Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Snow, Angels and Stocking Fillers

Vile sploshy sleety chilly weather.
I retreated to the pottery to take this photo of
the stock yard on Tuesday

I try to avoid getting soaked in the morning so that I don't have to be chilled all day, so before break I lurk in the greenhouse checking on my cuttings, picking over the bigger plants and watering sparingly.

The entrance arch at the Pottery this week

Potting on and on and on...
Like the little lady on my Austrian weather house I pop out when the showers ease up and grab a few small pots to plant in the relative warmth of the greenhouse. Yes I am still planting.

This winter's planting in the Great Warwick Pot
Tulip 'Princesse Charmante'  lurks beneath.
Almost all of the bulbs have found homes now. All the big plantings have been finished and are out there fending for themselves.

Nevertheless on rainy days I have been adding small potfuls to the collection. Not all of my plantings are crammed with bedding and perennials. I like to do a few simple things too. Pots are great for focusing on small, unusual plants - those plants are also less likely to get lost in a busy garden.

True grit
For example the little rose bowl in the picture below just has Muscari 'Pink Surprise' (a present from RenĂ©) in it; the grit dressing keeps it looking neat, stops the compost from getting compacted by the rain, keeps the drainage sharp around the emerging shoots, wards off slugs, mice and squirrels, and generally fosters a sense of satisfaction in the gardener. I never seem to have enough grit and gravel. I hope Father Christmas isn't listening - I draw the line at getting grit in my Christmas stocking.

Small Rose Bowl simply planted with Muscari 'Pink Surprise'

Small Ali Baba jar planted with Allium karataviense 'Ivory Queen'
Fat and full
When I picked up this dear little fat ali baba jar I really wanted to do something clean and simple in it. The layer of pebbles looks nice enough by itself for the moment.  Next spring should see the emergence of Allium karataviense  'Ivory Queen', with smooth, sculptural leaves and buds, followed by white tennis-ball flowers. I am hoping that their clean lines will complement the jar.
Allium karataviense in bud
last spring
Pots in pots
Ali-baba jars are tricky to plant - you have to avoid planting these with vigorous-rooted plants or plants which hate root disturbance because it will be difficult/impossible to extract them when they need moving on. You either need to half-fill the jar with polystyrene and then plant something which can be taken out easily (disposable bedding or dormant bulbs) OR you can place another pot in the top of the jar and plant that. This insert method works very well in the large jars because they have plenty of room for a decent-sized pot.

The picture below shows part of this winter's courtyard display - the Giant Jar has another pot in the top, so that it can be planted, but it would look just as good empty or with some spectacular branches or seedheads arranged in the top.
The pot in the top of the Giant Jar contains Calamagrostis 'Overdam', a Euphorbia seedling and
 2 x Vinca minor 'Argenteovariegata', plus Tulipa 'Picture', Narcissus 'Rip van Winkle',
Crocus tommasinianus 'Roseus' and Pansy 'Can-Can'
I really shouldn't say this but at this time of year I think the pots look just as good empty - the low sunshine (when we get it) shows off the details beautifully and makes the terracotta glow.

Shallow basket pots in the stockyard at Whichford Pottery
The Birds
On Thursday the weather had calmed and as a result there were birds everywhere, stuffing their faces as fast as they could before the next bout of sleet. I wandered about with my camera for twenty minutes and in that time I saw redwings, fieldfares, bluetits, great tits, robins, coal tits, long-tailed tits, a green woodpecker, pigeons, rooks, a buzzard, blackbirds, a bullfinch, a linnet and I could hear pheasants and a mistle thrush. Not bad.

We have a little patch of mixed woodland planted about 15 years ago behind the pottery, it has been left fairly dense, with some paths cut through it and is a great place to go for a moment of peace and quiet. This is where I saw most of the smaller birds, including my very first linnet, looking exotic with his pretty pink chest.
My first linnet
Noisy boys
I am rather fond of the fieldfares, with their smart plumage, noisy chatter and boisterous behaviour. They are the naughty but charming boys at the back of the class. I saw this fieldfare and his mates from the top of the steps above the clay pile.
Fieldfare perch

