Tag Archives: meconopsis

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

 

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Singing the praises of blue flowers

???????????????????????????????I am firmly of the view that you can never have too much blue in the garden. While green is effectively colour neutral – every garden has green and usually in abundance – blue is the versatile colour that fits in with all others. The addition of a little blue can lift a pastel colour scheme, add complexity to a white garden, make orange zing or stand as an equal partner in a blue and yellow border. No matter what the dominant colour scheme is, blue will fit in.

Eryngium planum

Eryngium planum

Eryngium planum

This summer flowering perennial has beautiful blooms which look like steel blue teasels and last for many weeks. Plants form tidy rosettes of foliage at ground level and the slightly prickly flower spikes can reach a metre high. Unfortunately, the plants need support – either staking individually or growing through taller plants, although the form sold as ‘Blue Hobbit’ is reputed to be lower growing, thereby avoiding the need to stake. Full sun and good drainage are the rules for growing eryngiums. While often referred to as sea holly, that is more correctly applied to E. maritimum which can be seen growing wild on the coast of Cornwall.

Grown from seed, plants will flower in their second season. Both Kings and Egmont Seeds have eryngiums or you can try your local garden centre.

Nigella damascens

Nigella damascens

Nigella damascens

Love-in-a-mist, as this summer annual is oft referred, has an ethereal lightness which makes it appear to dance through the garden. The foliage is so fine that it can be described as lacy and it takes up next to no space in the sunny, summer garden, combining well with roses and perennials. It does come in pink, white and purple tones as well now, but nothing beats the more common, pure blues in my opinion. Once flowering has finished, even the seed pod is attractive – a bubble-like capsule not dissimilar to a swan plant. Seed is widely available and once you have established plants for the first season, leave one or two to go to seed and it will keep returning in subsequent summers.

Jacaranda mimosifolia

Jacaranda mimosifolia

Jacaranda mimosifolia

There are not many blue flowering trees which may explain why large parts of the world have fallen in love with the summer jacaranda. It is native to Bolivia and Argentina and is fully deciduous. Unfortunately, this does not make it hardy and it is a tree for the warmer north or mild coastal areas of the mid north. It is usually regarded as subtropical but if you have excellent drainage and only the occasional light frost, you can extend its range. In return, it will reward you with a beautiful mass display of lilac-blue summer flowers and a carpet of blue petals below. Over time, it forms an open, airy tree reaching 8 to 10 metres in height.

If your local garden centre cannot find you a plant, Trees & More in Tauranga have it listed for sale.

Daphne genkwa

Daphne genkwa

Daphne genkwa

A lilac-blue daphne? Yes indeed. D. genkwa is as spectacular as any shrub when flowering, though rather anonymous at other times of the year. Unlike most daphnes we grow in the garden, it is fully deciduous with willow-like leaves and arching growth. While it is lightly scented, it is grown predominantly for its early spring floral display. This is not a plant that likes to be moved or trimmed so give it a permanent location with plenty of space to grow – at least 2 metres in diameter. The back of a border with lower growing plants in front will allow it to star when in bloom and remain unobtrusive at other times.

Genkwa is not rare, but it is difficult to propagate because it has to be done from root cuttings so it is not widely available. Ask a good garden centre to see if they can source it from one of the few growers producing it in New Zealand.

That is a true blue verbascum. (Photo: Thompson and Morgan)

That is a true blue verbascum. (Photo: Thompson and Morgan)

Verbascum Blue Lagoon

You will have to hold your breath for this one. As far as I know it is not yet available in New Zealand but we are waiting in hope that it may be imported some time in the near future. It was first released at the 2012 Chelsea Flower Show in London and is a remarkable colour breakthrough in large-flowered verbascums. It appears that it is a genuine pure blue and, according to the renowned seed company Thompson and Morgan, whose plant breeder is responsible for this selection, it is perennial, albeit probably a shortlived perennial. Many of the verbascums are biennial, flowering in their second year, setting seed and dying. Blue Lagoon offers the promise of spires of pure blue in the late spring garden without the problems of the fussier delphiniums.

Iris sibirica

Iris sibirica

Iris sibirica

This clumping iris is one of the easiest to grow, flowering from mid spring onwards with rich blue flower heads held above grassy or spear-like foliage. Generally the foliage is about 50cm high and the flowers reach 70cm. It originates from central Europe, Turkey through to Russia so it is hardy to cold winters. It grows best in sun to partial shade with heavier soils which don’t dry out. This is a plant which can be left undisturbed for several years while the clump gently expands. Plant it with large leaved perennials like bergenia ciliata or ligularias to keep an attractive contrast in summer foliage, long after the flowering season is over. It is a little untidy when the foliage dies off in winter but that is its only disadvantage. Iris sibirica is widely available from nurseries and garden centres.

