27 March 2010

golden transformers

The golden-leaf variant of the common stinging nettle - Urtica dioica 'Good As Gold' - has made some good stands in the past couple of years since arriving as small rooted pieces, wrapped in damp kitchen roll, from Rosie Castle's nursery Alter-natives (Rosie specialises in unusual forms of native plants).   Despite a pernicious parentage it seems to stay reasonably clumping and has not run about like the vicious green stingers do, it is sting-y but not overly aggressive.  It is, I think, a good garden plant and definitely not your average nettle but I do have the beholders eye.  The very first new shoots appear above ground looking little different from the green but they soon extend and the green of the new leaves is increasingly suffused with bronze highlights. 
In just a couple of weeks the bronzed areas brighten to a luminous gold that shines out as bright as daffodils and it is transformed.  Later in the season as they mature the leaves lose their intensity and the stems will take on reddish tones.  I will still like it then for its unmistakable nettle form. 
More commonly grown is the golden hop - Humulus lupulus 'Aurea' - a tough herbaceous climber that will rapidly twine its annual stems clockwise up any support to ten feet plus each year.  It has intense yellow foliage in full sun and will hang swags of papery flowers late in the season.  In part shade it is a softer green-yellow and I think nicer here
The shoots emerge from the soil a deep red,
but the first leaves open and show the colour to come.

Both of these are as easy to grow as you would expect in any reasonable soil.  They are greedy and much improved by chucking the occasional bucket of liquid feed on them through the growing season. Hops are easily increased from root cuttings taken in winter but the nettle is surprisingly slow to establish from small rooted pieces taken in early spring being vulnerable to molluscs until they toughen and get stingy.   

Throughout the summer I will no doubt hear many disparaging remarks concerning the nettles.  I may respond with a reminder that, like the nettles, silence is golden.    

26 March 2010

froggy did a-wooing go

Rain kept the garden people free so this frog sang his gentle serenade.

a weed by any other name

but some weeds have their uses.
This is Lamium garganicum, a dead nettle with early flowers and a carpeting habit, coming into flower to the left of the gate. It is an Italian woodlander and is used to summer drought and poor soil. In two years it has made a dense carpet of growth 20cm tall and 2metres across - and it is still going. It spreads by rooting stems across the soil surface and though very vigorous is easily removed (but get every bit or it will be back). I like it for its 3 month season of mauve-pink and white large lipped flowers and its ability to lushly grow on the worst soil. The early bees like it too, as much as they like all of the dead nettles and that means they like it a lot, but I would not want it with polite neighbours as it would drive them out under its relentless advance. For these places I would use the easily obtained Lamium maculatum with its later neater flowers and foliage brightly marked with silver stripes, it carpets but not aggressively and is generally better for garden use - we have this elsewhere in the garden - but here on dusty broken brick it would give up the ghost under a silver coat of drought induced mildew. I'll stick with this wildling in this bed paired with big bad neighbours who won't complain. 

[March 2011 - I now think this is just a plain leaved form of Lamium maculatum - if you know better please let me know]


Speak for yourself.  I like them.

Last year when the new south-end beds were planted up we included a number of hellebore orientalis hybrids for their late winter flowers and tolerance of summer drought.  These were raised from small seedlings collected a good few years ago and grown on in pots till large enough to plant out.  They flower early each year with flowers in various shades of green, yellow, red and plum with waxy long lasting sepals (the  sepals are doing the same job as petals - similar to clematis flowers).  Each flower is delicately spotted and striped on its face but the flowers hang their heads and you need to turn up the bloom to see this - be warned though, if I catch you mid-bed doing this I will shout at you for you will be stood on emerging new shoots!

Hellebore orientalis hybrids make good clumps of dark green cut leaves and are happy in shade, growing in soil with added leaf-mould and compost they are long lived and summer-drought tolerant.  They are originally woodland plants and make the most of the bare branches above to grow and flower before the trees leaf and the light levels drop.  The flowering stems appear early in the year and in hard frosts keel over only to right themselves when the weather improves.  Our plants will take a few years to bulk up but even now are giving a good showing.

In red,
spotty, whitey, greeny,
and damson.


I am a fan of crocus and love the great sheets of purple, yellow and white flowers that spread across some late winter lawns.  I generally prefer the smaller species and hybrids to the larger flowering 'Dutch' crocus but am no purist and all of them just require good drainage and some sun. Crocus are tough and generally pest free - sparrows are meant to rip the flowers apart but the few that visit prefer to stuff their beaks at the feeders and mice supposedly dig up and ravenously eat the corms but those here are too full on visitor leftovers to dig. 
It is apparent that many visitors don't look down (I grew up with a garden and dogs so this is second nature) and without some protection they soon fall foul of big stupid feet.  They do well tucked where they can peek out sheltered beside pots and rocks and open their flowers with the smallest show of sun. On warm days they release a rich honey scent and so my knees are muddy again.
 chrysanthus 'Cream Beauty" (the earliest) 
 seiberi tricolor
 tommasinianus 'Whitewell Purple'
'Joan of Arc"

19 March 2010

garrad approves

Garrad, a garden neighbour and volunteer, has one of the best views of the garden.  He is happy to give feedback on garden works and is especially critical of my more messy moments - he has a particular dislike of the large white dumpy bags used for leaves, compost etc.

