Writings from Wales November 2013
The seed is with the packers and we can return to the garden. The first job was to return the old fridge from its seed storing sojourn in the conservatory to the sheds and to admit from the cold all the not quite hardy plants that were queuing up outside, waiting to get into their winter quarters. Several are Clethra, which I described a couple of months ago. The C. arborea is just coming into flower and will scent the conservatory for the early winter. There are also a few hydrangeas that, although they will survive outside, do not flower unless given a slightly warmer winter, together with a couple of their relatives, Dichroa febrifuga and Platycrater arguta which both prefer not to be frozen. Eucryphia moorei used to overwinter in the unheated tunnel, but the harsh winter a few years back almost did for it. It has slowly grown back, and now I do not take the risk.
In the garden some late flowering plants are still trying hard. In principle, I like toad lilies and several of my plants are now well established and making a good show. The trouble is I dont go out to look at them that often enough, so the liking is a bit theoretical. The same applies to Rostrinucula sinensis, a late flowering shrub from the laminaceae that looks more like a buddleja. It has arching stems and dangling racemes of purple flowers that start for us in mid October. I enclose a photo. If we had a milder climate I think the tassels would be a lot longer and a bit more showy. But, even if they were, with so little else in flower, the urge to go and admire it is never strong.
The summer dormant plants are returning from their resting period. The Arum italicum varieties are already in full leaf and Arum creticum is pushing its spears through. I like to watch this slowly grow over the winter months until it finally unfurls its yellow spathe in April and then dies down again. Another summer dormant genus that makes a good woodland plant in the UK is romanzoffia. I dont understand why they are not grown more. About 6 weeks ago they started to push through the soil and are now starting to make a carpet of neat, glossy foliage. This will thicken up over the winter and then, in late spring, be covered with a mass of white flowers. They will seed and die down for the driest part of the summer and then reappear next autumn. They come from the west coast of the USA, where they grow on rocky cliffs and banks, getting much of their moisture from the winter fogs but here they adapt well to a shady spot, moist in winter and well drained in summer. They are very easy from seed, and once established also produce small, bulb-like off shoots which can be potted up and planted elsewhere. I acquired a new (to me) summer dormant plant last year. It is Corydalis leucanthema DJHC752. The foliage emerges in autumn and overwinters. It is mid green with silver markings. There are typical pink edged, white corydalis flowers in spring and then it dies down again for the summer.
Another marker of the season was the arrival of my annual order from the Suttons Desirable Plants nursery. Together with Edrom they form the major suppliers of my woodland plants. They were the source last year of the corydalis described above. From this years haul I am particularly looking forward to seeing Impatiens omeiana Red Nerves spread itself around. It is said to have red stems and backs to the leaves. I already grow the basic form (clone 1) which has green leaves with a bold yellow centre and clone 2 which has silver leaves. These are bone hardy and spread to form bold clumps in reliably moist soil in shade.
Mail order certainly makes acquiring interesting plants much easier than it was BI (before the internet). The only disadvantage is that the economics of the system mean that the plants are always relatively small. For many this is not a problem, and they get away vigorously. However, some would really benefit from another year in the pot being cossetted. It would help if the nurseries would be up-front about this and simply say that transport costs mean that they are sending small plants and that for plant x this is not a problem, but for plant y keep it in the pot for a year.
As I expected the autumn colour has not been as good as usual this year, but a few of the faithful have contributed well. Liriodendron sinensis, the Chinese tulip tree, is a good, striking yellow, Nyssa sinensis has coloured well and Itea virginica Henrys Garnet never fails. It is worth growing for the tassels of scented white flowers in the summer but the real pay-off is the autumn colour. I said a lot about the good sorbus berries last month, but the cotoneasters have also been excellent this year. I enclose a photo of the berries of C. frigidus. It is a good tree for a small garden. I recently bought a variety called Pershore Coral with, as the name suggests, coral pink berries. It will look good when it grows up.
A task for the next few days is to dig up and divide some perennials to make plants for our local groups sale in April. In the past I have made Irish Cuttings of several plants as I weeded in the autumn. Wendy potted them up and we kept them in the tunnel over the winter to give them a good start in the spring. This year we have decided to do more samples of fewer plants and print off photos of each in the hope of attracting more sales. It will be interesting to see if it is more successful with the customers. It is difficult to gauge what will be popular with the general public that come to the sale. With the monthly plant sale for group members it is easy. If it is rare and/or unusual it will sell.
This year we had many new donors of seed. Several of these expressed the view that they had been reluctant to send seed because they were not sure how to collect and clean it. The first point to make is that I would rather throw a few submissions away as being unusable than miss the one that is. However it suggested to me the idea of writing a semi-regular feature in the blog on particular seeds and how to deal with them. Lets start with a simple one. Adenophora, like all members of the campanula family have an unusual method of seed dispersal. Rather than opening at the top and scattering their seeds to the wind like poppies, their seed capsules split at the bottom and the seeds fall out. If you wait too long you will end up harvesting empty seed pods. You need to be vigilant and pick the capsules when the seeds are ripe (black or brown) but before the holes open. This means visiting the plants regularly to check progress. Once you have collected them, let them dry out and then crack them to release the seed. Remove the debris. Blowing gently across the mass in a shallow bowl will push the bits of shell wall to the side and leave the seed in the middle. Do not be too paranoid about this. A bit of dust does not matter. If it is 95% seed you are doing well.
Text and photographs by Joe Sime of the HPS Shropshire Group.