Monday, 30 September 2013

Grass ident 05/06/2013

Grass is so common, that it is often overseen. There are great showy ornamental grasses of courses that can really add to the garden, but the common grasses are interesting if you have meadows. Also if it is a weed it is good to know what you are dealing with. And personally I find the constituents of what makes up a lawn, agriculture leyland and meadows fascinating, it can say so much and their uses are often so fundamental. Once you start seeing 'the grass' is not one green mass anymore.

1. Holcus lanatus aka Yorkshire Fog (Poaceae family). Lanatus = Latin for woolly as it has a hairy texture. Distinguishable by its pink tinge, another way to identify it is the base of the stems are white with pink stripes/ veins. This grass is a common weed and is very invasive/ noxious weed in some countries like America and Australia. In Britain it can be part of meadows and hardy pasture grass.

Its preferable conditions are wet and disturbed ground, it can be an indicator of poor soil, low grazing and poor drainage, so if these were reversed it would be less rampant. In Europe it does not survive trampling and though hardy can be killed by severe frosts. It is also a food source for the butterflies Speckled Wood, the Wall and the Small Skipper.

2. Dactylis glomerata aka Cocksfoot Grass. It is originally from North America and was known as Orchard Grass. When not open and in flower, the tufty heads do look like feet of cockerels.

It is interesting in that it has been debated whether it makes a good alternative grazing grass to Lolium perenne (Ryegrass). Lolium perenne is used a lot in conventional agriculture because it takes in high nitrogen fertilisers well, and a grass that still provides livestock nutritional value, so this can help increase commercial productivity. Whether conventional agricultural methods are the best is debatable. But the advantage of Dactylis glomerata in this scenario is that it is drought resistant, so it can still provide a source of feed with nutrition when it is very hot and dry especially when mixed with other plants like clover. Plus it is thought that its deeper roots might bring up more nutrients. Dactylis glomerata like Lolium perenne also put back nutrients into the soil, and hence the latter is used to keep the land usable.

3. (Left to Right) Cynosurus cristatus aka Crested Dog's Tail.  The seed head is a bit flattish. It is found in the wild in species rich grassland like purple moor grass and rush pastures which are good for biodiversity. But it is also used as an ornamental plant and for sheep grazing when young. It is drought & cold resistant and stays green in the winter. It is also used for straw plaiting.

4. Alopecuris pratensis aka Foxtail Grass. The seedhead is as its common namesake like a reddish foxtail that becomes silvery. It is found in meadow grass on clay or neutral soil. It is also a food source for the Essex Skipper butterfly. It is a early flowering grass.

5. Anthoxanthum odoratum aka Sweet Vernal Grass. It is  a short lived perennial. It is used as a lawn grass and can be found in meadows. It is the one that makes the 'grass smell' and induces hayfever because of its coumarin contents. It has short broad green leaves that are slightly hairy, and flowers in spring.

6. Festuca rubra aka Red Fescue is often used in lawn mixes too. It is found all over the world and is tolerant of all sorts of climates and conditions, especially shade. It is not used as a meadow grass because it is unpalatable to livestock and has low-productivity.

7. Bromus hordeaceus aka Soft Brome is an annual grass found in wastelands, meadows, dunes and verges. It flowers from May to July and sets seed in May to early August. It can be a problematic weeds especially in cereal crop rotations. It is closely related to the lineage of wheat grass family though of important economic crops like Triticum ssp (wheat), Secale cereale (rye) and Hordeum vulgare (barley). It's name also means oats - so that would probably explain it's resemblance to some of these crops. The smaller plant Bromus sp. is also a sister one.

8. Brachypodium sylvaticum aka False Brome is perennial. It is mainly found in forests and woodlands i.e. shady areas but can grow in the open too. it doesn't like wet and prefers calcerous soils. It was introduced into North America and has become an invasive species and now a threat to the native flora in the state of Oregon. In Europe though it is also a good food source for the Chequered Skipper and Essex Skipper butterflies.

