Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Autumn's last hurrah?

Fleeting low sunlight illuminated some of the last vestiges of autumn and, in one case, the promise of the spring to come...

A lattice of burnished beech (Fagus sylvatica) leaves against a cloudless sky
Backlit fluffy seedheads of Miscanthus sinensis 'Flamingo' wafting in the breeze
The rich buttery leaves of Cornus sangnuinea 'Midwinter Fire'
Long-faded flowerheads of Sedum spectabile almost reborn in the sun
Wintergreen Euphorbia x martini biding its time until spring
Persicaria microcephala 'Red Dragon' soon to be cut down by frost?

Monday, 25 November 2013

Plant of the Moment No.18 – Galanthus elwesii Hiemalis Group, G. e. 'Peter Gatehouse'

The obvious seasonal successor to fruting raspberries? Flowering snowdrops of course!

While snowdrops are quintessential ingredients of late winter and early spring, with the flowering of naturalised common snowdrops Galanthus nivalis usually reaching a peak during the first 10 days of February in this garden, selection of early and late-flowering species and their cultivars can extend the season over five months or more.

A few years ago I planted three bulbs of Galanthus elwesii Hiemalis Group that came originally from Beth Chatto's nursery and which are renowned for their early flowering. It has taken a while for them to settle down, and – since no self-respecting snowdrop appreciates having a soggy bottom during its dormant season – they basically sat and sulked for several years as one wet summer followed another. But things are looking up and it's again (as so much in gardening) all down to the weather, I reckon.

The cold spring of 2013 made for a prolonged snowdrop growing season here in Devon, resulting in fat, healthy bulbs, which then benefited from a warm, pretty dry summer dormancy. Anticipating that the mild, wet autumn would have encouraged early-flowering snowdrops into an advanced stage of growth, I went in search among the still quite leafy borders on Saturday. There to greet me was an already nodding flowerhead of Galanthus elwesii Hiemalis Group (left) with further sky-pointing buds to follow.

Elsewhere, I came across G. e. 'Peter Gatehouse'  in flower (right) – each bulb's pair of leaves barely breaking the surface and seeming to clasp the base of the flowerstalk. I only planted Mr G last year, so I'm glad that he seems to be making himself at home. Spring already feels like a more tangible prospect.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Let them eat raspberries – in November

Ripe for the plucking...
One sign of the topsy-turvy season: eating fresh raspberries, straight from the plant, outside, in the second week of November! Admittedly, quite a lot of the fruits were on the watery-looking side and/or sprouting a fuzz of mould, but the ones I picked were tasty, plump and blemish-free. And those that are less appealing to the human eye will be gobbled up by Robins, Blackbirds, mice and voles, among other diners.

Of course these are autumn-fruiting plants, of an unknown variety – kindly given to us by friends several years ago – but one that seems to be particularly late-maturing, needing a really good summer to flower and fruit well. That being the case, we grow them as 'perpetual' croppers, leaving this year's fruited canes to grow summer-flowering side-shoots next near, and only cutting them back when we have picked that second flush of berries. In a good year, that means we can be picking over the course of four months, from two generations of canes growing side-by-side, though there is never the abundance of berries that comes from the classic summer-cropping varieties. In most autumns, the cold sets in before the second crop has fully ripened. Not so this year, but I wonder when we will next be picking raspberries in November!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Tucked up for winter (in case we get one)

Proper winter still seems a distant prospect and I can report that the garden remains as treacherously slick and slidey as it was a week ago. The grass has put on at least 5cm since mid-October and there continues to be no sign of frost in the forecast for our neck of the woods. In a moment of madness I thought about cutting back herbaceous perennials, but working in the borders today, even from scaffolding planks, would be akin to balancing on a log in a vat of soggy tiramisu – something which is rarely advisable, and never when wielding a pair of freshly sharpened secateurs...

But one thing's as sure as a rat running up a drainpipe and that is: IT WON'T LAST. Eventually, cold air will plunge down from the Arctic, a drying wind will set in, the skies will clear and a hard frost will mercilessly cut to the ground anything remotely fragile or temperamental. And the fact that everywhere is so wet will make those tender waifs even more vulnerable, as they struggle to cope with conditions that are about as far as imaginable from their Mediterranean and subtropical homelands.

Preparing the ark to sail forth into winter...
So over the last few days, I have established a diverse collection of botanical refugees in the greenhouse, among them Agapanthus and Pelargonium from South Africa, Dahlia and Echeveria from Meso-America, Salvia guaranitica from South America, Geranium maderense from Madeira, and Ensete ventricosum from the highlands of East Africa. All of these will survive the winter – though probably not enjoy the experience very much – in pots in the greenhouse, where a small thermostatically controlled heater will prevent them from freezing solid, but nothing more than that. I'll keep them all on the dry side, and clean the glass regularly, since it's the combination of wet, low light levels and cold that will cause them to shuffle off this mortal coil, rather than cold alone. The opening of the ark doors one day in March and the ritual of carrying everything out to its summer home is one of the best moments of the year and one that I'm already looking forward to.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Slippery when wet

This cautionary phrase, beloved of lawsuit-fearing corporations and public bodies, could apply to the whole garden and everything in it at the moment. This afternoon it's grey and overcast (again), with a fine drizzle in the wind but a ludicrously balmy temperature of 16C as mild, humid air is dragged in from the Atlantic, enveloping this part of Devon in a warm, wet, claggy blanket.

This iridescent dumbledor is unusual so late in the year. Appropriately enough for a dung beetle, it's walking across the cover to our septic tank. If it only knew what riches lay beneath its feet!

A dumbledor Geotrupes sp. sitting on top of its wildest dream

At the weekend we juiced some more apples (thanks Matt for the extra supplies!), sheltering in the kitchen to avoid the latest pulse of heavy rain – ahead of which I grabbed a few photos of seasonal contrasts in the garden (see below).

On Monday (4th), some much-needed but all-too-fleeting sunshine revealed a Red Admiral butterfly and a male Common Darter dragonfly still out and about, but otherwise it is a mushy, slushy story of autumnal decay. The higher-than-normal temperatures – particularly the complete absence of night-time frosts – mean that several horticultural refugees from summer, among them Rudbeckia and Verbena bonariensis, linger on, crossing over with "winter" flowers such as a Mahonia and Jasminum nudiflorum that are already doing their thing... It's all so confusing. I need a nice soothing cup of tea.


Penstemon 'Raven'
Rudbeckia fulgida var deamii
Verbena bonariensis

 ...meets winter – on the same day!

Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun' or is it 'Lionel Fortescue'?
The tomato-like hips of Rosa rugosa
Winter jasmine Jasminum nudiflorum

Has bean...

Thank you!

First, my apologies for the recent lack of posts... Not only has the very wet and windy weather prevented me from doing anything much in the garden, but I was away for a while and then strapped to my computer, catching up with work, on my return.

I just wanted to say a HUGE 'Thank You' to everyone that voted for The Freerange Gardener in the RHS blog competition and to offer hearty congratulations to David Marsden over at The Anxious Gardener on his well-deserved win.

Watch out for more from The Freerange Gardener coming to a screen near you very soon!

Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea 'Edith Dudszus'