Sunday, October 26, 2014

Verbena 'La France'

 Verbena 'La France' (Verbeniaceae)
We are having our Northern Hemisphere summer days right now and plants which originate from those cooler climes are looking their best. This Verbena came to my attention through the Beth Chatto gravel garden book where she included it in her list of drought busting continuous hot sunny day loving plants. Plants which thrive without additional summer watering or special treatment are always welcome and this certainly fits the bill.
It started to flower in late winter having sent out metre long trailing stems each topped with clusters of these pretty though scentless mauve flowers. This week I cut it back quite hard and used all the stem pieces for cuttings as you do.
2017 update: I no longer stock this Verbena
soft wood tip cuttings

Ledebouria petiolata

Ledebouria petiolata syn. Drimiopsis maculata
The good folk at Larkman's Nursery in Victoria bought this to my attention recently as they market it as an 'African Hosta'. Unlike the Japanese Hosta this plant thrives in poor soil and with minimal water but it is equally loved by snails and slugs which generally spoil its appearance as soon as your back is turned. At this time of year it produces masses of short stemmed white flowers which resemble miniature Hyacinth but without the perfume. It grows from a series of fleshy bulbs which protrude slightly above the ground.These can be easily divided to form new clumps of plants. I am in two minds about this plant; one could consider it as a "novelty" item or as a serious contender for a difficult garden site of dry shade under trees where not much would grow and where it would be quite at home. Otherwise it makes a terrific pot plant which can be brought indoors when in flower or if you like things a bit dotty/spotty.

Senecio radicans

 Senecio radicans (Asteraceae)
'String of Bananas'
  I am growing this popular succulent for use in vertical gardens and this specimen has already grown down 1.5 metres, with little red spur-like roots protruding from the stems along the way which are obviously in search of a some soil.
 There are two forms of this succulent ground-cover from South Africa ,one with grey leaves (glauca) and a plain green form. Leaf form can also vary from banana or fish-hook shape to globe shaped. Tiny shaving-brush like flowers appeared a month or so ago and these were attended by some beneficial insects which is a bonus when you are growing any plant these days.In cool climates this plant is grown indoors and it adapts well to shady or low light conditions.
2017 update: I no longer grow this succulent. 

Geranium molle, Dove's Foot Cranesbill

Geranium molle (Geraniaceae)
 Dove's Foot Cranesbill
The appearance of this weed had me fooled into thinking it was a seedling G. sanguineum as the leaves are remarkably similar to that species. It came up first in a hanging basket which had contained one and also in the garden. For a moment I thought I was on to a sure fire winner with possibly a new and different flower colour. However as soon as it flowered I knew it was a weed species and a quick check of an ID book confirmed it as this species of European origin which is said to only make a rare appearance in gardens and is of no significance. It gets my vote as the most clever weed of the year looking as it does like a respectable garden perennial and able to grow cherished until maturity when its true identity was revealed.
Like many weeds it has an ancient and useful herbal remedy past. The famous astrologer-physician of the early 17th Century, Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) probably had it in his medical practice in Red Lion Street, Spitalfields in London in 1640 where he recommended it be applied directly to 'green wounds' ulcers and sores as it 'healeth them quickly'; and for use in a 'decoction in wine' for internal hurts and bruises or to relieve joint-ache.
Published by W Foulsham & Co., LTD
Slough, Bucks, England

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Penstemon digitalis 'Husker's Red'

 Penstemon digitalis (Plantaginaceae)
This is from Canada and the eastern United States and is doing its Northern Hemisphere summer thing by flowering in our spring, like a lot of other similar perennials do. I suspect by January the leaves may be a bit crispy and it may have gone into shock at the temperature.
For those who like that black and white colour scheme in a garden this is a good addition as the leaves emerge after winter a near black colour. The 30cm burgundy coloured flower stems are topped with white, pink blushed, foxglove like flowers. Penstemon are generally fairly hardy and do well across a range of climates. The cultivar name 'Husker Red' is applied to this plant in the UK.
2017 update: I am no longer growing it for sale.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Miniature Regal Pelargonium