10. Agrostis capillaris aka Common Bent. Agrostis = Latin for field. It's a perennial that grows in moist grasslands, open meadows, agricultural areas, roadsides and disturbed ground. It likes low fertility, neutral - acidic soils and is rhizomatous/ stoloniferous, so runs and produces dense swards of fine leaves. Their seeds germinate in Autumn and Spring. It is a good grass for the type of grounds like lawns & golf courses, but is also an important constituent of high diversity areas of purple moor grass and rush pastures and sheep grazing land in high rainfall areas. It is also grazed by rabbits which helps control its seeding.

11. Plantago lanceolata aka Ribwort Plaintain is a a red herring as its not actually a grass. It has hairy wide ribbed leaves that are very distinctive. It is a perennial weed of arable and grasslands (invasive in the US) and can be found on roadsides. It can tolerate high altitudes and was present in prehistoric times. It is very palatable to sheep and is a good source of calcium, phosphate, potassium and sodium for them, as well as having trace elements of cobalt and copper. So it has been used in grass feed mixes and in Wales has been valued as plant for hillside improvement. Hence it is also an indicator for land that has been or is used for grazing. As well as healthy animals it apparently makes the flavour of milk taste good! It is also used in herbal medicine and I have witnessed the fresh leaves being used to effectively sooth a wasp bite. A lot going for a little plant that's also a weed.

All stops out for watering and weeding

Mon 15th July
Weather: Hot, 25/26 °C

Creating rainbows with sprinklers all over the garden.

Back at Dixter! The Hemerocallis trial is due to take place at the end of this week, so all day was spent weeding this area.

Tues 16th July
Weather: More overcast & sultry but still hot.
Weeding in the Peacock garden.

Weds 17th July
Weather: Hottest day so far! It went up to 28°C.
I continued weeding and taking out brown stuff from the Peacock Garden, and staked a tall growing Nepeta transcaucasica of amazing wild sprawling habit just to tame it a little and an Achillea cartilaginea 'Silver Spray', a very fine big flowered yarrow from De Hessenhof nursery.

Then I planted in some Persicara orientalis, and it's watering, watering, watering everywhere, everyone is moving sprinklers around the garden as part of their tasks.

Thurs 18th July
Weather: Hot
Continued weeding, clearing brown bits in Peacock garden especially where a Lupinus arboreus has been cut down and has left a lot of debris.

Fri 19th July
Weather: Hot
All day working on the Hemerocallis again to make sure they're ready for tomorrow!

A week at the Chelsea Physic Garden

I have always been interested in the Chelsea Physic Garden. It is the oldest botanical garden in the country, originating as an apothecary garden in the 1600s, it is a garden that retains a lot of character and an antiquated charm and is like a cabinet of curiosities for plants. It plays an tomey part in the history of horticulture and botany and now a garden specialising in ethnobotany, its significance still remains.

The Wardian case is one of many examples, used in up until the 1950s by institutions like Kew to transport plants, it was instrumental to the changes of entire countries. It was with this that Robert Fortune (one of the many curators of the garden albeit a brief stint) transported tea plants to India from China, hence causing a tide change of economy & politics within these two countries. The Wardian case itself was invented by Dr Ward in 1829 - once master of the Society of Apothecaries that formerly owned the garden.

My passion for Horticulture first began from wanting to grow my own food, and I have always been fascinated by people and how they work. When I worked as an artist my interest was in bringing people together and how to interact and elicit responses from them. So I have always been interested in the history of plants and how they have been used. It was only when I encountered Dixter that I found ornamental horticulture really exciting. As Dixter is such an all encompassing experiential place, it has given me a deeper understanding how plants can make people connect, use, think and feel about a space. My origin of interest is richer but still remains. I also love seeing lots of interesting plants and think of how they can be used in the garden! Anyway it was with this in mind I wrote to the Chelsea Physic Garden, asking if anyone there would be interested in an exchange, and their then trainee Tom Wells happened to be, so we swapped rooms and work for a week.

Mon 8th July
Weather: Very hot, full sunshine.

This handsome Tithonia rotundifolia was grown in the Peter Miller section & DOB.
Dixter has used this in the garden too, but it's hard to get good plants of it
because it needs good heat. 

