Saturday, 19 December 2009


Fleece, originally uploaded by peganum.
I seem to have erected a tent inside my greenhouse. I lost so many things that were supposed to be protected in the greenhouse last year that I've just lined the entire thing with fleece this year (and installed a fan-heater.)
There was the option of using bubble wrap but, besides being pricier, it also accumulates condensation and then drips, which can lead to botrytis (grey mould) on any dead, sick or weak vegetation.
Some plants from Mediterranean and subtropical climes, although potentially hardy enough might not be used to the kind of dank overcast conditions we get. If you keep them too warm they may try to grow, but without enough light and heat the new growth may be pale and weak and prone to moulds and aphids.
The fact is, winter protection of tender plants is always a balancing act between keeping just enough warmth in, not letting the air stagnate and providing as much light as possible.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Lonicera crassifolia

A lovely little evergreen creeping (not climbing) honeysuckle for ground cover or rockery. Possibly too vigorous for a trough but not rampageous. Just to give you a sense of the scale, that's an ordinary winter heather there at the top.
 Another view of the same plant with heathers and thymes
1L pots ~ £8

Monday, 26 October 2009

Pelargonium sidoides - the real black form

Pelargonium sidoides
A genuinely hardy Pelargonium, at least if given a sunny, freely drained spot. This one has been in the same south facing site in sandy soil for the last six years. Last winter was the first time it lost it's leaves but it came back as strongly as ever to flower late summer and autumn.
Pelargonium sidoides
There seem to be at least two forms of this species in cultivation in the UK - a bushy plant with flowers of a deep wine maroon, on somewhat shorter stems (which is probably a hybrid, probably involving P.reniforme) and this one which is completely stemless with black flowers on very long stalks. The flowers are quite strongly honey scented, and may be produced in mild weather until Christmas.
Sold out again - sorry - being completely stemless, it provides very few cuttings

Monday, 19 October 2009

Season of fruits and mellow mistfulness

I surprised myself this morning, strolling into town (to the dentist as it happens). It was wet and overcast and the leaves were really beginning to turn and fall, and I thought to myself what a relief it was that the summer was over. That's what surprised me. Normally I love the warm weather and tend to get a little depressed when it's over, but no, today I was positively buoyant.

The summer has been 'disappointing' they say, but then they say that every year. Normally I'd disagree but this year... What's it been? It's not been the rain - we've had something of a drought. Things have been looking quite sorry for themselves. Maybe it's been the sun. It's been dry, but it hasn't been bright, which is an unsatisfying state of affairs. This carried on until early October, by which time I was heartily sick of it. The cold and wet came as a welcome reprieve.

Actually I've known for a while I have a problem with August - memories of wet camping holidays as a child I expect. August is a con. It's not summer.  August is the overture to autumn (as February is the overture to spring). You can feel it in the air. May and June are summer. I noted this year that things started to go off soon after the solstice. You might have noticed if you've been keeping up with the Emma's Garden photoset on Flickr that there's a lot fewer pictures from July to September than for other times. There's just nothing photogenic going on (unless you're into macro when you can look at the flowers in isolation and ignore the total ho-humness of everything around them.)

