Saturday, 28 February 2009

Seed Sorting

Well, having just spent a little time pottering and tidying in the garden, I've decided to start having a sort through the seed box and actually get myself organized as far as seed sowing is concerned this year! I did sow a lot of seeds last year but I sowed them all in big 'batches' so there was a wave of seedlings, and then a wave of potting on etc. so this year I'm hoping to start a little earlier so as to spread the work out a little more evenly, and so that there are seedlings just emerging while others are being potted on etc. and they're not all in need of potting on at exactly the same time! Also, this year I'm going to sow less than I think I need, as I always sow way too many seeds of plants and then end up with a load of extra work which results in plants which are then not planted out/watered/fed so hoping to cut out that work too.

The following are just a small selection (EEK!!!) I'm hoping to definitely get sown over the next couple of weeks. They will all be brought into the house (with one exception) and either placed on a windowsill or on my heat mat set up, depending on the germination temperatures. The majority will then go into the greenhouse once pricked out and potted on, although there may be a couple of the more tender ones staying in the greenhouse for a couple more weeks:
  • Nicotiana Sylvestris - I've tried these a couple of times in the past but I've never managed to get them past seedling stage, probably due to lack of motivation! There's an average of 2000 seeds in the packet and every other year for some mad reason I've sown the entire contents, so the fact that it looked like a mat of moss once germinated might have also put me off pricking them out! I'll be sowing an eighth of these at most, although the seeds are like dust so I'll get the magnifying glass out for those!!!
  • Amaranthus 'Pony Tails' - I tried the tricoloured variety of Amaranthus last year but, like with the Nicotiana, with little success. Haven't tried this variety before, it's one of the more basic varieties but should look quite unusual and exotic if I can get them to grow into decent plants.
  • Cosmos 'Sonata Mixed' and 'Seashells' - although they're not really tropical plants, you've got to love Cosmos for their abundance of flowers and ease of cultivation. Have grown 'Sensation Mixed' a couple of years in a row with huge success, although they did grow a bit TOO big for the border so am now trying the dwarf mix, 'Sonata Mixed' which we also tried last year and was just as floriferous but on smaller plants. I fancied trying the Seashells mix as the fluted petals look quite unusual, and should be something different to the normal Cosmos.
  • Rhodochiton - haven't grown these before but they seem to be quite an unusual and exotic climber, and as I'm looking for a couple of different climbers to try against the house and up supports both in pots and in the ground, might as well add these to the mix.
  • Something a little less unusual - Tomato 'Red Cherry' seeds will also be sown this week. We also grow a few tomato plants in the greenhouse, well worth it for the difference in flavour!
  • Chilli 'Cayenne' - perhaps more exotic that the Tomato seeds, but I've not really tried chillis before with much effort, but am hoping to get some fruits off the resulting plants this year, which will be growing in pots in the greenhouse.
  • Datura Inoxia - having heard varied reports on this plant being growing in the UK, I ordered some seeds from the US via E-bay last year but it was a bit late in the year to get anything decent out of them so I've saved them for this season. They'll be getting a lot of TLC as the flowers look similar to one of my favourite plants - Brugmansia - except they face upwards, and they're also slightly fragrant too, so might make a nice patio plant?
  • Bambusa Arundinacae - more a novelty that a serious effort, but I bought these seeds last year so might as well have a go at germinating them. Apparently not at all hardy in the UK but if it ever gets so big that greenhouse over Wintering is not possible, then I'll be pretty proud!
  • Sunflower 'Velvet Queen' - I'll be sowing these one seed to a cell and then keeping them in a coldframe outside. I'm always a bit too caring with Sunflowers and start them off in the house where they don't get a good start in life as they get leggy, so am hoping they'll be a little more toughened up if they're grown outside right from the beginning.
There are plenty more seeds still to be sorted so be prepared for many more of these posts, although hopefully the results this year will be worth the effort I'm going to put into growing them!