I got an induction and brief tour of the garden. Helpfully head gardener Nick Bailey asked what I wanted to get out of the week, and without hesitation I told him that I wanted to learn more about glasshouse work, propagation and get a feel of how the garden worked.

My first task of the morning was to water the outdoor Canary Islands plant collection and deep water some big pots of mixed plants that had things like Brugmansia suaveolens in them. Then it was working in a team morning to strim the edges of the Dicotyledon Order Beds - DOB for short. I had to wear goggle over my glasses which misted up with condensation, making vision slightly difficult. I then helped Emma with the Peter Miller section of the garden. This involved picking up Magnolia grandiflora leaves including under some Abutilon sp., topping up soil along a Lavandula sp. hedging. Then I replanted some of the Lavandula so they were more evenly spread out and less gappy.

Tues 9th July
Weather: Hot, but not as hot as yesterday. Height of temperature around 26°C , min. 16°C at night. There was also a nice cooling breeze - gorgeous!

I worked with Kate manager of glasshouses on the 'Tropical Corridor'. I scrubbed scale insects off with a toothbrush and cleaned off mealy bugs with a powerful water spray using just water. She showed me the glasshouse check list, what she has to routinely go through once a week - checking each house methodically, to see if there any pests or diseases, if control is necessary, temperature etc, everything that ensured that they were in good working order and that the plants within them were happy. A feed is given to the plants once per week via a Dosatron - a non electric water powered chemical dispenser.

I tidied and watered an area that the Natural History Museum rents out to keep plants they are doing experiments on. There were a lot of fallen leaves. The plants were a brassica (possibly Arabis), Hyacinthoides non-scripta (English bluebells) & ferns. Near there was greenhouse that had some interesting smelling Aloysia sp. that smelt of mint.

Soleirolia soleirolii in the bottom right corner.

Then I scraped and hand forked out a weed called Soleirolia soleirolii aka 'Mind Your Own Business' in The Fernery.

Weds 10th July
Weather: Hot
I worked with propagation manager Nell Jones and did some semi-ripe & heeled cuttings of Salvia officinalis. For both type of cuttings some we cut the leaves in half, some we left as small whole leaves. Of each set, we put one under the automatic mister, the other outside of it to be hand watered. This was because the last ones she had tried the leaves had rotten off.

The sage was taken from the Superfoods exhibition, that showcases food labelled in such a way.
To better inform people about them and to dispel any marketing myths. 

She showed me how to search for plants on their database, and informed me what their accession numbers were (an unique sequential number given to every plant, so they can be tracked) and how to label using these. I learnt about the meaning of 'species' in the context of this garden & standard botanical gardens. At Dixter we talk about any plants that is not a cultivar as a species, here they are talking about the unique DNA that every plant (and person) has. Two plants could both be labelled Salvia officinalis but they could be genetically different even though they are the same type of plant, because they have different parents, unless they are clones. This is why species used in the Dixter context could be confusing. This reveals another function of a botanical garden, which is helping towards conserving a more diverse gene pool so that plants don't just come from a limited set of parents.

After that we set about clearing & watering an area called the nursery, which is currently a store of stock for the garden or unused plants.

Nell is inspiring in that she started out as a recruitment consultant and wanted to change careers. She started volunteering at the Chelsea Physic Garden and applied for their one year traineeship. After that they employed her as the Propagation Manager. She hardworking, committed and not fazed by anything she doesn't know. It is this attitude to keep trialling and observing like we did with the Salvia that given her success of propagating many different types of plants. She treats them all the same at the start, she tells me, then observes and start asking questions.

Thurs 11th July
Weather: Hot! At least 26/ 27°C.
I helped trainee Joe with his Pelargonium greenhouse, taking off any dead bits, weeding pots, brushing up and generally making sure the collection is presentable.

When to leave the dead - At Dixter we are meticulous about taking dead bits out if it affects the overall visual picture, but we also meticulously leave the dead when we are doing trials, so that we can see if a plant dies gracefully or not. In a botanical garden they sometimes do the same but coming from a different angle, the dead is left on specimens plants for another kind of educational purpose.

