White frou frou, shades of green and jute twine

Ammi majus – my seed source currently growing in Mark’s vegetable garden

On our Sunday morning discussions on Radio Live Home and Garden Show, Tony Murrell and I have started an ongoing topic of colour. Last Sunday, we opened with the revered or reviled white gardens. Revered by many because, you know, Sissinghurst and sophisticated. Reviled by those who see it as a contrived and dated cliché which can be very flat, lacking vitality or oomph.

I have pretty much covered all my thoughts on white gardens in recent posts – White Gardens for the New Age and Shades of White in the World of Flower Gardens – and I do not think that I have more to add to that. Just a quick update on my own efforts on a seasonal white border to shine before the auratum lilies bloom in a riot of summer colour.

I want white frou frou

I mentioned this to Tony and he asked if I would consider renga renga lilies (Arthropodium cirratum) which are in bloom at the moment and looking very charming at our entranceway. I recoiled in horror but not because I don’t like the plant. I want frou-frou – light white froth dancing in the air. The renga rengas are too heavy, too weighted to the ground. So my plans are for the popular Orlaya grandiflora, Ammi majus (the Bishop’s flower) and even coriander and carrots which have light, white umbelliferous flowers. Maybe I will admit the pure white poppy that is flowering at the moment.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have started planting this garden. Now it is on hold but in hand. This is a new area and the rabbit problem has been devastating. They have probably taken out half the auratum lilies as they came through the ground and it will be interesting to see how many of the bulbs survive in the ground through until next spring. Mark and the dogs are doing their best. The dogs are particularly highly motivated, having no residual qualms about Peter Rabbit in his little blue jacket. With one dog now elderly, slow and stone deaf and the other dog being a townie in his earlier years and still learning the role of rural estate dog, their enthusiasm is not matched by their success. Mark has by far the greatest hit rate – nine so far. In the meantime, the rabbits had eaten all my early efforts at planting out white umbellifers.

Maybe I will add the white poppy to my frou four mix

Also, being a new garden, there is a mass of weeds germinating so I am assiduously cultivating the area every few days. This is an easy task with my trusty and trusted Wolf-Garten mini cultivator but ongoing. Worth it, I think. Given that I want to sow the area in predominantly self-seeding annuals, if I spend this year getting the area weed free, it is going to save me an awful lot of work in the future when it comes to weeding. In the meantime, I am gathering seed to save for next year so that I will be ready to go when the area is relatively rabbit and weed-free. Gardening has taught me patience in a way in which none of my other life experiences have.

Having ‘done’ white gardens, Tony and I plan to go onto other monochromatic gardens (the blue, red or yellow border), the two-colour schemes (maybe red and white, or blue and yellow), then managing more complex colour schemes and the impacts of whites and pastels as well as the curious colour impacts of orange and yellow in a mixed border. Also the role of greens and whites in colour schemes. Are they colour neutral in garden settings? I am sure I will harp on about my intense dislike of pink and yellow as a colour combination. That will be Sunday mornings through January on Radio Live.

Not all greens are equal or natural, let alone invisible!

While on colour, I was slightly surprised at the suggestion from an esteemed gardening colleague that you could spend your down time in winter painting your garden stakes green to make them less obvious in your garden. To be honest, it had never occurred to me to do this. I mentioned it to Mark and he thought that it would be better to paint them in jungle camouflage rather than straight green.

It is so easy to get the shade of green wrong, in which case your ‘invisible’ stake suddenly becomes highly visible. A friend who trained in design once commented in passing that if you want something to recede into the background, you use black. Not shiny black, I would suggest, and maybe not pure black. Think creosote colouring – matt and dark.

In terms of unobtrusive tying, I have now gone to old fashioned jute string which is apparently still on the market though I have yet to find who is selling it. I shall go looking and stock up because it is one of those traditional products that can suddenly disappear. I have tried many tying options, including black twine (but it was synthetic), nursery tying tape (black plastic) and stockinette ties in muted hues. The jute twine is easy to use as long as you are tying loosely, so unobtrusive it is near invisible and it is a natural product. This means that when it comes to de-staking plants later in the season (I am currently staking some of the lilies), it doesn’t matter if the ties fall to the ground to gently decompose. That is my practical hint of the week. Find some jute twine. We have been horrified at the amount of plastic that has turned up in birds’ nests. Maybe they will find the jute twine instead.

