Sunday, 7 September 2014

Fig-uratively speaking

Ah, 'tis the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, and now we can gather in the harvest, after our labours. Mind you, I won't be giving up the day job quite yet - as we only got one solitary, single fig !  Needless to say, once it ripened, it was delicious, and we fought over it, before dividing it in half and scoffing it with our muesli for breakfast!

I can't say I am surprised at the paucity of the harvest though, after what that poor little fig tree has had to endure - it has been brutally pruned (guilty? moi?), suffered as builders re-roofed behind it, and then had the indignity of being pruned AGAIN so the builders could get to the hard-to-reach places !

Despite this, the fig tree has survived, and recovered to the extent that the butchery is not apparent as the leaves have covered everything. It is still growing strongly, and not showing any signs of slowing down.

The clematis was cut back at the same time as the fig tree but, as you can see below, it has not made such a speedy recovery. It is showing regrowth, but we will have to wait until next year until we see any flowers.

We should be ok next year as there are lots of little figlets waiting in the wings, so, barring all lopper- based accidents, they should find their way into our muesli!

There has been a catastrophe quite close to the fig tree, but not near enough to harm it. The ten foot tall stone boundary wall suffered a partial collapse thanks to the power of the tail end of Hurricane Bertha. Our neighbours acquired a surprise rockery on their lawn, overnight.

The apex of the gable wall has fallen, as has a lot more stonework on the other side. It doesn't look half as bad from our side ... poor neighbours next door! So, the builders will be back to build it up again, but this time, the fig can be left alone, as it on the other side of the left hand wall.

So, on the whole, August has been a good month for my little fig tree, and it risen above previous adversity, and even produced a little fig !

Below is a photo from April, so you can really see the progress it has made ...

Thanks again to Lucy at 'Loose and leafy' for hosting this tree following meme. Do check out the huge variety of trees featured at

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Harbinger of dooooom ...

I hate to have to say it ...

I don't want to say it ... but ... autumn is here !

There was a mist yesterday morning, hanging over the fields, and I could hear the rooks in the trees nearby. The nights are now chill enough to merit a log fire, and outside it is properly dark again.
When the sky is clear and the sun is shining it still feels like summer, but it is clear that the season is marching on.

All this is usual for the time of year, but what is unusual is that foliage has started to turn colour and to die back, as you would expect in late September or October. I think the signs of autumn have arrived in my little spot on the planet, about three or four weeks ahead what is usual.

I first noticed it in the Horse Chestnuts, in about mid August, but they are always the first to show autumn colour , and it is often visible at the end of the month.

The next thing I noticed was the hostas, which are on their way out ! They are definitely yellow and dying!

The strawberry leaves are turning fashionably red...

The Ligularias are edged stylishly, with dark red...

... and not so stylishly brown!

Berberis Rosy Glow has rekindled the embers and is now turning into a fiery furnace.

The aneneomes have barely finished flowering , and yet the leaves are  beginning to die off.

Rodgersia is turning up its toes earlier than usual this season.

But don't despair, its hard to feel sad when there are still fuchsias like this is flower ...

... and 'Gentle Hermione' is just starting on another massive flush of blooms.

All the sedums are just coming into flower, and will be around for several weeks yet.

Because I am worried about things dying back and disappearing altogether, I have started the Great Autumn Move Around ! I don't usually do this at the beginning of September, usually it is at the end, or even through October, but if I don't start now, I will be looking at bare earth, wondering what on earth was growing there. Luckily the soil is ridiculously moist for the time of year, so I have no worries about moving things, as they will not dry out. This is usually the most restful time of my gardening year, as there is usually two or three weeks when there are few jobs to do, and the garden can be enjoyed before all the autumn work begins. Not this year though!

Spring came very early here, and I noticed the first leaves on the hawthorn hedge in mid-February, so maybe everything has just run its natural course. This process was probably accelerated by some very chilly days and even chillier nights in late August, which must have triggered the process of die back leading to dormancy. I've a horrid feeling that it is going to be a long old winter ....

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Parcel ... don't mind if I do !

Even the most mature amongst us cannot resist the lure of a parcel through the post. And if that package happens to have the words 'Live plants' on the front, then whose heart wouldn't skip a beat?
Such a package came for me a few days ago. In a perfect world, there would have been a knock on my door, and I would have answered it to a rosy-cheeked postman, who would have handed it to me with a smile and a cheery word. As it was, the postman had thrown the package casually over the six foot gates and I found it a nano-second before the dogs did ! Luckily the packaging was excellent, and survived the ultimate test.

When I was invited, with some fellow bloggers, to visit the Thompson & Morgan Trials ground a couple of weeks ago, something happened that seemed like part of some weird fantasy . All the visitors were handed a sheet of paper with new T & M plant introductions on, and asked to tick the ones they liked, and wished to have sent out to them. Would it be rude to tick them all ? I couldn't resist !