The Brassicarium, one of my favourite things in the garden, showcases
many different types of brassicas - one of the
food groups that is labelled a Superfood. 

We fed beans and peas in the Superfoods area with Miracle Gro that is in the form of a bright blue powder - 2 scoops to 10 gallons of water. Then I helped do some weeding, feeding and watering of the 'Brassicarium' also in the same section, designed by Tom the trainee whom I had swapped with, and who I still hadn't met yet.

Then I helped do some planting around and near the Edible garden, helping to fill in any holes in the display. I planted some Amaranth viridis, Arachis hypogaea (peanut) in the plants used to make oils and Aztec sections, Apium graveolens var. rapaceum (celeriac) and some Francoa sp. in the woodlandy area. After that I helped stake some Cannabis sativa plants (botanical gardens have to obtain a special license to display these) and tied up a Vitis sp.
The Aztec section. 

Fri 12th July
Weather: Hot.
Friday at the Chelsea Physic is teamwork day and they usually pinpoint a job that particularly needs doing and would be good if lots of people did it together. This included filling up a skip of general rubbish that had built up in the boat yard, wire brushing weeds out of cracks in the paths and weeding DOB.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The HBGBS study tour

At the end of June there was a study tour for all of the HBGBS trainees. It was a chance to meet everyone again before they all went off in different directions to do further other things, get some careers advice & mutual support, and get passionate about seeing gardens and plants together.

Here are photographic highlights of the my favourite parts of each garden we visited:

A privately owned ex-Jekyll & Lutyen Edwardian 20 acres garden. It is open to the public on special open days. It has a formal garden with a lily pond, terraced lawns, a special fountain by Lutyen, a large landscape rock garden & arboretum with a stream meandering through it, and a kitchen garden with new sections being developed, including a rose garden.

Fascinating fasciation - the vascular bundle of this Asparagus in the kitchen garden has been damaged, possibly by a viral infection carried by aphids. It is usually not re-occurring.

A lovely mass of scented Crambe maritima flowers in the formal garden. A garden that gives a great insight to the plant & colour palette of Gertrude Jekyll.

A tree with a face.

One of my favourite plants Cornus kousa seen in situ.

Barnsley House
A garden once owned by Rosemary Verey, now a boutique hotel. Rosemary Verey in the 1950s & 60s popularised English gardening including making kitchen gardens more ornamental.

The well known Laburnum Walk.

My favourite part of the garden - The Potager, a wonderful blend of flowers and vegetables, formerly managed by Ed Alderman, now the current Christopher Lloyd scholar. A man of my own heart - using heritage seeds from places like the Heritage Seed Library.

A beautiful companion plant and green manure Phacelia tanacetifolia

A great colour combination of red Latuca (lettuce) and Brassica.

10.5 acres of Arts & Craft styled garden set around a manor house. Created and belonged to rich American Major Lawrence Johnstone. Now a National Trust property. It is one of the few NT gardens where the plants are not labelled.

A view that gives you a peek at the many layers of rooms in the garden.

This satisfied my personal craze for chandelier primulas this year.

A large garden with the potential to stumble upon small pockets of rare and unusual plants like these black irises...

and double petalled red Helianthemum.

I'm always admire a good fruit cage and am interested in how people lay out their veg gardens.

Perrot's Brook - John Sale's garden
John Sales worked for 25 years as the National Trust's Chief Garden Adviser, a heavyweight in the world of horticulture. His garden consists of ornamental sections, woods and meadows, and as you can imagine not your average garden, full of unusual plants and interesting methods. Perrot's Brook is open on special open garden days.

His garden is up on a hill so is very well sited, as the frost drains away from them.

Different meadow management:
Dixter cuts their meadows twice, once around the end of July/ August and again in November for the spring bulbs. John has two 'squares' of meadows, one square has no spring bulbs and that one he cuts again and again, keeping it around 4" long up until the Chelsea Flower Show. At that stage he will leave it until September to help the Rhinanthus minor germinate, this one is classed as his 'summer' meadow. His other one has spring bulbs of Scilla, Chionodoxa, and Cyclamen. This one will have no cuts in the beginning of the year until September and then the grass is taken off for hay. Orchids have also come into the meadows of their own accord here too, the ones he has are similar to our spotted orchid Dactlylorhiza fuschii, they are also pyramidal but are a darker pink. He also has lots of Iris latifolia. For unwanted weeds in his meadows like Heracleum sphondylium, he manually digs them out.

