Monday, 28 July 2014

A ferny thing happened ...

... or  'A beginner's guide to growing ferns from spores'...

We decided to go to the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show again this year, for the third time, and were not disappointed. It was blisteringly hot, but well worth the effort involved, as there was lots to see and do, and also lots of opportunities to engage in conversation with people who breathe, eat and sleep plants.

The Floral Tent was particularly good for the soul. Standing in front of a spectacular display of lilies, I wanted to sear that moment onto my eyeballs, to be recalled on a drear, grey day in November.

My favourite marquee, however, is always the 'Plant Societies' one, as it collects together some of the most passionate, knowledgable people in the country, and then allows you to ask them endless questions ...  and they love it ! In some cases I think passion verges on obsession, but, there is nothing wrong with that, as obsession and gardening go happily hand in hand.

We were wandering around when we came across the 'British Pteridological Society' stand, where there were several very helpful and enthusiastic people ready and able to assist. They do a fantastic thing on that stall, they sell tiny little envelopes of varieties of fern spores, for only £1.00 .

There is also a free leaflet which details step by step growing instructions, with photographs too ! It is very clear and concise and set out in a way which is easy to follow, and should enable the growing of proper big ferns from tiny spores !

I took advice on which were the easiest varieties to grow, and decided on 'Braun's Shield Fern' (Polystichum Braunii)  and Dickins's Wood Fern (Dryopteris Dickinsii) as someone on the stall had grown them recently with great success.

I must admit I have tried all this once before, and bought spores plus instructions from a previous Tatton Show.  May I say that I failed miserably, despite the excellent instructions. I nurtured a tray full of mossy little growths for over a year, hoping they would morph into little ferns at some stage. When they didn't, I threw them out, feeling very foolish that I had spent so much time tending some odd lumpy moss .

When I got back from Tatton this time, I read my new Instruction leaflet, only to discover that the spores grow into prothalli which, erm, look like lumpy bits of moss. They are part of the life cycle of the fern.   I assume I did not take the trouble to read my initial leaflet properly and because of this I discarded the immature ferns, which can linger for up to a year in that state before they put out fronds. Who would have thought it!

So, this time I am sticking religiously to the leaflet and reading every word.

Step 1

Fill 2 containers  up to 1 - 3cm from the top, with a peat based compost. There must be good drainage in the container.

Step 2

Weirdly, cover the surface with dry kitchen roll, to prevent contamination from weed seeds.

Step 3

Sterilise the compost by pouring boiling water through it until it is all thoroughly wet.

Leave until cool - which in my experience took a surprisingly long time.

Step 4

Discard the soggy kitchen roll before sowing.

CAREFULLY open the foil containing the spores and try to distribute evenly over the surface of the compost.  This is a bit of a leap of faith, as you have no idea where they are as they are so tiny, and totally invisible once they are on the surface of the compost. No sneezing at this point !

Also, please excuse composty hands and nail in the photo!

Step 5

Make a cosy little micro climate for the spores by putting the container in a sealed plastic bag.

Step 6

Don't hold your breath ! It can be weeks, months or even over a year before germination begins.

DO NOT lose faith and throw the whole lot away!

The life cycle of a fern is not as you would expect, as the spores germinate erratically, to produce mossy like growths called prothalli.  Recognisable fronds appear from these if you have the patience of Job and don't throw them away in error !

I hope there is a 'Part 2' to this post, when I can show lots of little prothalli ... watch this space ...

Thursday, 17 July 2014

An explosion in a paint factory...

It was all going so well. The muted colours of early summer mingled tastefully in the borders. The blues of the delphiniums complemented the soft pink of the roses, and a walk down the garden was a tranquil experience. Nothing jarred the senses or offended the eyes. Soft pastels ruled.

Then, the carnival hit town.

I need sunglasses just to hang the washing out.

Any colour coordination has gone out of the window, and I am ashamed to see orange shrieking at its pink neighbour, and chrome yellow cheek by jowl with scarlet.

What went wrong ?

What possessed me to put yellow day lilies next to  Crocosmia 'Lucifer', and to plant neon pink Lychnis liberally throughout every single bed. (I grew the Lychnis from seed and EVERY ONE germinated !!)

I planned for the tasteful bit of early summer, choosing complementary shades of soft pinks, blues and mauves, but I forgot that the pink rose, chosen to coordinate with the delphiniums, would still be flowering long after the delphiniums had gone to seed, and would be standing next to an orange day lily.

The romantic pastel hues are now long gone, replaced by hot pinks, sizzling oranges and lipstick reds.

There's nothing I can do but embrace it ! Learn to love psychedelia and comic strip colours which smack you straight in the face.

The carnival is here all right, warming up for the Mardi Gras which is late summer.

I don't recognise what the garden has become, from a romantic English garden it has transformed into a bold, strong, contrasting, jarring space. Love it or hate it !

This post is part of the 'Blogger's Bloom Day' meme , over at  May Dreams Gardens . Do hop over and see all the lovely blogs !

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The fig tree and the roofer

My poor old fig tree - things just go from bad to worse with every month that passes.

In early June, when I last posted about it, it was just recovering from the massacre that I called 'pruning' ! After that shock it managed to rally, and had begun to put on lots of growth and new foliage. I was beginning to feel a little better about it, as it seemed to have recovered so well.

Then ... the roofer arrived !

