Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Flowers, felines and flying

First I must apologise for missing a week - I had some time off visiting universities with my son. Back at work now and when you have been away for a few days the growth is really noticeable.

Dahlia 'Ragged Robin', Salvia elegans and Pelargonium 'Moore's Victory' providing more and more splashes of red

Cat nap
The plantings are fluffing up nicely; Salvias, Dahlias and Pelargoniums are beginning to flower in earnest after a little sunshine and the higher temperatures mean that everyone spends more time enjoying the garden, including the cat.
Puss-Puss has decided he looks good with these colours. I hope he isn't digesting baby blackbirds.
Arctotis 'Hannah' in a rosebowl

I still find it amazing how even a couple of days of sunshine can increase flower power very quickly. A rose bowl of Arctotis 'Hannah' has become one of the stars of the show since last week.

Pastels in profusion
Meanwhile in the stockyard the colours are softer:  pink, white, purple, grey and blue. Osteospermum ecklonis var. prostratum is beginning to wake up. It gives me little moments of satisfaction while I am dead-heading as I have planted it with Lobelia 'Riviera Rose' which picks up the purplish backs of the petals when the flowers close on a cloudy day and makes the little ring of violet in the centre of the flower sing on a sunny day. Dead-heading is a very important job all summer and it gives you the chance to revel in such close-up details.

Osteospermum ecklonis var. prostratum
with Lobelia 'Riviera Rose'

Right plant, right place
It is important to plant sunlovers like the Arctotis and Osteospermum in the right place or you will find that they become straggly and flower poorly; in deep shade the flowers they do produce will often sulk and refuse to open.

I finished the main stockyard plantings this week and the style is fluffy and pretty, mainly pastel but with a few shots of strong pink and dark blue. I have used a lot of our grey-decorated pots which look so good with the grey and silver foliage that loves such an open, sunny position.

Pink Hypoestes, silver Convolvulus cneorum
Lavandula x christiana, Convolvulus sabatius
and pink Bacopa in a Wisley Gardener's Pot
Seed-grown Dahlia with Didiscus 'Madonna Mix
and Cineraria maritima 'Cirrus'
in a Warwick Pot

Stalwart Salvias
The new plantings look OK now because the foliage is good, but in a week or so the flowers will become more noticeable. I am always careful to maximise the season of interest in summer plantings by including good foliage as well as plants which will flower well in late summer, even autumn, rather than burning out by July and looking tired and resentful for the rest of the season. This is where a good collection of salvias and dahlias comes in handy. In the stockyard the tall blue Salvia 'Indigo Spires' is already flowering well in big pots and will just carry on getting more and more spectacular until the first frosts. One of my favourite salvias is S. leucantha, which really hits its stride after midsummer. Its velvety flowers always attract attention and it features prominently in this week's plantings.

Salvia leucantha

I also have another variety, which I think is S. leucantha 'Purple Velvet', I like this even more.

Salvia leucantha 'Purple Velvet' - asking to be fondled
This looks great with Lavatera maritima in the huge Great Warwick Pot in the centre of the stockyard, which I planted on Monday. I have a feeling this potful will provide some more nice photos as the season progresses.

Lavatera maritima

Dahlia 'Candy Eyes' with Cineraria maritima 'Cirrus'
and Lobelia 'Riviera Rose'
Annuals for added-value
Major plants like these and my precious dahlias are accompanied by "minor plants" or "fillers" in the big, mixed plantings: many annuals, such as Lobelia, Didiscus caeruleus 'Madonna Mix' and Centaurea cyanus 'Black Ball' will provide flower colour and are so easy to grow from seed it is a sin not to. Foliage annuals such as Cineraria maritima 'Cirrus' are equally valuable.
Dahlia Happy Single 'Wink' and Centaurea cyanus 'Black Ball'

Can someone tell me the name of this rose? Is it Ballerina?
The pots below it are from a collection made in collaboration with Kew Gardens
The Name of the Rose
Now I have a question for the rose enthusiasts among you - can anyone tell me whether the rose on the wall of the pottery next to our Kew Collection of pots is Climbing Ballerina? A customer asked me if it was Ballerina and I said I didn't think so (because I thought Ballerina was darker and had very little scent) but now I look at different versions of it online I am not so sure...
It is vigorously growing on a north wall and has a gorgeous scent on warm days. Any ideas?

