Thursday 29 May 2014

New adventures

This blog is now finished, to see my current work please go to

Maggie Tran Hortiventure

A final post

Sorry for the delay, but finally here is my very last post for this blog. Time moves fast, the two new scholars that started at Dixter when I had finished have already been plugging away at their blogs - the cycle of the garden goes round again, through new eyes and voices.

The experience I have had here will have a profound effect on me, it is yet too soon for me to have even fully assimilated it. But it is like what my friend James said, "New things will be learnt from it. Even though I am not there, it keeps giving".

It has often been said of Dixter, but in my case it has definitely been true - the people who I have met and connected with here have made much of the experience. People who have inspired me and some who have even become close friends.

I have started my new adventures! Ideas, thoughts and explorations will be highlighted in my new blog: Hortiventure - please do join me in the next stages of my adventures.

Here are some photos that I like but never got published:

This is the type of planting that goes on at Dixter that makes my heart melt (I have to point out that gardener Rachael Dodd was responsible for the Panicum virgatum planting).

This rush of colour makes me feel like the much needed vitamin D boost from the sun.

I didn't fully understand these plants until I saw them dramatically lit by natural light in a certain way that seemed to make them glow - Valeriana pyrenaica and Melanoselinum decipiens

A fully opened poppy.

Layers in the Long Border.

Possibly my favourite part of the garden - Inula magnifica

Thank you everyone who supported me and read this blog.
My journey continues at

Tuesday 8 October 2013

A splendid last planting (but not the last post)

Tues 27th Aug
Weather: Hot, a day where the sun felt like it was beating down on us. Up to 21°C.

One of the jobs given to me in my last week at Dixter, was the delightful task of planting up The Solar Garden, which was more than I could ask for. I have seen it through many phases, from planting tulip bulbs, to peasticking over a hundred antirrhinums in which Leo Böhm joined me in this painstaking task. And to whom I would like to dedicate the first pictures to:

We have had a fair few days of very windy weather this year, and even when the garden was being blown apart. These Antirrhinum majus 'La Bella Bronze & Red Series' remained proudly standing and barely ruffled.

I worked with James and Siew Lee. We placed boards over the lawn and methodically & almost meditatively we went through the whole bed taking out all the snapdragons and peasticks. Some of the better peasticks we saved, in case we needed any that season, and 10 - 12 strong plants of each colour of antirrhinums, which we put in recycled compost bags in crates. We dug out and collected bulbs of Tulipa 'Daydream' to store away for winter and then dug the bed over very thoroughly, so that it was a lovely fine tilth.

We looked at what stock we had and brought up a handful of things to try out, including a lot of Salvia Splendens 'Bonfire' and 'Flares' (shorter than 'Bonfire') which we had originally grown with that area in mind, Coleus palisandra and Erigeron annuus. We played around with these and made different combinations, even laying them out fully to see what they would look like. The Coleus palisandra although a wonderful deep dark purple plant, we decided was too dark, it seemed to just absorb colour and just got lost in the planting, and we didn't have enough of it to make something of it.

Lining out Salvia splendens 'Bonfire' and 'Flares'. Bonfire is a taller plant, Flares is smaller but
with a lot of flowers and is also a bit brighter. 

In the end we decided to definitely start placing out the taller Salvia splendens 'Bonfire' at the back. Then using this one and 'Flares' we tried to create an undulation of red. This type of Salvia would not usually be my obvious choice, my first gut reaction to them I had to admit was that I found them hideous, but I always like to challenge feelings like this. If anywhere can do it, it is Dixter who can show me how a typical council bedding plant can be totally subverted and made into something extraordinary. And it was not an exception this time. Even I could see what an amazing impact they made when they were all lined out. We laid them out in the bed, then Fergus came and gave his magic touch and made them even better. Then he had the idea of putting some Euphorbia donii amongst them. Surprisingly the bright lime green of the euphorbia actually seemed to mellow the colour of the salvias.

Close up of Salvia splendens 'Bonfire' and Euphorbia donii. 

In the end we decided to plant some Erigeron annuus at the back at various spots, to spray out. The whole planting is very experimental - it is to be seen how long the salvias and euphorbia will last, and it is an area where we want the plants to go on for as long as possible.

The Solar Garden bed after planting.

Tidying up the garden stock

Weds 20th Aug
Weather: Hot. Around 20°C.

Today we went through the garden stock, getting rid of, weeding, tidying up and organising. Siphoning off excess for sale in the nursery and to donate to Northiam Horticultural Society. As a trial we did some radical cutting back of some very well furnished Hosta sp.

Thurs 21st Aug
Weather: Sunny, up to 22°C.

