Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Against the Odds: Primroses

A primrose plant in the old china clay works at Wheal Martyn china clay museum

And in the wood, where often you and I
Upon faint primrose-beds were wont to lie... 

William Shakespeare, in: A Midsummer Night's Dream. As Shakespeare is the man of the moment, so consider the above as my small contribution to the festivities.

Primroses are amongst our favourite spring flowers, especially as they're a native wildflower. It's name is derived from the Latin, prima rosa, meaning the first rose of the year, though it's not a member of the rose family.

Primrose-beds aren't as common as they were in Shakespeare's time due to over picking. Now they're protected by law and I'm always pleased to see a huge bank of them on my way to my allotment at this time of the year. A perennial plant, they can reach maturity in a single year and may self-seed prolifically. It means they can recover well if conditions are right. We found lots of them on holiday in Cornwall too.

A more surprising sight was the pictured plant at Wheal Martyn China Clay Museum. Primroses like moist, clay conditions and judging by the accompanying vegetation, there must be a thin soil amongst the stones, just enough for plants to find a foothold.

The colour of the water is due to china clay particles. Perhaps these get washed into the gaps in the wall when the water is higher, thus allowing the process of soil formation to start.

Another walled primrose at the entrance to the museum

It wasn't a one-off occurrence either. I found these in the wall at the museum's entrance, where there isn't the nearby presence of water and clay to explain how this one gained its delicate foothold.

Monday, 25 April 2016

New Covent Garden Flower Market

A collage of flowers at New Covent Garden Flower Market

Friday saw an early start for a thrilling study morning at the New Covent Garden Flower Market with the Garden Media Guild. I'm fascinated with horticultural life behind the scenes, so this was an opportunity not to be missed.

Bunches of brightly coloured gerbera
Friday is a busy day at the Market, so apologies were made for there being less for us to see than usual. However, as you can see from the above collage, this did not mean there was a lack of eye-catching floral candy for us to ooh and ahhh over.

I loved how some suppliers group their wares by colour, whilst others showed off the rainbow of possibilities available per flower, just like these gerbera.

Whilst it was an early start for me, it's nothing compared to the life of a trader, who regularly start between 2 and 3am in readiness for the Market's opening at 4am, 6 days a week. The Market closes at around 10am, but then traders have to catch up with paper work, new orders etc etc.

Graeme Diplock of Zest flowers, a trader for 30 years at the market, explained he goes to bed as soon as he gets home. He gets up for a couple of hours at teatime, so he can spend some time with his family, then returns to bed for a few more hours rest before his early start.

With that kind of relentless lifestyle, it's no wonder he talked with such passion and knowledge about his trade, because I reckon you'd need that to keep going for so long. It also means the traders are a tightly knit community, evidenced by the exchanges of cheerful banter on the way round. Having lived in the north-east, it meant I quickly felt at home.

Sundries, foliage, exotic flowers and fruit & vegetables are some of the more unusual items available
Some of the more surprising items seen on our tour around the Market

As you can see, the Market's not just about flowers, but provides a one-stop shop for foliage and other sundries florists need to provide top-notch arrangements and events for their clients. Everywhere I turned there was yet another surprise awaiting discovery.

Bryan Porter is the 4th generation owner of Porters Foliage Ltd, who specialise in providing foliage and other materials such as bark. He explained how his business has changed since the Market moved to its current site in the mid 1970s.

Back then it carried around 500 items, and it now stands at 2,500. His business has moved from bulk supply and fractured into a myriad of smaller possibilities, with new material constantly being sought from around the world to tempt discerning clients.

Whilst supply from around the world can be controversial, it was good to see the majority of traders had a Union Jack next to their entry in the Market's information booklet, to show they do source from within the UK where possible.

A look outside the Market, plus more items on offer
Main picture: a brief look outside - to the right you can see some whole branches of fresh blossom

Freshly in: whole branches of spring blossom
As this is a seasonal business, what's available varies every single day the Market opens. There was a terrific buzz on Friday about the branches of blossom which had just appeared. They're liked for their ephemeral beauty, plus the possibility of adding an interesting architectural element to arrangements.

With such variety and temptation on offer, I was sad I couldn't take advantage of it as my later walk around London would have wilted my flowers in double quick time.

We ended our morning with a fab breakfast of bacon butties (just like Ed Milliband, but without any gory photos to prove it), plus a sneak peek at the plans for the Market's move later this year to a site nearby. I have news of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Chelsea Fringe and British Flowers Week too. Stay tuned for a another post!

