Thursday, 18 January 2018

venturing out

Last night's wind popped two panes of acrylic out of the greenhouse.  Luckily they didn't snap, and luckily the rain arrived before the wind, so the pots of overwintering fuchsias and agapanthus were not soaked.  It was a wild night.  Looking at the reports in the local papers of trees down and damage to the overhead rail lines I thought we must have got it easier here than the other side of Colchester.  We don't seem to have lost any trees, or even major limbs, though I haven't been to look all round the garden.

It was also lucky for us that the wind didn't arrive six hours earlier, since the Systems Administrator was in London for a charity sporting quiz night and might never have got back at all if it had been as windy at ten last night as it was at five this morning.  Meanwhile I completely forgot that the bin collection day was finally back to normal after Christmas and didn't put them out.  The SA remembered, and nobly lugged the contents of the kitchen bin and two recycling boxes of tins and plastic bottles down to the gate when he got back, in the dark, the pouring rain, and half a gale.  This morning the bin men kindly tucked the dustbin back inside the gate after emptying it, so that it should not blow away.

We put the acrylic back in the greenhouse roof, and this afternoon I rallied myself enough to check the watering.  It's a finely balanced judgement, watering pots of dormant, over-wintering plants.  It's all too easy to slosh some water on every few weeks and then find come the spring that they have rotted away in their pots, but no use going to the opposite extreme.  Every year I hopefully exhume a few dry pots to find - nothing.  The task of watering at this time of the year is not made any easier by the fact that the greenhouse is so crammed with pots that there is scarcely space to put one's feet down.

Once I'm back out and about I could probably safely evict the pots of hyacinths, now that they are showing growth above the compost and must be full of roots.  The pots of daffodils in the cold frames could come outside on the same basis, then there would be room in the cold frames to stand some of the trays of young herbaceous plants currently in the greenhouse, or the pots of violas that I brought inside after last winter's losses were higher than I'd bargained for.  As it is some of the trays ended up balanced on top of the hyacinth pots, and the emerging shoots of one hyacinth have gone yellow.  I dareasy it will recover once it's in the light.  After all, you start forced hyacinths off in a dark cupboard without the fear that they will be ruined if you don't check the cupboard every single day.

I checked the pots of cuttings in the propagating cases.  The strike rate for Arctotis has been low, and the verbena and penstemon cuttings rotted.  Probably summer would have been better than autumn for taking them.  The good news was that the two pots of Sarcocca confusa cuttings given bottom heat were showing fat white roots through the drainage holes of their pots.  The pots stood without heat weren't, so I moved them over into the heated space freed up by the dead verbena to try and get them going.  They looked slightly yellow compared to the rooted pots, so we shall see.  When I asked around last autumn nobody seemed to know whether bottom heat would be either helpful or necessary, which is partly why I did some pots both ways, to find out.

Not much in the conservatory needed watering.  It always looks rather sad at this time of the year, and I wondered how many of the geraniums and Streptocarpus were going to recover once the weather warms up.  The Begonia fuchsioides wasn't looking at all happy either, but fortunately the three cuttings in the heated case in the greenhouse are growing away.

One plant was putting in a good performance, though, the tender perennial nasturtium Tropaeolum tricolor.  This persists from year to year as a large, smooth tuber, which at some point in the winter sends up an impossibly spindly stem, that soon twines around whatever it can find so woe betide you if you haven't provided it with a suitable support in time.  For years I used to keep in the greenhouse, thinking that once it had nicely covered its little metal tripod and was about to flower I would take it down to the conservatory, and it used to elude me, bypass the tripod and attach itself to the struts of the greenhouse, or the spiny leaves of an overwintering Puya.  Once I failed to notice it had started into growth and moved the pot, breaking off the entire stem.  So now it lives permanently in the greenhouse, pot tucked in behind two others.  As I checked whether it needed watering today, worrying that it wasn't making much in the way of growth, I looked up and suddenly realised that it had grown.  Ignoring the bamboo cane in its pot it had draped itself over the evergreen crown of a neighbouring shrub, where its small divided leaves and little red and orange flowers looked very well against the solid background.  The fluffy seed heads of an evergreen clematis that always lives growing though the same shrub completed the picture.  For years I used to fret that my Tropaeolum made such a modest spectacle compared to the solidly covered tripods I'd seen in glasshouses at botanic gardens, before beginning to suspect that they were using several tubers to get that density of foliage.  Now I have seen it wandering airly over a plant host with contrasting leaves I think that is a much nicer way of displaying it anyway than as a single lump.

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