Six on Saturday – 10/4/2021

All week the forecast has been for overnight frost or pretty close and so far it hasn’t materialised. I want to start moving things out from the greenhouse to make room for veg being grown for the allotment. It looks like this weekend sees the back of it for a while. It being pretty cold, the garden has slowed down again and most of what is happening this week was already happening last week. Still, it’s six happening things are called for, not six excuses, so here goes.

One.
The Camellia season has peaked but there are a couple yet to come. This one is C. japonica ‘Bob Hope’, a mighty fine rich red.

Two.
Crinum powellii. This has been in the garden for quite a few years and every year gets hammered relentlessly by slugs. I have considered digging and potting it several times and finally the job is done. It had the root system of a small tree and the first spade I used broke. It is up, potted into a large pot. The bluebells that surrounded it, all hybrids, are gone too, not potted. They were what provided the slugs with cover. Heleniums and Rudbeckia have gone in as replacements, a colour switch from pink to yellow/orange.


Three.
The first of two disasters.I’ve always known this as Sequoia sempervirens ‘Adpressa Nana’. However, that name is not in the Spicer/Auders Encyclopaedia of Conifers and none of the 49 varieties listed seems to describe it either. It is similar to S. sempervirens ‘Adpressa’ but I’ve grown the two side by side and am in no doubt it is different. It grows quite quickly, a foot a year is not unknown, but unlike most conifers can be cut back hard and will shoot out again, so it has been kept to around three feet. It’s not happy. There’s a Rhododendron ‘Merganser’ alongside it that has been suffering dieback for a few years, probably Phytophthora or Armillaria. Looks like it’s spread.

Four.
The second disaster is similar in that it involves dieback but the purple Japanese maple concerned is a lot bigger than the conifer. It clearly has some infection gnawing away at it and in the autumn I wondered how much would come into leaf this spring. It’s the only plant in the garden that predates Sue and me, so around 35 years old. It looks to me like about half of it will come into leaf and I suspect some of it will be only just. There are some sprouts lower down to which it perhaps could be cut back but I fear it will only postpone the inevitable. It has a tree privet just behind it, with the evergreen leaves at the top. You can make out some new purple shoots but some branches have none. The real problem is that it’s been too dry at the roots, especially in spring when it has been trying to make new growth.


Five.
It may be that the Maple’s problems are not helped by the carpet of Epimedium growing beneath it. Epimedium pinnatum subsp. colchicum is a very effective ground cover that will tolerate dry shade. It doesn’t flower a lot but it has glossy green leaves which look pretty good all year. It must suck up a lot of moisture though, from a tree that doesn’t have a lot to start with and doesn’t tolerate dryness very well. I should have sheared it down before the flowers started coming up; too late now.


Six.
Earlier this week I came across an old picture of the garden, from about 25 years ago. I took another shot from the same viewpoint and compared them closely. I could find only two plants that are still here now. Both pictures are just frozen moments in time though; five years before the earlier picture it was very different, five years on from now it will be different again. A garden is a process not a fixture. I thought I’d hit on something and wrote a blog about it, then decided it wasn’t very profound at all so it’s still in draft awaiting deletion. Here are the two pictures though. I see an uncomfortable number of things that could hardly be described as improvements, though the time of year doesn’t help.

Now I need to get my skates on, get up the allotment and sow peas, parsnips and carrots. Water the tunnel. Links to other sixes are in the usual place, over at The Propagators, who is planning a busy gardening weekend as befits someone who has an actual job. Oddly, I still find it easier to get gardening done at a weekend, the habits of a lifetime are hard to break.

42 thoughts on “Six on Saturday – 10/4/2021

  1. Great to see the photo of then and now. It’s so different, I wouldn’t have recognised it as the same garden if they weren’t side by side. Perhaps the paving in the bottom right hand corner might have given it away.

    I feel like breaking a spade is a sign of true effort. It’s a mixture of inconvenience and immense pride.

    I find Epimediums (depending on the exact variety) are one of the most reliable plants for dry shade. They thrive in some really tough spots.