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Plants From Hill House Nursery

About a month ago I was browsing the web site of Hill House Nursery, a nursery in Devon dabbling quite a bit in the more unusual types of plants. I was overjoyed to find that they had Begonia Luxurians available - a plant which is particularly difficult to find in England. There was one nursery that was selling it last year but I think they only had a limited amount and now they're all gone, so Hill House Nursery is the only place selling it at the moment in the UK as far as I know, although I'm sure they'll sell out pretty soon as this plant is quite popular. The reason the plant is much sought after is not to much for its flowers, which compared to the tuberous and bedding begonias are rather dull, just small white clusters, but for its foliage, which is palmate and very unusual. Here's a picture I took of one growing at Cotswold Wildlife Park (a kind of zoo set within gardens, which have a general tropical/exotic theme) last Summer, which was growing very well;Anyway, having decided to definitely order a Begonia Luxurians, as I absolutely love the foliage, I noticed the P & P increase for a second plant wasn't that great, and they had many other nice plants so of course it would've been rude not to buy another! In the end I chose Brugmansia 'Grand Marnier'. It is supposed to be quite an old variety, although there are loads of different 'variations' flying around, although the true one, which I'm hoping this is, is supposed to be very vigorous and free flowering once it gets going, with highly scented pale peach to yellow pendulous flowers. I haven't got a picture of this one but hopefully I will have latter in the Summer!!!!Having ordered my plants I completely forgot about them for a few weeks - the Brugmansia was available to deliver straight away but the Begonia would only be ready in late February so I decided to go for having them shipped together to save on the costs. And, right on time, they arrived on Wednesday, and they were duly unwrapped and tidied up! Am very pleased with the quality and size of the plants. The Begonia has three decent sized leaves with another just emergin, plus another shoot just starting to come from the base, and it has a few flowers on it at the moment, not that they're anything to shout about!!!I'm hoping the leaves will straighten up a little but I won't be too bothered if they don't as by the time it comes to either planting it out or potting it up for the patio (I'm not sure where it's going to go yet), it will probably have grown quite a bit more so should look a little more tidy. And the Brugmansia, although a little yellow, most likely from lack of light during shipping, is a good sized plant, with plenty of shoots coming on it. Can't wait to see this one bloom!!!Am very pleased with the quality of the plants, well worth the money and when I contacted them at Hill House to ask for some advice regarding shipping etc. they were very helpful and nothing was too much trouble. Would definitely reccomend them!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Local Garden Centre Tour

Well, as my week off draws to an end, I just thought I'd let you know where we've been off out to!!! I did manage to get some time in the garden, but I didn't manage to get as much done as I'd have liked. There's just so much tidying up that needs to be done out there at the moment, and all that has got to be done first really before anything else happens! Loads of leaves still hanging around from the Autumn, and we have hundreds of pots all over the garden. We usually bag up the leaves to make leaf mould and organise the pots into piles around the side of the house, but that's now become such a mess that that's got to be sorted out too!!!

Plus the shed is really on its way out now. It's had a leak in the roof for absolutely ages, and the panes of glass (it's actually a potting shed, with glass on one side) are beginning to slide out and are supported by pots, so that is in desparate need of replacement. But then this brings about another round of problems - where does the new shed go? Personally I think it should be moved further back around the side of the house, because at the moment you can actually see it when you're sat on the patio, and I'd rather the space be taken up by plants and the shed be hidden from view! However, as always the parents are disagreeing, saying they want it in the same place, so the debate continues! Also, if we're going to put it in the same place, that means taking everything out and finding somewhere dry for it while the old shed is taken (or perhaps it'll just collapse!?!) down, and the new one erected. Either way, a new shed is needed this season.

Anyways, aside from being out tidying in the garden, we've also been doing a round of the local Garden Centre's, and it's nice to see all these exciting brightly coloured Summer bulbs in stock! The bedding plugs are all starting to come in no
w as well, and the weather is beginning to warm up, so there are signs all around that the seed sowing and Spring mania can begin!!! As always, I couldn't resist making some purchases in the Summer bulbs section, so aside from the giant Aroid bulb I bought mentioned in the previous post, I also came away with (sorry the pics aren't brilliant, just took them and the light's not very good at the moment):

Sprekelia Formosissima - this looks to have a very exotic flower! It's related to the Amaryllis, and can be grown in a similar way, but I'll be potting mine up soon and then keeping it in the greenhouse. Not sure if it will flower this year as the b
ulb isn't exactly massive, but we'll have to wait and see;
A Dahlia 'Jescot Julia' - absolutely loving the colours on this one, and a lovely flower form too;A mixed bag of 8 bulbs of Oriental Lilies. I've always admired at the colours and patterns on these, and at 8 bulbs for 4 quid, I couldn't really resist!
And finally, without a picture, three bulbs of Lilium Asiaticum 'Marrakech', not only because the name itself is of an exotic origin, but it is a very beautiful deep red. Can't wait to get all of these growing! I'm hoping to plant these lily bulbs up soon, and then I'll buy a few more so I can stagger the planting to acheive flowers over a longer length of time. Summer colour, here I come!!!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Giant Colocasia!!!

