Thursday 30 August 2018

Another eccentricity

After three years it is still in its pot
We received a lovely visiting party last Thursday. A very knowledgeable  bus load of 52 keen Nottingham gardeners. We were rather apprehensive on this occasion as Boundary Cottage had barely seen one inch of rain in three months, yet ironically there was just a dribble when they arrived! Sods law!
We need not have worried, although their observation was forensic they expressed delight at my strange garden.

Two years later - still in its pot
No one has previously noticed (or at least dared mention) that  a few of my plants - in this case pittosporums and ferns are planted in permanently plunged ten litre plus pots. A lady inquired about this strange practice and made the sensible suggestion that it enabled my somewhat tender pittosporums to be lifted for the Winter. True for their first year or two but not when my now splendid six foot high plants have rooted through. For the record I have had wonderful pittosporums before but they were destroyed by the 2010 double Winter and should minus 16 degrees return these new ones will die.

I have form on this planting technique. Six years ago dear Harry found a plastic pot of three foot high privet in the base of his hedge. What idiot would do this? He never discovered it was me!

Ferns do not like our dry weather and dry soil but survive in plunged pots
I have explained before that our fine sandy soil is hydrophobic when dry. It repels water and until successfully wetted water refuses to sink in. I have lost several newly planted plants over the years to soil drying out in raised parts of my garden. The point of planting a pot is its rim. If manually watered it just has to sink in and in my case when wetted retains water extremely well. Better than any compost. 

The pots must have large drainage holes
Please note my large pots do contain my own garden soil and if in organic compost my plants could be doomed. Not only are plants reluctant to root out into a different medium, water movement upwards by capillarity and downward by drainage might be impeded.
This technique is counter productive if you do not intend to regularly water until the plant is well established and has started to root through. It might be sensible to enlarge the numerous large holes which are an essential characteristic of the plastic pots I use. I don't.

I don't need to water now
I don’t need to water my pittosporums now. Their roots are deep in the ground.

I ought to disguise the unsightly rim better
I have some kinds of ferns that previously always died when planted in the soil directly. They do well with this technique but even now need watering in dry weather. Unlike the pittosporums they hardly root through.

The clematis has rooted through strongly and next year will find its own water
Now in their second year I have successfully used this technique to establish three clematis planted in 5 inch bottomless pots in dry awkward  corners. They too have now made roots deep in the ground but the rims still facilitate extra watering in a dry year like this

Temporary plunging

This is a much more common practice than my subject today. It is useful to brighten temporary empty spaces.

Peter gave me the above tender large specimen fuchsia with the comment that it seems my kind of plant. I stood it in an empty gap but it kept blowing over. So I plunged it. It might be too big to keep!

I often temporarily plunge pots of alpines or bulbs in larger ornamental tubs 

These near hardy cacti are plunged for eight months before they return to the unheated greenhouse over Winter
I am a little reluctant to advertise unusual methods which for inexperienced gardeners might lead to problems. I am afraid it does not stop me! With this in mind I intend to review very soon a few of my earlier posts which expose some of my eccentricities. 

In an earlier post I explained how I am able to use my sandy soil as the bulky medium for almost all of my potting composts. Far better than some of the rubbish offered today.You can read about this by putting 'soil compost' in my search box

Wednesday 22 August 2018

How to grow alstroemeria

These florist-type Alstroemeria have an extraordinarily long flowering period in the herbaceous border
Please excuse the pretentious title but confident titles attractive search engine attention. My knowledge is little more than the average gardener but I like to pass on my own experience of growing. I feel many articles about plants are written by people who have never grown them, who have an axe to grind and trawled the literature to compose their pieces often written with absurd generalisations and dubious facts. 
Even the RHS when I did a little browsing myself tells you to feed your alstroemerias weekly. Well really, I hardly ever feed mine except perhaps during propagation or to get a new plant going when it might get a light top dressing of a general fertiliser such as Yaramila.