Back in the real world, I forgot about this list of plants ... until the postman threw the first batch over the gate ! It was Belarina double primulas, which are a new introduction for Autumn 2014.

When I took off the cardboard outer sleeve of packaging, I saw that it contained 9 well grown plug plants of Primula Belarina. These are pom pom flowered doubles, and it is claimed that they flower well in adverse weather conditions, with tightly packed, rosebud blooms throughout Spring. They also stay nice and compact.

Now I am a sucker for double primulas, always have been and always will be. My mum adored them and collected them whenever she saw them, and they were some of her most-prized plants. I feel the same and look out for them wherever I am. They always seem too exotic to bloom when the weather is so cold, and have the lushness of summer perennials.

The plants were very clearly marked and labelled, as each cell had an indented letter on it, to help with identification.

The plants came with clear instructions, written in an accessible style, using plain English. Even absolute beginners would have a good idea of what to do with their new plants.

Although the plugs were still moist, healthy and green, I opened up the packaging, watered them, and left them for a couple of hours, before potting them into 9cm pots in the greenhouse. I used a compost mix with a very low percentage of peat, and a high percentage of sticks and bark!! It really does need sieving before every use. 

I have labelled each one using my newest labelling system - lolly sticks with permanent garden marker writing on one side, and black biro on the other. I want to compare how long the writing lasts using different types of pens and pencils as I am so fed up of faded labels, with writing I can't read.

Below is a photograph of the Thompson & Morgan catalogue, showing the colours of the Belarina plugs. They are a mixture of 'Pink Ice' (self explanatory!); 'Amethyst Ice' (purply one, I assume, with white edging) and 'Nectarine' (yellowy/ pinky/ orangey one, don't you think?).

I particularly love the dark purply one, as I already have a similar one which gives me great pleasure.
All the pots are now in the cool greenhouse, and I swear they have grown already over the last few days.

I hope they live up to the catalogue description, and that they flower well for a long period, even through bad weather.

Thank you Thompson & Morgan - can't wait for the postman to throw my next package over the gate !

Friday, 15 August 2014

A touch of the Roald Dahls...

I was lucky enough to be invited by Thompson & Morgan, to an exclusive 'Blogger's Afternoon', earlier this week. There was a small, but perfectly formed, group of us garden bloggers and social media users, all looking forward to meeting the new T & M plant introductions.

To be honest, it felt a bit like being in a version of Roald Dahl's 'Charlie and the Chocolate factory' ! In the book, Willy Wonka showed a little group around his factory and demonstrated the marvels that lay within. The world within the factory walls was ablaze with psychedelic colour and brilliance, with novelties which seemed to defy logic, such as gobstoppers that last forever. Now, at T & M , we were confronted by similar conundrums... such as Gazanias which never close whatever the weather! That certainly defies nature as far as I'm concerned.  I once grew Gazanias, once and once only, because the summer was so lousy that I never saw the colour of the petals, as the flowers remained sulkily closed. The new Gazania we were shown spits in the face of cloudy days, and keeps its petals wide open whatever the weather.

Whilst Gazanias don't do it for me, and are not a plant I would grow, as they feel too spiky and artificial, I can see that ever-open flowers are a definite plus point !

Our very own Willie Wonka (aka Michael Perry, New product development manager) gave us an insight into the new flower varieties, showing us around around the rivers of technicolour plants at the  T & M Trials Ground. I think I was definitely the 'Grandpa Joe' character, (if we are sticking to the 'Charlie' analogy) and could be heard muttering softly, "I've heard tell that what you imagine sometimes come true."

Kris Collins (Communications Officer)  took us through the new vegetable varieties and then around the trials field, thick with special 'sinking mud ' from the recent downpours. I don't think the mud had special magic powers, but I may be wrong ...

Willie Wonka gave the literary world cows which produce chocolate milk, whereas the 'Oft-alluded -to - but - never - seen - Charles'  at T&M, designed cosmos wearing a ruff. A Tudor cosmos. 'Sexmos'! Does the world need Tudor Cosmos ? While the answer must be 'no', it is very pretty.

As Willie Wonka invented a 'hot ice cream for cold days' so the boffins at T & M have devised the teeny, tiny Buddleja 'Buzz'. It grows to no more than four feet, yet flower spikes are comparatively large. As these plants are sterile, the question was raised about its usefulness as a source of nectar for pollinators. There is proof in the photo below, and I know that they attract butterflies as much as their larger siblings, as I have four baby Buzzes in my own garden which are pollinator magnets. New introduction is 'Buzz Indigo', with dark, purplish blue flower spikes.

'Square sweets that look round' figure in 'Charlie and the Chocolate factory', whereas T & M have magically shrunk down a Eucomis to cute Patio size. Called, erm, 'Eucomis Patio Collection' they would sit happily in pots, or at the front of the border. I think they could be a useful addition to the family.

