Sunday 29 May 2016

My favourite nectarine is a primula

'Nectarine' a double flowered primrose
Although I grow some primulas successfully they have not naturalised in my garden by self seeding as much as I had expected. The lower part of my garden is quite wet for long periods and most primulas like copious moisture. Unfortunately some species just don't seem to like my fine sandy soil.

I do manage to naturalise a few primulas
My lack of success certainly seems to apply to primrose and polyanthus. They survive a year or two when I plant them but then they just fade away. It would seem that much of the gardening world has similar experience as all year round primroses 'walk' in vast quantity off garden centre shelves. Many gardeners in actual practice grow them as annuals or perennials. An ideal nurserymans's plant!

Primroses and especially polyanthus are often rejuvenated by division, I was delighted yesterday to see that a villager had planted some spare polyanthus divisions on the village plot where last Winter’s flooding had killed out some plants

My failures do not apply to double primrose, Primula vulgaris 'Nectarine'. This has survived in my garden six years now. Perhaps significantly it grows in a tub where it is not forgotten, never dries out or gets smothered in the open ground by aggressive neighbours. It is never dehydrated by hedge roots or trees and in full Summer can be placed in light shade.

Now in June it needs to be hidden away in the nursery. It would be a good time to divide it

It flowers twice a year for me. Typically it comes into flower sometime in February although this does depend on the kind of Winter. It gives me ten weeks of colour before I tidy my tub away to my little nursery where the plant goes semi dormant. Come late August it bursts into life to gives me another three months before more severe Winter weather brings an end to its season. Perhaps it is able to flower so long because as a double flower it does not set seed.

Regular readers will know that all my tub plants are grown in my own sandy soil and they are fed by YaraMila fertiliser applied as a very light top dressing two or three times a year. (In truth when I remember or should I judge that my plant needs further nutrition).

Although I do not remember ever dividing my 'Nectarine' I do know that normal primrose and polyanthus benefit from division every few years when old plants can be rejuvenated.

These primroses have survived on a grave in Worsbrough cemetery for twenty years now. They are never divided but rejuvenate themselves by self seeding
I have transplanted a few primroses to a wilder part of the cemetery and they have rewarded me by self seeding around
Garden primroses have been extensively hybridized for many years. New varieties come… and go. The genetic variation in breeding has come from Primula vulgaris, Primula vulgaris sibthorpii and Primula vulgaris balearica. Regular readers will know that hybridization fascinates me and I wondered if Nectarine’s good constitution was the result of any novel genes from a different primula species. No luck when I searched on the net but I did find that 'Nectarine' was bred by primula enthusiasts breeders David and Priscilla Kersley. It is one of a series of double primulas marketed as the Belarina series. Apparently the petals are edible and can be used for cake decoration.
I don’t suppose they taste as good as a nectarine.

Whoops I have noticed from my pictures that the plant is spotted with leaf hopper damage. It is of very little consequence

Moving pots around
An advantage of containers is that your plants can be shifted to compose attractive groupings. I am not sure if I have quite succeeded?

Nectarine and pittosporum

My hyacinths have ‘gone over’ but a backcloth of Corydalis flexuosa remains

Dicentra cucullaria does particularly well in tubs

A further note on leaf hoppers

More correctly called jassids you will get some curious pictures if you do a net search for images as more exotic species are used in fishing! It’s about the size of an aphid and you will have to be quick to find the culprit as it immediately hops away! My poor picture is of a static nymph stage in its life cycle.
Leaf hoppers are to be found on a wide range of plants but are usually of little concern
If you google ‘leaf hopper’ you will gets loads of pictures of froghoppers! That’s ‘cuckoo spit’ and quite different!

Mottling caused by jassid 'flies'(leaf hoppers)
The damage caused by leaf hoppers is a faint mottle on the leaf surface and is usually insignificant. If I had not been writing this post I would not know I had it!
If badly grown already stressed plants succumb to leaf hoppers it can be controlled by most general purpose aphid killers

I have previously posted about growing Dicentra cucullaria and Corydalis flexuosa
I have gone on about my Yaramila fertilizer several times.

Thursday 26 May 2016

A naturalised dicentra at Castle Howard

Dicentras in Ray Wood

Hi Roger,

Here are the two photos I took this morning.  They are not very good but you might be able to identify the species/variety.


Dear Pete,

Thanks for the pictures; what a huge clump, perhaps forty foot across!
As you know it would have been planted by famous Yorkshire plantsman Jim Russell at Castle Howard, perhaps fifty years ago. What great work he did in experimenting with the establishment of understory in woodland gardens and arboreta. And he used herbicides - a man close to my heart - but it was in the days before glyphosate! 
I wish I had met him, I know his time overlapped with my own  in York but in those days I was too shy to make myself known to such a great gardener.

I am intrigued that the clump has retained its colour integrity. Normally self seeding  of dicentra leads to an unholy mixture! Perhaps Jim had access to an American native woodland clone? It is of course Dicentra formosa, the fat flowers give that away! 

