20th November 2016
Liquidambar styraciflua 'Worplesdon' .
Incy Wincy Spider had a hard time of it last night. Down came the rain. The house drums and creaks in the weather. Sometimes it troubles me but last night I had been on one of my infrequent adventures into
popular music, and the house was dancing in a benign way. I imagined the water gushing out of the overflow on the water tank and I felt no need to get involved.
I think it probably marks a change from the mild aspect of autum. The first storm of the season acts as a warning, it is the second one that will bring the cold.
Liquidambar styraciflua 'Worplesdon' has been the hero of the garden, hanging on to some leaves despite a serious pounding through the night. It is the only species of tree that seems to give good
autumn colour in Cornwall. I would like to think that the moisture loving Nyssa sylvatica might do well but I think it likes hotter summers and moist soils rather than perpetual dank. I have only planted it once
and I can't remember what happened to it, but it isn't there now so it wasn't happy.
'Worplesdon' is an old variety but it also seems to be the best for autumn colour. In gardens in the east of the country the colour can be an intense
purple black which reduces its impact, and 'Lane Rogers' may be a better selection. Here 'Worplesdon' is reliably scarlet.
20th November 2016
Dahlia merckii .
Every morning I wake up thinking that the Dahlia merckii will have given up. Every morning there are flowers. The number is reducing but if the frost stays off it will keep going into the new year.
It is the hardiest of the Dahlias, and seems to resist slug damage when it is emerging in the spring. Cuttings in the greenhouse are also ignored if there is anything tastier around, so it makes a good garden plant.
There is no point having a hardy species if you have to fuss around it through the spring to protect the shoots.
Described in Curtis's Botanical Magazine in 1841, seed was obtained by George Frederick Dickson who presented it to the Horticultural Society of London. It is a strange coincidence. I first saw the species in flower
around the back of the old glasshouse at the (now) Royal Horticultural Society's garden in Wisley. It was, as the description in Curtis states "a handsome species of much humbler growth than the Dahlia variabilis
, and the foliage is less rank and weedy." It was also more upright than my current specimens, which tumble across the bed like a lazy gardener on a sunday morning (I am running a little late today!)
20th November 2016
Sinningia conspicua .
Under cover of the greenhouse, the steady progress of autumn is harder to discern. The slowing of growth and falling of leaves are moderated by days of warmth and a dry atmosphere.
Sinningia conspicua burst into horticultural attention a decade or more ago when growers in the eastern states of the USA discovered that it was hardy in the garden, at least to the south of Washington.
Growers in the UK found it less obliging - we may have milder winters but we don't get the heat in summer that really gets it moving. I have tried it in a well ventilated greenhouse, but in a cool
summer it barely appears above ground in time to produce a pair of leaves to wave goodbye with. In a closed greenhouse where the temperature rises in the sun, it appears in June and produces a reasonable amount of growth
before the autumn arrives and it transfers all its energies into flower production.
The primrose flowers are one of the joys of the final months of the year, but already it is responding to the reducing night temperature. Great chunks of leaf and stem will collapse overnight, almost at random. There
is no telling how much of the plant will remain in the morning.
Next year it is going into the greenhouse with the cacti and I will see if it can cope with some serious heat. It will also give me somewhere to point the hose when I accidentally stray too far and risk watering the cacti.
20th November 2016
Nerine 'Gloaming' .
There is a living library of Nerine being grown in greenhouses throughout the country. One of the remarkable things of being a member of the Nerine Society (AGM last week, so it is on my mind)
is seeing the wealth of cultivars being grown, products of successive waves of hybridising through the last 200 years. I have a plant of N. Mansellii Group , a hybrid originally raised in Guernsey in 1880
between N. sarniensis and N. undulata Flexuosa Group. It inherits some of the colour from the former parent, and the later flowering season of the latter. It is an obvious hybrid to make, extending
the season of the tender Nerine by several weeks.
Equally obvious are the hybrids between N. bowdenii and N. sarniensis in the search for a hardy scarlet Nerine. There are many other curious cultivars, but unfortunately so much information
has been lost. The parentage of the late flowering 'Elspeth' for example, is a mystery.
N. 'Gloaming' has a deep salmon flower with a paler glow in the heart. I have a couple of cultivars in this style but the parentage is only guesswork.
N. sarniensis has played a part with its salmon and orange flowers. However N. sarniensis has actinomorphic flowers, tepals arranged evenly in
a circle like the spokes of a (ridiculously ornate) wheel. 'Gloaming' has zygomorphic flowers, legs akimbo like a tragic accident on ice.
Raised by Sir Frederick Stern in the 1940's, we know its origin, but not its parents.