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June 2007

New plants – where do they come from? Part One

Gaillardiamberwheel Doing some research on new plant introductions today highlighted two dramatically different ways in which new plants come about. The two contrasting examples are Gaillardia aristata 'Amber Wheels' introduced last year by Jelitto Seeds and Campanula ‘Royal Wave’ new from TerraNova Nurseries this year. [Neither of these growers sell to home gardens, both plants will be available from White Flower Farm next spring.] Part One today, Part Two tomorrow.

So… The most basic way in which new plants are presented to gardeners is that some smart person with an eagle eye spots one individual out of a whole drift of wild plants that is special. Like this new gaillardia.

Continue reading "New plants – where do they come from? Part One" »

Yellow loosestrife

Lysimachiapunctata500 Driving up in the southern Catskills, in New York State, again the other day, I spotted a plant I’d seen naturalised in England - yellow loosestrife, Lysimachia punctata. The solitary clump looked very striking and so bright that it caught my attention from its glade in the woods as I flashed by in the car.

This native of eastern Europe, widely naturalized in the rest of Europe, is also known from most of the northern American states but is not listed as especially harmful anywhere. It makes a striking and easy garden plant for wet places, though it can be over vigorous – says he, trying not to say it can be a brute when it gets going. But there are also newer, more attractive forms.

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New garden shop opening

Foxtaillillystore Tomorrow (Saturday) sees the opening of a charming new garden shop back home in Northamptonshire. You’ll find Foxtail Lilly, in the lovely garden of Tracey Mathieson, a garden enthusiastically written up in The Garden, the monthly magazine of the Royal Horticultural Society. You can download a copy of the article here.

The informal garden, with views across the meadows towards the River Nene, is always worth a visit and Tracey’s light touch allow plants to self sow and create surprising associations around and amongst her more carefully planned plantings. Everywhere you look there’s something interesting to see, with traditional cottage garden plants blending with the latest varieties.

Traceybouquet1500 Tracey’s speciality (apart from her cheerful enthusiasm for her garden, shop and all things horticultural) is hand-tied bouquets, large and small – created wherever possible from flowers from her own country garden. Now, with the opening of her shop, she’s also offering a choice range of the plants growing in the garden along with zinc planters, French garden chairs, carefully selected crafts by local craftspeople, vintage ceramics and textiles, garden books, kithenalia – it’s not one of these places that’s stocked by a corporate buyer or a merchandiser from an anonymous wholesale supplier. Tracey selects everything herself.

Tucked away two hours north of London in the historic market town of Oundle, Northamptonshire – about half way between Kettering and Peterborough – there’s so much going on in within walking distance of Foxtail Lilly that you can easily spend the whole day in town. As well as a range of riverside walks and the country park, look out for (to pick just a few attractions) Simon Dolby’s Art Gallery, Geraldine Waddington’s antiquarian bookshop and gallery of wood engravings, Archie’s bistro, Beans coffee shop and Amps Fine Wines. You’ll find more information, including maps of local walks, at the Tourist Information Office in the town centre.

OK, I know, this reads a bit like press release! Traceyspinkseat500 It’s just that it’s such a great garden and shop that I really hope you’ll go. Foxtail Lilly is open from 10am-5pm, Wednesday to Saturday. Find out more here.

Eastern Phoebe

Phoebefledgling500 Last year a pair of Eastern Phoebes made a nest on an  angled pipe under the gutter about 6ft from our front door. For nest material, they used some lovely fresh green moss that had wrapped some plants sent by a friend in Oregon. It’s always worth putting out potential nest material in spring, along with food.

Sadly, raccoons or blue jays destroyed the nest. But this year they’re back, in the same place. We’ve tried to use the other door to leave them in peace and this time two youngsters have fledged. The picture shows the second of them – I just stepped outside the front door, snapped, and stepped back in again. It’s not quite up to the standard of the pictures found at mostlymacro, but it’s good to see.

Oddly enough, no sooner had the second chicks fledged than both parents and youngsters completely vanished. Strange…

An unusual alien plant + more bears

Rosamulifloraboth500 On the way back from visiting new friends at WJFF Radio, the only hydro-powered radio station in the world, I think – they’re across the Delaware River in the Catskills in New York State - I came across two interesting things.

