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Strange Fruit…

They look a little like runner beans, but you’d be best advised not to eat these, as they’re the seed pods of wisteria, and reputedly very poisonous.
Wisteria seed pods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When ripe, the seeds can be sown and will produce new plants but, unlike the grafted plants sold in garden centres, it may be a number of years before they produce flowers. And, the RHS warns, the flowers they produce may not be up to much.
Wisteria seed pod

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still, the seed pods have a soft, downy coating and feel lovely to the touch. And they look good too, staying on the plants right through until late winter…

Wisteria seed pods02

Words and images © Graham Wright 2018

 

Hydrangea Roulette, anyone..?

One day last week I was asked to remove last year’s flowers from a mop-head hydrangea. It’s normal to leave the flowers on over the winter, as they look quite decorative, and then snip them off in the spring (not too early, as they provide some protection from the frost for the new growth). Normally, this particular customer would do this kind of thing herself, but she had been so busy that she hadn’t got around to it. So she asked me to do it.
Spot the problem!
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Bodnant in the rain…

Bodnant is a National Trust garden in the foothills of Snowdonia, just a few miles south of Llandudno, on the North Wales coast. Its location lends it a very special character, with the heavily contoured landscape making for a very dynamic garden, with plenty of spectacular views both within the gardens, and beyond. Being in Snowdonia, it gets plenty of rainfall, which keeps it lush and verdant. And the soil is acidic, which means the gardens can support a range of plants that would struggle elsewhere – particularly Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Camellias.
It had been some years since I last saw Bodnant – far too long – so it was a particular pleasure to visit the gardens again, with family, over the bank holiday weekend. Continue reading

Evergreen?

After the winter we’ve had here, the term ‘evergreen’ may have to be reviewed. Sadly, I’ve come across a lot of evergreens that will now be forever brown. The following two sad specimens illustrate the point rather well.

The first, a low growing Ceanothus, went into the winter thriving; full and with lush, dark green foliage. Ceanothus usually sail through our winters, but this year many have been badly damaged and may not survive (this one included). At home, we’ve got a Ceanothus growing against a north-facing wall (I know; it isn’t recommended, but I saw one flourishing in the same position on a house down the road and decided to ‘borrow’ the idea). It was hit by the cold weather, and suffered quite a bit of browning, but it pulled through, is greening up nicely, and is about to burst into flower. Despite the north-facing aspect, I suspect the wall helped to protect it.

The next is a Mahonia. I have a difficult relationship with these spiky characters. The flowers are impressive (if a bit on the yellow side) and come at a time when there isn’t much else in flower. But they can be very uncomfortable to work with. And the fallen leaves don’t break down, and even through gloves will prick your hands when you pick them up. And the plants have an unfortunate habit of going very leggy. You can do what’s known as ‘crown lifting’, which is where you cut away the lower branches and shoots to show the bare stems even more, turning them into plants on sticks, or mini trees. Come to think of it, once they start to go leggy, this is probably the best strategy, because even if you don’t like the look of the stems, you can hide them with some under-planting.

Over the last few years, with this specimen I’ve been trying the other, rather more difficult approach, which is to prune it to reduce the height, and to encourage it to produce new shoots from lower down on the stems. It’s responded only grudgingly, but I was getting there. I don’t suppose this weather damage is going to help the process, but I think that this plant should at least pull through, in spite of the damage.

On a brighter note, many plants don’t seem to have been affected by the weather. The tulips, for instance, were safely tucked up underground and sensibly waited until the winter was over before doing their thing.

Tulipa ‘Purissima’ ‘The first of the tulips in our garden to start doing it’s thing.


Narcissus ‘Thalia’ – it’s still my favourite daffodil!

Two of my favourite tulips: ‘Balerina’, with ‘Queen of Night’ just coming through


Queen of Night in their prime – a great tulip, named for a great opera

Whether it’s the affect of low temperature, snow, or the icy, burning winds; or a combination of the three, I’ve come across a lot of evergreens, of various species, that have been damaged in this way, with brown, scorched, dead or dying leaves. I’ve seen examples of Viburnum tinus, a stable of municipal planting and domestic gardens, which, having taken a hammering in recent years at the hands (or rather, jaws) of viburnum beetle have lost most of their leaves, this time over the winter. They’re having to start again now, pushing out new leaves, in the same way as deciduous plants do in spring. We call these plants evergreen, but if winters continue to be as harsh as the last one, we may have to refer to them as semi-evergreen, or even deciduous. That’s assuming they survive…


Text and images ©Graham Wright 2018

Australian Beauties

Spring is here, even in spite of the rain, the cold and the snow. But the terrible weather we’ve had recently isn’t conducive to thinking about what needs to be done in the garden,  so maybe it’s a good time to share a few images of the flora from my recent visit to Australia. Apologies for the patchy use of Latin names!

Staghorn Fern in Brisbane’s Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens – You can often see these epiphytic ferns growing in the wild (and sometimes in cities, too)

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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