As Willie Wonka invented edible marshmallow pillows, so T & M continue on their quest for the Holy Grail of the vegetable world, varieties which are attractive in their own right, as well as edible.  Chilli 'Loco' (below) ticks lots of boxes, as it is certainly attractive with its bushy, compact habit and its purple chillies which are highly ornamental. It was growing outside and was clearly happy to be out in the elements. But how does it taste ? The jury is out on that one ! It was described by Kris  as being mild in flavour, but when eaten raw, packed quite a kick (as testified by certain members of the group!) Clearly its impact will change after cooking.

Willie Wonka gave us chewing gum that never loses its flavour, whilst T & M gave us the magnificently named Petunia 'Johnny Flame'. The name alone sold me, as it could be the name of a frontman in a retro rock 'n roll band. It is definitely rain resistant, as the photo shows it after very heavy downpours, and it has the most beautiful velvety flowers. It is one I will definitely be growing next year.

And the 'TomTato' ... the plant which produces tomatoes AND potatoes well, there must be a bit of Willy Wonka magic going on there ...

Saturday, 9 August 2014

And the Award goes to ...

Now we are nearing the end of the season, I've decided to host my own 'Hoehoegrow' Awards ceremony, in the greenhouse. The green carpet is out and my own garden celebrities are arriving in their wheelbarrows, so let's open the first envelope ...

And the Award for the 'Most Irritating' plant goes to ... The Golden Hop ! Given for its habit of strangling every one who walks down the garden, with its sticky, wavy tendrils, which seemingly grow like Triffids overnight. It lurks on trellis, waiting and wafting gently n the breeze, to catch an unsuspecting visitor by the throat.

The next Award is for  the 'Most Unappetising' plant , and the winner is .... 'Black Cherry Tomatoes'. Sorry, but they just don't look like food. They are extremely attractive, and look lovely on the vine, but  I just have no desire to put them in my mouth.

The third Hoehoegrow Award goes to  the 'Most heart meltingly beautiful' plant, and this year there is a outstanding winner. English rose 'Jude The Obscure', whose subtle beauty is matched only by its fantastic fragrance. Honest, no sarcasm, it is just gorgeous !

It was hard to choose a winner for the next category, as there were many contenders, but in the end, the Award for 'Hardest Working' plant just had to go to 'Cosmos'. Grown from seed , Cosmos has been in flower non stop from May, and won't stop until the frosts come. Not only that, but wonderful foliage too. Always good natured, and eager to please, flourishing in all areas of the garden. A well deserved win.

The following category for 'Worst Specimen Plant' had only one contender, so the winner was easy to select. Oh, 'Reine des Violettes' what went wrong ? I'm sad to say that  you will be stripped of your title in Autumn, as you will not longer qualify, because you will not be a specimen plant, but will be banished to the back of the border.

Our next Award is always an interesting one, as contenders change all the time, but the winner of the 'Best comeback' category is ... the Pumpkin ! From a very slow, sickly start this plant has gained health and vigour over the last few weeks, and now is growing what could become a very respectably sized Hallowe'en pumpkin . At one time it looked as if this plant actually would wither and die, but it came back from the very brink, to be the healthy specimen it is today.

'Most Disappointing' is a category with few contenders this year, due to the fantastic weather conditions, but there is an obvious winner - the Sweet Pea. Several different varieties in several parts of the garden have all failed to live up to expectations, despite being deadheaded almost daily. They are now being left to their own devices as they seem to think that Autumn is here and they can curl up and die. They have received all due attention - water, feed etc, to no avail. Flowering has been poor and foliage even poorer. ladies and gentlemen, I give you ... the Sweet Pea ...

'Sweet Rocket is the next worthy Award winner, for being the 'Best Germinator'. Grown from seed for the very first time, it germinated well, and very quickly. Seedlings are sturdy and grew on well, even taking patchy watering in their stride.

We have a new category this year, which is 'Laciest Leaves', and there is an outright winner - the Hosta ! As you can see, those leaves are the laciest in town, and for that we can thank all the slugs and snails which have worked tirelessly to create them. They have even worked throughout the night to finish their creations. Their productivity has been amazing this year, as the garden is crammed with the laciest leaves imaginable.

Our last category in the 'Hoehoegrow' Garden Awards of 2014 is 'Most Surprising ' plant, which has been won by the very unassuming ... 'Black - Eyed Susan'. Bought with bad grace, because it was the only annual climber left in the nursery, this plant has gone on to impress. It has stayed compact yet covered in flowers for months now. A very worthy winner, and a plant which will be returning to the garden next year.

I hope you enjoyed the Awards, and I welcome your personal nominations, have you any worthy winners in your garden this season ?