Finally, on the topic of green and white, can any knowledgeable gardener confirm with authority that this is an albuca and put a species name on it? Huge bulbs, as large as any I have seen, which like to sit half out of the ground and flower spikes up to a metre and half tall. The albuca family is a large one that I am having trouble disentangling, especially as we have thought for many years that this plant was in fact an ornithogalum. I am not sure where we got that idea from.

Postscript: a helpful and knowledgeable reader tells me the plant is most likely Albuca nelsonii and from an internet comparison, that certainly appears to be the case. The largest of the albuca family. 

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The bakelite Holy Family for an antipodean Christmas

I love Christmas. I love even more the lifetime of memories that come out once a year with the Christmas bric a brac stored in the Harry Potter cupboard beneath the stairs. Our little nativity scene may even pre-date Mark’s birth. It certainly pre-dates mass plastic because it is made from its precursor  – bakelite which was not much used after the 1940s. I have to admit that Joseph used to have a teeny tiny lantern that hung from his hand and I can still recall my dismay as I vacuumed it up many years ago and then failed to find it in the cleaner bag.

I enjoyed the wreath I made last Christmas in order to display the bakelite holy family. I know you can buy wreathes at shops like Spotlight but we live in the country so I improvise. In this case I retrieved a few grape vine prunings from where they had been thrown to decompose under a hedge. Because I use fresh flowers, my seasonal wreathes are but temporary affairs when compared to the tinsel numbers I see elsewhere, but their carbon footprint is minimal.

In this example, I just gathered an assortment of flowers in red, yellow and white from around the garden and wove them in to the vine circle. The cup shaped blooms in yellow and red are abutilons and the red berries are from Nandina domestica ‘Richmond’ (often referred to as the heavenly or sacred bamboo though it is neither sacred nor a bamboo). The nandina berries hang on for much of the year and it is worth having a plant if you like some for picking. The white flowers are star jasmine for fragrance (Trachelospermum jasminoides), a variation on a climbing hydrangea (Schizophragma hydrangeoides), our native Jovellana sinclairii and the green and white bells of one of the ornithogalum family. Or they may be an albuca.

Abies procera in our garden at Tikorangi

Ours is a household that tries hard to bypass plastic and other non-biodegradable options that tend to flood our lives every day but even more so at Christmas. I have always shunned the idea of a fake tree though at least the tinsel option is commonly stored away for future reuse. I also have a few ethical issues with the felling of trees to die indoors for twelve days at Christmas. Though not so much the Pinus radiata that is the common Christmas tree in New Zealand; they are quick growing and generally seen as disposable. It only takes three and a half years from seed to get your average sized tree. But the northern hemisphere uses a variety of slow growing conifers. In London one early December, I was somewhat aghast at the severed offerings in all the markets of beautiful Abies of Nordmanniana and Abies procera. Neither are rapid growers and even if they are plantation grown (mostly in Scotland and Norway to serve the London market, if my memory serves me right) it seems a bit, well, a bit like an act of consumer-driven vandalism to sever such slow-growing and potentially handsome long-term specimens merely to hold the Christmas fairy aloft in the front lounge.

These days we mostly reuse our version of the everlasting tree but the grapevines that I wove around the metal frame are due for replacement and this is a job that I need to do in winter when the vines are pruned. I have failed to get my timing right the last few winters so I am not sure what we will do this year as it really is too tatty now.

A flat pack designer tree and an Australian version of the outdoor tree

Over the years I have collected photos of various trees ranging from the ingenious to designer style for upmarket apartments. These last options usually fold flat for easy packing away after the event and there really is no place for a lifetime of memorabilia such as are contained in the family Christmas decoration box. But they are at least reusable and if you have a designer style of Christmas, maybe the designer tree is a good fit.