Quote: 'Management makes gardeners not designers' - John Sales.

The man himself. 

Lilium martagon self-sowing everywhere. He also had the thinnest Buxus sempervirens hedge that I have ever seen, that he cuts during Ascot week, and the biggest Heptacodium micinoides tree in the country.

An amazingly rare saxifrage type plant that John does not know the name of.

He had a kind of gravel/ rock garden at the front of his house. I love how he had very niche specimen plants spill out of the trough and into the gravel or the cracks of paths.

Another special saxifrage type plant from the Crassulaceae family specific to the Cotswold: Chiastophyllum oppositifolium

Last but not least was my favourite garden, created from the 1920s by three generation of women, a romantic place, like an amazing silent refuge, that at once took one away in time and then to surprisingly modernist elements. Built almost on a cliff, a place that feel full of secrets with breathtaking moments. A real plants lovers garden too with an amazing array and choice of perennials. Temptingly they have their own little nursery selling their own unusual plants. The is only opposite Hidcote and interestingly the first lady who started it Heather Muir, was a good friend of Lawrence Johnstone, but instead of designing the garden first on paper, she developed it organically as she went along - which is probably what gives it its unique character. It is open to the public during the months April - September.

Before you get into the garden - an interesting red hedge.

Hidden and revealed views

One of the dramatic pools

Dictamnus albus - which Christopher Lloyd couldn't grow at Dixter but enjoyed at Glyndebourne Opera House. To demonstrate the volatility of the oils given off by the plant in the evening, he would light a match above it.

The first time I saw the moss rose Portulaca grandiflora.


Sun 23rd June
Weather: Constantly changing, very windy.

The main High Garden stockbed floated with Pastinaca sativa.

I was on nursery duty today. It has been really wet, so I only had to spot water pot displays. I did some emergency staking of a few Pastinaca sativa (Parsnips) & Lupinus because the wind had really got to them. Then I spot watered garden stock, did some customer & sales work and potted on of different kinds of petunias.

Lupinus polyphyllus 'The Governor' (the blue & white one) & 'Chandelier'
(the yellow one)

Mon 24th June
Weather: A bit windy & cooler, though it was suppose to be about 16°C.

I partook in Fergus's Good Planting study day, which gave advice on how to achieve this, and an insight of the planting choices that made Dixter special. Here are some points to consider:

- understanding your conditions and the requirements of your plants
- to make an effort at the start to help things establish
- breaking our own rules
- being free with colour
- seeing plants in the wild
- aiming to create a 'community of plants'
- being influenced by the landscape
- being influenced by a single plant
- being naturally inquisitive about composition
- thinking of contrast

Good Planting study day: Centranthus ruber in the wild from a New Zealand beach
transposed to here with C. ruber 'Albus' in a drystone wall.

Good Planting study day: one can't believe the painterly quality this community
of plants achieve.

Then I staked the rest of the parsnips just in case, as they have another month of flowering. The reason why they have not been withstanding the wind so well by itself, is because you usually leave parsnips in the ground. But we actually dug these ones up and replanted them in the way that we wanted them, which destabilised them a little, and didn't give them quite enough time to be fully rooted again in the ground. The sap of Pastinaca can burn so one has to be careful when handling them.

Tues 25th June
Weather: Hot & sunny, 17/ 18°C.
Finished staking parsnips. Potted on plugs of Nemophile 'Penny Black' and Erigeron annuus one of our trusty self-sowers.

Weds 26th June
Weather: Lovely and mild.

I put plants in pots for pot displays. Helped out with the lining out and planting of Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus (species formerly known as flava) in the High Garden. Plants are really starting to overspill the paths, there is a certain section that is like walking through two walls of Salvia turkestanica. I went round tweaking the ferocious growth along the edges of the path with peasticks and string.

Thurs 27th June
Weather: Another sunny & mild day, although it had started to change again.

