Six on Saturday 23.3.19

I have been too busy to blog recently, which has been a shame, but today all I have to do is nurse my hangover and take my daughter ice skating this afternoon. Not the ideal combination, but it could be worse. Any old how, there are lots of things to get excited about, so let’s get on with it.

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  1. I love an Agave. They are big and spiky though. In my naivety three year’s ago, I bought three big ones which have outgrown their space in a client’s garden, with painful consequences. They are being rehoused and replaced by this, Agave victoria reginae, a much slower growing, beautifully striated one. Rubbish photo, sorry.

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2. Muscari are everywhere and very nice they are too, but they leave a mess of foliage behind them which is a bit of an eyesore. Muscari latifolium (broad leaved) doesn’t. I have loved having this in a pot near my front door.

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3. So many Narcissus, but what is your favourite? For me, it has to be the dive bombing squadron of cyclamineus. I just love their neatness.

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4. One of the things I have been busy with is Ready, Steady, Grow!  the mission to get 500 Walthamstow residents growing annuals from seed. I have been into schools, sheltered accommodation (pictured) markets, street corners and will be going to a madrassa next weekend. Accosting people in the street and asking them whether they want my seed has had its moments, but when properly explained, the response has been very positive! We are holding an event on 13-14th July in a community garden where everyone who has grown will display their plants.

 

5. Street planters. These featured a little while back and are now starting to fill up with plants. I am hoping that two of them will be big and architectural (Miscanthus, Cynara, Eleagnus Quicksilver, Perovskia) while the other one will be woodland edge (Fuchsia riccartonii, Corylus purpurea, Salix Nancy Saunders, Aquiliga). So far, so good in terms of  litter, plants going missing, damage.

6. Pond. With the help of The Wildlife Trust, the RHS and the Walthamstow Village Residents’ Association, we have nearly finished the pond and bog garden in St Mary’s. It is massive! Well bigger than I thought it was going to be. A toad has already moved in. We were lucky that recent rains have filled it nearly to the brim with rainwater (channelled via our water butts). I love staring at the reflections.

The things I learnt are: think hard about hiding the liner (we didn’t), work on levels and drainage before you start digging, be prepared to deal with a lot of spoil. I am sure that the pond will have phases of murk and goo before it finds a balance. There will be weed. There will be rampant plant growth. I am gong to need to put waders on my birthday list.

Six on a Saturday 2.3.19

Seeds, seeds and more seeds. I am a bit fed up of them and I haven’t even started sowing in earnest yet. Gardens Illustrated came today with some free Cleome seeds. I refuse to show you any pictures of seeds this week.

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  1. Crocus. Very lovely and there are swathes of them around, but the hot weather here has done for them. This is the last Crocus I will be showing you this year. Now I have to restrain myself from mowing quite a few areas where they have seeded and will seed if left to their own devices. I think this big Dutch one is probably sterile though. It is the species which are most likely to multiply from seed.

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2. If you have read my blog over the last year, you know I love Euphorbia characias Wulfenii. Today, it is at its peak for the year. Give it three weeks of flowering or so, then I will cut out every flowered stem to the ground. All the attention it needs over a year of pleasure.

3. Blossom. The month of blossom has started. First out, Prunus cerasifera with its beautiful pink tinges. Then the pure white, almond smelling Plum at my allotment. Constellations of beauty.

4. The unmistakable mess of uncared-for Cortederia selloana, Pampas grass. Notorious as a suburban signal to swingers in the 1970s, many are left in a shabby state through neglect or an unwillingness to tangle with their serrated foliage. They need saws and trimmers and loppers and chainsaws to get them under manners.There are videos of Texans burning them or dragging them out of the ground with trucks.  I am not really sure they are worth the effort, but we will see how this responds.

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5. Not very exciting green stuff. Or is it? This is the second year from seed for Smyrnium perfoliatum. It takes three to flower. I was very chuffed to see it come back in a shady spot under my apple tree. There are three little clumps. Next year in early Summer there will be pictures of acid green umbellifers to show off. Get in!

