Monday, 29 May 2017

planting, weeding and making more

My gamble that I could get away with leaving watering the pots outside the greenhouse until morning after getting back from yesterday's concert paid off, as the overnight thunderstorm brought heavy rain.  The three downpours we've had in the past couple of weeks have been enough to make a real difference to at least the top few inches of soil.  Planting things out in the back garden today I didn't find a solid layer of bone dry earth just a couple of inches below the surface, as often happens after summer rain.  The aquifers must be low after the driest winter in twenty years and there may be trouble ahead (though Tendring has never had a hosepipe ban yet.  The last time I saw figures we had the lowest leakage rate and the most expensive water of anywhere in the country, but we have never had a ban) but for the time being garden catastrophe is averted.

Most of what I planted today and yesterday was left over from last year's seed sowing, and looking rather the worse for wear in their pots, so I hope that planting them was not a complete waste of time.  The contrast between the huge, fat Digitalis x mertonensis I planted in the ditch bed last autumn, and the wizened little plants that stayed in their pots, was stark.  But given an unrestricted root run the latter might find a new lease of life.  And I weeded as I went, so the day's work won't have been entirely futile.  I gave the Digitalis a scattering of pink Viola odorata around their skirts to finish them off.  Those came from the already rooting side shoots I potted up back in the spring, when the parent plants were flowering and I could see what colour they were.  The sweet violets had rooted nicely in their seven centimetre pots, so I now know that if you have an existing patch and would like more they are extremely easy to bulk up.

The lupins have suddenly gone over, both the tree lupins and the delightful blue Lupinus chamissonis, a Californian native that can't quite make up its mind whether it is a shrub or not.  It is woodier and more branching than a traditional herbaceous border lupin, but laxer and lower growing than your classic Lupinus arboreus.  I was slightly surprised they had faded so quickly, and that they did not appear to be setting seed, and when I looked more closely the denuded flower spikes were seething with lupin aphids.  Lupin aphids are horrible, larger than normal greenfly, and I guess they must be unpalatable to birds because nothing seems to eat them.  Greenfly on the roses is never an issue, and I rejoice in the mornings when I pull the bathroom blind up and see the great tits scuttling up and down the stems of the roses, but lupin aphids are another matter.  I wondered briefly whether to spray them, but hoped that ladybirds or something would sort the problem out, and of course the trouble with spraying, even with the sort of organic spray that doesn't have a withdrawal period for edible crops, is that you spray the ladybirds as well as the aphids.

The Californian tree poppy is getting into its stride, at last.  It was planted in June 2012, my third attempt at getting one to go and if it didn't work I had sworn there wouldn't be a fourth, while feeling very frustrated because although Romneya coulteri is notoriously difficult to establish in the garden from a pot, our conditions would have been ideal for it if only any of the previous plants had lived long enough to find out.  This spring I have finally seen shoots emerging a yard from the position of the original plant.  It has started to run, which is what they will do when they are happy.  The grey leaves and white flowers are so beautiful that one is delighted that it is, in fact, rather a thug once it gets going.

The Althaea cannabina have started spreading usefully as well.  This is a pink mallow like a very refined hollyhock, tall and multistemmed whose leaves are smaller and more pointed than hollyhock leaves, and flowers smaller than hollyhock flowers.  I bought one after admiring it in Beth Chatto's dry garden, then bought a couple more because my attempts to raise more from seed had come to nought.  The young plants were grazed by rabbits last year then ravaged by drought this spring, and the only self sown seedlings germinated right at the front of the bed so I had to move them, wondering if I had left it too late since the advice on the web was that they disliked transplanting and it should be done while they were young.  Now all three of the plants I bought have begun to shoot up, and the transplanted seedlings are still alive, apart from one that I pulled up by mistake with a handful of horsetail, and my plan to have a veil of small pink hollyhocks hovering over the asters along with the Verbena bonariensis is starting to take shape.  I replanted my unintended victim with a sprinkling of miccorrhizae and half a can of water and hoped for the best, but I can see why they wouldn't move well as mature plants, for it had a long, deep tap root.

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