Potted up of Celosia seedlings - lots of watering of gardening stock and greenhouses, and taking heed of what we have at this point. Moved new Exotic plants together. Did a presentation on our Turkey trip. Staked & weeded in the High Garden and did some straight forward pruning of Lonicera purpurissi - taking out two big branches of mainly dead bits.

A summer medley

Mon 1st July
Weather: Beautifully hot.

Kemal pointing at Geranium macrorrhizum 'Bevan's Variety'

I cleared the area near the Blue Garden and the cellar. I deadheaded Geranium macrorrhizum 'Bevan's Variety' and left the bushy foliage, which will stay there for the rest of the year until it dies back a bit in winter. I cut back Pulmoneria sp. leaves to make room for Adiantum venustum, staked some Campanula sp. that had gotten top heavy and had keeled over. Cut off Meconopsis cambrica seedheads to the foliage, cleared dead debris from the ground, taking out any brown yellowing bits. Cut back Brunnera macrophylla and Melianthus major. I put on the sprinkler round that area and systematically moved it around every hour. This is the time of year where a lot of 'freshening up' happens as some things die back and others start to grow. The weather has been so hot for the 'hot lips' on Salvia x jamensis 'Hot Lips', they have seared off!

Some of the things that have been growing very well around this area from June:

Dianthus deltoides in the trough.

Deutzia x rosea 'Carminea'

The wheels of flowers on the 'wheel tree' Trocadendron arailoides

The layers of Clematis on other trees & shrubs, all are from the Montana Group, the white one smells of white chocolate and is possibly C. montana 'Wilsonii' or C. montana 'Elizabeth', the deepest pink one is C. montana 'Freda'.

In the evening I went to a second of Kemal Medhi study tours around Dixter garden. Kemal is a neighbour of Dixter and was a good friend of C. Lloyd. He worked at Sissinghurst as a gardener during the time of Pam & Sybil as head gardeners and later on taught at Hadlow College. His tours consists of meaty pages of plant identification, but his aim is not to throw names at you, but for you to actually understand the plants used and gain a deeper understanding of the garden. They last for hours and go into the wee hours of dusk - wonderfully epic.

Tues 2nd July
Weather: Cloudy & overcast, a bit chilly in the morning & evening. Min. 14°C at night now and generally 20°C in the day.

A medley of chores - raking leaves off the lawn in the Blue Garden (fallen from the Phyllostachys nigra). Looking at how to judge & record the Hemerocallis trial we are doing. Some of them are a bit riddled with gall midge and is distorting the growth of the plant & buds.

Buds attacked by gall midges are picked off. 

I finished clearing leaves on the ground in the area around the cellar and pulled up any Bryonia dioica because they are a bit of a weed here. We have to extract the roots out as much as possible and they head to the burn pile rather than the compost.

I deadheaded Lupinus sp., weeded beneath the hedge where Hemerocallis trials are, and put some organic slug pellets down between them.

Weds 3rd July
Weather: Muggy, up to 20°C again. Cloudy & overcast most of the day with the sun breaking through sporadically. The evening light was lovely.

I had to take out some Dahlia x Cosmos 'Mexican Black' and Dahlia 'Witteman's Superba' out of the hothouse that had been grown on from cuttings, and have been growing very fast. Their foliage has fleshed out significantly in just a week. There are slight signs of spider mite so I thought it would be best to move them outside. I washed the spider mites off where I could, repotted them, some staked and put them in an open frame. Kemal tells us that Dahlia x Cosmos is written as it is, because people are not certain of their origin yet. If it is for certain that the resulting plant is a cross bred of two genera then they would usually have a new genus name and an x at the beginning of the name like x Fatshedera (a combination of genera Fatsia & Hedera).

Then we planted out some Lathyrus odoratus 'White Supreme' to float the bed next to the shop with scent and lots of them. We dug a hole for them twice as deep, mixed in mushroom compost at the bottom before planting and put a small peastick behind each one, to give them some initial assistance to clamber all over the shrubs & perennials there. The soil is quite poor there so we added some chicken manure, and also put some organic slug pellets down and watered them in well.