Flying visit
There is far too much to show you now - come back soon for more flower power as the summer really gets into gear! Meanwhile I will leave you with a small visitor who turned up at breaktime in the garden on Tuesday:
Humming Bird Hawkmoth enjoying the Centranthus ruber in the Courtyard Garden at the Pottery

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Springwatch Whichford-style and discreet support for plants and climbers

Beware low-flying blackbirds.
We have two families of blackbirds busy in the garden at the moment. Mrs B is well hidden in the hedge near the entrance arch but another family (probably Mrs B's son or daughter) is in the rose now in full bloom on the wall of the pottery. The parents, mostly unnoticed by our customers, are dashing back and forth with beakfuls of grubs.
Supper on its way

Yesterday evening I crept towards the rose nest and could just see two of the chicks hopefuly waving those daft yellow beaks.
Waiting for Dad to bring the takeaway

Spot the wayward amphibian
Four seasons in one weekend.
Lovely warm sunshine yesterday, but now rain threatens again. My poor plants were severely tested last weekend with frost, blustery wind, hail, pelting rain and a dose of scorching sun but most of them seem all right. Some of the wildlife is a bit confused by the preposterous June weather too, see if you can spot the frog in this picture - I didn't notice it when I was taking the photograph, but when I looked at my pictures in the evening there it was.

The garden is so densely planted that there is plenty of shelter for critters: hedgehogs, frogs, toads, newts and birds all help us to keep the pest levels down both in the garden and the greenhouse.

Firm support
The battering weather makes me glad that I tied the climbing roses in firmly during the winter and staked the delphiniums and Thalictrum flavum in the spring. I keep staking to a minimum because I prefer the garden to look as natural as possible, but these two plants are too easily ruined by a June storm, so I put three or four bamboo canes around each clump and loop string around each cane to form a support which eventually almost disappears among the foliage.

I use bamboo canes because the stiff clay subsoil makes it too hard to push more decorative hazel sticks deep enough into the ground, so I must use canes which I can whack with a mallet. I don't pull the string too tight and I deliberately let a few stems escape and flop out because I hate the trussed-up look.
We make and sell nice decorative cane-tops here, so eyes are well-protected from the splintery ends.

Terracotta cane tops

In the pots, especially those positioned where the wind swirls dangerously, I give some of the plants a little discreet support with willow prunings which I bend into hoops.

The hoops soon disappear as the plants grow. Usually one or two is plenty. I also use them as emergency support for heavy-headed plants such as lilies.

Simple willow hoops give a mixed planting some support.
The tall dahlia has been cut back so that it is less top-heavy.
When bringing out summer plants that have grown quite large in shelter, such as salvias and dahlias, I often cut the long stems back to a strong leaf-node. This may sacrifice some immediate flowers but it means that the stems, unused to outside conditions, will not snap off at the base in the first puff of wind. New side shoots will quickly sprout and the eventual flower-power will be greater.

Plants also support each other very effectively. The woody, wiry stems of Abutilon megapotamicum, for example, will lend fleshy, fragile pelargoniums a hand.

Letting it all hang out
I let the plants find their own level as much as possible. I like it when they bend and trail out of the pots, so as long as they are not in danger of snapping I usually let them lean as much as they want. If they flop over other plants too much I may prop them up or I may just cut off some foliage so that lower plants don't get shaded out. Growth is so profuse in the summer that most plants can afford to lose a few leaves occasionally.

Natural uplift
Dicentra scandens hauling itself over Cerinthe
major 'Purpurascens' and up the climbing rose
(also in a pot) on the wall.
I use a lot of climbers in pots. Often I give them no artificial support  but let them wander about the plant groupings. The group by the entrance to the stockyard has some Dicentra scandens rambling about in it. This isn't yet producing its little yellow flowers so isn't very noticeable but I can see that it is already winding its tendrils around the other plants and flowers will mysteriously appear high and low later in the season.

Cobaea scandens is a favourite annual climber. I use this vigorous climber to go straight up walls, over other climbers (I have just planted it to go up the clematis which is itself growing up a honeysuckle). I also use it more formally on a tall iron obelisk; it is one of the few annual climbers which can be relied upon to reach the top of this support and then carry on up the roof beyond it if necessary. I love the way its tendrils have the most efficient system of grappling hooks and spiralling stems which pull it tight against the supports.