Still going through the garden stock, including repotting a monster sized Geranium maderense. We left any dead stems as they help to prop up the plant. We organised a lot of unknown Hedychium and was able to at least identify Hedychium forrestii as they have slightly hairy leaves.

Fri 22nd Aug
Weather: Hot
We did more freshening up of the kitchen driveway by weeding and taking out brown bits.

Mon 26th Aug
Weather: Dull in the morning and hot later in the day.
Nursery duty.

The meadows have started to be cut in the last week or so. It signifies the approach of autumn arriving, which though beautiful in its course is melancholic. I can't help for it to reflect my sadness for the eventuality of my leave and the end of my scholarship here. But that is because I have had a good time here, it is part of the cycle, it is an end as well as an exciting beginning where I can't wait to take the skills I have learnt at Dixter out yonder.

Thursday 3 October 2013

Furnishing the Exotic Garden

Mon 12th Aug
Weather: Fair
Maria Castro who is the current HBGBS trainee at Fulham Palace and my peer has come to work with me at Dixter this week, and it was great to have someone with so much energy. We did more staking in the Exotic Garden - more Eupatorium capillifolium, Amicia zygomeris and Dahlia australis. And took out overly brown leaves of Musa basjoo and Tetrapanax papyrifer. The routine has started now, where every gardener is assigned an area to brush up and deadhead up until the garden closes again for winter. My responsibility is the Exotic Garden - a full circle to where I began when I started my scholarship. After that we staked up some Amaranthus 'Autumn Palette' in the Peacock Garden - this is a great amaranthus, as it starts off a light rusty orange and goes deeper, darker and more prominent as it matures.

Maria staking Amaranthus 'Autumn Palette'

Tues 13th Aug
Weather: Hot, bright and sunny.
We planted in the last layer of the Exotic Garden to 'furnish' it. First we laid out a selection of plants underneath the cow shed next to the Exotic Garden, mainly from the greenhouses, so we could see what we had for our palette.

We planted in Hedychium sp, Tibouchina urvillieana, Musa Basjoo, Tagetes lemonii 'Martin's Mutant'. ferns including Adiantum sp.

Planting of Tibouchina urvilleana

Weds 14th Aug
Weather: Changeable but comfortable, moments of sun and overcast. Up to 20°C.

We carried on with more planting in the Exotic Garden, using more Tibouchina urvilleana & Tagetes lemonii (they're a great foliage plant), Persicara virginana 'Tobara'...

Persicaria virginia 'Tobara' next to what I think is a type of Dasylirion  

- Begonia metallica and a Phormium cookianum subsp. hookeri 'Tricolor'

We also replaced a Impatiens bicaudata, as the previous one that had planted had become sick and dying.

The beds in the Exotic Garden is like mounds, so when we are planting at the edge, we dig a sort of diagonal hole down and tip the plants forward, so that it sits more naturally.

We helped Fergus but mainly observing him plant out Gazania sp. and Tagetes cinnabar in the High Garden. It's always a pleasure being able to see Fergus at work, as he's so fast yet precise & intuitive. He trimmed the Tagetes in a way that created an undulation which is highly unusual, but it works!

For a section next to it we brought up some Tagetes patula 'Cinnabar' from the garden stock in the nursery, and positioned them out ready for planting, using stakes and string to make a temporary structure to prevent them from falling down.

Thurs 15th Aug
Weather: Warm. Up to about 22°C.

We planted in the Tagetes patula 'Cinnabar' we had 8 or 9 plants and had to bring up almost the double again, space always absorbs more plants than you think.

The patch of Tagetes Patula 'Cinnabar' that we planted.

James gave a talk on his Japan exchange at the Millenium Park Forest over lunch.

Then we weeded the much needed back of the Education Room, where it is still a rough space, where excess garden & nursery stock has been temporarily planted, and where students like me can use to grow their own - I have been using it as a space to grow a few bits of my own vegetable and to do plants experiments (growing things that I have never grown to see how they grow).

We weeded in the education room but left nice self-sowers like these magnificient
Dipthrascus fullonum

Fri 16th Aug
Weather: The nice summer weather continues.
I started the day with my morning routine of brushing up and deadheading the Exotic Garden. As we had finished the last main level of planting in the Exotic Garden we put all the unused plants back. Then we repotted some Begonia grandis subsp. evansiana.

Gardeners get the best perspective

Mon 29th July
Weather: Windy & rainy.

Right in the midst of the jungle. 

It was very windy and we had to do emergency staking all around the garden of plants that would be affected and that we had not got round to staking yet. So we went round stabilising all Verbascum olympicum & Verbascum 'Christo's Yellow Lightning'. It was a rare opportunity to go into the middle of the beds at this time of the year, which are so dense that it was quite a feat to go in and out of them and for them to remain looking undisturbed. It was great to see the border/ garden from a perspective that one usually doesn't get to see - gardeners get the best perspectives.

