Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Late tulips and pricking out seedlings

Gorn! And never called me Mother!
Hot weather and wind has done for 'Prinses Irene', she has a severe case of alopecia. 'Backpacker' has been fried and 'Princesse Charmante' is a distant memory. 'Mount Tacoma' is ageing in a pleasantly blowsy way but isn't long for this world.

Tulip 'Mount Tacoma'

Last tulips standing
There are some tulips which get going a bit late and I am grateful for this because the hot weather could have meant that tulip time was a bit of a flash in the pan this year. 'Carnaval de Nice' is looking fresh and crisp at the moment.

Tulip 'Carnaval de Nice' in the Basket pots outside the store-room

It does have a tendency to lean out of the pot but it rarely snaps and I enjoy the way tulips like this can bend and twist around. In the case of 'Carnaval de Nice' it means that you often get a good view of the beautifully painted back of the flower. 

Tulip 'Carnaval de Nice'

'Esther' is still looking perky. This tulip has beautiful blue-green blotches inside the flower, it's always worth looking inside tulips because there is often a bonus colour hidden there.

Tulip 'Esther'

Tulips 'Picture', 'Esther' and 'Blushing Girl'
So some tulips are still hanging on and with a bit of luck there will be plenty left for the participants in Liz Eddison's photography course here on Saturday. There are also trilliums, alliums, arisaemas, violas, pansies, wallflowers, echiums, alpines, daisies....
Fresh Hostas in Hosta Pots
We mustn't forget the fresh limey greens that make the spring palette special. I have a collection of hostas, mostly in our Hosta Pots (the shape shows them off and snails really hate climbing the overhang!) and having just unfurled they are at their brightest. Most of the variety names are lost in the mists of time but who cares?

Getting warmer.
Unfortunately even in the unseasonably hot weather I have been sweating in the greenhouse. Seedlings are still spewing out of the propagator and I am having trouble potting them up fast enough. We are now getting to the stage where the only way to get from one end of the greenhouse to the other is sideways and holding your breath.

So here is my basic pricking out technique:
I use 9cm pots and usually work in batches of twelve, pricking out three or four dozen plants of each variety. Here I shall be working on Amaranthus 'Illumination'. As a general rule the younger the seedling the easier it is to prick out, as the roots will not have branched out and tangled together. Try to do the pricking out before the roots reach the bottom of the seed tray.

1. Scoop compost into the pots and tap each one twice on the bench to settle the compost down. Sweep the excess off with the flat of the hand but do not press down on the compost. Fill a whole batch of pots this way.

2. I often sow seeds in the trays that bedding plants come in so that it is easy to remove a small batch at a time. If using a normal seed tray gently ease a managable chunk of seedlings out and work on that rather than trying to dig each seedling out individually.

3. Now gently split this chunk into smaller chunks, taking care to ease the compost apart. This compost is a bit wet; it is easier to crumble the seedlings apart if the compost is not too soggy but it must be damp or the roots and particles of compost will cling together and have to be ripped apart.

4. Gently squeeze the chunk of compost so that it starts to break apart. You are aiming to tease out an individual seedling with as little damage to the root as possible.

5. Now you can ease away a seedling. Handle it only by its seed-leaf (if you damage the stem it may not recover). Try not to break those roots. It should come away with only a little compost clinging to the finest roots. You'll get better at this with practice!

6. Make a hole in the compost with the forefinger of your other hand big enough to accommodate the seedling's roots and lower it gently in. The roots need to drop into the hole without being folded upwards.

7. Lower the seedling in until it is very slightly deeper than it had been in the seed tray then firm the compost around it very gently. Tap the pot on the bench a couple of times to settle it in. Pressing on the compost squeezes the air out, tears those fragile roots and may damage the base of that delicate stem.

8. Place the pots in a couple of inches of water and leave only until moisture is just beginning to show at the surface then remove promptly. It should only take a few minutes. Watering from above tends to squash the seedling into the compost and may even break it.

9. Put the pots in neat rows on the greenhouse staging. This is not just for your own satisfaction, it is much easier to water straight rows of pots consistently. Don't forget to label each batch.

10. Watch them grow!

Seedlings and cuttings in the greenhouse this week

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Tulipomania and Ruthlessness

What an amazing couple of weeks it has been. The tulips have all coloured up at the same time and the pottery looks completely staggering though I say so myself. Normally things are a bit more drawn out but everything seems to have peaked at once in this summery weather.
Entrance to the pottery
Only two or three weeks ago I was rejoicing because the chiff-chaff was chaff-chiffing and I could remove one of my layers of fleece. Now many of us are down to shorts and t-shirts and I heard swallows arriving last weekend.
One of the groups in the stockyard

The Guilty Party
Jane and Sue were happy with the weather last weekend because they were selling pots at Loseley Park in Surrey. As usual Jane and I sorted out a few planted up pots (well about 20 or 30) to brighten up their stand and they all went off in the lorry. They always come back with the odd squashed flower or broken stem, but John our driver is a genius of lateral thinking and can fit the most implausible selection of objects into his lorry safely.

