Saturday, 23 May 2015

The time is nigh

Sadly I can hold out no longer. 
It's past the middle of May and the lawn must be hacked back to something a little more presentable. The garden needs tidying in preparation for planting out the tenders for the summer. However, before any of that happens the lawn (I use that word loosely as I am no slave to turf care) needs the attention of the mower. 
I've been enjoying the daisies for the last few days, as have the insects, but sadly the time had come. 
Off with their heads! 
That's assuming the mower is willing to wake up, post winter hibernation. It's a dozy, spluttery, noisy old thing, long overdue a service. Oftentimes, to get it started a few choice words must be uttered, eventually it relents and chokes to life.
 Hopefully it plays ball this time, wish me luck.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Municipal planting, French Style

I've visited a few French gardens while on holidays in the Brittany and Normandy regions but they haven't generally excited me, so many opportunities not taken. Perhaps I'm being unfair, some are fun and are pushing the envelope. The Jardin Exotique  at Roscoff on the coast is a great diversion if heading to or from the ferry (Going to UK or Ireland)
However what I've seen of the unashamed planting styles employed in public areas around the towns and cities are brilliant. 

Ok, given the week that's in it (Chelsea) there weren't many that I saw which would scoop gold or even a silver gilt medal, but they surely beat the carpet bedding style favoured by Council parks departments in the UK and Ireland. 

They really pack them in, with and explosion of form and colour.

Brassica oleracea var. ramosa 'Daubenton Panache' with Solenostemon (Coleus) the green dangling flowers of Nicotiana langsdorfii behind.
This variegated perennial Kale is a favourite of mine which I grow in my own garden. It doesn't bloom, or at least mine certainly hasn't to date and is incredibly easy to strike form cuttings. The foliage if grown in rich soil reaches great proportons. Being a Brassica the caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly can be an issue, patrols are necessary and decisive action must be taken before any eggs hatch.

I'm undecided on the current trend for 'green walls', I mean I get it, greening buildings, improving the look of the urban landscape, introducing colour, but I don't know if I actually like it. Frenchman Patric Blanc is one of the leading exponents of the style, and I've seen pictures of the indoor vertical garden he has installed in his own home which is beautiful. Outdoors I've seen them working less successfully, maintenance for the life of the project must be factored in, they can't exist long term without ensuring that the drip irrigation water supply is in good working order and that any plants which fail are replaced quickly. Who wants dead brown patches on the side of their building. The example above, at the tourist office in the beautiul walled town of Dinan appeared to work well, this section was echoed indoors (visible through the glass to the left) with houseplants which were of a simiar appearance but can withstand low light conditions.  

This display left me less impressed, a surfeit of (I'm assuming) Argyranthemum isn't incredibly inspring, though the thrusting paddle shaped leaves of the Ensete (Relatives of the banana) do add excitement.
No one could accuse the gardening team of being afraid of colour.

This planting in the centre of Rennes (the Breton capital) was interesting. The almost bucolic scheme relied heavily on the use of various grasses, and contrasted markedly with the grand facades of the surrounding buildings. To me it worked in most parts, and I'm not a massive fan of the current naturalistic planting trend.

I rather enjoyed this cooler slightly more sophisticated planting around the walls of St Malo, I'd lose the Petunias myself but the ideas and colours were along the right lines. The shaggy lolling uprights of  Helianthus salicifolius may need to be repositioned to give a better balance of form but who couldn't like them, Green Cousin itts adding a relaxed feel to the scheme. The late summer yellow sunflower blooms may need to be pinched out for those of a nervous disposition who couldn't cope with their vibrancy amid all the cool blue greens.
Seing this picture also reminds me that I also must track down another Helianthus salicifolius, having lost one to the predations of slugs a few years back. It's much too good a foliage plant for a garden to be without.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Paris in the spring time

I got this little one a couple of years ago from Crûg Farm plants when they were attending Fota plant fair in Cork.
Crûg do an exciting range of plants that you won't see many places else
Paris polyphylla v. stenophylla, a member of Trilliaceae is a subtle plant, no brash blousy flowers on this 'un.
It's charm lies in its quiet ways, it's grace and poise.
It's funny how your taste changes and develops over the years, not that long ago I'd most likely have overlooked such a plant but it's charms are lost on me no longer.

A kickstart, a new title and Canna virus.

I've been somewhat neglectful of the blog of late, life had just managed to get in the way. I'm not complaining. I've enjoyed the break, doing other things. Besides, the garden can take a little benign neglect over the winter, but spring is here and it's finally time for a kick up the proverbial and to start posting again.
I've been feeling for a while that a new blog title was required, it's no longer a secret that I garden obsessively. I often lecture to garden clubs, societies and classes, so it's I'm not exactly keeping things quiet on that front any more.
I was in a quandary over the name change for some time, as it'd mean difficulties for the people who subscribe under the old name ( Will they be able to find me again, will they notice the change, will they even care? In the end I just decided to go with it.

So why 'Exotic gardening @ 55 degrees North'? I thought it fitted with the ethos of what I'm trying to achieve, growing plants that look like they belong nearer the equator than somewhere on the same latitude as southern Alaska.

This spring I've been busy purchasing big leaved exotics for the garden, Cannas, Ensete, Musa, I'm wanting things to be lush and leafy, big and bold, OTT tropicana.

Cannas are the way forward for me this year, I've been on the hunt for quite a few new ones, both those grown for flowers and interesting foliage. The best are of course those that combine coloured leaves with great flowering ability.
If you're in the UK or Europe Hart Canna are the go to guys for virus free Cannas. I will NEVER buy Cannas as rhizomes from the garden centre, the vast majority of them are infected with various viruses that cause stunted growth, streaking of the leaves and due to weakening of the plant eventual death.
You'll often see potfuls of nice lush cannas in garden centres and DIY stores in late spring and early summer, but look closely. Are there any signs of light yellow speckling or streaking on the leaves?

It can sometimes be difficult to spot, especially with the likes of 'Pretoria' which has vibrant yellow streaks through the leaves:

But look more closely.

See those yellow dots? The lines of variegation should be mostly intact, not broken. A sure sign of virus.

It's much easier with Canna 'Durban'.
Plants infected with virus will have broken green streaks on what should be purple leaves with vibrant pink lines.

If you grow Cannas in your garden that are free of disease and you introduce one of these plants you can almost guarantee that by the end of summer your previously clean plants will have become infected.
The viruses are spread by sap sucking insects such as greenfly. Slugs and snails are thought to be another possible vector as thy munch on one plant then move on to the next victim.
Your tools can also spread the disease, any that come into contact with an infected plant and then touch a clean plant can then introduce virus. It's a good idea to disinfect any tools/blades after dividing or digging a Canna before moving on to another individual.
Many a grower has had to dispose of their entire collections as the virus spread through their prized plants like wildfire.
Until the big growers clean up their act and start disposing of infected plants, only offering those that are healthy this is likely to remain an issue for many years to come.