December 8 2013 Latest news:
Monday, July 9, 2012
Alan Gray is still seeing the effects of the delayed seasons on his garden.
Here we are, half way through the year and so much has happened and there is so much more to come.
Everything in the garden is late this year, including ours for we could not get any of the half-hardy plants out of their cosy glasshouses because of the continuing cold, from what I can glean, this summer could be on track as being the coldest, wettest for 230 years!
Even now it is not that warm, what happened to flaming June and balmy July? The cold weather is also to blame for the late appearance above ground of so many plants. I am talking about plants like dahlias and some of the half-hardy salvias that die back annually to an herbaceous rootstock. If you are still awaiting the appearance of any of these, I should look carefully for damage by marauding molluscs, I speak from experience for in the Exotic Garden here the Dahlias had completely failed to awake from their winter rest. Close examination revealed that their new shoots were being grazed off at ground level or just below by marauding molluscs. Realising this, my affinity with organic gardening flew out of the window in a fit of pique as I angrily dispensed little blue pellets! This remedial treatment was extremely successful for within days there was new growth on both these plants but, although I resorted to using blue pellets, I was careful not to exceed the recommended dosage.
For many years Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ had been hardy in the garden here. At first I planted it against a sheltered wall where it thrived growing to a height of around three metres (10 feet). Later I grew it in the open in our Exotic Garden where again it appeared to be happy, alas, this past couple of winters appear to have been a step too far for I have yet to see any signs of life above the ground in either location. Fortunately I took the precaution of taking some late summer cuttings in 2011 and have some young plants to use as replacements. Salvias such as this one do not grow old gracefully, they become very woody and their stems split in cold weather, rot sets in and death soon follows. Provided we acknowledge this fact and are prepared to grow some from cuttings and give them to friends we should be OK - after all, the best way to keep a plant is to give it away!
If you have any plants such as these in your garden that are loath to show signs of life, I should not be too hasty in dismissing them as dead if I were you. I have three plants of the tree dahlia, Dahlia Imperialis in the Exotic Garden, and as these were not showing any signs of life I assumed that they were dead but as I dug one of them up I saw that it was just beginning to shoot from the top of its tubers (these had not been nibbled by slugs and snails). I shall pot up and grow on the one that I uprooted so that I can get some cuttings going, the other two will do their stuff in time. Dahlia Imperialis is a plant that is not grown to flower outside in this country; it is grown for its large dissected leaves and its thick stems that resemble a rather stout bamboo. It can grow to four metres (13 feet) in a single season but, as everything is so late, I doubt that it will get that large this year!
If we are very lucky, it might give us a flower or two late in the year, these are pink or mauve and can be quite mawkish and appear insignificant on such a large plant but our form has quite large flowers up to 15 cms (6 inches) across. There is no way of knowing what you are going to get unless you know the nurseryman and he has seen it in flower - we just got lucky! I know that ours is good for I have one growing in our tallest glasshouse where it regularly flowers sometime between November and January with its stems touching the glass at a height of around 3.5 metres (12 feet), all the others that we grow have been propagated from this one plant. As a novelty, I sometimes pick one or two for the Christmas table where they cause much amusement; they are the same shade of pink as the rose, Columbian Climber which is also grown under glass for the very purpose of having some swooningly scented roses to cut for the house during the dark months. Anyone can have roses as cut flowers in the winter although they will be expensive but, if you want the scent and Columbian Climber is exceedingly generous in that department, you have no alternative but to grow your own.
The cuckoo population appears to be in decline, I haven’t heard its familiar cry at all this year but I regularly hear the gentle cooing of a pair of turtle doves that have a nest in the vine that covers the large pergola between the Rose and the Exotic Garden. In fact, I am regularly woken by their calls which I love; maybe some enterprising person should incorporate their cooing into an alarm clock, I told Ben Potterton from Blacksmiths Cottage Nursery about this idea and he assured me that someone already has and that it was quite tacky!
At this time of the year we are inundated with groups of visitors both during our normal opening times and those who wish for a private visit out of hours. I really enjoy these occasions for there is always somebody in these groups who livens things up however they are detrimental to the amount of work that I am able to get on with, which means that sometimes jobs are still being tackled well into the night. There is something to be said for this because I really get to appreciate the scents that are switched on as the light levels starts to decrease.
My favourite at the moment is that of woodbine or honeysuckle. We started off with just the early and late flowering Dutch varieties but over time have acquired many more both scented and unscented; the unscented varieties appear to like growing in shade. This has resulted in many crosses between them and thanks to several bird-sown seedlings we now have plants that differ slightly from any of their parents. The really useful thing is that none of the crosses flower at the same time so there is great continuity of both flower and scent. I always find it very difficult to dig up self-sown honeysuckles for this reason, for you never know whether or not you are going to find a really good ‘new ‘variety, and now that the garden here is maturing I am happy to let these self-sowns scramble around, for they will eventually find a host that they can twine themselves into hoisting themselves up to quite reasonable heights from where they can flaunt their generous blossoms and sensuously assault our olfactory senses.