Last year, a local shop, Wilkinsons (a sorta buy all sorts of things cheap store for all of my non-UK readers), stocked a very good range of tropical plants and bulbs in Spring, ranging from brugmansias and gingers to tree ferns and palms! Being a person always looking out for a bargain, I had to give some of these things a try!

I bought a couple of tree ferns (I'll save those for
another post) plus many other things, but the items I bought that relate to this post are some Colocasia tubers. They were sold as Alocasia and were £2.99 I think, and I bought several as several people had had excellent results from similar tubers purchased from the same shop the previos year, with leaves nearing the 1m mark in length!!! Anyway, these tubers were probably at the most 2" in diameter, which is pretty big compared to normal bulbs! In high hopes for some 'mammoth' sized plants, I potted them up into large pots and set them going on the heat mat mid February;Over the coming weeks it grew at a fabulous rate, definitely living up to the fast growing and living plants that the tubers had produced in previous years. After just a few weeks of growth, the leaves were nearing the 1 foot mark already;
And around, I think, early May, they were transferred to the heated propagator in the greenhouse, where I was hoping they would toughen up a little and harden off;The growth slowed down over the new week or two, although I guess that is understandable as it is still cooler compared to the conditions in the house! In late May, it was planted into a half barrel outside (once again in high hopes for a large plant) and the root system was simply bulging out of the pot, yet another good sign. However, from there on it simply refused to grow, pushing out just another 2 or 3 measley leaves during the entire Summer. This probably had something to do with the weather as last Summer wasn't the best for tropical plants I guess, but the sucess people had the previous year was not to be found with many peoples plants, although many people produced decent plants given the weather!!! It has been 'rumoured' that the variety of these bulbs is Colocasia Esculenta 'Mammoth', which is supposed to be a very vigorous variety, with, as the name suggests, 'mammoth' sized leaves! However, as no proper tests have been done, I guess we'll never find out. If they stock them again I might give another one more a go but we'll have to see.

BUT there is hope on the horizon!!! Whilst doing out whirlwind tour of the local Garden Centres, imagine my shock when I saw some bulbs three times the size of any I'd ever seen before!!! Low and behold, they were of course Colocasias, although the variety/species name was not given. At £4.50 a piece I just had to g
ive one of these ago, so I bought one of these giants home with me, and he has now been named Bobby. He weighs in at a hefty 2kg, and here are some pics;This is the top of the bulb, where I'm hoping it'll shoot from;
And you can see here at the base of the bulb where the offsets have been removed, which I'm guessing will be propagated to produce this years harvest!

It has been suggested that bulb size has in fact nothing to do with the size of the plant produced, and while there is no actual Scientific evidence that there is a link between the two things, one would assume that the larger the storage tuber, the more energy contained thus at least the more vigorous and fast growing the plant will be? Either way, I have a good feeling about Bobby! He'll be potted up ASAP, and I'm hoping to get a bell jar to put over him while he's on the heat mat, just to increase the humidity a little bit! I'll keep you updated!

Has anyone else had any experience with the Wilkinsons or similar Colocasias, or with some of these 'giant' bulbs? If so, please let me know and leave a comment below!

Saturday, 14 February 2009


Once again, I haven't really got around to doing anything in the garden over the past week due to the abysmal weather (although thankfully not as abysmal as the week before!), so I thought I would show you some pictures of our trip to Kew from 2007. Sadly the camera didn't fare to well - I think it was a very warm day, so the glasshouses were quite hot and humid, and steamed up the camera lens :( Still, I managed to get some half decent photos, although I'm really dissapointed that none of my tropical water lily photos came out well, as they're some of my favourite plants! Oh well, that just gives me an excuse to go again this year lol! I've got the next week off though, so fingers crossed the weather's not too bad so as I can get out in the garden! I'm hoping to start moving some of the less interesing plants to make room for more tropical this year, and also to get the greenhouse tidied before the Spring rush! Hopefully I'll be able to report that something productive has been done over the week by next weekend.

