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JEARRARD'S HERBAL




21st June 2015

Albuca tortuosa
A week ago a couple of showers had filled up the water tanks and created a false sense of security. In the heat this week they are already running low again. Yesterday produced a moderate and overcast morning, perfect weather for mowing, collecting Hellebore seed or weeding in the greenhouse (the jobs at the top of my list). Instead I knocked down a garage.
It wasn't essential and it took all day, but it is a great relief to finally be rid of it.
Down in the greenhouse I have been hit by a wave of nostalgia. Decades ago I was getting together a collection of Cyrtanthus because they are good things, when I met a man who was hybridising them with a view to producing something special. We were entirely on the same wavelength until he showed me his other great project, his Albuca hybrids. I smiled as charmingly as I could, listened to his enthusiasm and tried to conceal my profound cynicism. In my experience, Albuca are a waste of good potting compost.
Further down the line I accept that I might have been a little hasty. My plants in little pots were finally released into large tubs in the Great Repotting of 2013 and they have responded with enthusiasm. Albuca tortuosa had never been more than a sorry cluster of dying leaves and now it is a magnificent clump of lemon and lime flower spikes. They still surmount a sorry cluster of dying leaves, but they aren't noticed. Am I converted?
Perhaps partially.




21st June 2015

Cleistocactus straussii
I remember the first time I saw the Judas Tress, Cercis siliquastrum. It was during that phase of a young gardeners education when I was frantically trying to cram name-shaped names into a head-shaped head and struggling to make the two things match. Along came a friend with the casual assuredness of someone who had learned the plant a week earlier and pointed out the strange, and simple identifying feature . The flowers spring directly from the bark of the old stems. Since then I have been introduced to a number of other plants that do the same thing, but it always seems like an unexpected novelty.
Suddenly this week I was admiring the profusion of flowers on Cleistocactus straussii and realised that this old friend (which I have grown on and off since I was seven) does exactly the same. I can see two possible reasons for my oversight. It may take me 50 years to see accurately what is in front of me or after 50 years, senility has finally stripped away familiarity and left me seeing things afresh.
Neither possibility fills me with the same glee as these ridiculous scarlet and pink flowers.




21st June 2015

Disa (Foam x Luke Edwards)
The week has seen me paying repeated visits to the Domain of the Pink Things as the Disa benches are becoming. There is something very satisfactory about wandering down the path in the early morning sun to see how they are getting on. A little adventure before breakfast gives me things to think about for the whole day. Over the course of the last ten years I have been consistently increasing the depth of water in the Disa trays and reducing the height of the pots I use, so the plants are closer to the water level. They seem to do better as a result.
I am still amazed that the shoots that find a way out of the holes in the bottom of the pots and grow up through the water are several times as vigorous as those that grow through the compost. I have made the observation, but I'm not sure what to do about it. Some sort of trial might be the answer, if I can clarify what it is I am trying to test.
This seedling has been one of the things attracting me in the morning. I pollinated the parents a few years ago but only one seedling has survived (I think my technique has improved since then). The first flower spike emerged with a distinctly chunky look about it and I have been anticipating the opening of the bud. As you might expect from a new Disa seedling the flower is nothing special and quite wonderful, two ideas that seem to fit together perfectly well.





21st June 2015

Pelargonium 'Splendide'
Like many people of my age I keep my teeth in a glass in the bathroom at night. I wake up in the morning with the blissful toothless smile of a happy man and am reminded of the gardeners of my youth who spent their lives wrapped in scarlet bedding with no regard for taste or decency.
I envy them, but there is more to Pelargonium than that. It is, for the most part, a genus of South Africans and like so many South African plants, there are a few that are cold-hardy if they can be kept dry. There doesn't seem to be a pattern. Some species from unconnected sections of the genus are just tougher than the rest. The only way to find out is to try them, which is my idea of fun, though it is as well to put all thoughts of scarlet bedding aside.
I first bought 'Splendide' a few years ago when one of the big wholesale producers tried to convince us all it was proper-hardy (not just wishful-hardy). A hybrid between P. tricolor and P.ovale produced in the 1950's. It turns out they were wrong. It died in the greenhouse during the recent run of cold winters. Unfortunately by the time it died I was enchanted (and unable to replace it - seems it wasn't hardy for anybody). Fortunately I was able to obtain P. 'Renate Parsley', produced in the 1990's from the same cross. It has been lovely and vigorous in the Agave house and I have been impressed with its performance but in a grudging way. It isn't the 'Splendide' I was hoping for, but a substitute 'of similar value'.
This spring I was finally able to get the real thing and have waited for flowers, almost audibly buzzing with excitement like a bee up a foxglove. Well, here it is flushed with glory and , dare I say it, not as good as 'Renate Parsley'.
We live and learn.