Don’t believe the calendar: The garden tells me spring has sprung!

JUST a moment while I check the calendar. Oh, what’s this? I’m convinced it was April but my clever little gadget they call a smartphone tells me it’s November.

Well, you could have knocked me over with an oak leaf. It may be nudging the depths of winter around the rest of the UK, but at Andrews Towers it’s got springtime written over it. And growing all around it.

Maybe I’ve idly strolled into a time warp and been propelled forward five months.

As convincing evidence, I have four or five camellia bushes in the garden, each one with burgeoning buds and, seemingly, ready to burst open. One of them, a new pink variety named Jimmy Smart after the renowned founder of Marwood Hill, near Barnstaple, is not only studded with buds but also actually in bloom – four months early.

And it begs the question: If all the buds unfurl, will it flower at the proper time? Jimmy Smart ain’t saying, but my guess is it will deliver again provided I’m generous with the nourishment.

Elsewhere on the patch I’ve got a yellow euryops in a tub that’s unseasonally full of flowers, campanulas behaving as though it were mid-summer, clematis budding up, clumps of multi-coloured alstroemerias, osteosperumums producing a new generation of mauve and yellow daisies, half-hardy pelargoniums – geraniums to you and me — Kaffir lilies still refusing to hibernate, buds developing on several rose bushes and three or four new, pale green shoots of our ginger lily – Hedychium gardnernium – unwrapping outside the front door, six weeks after this bulbous plant delivered its fabulous exotic gold and orange blooms, as it has done in September and October for the past ten years.

Not to mention numerous spring bulbs pushing their foliage through the autumnal soil. I fear they and the rest of the Defiant Ones will suffer a severe shock if the mercury plunges to uncomfortable depths.

Of course, what brought me abruptly down to earth and saw the end of my wish-it-were-springtime dream was the sight of countless fallen leaves on the lawn. So many, in fact, that I had to search for the grass underneath in places.

Mustn’t complain, I suppose – only another 119 days to pass before the arrival of the Spring Equinox . . .  on March 20th, 2018, at 4.15pm to be precise.

Camellia Jimmy Smart

Osteo2

Euryops2

Campanula

Alstroes

Lawn leaves

¶ Springtime in November: From top – Camellia Jimmy Smart, osteosperumums, euryops, campanulas, alstroemerias, and the reality of autumn leaves.

 

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A plea from me: Who grows the elusive Prophet Flower?

THEY DON’T half muck about with plant names, these botanical boffins.
Remember the mesembryanthemum, popularly the Livingstone Daisy? It’s now called aptenia or dorotheanus, depending on the species.

How about the colourfully-leaved houseplant coleus? Its new handle is either solenostemon for some species, plectranthus for the rest.

Wallflowers? Always known as cheiranthus, the botanists have now renamed it erysimum, which was the name exclusively for those perennial wallflowers such as Bowles Mauve and Harpur Crewe. Cheiranthus officially no longer exists.

Many of those South African daisies, dimorphotheca, have a new handle, osteospermum, and the lofty hollyhock, althaea, is now known as alcea.

And how about this? – the stunning cactus we all once knew as epiphyllum has been split several ways, some of them re-christened as disocactus, which is all very well. But another cactus family is already known as discocactus, note the one extra letter. Confused?

This takes me neatly to the reason for this article – a personal search for a delightful little hardy perennial called . . .  well, it was once Arnebia echioides, then Echioides longiflorum, followed by Macrotoma echioides, before settling down – for now? – as Arnebia pulchra. Whatever its title, its popular name has always been Prophet Flower.

Years ago in the 1970s, I bought one of these distinctive alpines from the long-gone Robinsons Hardy Plants of Kent for the princely sum of 38p.

The catalogue hailed it as “a rather extraordinary plant,” bearing sprays of bright primrose, each funnel-shaped flower having five black spots, one on each petal, and fading to pale brown. Leaves are lance-like, stiff, hairy and light green.

A native of Turkey and parts of Iran, arnebia grows to between nine and 12in and blooms in May and June.

