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.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Exciting planting

Mon 22nd July
Weather: Hottest day of the summer so far, apparently up to 34°C!
Me and Ellen finished clearing the space behind the Lupinus arboreus in the Peacock Garden, including taking out weeds and digging it over. Then we planted in Cosmos bipinnatus 'Dazzler' - a tall dark carmine pink one and watered them in well. Meanwhile setting the sprinkler on the Aster latiflorus var. horizontalis hedges.

At the back of the Peacock Garden near where we planted out the Cosmos. (Left to right) Lilium lancifolium, Phlox sp. Eryngium sp. Behind these are bright pink tufts of Persicaria orientalis and Verbascum sp.
Tues 23rd July
Weather: Thunderstorm - first rain in weeks, heavy showers but it didn't last long.

We cleared one side of the kitchen driveway, weeding and taking out dead/ brown bits. We collected some Leucanthemum vulgare & Papaver dubium subsp. lecoquii 'Albiflorum' (Beth's poppy) seeds.  Then we cut back the dead stalks of these, and of Euphorbia sp. & Geranium sp. We saved the offcuts of Leucanthemum vulgare & Geranium sp. that still had seed heads, and took them down to the farm complex to strew in cracks and barrens spaces there.

Weds 24th July
Weather: 24°C, mainly sunny. Nice and cool in the morning, especially moments when it was overcast.

Fergus was away today and he left us to do a juicy bit of planting by ourselves in a sizeable bed on the kitchen driveway that we had just cleared. This is really exhilarating because he usually likes to inspect the different stages of how we place out the plants and how they look after they have been planted, as he wants to keep a tight unity over the garden. So it's a quite a honour to just be left with a task like this, naturalistic planting can be quite hard and it's a great challenge. He did indicate what he thought we should plant out there - Amaranthus caudatus (Love Lies Bleeding) and Tagetes patula, but it was pretty much free reign of what we did with it.

Ellen feeling triumphant!

So with excitement and intrepidation I worked with Ellen & Yuka to place out plants, getting experienced opinion of gardeners like Graham who has been there for a few years. Ellen had a great eye (she is from a graphic design background, is currently training in garden design and is this years Ann Wright garden design scholar at Dixter), and we worked together well intuitively. We had done a good stint together already planting out the Cosmos on Monday, she has also been giving me amazing assistance with my Hemerocallis project. Yuka valiantly accepted our choices and contributed her commitment to ambitiously get it planted out before the end of the day (it took us the day just to get all the plants and to position them).

Planting in the kitchen drive - below Helianthus annuus (Sunflower) 'Valentine'  of
Tagetes patula & Amaranthus caudatus. One of the important things to consider
in planting is where the main vantage points are and how it looks specifically from those
views. Then you can work out best how to place out colour and shapes, how it jumps
at the eye etc. 

Close up of Amaranthus caudatus - these were really great to work with, as they
so striking you don't need much to make an impact. 

Thurs 25th July
Weather: It was cooler today - up to 24°C. More overcast moments & cool winds, the optimum weather to work in.

Our planting was rated by Fergus! In fact he paid us a high compliment (not given lightly), that we had planted it out better than he would have done?! As you can imagine we were over the moon. So with gusto we went round 'finishing' the area off, weeding, staking all the sunflowers, tagetes and amaranthus and tickled the soil of the whole bed to a satisfying finish.

I also gave a tour to the volunteers & workers of Dean City Farm.

Fri 26th July
Weather 23/24°C. Sunny with intervals of relieving clouds and breezes.

After out epic plant challenge, we were each individually given our own small patch to plant up by ourselves. Mine was a sliver of bedding in one of the Peacock Garden beds, which I planted up with a yellow Helenium Sonnenwunder & Aster × frikartii ‘Mönch’. It is customary for us to place out the plants in the positions we want them before planting, and its usually a tight border space with lots of other plants going on, so one usually has to manoeuvre between what is being planted and what is already there. Sometimes the space is really tight, so one has to remove the plants mark (with canes) where they are to go and reposition them back in as we plant them. When you're dealing with different sized plants you also have to strategically think about how they are facing and are placed in relationship to each other and how big they are going to get. For example to make sure tall or bushier ones don't end up obscuring small, thinner ones. The general goal is to get them sitting there looking as comfortable as possible. The heleniums were hard to work with as they had gotten too big for their pot and were very brittle and had a tendency of toppling over as you position them.

What the Helenium & Aster planting looked like a few weeks later.