Today he was all praise and came to say the garden's fantastic.

Which is nice.

18 March 2010

Polly who?

I'm not a great fan of Parks department spring bedding relying as it does on cheap Polyanthus primulas.  Unlike their primrose ancestors the flowers are big and blousy but are weatherproof and make a reliable 'splash of colour' in late winter into spring - unfortunately the undecided mish-mash of colours does irritate me.  

When 20 trays of council excess, in the usual primary shades, were left in the garden unused I was undecided how to use them at first but as the colour showed in the buds it became possible to pick out single colours from the mix and these have been planted in matching colour groups - blue with blue and pink with pink.  This is much more pleasing.  They may not have the pale hedgerow delicacy of wild primroses but planted in scattered groups manage to look psychedelically natural:

in blue, 

in yellow and white.

and in brazen pink - deservedly behind bars.

13 March 2010

sun sun sun

In mid-winter the sun is so low in the sky it barely reaches the garden. The one patch of sun gathers visitors to it at the north end and I glare at them cold and grumpy from the cold office door - "they must be up to no good to be up the back in this weather!"
Now the year has turned it is back beaming along the canyons of the city and got me right in the eyes at the gate. Won't be long before I'm hot and grumpy.

releasing the inner pilgrim

At the Stacey St/Flitcroft St corner there has been an ongoing and unequal battle for supremacy between a Potato Vine - Solanum crispum 'Glasnevin' and a climbing English rose ' The Pilgrim' since planting three years ago. They were planted either side of a brick buttress to minimise the competition between their roots and both have established well despite how incredibly dry it becomes here every summer. The vigorous growth of the potato vine rapidly reached the top of the railings and covered with mauve and yellow potato flowers for months is beautiful but its dense growth had become far too dominant. The rose has been much slower to get going above ground and up until last year had only grown bush-like. It has flowered well but low on the railings all the flowers were picked by passersby. The advice for climbing English roses is to leave pruning well alone until it produces climbing shoots and I managed to keep the secateurs at bay. My patience was rewarded last year as finally a number of climbing stems, viciously thorned whippy growths, had grown up through the tangle of potato vine stems to wave wildly out the top.

The potato vine has done a great job of covering the railings but in the long term this space is the roses. All the dense top growth of the potato vine was cut away bit by bit to free the rose stems from its clutches - the thorn free stems of the potato efficiently snag on everything causing whippy vicious rose stems to slap my face to a chorus of my own cursing. The potato has now been reduced to just two stems and tied in to have its new growth trained out along the railings away from the rose - I'll see how it does this year but it may have to come out completely. The rose now freed had the longest shoots tied in along the top of the rails at the corner and its lower bushiness reduced. This forms the start of a permanent framework of flowering wood that with access to light and air, and up high and out of reach, should be covered this summer in a long lasting display of large soft yellow scented roses.

early iris

Growing in a small clump at the edge of the path is Iris reticulata - I have no idea which variety it is and don't really care as they are all lovely. It grows with its roots in the sand of the path foundations and is baked by the sun every summer when dormant. It is clearly happy here sunbathing with little competition and it opens it's perky purple and blue flags early each year. Planted elsewhere in the garden as small bulbs in autumn they only flower the first spring after planting before unruly neighbours drive them out. Lovely in pots, left dry in full sun through summer, as is . . .
Iris unguicularis. This isn't a bulb but grows as a tight clump of dense rhizomes - a small clump is in full bloom on top of the gabion wall round the office. Given a site that is dry and sun- baked each summer it will flower reliably every winter opening a succession of delicately marked flowers. Like so many iris that hail from summer dry climates it grows only in the wetter cooler months, sending out new leaves and fleshy white roots with the first rains of autumn. The roots transform into brown wiry anchors and digging up an established plant is surprisingly hard work. Which is just as well as this has taken years to grow from a small donated division and I'd hate it to walk.

A presentation - late but better than never.

This is Miriam. Just presented with and proudly holding her certificate from the 2009 St Giles and Seven Dials in Bloom competition she manages a smile despite the cold - it's been bitter - well done Miriam! Miriam has been working on a cookery book in Tuscany and couldn't collect it earlier. She is 'Highly Commended'.

Miriam contends with the common problems that many of those gardening in communal spaces locally experience - shade, neighbours and landlords. In her garden on Macklin St she struggles with a very dark dry courtyard, surprise building improvements and over-enthusiastic independent interventions - her plants get removed and replaced with post-Christmas poinsettias (I understand her irritation with the last for similar intruders appear here but I have no need to diplomatically negotiate their removal but can rip them out with a cry of fury and throw them on the compost).

The recent round of building works at her block has been completed and she has asked if we could give some advice and assistance with re-planting this spring. The shade won't be a problem with the right plant choice and Miriam has realistic expectations of what can be achieved - success will be more 'green tapestry' than 'riot of colour'. I think we can put together a nice selection of shade plants to get it off to a good start and still be in good time for the judging this year.