29 April 2011

a bit of a mouthful

Grown from a few seeds picked up from the path at the Chelsea Physic Garden a couple of years back, there are three plants of the unusual Madeiran endemic Black Parsley, Melanoselinum decipiens, growing at the Phoenix.  Apart from it's tongue twisting latin name it has a reputation for being a grand architectural rarity so I was pleased to get hold of it.  The big glossy green cut leaves held in a rosette atop a thick stem ringed with pale leaf scars have filled a space and been impervious to the dry site.  In better soils than here it can grow enormous and reach 3m at flowering, these are only half that height.  It is monocarpic, meaning it spends a number of years building up enough strength before putting all it's energies into flowering and seeding before dying.  After enjoying the anticipation for three years I find I am disappointed as the first one to flower shows me it's true colours - it's just not like the pretty photo-fakery on the web!

I liked it early in the year when the new bronzed foliage unfurled.  
I liked it as the candelabra of stems grew as it readied itself to flower.
I liked the promise of pink in the piped-icing buds.
 I liked the ruff of foliage beneath each umbel of flowers.
But I do not like the flowers now they've opened, up close they are off-white and from a distance they just look dirty.  I am under-whelmed.
The bugs don't agree with me - each head seeths with feasting micro-bees and pollen beetles.  I am hoping the dark seed heads that give it it's common name are more to my taste as I have no doubt it plans to seed about as generously as the other umbels, cow parsley and alexanders, do.  The jury is still out.

21 April 2011

planting workshops

I have been running a series of planting workshops in the garden on Wednesday evenings.  The sessions have covered a range of topics; beansprouts and salad leaves, tomatoes and dwarf beans, wildflower pots, taking cuttings and houseplants.  At the workshops I 'show & tell', then the group gets to have a go themselves and take the results away to grow at home.  
The beansprout kits.  A taster selection of mung bean, spicy fenugreek and alfalfa,
the group smiles for the camera and at my confident 'you can't fail with these!" - and they didn't.
Salad leaves being sown in pots.  A cut and come again mix of salad leaves, 'Saladisi', and rocket.
The houseplants; offsets of the succulent Lace Aloe (Aloe aristata), small Begonia plants and tubers of a decorative Chinese yam.  Not much to look at at the moment but there will be soon.
 The cuttings workshop; softwood cuttings of Blackcurrant Sage, South African Daisy Bush and Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve'.  Pots of cuttings and mini-greenhouses in hand, the group pose - it's obligatory!

And photos emailed from group members show the results;
 Alfalfa sprouts - enough for a salad.
Cornfield annuals and cuttings.
Healthy courgette seedlings.

It has been great to see there's been so much success and the confidence of the group to grow new things has clearly increased.  We will be holding another series of workshops once I work out just what we'll be doing.  There have been requests from the group for; hot and sunny/windowsills and balconies,  deep shade/basement flats and growing plants from pips and stones.  For the last they may have to bring their own pips - I don't think everyone will want my slobber over everything.
Details on the garden website soon.

vegetables at wardour house

Popped over to Wardour House to get some vegetables started in the two veg planters.  We planted some small lettuce plants in green and red,  got the tomato plants in and a courgette.  Seeds were sown for carrots, pot marjoram and dwarf 'Hestia' runner beans.  Nasturtiums too - usually grown just for their pretty flowers, both the flowers and leaves are edible too, but be warned they are mustard hot! 
Pushing in runner beans,
 is easy to do.
Hope I get invited when they harvest!

return to sandringham - the roof

The first gardening day with Sandringham Court residents was a success so I was looking forward to the second to work on the middle roof.  This is how it looked when I first visited, under-used but great for drying washing - behind me, on other sections of roof (it is big), are a great selection of container plants already planted by residents.  The conditions are the same as most roof gardens; windy, sun-beaten, exposed, so when the residents asked for advice on planting and said they would like a mediterranean theme, I was pleased - plants from mediterranean climatic zones like sun and wind.  
First came the containers.  The same large wooden planters we used at Wardour House.  Big enough to hold a substantial amount of compost and affordable for the number required.  Arriving flat-pack they had been put together ready for the day and after being laid out in position,
the compost could be carried in to fill them.  Each container holds just over six bags each and they  are immovable after filling but they will be stable in strong winds.  We used soil based compost which is heavy so the planters were positioned mainly round the sides and well spaced out to spread the load.  Soil-based compost has more 'body' and supports plant growth over a longer period so is much better for the large shrubs chosen.  
Some could heft the bags easily, 
 For others it was 'many hands make light work'.
The plants were waiting in the residents hall ready for laying out - a selection of drought tolerant trees, shrubs, herbs and bedding plants for quick colour.  I encouraged everyone to have a tea break to give me time to get them out - it is difficult to make plant position choices with enthusiastic audience participation.  Working with the required 'mediterranean' theme one end will be an olive grove with scented foliage plants and blues, yellows and pinks, the other a scented herb garden with purple Cordyline and Phormium to move in the wind.  Once everything was in position everyone got to planting.

Then a break for lunch.  Yet another fine sandwich selection was laid on (bit frozen in the middle,  but nothing a quick blast in the microwave couldn't sort out).
After lunch we worked on the existing roof garden areas to renovate some of the old containers and add some new large planters.  Some of the old root-bound shrubs were released from their bonds and they  will get a new lease of life with root-room and fresh compost around them. 
As there usually is there was one surprise waiting in the wings - lots of the existing containers had broken glass hidden in them, mixed into the compost.  This caused the only injury of the day, a nasty cut finger.  It transpired that this had been added by someone due to a mistaken belief that it prevents slugs & snails.  I took the opportunity to explain that snails can dance along the edges of razor blades so it was not an effective deterrent - I hope the new planters don't get a similar treatment.
Apart from this and someone trapped in a lift with an enormous bamboo plant (fire brigade soon in attendance) the day went very well and this happy biscuit summed up the reaction to the finished 'mediterranean' roof garden.  It was great to see people get straight down to enjoying the garden, to chat. .
and for quiet contemplation.

The finished planters and the plants we used:
Cotinus 'Grace', variegated Phormium, Solanum jasminoides, Pittosporum Tobira.

Solanum crispum 'Galsnevin', Buddleja 'Lochinch', marguerites, silver Helichrysum.

Pittosporum tobira, Senecio 'Sunshine', green Sage, Cistus sp., Miscanthus 'China'.

Cistus sp., purple Fennel, red Cordyline, Buddleja, Pony Tail Grass (Stipa tenuissimma), Rosemary, dark leaved Phormium.

Buddleja alternifolia, Cistus sp., Oregano, yellow Bidens, variegated Phormium.

standard Olive tree, Cistus sp., Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve', Euryops pectinatus, yellow Bidens.

Ceanothus 'Autumnal Blue', purple Sage, Oregano, Geranium 'Ann Folkard', Solanum jasminoides,

Thyme, Lavender, purple Sage, Euryops pectinatus, Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve', Senecio 'Sunshine'.

standard Olive trees with Rosemary and Lavender.

Olives, Lavender, Cistus, Mock Orange, grasses and herbs.
dark Cordyline, dark leaved Phormium, purple sage and fennel.