So now I look around at the garden and am once again filled with energy. Finally I can do something. As you'll know by now I'm not a fan of the well ordered neat-and-tidy sort of garden and I don't cut things down until I have to, but there's been a few things I've been looking at since July and inwardly groaning. It's my first full year here and I'm still very much learning how to grow things on this soil (clay, not much sun - the total opposite to gardening on the chalk near Lewes.) Things really have taken off here, especially in what I call the sunny border (it's all relative.) The Diascia personata especially has formed a huge engulfing mass, obscuring several less vigorous plants that I hope will still be there when I come to cut the Diascia back (or remove most of it actually.) Salvia uliginosa, which I thought would stand up straight behind and amongst it has flopped over on top of it, and the Helianthus atrorubens, also included for the tall dark wiry stems I imagined would stand tall behind that, has also fallen forward over everything.  The problem is partly a red maple (bought as a standard tree some years back - it has never thrived), the fence behind and the path in front. Plants do not just passively fall over, they 'perceive' the path as an open space to grow into, and the tree and fence as shade and competition to grow away from. Hence they end up horizontal, getting trodden on. The mass of undergrowth was satisfying for a time - the Buddleia lindleyana held it's own well, the Eryngium giganteum elbowed its way up through the tangle, Gladiolus tristis shot up to 6ft high of so to get it's peculiar flowers into the light, like Diplodocus heads peering out of a thicket. But Rudbeckia maxima is under there somewhere, as are a couple of Dierama and two Decaisnea. I hope they'll recover. Kniphofia caulescens has definitely rotted off.
So anyway, perhaps you'll understand how, despite the fact that the Diascia and the Salvia are still blooming away, I'll be glad to get in there with the secateurs. The Diascia anyway I can honestly say I am thoroughly bored with. People always want to know about plants that just go on and on flowering all summer long, and if that's what you want I can heartily recommend it. You can have some of mine in fact (they're extremely easy from cuttings and totally hardy) but I'm sick of it. I like my season-long interest to come from the turn-over - things coming and going, changing places.
So that's one job. Whatever Diascia personata I keep will be further back, mixed in amongst everything else.
Then there's the huge Miscanthus in the middle of the border too. I can't wait for that to go over so I can have it out and do something better with that space. The maple will have to go too (it's had its chance) and the Lavatera Lilac Lady beside it. It's a good form - smaller that the commoner varieties and a nicer colour but not what I want now really. That'll leave a huge gap. I can't wait. Everything'll transpire a huge sigh of relief.

As for the rest of the garden - there's similar stories elsewhere. Mostly I'll leave the stems and old seed heads as long as I can - probably until January. I'll leave a stubble to discourage the dog from wandering about snapping off the new growths in spring. I'll make hazel 'bird-cages' for the Salvia and the Helianthus to grow through to support them through next summer. I've taken down the Bronze Fennel because I don't want too many of her offspring - lovely as she is.
People assume fallen leaves smother plants but except for small evergreens (lawns for example) that's rarely so, and the worms take them away and feed the soil in the process. People also like to cut things down as soon as possible after flowering - to get a second flush of flowers or make the plant put it's resources into the roots instead of the seed heads. I'm not sure either of these things make that much difference to most plants. I think it's more about neat and tidiness and I prefer the untidy textures and colours of autumn.
Which brings me back to my original point. When the dusty, listless scruffiness of August gave way to death's rich tapestry a couple of weeks back it was a release. Last 'summer' seemed interminable, but now, here we are, ready to move on again...

Monday, 28 September 2009

Nepeta govaniana

Nepeta govaniana & Veronicastrum sp
Quite different to more familiar 'catmints', this is a tall (up to 6ft on rich soils), lightly built perennial with aromatic foliage (reminiscent of lemon balm) and pale yellow flowers. It dies down completely in winter and prefers moisture at the root and not too much heat.
1L pots ~ £6

Persicaria virginiana ~ two forms

Persicaria virginiana Compton's form
Persicaria virginiana Compton's form
This species is not that often offered (except the rather messy variegated form known as Painter's Pallet), possibly because the flowers are quite small but bright red filaments and appear in Autumn. In Compton's they are less obvious and appear later in the year.
Both versions are magnificent foliage plants though - as good as many of the tropical Calatheas and Marantas (prayer plants). The leaf surface has a real lustre - richly coloured in Compton's form and fresh lime green in Filiformis. Both have that odd black chevron - I know not why.
Good solid perennials for any moist soil in sun or semi shade. Height up to 4ft and not at all invasive.
sold out for now

Persicaria virginiana Filiformis
Persicaria virginiana filiformis
sold out for now

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Caryopteris divaricata

Caryopteris divaricata
The name Caryopteris is usually associated with a bunch of rather grey twiggy subshrubs grown mainly because they flower very late in the season (C. x clandonensis and the like). C.divaricata is very different - making a lush green upright bush and dying down completely in winter. The late flowering is the same but the flowers themselves are much more interesting as can be seen from the photo. Those of you who know the tropical Clerodendron (or Rotheca) myricoides (or ugandense) would be right in thinking they look suspiciously similar, with those long curling filaments and rounded purple blue petals. They are related.
Caryopteris divaricata & Thladiantha dubia
Another well-known purveyor of rare plants describes the flowers as merely ‘harmless’ which I think is a bit unfair. They’re not huge or especially plentiful, but they are beautifully crafted and jolly pretty. The only down side is the foliage which has an odd odour (one customer calls it The OXO plant) so don't plant it too near the path unless you like that sort of thing. Also the stems are quite brittle so best planted amongst other things out of the wind.
Totally hardy and very adaptable. I will soon have a few of the pink flowered form available too.
3L pots ~ £8

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Vestia foetida

Vestia foetida
A narrow upright evergreen from Chile with tubular lemon yellow flowers in Spring. The whole plant has an unusual black tint - especially the stems and calyxes - which really sets off the flowers and foliage.