This yellow florist type alstroemeria has proved particularly hardy and reliable
Why are alstroemeria not more widely grown?
Writer Bunny Guinness, says alstroemeria are one of gardening’s best kept secrets! So many varieties are easy to grow, make sturdy long flowering plants of a quality for cutting every bit as good or better than the very same kinds expensively glasshouse grown and bought at the florist.
They require little staking. None at all in my own borders where I grow them in bold clumps. They are tolerant of most soil types albeit those short of extreme wetness. My own are in full sun for at least part of the day or in very light dappled shade. A particularly useful feature is that once established their deep tuberous roots enable survival in very dry places

What can go wrong? 

This dark florist type is only subtly different from my first illustration
There is quite a variability in hardiness. Some are bone hardy and mine survived minus 20 centigrade in the double Winter of 2010 (A long cold January and February, followed in the same year by a vile November and December). Other varieties are less hardy and may subside at minus single centigrade figures, especially in their first Winter. Because I am so careless at remembering my plant names I shall have today to guess the identity of the successful varieties in my own gardenI have found the varieties of alstroemeria that do well for me by a process of natural selection. Those bought at the garden centre have either lived or died. This is not a fair measure of a varieties suitability. The cynic in me says that many garden centre plants however good a variety are destined to die. Grown soft, overfed in polytunnels, sprayed temporarily clean with professional fungicides they succumb within the year of purchase and the poor gardener blames his own incompetence. And that's not to mention repeated distress on a garden centre bench.

They can be rather aggressive
Alstroemerias have a reputation to ‘run’ and spread vigorously. To me that is a very good thing! I have no problem of containing them at all and if they fill their space to make a strong clump this is ideal. I find routine garden maintenance practice quite sufficient to retain them. Should they really go mad for those at a distance a glyphosate spray will stop them in their tracks without damage to the parent clump! Best in Spring before anyone should notice. More cautious  gardeners might just spade them back.

Auntie Margaret’s alstroemeria. A warning!

It was a very startling orange one
For several years we would make our three monthly visit to Huddersfield to see my widowed auntie and to do her more difficult gardening chores.
I don’t remember whether I planted her half metre clump of a rather distinct orange alstroemeria or whether it was there all the time.
It became apparent - she made it very clear - she did not like it and asked me to remove it. Some say I am stubborn, I was certainly tardy and failed to comply. 
She secretly asked her jobbing gardener to dig it out. I never noticed as it always grew back. It has very deep roots and her man was merely propagating it. 
Eventually she instructed me to get rid. Reluctantly I sprayed the whole plant with glyphosate and it was gone.
Brenda agreed with Margaret and declared  “about time”


This weak growing variegated one needs special attention
There are many species of alstroemeria although most are not grown in the UK. It seems to me that for most gardening purposes they fall into two types. For my pictures I call them type1 or 2

Type 1 Once a year flowering and always yellow through to orange.

The once flowering kind
This kind completely dies down in Winter and flowers only once Mid June /July. Flowers might last a month if you are lucky but look rather nice - if you like orange! It often sets seed but only in unruly gardens where this annoying habit might be a good thing! Varieties’ colour reflect their easy hybridisation and their colour pallet is usually a spectrum of red to orange. They are reliably hardy as Auntie Margaret found.
Type 2  Often evergreen, hybrid florist varieties

They flower six months  and soon fill the space when my Corydalis elatum dies down
Selections from those bred for flower production are the very best kind. They flower from May right through the Summer into late Autumn on sturdy stems with a fantastic range of multicoloured flowers.You need to cut out complete stems when they ‘go over’ to enhance complete continuity.
Don’t be fooled by the word ‘evergreen’, it’s more that they don’t always completely die down in the garden and commercial growers with heated greenhouses crop them in Winter.
There is a greater range available of hybrid types than I have reported today. To keep flowering through a very dry spell you might need to apply generous irrigation. Too much of an effort for me.

Although the once flowering type 2 can be easily raised from self collected seed it is not worth the bother when they can be propagated so easily by division. I have never tried seed of the hybrid type but suspect that their variability might be a problem although you just might get a fine new variety.