OK Well I'll start with a few outdoor pics - here's a picture of the Sarracenia's that were planted outside the Princess of Wales Conservatory. I have several Sarracenias outside at the moment (three out of four), and they're all looking extremely good considering the bad weather we've been having. I was so surprised when I found out that there are several types of Sarracenia that are hardy and can be left outside year round, although I don't think they did that with their at Kew, as many of theirs seem to be the types that need to be kept just frost free, although again that is very little care for such an unusual/exotic plant! The soil in this bed looks very dry though which surprises me as Sarracenia usually like to be sitting in boggy conditions, but they seemed to be doing well enough;

And here's a couple of hardy water lily flowers - they had a large outdoor pond filled with these and it was quite a sight, even if the individual flowers aren't as intricate as the tropical water lilies;

And now a few pictures from inside the Alpine House. It is an ironically large building for such teensy plants, but nonetheless seems to be providing the ideal conditions as they were all thriving! One that caught my eye was this furry guy;

And although at the time I had absolutely no idea what they are, I now know that these are a couple of Roscoea, and very nice ones at that;

And now a few pictures from the Princess of Wales Conservatory [I think!]. Here we have a Euryale Ferox [again, I think!], my second favourite giant water lily, to one of the Victoria Hybrids, although quite hard to get hold of and grow sucessfully so I've heard;

And here we have a flower of the Nelumbo (Lotus). This was the only flower out at the time and I had to zoom in quite a bit, hence the picture quality, but on our holiday to Italy last year, there were extremely healthy clumps of Nelumbo growing in several of the pools at La Mortella, with absolutely gigantic leaves! Wonderful plants when given heat and sun;

Here is a Giant Victoria Lily hybrid in the Waterlily House. I think despite its small size, this has to be my favourite glasshouse at Kew because it looks so beautiful and magnificent with the huge pads of the waterlily surrounded by the dainty flowers of other tropical lilies, and then a vigorous Ipomoea twining its way around the sides of the pool, and lush exotic planting in the borders on the other side of the path. Beautiful!

And finally, we have an assortment of images from the Palm and Temperate houses (I can't remember which pictures were from which!). An unusual ginger flower;

A stunning Hibiscus;

A Brugmansia, apparently wilting in the heat! It seems ages since we've had any heat significant enough to make a plant wilt lol!

A Cobaea Scandens - this was working its way intrically up the staircase in one of the glasshouses. It looked absolutely stunning with its flowers dripping off the hand rails and so naturalistic! I'm hoping to grow both the purple and white versions (var. Alba) this year up a wall, although I doubt they'll be flowering as prolifically as those in the glasshouse;

A general view from the upper walkways in one of the glasshouses, showing the extremely lush and vigorous plants. They also had some tree fe rns in one of the greenhouse with the most magnificently sized fronds ever, but the pictures of those aren't worth seeing! Fingers crossed we can go back some time this year so I can take some better ones;

Last of all, not taken in Kew, but in someones garden just outside Kew! This gorgeous Gladioli was standing proud all on its own, but it had som e wonderful colouration. I've never had much sucess with Gladioli but I've bought some more bulbs to give another go this year, fingers crossed they may finally bloom for me!!!

Sunday, 8 February 2009


Sorry this weeks post is a little later than usual, it's been a busy week, but I've got next week off so plenty of time to start 'gardening' - more on that this coming weekend!

Anyway, just thought I'd post about one of our local tropical nurserys - Akamba. We first visited late March last year and as it's not that far away we visited at least three more time throughout the season, plus the fact that it's such a good nursery makes it even more addictive! The nursery (names after a village in Africa I believe) is African themed, and they sell all sorts of tropical plants. Even though most of last year it was raining every weekend, our trips out were sitll very enjoyable, but on the odd weekend we went and it was sunny, it was absolutely brilliant, and felt just like you were in Africa! They also have a themed coffee shop, and (word has it that) they have been/are planning to expand with possibly a restaurant and other things. Every time I went there I always came home with some goodies, as there is always such a good range to choose from! Some things I've bought from there include Geranium Maderense, Cyathea Cooperii and Sparmannia Africana.

The nursery has a very nice entrance, even on rainy days;
They sell a lot of really nice weird and wonderful plants;
They also sell some sculptures - including Elephants, Giraffes, and as shown in the photo below, Crocodiles (I think this one has now been bought!). They are very authentic sculptures and would be great if you are going for an African themed garden;
They also have a couple of polytunnels packed with some of the more tender, but equally stunning plants;
One of their latest developments has also been a small garden, which although still in progress was looking pretty good in Summer, with some nice palms and tree ferns included;
We'll probably be visiting for the first time this year soon, so I'm very much looking forward to seeing what's new, and what they've got in store for the coming season!

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Snow and Rainforests!