Meconopsis or Himalayan blue poppy

Meconopsis or Himalayan blue poppy

Meconopsis or Himalayan blue poppy

Nothing matches the electric blue that is sometimes found in meconopsis though, as these are seed grown, the shade can vary. There is something about the simplicity of a simple poppy flower in pure blue – a mere four petals surrounding golden stamens – that is completely beguiling. Unfortunately, they can be very difficult to grow and are usually a waste of time for gardeners at the warmer end of the islands. They are alpine meadow plants so are going to perform better in conditions with cold, drier winters. Plants available in New Zealand are often listed as M. X Sheldonii which is a cross between betonicifolia (which is biennial, flowering in its second year) and grandis (which is meant to be more perennial). These are deciduous plants and too often they fail to return in the second year, as many gardeners will attest. But if you can find the right conditions, they will enchant you in late spring. If you buy a plant, remove the flower head in the first year to allow it to put its energies into getting established, rather than weakening itself by flowering and setting seed. Seed is best collected and sown in trays rather than left to fall in the hope that plants will naturalise themselves.

Seed of M. betonicifolia is available from a number of sources, including Egmont Seeds. Plants are sometimes offered from southern nurseries, including Wake Robin Nursery in Balclutha.

Cordyline stricta

Cordyline stricta

Cordyline stricta

New Zealand does not have exclusive claim to cabbage trees. The lovely blue flowered C. stricta hails from coastal New South Wales up into Queensland but is surprisingly hardy. It will take light to moderate frosts and coastal winds and can grow in full sun to shade. One of the big advantages as a garden plant is that the caterpillar which attacks our native cordylines is also native and appears to shun foreigners, so C. stricta does not get that chewed, motheaten look of our own cabbage trees. Stricta is clump forming and individual stems can reach about 3 metres in height. In summer, many panicles of lilac blue flowers appear, lasting for several weeks. Unlike our native varieties, they lack any scent.

Stricta is a versatile plant that can be used as a specimen or combined with a tropical, succulent or even a shaded woodland look. It also makes a handsome large container plant.

Cordyline stricta will be available in some northern garden centres but also sometimes on Trade Me and from Russell Fransham Subtropicals in Matapouri Bay.

Moraea villosa or peacock iris

Moraea villosa or peacock iris

Moraea villosa

This South African plant is commonly known as the peacock iris as its three petalled flower resembles the eye of a peacock feather. While the colour is variable, the blue or blue and white forms are the most common. Individual flowers are short-lived but each stem produces a succession of blooms in early spring. Held up on wiry stems, they can appear to dance lightly above the garden. These plants grow from corms and will do best in free-draining or sandy soils in full sun. The foliage is long, fine and grassy but gets a little scruffy before it dies down in early summer. Once you have Moraea villosa, it multiplies readily both from seed and the corms but we have not found it to have weed potential.

While not rare, this is one of those odd bulbs that you are most likely to source through Trade Me rather than finding it offered for sale in garden centres.

First published in the New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission.

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Tikorangi Diary Thursday 13 October, 2011

Mark's meconopsis available again

Mark's meconopsis available again

As we hurtle into spring, the pressure is on to get the garden all groomed up and ready for our annual garden festival at the end of the month. This means we are around most of the time so plant sales are not restricted to just Fridays and Saturdays. If you come in and can’t find anyone, please sound your car horn. We have Eftpos available (but not credit cards).

Half price on most magnolias (while stocks last). This includes Vulcan, Burgundy Star and Black Tulip but not Felix Jury (which is in short supply). It is nearing the end of the season – the plants would be happier in your garden than in our nursery. There are about a dozen Magnolia grandiflora “Little Gem” left at the bargain basement price of $12 (but the Camellia Jury’s Yellow have gone). Magnolias are listed under Plant Sales on our website but not with sale prices – halve them. This offer includes good plants of Fairy Magnolia Blush – if you have been planning a hedge of them, now is your chance to do it at a very reasonable price.

The very curious Arisaema sikkokianum

The very curious Arisaema sikkokianum

In the treasures line, we have some of Mark’s meconopis for sale – blue Himalayan poppies. These plants are already in their second year and show more perennial tendencies than usual in our climate (though not guaranteed perennial – it would pay to gather the seed this year as well). And we have good plants of Arisaema speciosum (great for woodland carpets) and the curious, showy but more difficult Arisaema sikkokianum.