Imagine my surprise when John told me there had been a mishap. At first he wouldn't give details but under fierce interrogation he finally cracked and showed me the alpine planting featured in this blog a few weeks ago. Strangely shuffled it was. And low in the pot. The whole thing had tipped over and John had had to try to re-assemble it before I saw it! To cut a long story short he is now my SLAVE. I'm not sure how long his contrition will last but I'm going to make the most of it...

An alpine planting that didn't get knocked over...

Tulip 'Ballerina' with wallflowers
 in a Ham House Urn
Back to the tulips. Here are some more pictures of the lusciousness that is tulip time. Lots of other nice springy plants too. At the moment there are 270 planted pots on display at the pottery, I can be sure of this because I counted them yesterday.

Everyone likes a nice surprise
There are times in the year when I begin to think I am just doing the same thing over and over again but then we get  a surprise like this spring and suddenly anything seems possible. Plants are flowering now which didn't flower until the very end of April/early May last year so the combinations have been really well shuffled.

Tulip 'Golden Artist'
Watch out for Whichford Pottery
We have had visits from two of the country's best garden photographers this week so I am really hoping that eventually we will see some of their beautiful images in one of those nice gardening magazines this country is also good at.

The stockyard

Not for the fainthearted
Now for my topical tip: look out for lily beetles. These smart red beetles will nibble your lilies and your fritillaries but worst of all they will lay copious quantities of little red eggs on the undersides of the leaves. These will hatch into disgusting grubs which cover themselves in their own excrement to discourage birds and humans from picking them off, and chomp their way through leaves and flowers in no time at all.

The Guilty Party II
If you are not squeamish about bugs (and if you are how can you be a gardener?) you must sneak up on the beetles, cup one hand underneath them and grab them with the other. If they see you coming they will drop off the leaves, fall to the ground and in true beetle fashion lie on their backs. Their fronts are black so you won't be able to find them.

You can't see me, can you?
Squash them, squash them now!
Once you have caught them hold them to your ear because they squeak. Don't let this soften your heart, you must squash them all. Do this daily if possible and squash the eggs too. There are sprays but it is hard to hit them and you will be wasting a lot of poison. If the grubs hatch you must remove them too (a squirt from the hose works quite well).

Keep on moving
I have found that keeping our pots of lilies in a semi-shaded position and only bringing them out into the bright sunshine when they are nearly in flower helps to stop the beetles from finding them. I think the sun makes the foliage smell more strongly and attracts more of the little so-and-sos. In this way the moveable feast that is pot culture adds outwitting beasties to its long list of advantages...

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Gorgeous tulips.

T. 'White Parrot' in a Parrot Tulip pot.
This strangely warm few days has brought the tulips out incredibly quickly. You can't beat tulips for an explosion of colour and ours have certainly gone kaboom in the last couple of days. So let me show you around...

Tulip 'Creme Lizard'

Along the entrance path, where you are quite likely to be greeted by Puss-Puss, I have been fairly restrained this year, with white, blue and some yellow flowers and yellow and green foliage.

I try to make each area different each year - but sometimes it is hard as some plants really struggle in certain places. The entrance path can be bitterly cold and windswept in the winter and I have had to remove two young Ilex 'Silver Queen', which keeled over just as spring arrived.
Red tulips in the courtyard garden: (Left to Right) 'Princesse Charmante', 'Roulette' and 'Rococo'

The Courtyard Garden is dominated by red, yellow and bright, sharp green foliage. This picture shows the yellow tulips 'West Point' (lily-flowered) and 'Maja' (fringed). The red in the large Buxus pot is 'Roulette', the red in the square pot is 'Princesse Charmante'. Princesse Charmante was shown in bud in last week's blog but I was wrong when I said that she smells of freesias - I was thinking of 'Ballerina', the orange lily-flowered tulip that has only just started to open.

Orange tulips 'Prinses Irene', 'Fidelio' and 'Ballerina' (the latter is small and skinny because these were planted in this large Gothic pot three years ago, bulbs planted last autumn will have fatter flowers)

The side of the courtyard garden by the Octagon is stuffed with orange, bright green, white and dark purple. Here the pots in front of the Octagon contain (top to bottom) 'Prinses Irene', 'White Parrot' and 'Fidelio'. The white narcissus is N. actaea.

My favourite of these at the moment is 'Prinses Irene' (see below in a straight-sided basket pot) because of the lovely clear orange of her tepals with the bonus of a broad purple streak on the back of each one - this detail is TELLING you what to combine with this tulip!