Now here’s the rub: I’ve searched and scoured seed and plant catalogues and the internet in an effort to track down the Prophet Flower. Even the normally indispensable Plant Finder fails to list it, so it is just possible that no nursery anywhere in the UK stocks it.

This I simply cannot believe. So if any reader either grows one and is willing to part with a cutting or a few seeds, you know where I am!

⏩⏩➡ Happy days: For my ten-plant package that contained an arnebia, it cost me £2.24 which included 33p postage. The 70-page handbook set me back 10p!

Arnebia echioides (web)

⏩⏩➡ Prophet Flower puzzle: This is Arnebia pulchra, but does anyone grow it?

Have fun(gi) growing your own mushrooms without the need to forage

QUESTION: What are chanterelle, morel, portobello, tawny grisette, chestnut bolete, shiitake and oyster? I could go on – slippery jack, porcini, lawyer’s wig, velvet shank, black trumpet and shaggy mane?

Answer: Mushrooms, those darlings of the foragers searching grassland, pastures, woodlands, tree stumps, path edges, ditch banks and golf courses. And, crucially, knowing which ones to pick and which to avoid at all costs.

So do you fancy trying your hand growing your own wholesome edible fungi that are all about caps, gills and stems? Look no further than Marshalls’ complete kits which include spores – seed equivalent in mushroom-speak – as well as cultivation and harvesting guides, base tray, lid and spore-induced medium.

Grown in organic compost, your mushroom kit will produce up to six generous clumps of mushrooms which give you enough to fill 6-8 big punnets’ worth.

That’s a significant saving on buying mushrooms at the shops and it’s less weighty in your shopping bags too

Previously featured in the Sunday Telegraph, Marshalls’ no-fuss kits are from one of the country’s leading mushroom growing experts and you can expect to see your first crop bursting forth a few days after starting.

Nothing beats the flavour of freshly picked mushrooms, and it’s great fun for both adults and children to watch them grow.

There are four distinct varieties to choose from –  white mushroom and chestnut at £12.99, yellow oyster and pink oyster at £14.99.

Best grown on the kitchen side, out of direct sunlight, where they’ll crop within a few days from starting and then will crop at weekly intervals for around 4-6 weeks.

You’ll then be all set to serve up your own-grown crops in soups, stir-fries, salads, risottos, patés, pastas, pies or simply baked.

With this handy kit you’ll soon be picking delicious fresh mushrooms at a fraction of the cost of buying them at the supermarket.

Each container measures 7in x 7in x 7in.

⏩⏩➡ www.marshalls-seeds.co.uk

⏩⏩➡ The magic of mushrooms: From top clockwise – white button mushrooms, chestnuts, pink oysters, yellow oysters.

Get mallow minded for a vibrant display that lasts summer and autumn

SOMETHING needs to cheer us up on such a dull, dreary and thoroughly unloved day, so what better flowers to do the job than those pictured here?

It’s the marvellous mallow, a summer stunner that will fill your borders with such vivid and flamboyant flowers you’ll need to reach for the shades, even under cloudy skies.

Botanically lavatera – or its close relative malva – mallows are annual or perennial and clad in the most attractive hollyhock-like blooms.

Perhaps the best-loved of all the varieties is Silver Cup, a hardy annual with a glorious combination of soft, silvery pink and raspberry-pink veins that smother the plant from midsummer right through to autumn.

Lavatera trimestris, the species from which it is derived, produces bright satin-pink flowers, spanning 3in, found on fallow land from Portugal and north-west Africa through to Greece – and because of its wild beauty this particular species is a popular garden favourite.

Silver Cup, however, has been honed to perfection, grows compactly to just 2ft and will be a fitting companion to blue ageratum, the silvery-spiked Salvia farinacea Strata, Cineraria Silver Dust or shrubs like artemesia, lavender or Caryopteris Kew Blue.

No mallows relish over-rich soil, otherwise you’ll get leaves at the expense of flowers. A sunny or semi-shady spot suits them best, though the annual forms will thank you for more sun than shade.

As for more annual varieties, try the pure white Mont Blanc, the deep carmine Pink Beauty, Ruby Regis which is similar but with darker veining for a stunning effect, and Mont Rose and the deeper Novella Rose, each boasting bright rose-pink blooms and delightfully delicate veining.