The tinsel adorned tree stump I photographed in Vincentia, a lesser known beach area south of Sydney. Of course it is wonderfully tacky and no substitute at all for the indoor tree that is the traditional centrepiece of the orgy of gift giving. But it made passers-by smile. It seemed a wonderfully Australian take on a time of year that we still celebrate in a southern hemisphere early summer season with traditions straight from a northern hemisphere winter.

First published in the December issue of NZ Gardener – my final column for that publication. Such are the demands of advance deadlines that I had already submitted this copy before I resigned towards the end of September over this column

Reflections on dyed water and dead water.

Dyed water at the Barbican in London

On my computer, I have a small file labelled ‘dyed water’. I take these photos because each time I see dyed water, it makes me pause to raise my eyebrows. So I was interested to read a blog by a British colleague strongly advocating black dye, based on her personal experience. Black dye appears to be the choice of those people who want sharp reflections, blue dye appears to be the choice for those who believe water looks best when it is blue – albeit synthetic blue.

Every experienced gardener knows that water can be problematic although it is highly desirable in a garden. Lucky are those with natural springs which do not dry out but are strong enough to feed a small lake with a constant supply of fresh water. A flowing stream or river can also be a huge asset though brings a raft of issues with variable flows and flooding. Failing these, you end up having static water. This can be set up as a small ecosystem which is relatively self-sustaining with plants and aquatic life but there will be times of the year when algae grow and the water is likely to be green some of the time. I note that most of my blue dyed water photos are ponds with plant life. Clearly the two are not incompatible so it must have been the colour of the water that worried the gardeners in charge based on a curious perception that all bodies of clean water are blue.

The black water reflecting pool at Veddw in Wales would not work in our climate. Mosquitoes!

Bury Court with black water in 2014 on the left and in 2017 when the owner had stopped dying it and most of the colour had gone. I failed to ask how deep the pool was which would affect the reflective qualities but there was little difference to pick except a slightly more natural look in 2017.

Or you have what Mark calls dead water.

I have always raised my eyebrows at expensive water features that require a full filtration system to keep them pristine clean. If you are going to all that trouble and expense, you might as well have a swimming pool in my view. Mark describes it as the corporate building look. Or, apparently, you dye your water to hide the natural colour and any debris. This is never going to work in our climate where we have to have either moving water, treated water or ecosystem ponds with fish. Any still water simply offers a breeding ground for mosquitoes to make summer wretched.

Is the term ‘dead water’ an exaggeration? Not according to Mark who speaks with passion on this topic. “You might as well have a bare area of tramped earth that you spray regularly with Paraquat,” he declared to me over our afternoon cup of tea. “Environmentally, a dyed water pond with nothing living within it is the same.” He was thinking of feature black ponds that exist for the purpose of reflections only, where any interruption by living plants or pond life will disturb the clarity of those reflections.

I have only ever seen one incidence of dyed water in a New Zealand garden where there was a natural pond full of life with artificially blue water which I really did not think added anything to the scene.

Reflections in our swimming pool. We are rarely dead calm here so they have a shimmer.

We have a swimming pool so we have 65000 litres of treated water (though we swapped to a salt filter some years ago). Because I have a particular dislike for the bright blue pools that may have been California’s gift to the world, we decided to make our pool black. In the event, the plasterer was too mean to add sufficient black colouring to the mix, though I did not realise that was the issue until long after he had gone. We ended up with a pool that is on the dark side of mid grey. Visually it is interesting. We get reflections in it and we get considerable colour variation in the water – many hues of blue through to grey as it reflects the sky. All natural colours.

Dyed water at Tintinhull in Somerset

Whether blue dye or black dye is used is a matter of aesthetics. The issue of colouring outdoor water with a chemical mix is the same. I had a look at the supplier’s website and they are a little sparse on technical detail so I couldn’t work out whether it is simply the dark water that stops plants being able to photosynthesize or whether there is an algicide added. Were I to contemplate dying any bodies of water here, I would be wanting to know that detail rather than just accepting generalised assurances of safety.  I admit I did not do an exhaustive analysis of their entire site but the technical sheets were not helpful.