The tendrils of Cobaea scandens 'Alba', which have tiny grappling hooks at the ends and coil to tension the new growth

Willow hoops with
scrambling Lathyrus sativus
I have two big pots of sweet peas which will be flowering soon, they each have an iron obelisk to grow up. They won't be of show standard but they will smell heavenly. Their smaller,delicate cousin Lathyrus sativus 'Tutankhamun' is making do with a dome of willow cuttings and some other plants to scramble over.

Poor little sucker, how will it learn
When it is climbing, which way to turn?
Right, left, what a disgrace,
Or it may go straight up and fall flat on its face!
        Misalliance, by Flanders and Swann

Humulus lupulus 'Aureus' is making good progress up the willow obelisks I made in early spring. This makes a really striking and low-maintenance feature once you have set it up: you just need to remember to water it and to guide straying shoots back to the upright occasionally. Bear in mind that twining climbers either go clockwise or anticlockwise (the hop is clockwise) so you will not get them to stick if you wind them the wrong way! Those of you familiar with Flanders and Swann will of course know that the honeysuckle goes clockwise and convolvulus the opposite way (as does morning glory).
Golden Hop making good progress

That's enough blathering about plants for one day. Let me introduce you to Rene Zijerveld, our dutch bulb supplier, advisor, source of chocolate and entertaining conversation - he visited the other day to discuss our spring bulb order. We have asked him for some exciting new things this year, so it will definitely be worth a trip to our sale in September!
Rene Zijerveld with Lilium 'Fire King' in one hand and
Arisaema candidissimum in the other

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

More plant combinations for pots and some forward planning

Tender perennials, annuals and summer bulbs fill a large group of pots
in the pottery's courtyard garden,
with yet more lushness in the background.
The garden is full to bursting and yet we are stuffing more and more plants in pots and inflicting them on an unsuspecting public. We are getting more and more visitors now, inluding a local art group who unfortunately got rained on.

Colourful greeting
As you enter the courtyard garden the red/green/yellow/white plantings on the left are beginning to fill out after just a few days. The only Ensete ventricosum to survive the winter has been used, along with some Hedychium coccineum, Pelargonium, Dahlia, Eucomis, Lysimachia, Begonia 'Non-stop White' and annuals such as  Petunia 'Easy Wave' (picking the red ones out of the gaudy mix), Agrostis nebulosa, Kochia trichophylla and Nemesia 'St George'.

The dazzling Miss Babs

April showers have been falling in June and so the garden is looking wonderfully lush still. It is chilly though and I can't help resenting the rain even though I know how much it is needed.

Dressing to impress
I have been getting a bit of extra help from Miss Babs recently, which is really valuable as she empties big pots for me and pots up the re-usable plants while I can get on with the planting. Babs came well prepared for the weather on Tuesday but I could feel an incipient migraine every time I looked at her.

I asked Babs to empty the basket pots by the store-room door and then I took the big ferns which had spent the winter out in full sun by the entrance arch and moved them to this nice, shady position for their summer holidays. This position does get sun in the late afternoon and evening but it doesn't have the scorching midday/early afternoon sun which would soon make them look a bit crispy.

Fuzzy logic
I decided on orange and purple for this group, starting with Salvia confertiflora, which has spikes of fuzzy orange flowers held on purple fuzzy stems in late summer and looks fantastic with late afternoon sun coming through it. I added the dark purple foliage of Oxalis triangularis, this really needs deep shade and dislikes being transplanted but I hope it will forgive me because those shamrock-like purple leaves are something special. I then squeezed in some dark purple Verbena, a few Amaranthus 'Illumination' (I'm not sure how this will turn out as I haven't grown it before but I can always cut it down if it is awful) and some Anagallis 'Sunlover Orange', which last has soft orange flowers with violet centres and cascades nicely down a tall pot.

It looks a bit scrawny at the moment, but it only takes a few days for the dishevelled annuals to turn their leaves towards the light, then after a week or so their roots will be starting to explore the fresh compost and growth and flowering will really begin to get going.