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Introducing... the Great Green Wall Hunt

A green wall at Longo's supermarket in downtown Toronto last year - remarkable that it was indoors and in the basement
The green wall at Longo's supermarket in downtown Toronto
The first garden photograph I took at the Garden Bloggers Fling in Toronto last year was before the Fling had even started. NAH and I had gone in search of a healthy breakfast at the supermarket close to our hotel, where we found the fresh fruit and yoghurt as expected. Then on the way to the checkout, the totally unexpected hove into view.

Until then I'd thought green aka living walls were the sole preserve of more upmarket establishments - like the one at the Athenaeum hotel I visited last year - rather than everyday supermarkets. I think it's a wonderful way of thanking customers for their visit and it gave us something pleasant to look at whilst we waited at the checkout.

It was the first time I'd seen one indoors too. This one's in the supermarket's basement - a surprising location until you realise a lot of shopping in Toronto is conducted underground owing to Canada's severe winters. Longo's green wall won an award in 2011 and its location means it's lit artificially. I haven't been able to find out if a particular type of lighting is used to help the plants thrive.

Back home, I filed the subject of green walls away under 'too expensive to catch on' and 'something that's done better in Canada'. However, when I posted a photo of a bench at Charing Cross recently, I linked to the 150 great things about the Underground website, and found a 'you may also like this' link which made me think again.

Item number 39 on that website is the wall of plants at Edgware Road, an everyday kinda place like my Canadian supermarket. A quick google later, and I found all kinds of green walls have popped up in the last few years, and in lots of different places.

I'm off to London for a couple of days, where I'm going to photograph some of the green walls I've found online. I'll post these in my new Great Green Wall Hunt series, which will also look at the types of green wall out there and their benefits.

I can't possibly find and photograph them all, so feel free if you want to join in the Hunt with a blog post of your own. Let me know if you do :)

Monday, 18 April 2016

A Beautiful End

Frosted 'St George' tulips in my patio pots

Winter returned to VP Gardens over the weekend in the form of two sharp frosts, which means these 'St George' tulips won't be standing proud on their name day next week.

Yesterday's sunshine allowed me to capture their sparkle with my camera, so I can at least admire them for a while longer here on the blog. Frosted plants often look their worst - or prettiest depending on which way you look at it - at first light, owing to the additional physiological drought the frost brings.

A few hours of warm sunshine can bring a remarkable recovery, as it did with the daffodils, violas and hellebores elsewhere in the garden. Alas, it was not to be with these tulips and the opened flowers on my neighbours magnolia tree.

Luckily we both have flowers waiting in the wings. The magnolia has plenty more to come from the buds still protected by their furry coats. I have a couple more pots of these tulips, whose noses are just beginning to peer above the soil. I planted them up quite late (in January), because I'd forgotten about them. With hindsight that looks to have been a good plan.

The same potted Tulipa 'St George' on my patio in April 2015

Here are the tulips in happier times, captured for last year's April Blooms Day. That post shows happier magnolias too. The tulips had almost double the number of flowers this year, indicating they are one of the better 'doers' in the world of tulips in my garden.

What - if any garden casualties did you have over the weekend? Or were you better prepared than I was, and brought out your protective fleece? Which tulips do well in your garden?

Friday, 15 April 2016

GBBD: Brickwork

Self seeded lesser celandine, wild garlic and violets on my patio

I've been tidying up our patio this week, which has given me plenty of opportunity to ponder the self-seeders in the contrasting brickwork.

The yellow plant on the left is lesser celandine (aka Ficaria vernia), which probably harks back to nearly 20 years ago when our garden was a farmer's field, close to a stream. It pops up in a few places in our garden; in the gravel, the lawn, and this one spot on our patio.This plant likes damp ground, so I'm surprised it's found a home in the driest part of the garden.

It's considered by many to be an invasive weed, but like Hillwards said earlier this week, I've not found it to be much of a problem as long as it's left alone (*crosses fingers*), and I like it. Soon it'll melt away and I'll forget it's there until it pops up again early next year.

The wild garlic top left (aka Allium ursinum or ransoms) is my fault as I bought a pot of it, which is still dithering in the side garden holding area whilst I decide where to plant it out. As you can see, its progeny have made the decision for me. This is another notorious self-seeder, so I'm keeping a close eye on it.