To Mark, it represents dead water because the purpose is to create a mirror effect and the solid colour of the water appears inert. To me, it seems like a statement of man or womankind’s dominance over nature. It says, “You got the colour wrong, Nature. But I am going to fix that.” It is that philosophical divide between those who see gardening as controlling nature and those who see gardening as working with nature. We prefer the softer-edged focus of a cooperative relationship. I am pretty sure it should be possible to create a reflective water feature without having to dye the water but it comes down to matters like the depth of the water, the materials and colour used for the construction, the location and maintenance.

Perhaps the final comment on reflecting pools belongs to the garden we visited where the owners  had gone to huge expense to install a long reflecting pool with a full filtration system (the sound of the filter humming away was distracting) – only to then install a lavish fountain in it thereby disturbing the surface of the water and breaking up the reflection. There seemed to be something lost in the implementation of an idea.

This water was green, very green, at Butterfly Springs in China. Would it have looked better dyed an unnatural blue?

 

 

Mark’s story

* as told to The NZ Rhododendron, the annual journal of NZRA Council and Pukeiti Trust Boad. December 2017. Photos are mine. 

Mark could perhaps be described as having chlorophyll running in his veins. He was the afterthought child in his family, quite a bit younger than his brothers. He remembers tagging along with his parents and visitors, listening in as they discussed plants around the Tikorangi garden in North Taranaki. “It was quite a lonely and isolated life in the country and I really wanted the social contact, even if it was with older people. It was only later that I realised what I learned in those early years.”

Mark was determined to head off to university, the first in his farming family to do so. It was not an easy path but he graduated with Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences, majoring in Psychology. He enrolled in a post-graduate diploma in guidance and counselling but withdrew half way through the year. “I was the youngest on the course and all the others were teachers with regrets. One would have liked to be a potter, another dreamed of running a country pub. I didn’t want to get to my late 40s and look back with regret. By that stage, Abbie and I had already been married a couple of years and I went home and told her I wanted to withdraw from the course and follow some dreams.”

From there, he taught himself to draw from a book by John Ruskin, taught himself to turn wood to a high quality and then set out to learn how to propagate and, from there, to build a nursery.

“When I started here, there was no nursery. Dad was a just a farmer and a gardener who liked to breed plants. He had taught himself the rudiments of propagation. I started to build the nursery from one wheelbarrow up and I set out to learn how to propagate and to grow plants commercially. It was a case of learning through trial and error. It has always surprised me how successful the nursery was.” Mark credits the access to his father’s plant hybrids for giving him new material to mark out his nursery as different to the rest. “Dad had pretty much stopped hybridising by then. It was only ever a hobby for him. I started more systematically to see how far I could push plant breeding. And as the plant breeding grew in range and scale, I had the nursery to cope with growing on the material.” He started with saturation coverage of a large plant of Camellia pitardii in a Urenui garden.

From an early stage, Felix made it clear that the garden he and his wife Mimosa had built would pass to Mark and his family. Mark and Abbie are demonstrably aware of what it means to be on a family property that is already on its fourth generation.

Arisaema seedlings are for the garden at Tikorangi, not commercial release

Mark is clear in his mind about the hybridising he does which has commercial potential and that which is solely to try and get better plants for their own garden. He is currently working with galanthus, aiming for later flowering cultivars which perform as well in Tikorangi conditions as Galanthus nivalus ‘S. Arnott’. He is continuing the efforts of his late father with cyclamineus narcissi, looking for sterile selections that bloom from every bulb, as Felix Jury’s ‘Twilight’ does. In the hellebores, improving garden performance and getting cultivars which hold their blooms above the foliage are the aims, as well as looking for sterility if possible. In the arisaemas, he wanted to extend the colour range and the season and to get some hybrid vigour into A. sikokianum types. He is often to be found out and about with his magnifying glass and paintbrush.

The garden is always the star in Mark’s mind. “This is a poor man’s garden,” he says. “It was never made with a big budget and if we had to buy in all the plants we want, we could never afford to keep it going, let alone expand as we are. To get masses of snowdrops to the point where they naturalise themselves to or to get a new 40 metre of border of auratum lilies, we have to raise our own from seed. And when raising from seed, I often like to start with controlled crosses to see if I can get better outcomes, rather than just using open pollinated material.”

