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Plant of the week: Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’

img 1990 1 Plant of the week: Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’

img 1900 Plant of the week: Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’

The plant of the week this week is a widely planted shrub that’s really starting to look great at this time of the year. And it rightly deserves this wide planting for its a tough plant

Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ is a evergreen shrub that sometimes is called Silk tassel bush or Quinine bush. It is a native of USA where it grows in a couple of different areas, the first one is on the coast of South Oregon and into California very near the coast well within 20miles of it. The other place it can be found growing on the mountains around the Pacific coastline in areas like Montana and San Bruno mountain ranges. It tends to grow 200m above sea level in the more damper spots along the coast.

img 1990 Plant of the week: Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’

It was first discovered by one of the greatest plant collectors of all America, David Douglas in 1828. Garrya was named after Garry Nichols. Garry Nichols was the deputy governor of the Hudson Bay company and managed the merger between them and North West Company. Hudson Bay Company controlled the fur trade throughout North America and is still going as a trading company selling anything from clothes to digital space. The cultivar James Roof was named after the director of Tilden botanical gardens, California where this form was found growing in amongst some seedlings.

img 1993 Plant of the week: Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’

Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ is an evergreen shrub with a sea green foliage. It makes a shrub that will reach 4m in height and width and makes both a great free standing shrub as well as a wall Plant. Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ makes a Great Wall shrub thriving on a north facing wall. It’s grown for its very beautiful greenish/grey catkins at start showing early winter and then open up around now to their full length of 20-35cm in the case of the male form James Roof. These catkins are really what this stunning shrub is grown for. Once they have finished flowering, they can stay on the shrubs for months after they have finished. It is pretty tough shrub, Hardy down to -15c but it will suffer a bit of browning on the leaves and some dieback at these temperatures. It prefers a soil that is pretty damp but is free draining, it will survive in drier soils but never does as well. It will quite take slightly acidic and alkaline soils, ideally in the PH range of 6-8. I have grown it on shallow soils over chalk without too many problems. It’s prefect for poor soils and coastal areas. Pruning wise it just needs a little shaping in April cutting the growth from last year down to a couple of buds on established plants and trim new growth on plants in training, down by half. Feeding is down using a compost mulch and vitax Q4 in around March time. Propagation is best done by semi-ripe cuttings taken in late summer. It is pretty disease and pest free, rabbits and deer don’t really like eating them!

Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ is available in most good garden centres and can be seen in most public gardens and in a lot of private gardens as well

img 1879 Plant of the week: Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’

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Mistletoe and how to grow it

img 1577 Mistletoe and how to grow it

img 1576 Mistletoe and how to grow it

Mistletoe (Viscum album) is in most homes at this time of the year, indeed it’s history has deep roots into ancient England and Europe. Those fans of Asterix, will know of the Druid Getafix would be spending his time looking and finding mistletoe to use in his various potions and indeed it was actually set to facts. The druids cut mistletoe using a golden sickle from an oak tree on the 6th night of a new moon after the winter solstice. At the same time 2 white bulls were also scarified as a thank you for the mistletoe. It was then divided up amongst the villagers and hung above their doorways to prevent evils like lighting hitting the house. The druids also thought that the berries were indeed the sperm of the gods and used as a magical aphrodisiac. The leaves where also made into a tea and drink to ward off all kinds of evil like witchcraft, poisoning ect.

img 1575 Mistletoe and how to grow it

The Norse tale of mistletoe is also a good one. The most loved of all Norse gods was Balder, his mum, the goddess Frigga, so loved her son, she went around the world making peace treaties with all apart from the Loki, an evil spirt, who made an arrow from a mistletoe branch and used it to kill Balder. Frigga’s tears became the white berries and then Balder is restored to life and the plant mistletoe, becomes a symbol of love. Even in the Anglo-Saxon times, the mistletoe was a symbol of love goddess Freya and a kiss under the mistletoe was seen as a marriage proposal.

img 1577 Mistletoe and how to grow it

Throughout history, this plant has been a focus in our lives, mainly I think for its odd life cycle. Unlike most plants, it doesn’t grow in soil but is indeed what is called a hemiparasite. Hemiparasite are parasitic plants that need to grow on a host plant and use them for most of water and nutrients but the European mistletoe does have green leaves and does photosynthesise so can not be called a parasitic plant but a hemiparasite. It’s lifecycle is indeed fascinating too. It has male and female plants and it’s of course the female plants that have the white berries. It does need a host plant to live on and this European species can be found growing on over 200 species of trees but does favour members of the Rosacea family like apples, where it was grown like a second crop. As it does grow on a host species it can weaken it over time if it gets too big size wise. When his happens, it weakens the stem above the mistletoe clump, leaving it prone to dieback and breaking off, this is a particular problem in trees prone for breakages like populars and Robinias. Also if the mistletoe takes over the whole tree, it can increase the chances of the tree being blown over in strong winds. Best way to control the size and weight of the mistletoe on a tree is to prune it back hard if it getting too big. This doesn’t do it any harm what so ever and it will happily regrow away.