No mail order, sorry. Personal customers only.

Plants that Delight

This article was first published in the Weekend Gardener Magazine, issue 316, June 2 – 15, 2011

Bromeliads - a vriesea

Bromeliads - a vriesea

Bromeliads
Generally speaking, I am not a fan of prickly, spiky plants (I have always felt that yuccas in particular were aptly named) but I am willing to make an exception for the bromeliad family even though it means donning protective gear when it comes to working amongst them. We use them extensively in dry woodland conditions and for much of the year they just sit around being extremely undemanding, bar the occasional clean up to remove accumulated debris.

It is when they flower, that bromeliads look exotic. The range of blooms is extraordinary and there is nothing quite like them. Some of them have strange, flattish flowers which might be cast out of thick wax, dyed in parrot colours. What is more, the flowers last for ages. I haven’t timed them but we are into months, rather than weeks. This one is a vriesea of some sort but we have never become experts on the genus, despite growing a range of different ones. Our cool, frost free, high shade conditions keep them looking particularly lush. With some of our plantings dating back to the early 1950s, we would rate them as one of the lower maintenance garden plants.

Bromeliads are readily available and many are easy to multiply for the home gardener. If you want to learn more about bromeliads, check out “Bromeliads for the Contemporary Garden” by Weekend Gardener writer, Andrew Steens.

Meconopsis

Meconopsis

Meconopsis
The simplest poppy form – a mere four petals surrounding a ring of golden stamens – is always charming, no matter the colour. When it comes in pure blue, it enters a league of its own.

Coming from the Himalayas, these are plants which are happier in much drier, colder conditions. We have to work at keeping them going here, where we have high rainfall, high humidity and generally mild conditions. They certainly don’t seed down and naturalise for us as they will in parts of the South Island but when they come into flower each spring, it is worth every bit of effort.

We don’t generally let them flower in the first year because if they put their effort into setting seed, the young plants tend to die. If we delay the flowering, we have more chance of some at least becoming perennial, albeit still comparatively short lived. Fresh seed is easy enough to raise but best done in seed trays and not merely broadcast to the ground with a wish and a prayer.

Meconopsis are available in New Zealand both as seed and as plants. If you have a choice, Meconopsis x sheldonii shows a little more vigour than either grandis or betonicifolia. All come in blue, though there are also white, pale yellow and red meconopsis which are nice to add in to a garden but no replacement for the beautiful and eye-catching blue.

Magnolia Felix Jury

Magnolia Felix Jury

Deciduous magnolias
How could I be a Jury and not put deciduous magnolias in my top favourites? These trees are surely one of the most spectacular on the planet when in full flower, though it has to be said that the bigger the flower, the better in terms of impressive display.

Magnolia trees just get better with size and age which seems entirely appropriate for a genus which is ancient – so old that it does not even have proper petals. What we usually call petals are in fact tepals. They evolved before bees so originally adapted to be pollinated by beetles – hence the fact they have pollen but no nectar.

To get maximum flowering, select a variety which sets flower buds down the stem rather than just on the tips. Some varieties like the purple Lanarth can take your breath away but only for about 10 days. Others, like Iolanthe or Felix Jury, flower over many weeks, extending the display. Indeed, spring flowering on Iolanthe extends over at least eight weeks from first to last bloom and there is the bonus of random flowers over summer.

Daphne genkwa

Daphne genkwa

Daphne genkwa
A daphne with no scent? Yes, but it is so spectacular in flower that the absence of fragrance does not seem to matter. It is also deciduous, which we do not expect from a daphne and it flowers before it comes into leaf so all that is visible is a mass of graceful whips smothered in lavender blue flowers.
I think you can never have too much blue in a garden. It is a colour that complements all others and while I will admit that genkwa is not a pure toned blue, it is still blue enough for me.

D. genkwa is not easy to propagate and is generally increased from root cuttings. Neither is it easy to get established. In fact it is definitely on the touchy side. This plant was a particularly fine specimen but outgrew its allotted space so I pruned it after flowering, as you do. It promptly died, to my great disappointment. I am trying again, but this time as specimen shrubs with plenty of space to grow so they will not need to be pruned. Daphne genkwa is available in New Zealand but is not standard garden centre fare so you may need to find an obliging operator to order it in for you. It is a Chinese shrub and, being deciduous, it is generally rated as hardy.