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6. Bog garden making. Last Saturday morning’s exercise was the digging of a big hole in the churchyard. Ten keen beans made a right royal mess. It looks like it will be more of a pond with bog attached, but don’t tell the vicar. The RHS is sponsoring it and are coming with sand, butyl and plants next week. I am moist with anticipation of all the marginals I can now grow.

Six on a Saturday 16.2.19

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I have missed a few weeks, due to other commitments, but all hail The Propagator and his merry band once again. I look forward to reading your posts.

  1. After several years of abject failure, I have finally cracked the early Spring pot display. Get those low-growing things like Iris reticulata (here, Pixie), Snowdrop and species tulip into little pots or pans and keep them close to the house. That way, you can monitor their watering and appreciate them up close. So simple, I don’t know why it has taken so long to figure out.

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2. Hellibore. I have been appreciating these for the last two or three weeks. Again, there are rules for maximising their appeal. Site them high up, if possible, so you don’t put your back out tying to see their flowers. A bank which gets sun at some stage in the day is ideal. Also, cut off last year’s foliage, ideally before Christmas. There is a blackspot which affects the leaf and even the flower, if not tackled.

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3. Leafmould. This is eighteen month old leaf mould. We have loads of it from St Mary’s. It is so useful as a mulch, soil conditioner or potting mix. I have been using it to add to the mix in some community planters locally. The good stuff. Now is the time to break into your old stores, if you have them.

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4. Frosty edging to gravestone. Cold mornings, warm afternoons at the moment. We are all a bit wary after last year’s shennanegins, but I have a hunch that full-on Spring is just around the corner!

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5. I started a new garden last week. It is in a very warm, London microclimate. So it is going to be a foray into tropical and Eastern planting (the client is Thai). However, before I get going, my first job was to appreciate what was there. This Arbutus was a thicket which needed crown lifting and behind it the Euonymus japonicus microphyllus just needed a bit of shaping. I like this corner already.

6. Crocus. You just can’t ignore them at the moment. A purple haze in the cold, frosty, mornings, opening into beautiful pale lilac swathes by the afternoon. I love their generosity and have tuned up to several gardens ready to mow, only to pack up the mower for a month as Crocus have spilled out onto the lawns beautifully. Bees are getting an early nectar hit too. They feature in little pots on a shelf next to my front door too. I think I love them more than Snowdrop, more than Iris.

Six on Saturday, 26.1.19

 

1. The joy of seed. HPS seed is dropping through letterboxes up and down the country and what a lovely thing that is. I spent a morning getting to grips with my order, but also preparing for one of my “projects” this year. Another gardener friend and I have formed Ready, Steady, Grow! an attempt to get Walthamstow growing from seed.

It is a simple idea. We give a packet of 3-5 seeds, a recycled pot , growing medium and instructions to as many people as possible ( we have 500 packets!) and get them growing. We will support them via social media. Then,in July, we get everyone’s efforts together in a central location and have a two day celebration/ display/ party. There is a very wide group of annuals and half-hardies which will grow from seed to flower in 12-14 weeks. What are your favourites and growing tips?

2. Shed. Who doesn’t love their shed? I tend to take mine for granted a bit, but a lack of much else to do caused me to give it a good sort out in the week. There was a lot to chuck out and reorder. It was the most productive hour and a half this week.

 

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3. Polycarbonate or glass? I am making ( still!) two coldframes. I had some glass and some polycarbonate sheet for the first one. I need some glazing material for the second. Glass is £51, polycarbonate is £31. Seems a no brainer. Poly is lighter, cheaper, easier to cut, has similar thermal properties. But it’s more plastic, isn’t it? I worry about these kinds of things.

 

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4. Trees. I love Winter for the backlighting    of trees in the morning and evening. When I was 11, I did an ink and watercolour wash painting of a scene like this. It probably wasn’t very good, but I have always remembered it. The word that comes to me is Mesopotamia. Something about river tributaries?

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5. Hazel catkins are popping out all over Walthamstow. Such a beautiful and useful plant. I love them coppiced as a hedge or in a mixed border.

