Wednesday, 21 September 2016

problems with shade

The three Roscoea x beesiana I planted down in the ditch bed in the spring did not do at all well.  I bought them as dried bulbs from small bulb specialists Broadleigh, potted them up individually and grew them on in the greenhouse before planting them out in the summer.  The bulbs are strange, fleshy, multi-fanged things, more like an Erythronium than anything else I'v handled, and I was careful not to let them sit too wet after losing pots of actual Erythronium to rot through over zealous watering.  They made slightly sad little tufts of leaves, and then I read that they should be planted four to six inches deep to protect the bulbs from frost, so I had to virtually bury the leaves when I planted them out.  This may or may not have set them back.

I am partial to Roscoea.  The plant centre used to sell a rather brash purple one, but R. x beesiana is subtler, pale yellow with purple streaks.  The flowers are quite exotic, vaguely reminiscent of some sort of orchid with lower petals that hang down like the falls of an iris, and upper petals that stick up like perky rabbit ears.  They are supposed to grow in partial to full shade, and flower later in the year than most woodland plants, and I thought they would bring a welcome touch of summer interest to the ditch bed.

Things didn't work out like that.  Nothing ate them so far as I could see, but the leaves remained small and spindly, and the plants never rallied their energies enough to flower.  Looking at the spot where I had them I had to admit that nowadays that end of the ditch bed really is dark in summer. In late winter and spring before the leaves on the trees are fully out it's fine for snowdrops and primroses, but by the middle of the year it has turned into a very gloomy tunnel as the trees have grown, with three river birches on one side and my seed raised Zelkova carpinifolia on the other. There's shade and then there's shade, and this seems to be too much shade.  A willow leaved gentian I tried nearby after seeing one flowering one September at Wallington in Northumberland has done equally badly

So this afternoon, before the pathetic leaves could disappear entirely and I lost track of where the bulbs were, I very carefully dug them up again.  The soil in the ditch bed was quite dry, which may not have been to the Roscoea's liking either.  The bulbs weren't actually too bad, with modest signs of growth in the form of a few knobbly white protuberances.  I potted them into modest nine centimetre pots for the while, mainly to keep them from drying out, reasoning that as Broadleigh sold them in their spring catalogue they presumably weren't doing much in the autumn, and put them in a propagating case out of reach of the mice with a note on the label to pot them deeper next spring once they were in active growth, and a mental note not to over water them in the meantime.  Next year, if they survive the cold and damp and mice over the winter, I'll need to find them a new and lighter home.

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