Look this way
The planting featured below is in one of the pots in the first photograph in this post. After a few days the plants have turned their faces to the light - it is important to look at them when you are planting and recognise that each has a front and a back as they will look established much more quickly if they have the right side facing the sun. They are also already beginning to fill in the spaces between them and produce more flowers.

Dahlia 'Geerling's Moonlight', Salvia elegans, Pelargonium 'Moore's Victory and Lysimachia congestiflora 'Lyssi'

Fuchsia boliviana 'Alba' on the left, accompanied by Heliotropium 'Marine',
Aeonium 'Zwartkop', Nemesia 'St George', Pelargonium australis,
purple petunias and a red Pelargonium whose name I have lost...
Feeling better now
The plantings I did in pouring rain in front of the Octagon just over a week ago (left) are beginning to look a lot happier. The petunias and heliotrope have resumed flowering and the Nemesia is colouring up nicely.

Many of the autumn plantings are still looking great, which makes the changeover much less stressful. I am moving around the pottery according to which pots look the most tired, whereas usually I have to tear things out and plant as fast as I can so that visitors aren't disappointed.

Planting plans
I know the garden looks fairly random but I do in fact plan the pot displays quite carefully in a notebook (editing it in my head all the time according to how the plants are developing) and when I have to change from one area to another these plans help to stop me from using up plants I need for a certain area somewhere else. Do you see what I mean? This is hard to explain!

Whatever the size of your garden, it is worth jotting notes when you ponder future developments - it will help to save you money at the garden centre for one thing...

Pelargonium 'Duke of Edinburgh' and Lobelia 'Riviera Sky Blue' already
working hard while other plants find their feet.
Picture taken immediately after planting.
Watch this space
Yesterday I planted the two big Italianate pots by our famous flowerpot arch. They look pretty messy and a bit flat at the moment but I am hoping that some of the annuals included in this combination will grow to more impressive proportions - gambling on good weather again.

The variegated ivy-leafed Pelargonium  'Duke of Edinburgh' which is already looking quite handsome is, like its namesake, vigorous and assertive, but hopefully doesn't make so many offensive jokes. Like many of my favourite plants the original specimen of this was given to me by another gardener. I think this is going to be an interesting planting to watch develop.

Ornithogalum ponticum 'Sochi'
Bulb sale deliberations
Behind the scenes Jane and I have been making the first draft of our bulb order for the Spring Bulb Sale in September. I have noted which bulbs did particularly well and we will drop a few others in favour of exciting new ones. Our bulb guru, Rene is visiting us from The Netherlands later this week and we will have animated discussions with him no doubt! He will be in time to see the very new Ornithogalum ponticum 'Sochi' which he gave me last year flowering in a Long Tom in the garden.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A soggy gardener's thoughts on plant choice and combinations

Hardy perennials in the pots and flowerbeds are very happy as miserable May gives way to flaming June but this gardener isn't feeling quite so hardy.

A riot of paeonies, alliums, roses, geraniums and sage in Whichford Pottery's courtyard garden
It was hard to start planting the summer displays last week because of the continuing cool and drying wind. This developed into a cold, blustery wind. I carried on planting, but some of the tender plants were damaged and battered by the wind and had trouble establishing while their tender new leaves lost too much water. This week it was cold, blustery and wet but I couldn't postpone the planting any longer, so the gardener began to look just as bedraggled as the petunias.
So nice to have a glamorous job.
Salvia semi-atrata
The weather has now started tentatively to improve, so it's full steam ahead. I'm hoping the petunias, salvias, Nemesia 'St George', Heliotropium 'Marine', Fuchsia boliviana 'Alba' and Ipomoea 'Grandpa Ott' (purple morning glory) huddled in the picture above will soon start to romp away. I'm not worried about the black Aeonium 'Zwartkop' because that is usually unperturbed by wind and rain: it only fears frost.
The aeoniums are an obvious choice in a display that includes some of our black pots but I also think that the intense purply blues of petunias and Salvia semi-atrata are rather wonderful against the black.

Small moments of satisfaction
The details of some pots will give me ideas for their contents. I was rather pleased with the way these marigolds (from a batch of Tagetes 'Disco Mix') echoed the shape of the palm tree on the Tresco pot.
Tagetes 'Disco Mix' in a Tresco pot
Where do I start?
People often feel stumped when they are starting their summer planting - there is just too much choice of  material. My advice is just to latch on to one or two details of shape or colour, or start from one particularly gorgeous plant and the rest will follow.