Tulip 'Prinses Irene' and
Anemone blanda 'White Splendour'

Tulip 'Silver Parrot' in Armscote Bee Pots
 Just around the corner in the stockyard everything turns pink and purple this year. I often use grey and purple foliage with these tulips because grey-leafed plants such as Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve' so often seem to have purple flowers. The star of this year's show in the stockyard is a tulip that's new to us - 'Silver Parrot'. Its curliness isn't to everyone's taste but I love the outrageous parroty tulips most of all I think. This has coloured up in a range of pinks really beautifully and stops many people in their tracks.
 Here 'Silver Parrot' is growing through Santolina chamaecyparissus, and Viola 'Cancan'. You can just see Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve' behind it and the purple bells in the background are Fritillaria persica, which are in the next pot. Grouping the pots allows you to play with colour combinations infinitely.
Tulips 'Silver Parrot' and 'Backpacker'
with Pansy 'Can-Can'
So here's part of the same group from the other side. The purple double tulip which is just beginning to expand has the ugly name of 'Backpacker' but is a sturdy and very pretty tulip.
Tulip 'Ronaldo'
I haven't shown you everything - but if I did you would have less reason to visit the pottery! I really do have to stop messing about with photographs now and go and do some real gardening, especially as Rene has just sent me a very exciting box of dahlias and gladioli which need urgent potting up. I'll just leave you with a handsome tall, dark stranger called Ronaldo:
Oh and by the way - I really should mention that we have a bulb sale in September, we are likely to have all the above and more - we normally have about 30 different tulips plus narcissi, alliums, crocus, every bulb you need to make next spring a real riot of colour.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Bloom, Blooms and Bold Birds

This week I moved a few things around to refresh the displays in the courtyard garden in honour of the seconds sale - strangely people often forget that this is possible and keep the same pots in the same positions year after year even if it means that some are flowering in obscurity. I often find that simply moving a few pots makes some of my colleagues 'discover' things that have been there for ages. That is one of the many joys of pot gardening - you can rediscover plants and combinations just by having a shuffle.

Violas and Scilla siberica
in a straight-sided basket pot
There is plenty to look at outside and it is changing by the minute. I make sure I have a good look at the pots every working day (I'm only at the pottery for three days every week)  because warmer temperatures and windy weather mean that I have to watch for drying out.
Paradoxical irrigation
Container gardeners can't rely on rain to wet their pots at this time of year as the lush foliage, especially of tulips, will prevent a lot of the water from reaching the compost. I don't water every day but I do make sure that the pots are not too dry before a heavy spring shower. This often puzzles people but flowers are much less likely to get squashed or snapped off if they are fully turgid than if they are a bit on the limp side.  As the drainage is so good in our pots I am less worried about waterlogging than about plants collapsing under the rain, so I am often to be seen out with the hose when there are juicy black clouds looming over the village.
Narcissus 'Bath's Flame'
Dating from 1913

N. 'Mrs Langtry'
 The other reason for loitering in the garden is that new flowers are opening all the time. I have really enjoyed Rene's collection of vintage daffodils. Narcissus 'Bath's Flame' opened soon after N. pseudonarcissus and is a real beauty, tall and strong even though the flowers are large, with lovely clear colour.

N. 'Butter and Eggs' dates from 1777. Variable but surprisingly strong for a double.

Unripe tulips
T. 'Rococo'
My favourite visual treat at this time of year is the changing colours of the tulip tepals (neither petals nor sepals), many enhanced by a beautiful glaucous bloom. T. 'Rococo' almost looks better before it turns red, with hints of yellow, purple, green and turquoise in its curly flowers.

T. 'Princesse Charmante'

A Greigii tulip, 'Princesse Charmante', is beginning to colour up, too - this modestly blushing flower will soon turn bright red and smell of freesias when the sun shines on her.

Fritillaria persica
Other bloomy blooms include the fritillaries - the Snakesheads have been going for a while and the F. persicaria have now raised their spectacular heads of dark purple bells.

More modest F. uva-vulpis are looking good in a couple of small pots.
Fritillaria uva-vulpis in a small Parsley pot

And finally - Bird News
Yackety jackdaws visit every morning to check for cake crumbs. They have an uncouth look about them but they are very clever birds - they were quick to learn that Whichford Pottery is a good source of cake!

Mr Right?

Mrs B has been dividing her time between excitable suitors and very busy nest building. We had had hardly any rain for ages and she scuttled into the greenhouse to join me when I had been watering plants and pottered about gathering mud to stick her nest together. I think Chez B is in the hedge beside the gas tanks for the kilns this year.
The robin has also been in the greenhouse looking for caterpillars and picking off a few greenfly, so I have had some company while I prick out seedlings. Better get back there now...