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

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