My perch

I was lucky to catch this picture as it jumped to reach some berries - looking positively angelic:
Fieldfare angel
 Vintage ladybirds
And finally: John (our driver/packing expert) after much hinting and smirking (very worrying considering his usual sense of humour) produced this little heap of delights:
Santa/John brought vintage Ladybird Books
People my age will have fond memories of Ladybird Books. I think this is mainly for the vivid illustrations; my husband and I both remember 'Garden Birds' but 'Trees' and 'Garden Flowers' are both new to me. I like the pleasant clarity of the pictures and the brief, unpatronising text where no effort is made to make the facts either cool or amusing. I shall be studying them more closely but have already learned that the Horse Chestnut gets its name from the fact that it is a 'coarse' or 'inferior' type of chestnut and that pelargoniums "can only be grown in pots". Well, there you have it.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Signs of spring, fruits of autumn, chills of winter

Here come the crocus shoots!

Crocus shoots are up already

Solanum not yum
I have carried on stuffing the greenhouse and polytunnel with tender and tenderish plants, the mild weather has allowed us to save even more plants than usual, touch wood. Solanum laciniatum has managed to ripen a few fruits (see my post of 12 Sept) which turn out to be orange. I'm pretty sure they are poisonous, so I won't be reporting on their taste.
The fruit of Solanum laciniatum - not for human consumption

The polytunnel is fairly full now, but I'm trying not to overcrowd it so that air can circulate, I have cut most foliage back by at least half for the same reason. Last year I didn't get the chance before the Big Freeze and we had galloping grey mould as a result.
Still room to circulate in the polytunnel

Clustering bugs
Plants aren't the only things to take refuge in here:
Ladybirds on Solanum quitoense inside the polytunnel

I hope our 'traditional' ladybirds are going to overwinter successfully - they may have tricky times ahead because Harmonia axyridis or the Harlequin ladybird is definitely here and it remains to be seen whether the invader will, as is rumoured, outcompete our native ladybirds.
One of the Harlequin ladybirds I found this summer

Lily potting
On Monday I thought I'd give Donna a break from digging up dahlias and got her to pot up some lilies. We have a wide range of lily pots and at the moment we have a special mail-order offer featuring Lilium 'El Grado' and Lilium 'Mona Lisa', so we have a plentiful supply of nice fat bulbs.

Nice fat lily bulb
Pots of lilies are really useful for providing splashes of colour just before the tender bedding and perennials go completely berserk. 'El Grado' (see post of 23 July) is a deep, rich reddish pink, whereas 'Mona Lisa' (see post of 8 August) is white, blushing to pink, with a deep pink stripe in the centre of each petal and attractive pink freckles and exuding a fabulous fragrance.
A lily pot and lily bulbs makes a great Christmas present, by the way!

Five bulbs fit neatly in a lily pot
I plant lilies a good five or six inches deep, using the same multipurpose peat/loam/grit mix I use for everything, with an extra sprinkle of slow-release fertiliser. The tall, narrow pots give excellent drainage, but you must be careful not to put the pot somewhere where drips from a tree or a roof will keep it constantly wet. They can stay outside all winter (even last winter), they just don't want to be soggy.

Donna shakes the compost down
We then top up the compost to about an inch below the rim of the pot, give it several good hard taps on the ground (don't put your hands in and squash the compost down, you'll ruin its structure and impede drainage and aeration), and water in. An inch of grit as a mulch will help to stop the surface of the compost from forming a water-resistant cap and will make the pot look neat.

You can plant lilies under other plants but I usually keep mine separate just because it is easier to remember where they are. It is also an idea to repot them every winter in order to keep the number of overwintering lily beetles down. See my post of 21 April for pictures of those pesky red critters.

Dried fish with your coffee?
In other news, Jim is back from a visit to Japan. He traditionally brings back a selection of Japanese snacks, some of which are more popular than others. The wasabi-flavoured KitKat definitely went down better than the dried fish this time. It might help if any of us could read Japanese.

Japanese snacks at staff tea-break. The fish was fragrant...

Midwinter blog dog
The weather has at last started to feel wintry. This makes me and Hooley miserable. Hooley is Joe's dog, a labrador/staffy cross, she has a melancholic disposition and she feels the cold. Luckily Joe has an assortment of small children as well as a dog, so this week Hooley arrived looking much happier in a shirt and jumper. She didn't mind us laughing at her.

Hooley looking almost cheerful now she is appropriately dressed