Category Archives: Cultivation

propogation, sowing, cuttings

Nature Loves to Propogate

We all love the opportunity to acquire free plants, so when nature hands them to you on a platter it’s only right to make the most of them.

Here’s a succulent pup I came across lying forlorn on the decking back in the Summer.  At that point it was just one leaf, probably knocked off it’s mother plant at some point.  I popped it into it’s very own terracotta pot with a mix of multipurpose compost and horticultural grit for good drainage and held my breath!

In a very short space of time it has rooted well and is growing happily.  I’m pretty sure it’s Aeonium ‘Blushing Beauty’ and am thrilled at the prospect of having another of these fabulous plants to add to my ever growing collection.

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Gallery

The Spiral Aloe

This gallery contains 3 photos.

Here’s another beautiful Aloe which I have yet to add to my collection. A. polyphylla is a stemless Aloe with an amazing spiral arrangement of leaves giving it its common name of Spiral Aloe.  Spiral phyllotaxy is common in the … Continue reading

Autumn Planting of Onions

Allium cepa ‘Electric’

Today I bought my garlic and onions for Autumn planting all ready to be planted out except we are getting an entire month’s worth of rain in one day today so not even my waterproof trousers are giving me the confidence to brave the weather.

Instead I’ll just note down a few interesting facts about the three different Allium species I’ve chosen.

I have Elephant garlic which is good for roasting and has a sweet, mild flavour.  Elephant garlic’s latin name is Allium ampeloprasum so is not a true garlic but a member of the onion family nonetheless.

I also bought Garlic ‘Marco’, Allium sativum ‘Marco’ which has a distinctive strong flavour and is a good storer.

Garlic needs a free draining fertile soil in full sun.  Before planting the ground should be dug over, removing weeds and adding well rotted compost if needed and a general fertilizer to improve yields.  The bulbs should be broken into individual cloves which are then planted 3cm deep and 10cm apart along the row.  When the leaves start to die back in the following summer the garlic can be lifted and left to dry and ripen on the surface for a few days.

Lastly, I’ve chosen Onion ‘Electric’,  Allium cepa ‘Electric’, an overwintering red onion for early harvest and whose young growth can be used as spring onions.  Apparently it’s very good in salads and stir fries.  Soil preparation is the same as for garlic but they require a distance of 12cm apart in rows that are 30cm apart so a little more room than garlic.  Protection from birds will probably be a good idea as they like to pull them out of the ground.

Now I just need the rain to ease off!

 

 

Aloe ~ Versatile and Architectural

Aloe vera growing commercially

Aloe vera belongs in the Liliaceae family, is a well known succulent and probably best known for its medicinal properties but did you know that there are about 325 species in the genus ranging from perennial herbs to shrubs and trees?

They come from South Africa, Madagascar, Tropical Africa, Arabian Peninsular and the Cape Verde Islands.  There is a huge diversity of form within the genus making Aloe spp. desirable as architectural garden plants in arid and semi-arid climates.  Despite this diversity the cultivation of the majority of the Aloe species is surprisingly similar.  They will tolerate depleted soils with low fertility and require high light levels.

I have two specimens namely Aloe ferox, Cape Aloe and Aloe striatula, Haw.  Since I live in a temperate climate I will need to treat my Aloes as glasshouse plants, bringing them in before the frosts arrive.  The ideal winter temperature for them is 7-10 degrees centigrade so an unheated room will be fine.  When I brought them home from the nursery the first thing I did was to pot them on into terracotta pots using a mixture of John Innes No. 3 for mature plants and horticultural grit (at a ratio of 3:1).  They need a mineral based growing media which is free draining.  You can also add a small amount of organic matter such as moss peat or leafmould but not to the extent where its breakdown might slow down drainage which needs to be sharp.

Cape Aloe

This little beauty, under the right conditions can grow to 3m in height! Mine’s got a long way to go. It comes from Cape Province, South Africa, hence it’s common name, Cape Aloe.

Aloes should only need to be repotted every 3 to 4 years (in late winter or spring) so it’s important to plant them firmly and in the right media.  During the summer when all risk of frost has passed they can go outdoors in a sunny position.  Watering should be carried out when the potting medium is almost completely dry and only then should you drench the soil and then wait again for it to dry out.  During winter the potting media should be kept dry but not arid so only minimal and infrequent watering is necessary.  When the pot is full of roots a liquid feed can be given.  Scale insects and mealybug are the two most likely pests you’ll encounter.