Division is very successful provided you go very deep. Thrust your spade in a long way, more than a foot. Their tubers form a long way down. Most gardeners fail to do this and bring up a spadeful of chopped off stems which always die. Providing you bring up the intact tuber division it is difficult to fail.(even if you lose a few shoots). Even in Summer, but this would  be foolish unless you were moving.

Plants propagated in pots can be planted at any time of year as long as soil conditions are ok - not frozen, bone dry or flooded. Remember for summer planting you will need to water. 
For more tender varieties plant deeply and/or mulch very thickly.  The first two Winters are the hardest. By then strong very deep tubers will be  established  and be very well insulated.

What a difference a drought makes

This picture in May now seems a dream - now in September we have only once had proper rain
We have now suffered three months drought with barely an inch of rain. Its been very hot and even cloudy days have been windy. I write my posts well in advance. In this case long enough to eat my words!

It has become apparent in such extreme drought if they are not heavily watered the hybrid type are unable to support new growth of flowers. Watering established perennials goes against the grain for me but had Brenda not watered twice they would be in a very poor state now. Worse, the first strong flush of growth when it was still wet and windy were badly blown over!  Brenda is crowing. So much for my comment about not staking! It’s not quite been a disaster and they will be alright next year. Those Brenda heavily watered are now in late August making new flowers. Some I transplanted this Spring and perforce watered more frequently look really nice.

Link to Bunny Guiness article

Monday 6 August 2018

Twin ponds

Managing low maintenance ponds

Two ponds together
When we moved in at the millennium I shifted six barrow loads of soil a day for six months as I dug out two ponds. Most of it was topsoil although in the metre deep centre it was pure sand. All of this was used to raise areas destined to be new borders. Topsoil is a precious commodity and gardeners who throw it away need their head examined.
I still find unchanged streaks of sand in my borders albeit as a none digger not very often. Come to think of it, if I dug it would be better mixed in! This is in contrast with Bolton Percy cemetery where clay/sand subsoil brought up by the grave digger soon turned to soil. 
My first thought was to have one elongated pond as if it were a large flower border. Silly if I wanted to cross to the other side and one leak in the lining would be a disaster. So one pond became two and our former e-mail address became ‘twinponds’ 
In my mind’s eye the slightly ridged grass path between them would be a kind of Monet bridge manqué. No one has ever noticed. 

All life is here
My only post about my ponds was my fourth one ever, six years ago. How things have changed! Recently it had a small flurry of readers and its about time I said more.
Previously in my innocence I thought most ponds were just lined holes in the ground. Apparently most are works of major engineering with filters, pumps and varied contraptions and even drains. 
The only concession to fashion I should have made was to direct all my roof water to the pond as my friends Mike and Isobel did with great success at about the same time.

I do have depressions at the lowest point of my garden which hold temporary flood water
But not all of it
One thing I did get right (for me) was to NOT dig the two ponds where the garden naturally floods. What chaos there would have been if everything spilled out when part of the garden was under water for three months this year. There are of course many circumstances where a pond which receives natural drainage or even a stream is better low down.

The issue of clear water

Dollop of blanket weed together with oxygenating plant
This was the focus of my previous post on blanket weed, a filamentous algae one of which we called spirogyra at school. Although cast as a monster it beneficially sucks nutrients from the water. To some it is unsightly but it does have the advantage of creating crystal clear water around it. 

There is very little light gets through to charge up the blanketweed
Brenda curses my duckweed
I still have blanketweed but it is no longer a problem because it is mainly suppressed by oxygenating plants and floaters such as water soldiers and dare I say duckweed. 

True mares tail, hippurus will potentially fill your pond
Also my genuine mares tail and other bottom rooters such as rather vigorous glyceria and dwarf  bullrush. True mares tail is not the same primeval villain as equisetum but a higher plant easily controlled in a small pond like mine. But not in a lake! 

As it happens this pond was completely pervaded with hippurus. That was before I carefully sprayed sections with Roundup
Water lilies are of course mandatory

Reader Anne-Marie O'Connor who sent me this picture observed that the water lilies had escaped their pots. Just like mine! 
My pond has generous plant cover especially in Summer.
It not only suppresses unwanted algae it provides cover for the newts, tadpoles and fish from the heron.

