22 June 2009
Have a look at these!
The Regal Lilies (Lilium regale) have survived the bashing of footballs and the gnawing of beetles and opened their magnificent fragrant trumpets. They were some of the first bulbs planted five years ago in a self indulgent moment and I didn't expect much success, the garden's dry and big exciting buds get snapped off all too often by bored selfish fingers. They are growing in clayey brick rubble and have received little additional care since being planted with a dollop of compost in each planting hole. They are plagued with lily beetle each year and we try and squash as many as we can - Alex is an effective beetle squasher with now seriously impaired karma - and this is obviously an adequate control. The dry soil probably helps with slugs and snails, both notorious lily eaters. Despite my low expectations they have flowered each year atop tall stems and fill the garden with dangerously rich perfume.
Sometimes they get stolen and I rage against the world for a while. I recover.
Up close these are majestic flowers but it is at a distance when I think the big trumpet heads hovering over smaller bedfellows look so good , and they need that bit of distance.
20 June 2009
The banana has flowered.
I am unimpressed. This is widely known and a source of amusement. I haven't been able to find many redeeming features after growing this plant for 3years. The initial excitement of the rapid growth to fifteen feet from an eight-inch baby sucker and its enormous ribbed leaf blades soon waned and I now know better. The leaves get ripped to tatters with the gentlest breath of wind, the tatters hanging on till turning brown to compliment the tatty dead bits remaining from the winter. From October to May it has sat as tatty as a tatty thing can look and that is a long time to be tatty - fifteen foot of tattiness too. So now it has flowered - mustard and brown - yum!
To avoid the eight messy months of messiness this really is a plant best not grown by yourself. Just admire it (if you must) at the height of its warm season best in someone else's garden.
(thanks to malcolm for the photos - my camera couldn't cope with such ugliness)
The Tulip tree (Liriodenron tulipifera) towering at the south end is in full bloom. Usually this goes unnoticed even though the flowers are large and plentiful as they are a foliage matching shade of green - the orange flashes on the reverse make them no more noticeable. The strong winds this week have brought some of the flowers down to ground level. Interesting as they are I can't say they excite me. Its autumn butter-yellow display does.
This tree has grown enormous in the 25years since planting but it is not particularly happy here. The leaves show clear signs of nutrient deficiency with dark veins and pale areas. Hopefully the soil improvements taking place beneath will help with the problem
This odd bloom is on one of the Pitcher plants (Sarracenia hybrids) growing in one of the ponds - another interesting but not inspiring flower. These are carnivorous plants and have adapted leaves like upright trumpets that trap insects. Insects are attracted into the leaves interior only to be unable to escape up the slippery waxy walls. Downwards pointing hairs guide them further into the leaf where they drown and are digested in a small pool of enzyme rich liquid. Like all carnivorous plants they are adapted to grow in nutrient poor soils and gain additional nutrient from their catch. They are hardy enough to grow out of doors but have struggled to make any headway in the hard water of the pond and, ironically, from constant attacks by insects. It seems the Aphids will have their revenge.
19 June 2009
Back at St Joe's for the first time in ages. The radish and peas have grown well, the radish flowering and setting a good crop of edible pods (too late for the crunchy roots? eat the pods instead), the peas have just started and a good number of fat pods are hanging ready.
The children planted some tomato and chilli plants in the veg cage to grow on - they may not get any fruit before the summer holidays but they will be waiting them when they return. The uncaged half of the planter was planted with a mixture of wildflower plants and the area scattered with seed. We planted ox-eye daisy, red campion, black medic, wild strawberry, dog violet, bloody dock and pendulous sedge. I hope these are tough enough to grow here, the planter is smack bang in the middle of the playground and is in the thick of it come playtime.
This is the first King Stropharia toadstool to appear since the wood chip mulch on the new South End beds was innoculated with fungus-impregnated dowels last year. I couldn't be sure if this had been successful until now as all the action takes place below ground. The fungal mycelium first grow to spread through the substrate during establishment. It breaks down the dead woody material using the stored energy to grow. When established and conditions are right it sends up a fruiting body - the toadstool - to spread its spores. As the wood chip is broken down the nutrients locked up in it are released into the soil becoming available for plants to use and a host of invertebrates feed on fungi so I am pleased this has been successful. I will top up the bed with woody material and hopefully the colony will go on from year to year.
The toadstools are edible but I didn't take the bite from this one - glistening trails said the boneless had been ravenously feasting throughout the night. Good luck to them!
17 June 2009
The movement caught my eye. A small buzzzy ball spinning this way and that outside the office across the ground. A wasp, hunting, had pounced on a fly. The fly did it's best to escape - it took a long minute for the wasp to get a good hold but finally firmly clasped the fly was carried to a horehound leaf where the end was brutal but quick.
A few deft chews and the fly was neatly decapitated.
Wasps raise their young on a meaty diet and are efficient predators of other insects. They feed on a wide range of crop pests, particularly caterpillars, and are an integral part of a natural balance in the garden and I do not kill them.