What a week! Snow everyday, frost every night, country's running out of grit - and England is still populated with almost 70 million people! OK, this Winter has been pretty harsh and unusual compared to the slightly milder Winter's of the past decade or two that we've been getting used to, but I'm still determined to move away to somewhere warm later in life - and it's especially at this time of year that I crave those places most!!! While I must admit, waking up to have views like these just down the road, and getting two days off, is very nice, I'd much rather be sat by the poolside surrounded by my own piece of tropical paradise year round without having a glass roof over my head!Although we did have a rather nice sunset last night - not a patch compared to those to be had in warmer places of course, but pretty good for this time of year;Anyway, did I mention I loved warm places? Well I was watching an episode of 'Natural World' earlier that we recorded a month or two ago, and I was absolutely fascinated by the variety of life that occurs in the rainforest, both plant and animal. I mean, come on, where else would you find the worlds largest single flower, the Rafflesia, growing naturally [wish I'd have been there taking this photo!]?

Amorphophallus Titanum - the worlds largest unbranched inflorescence. Although popular in many Botanical Gardens these days, it is still only indigenous to the tropical forests of Sumatra [this picture was taken at a Botanical Garden, once again not by me, but one day I will see one in the flesh!];
And these final three pictures, although all taken in the Eden Project, Cornwall [actually by me this time!], represent another couple of plants found in tropical rainforest - Etlingera and Heliconia - the latter of which I actually own one (Heliconia Schiediana), although it's in its second Winter in the frost free greenhouse and looking a little exhausted!
While many of the plants found growing indigenously in tropical rainforests cannot be growing here in England unless you have a year round warm greenhouse, similar plants can be used to similar effect in temperate climates, so the lush tropical effect can be acheived even in England! And while the Orangutans, Gorillas and Toucans may be substituted with Blackbirds, Pigeons and Crows, I'm still trying to acheive a similar atmosphere to the rainforest.

And one way in which I am aiming for this is through adding sounds that instantly evoke images of lush canopies and a huge array of brilliantly coloured birds hiding in amongst the foliage. One website I find very useful and helpful in this is Andrew and Sarah Skeoch's 'Listening Earth'. Through this website, they make available recording they have done in real rainforests, and many other exotic locations. I got a couple of their CDs for Christmas, and love listening to them when I'm thinking of creating ideas for the garden, or even just relaxing. I can't wait to get the garden speakers out and start blasting tropical birdsong out this Summer, to add to the rainforest atmosphere I'm trying to recreate! I would highly reccomend their recordings - whether they're for playing in your garden or just listening to while relaxing, they're very good quality and not overly expensive either.

Anyway, back down to Earth now!!! Still not much to report on the seed germinating front - 3 Canna 'Crozy's Hybrids' are now up, 1 Karchesky Canna Hybrid is up, 2 Brugmansia Sanguinea are up and 1 B. Arborea seedling is adventurously peeping its head out of the compost! Hopefully the weather will improve over the week so that I can get out in the garden and continue the seed sowing and start moving plants around - the garden plant for this season is almost complete, although whether I'll stick to it or not is another matter!!!

Sunday, 1 February 2009

More Dahlias!

We decided to take a trip out to another local Garden Centre this afternoon (Notcutt's this time). Just as we were setting out it started to pelt it down with snow, but it only lasted for a few minutes so we continued. To be honest, it wasn't really worth going - I feel that Notcutt's has slowly been deteriorating, and the Cafe in our local branch is absolutely diabolical! Only came away with one thing - yep, you guessed it, another Dahlia tuber! The one I picked up today was called Firebird, a nice fat tuber and it looks similar to a flower I've taken a photo of elsewhere.

Upon arriving home it started snowing again but once again that didn't last long and it's now a tropical -2.9C outside, with a wind chill of -9C. I know I've already said it once, maybe twice, but I can't wait until Spring!!!

So to draw my mind from the weather outside I decided to look through some Dahlia pictures I took on a couple of visits to one of our local National Trust Properties - Baddesley Clinton. They have an absolutely massive collection of Dahlias, and we visited once in Autumn 2008, and then in Autumn 2009. Personally, I'm not very interested in History and the like so the house isn't much interest to me, but their Dahlia border is a sight to behold. They also had a plan of which Dahlias were where, which I did take a photo of, but it's kinda hard to decipher which is which! Anyway, here are some pics of just a small selection of the gorgeous blooms that they had!!!

And it's this final one which looks similar to the Dahlia 'Firebird' I bought today. I can't find a decent picture of 'Firebird' anywhere, but if mine looks anything like the bloom in this picture, I'll be pleased!

I'm hoping to start all my Dahlias off in late March/early April, so that way I can take some cuttings from the sprouting tubers and then let them make a second flush of growth, so I should have some back up plants as well by the end of the year. Hope the pictures have cheered you up on this bleak and cold night!