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    1. I resorted to a six foot bar to get the Crinum out, what a beast! It’ll probably break the pot next. I wish I could grow the choicer Epimediums as easily as that one, they don’t like me much at all.

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  2. Nice changes in the garden for 25 years. You went from a pretty garden to a very nice structured garden.
    What a pity for your 2 losses. Especially for the maple which is very tall …
    Last thing, the photo of Crinum powellii gives a little prehistoric aspect, it’s funny at this stage of growth

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  3. Will you leave the Acer as it is for now?
    I wish I had more pictures of my garden to see the changes. It doesn’t help that not much of it can be seen at any one time. The transformation in yours looks all for the better (in my opinion, anyway).

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    1. The fate of the Acer will be decided in 2 or 3 weeks time when I see how much comes into leaf. I took about 25% of it out last year, totally dead, I think at least as much has died over winter. It’s not looking good. It’s good to have pictures, I am always amazed by how many different plants we’ve grown (and killed!)

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    1. The thing that really struck me was that most of the changes were inevitable, things outgrowing the space or dying. Far less was planned makeovers of parts of the whole.

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  4. Interesting Six this week Jim, and I note your observations on the Epimedium which I have. I guess I shall need to rethink just how far mine extends in this small garden, as moisture suckers could be a problem.

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    1. I may be doing the Epimedium an injustice but dry springs seem to be getting commoner and are ruinous of susceptible species; this will be the second large Acer we’ve lost.

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  5. Hi Jim, our comment about a garden being a process not a fixture may not be profound but it’s something so few understand. Last night I saw a zoom talk about Tresco and it astounded me how that garden has changed over the years, plants lost to cold and storms and disease, new gardeners bringing new ideas. I loved hearing about it. I think I may need to look out for a copy of the conifer encyclopedia you mentioned. I do love conifers but know so little about them…

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    1. The conifer book is a monumental work, two huge volumes, Amazon say it is unavailable. It’s not on Abe Books either it seems. I bought a copy from Derek Spicer, one of the authors, who ran a wholesale conifer nursery in Leicester and from whom we bought stock back in the day. Seems like a massive bargain now. If you ever need info though, just ask and I’ll look it up.

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  6. Oh, my; that redwood looks sad. The dwarf cultivars are rare here. I had seen them only in bonsai culture. When I was a kid, bits of rooted redwood burl with small shoots were sold as souvenirs of California at the San Jose airport. They were contained in small transparent cylinders that could be easily stashed in luggage. They could be grown as houseplants. I do not know if they were grown from cultivar trees, or just chopped up bits of wild burl. Dwarf cultivars would have worked nicely for this, but were probably rare and expensive back then. This year, I canned one of the many seedlings that came up in the landscapes, and might later use it as understock for another attempt to graft albino redwood. I should probably use a cultivar just in case it actually works and gets planted into a landscape somewhere. However, for my own garden, I prefer a wild tree. If it works, I can graft onto a cultivar later.
    For that crinum, cold you wrap bare copper wire around the pot to exclude the snails?

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    1. The “dwarf” or prostrate forms of Sequoia that I’ve encountered have all had a strong tendency to revert back to a normal growth rate, so not genetically hard wired to be small. Now the Crinum is in a pot it should be easier to protect it against slugs. I’ll have a rummage for copper wire in the attic.

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      1. My conifer encyclopaedia lists a couple of variegated forms, ‘Don’s Gold Strike’ was found near Santa Cruz and ‘Kool’s Variegated’ arose in Holland. They have patches of chlorophyll free foliage dotted about the tree so are presumably unstable mericlinal mutations. Gymnosperms don’t have layered apical growing tips according to Hartmann and Kester so you’re not going to get a stable periclinal mutation producing a white or yellow leaf margin. Your all white shoots are not chimaeral though. I’ve seen albino cactus grafted onto green stocks, not a good look, but I can’t think of any other chlorophyll free cultivars of anything. It’s very striking.

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      2. No, all of these are all nonchimaeral white, which is why I can not get copies of them. I seriously doubt that grafting would work either, unless I could take the time to graft roots. The neighbors who own the closest of these trees might not mind, but it would talk a bit of effort, and I do not want to impose.