Mistletoe is however a very clever plant when it comes to reproducing itself. It’s made it’s berries very sticky indeed! Why may this be useful? Well for it to reproduce successfully, the seed needs to be on a host tree branch, normal seeds from other plants are normally eaten by the birds and pass though its digestive system and come out the other end, this is a bit hit and miss where the bird poo ends up! So they developed very sticky White berries that aren’t attractive to most birds, just ones that know how to deal with it best, Mistle thrushes and mainly Blackcaps. Whilst the Mistle Thrush tends to swallow a few whole, mainly them and the Blackcaps pick off the berries carefully on their beaks and wipe the berries onto the tree branches. This helps them push the inedible seed to one side and allows them to eat the edible pulp and skin. This is exactly what the mistletoe needs to germinate. First the little green leaves open and the root tries to push into the bark of the tree, this is the stage which is most difficult and the reason they do have a high failure rate but once the root has broken though, the young plant can then start taking the water and nutrients from the host plant and using its own photosynthesis, turn it into food for itself. Knowing how the birds spread mistletoe around makes it easy for us to do the same if required, just squeeze the seeds out of the pulp onto a good host plant like an apple tree, lime tree and that’s it, doesn’t need you to make a cut into the tree, cover with hessian as done in the past, just nice and simple. It’s worth doing this with at least 10 seeds to make sure you get a couple to germinate.

img 2002 Mistletoe and how to grow it

A wiped seed on a branch ready to germinate

img 2005 Mistletoe and how to grow it

Mistle thrush poo on a apple tree branch

img 2001 1 Mistletoe and how to grow it

Mistletoe a year after germinating

Next thing is in a few years time you have mistletoe to enjoy at Christmas from your own plant.

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Plant of the week- Decaisnea fargesii

decaisnea fargestii 1 Plant of the week  Decaisnea fargesii

decaisnea fargestii 4 1 Plant of the week  Decaisnea fargesii

As autumn appears, so do so many other Horticultural delights, brought to us by the change in the season, the plants start to turn wonderful shades and nature’s bounty of fruits and seeds start to ripen and it is only right that the my weekly feature of Plant of the week tries to feature all sides of autumn so this week, we have a very unusual shrub that has some stunning seed pods for us to admire

Decaisnea fargessii is sometimes better known as dead mans fingers, blue sausage plant and blue bean plant. This name comes from the dark blue long finger like seed cases that hold a mushy sweet flavoured flesh and of course the seeds themselves. The flesh inside the pods is supposed to taste of watermelon and is a valued food source in the Plants native area, western China by the indigenous Lepcha people. One word of warning, while the mush it’s self is edible, the black 1cm wide seeds are slightly toxic so avoid eating those at any cost!

decaisnea fargestii Plant of the week  Decaisnea fargesii

It was discovered by Abbé Farges growing in western China, in around 1895. It was named after the French botanist Joseph Decaisne and also after Abbe Farges.It can be found growing in damp woodlands and in damp areas in mountain ravines, normally in areas 900-3600ms above sea level. It can make a large shrub up to 6m tall and 4m wide but normally it is a lot smaller than this, with most groups of plants I have seen around the 3m mark after many years of growing. It is pretty happy in most soils from alkaline to acidic as long as the soil doesn’t dry out, this is the thing the plant hates more than anything else is to dry out. It does prefer a semi shady spot in the garden, it will grow in full sun but the leaves do suffer a little sun scorch. It is pretty pest and disease free. The leaves are pretty impressive as well being pinnate and up to nearly a metre in length. They do change to a yellowly colour in the autumn as well, so you do get some autumn colour appearing. The flowers themselves are not too easy to spot being a greenish colour and born in May. It does have both male and female flowers on the same plant, although it’s not always necessary, it is better to have a couple of plants in your garden and they will fruit much better if there is. Pruning wise, it doesn’t need any real pruning to help make it fruit better, just a bit of shaping pruning to keep in in check if it’s growing to big. I would try and reduce the long walking stick like stems down to a side branch if possible to keep the shape, ideally in late winter while the plant is dormant. Propagation is easy, just sow the seeds into a cold frame in November, about 25mm deep and they should germinate in the spring.