Firstly, especially after I crossed the river north into New York, the non-native Multiflora rose Rosa multiflora was everywhere. To be honest, it looks really lovely: attractive, rounded bushes, with close sprays of fragrant white flowers. If it was a native it would be a universal favorite – but it’s from Asia, and spreads quickly, so it’s an invasive, so it must be bad.

Rosemultiflorapink500 Then as as I drove through the torrential rain, I spotted a pink-flowered bush. I stopped as safely as possible in the downpour – and then the rain eased off a little as I walked back for the obligatory picture (and a piece torn from the root, which may even survive in the garden here.). The picture shows the pink one I spotted from the road (pretty, isn’t it - of course it may be a hybrid with a garden rose) there were also a few blushed white seedlings around as well.

Finally, just as I was pulling into our driveway – there were the bears again: mum and just two cubs. They were just lounging around, rooting about, scratching tree trunks - that sort of thing. I rolled down the window, took a couple of snaps, and left them to it. But the pictures, on an old camera and leaning across out of the passsenger-side window, are terrible! Sorry.

Animals and plants back at the lake

Clematisversailles Back in Pennsylvania after a hectic trip – the last port of call was my mother’s where I planted a container with one of Raymond Evison’s new patio clematis, ‘Versailles’. She tells me it’s already been admired by her neighbours.

And what a treat, Continental have dramatically upgraded their in-flight entertainment. The screens in the back of each seat are larger, as well as TV shows and music there’s 250 movies from which to choose, from All About Eve to Batman Begins – though quite why each of the various language versions of Batman Begins is subtitled in Hebrew is something of a mystery. I was delighted to watch American Graffiti and Gangs of New York – but less pleased when the crew gave my vegetarian meal to someone else and left me with nothing.

Then, as we drove along the quiet road towards our driveway, a big black bear crossed over and as we slowed to watch lumbered along through the woods, keeping pace with us 20-30 yards away. And he was big.

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An unusual farm crop

Phaceliafield500 On a farm a few miles from our Northamptonshire cottage is a field sown with a rather unusual crop. Only once before have I seen a whole field of Phacelia tanacetifolia (lacy phacelia) although I’ve sometimes grown it as an annual in the garden. It’s a delightful plant and flowers for many weeks.

On a farm scale it's often used as a bee crop, although the resulting honey can be very runny and so needs blending with something else... like oil seed rape honey which is very hard. It’s also sometimes used as green manure.Phacelia500

But what a treat to see it with the village church in the background, the only colour for miles when other fields are sown with winter barley and oil seed rape which is now finished flowering.

Four forms of red valerian

Centranthus500 Tumbling over a stone wall not far from our home in Northamptonshire, the four main colours of red valerian, Centranthus ruber, are in full and glorious flower.

This lover of sunshine, dry walls and limey soil is prolific and a wonderful plant for bees, flowering for many weeks and self seeding generously. In fact the seedlings can be a pest and, when you try to pull them out, they have the irritating habit of snapping off leaving the root behind to shoot again.

The deep red, the white and two rosy red shades often grow together like this, or in various combinations, and as the plants self sow the balance of colours changes from year to year. Clouds of blue catmint or lavender make delightful companions.

The bears are back in town

Bearoutsidegarden500 Yesterday morning I was enjoying a relaxing cuppa with my friends Carry Akroyd (artist) and Gordon Monk (craftsman) in their lovely Northamptonshire garden with the birds singing in the trees when a call came in from Pennsylvania. My wife judy was calling to report another bear siting. No sooner had she got the bird feeders out at about 6.15am that morning than mother bear and three hefty eighteen month old cubs were after them. Eventually they were deterred and then, rather unnervingly, skirted the deer fence before trotting off into the woods. If they break the deer fence down the deer will get in to the garden and then there'll be no plants left to write about. By the time they were all driven off and the camera procured in the dim dawn light, only a photograph of moderate quality was possible. Soon, all the cubs will strike off on their own and then they'll be visiting individually - until the hunting season in the autumn.