534e39fa-86cc-4d5e-8d72-529c3c25647d6. Cyclamen coum. This is a favourite patch in the churchyard, under some trees along the railings. It is in rough grass, with various bulbs. I am aiming to spread the many seedlings and bulbs along this area each year. It is just that when this is best done, in April or May, I am overwhelmed by other jobs!

 

 

 

Six on Saturday 12.1.19

A late, happy new year to all you Sixers! I have managed to cobble a random selection together for your delectation this week. Don’t get your hopes up though.

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  1. Hammamelis intermedia Jelena. Nuff said.

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2. Obligatory snowdrop shot at this time of year. I am no galanthophile, but I am slowly expanding my range. This is S. Arnott, I believe, given to me by a client. Big fat buds, really putting the drop into Snowdrop at this stage.

3. I noticed this morning that it is the ground covering “thugs” which are in bloom right now. The two periwinkles (Vinca minor purpurea and Vinca oxyloba) flower sporadically throughout the year. Whereas the Symphytum is perhaps just up early because it is so mild. All of these are easy to overlook and take for granted, but will thrive where other plants curl up and die.

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4. I had to occupy my daughter and her friend on Monday, so we went to the Cambridge Botanic Gardens. Wow! It is amazing there. The Winter Garden is particularly striking right now, with Rubus, Cornus and Salix looking great. However, it is the scent which is perhaps the best bit. There were so many spicy and sharp scents in the air that we didn’t know where to shove our hooters next. Then my phone died, so I couldn’t get any pics of the Alpine house which was outstanding. Have to go back again, I suppose.

5. The Enchanted Garden, an exhibition of garden related paintings at Walthamstow’s own William Morris Gallery until Jan 27th. It’s free, I am leisure rich at the moment, so it would have been rude not to go. Walthamstow is London’s first Borough of Culture this year (more on putting the horti into that in due course), so there has never been a better time to visit.They obviously have a Monet waterlilies, but it was these two that caught my eye. I love that bloke’s gardening attire! He has a spade like the fork I featured before Christmas. His hands are really meaty. I am now looking for tweed plus fours to garden in. What’s the most outlandish clothing you wear in the garden?

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6. Behold, two new cold frames under construction. The Royal British Legion were supposed to pick up these wooden frames from the Remembrance Sunday event when they were used as a huge sandpit with crosses in. They didn’t. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I set about making cold frames for all those new seedlings in Spring. I had some perspex panels knocking about anyway. I have spent £5 so far on two sets of hinges. Quietly pleased with myself.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Six on a Saturday. 15.12.18

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  1. As I wound up my professional gardening for the year this week, to perfect crisp, cold, dry weather, I was put in the Christmas spirit by the sight of this beauty. It had been a rather sprawling, badly pruned holly until I gave it a hard chop earlier this year. Now, the berries sing out and the leaves are lovely and glossy. The holly wears the crown, eh?

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2. It was my first time growing Nicotiana mutabilis from seed this year. I had high hopes for them. Perhaps they are a little slow to get going, but my word, when they do, the flower power is extraordinary. They are still flowering mindlessly away in my front garden to the extent that I am now thoroughly bored by them and will whip them out next week. Probably six months of blooms  from them though.

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3. Miscanthus (unknown cultivar, as I dug them up from somewhere). I really like them at this time of year for their wind and light catching properties. There is no light to catch today, but they are impressively tall and elegant plants for a sunny spot. Easy to split and divide in Spring, which is exactly what I will do with these.

 

4. I am pretty poor at looking after my tools. I will admit it. However, I gave this old fork a clean last week and was reminded how much I love it and enjoy using it. From the worm eaten handle to the sharpness of the tines and the lightness of its balance, it is a joy to use. New forks are often made from heavy steel and are really clunky. This is light and strong and great for digging out roots or turning compost. It may not be long for this world as cracks are starting to appear, so I will miss it when it’s gone. What tool would you grieve for, if it went?