I think I should put in a promotion for Ray Wood on my blog! Readers should put it at the top of their list when they visit Castle Howard. (Don’t talk to me about the house, the home of Brideshead Revisited, give me the wood!) 
Perhaps I should mention the wonderful self financed Yorkshire Arboretum on the adjacent site. Brenda’s sister Angela walks her dog there! I am looking forward to next months lecture when the zany mycologist is going to walk us round examining the tree fungi. I am told he gets quite excited. Yorkshire readers should come to their monthly lectures - open to anyone for three quid. As the word gets round they are becoming very popular! Readers can get details on their website


I wonder if Castle Howard could spare a small piece of dicentra?

Friday 20 May 2016

Hard and Soft Growth

The soft new leaves are normally damaged by frost and dry wind
My post is a bit of a ramble today with few actual facts, some speculation and more questions than answers. I cannot actually tell you what hard growth really is in plant physiological terms but it seems to be a phenomenon that most gardeners recognise. I don’t know whether it is a bad thing or a good one!
I was first introduced to the concept by Alec Fox, my old garden foreman when I joined Hartlepool’s Brinkburn nursery to gain my precollege experience. He was an old fashioned son of the soil and from a long tradition of private service and gardening methods going back to Victorian times. I would like to add that the Victorians were better gardeners than we are although their techniques were geared to more primitive technologies and lack of modern materials.
The new fangled peat based composts had just appeared on the scene. In contrast to the established John Innes soil based composts which in those days a gardener would firmly tamp down (yuk) in a pot or a tray, peat composts were used at a ‘natural density’ where compost was allowed to settle with no more than a tap or a shake. The plants in the looser un-firmed peat compost grew more quickly and softer. No doubt nutrients were more readily absorbed and arguably the plants were more luxuriant and healthy.
According to Alec they were less sturdy and more prone to pest and disease.

I was tempted to buy two soft tunnel-grown aubretia on the market this Spring. It was immediately potted into a larger pot and given a week  in my unheated greenhouse - next to the open door

Now going over it has given us six week of colour outside our conservatory. Had I put the new soft plant outside immediately it would be dead!
Bedding plants
I think gardeners these days gardeners are familiar with soft growth when they buy their Summer bedding plants from a garden centre. The old fashioned concept of ‘hardening off’ seems to have been thrown out of the window! Plants propagated in warm humid tunnels don’t have the toughness to go straight out into the cold! Sudden low temperature and worse, in my opinion, cold drying wind severely check growth or even kill. 
A gardener’s solution to modern professional omission is to try and harden the tender plants themselves. Apart from not buying and planting too early there are several alternative actions a gardener can take.
  1. Retaining the plant in its container for several days and placing outside in a protected position perhaps by a warm wall. If wind or frost is forecast place the plants inside a garage or shed for the night.
  2. In complete contrast if there does happen to be a brief opportunity in a short mild spell get the plants straight into the ground. If your calculations go awry cover them with newspaper, plastic or fleece.
  3. If you have an unheated glasshouse or cold frame use it and its ventilators to gradually  acclimatise your new plants. Even so on a very cold night throw some cover over them!
  4. Be aware that slugs and snails love soft distressed plants.
  5. The amateur gardening press excessively simplifies and lumps together bedding plants  when it advises gardeners when to carry out their planting. Such as sweet peas and antirrhinums can safely be planted in the garden more than two months earlier than begonias. Provided they are well hardened.
Nursery practices
When I have young woody plants I have raised from seeds or cuttings they grow very slowly. It can take years to reach an acceptable size for planting. If my living depended on them I would starve. Growers have learned how to make their plants grow faster. Sometimes this is by highly skilled and subtle ways working with nature and learning an understanding of plant physiology.
More often they achieve quick results by providing protection from cold and wind, using artificial heat wisely and generous feeding. Plants will often respond hugely to extra nutrition providing it is very well timed. 
When I was a young teacher the research stations talked about achieving maximal optimum growth. No longer a fashionable term - it is too honest - it’s what good successful growers do. Their use of plastic tunnels has provided a revolution in production. Hardy plants are grown inside for all or most of the year. Plants will sometimes come out of a micro-propagation laboratory and be rapidly grown on.

By any definition these plants are soft! Indeed as a result of soft and forcing growing conditions where pest and disease thrive some growers use pesticides in a preventative way. I am grateful for this when these days I am less likely to be buying in whitefly and red spider mite. 
I am less impressed when the prophylactic systemic fungicide runs out and my newly purchased Dicentra ‘Luxuriant’ dies yet again! In contrast I am delighted when a returnee garden visitor who bought one of my own plants that I had more or less chucked into a pot reports that it is really thriving in her garden.

golden bleeding heart
Dicentra spectabilis new growth is very soft and is susceptible to dry wind and sharp frost.  