If you don’t want to grow one yourself, they are offered by a few nurseries with Burncoose of Southdown again being one of my favourites

Can be seen in places like Sir Harold Hillier gardens, RHS Wisley or Kew Gardens

decaisnea fargestii 2 Plant of the week  Decaisnea fargesii

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Plant of the week-Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’

salvia leucantha sant barbara 2 Plant of the week Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’

salvia lea Plant of the week Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’

Salvias are one of my favourite group of plants and it’s high time they featured on my plant of the week. Choosing one of the 100’s of species and cultivars would always be difficult so I chose one of all all time favourites that’s really coming to its peak at the moment, Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’

salvia leucantha sant barbara 4 Plant of the week Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’

Salvia leucantha is a native of the temperate and semi temperate conifer woodlands of Central and Eastern Mexico. It is Hardy down to -5c or is supposed to be, we here in the uk tend to grow it as a half Hardy plant, putting it out into the garden in late summer and then bringing it in towards the end of October, before the serous frosts occur. It is a natural herbaceous plant that sometimes can be come a more of a woody semi shrub, especially if repeatedly lifted and repotted over a number of years. Even so it doesn’t tend to get much bigger than 4ft in a hot summer. What makes this plant so special to me is just how tactile it is, the long thin greyish green leaves are so soft and have fine hairs on them but the flower heads are just to die for! Long and so soft, with the dark purple colour even more noticeable over the greyness of the flower head. The ‘Santa Barbara’ form is slightly smaller than the main form at around 2.5ft tall making it idea for the smaller gardens and the flowers are even darker than the main plant. It first occurred around 1999 when it was discovered growing in Kathy Ann Brown’s garden in Santa Barbara, a Nurseryman Randy Baldwin of San Marcos growers then started to propagate it and sell it.

salvia leucantha sant barbara Plant of the week Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’a

It is pretty easy to grow in most gardens and will take spots from full sun to slight shade in most free draining soils, although I have struggled with it on thin chalky ones in the past. It makes a cracking plant for a pot as well, either on its own or indeed with other plants. It does need over winter protection but it is also pretty easy to propagate using semi ripe cuttings taken around now. It doesn’t have any pests other than slugs and snails. Pruning is easy, just take it back to the old frame work in April or just remove any dead stems at the same time.

It can be brought from places like Haycroft Plants.

salvia leucantha sant barbara 2 Plant of the week Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’

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Propagating Sempervivens 

img 0346 Propagating Sempervivens 

I have always had a love of propagation and to be honest it’s the biggest thing I miss during my current role. It was always a joy to take a cutting and see it as like magic, this little bit of growth turns into a new plant. But I do have a new project waiting to start in my garden at home, it’s a new playhouse for the children, finished off with a green roof of alpines! Sounds good but after working out the amount required, I felt I had to propagate some of the ones I already grow at home and the Chicken and Hen plant or houseleek, Sempervivum, would be an ideal one to start! I love the different colours, shapes and forms of this rather simple but beautiful succulent plant 

So here’s how I propagated them, as you can see it’s pretty easy, so why not give it ago and see how you get one 

img 0342 Propagating Sempervivens 
First of all I brought all the items I needed, I cheated with the potting mix, using the cactus compost which is a good free draining compost, ideal for propagating Sempervivums
img 0343 Propagating Sempervivens 
Filled the modules with the compost and gave it a tap to level the compost off, didn’t firm it down too much
img 0346 Propagating Sempervivens 
Then gently pulled up a small side shoot off the one I want to propagate, notice the small roots coming off the bottom of the plant
img 0354 Propagating Sempervivens 
Then just shorted the stem a little using my razor sharp secateurs, this is just so they fit better into the plugs and I keep the stem on just to stabilise the plant while the roots grow
img 0347 Propagating Sempervivens 
Using a dibber (or 6” nail!) to make a small hole, big enough for the the stem to fit into
img 0348 Propagating Sempervivens 
Gently put the Sempervivums into the hole and gently push compost around the stem using the dibber not your fingers as that will encourage moss to form
img 0353 Propagating Sempervivens 
If you are propagating a named plants, it’s well worth labelling the cuttings, I like to put date propagated as well, so I know how long it took to root. It’s worth putting the label on the first one you do each time
img 0357 1 Propagating Sempervivens 
Give it a good water and place on a sunny window still and wait for a few weeks for them to root, check daily and remove any that haven’t made it

And that’s it a nice easy bit of propagation and money saved, every Sempervivum costs about £2 in most shops so for about a £5 in materials I have saved £67, ideal to spent on other plants! 

I hope you enjoyed my blog and let me know how you get on if you have a go