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5. Euphorbia characias. Touched with morning frost, which only accentuates its grace. You may have heard me extol the virtues of this plant before. I love it. It just does not have a bad day.

 

 

6. Winter projects. I have come by a motley collection of containers which look weird and shabby right now. I have a vision though. I want to make a linked series of ponds, pools and bog containers so I can grow plants which thrive in those conditions. I have very little experience of these conditions, so am eager to experiment. I am also trying to create a situation whereby frogs and toads can access the lowest and shallowest container (by half burying it), hop into the next one and so on until they reach the deeper ones (and get back again!). I patched up the old water tank with floor tile, but have to see whether it holds water. That will be the sixth container. Anyone got recommendations for must have water and bog plants?

I am also gathering together all the broken gravestones and slabs which clutter a 900 year old site in order to make a new path to the compost heaps. It’s going to be a busy Winter.

Soggy on a Saturday 1.12.18

Yo, ho, ho! Let the festivities begin, with a dank, wet December Saturday. Today’s post has a business like feel to it, largely because it is that time of year when practical jobs and projects replace the joy of plants.

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  1. Compost. Tepid compost. Inspired by our glorious leader’s hot composting post a week or two back (https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2018/11/19/diary-of-a-failed-hot-heap/), I tried my own bay. Never short of compostables, I felt I had a good chance to get the temperatures up into the 40s and 50s needed for fast and then weed seed free compost. It is labour intensive (four turns of the heap so far) and requires regular monitoring, but I am moderately determined to give it a good go. After a fast start and three days the temperature peaked at 35 degrees, then declined to 30 or below. I am a bit miffed really as it has had ten days and plenty of the right stuff in the right ratio, with turning and water and covering. I will give it the same treatment for a week, but if there is no change, I might have to subside into cold composting and spend my turning time on weeding.

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2. Leaves. A client has a big, healthy Ash tree which overlooks his garden from a neighbour. There are always lots of leaves to collect up in Autumn. He doesn’t want to compost or make leaf mould (weirdo, right?), so I came up with the solution of spreading a thick leafy mulch under his well established hedge. There are only so many leaves you can effectively do this with: Ash, Lime, Chestnut would be my favourites. They break down quickly. Better than letting the council have them.

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3. Bird box. I had a spare couple of hours yesterday, so I went raiding one of the many loft conversion skips of Walthamstow and came up with some floorboards. This is my Mark 1 bird box, with three more in the pipeline. I have ordered those metal entrance cover things to stop Woodpeckers and Magpies raiding. They will be adorning some of the trees in the churchyard soon. Emma was delighted to see old floorboards and tools all over the recently cleared decking.

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4. Just when I thought it was safe to put away the bulb planter, Helen Lerner offered me a job lot of free bulbs from the London Parks and Garden’s Trust (250 of them!). Never one to look a free bulb in the mouth, I gladly accepted. Three types of Tulip, two of Hyacinth, Allium Graceful Beauty, Camassia Leichtini (white), Ipheion Alberto Castillo, Triteleia Aquarius. So now the fun of finding little spots for them. Not today, it’s too wet.

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5. Oh, ok then, a few plants, then. I quite like this little Winter combination of Cornus Midwinter Fire, Ophiopogon Nigrescens and Rubus Cockburnianus (my favourite plant name ever). This is a rubbish photo, but the combination works well over Winter in a slightly shady spot, even surrounded by big shrubs. Snowdrops come through it in early Spring. In Summer you have to prune out straggly Rubus stems.

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6. Have I told you about Cypress spurge, Bonaparte’s Crown, Graveyard Moss, Kiss me Dick, Love in a Huddle, Welcome to our House or Euphorbia cyaparissias before? Well any plant with that many common names is going to be a prolific spreader. On poor dry soil, it will tick over, but in a lush bed it can be rampant. I keep this one tame in a pot by the front door where it gets no attention, no new compost, very little water and does really well. The Spring display is nice, like you would expect from a Euphorbia, but the Autumn colour is the best thing about it. Like little firework rockets going up. Recommended (in a pot).