I doubt if the strings dissuaded the heron from wading in. The idea was quickly abandoned
Early development of the two ponds
For the first year my ponds meandered in different and changing ecological directions as different plants took turns to take over. Obtaining a balance between animal and plant was always my aim. I did all the usual things such as introducing ram’s horn snails. At one stage I bought in that tiny algae-eating translucent crustacean called daphnia as a general cleanser and perhaps it was. After adding to the then soupy green water the population of these so called water fleas exploded. They later disappeared but I like to think they persist in my watery firmament.

My early pond was never like this
Nature did her thing and for the last sixteen years I have had crystal clear water - although you might regard some of my plants in the melange a little bit dodgy.

Our friend Jackie Barber who at the time still had her water plant nursery in Ripon advised us to avoid duckweed as if it were a plague. Brenda constantly reminds me how I failed (Every time she walks round).
Only once has it been a problem and I rather like it. It gets dragged out when I use my plastic scarifier to remove surplus oxygenators, blanket weed, twigs and leaves. (And sometimes water soldiers)
The latter is almost the only maintenance my ponds ever get. Perhaps on average two-monthly and in total six hours a year. Readers discuss this in my earlier post. 

The goldfish sometimes bask in the sun
In the twin ponds we have goldfish. In my smaller formal pond in the front garden shubunkins and orf.
We do not feed them and consequently they do NOT come running when we appear. Indeed it is a surprise to see the goldfish when they peep out from under a water lily. It’s good to know the heron is not winning completely.

The fish are in there somewhere
My square formal pond in the front garden is a metre from a dwarf wall on two sides and is sheltered by plants. The heron does not have ready access. Only once when we left a  branch in position as a hedgehog rescue did the heron wade in. (We now leave a bowl of water)
We delight in watching the elegant gliding golden orf and colourful shuffling shubunkins from an upstairs window. To see them closer you need to stand there and silently freeze.

Crested Newts 

Newt in Peter's pond
At the time I started blogging we witnessed a local conflict regarding planning permission. Resident crested newts pervade our local environs. Some of us regard them as common as muck but of course they are a protected species. A local industry hired an ecological company in the hope they would not find them. A local farmer was developing a pig excrement digester but was happy to have them. 
Guess which company found newts everywhere? Our own ponds  were exceedingly well documented. 
Sadly dear Harry is with us no more to take lovely pictures.

Water weeds

After a few years the floating water soldiers need thinning
Weed is what all water plants are affectionally called and they are all natural somewhere. Many are strong growing and some will potentially take over. I find most above-ground aquatics and bog plants are easily confined by spraying with Roundup. You only need the same care you use elsewhere in the garden. Fear not if a little spray alights in the water. Simple mathematics tell you that it is hugely diluted and thereby rendered harmless.
My ponds are of course isolated and not near running water which might come under agricultural regulations.

Edge planting

The dierama is in more or less normal soil
My plastic lining is so folded at the edge that most of the soil is only flooded when the pond is completely full. In most cases permanently submerged soil wicks up water by varying degrees to the soil above it. Elsewhere surrounding soil is banked so high that roots need to penetrate down to find extra water. Saturated soil merges into bog into normal soil  I like to think this is closer to nature than the usual sharp divide from aquatic to bog plant to normal!

We have been filling the pond
The skunk cabbage wanders between water and bog
The dactylorhiza orchid loves the moist ground. The ornamental equisetums are confined by the pond and the lawn. Young frogs love the ground cover
There are moisture loving bulbs too
Read my earlier posts and question me
I wrote the above without reference to my earlier post. When I re-read my original epistle I was pleased at how little (for me) I have repeated myself. If you have found this of value please click this link back.
I thought in my previous post was some quite interesting correspondence of value to readers. To this end if you have any questions or anecdotes about your own ponds I would love to hear about them. Just click comments and share your wisdom (or even confusion)

On further research I find I have written about my ponds twice-more before.

Billy Mills visited his grandma and took some wonderful pictures of pondlife

And yes, I have written about crested newts before

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