 Miniature Regal Pelargonium or 'Martha Washington'
Regal Pelargoniums are a classic "impulse buy" plant at a Nursery or Garden Centre and if you wait a few weeks as they finish the peak of their flowering there will be lots of discounted ones on offer.I picked up this miniature one last year and I have to admit it was fairly neglected, even kicked over on its side with snapped branches a few months back. I prefer these smaller compact varieties as the larger sorts often become quite straggly in the garden. Amongst the larger ones there are some fabulous colours available including near black and pure white as well as lots of rich purples, pinks, red and mauve. They make good seaside garden plants and grow happily in sandy soils with low water availability. Pruning by a third after flowering is recommended. If you prune them too hard into old wood they may not recover and re-shoot.
 The miniature varieties are also sometimes called 'Angel' or 'Pansy' Pelargoniums and the small crinkled leaves resemble P. crispum,from which they are thought to be derived in the early 19th Century; later re-developed in London in the 1930's and 1940's by a Mr Langley Smith. Unfortunately, without a proper label I can't be sure of the correct name for this little beauty.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Euphorbia enopla

 Euphorbia enopla (Euphorbiaceae)
Cactus for indoors? Certainly and this would be a good candidate as it only grows to about 1 metre. This is frost hardy species which originates from South Africa has very attractive long reddish spines which turn to black as they age. When I look at this specimen I can see that the side branches could be removed and used as propagation material to grow new plants thus changing the shape to a more central column.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hippeastrum papilio

Hippeastrum papilio (Amaryllidaceae)
Living up to its epiphytic origins ,think Brazilian rainforest growing on rocks or trees, this one has flowered this week in a tiny 4 inch pot with virtually no soil. The tricky thing about growing them in pots is in getting the soil mix right. They love perfect drainage and a light bark/orchid mix. Many of my plants succumb to root rot at the drop of a hat if they are in a largish pot. Snails and slugs adore the leaves and can strip the foliage overnight and as I don't get around to looking at the batch I have on a regular basis this is a common occurrence for me.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Calibanus hookeri, Mexican Boulder

 Calibanus hookeri (Asparagaceae)
This scruffy, wiry stemmed clump of leaves emerge from a round 'boulder' like base at ground level. The base is covered in rough corky bark, hence the common name. Clipped Buxus it ain't, so a plant as untidy looking as this may not have huge appeal. However the leaves have a pleasing blue grey appearance and the plant seldom needs extra water to keep it looking healthy. The leaves can be trimmed back to expose the boulder or caudex base and this may eventually reach 30cm across. I am still waiting for the appearance of flowers which are said to be tiny and white and are carried on a rigidly stiff panicle 10 to 20cm long. Flowers means seed so I may eventually have some plants for sale.

Salvia canariensis

 Salvia canariensis (Lamiaceae)
'The violet-mauve flowers emerge from large reddish calyces, underpinned by long coloured bracts which remain on the plant for a long time after flowering'; a description of this 1.5 metre shrub according to Oliver Filippi in his book The Dry Gardening Handbook.
I am having a crack at growing this Canary Island beauty but I suspect it may be short lived if we experience a rainy humid summer.The leaves have quite an acrid smell when crushed and remind me of turpentine mixed with fish oil. Flowers are large and prominent and this shrub would look good as a background plant to a Mediterranean herb border or mixed with succulents and grasses.
2017 update: I no longer have this plant.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

National Hat-Day

 The 'Piping Hot' straw
October 10th is National Hat Day and is an initiative to raise awareness of mental health issues affecting one in four Australians.
The word hat originates from the Old English word haett which is linked to the Norse for 'hood' or 'cowl'.
A hat which has a dark colour under the brim, such as my favourite straw, will absorb a little more reflected UV light. A brim width of 80mm protects neck, chin, ears and face.