Small insects are carried back to the nest whole but large insects are butchered in situ and flown back in pieces (so are prawns at a cockle stall). In early and mid-summer they are busy hunting to keep up with the demands of their brood and are too busy to be chasing after sweet things. It is later in the summer when the larvae have grown that, unnoccupied, they become a nuisance. Then they seek out sugary things like coke, jam and over-ripe plums - sweet, exciting, slightly fermented and intoxicating. Then bored and drunk and bad tempered they will be out and about with stinging to be done.
Only if they come after me then shall I kill them.
Maybe I will chew their heads off.
Shiny green is on trend in the garden this summer. Fat-legged Beetles are iridescent green on the ox-eyes, feeding on pollen and nectar and looking for mates. The males have bulging muscle-mary thighs - they don't hop or jump or do fancy mating dances so why these are so enlarged is a mystery - and these make them easy to identify. They can also be bronze, copper or violet but the ones here are green.
The females have dainty legs and fatter abdomens. This one is feeding from a Geranium flower (already occupied by a White Faced Bee). The larvae feed inside the stems of Spanish Broom (Spartium) and Thistles (Cirsium). There are plenty of thistles for them - I like thistles, I like beetles, so it's a good combination.
More glossy green nibbling away in the garden, and seen for the first time this year, is the Mint Beetle. They are ravenous devourers of mint and related plant species. I love their chubbiness and beautiful metallic green - they sparkle like scattered gems - and their shy shuffling retreat beneath the leaves when they see you coming is charming (the larvae are less charming - like the similar Lily and Rosemary beetles the grubs cloth themselves with camouflage coats smeared of their own shit). I will probably curse them once they breed like rabbits and completely devour some ' related plant species' that I like but for now the mint's dusty drabness does get a pleasing bit of glitter.
15 June 2009
The Open Squares Weekend is a great opportunity to show off the work we do and to earn few pounds for the charity. Going by previous years we expected a stream of visitors and a fine gaggle of Committee 'plus' turned out to help - Alex, Jane, Graziella, Angela, Peter, Elizabeth, Michael, Ray, Shyamal - thankfully long gone are the days of event chaos with leaky kettles, no hands and frayed tempers. The gates opened at ten and though visitor numbers were less than last year the stream was steady.
We had the marquee up so I was happy in the shade with the plant sale. The open days are always scorchers and I wilt quickly in the sun but undercover selling plants propagated in the garden and answering garden questions is a pleasure.
[All the Echium seedlings sold very quickly despite the disclaimer as to success - they have been sat in their small pots for over a year - but at 50p were thought a bargain (I wouldn't have bought them). The Blackcurrant Sage and pots of Pheasant Grass also went well. I was surprised that only one of the Spring Vetchlings sold, grown from seed and flowering size were a steal at a pound (more fool them - I shall use them all here instead and warm my hands on their envy next spring).]
Busier were the sales of refreshments - tea, coffee and cake - and many visitors, tea in hand, wanted to know more about the garden, its history and its plants so we were all kept busy talking to visitors. It is nice to meet so many people who regularly see 'proper' gardens and who are so complimentary about ours. 9 out of 10 are clear that we have the best they've seen all day, this included the founder of the Open Squares Weekend and her English Heritage companion agreed. High praise indeed.
Some, of course, are more challenging and leftfield.
Me (selling a hardy geranium to somebody else): It makes a dense weed proof ground cover...
Her (overhearing and stridently butting in): It spreads like a weed and kills everything!
Me: Well it only seeds a bit and it is easily removable anyway.
Her:They are full of slugs!
Me: I don't find that, and slugs do feed the birds.
Her:There aren't any birds in my garden because the cats ate them all!!! (strides off)
I didn't make the sale.
Him:Do you get herons in your ponds?
Me: I haven't seen any here but I know they are in the area. I've seen them at Regents . . .
Him: You will! Lots of them.
Me: I don't think they really like the West End...
Him: They will come here! And they will eat all your fish!!
Me: Well, they haven't been here . . .
Him: They will. And you will have to put nets up!!!
Me: I'm not overly worried as it . . .
Him: Do you want all your fish to die?
Me: I'm not overly worried as it hasn't been a prob...
Him: When the heron has eaten them all then you'll be sorry!
Odd, but I considered myself warned.
This Giant Canary Isles Bugloss (Echium pinanna) sowed itself right next to the path and growing to almost block it has been an irritating bristle monster to any exposed skin brushing past. They don't sting but the bristles can break off in the skin but it was the only one to have reached flowering size so I couldn't bear to dig it out and had expected the very cold winter to have nipped it in the bud.
Easily grown from seed they grow in the first year an enormous rosette of rough leaves on a thick woody stem. In their second, or third year, once they have stored enough energy and as the days begin to lengthen they rapidly grow an enormous flowering spike - the speed of growth is amazing, shooting up over two metres in two months - setting thousands of seeds before dying. They are not very hardy and the soft early growth coincides with the coldest temperatures of winter and sometimes they just don't make it through. But when they succeed and feeding bumblebees spiral up the column of a thousand pale blue flowers they are lovely.
But not lovely enough to hug bare-chested - that would be very unpleasant.