Friday, 28 February 2014

The final straw

Ok, excuse the less than snappy title, but I do enjoy a cheesy pun as much as the next, err, fan of puns.

I don't normally bother wrapping my Musa basjoo plants for winter, sometimes this works out fine for me, at others not to well. I've grown it for quite a few years now and some winters I lose all top growth while others it comes through intact.
It's a root hardy banana that originates from China and can stand a lot of cold, the portion below ground that it, the trunks (pseudo stems really) can take a bit of frost but if it starts to get too cold they will freeze solid and die back. This isn't really a problem if you live in a climate with a guaranteed warm spring and reliable summer warmth. In maritime north western Europe we do not receive this kind of weather, spring can be a bit of a start stop affair taking some time to gather up a head of steam, subsequently some plants that need warmth to get going can be slow to restart.
So with a large box of straw that had been used as packing around some plants I bought I decided to give my bananas a bit of protection a while back.
So far winter has been very mild, but who knows what the weather could throw at us in the next few weeks and I don't want to lose any height from the pseudo stems this time.

A cage of wire was placed around each stem, then secured in place with bamboo canes which I weaved through the mesh and pushed deeply into the soil to give a firm anchorage.

The it's a simple matter of filling the wire cage with the straw, packing it in well but not too tightly

When the wire cage is full it's a good idea to give it some form of waterproof cover. Ever mindful of the aesthetic quality of my handy work I racked my brains to come up with something suitable. A polythene bin liner was the only option apparent.
I think you'll agree that it has become quite an attractive feature in the winter garden. Not.

Ugly as they have turned out they'll do the trick and ensure maximum stem height survives until spring comes along and really only need to stay until the end of March or so.
Afterwards the straw will also be a useful addition to the compost heap to add dry bulk.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

You've got mail

I love ordering stuff online, be it books (either garden or food related), guff from Ebay (almost always garden related) or plants.
In Northern Ireland there are very few nurseries that supply the sort of plants that I like to grow, so I either have to buy them when I'm away on holidays and smuggle them home (not really, there's free movement of plants within Europe) or rely on mail order.
Buying plants online is a great experience, there's a whole world of cool stuff available out there. The only down sides are that you can't see what you're buying before hand so you're relying on the honsty of the seller to provide good health plants.
It's also incredibly easy to get carried away and order more than you wallet or available garden space allows.
Last Autumn I received word that an exotic nursery were selling off many of their plants to concentrate on the seed selling side of the business. They were offloading their Canna tubers so I had to take a look.
It's almost impossible to find Cannas offered for sale that don't come pre-infected with various viruses, which will stunt the plants and quickly spread to your uninfected Canna plants through sap sucking insects such as aphids or propagation. Faced with the prospect of being able to buy plants that I may never see available again I went a bit mad and bought around seventeen or so different forms. Where they're going to go if they resprout in spring will lead to much head scratching.

A few years back I had a stunning Cyathea medullaris growing in a pot, this tree fern hails from the south-west Pacific with its range extending from Fiji to New Zealand, with most of the population there being found on North Island. It's known as Mamaku in the Maori language or the black tree fern in English due to its jet black stipes and trunk.
I love tree ferns, I mean seriously, they're one of my favourite types of plant. When I lost my grove of Dicksonia antartica to the epic winter I was a mess, ok, not really a complete mess but I was incredibly anxious while I waited for months to see if they would unfurl new croziers. So when they didn't I was mightily peeved for quite some time.
Cyathea medullaris is even less hardy and was of course wiped out that same bad winter. I've been hankering to replace it ever since, but they're rare as hen's teeth unless you're willing to pay a fortune for a trunked plant.
I finally managed to track one down from at this nursery in the Netherlands and couldn't resist ordering.
A few weeks ago this large box arrived after me tracking its progress online as it traveled across western Europe.

I'm sure you can imagine my excitement tearing into it!

But, I realised after cutting through the packaging tape that this was going to be a more delicate procedure that I was expecting, unless the kitchen was going to end up looking like the floor of a barn.

First out was a Strelitzia nicolai, this'll be a summer resident in the garden, overwintered indoors somewhere with high ceilings as it's potentially a biggy.

Then I extracted Yucca rostrata, looking very much like a small Cordyline australis, but eventually a stunning plant. I'd really like a few trunked plants but will make do with this baby in the mean time.

Finally I uncover the Cyathea medullaris. It's big, with a wide wingspan despite only just beginning to form a small trunk. 
I'm impressed.

All three on the kitchen table, I'm a happy man.

A nice fat juicy crozier waiting for a bit of spring warmth before it unfurls.

Hopefully this one does better for me long term than the last, I will torture cosset it in a pot until it's to large to manhandle under cover for winter (an unheated greenhouse) so here's hoping for a nice run of mild winters so it can eventually reach gargantuan proportions. 

The straw came in handy too, as you'll see in the next post.......

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Winter colour

My favourite plant in the garden this week is the sedge Carex oshimensis 'Everillo'. I say this week but it's really a year round plant.

I grow this in a raised area underneath a Sycamore (in the UK a Sycamore is Acer Pseudoplatanus and not a Platanus) so it's got a tough set of conditions to deal with. Dryness at the roots does not appear to cause it any trouble and it gets no direct sunshine so it's an ideal contender for that difficult dry shady spot, where it adds a splash of brightness. I think it's best grown on a height so the long ever(lemon and lime)green leaves can cascade gracefully otherwise they will flap and trail on the ground. It'd also be a great contender for a tall pot, looking as good in winter as it does in summer,that's something I must do myself, get another and put it in a pot at the back of my house where it's shady.
I spend a few minutes a couple of times a year pulling out withered leaves but other than that it's remarkably trouble free. Luckily my garden doesn't suffer their depredations but it's also apparently resistant to deer munching which would come in handy for those of you who are regularly visited by Bambi's hungry cousins. Hardy too, it'll grow anywhere in the UK and down to zone 5a in the USA.
Looks can deceive as although it looks like a grass but is actually a sedge, and appeared as a sport from Carex o. 'Evergold' in an Irish nursery.

It'd look perfect among large foliaged plants such as Hostas but of course they're not so good with dry shade, so I'm trying to find other plants that will compliment it and also grow in the harsh conditions. Astelia nervosa 'Westland' grows nearby and does well but the hunt continues for other good bedfellows.