The fig tree is growing up against the brick wall of our garden shed, which is in turn connected to the cart shed, which connects to the main shed. All these outhouses are pantiled, and lets just say, the
pantiles were past their best! They leaked in many places and had slipped and broken in some cases. Goodness knows when they were last replaced.

So, the work had to be done and the roofer duly arrived to strip the old pantiles off and replace with new. I had my fingers crossed, hoping he could work around my poor fig tree, but he couldn't even make a start until it was pruned back severely (AGAIN!) to allow him access ! I could see what he meant, as he couldn't even get to the roof until the tree had been considerably reduced in size.

The 'Polish Spirit' clematis was in full, gorgeous flower, but it had to be chopped right back too.

It was with a heavy heart that I wielded my secateurs and loppers.

Once the cutting back was finished, the poor tree looked brutalised.

So, now the roof is finished, and it is all watertight and ready for the next forty years !

I hope the fig tree will cope yet again with the shock of hard pruning, especially mid season.

This post is linked to the monthly meme, 'Tree Following, hosted by Lucy at  'Loose and Leafy'. There are some cracking blogs over there !

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Ways to spend a summer afternoon

There are many ways to relax in a garden, when the sun is hot and the sky is blue. So many different ways to enjoy the season and make the most of every moment.

Vintage Afternoon Tea parties are a very civilised way to spend time with family and friends, and, if the sun is shining, they are so much nicer outside.

Set up in the dappled shade of a silver birch, using a vintage Art Deco tea set and my great grandmother's dragon spout tea pot. Photo bombed by a greedy and expectant labradoodle !

I even broke the habit of a lifetime and picked a  small jug of roses.

If the pleasure is solitary, then swinging gently in a hammock soothes the soul.

A good book, a glass of wine ...

And, if the wind is a little chill, there is always the shelter of the summerhouse, with the smell of timber warmed by the sun.

It stays so warm in there that you can still be out there late into the night, the darkness filled with owls softly hooting.

So many ways to relax and enjoy the garden ... and yet, do gardeners ever actually sit in a chair for more than ten minutes, lie in the hammock after they have spotted a lily beetle or  eat cucumber sandwiches when they could be deadheading ? We may intend to relax but in reality, we are more likely to be found doing this in the searing heat...

And this ...

And this ...

I have realised, after all this time, that the joy is in the doing rather than in contemplating what has been done. We may intend to relax, but in reality, the secateurs get much more use than the hammock!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Best bib and tucker

I don't know if this is just me, or whether we are all the same, but when friends or family are due to visit, I clean in places I hardly knew existed. Who is going to run their finger along the top of a wardrobe, or check for rolls of dust under a chest of drawers ? But somehow I feel impelled to clean there, just in case. The rest of the time I can live happily surrounded by dust, as I am out in the garden anyway !

I feel the same way about the garden too, and happily share with nettles and weeds without a second thought, but when I know that people are coming to look around the garden, I get the same hysterical urge to make it look its best. I venture into every nook and cranny and make sure that  everything is staked, deadheaded and behaving itself. Working until dark is fine ...

So, when my partner and I were idly chatting a couple of weeks ago about the garden, one of us - probably him - mentioned the NGS  (Yellow book), and suggested that we apply to open our garden for them next year. We had had a couple of glasses of wine. It seemed like a good idea.

We opened our garden for the NGS (National garden Scheme) in 2010 and thoroughly enjoyed the experience although the thought of it was quite scary initially. We intended to open again the following year but the terrible winter totally decimated the garden, killing lots of large exotics like tree ferns and palms and also the extensive hebe hedging. The low temperatures caused such devastation that we had to pull out of opening and replant. It has taken this long for new planting to establish itself.

Opening your garden for the NGS is a fantastic opportunity to make lots of money for charity and to chat with lots of passionate gardeners and swap ideas. Before we opened I had expected those visitors to be very knowledgable and very critical, if I am honest. Turns out that the former was true and the latter was false! Everyone was very forgiving and friendly, willing to share knowledge and ideas and to overlook the flaws in the garden.

So, that decision taken after a couple of glasses of wine became a reality, and we quickly received notification that Helen, our local organiser would be paying us a visit. Boy, did that goad us into action! We gardened through torrential rain, searing sun and darkness to get the metaphorical dust off the top of the wardrobe . We bought new plants to fill in gaps, and cut back unruly ones. We did unheard of things like raking the gravel and  weeding between the raspberry canes. We waded into the ponds to remove excess weeds and cut back the marginals. 'Headless chickens' wouldn't begin to describe us, we worked every hour to get that garden to look as good as we possibly could. When we looked around it we saw only the flaws, the work undone, the rough edges. We asked ourselves why we were bothering to apply when we would surely be turned down.

Helen, our local organiser duly came, one warm sunny morning last week, and we showed her around the garden. She was lovely and very positive, and not critical in the slightest. And she told us, as we enjoyed tea and carrot cake sitting in the garden, that we are IN!  Fantastic news ! And, to be fair, she actually told us BEFORE the carrot cake was in view, so it was a fair decision and not cake-based at all !

Euphoria presided at our house for all of a day. We drank more wine, we had a meal with friends, we drank some fizz... then reality set in !

Instead of spending a little time resting on our tiny laurels, one of us said "So, what improvements do we need to make before next year ?" and then we made a list. A very long list !

So now we are back out in the garden, planting, pruning, weeding and planning until late in the evening ... working towards our opening day next summer.