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  7. I like your before and after comparison. What happened to those ponds then? They look rather nice and although that hedge was probably a leylandii I actually prefer the green border to the fence. I can understand why the lawn had to go, all those fussy curvaceous borders would have been a pain to mow and edge, but what can you see now that you are not so please with?

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    1. The ponds went because of a surfeit of frogs. Every spring they would fill with ludicrous amounts of spawn, very little of which turned into tadpoles because it all went airless and stinking. Then I’d get to fish out several dozen bloated dead frogs. Well, you did ask. The hedge was leylandii, six feet high and four feet wide and standing on a step ladder on cultivated ground leaning across it with a power hedge trimmer was soon or later going to put me in hospital. It was initially replaced with Fuchsias along the top of the bank but the neighbour behind the glasshouse saw fit to prune them to the ground a couple of times and wouldn’t let Sue get on with anything, just wanted to talk incessantly. Not to me though. The fence was a practical but unattractive solution. I’d have preferred a more attractive hard surfacing than the 2 x 2 slabs, stone or brick pavers but couldn’t afford the former and was put off by the difficulty of the latter. They’re fine when the plants hide the edges.

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      1. Wish I hadn’t asked about the ponds now! I think after this conversation I shall look for a water feature! Shame about the fuchsias, they make a lovely hedgerow. I guess you can grow climbers up the fence? I have boring slabs on my patio and they are deadly in winter with the green algae. Be nice to have some grey slate on the patio and Cornish cobble setts for the path.

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      2. You’ve set me thinking about improving the fence now but I’d better get the greenhouse finished first. We persevered with the pond for a good ten or fifteen years, rehomed countless frogs and spawn.

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  8. I love playing spot the difference on your before and after garden shots and seeing how effective the circular path is and wondering whether you miss the lawn. I guess not.
    The deep red camellia looks really good.

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    1. I can say with complete honesty than in thirty years I have never missed the lawn for a single second. It’s a mystery to me why quite so many people persist with one, especially when they’re tiny.

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    1. Among old Camellia varieties there are many that were raised in Portugal, I just looked up ‘Dona Herzilia de Freitas Magalhães’, expecting it to date from the mid to late 19th century but it turns out it’s more recent. Their heyday seems to have been the second half of the 19th century but I’m not aware of anything recent. Much the same is true of Italy; they may both be producing new varieties but they’re not making it into the UK market. You must have a near perfect climate for Camellias though.

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    1. I thought I’d done a blog about the evolution of the garden but if I did I can’t find it. I have quite a few old photos and it is endlessly fascinating to compare new and old. Plant deaths are part of the story; change is often neither good nor bad, just different, which is positive in its own way.

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  9. Re the crinum: We have two patches in the garden – the pink and the white Crinum x powellii. They have never been touched by slugs or snails but moving them is impossible. I went to tease a bulb off the edge a few years back and followed the stem down to about two feet before giving up.

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    1. There are times when I feel somewhat persecuted by slugs. I sometimes think Cornwall must be in something of a Goldilocks zone for them, mild winters, plenty of moisture. Then again, it may just come down to having no daytime cover for the blighters within six feet of the very vulnerable plants, which was certainly not true of my Crinum. Just to read that line, “they have never been touched by slugs or snails” when I have had the absolute opposite, it hurts!

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  10. The point about gardens not being frozen in time strikes a chord. We put so much of ourselves into something so transitory. Artists wouldn’t paint pictures only to have them repainted regularly. Your before and after pictures are fascinating.

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    1. Being transitory perhaps adds value. There will be a moment in a part of a garden when everything is at its best and the light is perfect and you’re maybe lucky enough to get a photo but it may well not quite capture it as you would like. Then the light changes and by the following day one or two plants are just past their best. But a few days or weeks later, another scene unfolds somewhere else. The following year the same grouping doesn’t synchronise itself in the same way. Pretty much by definition, the “as good as it gets” moments are never repeated and are the more precious for it.

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