On the whole its location is keeping it in check, though some has just appeared in the top terrace bed nearby. I'm using those leaves for cooking - they're delicious wrapped around fresh salmon and grilled or baked. I'm weighing up the potential of having enough to make some yummy wild garlic pesto versus acknowledging that might be a sign it's beginning to get out of hand.

I didn't know until I started this post that the pictured tiny little dog violet is a case of mislabelling. I bought it as Viola labradorica (which hails from the States), but in fact it's a European cousin, Viola riviniana Purpurea Group.

This article - with some great discussion in the comments - from Houzz explains how that may have happened, probably due to the original name becoming fixed in our minds (just like Dicentra spectabilis). My battered copy of the RHS Plant Finder says V. labradorica is misapplied and rightly points me to V. riviniana Purpurea Group.

This plant is another vigorous self-seeder, which I'm definitely having to keep a close eye on. It's gone from its original patio pot to most of the others on there, into the terraced beds, into the side garden and out to the front of the house. It's welcome in most places, but severe editing is most definitely required.

Which self-seeders are welcome in your garden? Are any found in brickwork like mine?

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Further Reading

Other posts on self-seeders at VP Gardens include:

  • Our Wild and Woolly Lawn - mentions some of the self-seeders which have leapt down from the terraced beds
  • Self-sown - another Blooms Day post a few years back which looked at foxgloves
  • Erigeron karvinskianus - another Blooms Day post and welcome brickwork plant (not flowering currently, hence its omission from this post)
  • Garlic mustard - welcome in my garden and kept well in check by using it in salads, but regarded with horror by most of my Fling buddies in Canada last year
  • Snowdrops - a Plant Profiles post showing how my snowdrops are spreading into unexpected places
  • Effortless Patio Salad - a Wordless Wednesday post showing some self-sown mustard
  • Hairy Bittercress: the 30 Day Challenge - what I did to get rid of this notorious self-seeder (it worked!)

I've also found nasturtiums and phacelia only really need to be sown once on the allotment, and there's the odd strawberry plant popping up in the gravel in the side garden. I must feature these sometime. Then two houses ago we were never short of Calendula.

Suggestions for other self-seeders you may also like to try are found in this Telegraph article.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Plant Profile: Lavender

A bee foraging on potted lavender in my garden
Bees land on lavender with a satisfying 'fwing' - taken on my sunny patio next to my garden bench in 2014. 

I love lavender. It thrives on neglect, is loved by bees and the merest brush against it releases a gorgeous scent. What's not to like?

I confess it's taken a while for me to learn to look after it properly. I had to grub out a wonderful 20 foot long lavender hedge in the front side garden after the trees on the public land next door shaded it out.

Then the selection I grew at the front of one of the sunny terraced beds in the back garden became too woody and ugly because I didn't prune it properly.

That was before I learnt a top tip from Jekka McVicar - prune them back to the merest hint of the current year's growth in August (L. stoechas) or September for the more hardy varieties (e.g. L. angustifolia). That keeps the plants nice and compact and the timing allows the plants to recover from their haircut well in time for anything winter may throw at them.

Time for another confession: I find this quite hard to do when they're still flowering quite freely. I hate stopping the bees from having their fun!

According to Jekka, that pruning can make the difference between lavender lasting for a few years and staying good for decades. I haven't got further than 10 years yet, but the lavender I've had in my patio pots for several year is still looking good.

I'm about to plant some more as I much prefer the deep purple of L. 'Hidcote' to that of the pictured L. 'Munstead', which to my eye looks a bit wishy washy in comparison.

Do you grow lavender? Which varieties do you prefer?

Cultivation Notes

L. 'Sawyers' at Cotswold Lavender
Lavender hails from the Mediterranean, so prefers a warm, sunny position and thrives in an alkaline soil like mine. It thrives on poorer soils too, which makes it great for new build properties where the builders haven't been that generous with their topsoil, or at tidying up after themselves.

Lavender's also good for pots, especially if - like me - you're not that good at feeding them. As it's drought tolerant, you can afford to be forgetful with watering too.

If you have an acid soil, this interesting article published by Plant
Newly potted lavender (right)
Heritage suggests L. stoechas subsp. stoechas varieties are the ones for you to try. However, bear in mind L. stoechas (aka French lavender) isn't as hardy as L. angustifolia (English lavender) or L. x intermedia varieties. NAH and I also think the medicinal quality of L. stoechas's scent isn't quite as nice as English lavender.

The main cultivation problem is root rot, often seen if grown in heavy or waterlogged soils. The recent onslaught of rosemary beetle in the UK is the main pest threat.

