28th October 2018
Liquidambar styraciflua 'Worplesdon' .
I seem to have been playing brinkmanship with the weather all week. The forecasters told us a week ago that there was a cold snap coming which was frustratingly
unhelpful. They started warning us about the beast from the east a week before it arrived, is this going to be the same? By the end of the week the drama was
wearing a bit thin and they started to say that it wasn't going to be really cold, just colder than the unseasonal warmth of the last weeks. The Cymbidium
are still outside, but I haven't panicked. On Friday a flock of Redwings arrived in the garden driven south by the cold snap and then I took note.
Sunshine and cold showers arrived on Saturday morning and I just managed to cut the meadow for the final time before a hail shower drove me from the garden.
I need to get it done before the start of November and the daffodils shoots appear. I would have preferred to finish the job sooner but things don't always go as
planned. In the corner of the meadow, Liquidambar styraciflua 'Worplesdon' is at its peak. The leaves have started to fall so the canopy is thinner,
more light gets in and the colour is brighter. I thought that the hail shower might strip off the remaining leaves but the show survives.
28th October 2018
Rostrinucula dependens .
Further up in the garden where the wind sweeps mercilessly across the hilltops, Rostrinucula dependens is putting on a quiet performance. It was planted out
when I ran out of space for it under cover and it has prospered with more light, air and moisture. I only had one small space in the sun where it could go,
so it has had to tolerate the wind exposure. Fortunately it is tough.
It is a small shrub from China flowering at the very end of the year. I have been told that butterflies adore it but it flowers too late for them here and it would take
a very strong butterfly to battle the breeze to get to it. In a cold year it might be cut to the ground but it will regrow vigorously. I have had a couple of cold winters
since it went out and it hasn't happened here.
It grows just in front of Polylepis australis, a shrub that looks exactly like a shrubby Potentilla without the advantage of flowers. The Polylepis been there for
a decade but the cold winds of March killed it completely without touching the Rostrinucula. I enjoyed it while it was there but I doubt
I will replace it. I always meant to take cuttings but couldn't think why. Part of the fascination of the plant was its interminable dullness, it didn't even have
any drama in death. Through April the leaves turned brown and that was that. It's greatest contribution to the garden has been providing more space for the Rostrinucula
28th October 2018
Saxifraga fortunei 'Shiranami' .
As the sunshine of summer sheds it last warmth to become the shining ice-light of winter, Saxifraga fortunei stirs from its summer dormancy. The species comes from China and Japan
but in cultivation it is the Japanese selections that have become popular. In a previous garden I grew the purple tinged 'Rubrifolia' as an herbaceous plant in the front of the border
where it made magnificent mounds of succulent foliage with an illusory leathery appearence. That was in the days before vine weevil took control of garden planting. Anybody
growing them in the ground today should take precautions. Removing all trace of peat based compost from the roots can help a little, vine weevils adore peat, they snuggle in
warm peaty caverns around the roots and gobble through the stems. Stony, mineral soils do a little to deter them but you will still need to apply biological control nematodes
during the summer or you will come down one morning to find the leaf rosette sitting limply on the ground like a doily on a tea plate.
I had given up on the species in all its protean variety because during the worst phases of vine weevil infestation in the garden I could barely keep them for a week or so before
they were eaten. Nematodes are slowly fighting back and I have been experimenting with growing media. This plant of 'Shiranami' is growing on a hydroponic bench
in expanded clay granules. I am hoping that a vine weevil grub would find it cold, wet and drafty. It has worked for the last 18 months and it is about time I knocked the plant
out to see what is happening below. Perhaps in the spring.
In the meantime I bought one from a nursery meaning to try it in the garden again. Four weeks later I had another doily, so the problem remains.
28th October 2018
Strobilanthes rankanensis .
For some decades around the end of the 19th century plants from China and the far east flooded into cultivation faster than they could be assessed. Many were lost
and most of the 20th century was spent describing and popularising the survivors. Suddenly in the last couple of decades those same regions have been revisited
and the flood has restarted. Gardens are once again overwhelmed with variety. I assume that we will again lose a number of interesting things and it remains to be seen
it the "information age" has the will or the ability to retain a record.
Meanwhile gardens are acting as a proving ground for introductions. Strobilanthes is a large genus and most of the species are tropical however a few push north into the
temperate parts of Asia and there are some good plants among them. Slowly they are gaining a foothold in gardens. S. rankanensis has perennial stems if they survive the winter cold
and if not it regenerates from below ground like a Fuchsia. If it keeps the stems it can form a mound up to 2m tall - mine is getting larger every year but it is still
only half that (and that is enough). Almost the last thing in the border to produce a display, it shares space with the tail end of Anemone x hybrida.
It has also been playing brinkmanship with the weather. It has been a magnificent dome of colour for a few weeks now but a serious storm would break the brittle stems.
Perhaps we will get a calm autumn this year, it would be interesting to see how long the flowering display can last.
Next week is always uncertain but it seems particularly so at this season. The forecasters aren't saying anything special, the latest broadcast is best described as smug gloating
of the "we told you so" variety. Perhaps by tomorrow they will be feeling inventive again.