The garden is a treasure trove of plant material, some of which may or may not go into commercial production at some stage in the future but which currently has no market. “We have some thrip-resistant rhododendrons with full trusses if that plant genus comes back into fashion. At the moment, the market is so small that there is no commercial advantage in releasing them.” The same is true of coloured and variegated cordylines and a range of camellias.

Magnolia Felix Jury

The creation of new cultivars with international potential has been a major focus. In the deciduous magnolias, Mark has named and released four out of many hundreds that he has raised. But he says he has the next three possibles under trial. Of those released, the magnolia that he named for his father is his greatest pride. “It is what Felix was trying to get to – good colour in a large cup and saucer bloom, so I called it ‘Felix Jury’. This one is doing really well internationally which is particularly pleasing. It has already been given an award of garden merit from the RHS.”

A range of michelia seedling blooms

Fairy Magnolia White, with bonus kereru

The michelias are a source of frequent disappointment to Mark. “We have raised so many of them now and have a good range of new colours. But it is so difficult to get everything in one plant – clean colour, good size of bloom and plenty of them over an extended period, compact, bushy growth, easy to propagate and scented. Keeping the scent is the most elusive attribute of all.” Mark has named three so far, marketed under the ‘Fairy Magnolia’ brand, but there is a long way to go yet and he keeps persevering, often with several hundred new seedlings a year.

Camellia Fairy Blush, Rhododendron Floral Sun and Magnolia Honey Tulip

Amongst the camellias, Mark names his selection of ‘Fairy Blush’ as his personal favourite. He and Abbie have chosen to use it extensively for clipped hedging in their garden because of its long flowering season and its good habit of growth. ‘Floral Sun’ remains his pick amongst the rhododendrons.

Daphne Perfume Princess

Ironically, it is a daphne, a one-off plant from a speculative breeding effort, that may prove to be the most lucrative cultivar internationally. ‘Perfume Princess’ basically looks like an odora although it often flowers down the stem like bholua. It is the size of the flower, the vigour of the plant and the length of the flowering season that sets this plant apart from other daphnes. “It is just a brilliant plant to grow and a terrific nursery plant to produce,” Mark says. “That is not true of most daphnes which can be very difficult to produce in containers.” Both the local and international markets for a daphne eclipse the market for magnolias, even if the plant itself is less spectacular.

“We stopped doing mailorder in 2003, stopped wholesale in 2008 and phased out retail after that. The phone calls and emails in search of plants haven’t stopped in the time since but we were really glad to shut all that down. Abbie always described nursery work as being like factory work but in better surroundings. There was no fun in it but it enabled us to get to where we are today.” Mark is quietly proud of the fact that royalties on plant sales, particularly overseas, are what enabled them to retire from the nursery trade and pursue their interests in the garden.

The garden is still expanding. They closed to the public 3 years ago and have been enjoying the freedom to experiment.  “We’ll open again at some stage, maybe 2019. For the annual garden festival, at least. Though we are unlikely to ever open again for extended periods during the year.”

Mark and the Magnolia Felix Jury tree at Wisley on the left. Mark with a collection of blooms from different seedlings at home in Tikorangi

Biennials, are they worth the effort, he asked.

Verbascum creticum, a biennial with presence in our rock garden

Each Sunday morning at 7.45am, I have a chat with Tony Murrell on Radio Live’s Home and Garden Show. We cover a wide range of gardening matters and during the week before we have a discussion by phone or email to agree an upcoming topic. As an aside, the recent release of very encouraging listener figures for this time slot has sharpened our focus somewhat. There is a scary number of folk out there who listen at that hour.

Today we talked about gardening in the very dry conditions that much of the country is currently experienced, which was my suggestion. Tony’s suggestion of ‘biennial plants – are they worth the effort?’ was put off until next Sunday. But since he suggested it, I have been thinking of biennials which I had never considered as a plant group before.

Ranunculus cortusifolius in biennial for us

Yes! Biennials are worth their place in the garden. I am struggling to imagine our garden without the biennials. Mind you, we don’t put any effort at all into most of them. They are plants that we let seed down, pulling out those which are in the wrong place and letting the other volunteers remain to continue their life cycle.