 I wanted a large pot for the two Solanum crispum 'Glasnevin' which I had kept from one of our Hilllier deliveries so I chose the largest Wisley Gardener's pot and placed it by a sunny wall. The pots that we make with grey decoration look good with grey-leafed plants but also suit blues and purples really well.

I was delighted to find that a new Nemesia which I had grown from seed had flowers which picked up the purple and yellow of the Solanum. My pleasure increased when I just happened to find a purple double petunia and a few yellow marigolds to complete the combination. This is a set of colours I like so much I can taste it! Er... I'm not alone in enjoying colour so much am I?
Nemesia 'Masquerade', Tagetes 'Disco Mix' and a double petunia in a Wisley Gardener's Pot

I really hope that Nemesia 'Masquerade' is a generous flowerer - because the first few blooms are very promising and make me smile every time I see them. I have decided that this little corner is a tribute to my maternal grandmother - my horticultural genes are from her - because she loved purple and yellow flowers together.

Nemesia 'Masquerade' - what an entertaining flower!

No need for alarm
The pots in the courtyard garden this year will favour hot colours, so I have been busy gathering up red salvias, dahlias and pelargoniums in the last couple of days. Red is a colour many people are scared of using but it can really lift your spirits, especially if the summer is very grey and British. Sometimes I pile all the reds together and hang the consequences - in theory they should clash but if you use clashing colours with conviction it can be surprisingly effective. Never clash half-heartedly, you really have to go for it. This summer I am using lots of different reds in the garden but am confining each group of pots to one particular group of reds - I think of these as orange reds, pillar-box reds, pink reds and cherry reds.

Voodoo child
Shiny black and warm red blend into the garden,
picked up by valerian (Centranthus ruber)
 in the foreground
In the group of Eclipse pots I have used Pelargonium 'Voodoo', which I consider a pink red (albeit a nice dark one). This has dark markings on the petals which cry out for the company of Aeonium 'Zwartkop'. Both of these plants tend to grow into interesting sinuous shapes and so are well suited to an asymmetric planting in the contemporary lines of Eclipse pots. I know you can't see the pot in these pictures but I wanted you to see how the little glimmers of warm red shine in the context of the garden.
Pelargonium 'Voodoo' and Aeonium 'Zwartkop'
Begonia 'Non-stop White' and Hordeum jubatum
The warm Voodoo red and glossy reddish black of Zwartkop then lead to the choice of other plants: Dark leafed Begonia 'Non-stop White' will have white flowers of course but the leaves tone with the Aeonium and have a reddish back to them.
Eucomis montana
Detailed analysis
Then I just had to add Eucomis montana to the planting purely because its emerging leaves have a flush of warm red at the base. Am I becoming a teeny bit obsessive? Few people will notice this detail, I'm sure, but it will give me pleasure and the cumulative effect of all these details is to tie the planting together. For the same reason I added a scented-leaf pelargonium (don't ask me its name) whose small, white flowers have reddish pedicels. Lastly some Hordeum jubatum, a grass which may look like a weed at the moment but in late summer will have reddish barley-like flowers which ripple in the wind and look wonderful back-lit by evening or morning sunshine.

Gardening is supposed to be a source of pleasure, so please don't get stressed about getting colour combinations "right": if little colour details float your boat you should indulge yourself. If you like big, bold contrasts go right ahead. If you are like me you will enjoy it all, depending on your mood. If something doesn't work, guess what - you can change it!

Calm down, dear...
Humulus lupulus 'Aureus'
on an obelisk made from willow trimmings
Complex mixed plantings are all very well but you do need a foil for all the busy-ness. I always make sure there are some plain plantings. Hostas are very useful for this, I also have two pots with home made willow obelisks which are beginning to be colonised by the golden hop (Humulus lupulus 'Aureus') which is only accompanied by Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea' in the same colour. A block of fresh limey green goes a long way towards calming everything down.
And finally here's a picture of the first flower produced by Lathyrus sativus 'Tutankhamun', beginning to perk up now, along with Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens'. Like me, they have just about survived the "early summer" weather and are looking forward to temperatures above 15C...

Lathyrus sativus 'Tutankhamun' with Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens in the background