Usually recommended for a cool greenhouse or only the sunniest sites on freely drained soils, but I've found it to be remarkably tough in Sussex and to grow better on richer soils. (a.k.a. Vestia lycioides)  
2L pots ~ £8

Hardy herbaceous Hibiscus

Hibiscus moscheutos
Another entirely neglected group of extraordinary hardy North American herbaceous perennials (yes I did say Hardy Perennial). That flower above is a good 6 ins across. The plant is fully herbaceous, dying down completely in winter.
What's the catch? I hear you ask. Why isn't everyone growing it if it's so fabulous?
The answer is that, like many plants from the south-eastern states of the USA, although totally frost hardy it is used to a very hot summer with high humidity and plenty of moisture at the roots (see my article on summer rainfall climates). Not always easy to provide here. The hottest spots in many British gardens will also be the driest, and hardy hibiscus are often wetland plants in the wild. The result is that your plants might not even appear until June or even July and may struggle to get big enough to flower before the frost cuts them down again.
What's to be done?
a. Choose a place in the garden that gets the longest period of sun possible. A south or south-west facing aspect is good. Anyway, choose one that is totally open to the sky.
b. You should definitely make sure the site is as well mulched and fed as possible. Clay suits them well but may be slow to warm up so add plenty of organic matter.
c. Hardy herbaceous hibiscus often live in seasonally flooded sites in the wild so contriving some sort of mini bog garden with a small pond liner would not be going too far. Extra irrigation would not go amiss and you could grow them in a hole or trench as you would celery.
d. Talking of vegetables, market gardeners have all sorts of tricks for warming the soil for early crops - cloches, black plastic, fresh manure mulches etc.
All this may seem like a lot of faff to go to, and for most ordinary garden plants that would be true but I believe there are some plants that are just so remarkable they are worth the extra effort. Hibiscus coccineus and it's relatives are just such plants. If all else fails you can start them off in a pot in an unheated greenhouse as you would some Hedychium.

H. coccineus a fabulous tall elegant species with huge vivid scarlet classic hibiscus flowers and narrow red tinted Acer palmatum-like foliage. Very fine.
Sold out for now 

H.coccineus Texas White - like the normal red form, but with (you guessed it) pure white flowers. The foliage has somewhat broader segments too, and the whole plant is plain green.
3L pots ~ £8

H.moscheutos (the one in the photo at the top) - an amazing hardy species, but where coccineus is a study in class and elegance, moscheutos is blousy and over-the-top. A much shorter plant (about 3ft high and much bushier) with large, soft oval leaves and enormous (8-10 in!) flowers usually in some shade of red pink or white, with a darker eye. Has to be seen to be believed. Hardy and perennial but easier to grow quickly for summer bedding.

5L pots ~ £10

Hibiscus palustris
H.palustris - may or may not be a subspecies of moscheutos. Anyway, a less 'in your face' form. Palustris means 'of wetland' but I'm not sure it needs more water than the others - just don't skimp on the irrigation with any of them.
5L pots ~ £10

H.moscheutos x coccineus - should be intermediate between the two species. The seedlings so far are indistinguishable from coccineus.
5L pots ~ £8

H.militaris - a medium sized species with large, dark eyed white flowers. 
2L pots ~ £5

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Asclepias speciosa & fascicularis

Asclepias speciosa
Asclepias speciosa
A magnificent and adaptable species making a big impressive plant quickly.
The fleshy pink flowers are of the usual intricate asclepiad design and contrast well with the soft pale foliage.
Asclepias speciosa, Senna hebecarpa and Clerodendron trichotomum fargesii
Almost any soil as long as not too soggy or parched. Works well with other large prairie plants. It can run somewhat so not something for very neat gardens.
3L pots ~ £8

Asclepias fascicularis
Another lovely milkweed from the USA, this one very much a western species. Adaptable and easy here given full sun. A willowy perennial with very narrow leaves and very pretty pinkish white flowers all summer.
We don't see much of Asclepias in gardens in the UK but they are well worth trying. I have a bit of a thing for them.
1L pots ~ £7

Tarantula Hawk - This thing was HUGE - the size of my hand!
Pete Veilleux ( tells me it "grows naturally in seasonally moist locations which are very hot and dry for most of the year. Extremely hardy and a magnet for Tarantula Hawks. Have you seen tarantula hawks? Very interesting and scary critter, but fascinating."