Annuals are plants that complete their lifecycle in under a year from germination to setting seed and dying. Biennials have a two year life cycle. Most of them will establish themselves in the first year but not bloom until the second. Because of that year spent establishing themselves, many of them can be quite large growers – thugs, even, as Mark calls them. To let these types of biennials seed down, you do need quite a bit of space.

Common they may be, thuggish even, but foxgloves have presence

Some of our key plants are biennial. I am thinking of the large flowered, yellow Verbascum creticum, the biggest geranium of them all, G. madarense, Angelica gigas and … foxgloves. Foxgloves really do fit the thug category but we are fond of them, even the common pinky purple one that is regarded as a weed in this country. We have been working to get the white ones naturalised around the place. “Are you going for the Hidcote look,” Mark asked, for that is the first place where I saw extensive and eyecatching use of pure white foxgloves. I also like the pastel shades, especially pastel apricots, so I have been summarily despatching the deeper pink forms anywhere near the pale ones to stop the bees from cross pollinating the colours, lest they all return to the dominant dark pink over time.

Sadly, most of these meconopsis have died out in this border now

Not all biennials are self-sustaining and strong growing. The highly desirable meconopsis, Himalayan blue poppies, which are extremely difficult in our climate, tend to be biennial – even those that are touted as perennials in more favourable climes. And it has never seeded down for us. To keep it going here, we have to gather seed and raise it in trays to plant out once it is growing. Ranunculus cortusifolius is also biennial in our conditions but it seeds down and keeps going as long as it has its own area where it can be left to do this.

Parsley is biennial, fennel usually so, and what would life be like with parsley in the garden? Once you have it, you just have to make sure that you leave at least one plant a year to seed down in order to keep a permanent supply.

Biennials, like annuals, only represent effort if you are having to raise them from seed or buy them to plant out each year. If you allow them to seed down and find their own niches in the garden, they can be very rewarding, requiring minimal effort. Wanting such plants to seed down is yet another argument for not being too quick to get out the glyphosate and control any germinating plants by spraying them out as soon as they appear, on the assumption that they must be weeds.

Speaking of verbascums, can any UK readers enlighten me on what happened to the blue as blue verbascum named ‘Blue Lagoon’ that debuted at Chelsea in 2012? We have never seen any mention of it since, let alone seen it incorporated into any of the gardens we have visited so wonder if it was a fizzer in the end.

Blue meconopsis take a lot of effort to keep going here. But for this sort of display, the effort is worth it

 

The ongoing saga of Stachys Bella Grigio

From one plant to six, soon maybe sixty and garden domination

I wrote about Stachys Bella Grigio in January. A new release in this country, I had bought one plant to try and it certainly thrived. The trouble was that it was not so much the grey of grigio as a startling, silver white. In our mellow style of gardening, it shrieked for attention and looked completely out of place in the rose garden. When I found my eye drawn to its glaring presence every time I looked at that area, I dug it up. Not being of a profligate nature – and there was nothing wrong with the plant, just my placement of it – I potted it up and kept it in the nursery until I could find it a better home. I also thought it likely that it would be one of those whizzy bang plants that we call an Upanddieonyou. In other words, of short life expectancy and prone to fail.

When a visiting landscaper friend looked at my new patch of Bella Grigio, he asked whether I had bought multiple plants. I laughed. Old habits die hard and we are still economical gardeners. I had just bought the one. But after a mere six months in the pot waiting to be replanted, it had multiplied to the point where I now had seven good-sized clumps. Since planting it out a couple of months ago, it has romped away to the point where by the end of the season, should I want them, I could have seventy plants. Not an Upanddieonyou at all, it turns out.

The basket fungus was the inspiration for this new stretch of garden

I think it will be fine visually in the new garden area. As part of our garden developments in the old nursery area, Mark has created a planting of the small-leafed, small-flowered Camellia microphylla, using the geometry of the basket fungus. The hungry and unkempt camellias were moved in this winter just past and need to get well established before he starts shaping and clipping them next winter into what he envisages as an undulating green caterpillar in basket fungus formation. The design has created central, enclosed spaces where he wants plants that will rise above the caterpillar hedges – I have planted the first one in the white rugosa rose, Blanc double de Coubert with an tall echinops. Another will, in due course, be home to the blue veronicastrum, another is to be blue hydrangeas with pale foxgloves and so on. The colour scheme is whites, blues, purple and lilac hues. The outer bays are more numerous and it is in one of these that I have planted the thriving stachys. In a sunny, open spot in what is a more contemporary area of the garden, it no longer looks startlingly out of place. It can stay after all.