 A chin strap is essential if you don't want it too blow away in the slightest breeze. Rain or water is the enemy of the straw, though in general, a shelf life of a few years is the best you can hope for.Great for the garden or beach.
 The SPF50 Legionnaire
Practical, machine  washable but very daggy looking so best as work-wear or for fishing not really street-wear.

 The Akubra
Australian classic with iconic status but not for city slickers.
 The Drizabone Sou'wester
Wet weather oil-skin essential with ear protection and chin strap.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Eranthemum pulchellum

 Eranthemum pulchellum (Acanthaceae)
Another old fashioned shrub about to be relegated to the horticultural dustbin of history? Well probably.This hardy and naturally well shaped shrub originates from India and grows to about 1.5 metres. It is happy to grow in spots such as dry shade under trees or in average to poor soil in sun. It starts to flower in late winter and is reaching its peak right now. Unfortunately it does not present well in a pot for the nursery trade and ends up looking a bit straggly and a bit dull, such is my experience. The small batch I have grown may have to be cut back and potted on to a large size pot, one where the cool blue flowers will be its selling point. Eranthemum is hardy across a range of climates and will tolerate light frost. Pruning after flowering helps maintain a compact shape. It was once known as Daedalacanthus nervosus.
2017 update: will propagate on request only.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Imo: “Japanese Tubers”

 Sato-Imo, Japanese taro, Colocasia esculenta 
The small corms surrounding a central larger one are called Imonoko or child and grandchild. From September to November in Japan the harvest of various "Imo" is in full swing. It's an autumn thing. So why am I doing it now? because I put the task to the bottom of the 'to do list' and as a result many of the tubers or corms had rotted during the winter months. Though they can tolerate waterlogged soil they hate cold wet feet and stagnant conditions.
 Divided clump ready to be planted out.
Taro is not hugely popular in Australia, except in the Pacific Islander community, but in Japan various prefectures may grow different sorts with different shaped corms or textures in the cooked variety; with names such as Ishikawawase, the sticky Dodare to the elongated Kyo Imo.The link at the bottom of the page gives a photo description of the many types.

 The other sort I grow is Hasu-Imo or Zuiki which is harvested for the crisp stems .This is Colocasia gigantea.
Those brave enough to eat taro uncooked, as certain Japanese recipes attest, may well experience Egumi, a "mouth feel" consistent with having thousands of microscopic needles stuck into lips, mouth and throat due to the presence of oxalic acid in the raw stems ,leaves and tubers.
Bamboo shoots and Hange tubers (Pinellia ternata) pictured below, also give the sensation of Egumi due to the presence of homogenistic acid, a metabolite of tyrosine, and its 2-glucoside. Budding biochemists can read online the results of experiments by Hasegawa C., Y. Sakamoto and K. Ichihara from 1959  'On the relationship between homogenistic acid and the egumi taste of bamboo shoots and Hange' (Proceedings of the Japan Academy) Among the interesting findings were the observations that soil type and length of time before cooking may affect the presence of these chemicals. Does that apply to other vegetables we eat ? Sweetcorn picked and eaten straight away certainly makes its mark.

 'Hange', Pinellia ternata, in flower now
Imo: “Japanese Tubers”-The Varieties and Basic Knowledge | SHIZUOKA GOURMET

Hibiscus Cuttings

For the past few weeks I have been working my way through my stock of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis.......... pruning them and using the cut stems of pencil thickness as propagation material.
 These hardwood cuttings are about 12.5 to 15cm or 5 to 6 inches in length and are cut at a 45 degree angle. I use a specific hardwood rooting hormone powder to dip the cuttings in before placing them together in a 14cm pot.
 The propagation mix I use has a large portion of perlite and added coarse river sand.
 Containers, secateurs and knives are all sterilized before proceeding with any of the steps and when taking cuttings from different varieties.
 The sharper the better
 Completed cuttings are kept in a sheltered shady location or in a propagation unit under mist, if you have one, though success can be achieved without.
 Cuttings with well developed root system ready for potting on.
 Trim back any roots which have a kink or twist to them.
Planted out into a 10cm maxi pot (4 inch pot) allows for good root and shoot development