Medicinal and culinary uses

Lavender is one of the most useful essential oils. Rene Gattefosse - the father of aromatherapy - was the first known user of lavender essential oil to treat burns when he plunged his burnt arm into a vat of the oil in his laboratory. He noted the burn healed quickly without scarring. 

Other uses include herb pillows to help with insomnia or anxiety; the relief of headaches and muscle cramps; and the treatment of various skin irritations, including insect bites. According to Plants for a Future, it also has antiseptic properties, and L. angustifolia is the most useful species.

I've tried lavender shortbread, lavender cake and lavender ice cream at various lavender haunts, all were very good. Epicurious has the best lavender recipe selection I've found so far, including some savoury ones. Lavender sugar and lavender salt are used frequently to add a hint of lavender to recipes.

Further Reading

Latin without tears

It's ironic L. angustofolia is called 'English lavender', even though it's not native to this country. It's not clear when it was introduced; possibly by the Romans or via the monasteries in the middle ages, who grew it for its healing properties. Recorded usage in this country dates back to the 1200s.

According to Wikipedia, there are 39 known lavender species. In addition to my favourite L. angustofolia, I've grown examples from L. stoechas, L. x intermedia, L. dentata, L. pedunculata, and L. lanata.

The genus name Lavandula, is derived from the Latin verb 'lavare', which means to wash. Lavender has been used as a scented rinse for washing for centuries.
  • angustifolia (English lavender) - from the Latin angustus meaning narrow, and folium for leaf
  • dentata (French lavender*) - from the Latin for bite or toothmark, which describes the appearance of this lavender's leaves
  • intermedia - from the Latin for among the middle. L. x intermedia is a cross between L. angustifolia and L. latifolia - these can cross breed when grown near to each other
  • lanata (woolly lavender) - from the Latin for woolly, wool-like, or covered in wool
  • latifolia (broad leaved, spike or Portuguese lavender) - derived from the Latin for broadleaf
  • pedunculata (French*, butterfly or papillon lavender) - from the Latin for slender stalked. It's sometimes shown as a subspecies of L. stoechas, or as a species in its own right (my edition of the RHS Plant Finder lists the subspecies under stoechas and refers it to the species entry)
  • stoechas (French lavender*) - from the ancient Greek name for a group of islands off the Marseilles coast, where this lavender was abundant
I've not found these species to be hardy in my garden, except for L. angustifolia and L. x intermedia.

* = three lavender species with the same common name, which look different from each other, especially the L. dentata. This is a great argument in favour of the use of botanical Latin - see also Lou's Forget Me Not blog for a great article on why botanical Latin is important.

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Monday, 11 April 2016

Postcard from Mevagissey

We've just got back from a glorious week in Cornwall, where there were plenty of dancing daffodils and preening primroses gracing the hedgerows. There were flowering camellia hedges and magnolia trees to admire in everyone's gardens too.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the camellias as I can only grow them in a pot owing to my limestone clay soil. They truly deserve to be free to grow into large shrubs or trees as they do in Cornwall. Then there was the sight of magnolias at least twice the height of those grown around here... some with blooms as big as my head. Magnificent.

We stayed in the traditional fishing village of Mevagissey, in a cottage called The Salt House, which recalled its role in the heyday of the pilchard fishing industry. It was good to see the fishing boats still outnumbered the pleasure boats in the harbour, though that may change later in the season.

We happily whiled away many an hour eating locally made ice cream whilst we watched the boats sail out or land their catch. There were plenty of good fish restaurants too, which introduced us to the delights of gurnard and black bream, in addition to the freshest of fish and chips purchased on the quayside.

Most garden visit opportunities were sadly missed as NAH wasn't feeling that well, though I did manage the glories of the national collection of magnolias at Caerhays Castle. Actually, it was quite nice to forgo garden activities for once, and watch the ever changing seascape and the winking harbour lighthouse from our bedroom window instead.

Friday, 1 April 2016

GBMD: In a Garden

Extract from Dorthy Gurney's poem found at the International Rose Test Garden in Portland, USA

Seen at the International Rose Test Garden in Portland, USA in 2014. You'll find another of my views of the garden here.

The rest of Dorothy Gurney's poem - God's Garden is read by Emma Fielding in the YouTube video below. This entry also says there's a missing stanza in the reading, which goes after the verse I've featured above.

Here's the link if the embedded version doesn't load.
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