 

 

Tikorangi Notes: Things that go crash in the night, recommended hostas and our pretty meadow

It was not Dudley crashing in the night but he did look somewhat noble down in the meadow yesterday

Things that go crash in the night. On a dead calm night, both of us heard the unmistakeable noise of a large branch falling to the ground. I was pretty sure it was not an entire tree because there was no whump as it hit the ground so it clearly did not bounce, as large trees usually do. Morning light revealed that it was as expected – a branch from one of our old man pine trees. In this case it must have fallen 30 or 40 metres to the ground and it appears to have taken out the two camellias that had more or less staged a revival from being clipped by the last two falling trees.

The damage from a falling branch

As usual, we will gather all the pine cones and get out what firewood we can but it appears that there is some surrounding damage this time.  We are philosophical. It is just part of gardening beneath huge trees that are now up to 145 years old. The fallen epiphytic collospermum may be a clue as to why the branch fell. There will be a big weight in just that chunk of vegetation sitting on the branch. The birds spread the seeds and they can germinate, grow and hang on for grim death up high.

It may have been this massive epiphtye that caused the branch to break

Blue hostas raised from seed

After last week’s post on Hosta Jade Cascade (which is settling in just as well in other parts of the garden where I planted it out), I have been looking anew at the varieties that are thriving on zero maintenance. Some of the enormous clumps will have been in 20 or more years now and just keep reappearing a little larger each season. A lot of our big blue clumps are unnamed, raised from seed – some of them from Hosta seiboldiana.

Hosta undulata variegata is getting smaller, I think, over the years

In a big garden, we need big clumps of plants to have an effect. In this area, the stand out gold is Goldrush, raised and named by Felix Jury. It is a terrific performer and puts up a good floral display of purple flowers. The blue is a seedling. Neither of us can name the variegated hosta which is not the showiest of varieties but it has done well and that is not to be sniffed at. There aren’t many variegated hostas that we have planted that have thrived in garden conditions under a regime of benign neglect. Too many, like this poor little specimen of H. undulata variegata have reduced in size over the years, rather than grown larger.

In the smaller growers, variegated Golden Tiara is again not particularly exciting but a very good garden plant. The blue green, little Flora Dora has increased freely and gold Blonde Elf has also surprised me with how well it has established for a very small grower. On the other hand, I haven’t seen dwarf Kabitan for a while so I wonder if it has shrunk away altogether, which would be a pity.

It looks like Guacamole to me and I am not making up that name

Of the variegated types, this one which I think is Guacamole from memory, is doing very well. It is a reverse variegation sport of Hosta Fragrant Bouquet. I will have planted out large specimens of the latter at a similar time as Guacamole but I have yet to find them in the garden, which means they are not growing as strongly at all.

Sum and Substance

Add Blue Boy as a good, reliable garden plant. We stopped growing it commercially towards the end of our time because there were other, showier, bluer cultivars that sold more readily but while they are not starring in the garden, Blue Boy is a strong survivor. That is my short list of top performers as garden plants that have caught my eye this week and that have proven themselves over several years. Oh, Add Sum and Substance which is surprising me by its willingness to grow suitably large in the spot where I planted it.

As a postscript to the hostas, these are grown with no slug bait or slug and snail control. We now have such a rich bird life that they enable us to grow these plants without having to protect them. Well, I assume it is the birds carrying out this task because there is no reason at all for us to have any fewer slugs and snails to start with than anybody else gardening in similar conditions.

The meadow! The meadow!

At the risk of repeating myself – but we all know that gardening is a seasonal activity that is, by definition, repetitive – the meadow below is bringing me great joy as the Higo irises all come into bloom, interspersed with the Primula helodoxa that has been at its peak for a full month now. What more can I say?