View within the border, well and truly surrounded and encompassed by plants. 

For the stakes we malleted in short chestnut poles, recycled broom handles or thick canes, then tied two sets of tarred twine around them, using the clove hitch knot and figure of 8 technique around the plant.

Tues 30th July
Weather: Similar to yesterday

We finished staking all the verbascums (there's a lot of them!)
Then I went to stake a Cosmos bipinnatus 'Purity' & Rudbeckia sp. The rudbeckia was actually fine, but we were just pre-empting its need for support soon. With these we used the usual staking method (just with usual green twine and a single string around the plant). We don't use many varieties of Cosmos, only tried and trusted ones, as we demand from them to be tall and evenly floriferous, and not many are. 'Dazzler' & 'Purity' are good reliable ones, and I have seen 'Candy Stripe' doing very well at Gravetye as well.

Cosmos bipinnatus 'Purity' on a good day, with its billowy grace. 

Weds 31st July
Weather: Fairer, more still weather.
We decided that the string tying I had done on the Cosmos & Rudbeckia was too high and now as it was easier to see (not fighting against wind and drizzle) I went to adjust them. Then work started again in the Exotic Garden.

Thurs 1st Aug
Weather: Really hot up to 28°C.

In the Exotic Garden we are now preparing it for the third and last layer of planting - thinning out more Mysotis sylvatica 'Royal Blue' and Verbena bonariensis and staking Eupatorium capillifolium & Impatiens bicaudata.

Weds 7th Aug
Weather: Cooler, up to 20°C. Cloudy & overcast most of the day, slightly humid but not uncomfortable.

More weeding around the Hemerocallis trial bed. Many have had their moment now and are over.

Thurs 8th Aug
Weather: Up to 22°C but felt hotter.

I did some planting throughout the Long Border and plugged some gaps with the Dixter classic Tagetes patula 'Cinnabar' and some Geranium × riversleaianum 'Russell Pritchard'. I cut back some spent Geranium pratense leaves, and took out some spent Centaurea cyanus 'Blue Diadem', that still had a lot of colour going for it and had only just turned.

Fri 9th Aug
Weather: Similar to yesterday.

Some tall Silphium perfoliatum at the back of the Long Border was leaning onto the yew hedging. So I drove some tall stakes at intervals behind the mass of plants and threaded a none slip rope between them, to prop the silphium up.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

The day of the Hemerocallis trials

Sat 20th July
Weather: Warm, overcast but dry.

Listening in on the experts. The swathe of daylilies on the bottom are Dixter's own stock of Hemerocallis
'Marion Vaughn'. These were not part of the trials though, as they are already 2 or 3 years old,
and all plants were in their first year. 

It was a much awaited day, where the British Hemerocallis & Hosta Society came to judge the Hemerocallis, They couldn't have picked a better day, overcast but warm & dry, most of the Hems had come into flower just over a week ago. The RHS Herbaceous Perennial Committee had separately come to do their meeting and it was interesting how their judging criteria are different. The BHHS society set about deadheading the flowers as they felt that they needed to be seen in the best light, whilst the RHS committee group felt it was important to leave the dead on the plants, to see how they die. I agreed that the dead should be left, as it did make a difference if they quietly shrivelled and dropped off, or melted like a flaccid balloon in a horrifyingly showy way. Also to see if flower colours faded early. But I feel both methods are valid can be accommodated in one trial, and the Hemerocallis did look a lot better deadheaded. It just went to prove that working out what set of criteria you chose to judge and measure a plant was important and not straightforward.

Being presented the almighty Hemerocallis 'Barbara Alsop' and receiving on behalf of Fergus & Dixter.

It was one of those days that I learnt a lot through listening - what made good flowers - spacing of scapes (flowering branches) were important. How they held themselves above the foliage. The different trends of flowers. Producing red flowers have been one of the latest achievements of breeding, it was good to consider if the throat of your plant was green and yellow, as that can make a difference to how it offsets a colour, another plant when used in the border and in combination with other plants. How there have been moments that indentations or textures on a flower has been all the breeders rage. The latest trend is producing spider type daylilies with 'teeth' (indented edges). Then there are terms diploid, tetraploid and triploid used for daylilies, which basically define how much chromosomes they have and is significant to a breeder. Diploids have 22 chromosomes, tetraploid 44 and then triploid have triple that amount. The more chromosomes they have - the more they can do to it - so this is where breaks in colours, two tone and extra frills for example is able to be possible. Triploids though is rare because they are usually infertile and cannot be pollinated.

Photos courtesy of BHHS.