Narcissus cyclamineus

Narcissus cyclamineus

Dwarf narcissi
In a large garden with some enormous trees, we love the tiny treasures that give detail to the bigger picture. We also have more success with the baby narcissus than with their larger cousins. They don’t seem to be quite so vulnerable to the dreaded narcissi fly, possibly because many of them flower earlier in the season.

These little cyclamineus seedlings always make us smile. With the reflexed skirt of petals, they are rather reminiscent of floppy eared dogs with the heads out the car window and ears streaming behind in the wind.

We grow a whole range of different dwarf varieties – species, named hybrids and unnamed seedlings, tucked into positions around the garden. The first to bloom are the Narcissus bulbocodium citrinus or hooped petticoat types which can show colour as early as late April while others continue the display through to late September. The best known dwarf variety is probably Tete-a- Tete, but there are innumerable others which are offered for sale from time to time.

Cyclamen hederafolium

Cyclamen hederafolium

Cyclamen species
These little treasures mostly hail from southern Europe and northern Africa but some varieties are particularly suited to New Zealand gardens.

The most widely available variety is Cyclamen hederafolium (formerly known as neapolitanum) which puts its first flowers up in our garden in January and flowers through until May or even June. After that, the marbled, heart-shaped leaves are attractive in themselves. C. hederafolium comes in shades of pink and pure white. Following on from them, we have a lot of success with C. coum in winter and C. repandum in spring.

Cyclamen are particularly successful planted in drifts on woodland margins in dappled light but they are pretty adaptable in a range of conditions as long as they have good drainage. They are easy enough to raise from fresh seed if you know of anybody with plants and they grow to form tubers which are like round, flattish discs.

Rhododendron Yvonne Scott

Rhododendron Yvonne Scott

Rhododendrons
Unfortunately, the glory days of rhododendrons have been and gone in this country, but we would not be without them in our garden. Our particular favourites are the nuttalliitypes with their large, waxy trumpet flowers, most of which are scented. Combine that with big, heavily textured leaves (the technical term is bullate foliage) and the most beautiful cinnamon brown bark which peels off in long tendrils leaving a shiny trunk behind.

Add in the fact that these plants show generally healthy characteristics in warmer climates. They can get a touch of thrip but nowhere near as much as colder climate plants and they are not susceptible to the brown crisping round the edges of the leaves which disfigures so many varieties.

If I could only grow one rhododendron, R. sino nuttallii would be my first choice. Sino just means it comes from China (there is another Himalayan form). Fortunately we can grow many so we have a fair range of the nuttalliis and their hybrids, including the lovely and distinctive Yvonne Scott. Huge lime green buds open to lime flowers which fade out to white within two days, but keep the green flare in the throat. Mi Amor is probably the most widely available nuttallii hybrid on the market. While we might not rate it as the best, nuttalliis are not readily available so you might have to grab whatever you can find.

Flowering this week – meconopsis or Himalayan blue poppy

A little weather beaten after the rains, but a small gardening triumph in our conditions - the blue poppy

The blue poppy must be one of the simplest and bluest of any flower anywhere. It is such a shame that it is so difficult to keep alive in our conditions because you can never have too many simple blue flowers in a garden. The meconopsis has as few as four petals (and they look like slightly crumpled tissue paper) surrounding a boss of golden stamens and the central ovary, but the blue can be a startling electric blue. A clump of meconopsis is a sight to behold.

The blue poppies hail from the Himalayas and surrounding areas which gives a hint to their preferred growing conditions – alpine meadows. Without a winter chill here and with high winter rainfall, it is more likely that they will rot out below ground and they simply never get the signal that tells them winter has gone (they are probably still waiting for it to arrive here) and to break dormancy. So most gardeners struggle to keep them going and they tend to be one season wonders (annuals) and never seed down. The fact that we now have clumps of them well established in a cold border in our park area and that those clumps are getting bigger and return each year (so are perennial) is testimony to some years of persistence on Mark’s part. He has been selecting stronger growing clumps and good blue tones over time, hand pollinating to increase seed set, raising seed in the nursery and generally taking great care of these blue babies to get them to naturalise. Of course if you come from a colder, somewhat drier area, you may wonder what all the fuss is about because they can be relatively easy to grow there but they are very rare indeed in warmer climates.

For the record, these plants have been hand pollinated so frequently that Mark has lost track of the genetic proportions but they are basically downstream sheldonii back crosses which means that they have varying proportions of betonicifolia (both blue and white forms) and grandis.