The shrubby mallows are just as rewarding if given more space to stretch out. Lavatera Barnsley delivers red-eyed, white flowers on a bold plant of 6ft, though in the past couple of years a new compact Barnsley is proving popular. I must say, however, that the one we planted in a large pot exceeded its 2ft 6ins “maximum” by more than 12in and, therefore, looked somewhat out of place.

You can also try pale pinks Candy Floss and Rosea, the white Ice Cool, Kew Rose with dark purple stems and bright pink flowers or the deep purple-pink of Burgundy Wine.

Malva? Rather similar to lavatera, though perhaps slightly less elegant as the petals appear slightly looser and are cut to a shallow V-shape. Even so, the ultra-compact Snow White (16in) and the loftier Mystic Merlin (5-6ft) with silky blooms in a striking purple and blue should be worth a shot in the perennial border. Both are listed by Mr Fothergill’s (http://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk or 0845 3710518).

Two other malvas which caught my eye were sylvestris Zebrina (4ft), with bi-coloured flowers in very pale lilac, boldly marked with dark purple, zebra-like stripes, and moschata Appleblossom (3ft), which does exactly what it says on the tin and produces, yes, appleblossom-pink funnels. Both from Chiltern Seeds (www.chilternseeds.co.uk or 01491 824675).

An appleblossom mallow? I mean it most sincerely folks, as Hughie Green would say.

GET SET AND GROW

⏩⏩➡ Sow outside from March to May, but the earlier the better. Under glass at any time.

⏩⏩➡ Outside seedlings should be thinned out to around 6in apart and when they reach 15in do another thinning, perhaps replanting those you have levered out into a nearby bed or even further afield.

⏩⏩➡ Water during dry spells as lavateras will simply refuse to bloom if their roots are parched.

⏩⏩➡ Watch out for invading slugs and snails outside.

⏩⏩➡ Perennial plants can be cut back hard in autumn or spring and it won’t be long before new leaves start to sprout.

Wendy mallow2

Mallows@Docton

¶ Magnificent mallows: Top – Silver Cup pictured in a garden in Bideford; above – possibly Kew Rose, photographed at Docton Mill, near Hartland.

Will this tempting deal finally end my strawberry setbacks?

ICAN grow raspberries and blackcurrants, runner beans and tomatoes, dahlias, delphiniums, primroses, pulsatillas, lots of rockery plants, shrubs, roses and all sorts of hardy and half-hardy annuals, to name but a few.

But can I grow strawberries? Nope, nay, nein, net, nie, no and non, depending on your nationality and preferred slang.

It’s not without trying, of course. I’ve tried outside in the open air (attacked by slugs, fruits, of course, not me!), in the greenhouse (ditto blackbirds) and in troughs and individual pots, where I had a modicum of success this year, though falling well short of, say, my hearty runner bean output.

I’ve been threatening to give up the strawberry slog once and for all, but invariably change my mind at the last call, believing that “next year is sure to be better.”

Yes, I am running out of options . . . but I’ve just had notification on my clever little phone that leading online plant, fruit and veg firm Marshalls are selling six bare-root  crowns of Marshmello plants, plus a 2½ft by 1½ft growbed for £7.99 including delivery – a saving of £12.98.

I’ve not been able to find out what material the growbed is made from, though from the photograph it looks a sturdy container and is complete with handles in case you need to move sites, as well as being re-usuable.

Anyway, I’ve taken the plunge and ordered the kit. All I need to do is slot some bamboo canes into special sleeves for support, fill the bag with compost, plant the Marshmellos and await the outcome.

Marshalls are proud to trumpet this exclusive variety and remind us that celebrity chef Raymond Blanc was heard describing Marshmello as the “sweetest strawberry I’ve ever tasted”. And I note that it’s not a variety stocked by any supermarket simply because it is not a good keeper.

But it has a supreme flavour, a silk like texture and is a strawberry purely bred for its ‘strawberry-ness’ rather than how well it sits on a shelf.

Marshmello is rare in that it has to be picked straight from the garden. Rather than being bred for shop shelves, it is a variety that relishes in its status as a small garden strawberry.

