Friday, 4 November 2011

Pumpkins, plump plants, pubescence and passive pests

Hallowe'en pumpkin
This week started with Hallowe'en, of course. Let's hope Jim and Dominique's carved pumpkin (grown on our compost heap) has kept evil spirits away from the pottery. I feel a bit sorry for the terracotta version underneath it.

Popular plants
The prize for most asked-about plant this week goes to Ornithogalum saundersii.
Ornithogalum saundersii

It is a bulb I have grown before and lost, so I was delighted when Rene sent us these bulbs along with our dahlia order last spring. They started flowering at the very end of the summer and remind me of the studs on my son's dress shirt. I'm not sure whether the bulbs would survive the winter in the polytunnel so I shall take the whole pot into the greenhouse and keep it dry under the bench when sharp frosts finally arrive.

I have to slip in another picture of Salvia leucantha 'Purple Velvet' too, because it has been wowing our visitors - most of whom think it is a buddleia. I can relax a little now as the small plants in the greenhouse are flowering and I can be sure that I have spares of both this one and its white-flowered sister so I can leave this right up until the frosts arrive.

Mild autumn, plump plants
I have been planting like mad and the mild weather has allowed plantings done in the last two or three weeks to knit together more quickly than usual. I cram a lot of plants into winter plantings but it is necessary to leave some space for plants to develop and bulbs to flower, so in a cold autumn/winter the pots can look a bit sparse until early spring.

The pot pictured below is a Pastry Pot I planted at Hanney Garden Club a month ago. Tulips 'Queen of Night' and 'Backpacker', Narcissus 'Jenny' and Iris 'JS Dijt' lurk beneath Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star', Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve', a cabbage, a purple Heuchera and a few Pansy 'Can-Can'.
Juniperus squamata and Erysimum 'Bowles's mauve' form the
backbone of this planting
It is coming along nicely and the pebbles I used to dress the space between the plants are hardly necessary any more.

Pansy prejudice
The large Italianate pots by the entrance arch, which I replanted a couple of weeks ago are also looking happy. I am quite pleased with the tinge of warmth in Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow' and Tellima grandiflora Rubra Group against the acidic Pansy 'Frizzle Sizzle Twizzle'. I nearly didn't buy this pansy because of the silly name but I'm glad I overcame my prejudice.

It remains to be seen whether the Tulip 'Avignon' and Narcissus 'Little Witch' will complement these colours when they emerge. I am hoping it will be a fruit bonbon kind of combination - there I go tasting colours again, I hope you know what I mean.

Tellima grandiflora, Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow' and Pansy 'Frizzle Sizzle Twizzle' looking tasty

Here's another Bulb FAQ : Should I use bulb fibre in my winter/spring plantings?

Bulb fibre contains charcoal and sometimes oyster shell to help keep it sweet - and this may be useful in an indoor container with no drainage holes. To be frank, I never bother with it: I always use pots with drainage holes (placed on saucers) for indoor bulbs and use the same multi-purpose compost I use for everything.
Bulb fibre is more expensive than ordinary compost and I don't think it has as many nutrients as multi-purpose because it is intended for bulbs alone rather than mixed plantings. It is therefore completely unnecessary, expensive and possibly harmful to a mixed planting of hardy bulbs and plants for outdoors. Just use a good-quality, well-drained multi-purpose compost. I usually mix in a sprinkle of slow-release fertiliser so that the plants can keep going well through the spring.

Fresh talent
This week I planted up some of the pots featured in our current mail order offer.

Some of the new pots included in this year's mail order offer

The pot in the foreground was designed by Andy, who has been at the pottery from the very beginning, I think this is likely to become one of my favourites to plant as it has a large surface area, an elegant flaring shape and is not too heavy to lift easily.

Adam Keeling at work on one of his 'one-off' pieces.
The pots with contrasting decoration are a new range designed by Jim's eldest son Adam, a pale slip is applied freehand before firing. This technique is a good way to tone down the orangeness (not always popular) of the new terracotta without having to wait for weathering to occur. I like the contemporary look of these; I think they will probably invite more simple plantings than my usual overflowing style.

I can not emphasise enough how much talent there is here at Whichford - I think the Pottery is unique in this country as an employer of talented makers and in making everything by hand. The pots have life, personality even, and work not just as containers but as garden sculpture. I really do recommend a visit so that you can see the making and the enormous amount of skill and experience which goes into each pot. And I am not just saying that because I work here!

What was I doing?
Anyway, back to horticulture: here is the display at the plant-positioning stage:

Some of the mail-order range being planted up. The colours will be based around  Pansy 'Aquarelle'

I'll put up some pictures of the finished article soon, when I have planted the whole range. I will soon have lily bulbs from Rene and bare-root hostas from multi-Chelsea-Gold-winner Bowden's (all featured in the mail order offer) to play with as well. More details on the plants next week.

One little diversion on Tuesday November 1st was the planting of this pot face. You may not be able to see it but he has the beginnings of a moustache made of Leptinella squalida 'Platt's Black'. This bit of silliness is in support of the team of horticultural chaps (and some inventive ladies), or MoBros, at Bristling Garden. They are growing moustaches this month (Movember)in aid of Prostate Cancer Research. The results are already hilarious. Please support them if you can and  drive them to further facial feats. If you are a tweep you can also find them, and indeed me, on Twitter. Simon (one of our throwers) grew a fine moustache for the same cause last year, so we are familiar with Movember and it has our full support.

A PoMoBro for Movember
I hope the moustache develops well; if the weather turns cold I may have to cheat and bring him into the polytunnel. Any suggestions for a name??

Feeling waspish
Sleepy wasp emerges from my sleeve
When it started to rain yesterday I grabbed my coat from the greenhouse and was about to put it on when a wasp fell out. Then another. I had to eject seven more before I could put my coat on. I instinctively recoil from wasps so I have to remind myself that they are an important part of the ecosystem and prey on other annoying insects.
Wasp roulette

But I would prefer them to stay out of my toast and marmalade and out of my clothing. I shall be a bit nervous of sleeves for a while.

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