Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Flourishing, declining and falling gracefully

Salvias, dahlias and fuchsias are flourishing still, despite cold nights. I often chunter on about fuchsias as part of my campaign against plant-related snobbery. For too long now, fuchsias have not only been mis-spelled but have also been dismissed as "suburban" or "blowsy", the implication being that no-one should therefore countenance them. Unless they are species rather than cultivars, in which case they are just about acceptable as long as their flowers are small and preferably whiteish.

Fuchsia tense
Now, let me get a little rant off my chest: there is nothing wrong with big flowers, blowsy flowers, blobby flowers, double flowers, stripy flowers, bright flowers, cheap flowers or common flowers. They are JUST FLOWERS! If you like them, have them. There are ways of using them which suit different tastes and different situations but THERE IS NOTHING INHERENTLY WRONG WITH ANY FLOWERS.

Except for dried flowers and dyed flowers.

What's not to like? Fuchsia 'Lady Boothby'
Fuchsia 'Lady Boothby' still going strong despite
being associated with frightfully common petunias
A promising fuchsia
I like to use fuchsias in mixed plantings, this probably horrifies fuchsia purists but I say in my defence that I don't need them to be big, beefy specimens, I need them to be threading their dangly earrings through other plants to provide reliable late summer colour whether in sun or shade. This they do admirably.

F. 'Lady Boothby' has won the battle with Ipomoea 'Grandpa Ott' (see 6 July). Her Ladyship is still going strong (these pictures were taken this week) but Grandpa couldn't take the chilly nights and has gone to seed.

Fuchsia 'Thamar'

Investing for the fuchsia
Last year we had a fuchsia event, which I christened, inevitably, "Back to the Fuchsia". CS Lockyer brought a large selection of their vast collection of fuchsia varieties for sale and of course I had to have some. 'Thamar' in the picture on the left is one of my favourites. The colours are sugary but the outward-facing flowers with their sprays of stamens bristle cheekily. It is a plant which makes me smile whenever I see it.

Fuchsia 'Bornemann's Beste' in my garden

Another favourite is 'Borneman's Beste', this is a colour which I can taste (sherbet lemon, since you ask, don't ask me why). I know this one is tender but I have great difficulty remembering which ones are supposedly hardy, so I try to keep at least one plant of each in the greenhouse over winter. This way I can get them growing nice and early and take softwood cuttings from the new growth so that I have plenty of small plants for inserting in the summer plantings.

Pink pendants of Fuchsia 'Shrimp Cocktail' blending
 with Hordeum jubatum and minty pelargonium

Potted shrimps
A little bit of F.'Shrimp Cocktail' peeps out of one of the Swag and Acanthus pots by the path in the picture to the left - this is a small plant rather swamped in an overcrowded planting but as it was from a batch of spring cuttings and cost me virtually nothing I don't mind it being part of the chorus instead of playing a starring role.

Some of the annuals are beginning to lose the will to live, we have had quite a few cold nights now and the petunias and didiscus are really slowing down. Over the last week Kochia trichophylla has done its autumn colour change trick and will soon be dead.
Kochia trichophylla in July

Kochia trichophylla blushing this week

Ping Pong surprisingly strong
One of the new annuals I tried this year was Scabiosa stellata 'Ping Pong'. Apart from the fact that I thought it was going to be shorter so planted it in rather small pots, it has been really interesting. The young leaves were glaucous and pretty but the flowering heads shot up to two feet and promptly fell over. I left most of them as they were because the flowers were delicately pretty:
Scabiosa stellata 'Ping Pong'

In the last couple of weeks, however, it has become apparent that the seedheads are even better:
Seedhead of Scabiosa stellata 'Ping Pong'

I can see that my flower-arranging friends are going to love this. I know what I said about dried flowers - this is a seedhead, so I am allowed to like it.

Just look where you're going...
Talking of falling over  - I arrived at work on Monday, picked up a small glazed pot of coleus, carried it out of the greenhouse and tripped over. I went down like I had been felled by a tiny lumberjack and lay on the path wondering if I had broken any bones. I hadn't even broken the pot and apart from a few bruises and dented dignity I was fine. John helped me gather my spilt plants and my wits and sensibly made me sit down for a bit in case I decided to do an action replay. How kind, I thought.
It didn't last, he was soon calling "Again, again!" like the Teletubbies, followed by various other little witticisms. And this Picasso-style scene of crime appeared while I was re-stocking my compost bucket:
An uncanny likeness
Any minute now (as long as I can manage to stay upright) I will start planting the spring bulbs. I have already potted up some Crocus speciosus (autumn crocus) and a Hippeastrum 'Red Lion', but they don't really count.

Spring bulb FAQ
One of the most frequently asked frequently asked questions at the bulb sale was Do I plant them now?
My answer is almost always Yes. The longer you hang on to bulbs, the more likely they are to shrivel up or rot. For maximum viability plant as soon as possible. If you can't plant immediately keep those bulbs cool, dry, frost-free and mouse-free for as little time as possible. Don't keep them in plastic bags as they may get a bit sweaty.
I know all the books tell you to leave tulip planting until late autumn/early winter but I plant about 200-250 pots and can't wait until then. I plant the tulips 6-8 inches deep and (touch wood) have had no problems with blight, I find the bulbs are much more likely to be affected by mould if you try to store them for too long.
Early-flowering bulbs such as crocus, iris and early narcissi benefit from early planting so that they can get their roots established hopefully before really hard frosts arrive.
Fritillary bulbs don't have a papery covering so are very prone to mould - get them in as quickly possible!

Jim Keeling with one of his Japanese-inspired vases (left)
and a vase from Bizen (right)
Turning Japanese
And finally, we have had the most extraordinary range of Japanese ceramics arrive for the new selling exhibition at the Octagon.

Here's Jim lurking in the garden with one of his own Japanese-style creations in one hand and a vase from the famous Bizen potteries in the other. An exhibition like this is a rare event - so if you like ceramics I advise you to visit soon.


  1. Hi Harriet! I just received my copy of The English Garden here yesterday and was thrilled to see the great piece on you and Whichford! Congratulations! --Joe

  2. Thanks Joe, it's lovely for us to be featured in such a nice magazine - and the publicity hopefully helps to keep us all in work!

  3. Enjoyed this post, curious what you do with the pots once planted with the Tulips? Do you leave them outdoors all winter?

  4. Thanks Paula. Oh yes, definitely! Everything I plant now is hardy. No need to protect the pots from frost as they are frost-proof. We had temps around -18C last winter.

  5. If only we could get some of your pots here in the US!

  6. I think there may be a few people who sell them there - we don't export much to US as exchange rate has been against us and import/export regs for US are tricky! Where are you?