Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Pinging, bonging, planting, ripping, tearing, jabbing and chopping

I have finished planting the display I started last week - here's the finished article just after watering in, not very exciting compared to the blowsiness of the summer plantings but it will start to look interesting after it has settled in.
One display group down, ten more to go

In a few weeks time we will be grateful for the little highlights of red provided by the Cornus stems and the Leucothoe leaves.

To deepest Oxfordshire
The glorious warm sun this week has made it quite difficult to think about autumn plantings but on Monday I went (slightly reluctantly) to give a talk/demonstration to Hanney Garden Club in Oxfordshire on 'Planting Pots for Winter Interest and Spring Joy'. This was a friendly and well-organised club, however, and I began to regain my enthusiasm as I talked. They listened carefully and asked sensible questions but I am always left with the same feeling after a talk as after an exam, along the lines of "Oh I should have said this, and I forgot to say that, and I can't believe I said the other".

Tulips finding their way through perennials,
shrubs, bedding and other bulbs.
Early April this year
Bulb FAQ
I was asked a question which had also come up at the bulb sale. Because I usually recommend planting other plants above bulbs I was asked if there are any plants I would not use above bulbs. The answer is not simple because it depends on the depth the bulbs need planting at, their eventual flowering height and the eventual height of the plant you are using. But for now let's just consider the larger tulips, which need planting about 6-8" deep: a wide range of bedding, perennials and shrubs are fine for planting over tulips as there is plenty of room for a one or two-litre rootball above them. Tulips will find their way through or around most plants but I would avoid putting them directly below really dense rootballs such as those of ferns, phormiums or pot-bound shrubs - you can put them really close to them, however.

That'll teach you to jab me in the eye
Favouite Sneerboer tool
The weathered pot I wanted to use for the talk had  a rather overgrown Leymus arenarius filling it so I spent a while levering it out. Luckily the larger sizes of our pots have drainage holes big enough to push your hand through when evicting plants, even so I managed to get a painful poke in the eye while wrestling with it. I got my revenge by chopping this vigorous blue grass into pieces with my favourite Sneerboer tool, so that it can be recycled into various winter plantings. We sell Sneeboer tools at the Pottery; this little spade (I think they call it a Perennial Spade) is intended for splitting plants and does the job magnificently because it has a very sharp, straight blade. It also has a short handle so is perfect for using in pots.

Cutting it fine
The greenhouse and polytunnel are filling up rapidly even though Babs and I have not dismantled many of the summer plantings yet. The weather has just been too good.

Brace yourself.
Miss Babs harvests walnuts
At the end of last week I heard strange rustling, dinging and clattering noises coming from the field where the seconds are kept. I grabbed my camera thinking we were being raided by giant musical squirrels - but no, it was just Miss Babs harvesting walnuts.

Walnuts keep falling on my head
As she shook the branches the walnuts pinged and clanged merrily off the pots. I have often thought to myself that we should get the cast of 'Stomp' here to play the pots as they make such a wide range of bell-like noises when hit.

I once gave a talk to a roomful of 100 ladies who had just had a lovely lunch and would NOT stop talking so that their somewhat diffident organiser could introduce me. After a few minutes of her futile cries I grabbed a crock and banged it on the large, empty terracotta pot in front of me, BONG, BONG! You could have heard a pin drop.

Beautiful walnuts at Whichford Pottery
 Salvaging Salvias
We hardened our hearts this week and I asked Babs to dig out two of the big pots at the front of the stockyard even though the statuesque Salvia 'Indigo Spires' they contained were still looking spectacular. It seemed a shame to uproot them, cut all those intense blue flowers off, shove them in plastic and squeeze them into the greenhouse but I have to salvage as much as possible before the frosts come.

Salvia 'Indigo Spires' doing exactly what it says on the tin
Salvia leucantha 'Purple Velvet' on the left and Salvia leucantha on the right
The salvia behind them, Salvia leucantha, and its sister Salvia leucantha 'Purple Velvet' are looking so fantastic now I couldn't possibly dig them up. I have plenty of young plants of S. leucantha already under cover but when I took the cuttings in spring the plants weren't flowering (and I hadn't labelled them accurately of course) and I failed to take any 'Purple Velvet'. I will have to try taking some cuttings now even though it will be tricky as every shoot is flowering. but this plant is so massive I know I won't be able to overwinter it even if I dig it up in time.

Bodice ripper
My favourite salvia (at the moment) is Salvia confertiflora. I already have spares of this under cover too, so I can leave the large plants out until after the frosts if necessary. It glows so nicely in low sunshine and even in bud you can appreciate its rich purple and orange velvets. A sumptuous salvia for the Tudor court, this one. Oh dear, you can tell I've been reading historical novels recently.
Salvia confertiflora, beautiful in bud as well as in flower
Solanum quitoense brooks no opposition
Another plant Henry VIII might have identified with is Solanum quitoense. Its massive violet-veined green leaves backed with more purple velvet have a rigid, regal bearing and if you aren't careful will completely overshadow, if not crush, neighbouring plants. It is one of the most asked-about plants at the pottery. I am determined to succeed in overwintering it this year, having grown it from seed three years in a row only to lose it. This time I have only planted out three and kept about half a dozen in the greenhouse so that they do not have to be transplanted just before the temperature drops.

You are going to put them away again, aren't you!
The picture below is the rear view of the obstruction that greeted visitors to the pottery last Friday. Jim was creating another photoshoot (you can see his tripod just beyond the arch), this time for the winter mail order offer leaflet. The result is a really attractive picture, but you'll have to get yourself on to our mailing list to receive a copy!
Entrance path looking a picture at Whichford Pottery

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