Waxing lyrical, Marshalls add that “one bite and you will be whisked back to a childhood memory of pick-your-own where you probably ate more on the fields than you ever put in your punnet.”

If you want the technical blurb – it has a superb sugar acid balance, producing a cascade of sweetness with just a hint of fruit acidity. These bare root crowns are grade A+ rather than Marshalls’ standard grade A. These much more expensive bare roots are quicker to establish and produce around 50% more fruit in the first year.

Plant three crowns along the 54cm edge and a parallel row 30cm apart.

Succulent, flavorsome strawberries epitomise the traditional British summer, but many of the supermarket varieties don’t come close to the flavour, juiciness or fragrance of your own sun-ripened, freshly-picked fruit.

The firm’s hand-graded runners  – potential fruiting stems – will crop prolifically for at least three years; the first year’s crop is smaller, but increases in subsequent years.
Each plant will give around 1½lb of fruit in its second year. The vigorous runners are lifted from healthy mother beds stocked with high grade parent plants and are certified by Defra.

⏩⏩➡  When you receive your strawberry runners, soak the roots in water while you are preparing the planting site. Plant in an open, sunny position in soil which is rich in humus (or bulky compost).

⏩⏩➡ Similarly water pots well, if your strawberries arrive in small pots. Set plants 45cm (18in) apart in rows 75cm (30in) apart.

⏩⏩➡ The top of the soil should be at the same level as the crown of the strawberry plants (where the green starts, above the roots).

⏩⏩➡ Water well morning and evening, especially when growing strawberry plants in pots, when they can dehydrate quickly. Try to keep the water off flowers and fruit as this can bring about rot.

⏩⏩➡ Be extra vigilant to water strawberries grown in pots and baskets.

⏩⏩➡ Insert bamboo canes into special sleeves for support.

⏩⏩➡ Fill with compost then plant your strawberries.

⏩⏩➡ Leave in greenhouse or  on patio and await your bumper crops.

www.marshalls-seeds.co.uk or phone 0844 5576700.

Marshmello&planter

¶ Production line:Super-sweet Marshmello strawberries (top) and plants in flower and fruiting in their growbag.

 

 

 

 

Christmas ideas – so let’s hope Santa enjoys his gardening too!

FLEXIBILITY being my middle name, I’m happy to dispense with hands-on gardening from time to time in the run-up to Christmas to showcase one or two gifts from greenfingered Santa’s festive sack.

Unless my thoughts start wandering to such diverse subjects as Beatles biographies or hiking the UK’s National Parks, all ideas will have a strong association with our favourite hobby.

So, with this in mind . . . this autumn sees the launch of the new Garden Supplies collection from Burgon & Ball, a company specialising in garden tools, accessories and numerous steel products and so doing since it was founded in Sheffield way back in 1730.

It’s the next generation of beautiful, stylish and practical gifts, sundries and storage solutions for gardeners from the UK’s oldest garden tool manufacturer.

The new Garden Supplies designs have beautifully smooth curves, with stylish touches of natural materials like FSC beech wood and leather. Stylish graphics use on-trend typography to keep the look contemporary.

Created in durable moulded steel with a tough powder coating to keep them looking good, this collection is irresistibly tactile and very distinctive.

The new range includes a seed packet storage tin, a garden caddy, herb pots in a tray, a bird food storage tin, a twine dispenser, money boxes and lots more. And to reflect the trend for more utilitarian storage, a pegboard makes it easy to keep those little essentials safely stored and always to hand, in shed, garage or home office.

The new designs are available in a selection of five on-trend colours, so there’s something here for him and for her.

With prices from just £8.99 up to £24.99, Garden Supplies has lots of great gift ideas, from stocking fillers and secret Santas up to a special something for that very special someone. Available in good garden centres, gift outlets and from www.burgonandball.com, Garden Supplies is set to give gardeners a super-stylish Christmas this year!

 Garden caddy (B&B)

Seed storage (B&B)

Pegboard (B&B)

¶ Methodical: Top – the Garden Caddy otherwise known as a backdoor tool store; centre – a handy seed storage container; above – a pegboard to save you having to search in those awkward spots when things go missing.