Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Last call for plants wishing to take shelter

I am forcing myself to sit down and write even though it is pretty certain that tonight will be frosty and I should be scampering about rescuing all the tender plants in my own garden. One of my favourites is still out at home and at Whichford because it is looking so delicately appealing:
Lotus jacobaeus
 What goes around comes around
The original plant of Lotus jacobaeus was given to me by a head gardener of whom I am in awe. She and her partner have been very generous to me with advice and plants. It is a tricky plant to propagate because as soon as it is growing fast enough to take cuttings it is also producing flowers on every shoot, but I love it enough to persevere. A couple of springs later it turned out that the giver's crop of cuttings had failed so I had the enormous satisfaction of being able to repay her a little with a couple of my scrawny plants. It just goes to show that generosity with plants insures against future loss as well as sealing a friendship.

Brugmansia sanguinea - lots of flowers, but too late?
I realised in the middle of last night that I probably don't have cuttings of the Brugmansia sanguinea which is struggling manfully to flower before the frost. I really hope that the first frost will only knock it back rather than killing it so that I can rescue the mature plants and take cuttings in spring.

Fully insured?
While it was still unseasonably warm and the plants still growing at the end of last week I spent most of a day taking insurance cuttings, so I hope that even if a sharp early frost kills many of my mature plants I will have enough small plants to build up my stocks again.

I know that there are bound to be a few varieties which somehow get lost and to quell the rising sense of panic this brings I have to tell myself that a lost plant is an opportunity to try something new. And very few are irreplaceable anyway. I realised some years ago that worrying about killing plants was cramping my style, so now I repress that fear and feel freer to experiment.

Manic propagation does make me sleep better at night, however.
Insurance cuttings inside the Heath-Robinson propagator
Succulent sardines
I have been carting all my precious succulents back to the greenhouse where they will sit cheek by jowl for the winter. I can't just bring them in, I have to strip off dead leaves, eject stowaway earwigs and snails and inspect for signs of vine-weevil infestation (chewed leaves, loose roots). Infested compost is chucked out for the birds to pick through, infested stems are cut off and used as cuttings.

Not many people see them once they are in the greenhouse, but I think they look lovely banked together.
Succulents crammed in on the greenhouse bench
More propagation potential
As I heave the pots about leaves and stems get snapped off the plants. These are not disasters but cuttings. I dump them on the bench until I have time to deal with them. The resulting pile does look like a small compost heap, but most succulents will start to produce roots from stems or leaf bases like this and will establish more happily once planted than if they had been inserted in compost before the cut ends had had time to dry and form a callus.
Sloppy gardening or propagation opportunities?
Violas and pansies waiting to be planted
The violas and pansies which arrived as tiny plug plants a few weeks ago are now beginning to fill their 9cm pots and are hardening off sheltered in the gap between the greenhouse and the polytunnel.

I wheel pots into the polytunnel with the 'sack-truck', here they can be sheltered from the first frosts until we have time to dismantle them and take individual plants into the greenhouse.

As the polytunnel is not heated I keep the not-quite-hardies in there - Agapanthus, Cordyline, Melianthus major etc. I also experiment with spares of plants of uncertain (to me) hardiness in here. I have brought in a couple of plants of Solanum laciniatum which are far too big to go in the greenhouse because I would like to see if their seed-pods will ripen in there. The plants may even survive the winter if temperatures stay above about -5C. I think I may try taking cuttings too, it looks like it would root pretty easily.
Plants coming and going in the polytunnel

Anagallis monelli 'Skylover'
I can leave annuals such as the Anagallis monelli 'Skylover' which the customers have asked about so much to be hit by the frost because best results are achieved by getting fresh seed or plug-plants in the spring.
Last embers of summer 
There is still plenty of colour for the customers to look at. I have left Begonia 'Glowing Embers' outside too, because last year it survived having its topgrowth killed by frost.

Next week the chucking out accelerates and so do the winter plantings.

Now I'm off to rescue my own plants!

Begonia 'Glowing Embers' still warming in
Whichford basket pots


  1. Great post, Harriet! Oh my, do I covet that greenhouse!-- Joe

  2. Hello Joe, yes it's a great place for me to hide too! It's a bit dilapidated but it kept my plant babies frost free in -18C last winter.

  3. Lovely post, Harriet. All those succulents look delicious!
    Jane Powers

  4. I'm taking lots of insurance cuttings too - think I am obsessed with propagating at the moment - great post

  5. Thank you for the kind comments - it is so nice to know that people are enjoying my ramblings!