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Thats enough introduction - on with the plants!
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... out in the garden.

1st April 2012

Magnolia x proctoriana
Another dry week in the season that we might be calling 'summer' by July. The bubble of high pressure that brought clear skies and high temperatures wiggled slightly and gave us a couple of normal days for the time of year. Today the sun came out again and it was back to sunglasses and sneezing.
This Magnolia started to flower last week at the top of the tree but I am neither nimble nor reckless enough to get pictures so I have waited for the flowering to spread. In the hot weather I was concerned that the flowers would fade rapidly, so a cooler spell was welcome. When we get a breeze it is strong enough to scatter the petals like giant confetti at an elephant's wedding but there are plenty more flowers to come.
I spent the afternoon yesterday at Cornwall Garden Society's spring show. The competitive Magnolia classes show the most up to date cultivars but they emphasise the futility of cut Magnolia blossom. The flowers had almost all wilted, and were probably past their best even when the classes were judged. Great pink and white orbs that had collapsed like punctured party balloons over the vases and tables. To begin with it was rather sad but as the deflated promise of the season built up, rank after rank, table after table it became a tragic floral comedy. Garden societies are often led to success by the wisdom and maturity of their older members. I can only applaud the courage of a society that mounts such a memorable celebration of the wrinkled passage of youth.
Magnolia x proctoriana is a wonderful thing to have at the side of the house. On a still day the scent fills the garden like vanilla flavoured icing sugar and makes it a joy to open the doors and windows. If I had known how beautiful it would be, I would have planted it exactly where it is. I planted it when I was still as young as an inflated balloon. I walked around with a spade and planted it in the first big open space I found. If I am to take any credit it must be for making the most of the urge to garden at random.

1st April 2012

Leucojum aestivum 'Gravetye Giant'
The summer snowflake is a delightful bulb. For years I have had six bulbs at the base of a tree where the ground is so dry they barely survive. Last year I bought some snowdrops in the green for naturalising and was sent dozen 'Gravetye Giant' as a bonus. I was very grateful. I should have planted them in a big group where they would have a serious impact, but I couldn't locate a big space at the time so they were dotted about at the end of the shade border. I was convinced they would look informal. Perhaps they will one day, at the moment they look lost.
The species grows to abut 18inches tall, and 'Gravetye Giant' is significantly larger. It originated in the garden of William Robinson at Gravetye Manor in Sussex but little more is known about its origin. In 'The Wild Garden' he writes:
"I have rarely seen anything more beautiful than a colony of the summer Snowflake on the margin of a tuft of rhododendrons in the gardens at Longleat. Some of the flowers were on stems nearly 3 feet high, the partial shelter of the bushes and good soil causing the plants to be unusually vigorous."
Maybe he begged a piece. Maybe it's all just coincidence.
In Majorca there is a smaller form, L.a.pulchellum that is commonly grown in gardens and occasionally naturalises beyond the garden wall. Just down the road from me there is a small clump that flowers in early February. I always mean to stop and take some decent photographs but somehow it hasn't quite happened.

1st April 2012

Epimedium fargesii
The Epimedium were all planted out last spring and they had a grumpy moment. At the time I was worried that they would all die. They were bursting out of the greenhouse and I had only just found room outside for them. I had put many months work into preparing a woodland border and it would have been very funny if they had thanked me by dying in droves. It wouldn't have been funny at the time, and it wouldn't have been funny for several years after but eventually it would have been funny. Fortunately I am not going to discover how many years of grim smiles through gritted teeth I would have to endure before the humour of the situation could be appreciated. Almost all of them have survived. There is a bit of a weed problem but isn't there always.
The flowers are coming. I need to mulch and feed and generally beef up the soil but most of them are growing and they will return to full vigour (they got very starved and lethargic in the old pots).
Epimedium fargesii was found in Sichuan by Paul Farges, a French Missionary and named in 1894. It has been on the extreme fringes of cultivation for a long time with flowers that can vary from pink to white. In recent years gardens have been dominated by a form introduced by Mikinori Ogisu and named 'Pink Constellation' . A few other plants have been sent out of China, but they are also pink and could well be the same clone. I had been looking for a white flowered plant for years. I wanted something that was certainly a different clone to 'Pink Constellation' so that I could raise some seedlings (Epimedium are not self fertile). I haven't got as far as pairing them up and raising the babies, but it is nice to think it could be done. I will probably have to lift some pieces and pot them up to make it happen and I'm going to wait for things in the border to settle down a bit before I try. With a plant this beautiful there must surely be a little more joy to squeeze out?
Lilies, we can gild them.

1st April 2012

Ranunculus ficaria 'Ken Aslett'
Much of the breeding work with Celandines seems to involve removing the natural gilding. To be fair most of the work has involved walking around in the spring and finding variations rather than actual breeding but it comes to the same thing. We start with a wonderful shining golden delight and look for the oddities. My own breeding work has produced a series of rather ordinary seedlings in the first generation. I know I have to push on to the next generation to get results, but the process seems to have stalled. I am thinking of putting them all out in the woods and waiting for the next generation to appear on their own.
'Ken Aslett' was found in Bowles Corner at Wisley in 1993 and named by Chris Brickell after the long time supervisor of the Alpine Department. It shows what can appear when a selection of cultivars are planted together and left to get on with it. The skill involves spotting the good ones! In most collections the plants seed with such enthusiasm that the original plants are rapidly lost in a swarm of seedlings that can easily veer violently in the direction of an infestation. All of my good ones are now planted out and I am constantly aware of the potential for random rioting under the trees.
A random moment with a Magnolia served me well decades ago so perhaps some random Celandine's will offer a similar opportunity for delight.

Acorus Alocasia Anemone Arisaema Arum Asarum Aspidistra Begonia Bromeliads Camellia
Carnivorous Cautleya Chirita Chlorophytum Clivia Colocasia Crocosmia Dionaea Drosera Epimedium
Eucomis Fuchsia Galanthus Hedychium Helleborus Hemerocallis Hepatica Hosta Impatiens Iris
Liriope Ophiopogon Pinguicula Polygonatum Ranunculus ficaria Rhodohypoxis Rohdea Roscoea Sansevieria Sarracenia
Scilla Sempervivum Tricyrtis Tulbaghia Utricularia Viola odorata Watsonia

To find particular groups of plants I grow, click on the genus name in the table above. Click on the "Index" box at the top of the page for the full list.
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