Haw

A. striatula is a shrub reaching 1.75m in height. It comes from Cape Province (South Africa) and also Lesotho.

Harvesting the Seeds of Calendula officinalis

So these final few warm dry days of Summer have encouraged my Calendula seeds to ripen to the point where they need to be collected.

I know they’re ready because they have turned a dry brown colour.

They need to be collected at this stage as the plant will shed them soon after, which is okay if you want them growing there again next year, but I don’t.

Growing Garlic

Garlic has long been known for its health benefits and I eat rather a lot of it, so this year I thought I’d have a go at growing my own.

 

 

Garlic prefers a light, well-drained soil in full sun, it won’t tolerate wet and heavy soils.  If this is your soil you can plant in modules in the autumn and plant out in Spring as the weather improves.  Garlic can only be grown from bulbs because viable seed is extremely difficult to produce at present.

Garlic Bulb

There are two types of garlic, ‘hardneck’ and ‘softneck’ referring to the way they grow.  The hardneck varieties produce a flower stem known as a scape which can be used in soups, curries and stirfries and has a more delicate flavour than the bulb.  The softneck varieties don’t produce a scape but have a longer shelf life.

Garlic Clove

Garlic needs a cold period to grow successfully so the best time to plant is the autumn though there are spring planting varieties available.    The bulb should be carefully split into it’s separate cloves and each clove planted 2.5cm below the surface with the root scar facing down, the clove should be sitting just below the surface.  They should be planted 10cm apart in rows that are 30cm apart.  Addition of compost at the planting stage will help the soil structure keeping it light and feed the cloves as they grow.

Garlic plants …

Garlic needs limited maintenance except for keeping it weed free, watering during long dry spells and protection from birds who’ll be tempted to pull the bulbs out of the ground.  There are two diseases to look out for which are white spot which will rot the roots and eventually the bulb too and rust which shows up as rusty spots on the leaves.  There is no cure for either and you should avoid growing garlic in the same spot for at least 3 years if you have either of these problems.  Crop rotation will help to discourage these pathogens.

Autumn planted garlic can be harvested around June or July the following year. You know when it’s ready to harvest when the leaves start to turn yellow, don’t put this job off or you may find the bulb re-sprouts causing it to rot later and thereby reduce its shelf life.  Take care when lifting the bulbs out of the ground not to damage them with your trowel as this too will compromise their keeping qualities.

Pot Marigold for the Flower Garden

Pot Marigold

Calendula officinalis, the Pot Marigold is native to central Europe and the Mediterranean.

It’s common name, “marigold” is most likely derived from its association with the Virgin Mary and its Latin name Calendula comes from the Latin word Kalendae, “first day of the month” in the Roman calendar possibly because it can  be found in flower at the beginning of most months of the year.

It was used in ancient Greece and Rome and in early Indian and Arabic cultures.  Because of its excellent antiseptic, healing and detoxifying properties it is a major herb in modern Western medicine.

The ancient Greeks and Romans used it to colour foods, fabrics and cosmetics, as well as for medicinal purposes.

Pot Marigold

Its petals can be used as a substitute for saffron in soups and rice dishes as well as used fresh in salads.  When infused it can add colour to dairy products such as cheese, butter and milk desserts.

Calendula is a hardy annual which self seeds profusely.  Removing dead flowerheads will prolong flowering and help to control self seeding if desired.  Because it is hardy, seeds can be sown in situ in either spring or autumn.  There are a few pests and diseases that you should look out for namely powdery mildew (as you can see in the photograph, mine have succumbed), rust, cucumber mosaic virus and caterpillars.

Powdery Mildew

This is such an easy flower to grow and one of my all time favourites.  Mine are setting seed which I’ll be collecting for next year’s crop.

Seeds ripening …

Medicinal, Cultural, Culinary and Ornamental Chives

Flowers appear from April – June and are great for bees …

Chives, Allium schoenoprasum, have been around for over 5000 years and have  been cultivated in Europe since the Middle Ages when it was believed that bunches of herbs hung around your home could ward off evil and disease.  The Romans believed that chives could relieve sore throats and sunburn and Romanian gypsies apparently used them in fortune telling.

The chive is a hardy bulb forming herbaceous perennial which grows to between 30cm and 50cm tall.  It’s leaves are hollow and 2mm to 3mm in diameter and it’s flowers are purple, produced in a dense inflorescence.  The seeds are produced in a small three-valved capsule and mature in summer.  Mine, seen here, were bought and planted after flowering so I’ll have to wait a while to see them flowering next year.

