Category Archives: Grow

String of Pearls

Curio rowleyanus

This fascinating succulent has an incredible hanging habit with globe like leaves. The leaves of this plant have evolved as bead like globes that help it  limit evaporation in its desert home of South West Africa where it grows between rocks.   Desirable in your home it will look great styled in a hanging planter or placed on an item of furniture where the trailing stems can hang down for the best effect.

The small white fluffy flowers are cinnamon-scented, followed by small fluffy seed heads. It likes a lot of bright light in your home so make sure you position it in a sunny room.

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If you look closely at the globular leaves, you will notice leaf windows (epidermal windows) similar to the markings on a classic beach ball. These clear leaf windows allow more sunlight to pass into the leaf for maximum photosynthesis. Many other succulents such as Lithops and Haworthia use this similar adaptation to their leaves.

 

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‘String of Pearls’ will hate to sit in moisture, which means use a free draining mix of compost such as 50:50 John Innes No 2 and horticultural sand.  It is best to slow down the watering in winter to maybe once a month, but check the soil before you water every time. Ideally in the active growing season it will need watered once a week. Feed once a month from spring through autumn with a standard house plant liquid fertiliser.

Taking cuttings for friends is as easy as just snipping off a ‘string’. Strip some ‘pearls’ from part of the stem and bury this part in well-draining compost at the edge of a pot. Within a few weeks, it will root and become a new plant.

 

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Dazzling Dahlias

Vibrant Dahlias are one of the most widely grown and much loved cut flowers. Their brilliant blooms come in a wide range of colours, flowering from mid summer until the first frosts. Almost every garden is suited to Dahlias whether that is in the border or an attractive container.

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Dahlias like full sun and free draining soil, where they will thrive and bloom abundantly, but also grow well in large pots. Dahlias are not hardy and should not be planted until the soil has warmed and all danger of frost has past. They are best started in a heated glasshouse or polytunnel during the spring and are hungry plants that require quality compost or well-rotted manure.

When you plant your Dahlia tubers dig the hole 12-15cm deep and place them horizontally with the growing eye facing up. Then refill the hole with soil. It is important to remember Dahlias get quite large, so allow at least 45cm of space between plants.

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These beauties require generous amounts of water throughout the growing season if the summer is warm and dry. When you are just starting to grow them they should only be watered when you see the first green shoots breaking through the ground. Overwatering before shoots are visible can lead to tuber rot. Once the plants reach  30cm tall, give them a pinch by snipping out about 8cm of the growing centre to encourage low basal branching, which increases flower production and overall stem length.

 

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As for pests slugs and snails damage young plants. You may want to put down slug and snail bait at planting time and periodically throughout the season. Nematodes are also an organic option that is safe for both children and pets, and works well. It is important to stake the plants as many will get tall and this will prevent them from falling over.

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While Dahlias are not a very long lasting cut flower, you can get 5-7 days from stems picked at the proper stage. Since Dahlias don’t open much after they’ve been harvested, it’s important to pick them almost fully open, but at the same time not overly ripe where they have begun to brown. Check the back of each flower head, looking for firm and lush petals as these make the best cut flowers.

 

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Philadelphus

Philadelphus is found widely in the wild, from Eastern Europe to the Himalayas, Eastern Asia and North and Central America, but in gardens we tend to grow cultivated varieties of these wild species and they can vary in both size and flowering type.  The blooms appear in early summer and are always white and scented. Grow this shrub in moist but well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. The scent of its cup-shaped flowers are known to resemble that of orange blossom.  Hence the common name ‘mock orange’

In your garden prune out some older wood immediately after flowering, cutting back flowered stems to a lower growth bud, which will then sprout and regrow. The green shoots that grow this summer will flower next year and in this way you can make sure that your shrub keeps producing flowers rather than becoming reluctant to flower.

Give the shrub a good mulch in spring to help seal in moisture this will help it stay healthy and well fed. Its flowering season may be brief but its glorious flowers are necessary for any garden.

 

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Peonies

Peony flowers are large, vibrant and romantic.