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Salix gracilistyla melanostachys

Salix gracilistyla melanostachys, originally uploaded by peganum.
A very wacky willow for you, this time grown for it's bituminous black catkins in early spring which sprout pale yellow anthers and have red highlights.
It's hard to get a good shot of this from a distance with any 'interference' in the background, but the black catkins, (see photo below) are striking. Potentially a large shrub but responds well to quite hard pruning immediately after flowering.

4L pots ~ £16

Monday, 10 August 2009

Desmodium elegans (aka tilifolium)

Desmodium elegans
Soft green foliage and profuse mauve flowers over a long period in late summer and autumn.
Easy, hardy and floriferous here.
Fully hardy in a wide variety of conditions.
5L pots ~ £15

Desmodium elegans albiflorum
Desmodium elegans white

The rather lovely white flowered form
Sold out

Please please please, may I humbly request that you check with me that the plants you require are in stock before you order? Otherwise we'll have to arrange refunds. 
Thank you so much.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Senna hebecarpa

Senna hebecarpa
I'm not sure why the North American Sennas are not better known in the UK. I know two of them reasonably well - hebecarpa and marilandica (both sometimes included in Cassia.) The former seems to be the better of the two. They're big exotic looking plants but completely hardy given their distribution as far north as the Great Lakes.
The foliage is lush and the flowers give a good show in the latter part of the summer.
Senna hebecarpa
Ideal for prairie type plantings with other native Americans (so to speak) they grow well in moist rich soils in full sun but should tolerate some shade and drought.
3L pots ~ £8

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Osmanthus decorus

Osmanthus decorus, originally uploaded by peganum.
A very smart and hardy evergreen suitable for a wide variety of situations. The foliage is a very dark green with pale mid veins on nicely contrasting maroon stems. The flowers are creamy and honey scented and produced in profusion in spring.
Ideal for rather dull dry sites among trees but not in deep shade (for there, try Skimmia or Sarcococca). Up to 6ft high and across but may be trimmed over after flowering. A reliable, adaptable shrub, not often seen, and apparently endangered in the wild.
3L pots ~ £10

Tinantia pringlei

Tinantia pringlei, originally uploaded by peganum.
A hardy Mexican relative of the popular houseplant Tradescantias. It dies back completely in winter but comes back strongly from the roots in spring forming a dense ground-cover. The foliage is black spotted (not diseased) and there is a succession of the little three-petalled mauve flowers through the summer.
Completely hardy through the last few winters here in Sussex, and in fact inclined to turn up in unexpected places around the garden.
clumps lifted from the ground - £5 

Please please please, may I humbly request that you check with me that the plants you require are in stock before you order? Otherwise we'll have to arrange refunds. 

Thank you so much.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Sutherlandia montana

Sutherlandia montana
Sutherlandia (sometimes called Lessertia) includes a number of really gorgeous South African shrubs of small size, with very fine silvery green foliage and large rich red flowers. The fruits are shiny coppery pink balloons.
Sutherlandia montana
Sutherlandias are normally recommended only as container plants in the UK, to be brought in for the winter but so many plants from The Cape are surviving outside these days (Proteas, Ericas, Watsonias...) that I feel these might be worth a try in a very sunny, very dry situation. Sutherlandias come from the Western Cape of South Africa which has a 'Mediterranean' type climate (hot, dry summer/cool moist winter.) These have come through the winter of 2011/12 unprotected in the poly tunnel, which means they will have been frozen in their pots at least a couple of times.
1L pots ~ £8

Please please please, may I humbly request that you check with me that the plants you require are in stock before you order? Otherwise we'll have to arrange refunds. 

Thank you so much.