All for the price of a coffee…

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Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’, Tostat, July 2018

I adore growing plants from seed.  Well, there can be disastrous times, like this Spring for example, or just ‘nil return’ after peering anxiously at the seedtray for what seems like ages.  But some seeds just seem to germinate generously and readily, popping up with abandon into the world.

So, it is probably best to expect a 50/50 return- but if there are 200 seeds in the packet, you could be swamped.  Two years ago, I grew 80 or so small plants of Echinacea ‘Green Wizard’ from seed, in my hubris I even sent some small plants to a friend.  Hubris it was.  This year, after our soaking and cold Spring, I have only seen one measly specimen come back in the garden.  So, I think the best approach with seeds starts with total humbleness and then thankfulness.

This Spring, I planted out about 30 plants of Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’ which I grew last autumn.  They were teeny tiny plants. but looking sturdy, and now they are bursting into flower, gorgeous yellows, orange flecks and reds, and a metre high- in fact, they are in danger from the next passing storm, so I may get round to staking them in advance.  All for the price of a coffee, and a lot of humble waiting.  Not bad.

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Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’, Tostat, July 2018
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Helenium atumnale ‘Helena’, Tostat, July 2018

The garden is moving out of its mauve phase, with some more yellows and reds starting up.  Last year, in the height of a hot summer, I bought two abutilon babies, barely rooted, from an Ebay seller in Spain, at the price of another coffee.  One bit the dust this Spring, but the other one is doing well, with a lovely soft, dark, matte red which seems to bring out the beautiful veining that Abutilons have.  This un-named plant may be too tender to leave in the ground over the winter, so I am not going to risk it, I will dig and pot it up, along with the more cherry- red Abutilon ‘Red Trumpet’, which is also new to me this year.  These are such good plants, reliable, heat-tolerant, flowering all summer into the autumn, and I adore the bell-shaped flowers.

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Abutilon unknown, Spanish ebay, Tostat, July 2018
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More cherry-red, Abutilon ‘Red Trumpet’, Tostat, July 2018
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Heterotheca campora var glandulissima, Tostat, July 2018

This Heterotheca campora var.glandulissima, bit of a mouthful, has languished in the garden for the past 3 years, planted in the wrong place too near to a buddleia, and so has been a serious damp squib through no fault of its own.  Goodbye buddleia, and hey presto, Heterotheca is back in town.  Big, determined, fat yellow daisies with charmingly slightly reflexed petals, in a sunny yellow that is not sickly- what’s not to like?  Welcome back and apologies for the poor service you have received.

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Patrinia scabiosifolia, Tostat, July 2018

Patrinia scabiosifolia is a plant I always wanted to try.  It was on its last seed trial last year, having been a dud on two previous years.  I managed to make it to half a dozen seedlings, the wet Spring did for two of them, and then I lost the remaining four in the garden.  Lost in the sense that I planted them out as smallish plants and then couldn’t find them.  Two weeks ago, they re-emerged.  Well, they had always been there growing away but slightly obscured.  If you can imagine a yellow Verbena bonariensis, with the same electric colouring though yellow rather than purply-blue, and a less gangly plant, a little shorter, then you have a good idea of what the plant looks like.  As we speak, six seeds have germinated this year, so I may make it to a good group.  I think it prefers a slightly more fertile and moist soil than Verbena so I am not taking any chances with it, now that I have it.  Another coffee.

Actually, I prefer tea in almost all circumstances, but you get the drift.

 

 

Twiddling thumbs…

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Tulipa clusiana Lady Jane, Tostat, March 2018

How does this little tulip do it? We are talking stems the width of shoelaces, and the flowers seem so delicate, looking rather ghostly in the greyness and wet of today.  In fact, their light meter is definitely stuck at ‘sunny’.  I am astonished by the casually butch approach it is taking to our latest bout of winter.  We are back to freezing temperatures, wind and rain, even thunder, and once again, any sensible plant has just stopped in its tracks.

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Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’, clumping up, Tostat, March 2018

Indoors, I have been laughing out loud at Anna Pavord’s 2010 book, ‘The Curious Gardener’.  Her deft wit and sense of humour pervades this selection of articles she wrote when gardening correspondent for ‘The Independent’.  I really did laugh at her account of Pavord family Christmases- and I love her self-effacing acceptance of gardening bloomers and disasters.  Unlike some, whose books can simply load you up with guilt-inducing instruction, she lightens all loads with her humour and likes and dislikes.

When the weather has given up annoying me for short periods, I have been out planting.  I have to, as my experimental growing perennials from seed phase has produced about a hundred small pots.  All of these have either been sitting on gravel through all the weather we have had, or some lucky ones got planted out in a spare patch to be dug up in the Spring.

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Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’, Tostat, June 2015. This clump produced about 10 plants when split.

Included in that number were some purchases last Autumn that I split and re-potted, so all in all, there is no excuse for not planting up generously.  I have been really struck by how bombproof these small plants have been.  I reckon that the death rate has been only 1-2%- which is brilliant.  The baby Echinacea pupureas were almost washed away in the rains of January and February, but all are putting on good growth although I need to top them up with a bit more compost.

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Helenium autumnale ‘Helena’, was a great success from seed photo credit and seed supplier: http://www.seedaholic.com

So, I am having a dense planting push.  I am ignoring conventional planting distances and going for less than half the normal recommendations.  I have one area that is entirely perennials with some added structural plants- and this area, now approaching its third birthday, is looking very promising, with lots of self-seeding. All I am doing is taking out dandelions and other major pests- otherwise, I am leaving it alone.

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Aster tartaricus ‘Jindai’. This split really well and easily, producing about 4-5 plants from each mother plant. photo credit: http://www.finegardening.com

In other parts of the garden, I am using this chance to really beef up the planting.  Mulching is a tricky proposition for me.  It risks flattening self-seeding, which is what I am after, and so I am trying out a slightly different approach.  Having read a short article about Thomas Rainer, an American landscape architect who is a big mover in the sustainable planting world, I then bought his book, written with Claudia West, ‘Planting in a post-Wild World’.  This is a scholarly tome, which carefully explains the building of resilient plant communities, but at the heart of it are the following principles:

  1.  Amending the soil- don’t
  2. Double digging- don’t
  3. Soil testing- do
  4. Mulching- don’t
  5. Planting cover crops- do
  6. Buying a lot of plants- do
  7. Curbside planting- do
  8. Experimenting and having fun- do

By all means read the book- it is very inspiring, but to get the gist, the Gardenista website article kickstarts all you need to know.  I am not a regular Gardenista reader, too much designery clap-trap for me, but just sometimes, it is spot-on.

So, with my small and brilliantly tough plants, I am setting out to offer them co-habitation in the hope that they will make me some resilient plant communities.  And where it is tricky to that fully, I am doing something different again.

My driest, hottest parts are actually pretty much jam-packed with plants- but even so, in  our wet Springs, I get masses of passing-through weed activity.  By that I mean, naturally occurring early season weeds, which actually mostly get burnt off or dried out by the height of summer.  So, this year, I am not going to charge about pulling them out, I am going to leave them be.  This is on the grounds that they have a role in protecting the durable plants through the winter and spring, and then, by and large, they die off.  So, as long as the balance between them, and the permanent plants stays in place- they are actually preventing the dessication and erosion of the soil by being there.

Thinking over- I am dying to get out there again!