Herbaceous Peonies are easy to grow in any garden and typically flower in May. They need plenty of water but not waterlogged ground. The soil must drain well and have good organic matter. If your soil is clay add organic matter so that it doesn’t stay permanently wet. Herbaceous peonies need to be planted with the budding stems no more than 2cm beneath the soil surface and if planted too deep may not flower. They flower best in full sun but can tolerate light shade and are best moved when the plant is dormant between October and March. Peonies that are the herbaceous form can be divided to make new plants. Just make sure that three stem buds are visible in each of your divisions. Patience is critical with this plant as it can take around three years for them to flower well. They are known for being long lived and can live up to 50 years. As a cut flower they can last up to 10 days in a vase. Many people are not aware that some peonies have a scent so place in a vase in a warm room. Another bonus for planting peonies in your garden is that rabbits do not like the taste of them which is a great reason to plant even more.

Tree peonies on the other hand are also a wonderful addition to any garden. To some the name ‘tree’ might cause some confusion – no this does not mean it grows as tall as a tree! The main difference between tree peonies and their herbaceous cousins is that tree peonies do not die down to the ground in winter. They lose their leaves in late autumn but a woody scaffolding of  stems remain. The blooms can sometimes be larger and can be placed at a more elevated position in a border in comparison to the herbaceous forms.

 

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Stachyurus praecox

This delightful deciduous shrub is known for its unusual and colourful late winter and early spring flowers. These typically appear before the foliage emerges and are arranged in pendant catkin-like racemes that hang from the branches. The foliage can turn rosy red and yellow during the Autumn season. The genus comes from the Greek word Stachys meaning an ear of corn – hence the hanging flowers appearance. Plants in this genus are sometimes commonly called spiketail also in reference to the flowers. Native to Japan it  was introduced to UK cultivation in 1864. It can be grown by seed or summer cuttings taken with a heel in late July and given bottom heat. Layering is also a method – do this in summer months and the new plant should be ready to detach the following spring. It grows well in fertile soil that is free training in full sun or partial shade of a woodland. In terms of garden design  it is a perfect shrub for woodland gardens or it can be effectively trained against a wall with southern exposure.

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Darwin’s Orchid

This striking orchid is known not only for its beauty but for its story. The remarkable design looks less like a flower than some kind of engineering construction. Angraecum sesquipedale – the flower was discovered in eastern Madagascar by the French botanist Louis-Marie Aubert du Petit-Thouars, is also known widey as Darwin’s orchid.

The genus name, Angraecum, is derived from the Malayan word anggrek, which is used to describe several species of epiphytic orchids. The specific epithet sesquipedale comes from the Latin sesquipedalis, meaning ‘one and a half feet’, in reference to the long flower spur.

This orchid is widely known and admired for its association with Charles Darwin who was sent a specimen in 1862. He predicted it would be pollinated by a moth with a proboscis 20 – 30 cm long. The moth was discovered in Madagascar by Rothschild and Jordan in 1903 and named as Xanthopan morgani praedicta, seventeen years after his death. As predicted both spur and proboscis are long.  Darwin was fascinated with how orchids, the world’s largest plant family with nearly 30,000 species, are pollinated by insects, because they had co evolved in many different ways with their pollinators.

 

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Golden Snowdrops

Yellow snowdrops have been growing wild in Northumberland for centuries. A study carried out by John Richards, Professor in Botany at the University of Newcastle found that only 1% of snowdrops in Northumberland were yellow. Meaning the yellow colour was not spread evenly over a native colony. It was found that colonies had snowdrops that were neither yellow nor green, but instead a sort of inbetween colour. These were named ‘halfers’. You might ask what caused the yellow colouring? It became apparent that when the yellow snowdrops and halfers appear in spring they contain just one third of the amount of chlorophyll A and almost no chlorophyll B compared to the common green snowdrop. Despite this, once they have flowered the chlorophyll levels are found to be the same as the regular greens. This disproves the common assumption that yellow snowdrops are weaker than the green forms. The reason why the yellow flowers occur is still not fully understood. Professor Richards suggested that it might be that yellow snowdrops particularly thrive in high light intensity. Spring arrives later in Northumberland meaning the light intensity is high by the time the snowdrops emerge.  Yellow snowdrops have also been found to grow particularly well on the east coast of Scotland even though they do arise from there originally. Recently there has been an increase in the number of yellow snowdrops that gleam in the spring golden sunshine.  In recent years an expensive yellow snowdrop sold on eBay was named ‘Golden Fleece’. One eager buyer paid £1,390 for one bulb in 2015!! However it took 10 years to breed and another eight to multiply up before bulbs were available for sale. Hopefully as we look towards the future we will see more golden snowdrops available for our gardens.

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