My coincidence I read today in ‘The Hardy Plant’  wonderful nurseryman Bob Brown advising his readers to buy Trachycarpus fortunei, the Chusan palm that had been grown ‘hard’ and was not displaying stretched long internodes. I thought he was a bit hard describing some plants as etiolated Italian imports! 
What about the Dutch? When I see large lanky Daphne mezereum at the garden centre I shudder.

It might take me five years to achieve a large plant  - but it won’t be soft!
Mike’s tale
I asked botanist friend Mike Ashford whether the terms ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ meant anything to him. He immediately told me a story. It does not necessarily draw a morale that I might wish to pursue but I will repeat it anyway!
We grew half an acre of commercial tomatoes variety Minicraigella at our horticultural college. Our holy grail was to achieve a yield of  a hundred tons per acre. We always failed. Today two hundred tons is routine in the trade. (Perhaps our efforts were not helped once when  a student de-leafing removed a whole row of flower trusses!)
Even with a variety with tasty Ailsa Craig genes our tomatoes were round, red, uniform and pappy. Just like modern ones. Not a surprise when the sugars, acids, nutrients and vitamins have to go so far round.
Our foreman David Coe would sell surplus tomato plants to his friend who had his own small holding. His mate was not a good grower. His watering and feeding were somewhat erratic and his unsterilised soil was riddled with pest and disease. His tomato plants were ‘hard’ and low yielding. They were absolutely delicious!

Tomatoes can be grown a little harder by being a little more sparing with the copious water that they need. When the sweeter cherry tomatoes were introduced to the market growers were advised to use a ‘drier regime’ . This had some success and they started to build a reputation.
Unfortunately high yield was a sweeter cherry for some growers....

My own tomatoes are delicious. You might draw your own conclusions....

My sugar snap peas grow softer in the greenhouse but they are sweet, disease free and early. That's not to mention the pretty cut edges eaten by the pea weevil!
I will be blogging about my charcoal composts at the end of the summer. My tomato growth is healthy but perhaps a little harder than usual

Home grown tomatoes always taste good
Still in the realm of vague and perhaps disconnected science, scientist friend Peter Williams reminded me of the imprecise notion of ‘ripening wood’. Woody plant growth undergoes transition from soft young shoots to hardwood at the end of the season as lignification proceeds. 
Tongue in cheek he declared he could not tell the difference between soft cuttings, semi ripe cuttings and hardwood ones. The serious point he was makings is that amateurs worry too much about definitions and precision. For him although his methods of taking and management of cuttings will vary with season it is merely a seamless progression!

If you want to read further about how I grow tomatoes, my interest in charcoal or my dicentras use the links in the right hand column. If you want to enjoy the excellent magazine 'The Hardy Plant' written by real gardeners rather than journalists you can join the Hardy Plant Society here.

Saturday 14 May 2016

Pictures of dicentras

The genuine Dutchman’s Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria  flowered in early April
Last week a photographer came to take pictures of my National Dicentra Collection for a glossy magazine. They will be published at dicentra time next year.
Unfortunately different dicentras flower at different times and professional photographer Neil had only one visit. At least he was lucky in that several cultivars of the most popular species of Dicentra formosa were in their prime. Even so, the various varieties of this Dicentra formosa mature in a staggered sequence.
Neil had his work cut out as conditions for photography were poor. The sun shone brightly and the wind was strong!

Neil does not know I sneaked a picture of him at work

My advantage is that I am there all the time! To wet your appetite I am taking the liberty to post some of my new pictures taken this year. Where I know what they are I have given their name! I keep nice seedling variations of Dicentra formosa and some remain anonymous!
They sometimes have to fight it out 
One of the golden forms. To me it looks like permanent chlorosis
'Adrian Bloom’ one of the best reds
Some call it ‘Pearl Drops’ some call it ‘Langtrees’. It has an excellent constitution and has a long season
This was given to me with no name by famous Yorkshire gardener Nancy Boydell and that’s what I call it.
Neil came when Dicentra peregrina was in its prime
It has magnificent foliage
Another strange mixture 
Dicentra canadensis is known as squirrel corn
Dicentra cucullaria ‘Pink Punk’ starts into flower
'Stuart Boothman' has very nice foliage
My personal favourite. I brazenly call my own seedling ‘Roger’s Pink’ although salmon sometimes seems more appropriate
‘Bacchanal’ generally acclaimed as the best red
I pulled this seedling out of a mixed up clump last month
 Now where did I take this picture – I might then know its name

You can tell I am besotted with dicentra with nine previous posts. To some extent my blog is my own personal dicentra record as I have no other.
You can find more kinds and cultural information by clicking the links

This takes you direct to my first six articles
And this to my more recent three

You can do a more refined search by using the search boxes. The box at the top takes you direct to most relevant articles. If you scroll right to the bottom of the blog roll the search box gives a more detailed prioritized list of every mention.

For example if you insert ‘spectabilis’ in either box you will find Dicentra spectabilis
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