Allium schoenoprasum

Chives are generally free of insect attack due mainly to the sulphur compounds they contain, though thankfully this doesn’t deter the bees.

Chives are known to have a beneficial effect on the circulatory system by lowering blood pressure, much the same as garlic but much weaker which is probably why it has limited use as a medicinal herb.  In native North American medicine they are used internally as a spring tonic as well as for worms in children!

The culinary uses of chives are far more familiar as it is commonly used in small amounts for flavouring all kinds of dishes.  In England they are used to flavour Cotswold  cheese.  Over-consumption should be avoided however, as they can cause digestive problems.  On the plus side, they are rich in vitamins A and C and contain trace amounts of sulphur and iron.  The flowers are also edible and look great in salads.

If you’re more interested in using chives for ornamental purposes here’s one cultivar you should consider :~

Allium Schoenoprasum ‘Forescate’

Allium schoenoprasum ‘Forescate’

This cultivar is larger than the species, growing to around 45cm and has pink flowers.

 

 

 

 

 

On the other hand if you’re wanting to grow chives for either their edible flowers or foliage, here are two further possibilities :~

 

 

Allium schoenoprasum ‘Grolau’

Allium schoenoprasum‘Grolau’

Otherwise known as Windowsill Chives, has dark green foliage with good flavour, grows well in low light and re-grows readily when cut.

 

 

 

Allium schoenoprasum ‘Profusion’

This cultivar has sterile flowers making it excellent for edible flower production.

 

 

 

Chives grow best in rich, well drained soil in full sun although they will tolerate heavier, wetter soils and a less open position than many other Allium.  My soil has a pH of 6.5 (slightly acidic) and they seem to be thriving so far.

Potting-On Bonsai

The word Bonsai means ‘tree in a tray’ in Japanese.

Chinese Elm

Keeping the root environment healthy is  essential when cultivating bonsai trees, and that means re-potting when the roots become overcrowded or the plant is still in the early stages of growth.

When choosing the media you should use the tree species as a guide and use a soil composition which replicates that in which it would grow in its natural habitat.  Generally though a mix of equal parts loam, peat and sand would be fine.  Alternatively, you can buy proprietary bonsai composts which will suit most species.

My bonsai is a Chinese Elm which has been in my family for nearly 20 years (no pressure to keep it healthy!).  It has been a while since I re-potted it last, the roots are in need of trimming and the soil is depleted.  Here I explain the simple process of re-potting it.

Soak the whole rootball until saturated.

Making sure the root zone is wet will lessen the risk of transplant shock

Tease out the old soil from the roots.

Remove as much old compost as possible

Trim any excessively long roots.

Place a layer of fresh compost back in the tray before replacing the tree and gently dibbing in the fresh compost around the roots making sure there are no air pockets.

Adding new compost

Water well with a rose.

A Fern, a Grass and a Shady Spot

Planting’s begun …

Today I’ve planted two new plants in the bit at the bottom by the toolshed.  They are Panicum virgatum ‘Warrior’, Switch Grass and Dryopteris goldiana, Goldie’s Wood Fern.

 

 

 

Goldie’s Wood Fern ~ Dryopteris goldiana

Goldie's Wood Fern

Goldie’s Wood Fern

This fern is named to honour John Goldie, an early botanist who discovered it in Montreal, Canada.   It’s one of the largest for a sheltered shady garden but likes moist shade so I’ve taken a slight risk as the bit at the bottom is fairly dry.  I added a good amount of homemade compost to the planting hole to help improve moisture retention and have mulched as well so fingers crossed!

 

Switch Grass ~ Panicum virgatum ‘Warrior’

Switch Grass

Switch Grass

P. virgatum ‘Warrior’ is a deciduous perennial grass with flat, linear leaves which are mid-green in spring and summer turning yellow in autumn.  The flower spikes turn dark purple in autumn too.  It tolerates a wide range of conditions, including any aspect, any pH (acid, alkaline or neutral) and most soils as long as they are moist and well drained.  The garden centre label claims it tolerates partial shade though most references will tell you it needs full sun.  We will see how it gets on in the dappled shade.  Assuming it settles down, I’ll be dividing this plant in mid-spring for further planting.  This is also the time to remove the dead foliage and flowered stems before new growth advances.

By the way, the fern in the foreground is a Hart’s Tongue, Asplenium scolopendrium which came with us in a pot when we moved house.