Flowers in the Rain, Watching the Garden Grow, and A Moth for Lunch.

The weather year is shadowing the last 3 or 4. Glorious dry and sunny springs, followed by cloudy, wet and cool  summers (85mm of rain in the last week, 35 mm in the last 24 hours).  But really one can’t complain, with so many parts of the UK and indeed world suffering water shortages, it’s nice not to have to worry about plant irrigation.

No problems for the Sweet Peas with all this rain, they get better and better 18/07/11

However the last week’s persistent and regular rain does play havoc with some flowers, roses in particular, so I thought I’d have a look at some of the successful flowers here at this time of the year, and in spite of these soggy summer conditions.

Rosa fillipes ‘Kifstgate’ is simple enough to survive the heavy rains, where blowsier flowers struggle. Growing up a big fir tree 18/07/11

The first group is the summer or late summer flowering Clematis. We really started growing more of these about 3 years ago as a means of introducing late summer colour into areas which were primarily spring impact, and looking a little drab by now. In particular planting them to scramble fairly naturally up through other significantly sized shrubs. This meant that the Clematis roots could be shaded from direct sun, but getting them established over the first 3 years seems to require a bit more thought.

Clematis ‘Etoile Violette’ scrambling up through a holly tree and Viburnum plicatum. 3 years from planting 18/07/11

Since most are planted into very poor soil, the first issue is digging out a decent sized planting hole, and filling this with a soil/homemade compost mix. Then planting as recommended to counter Clematis wilt, with the stem base a couple of inches below final soil level. Also planting after giving the roots a good soaking, and ensuring that in dry periods, at least for the first few months, the plants get an occasional good soak. But as mentioned above this is rarely an issue for us at this time of the year. The biggest issue with getting our plants established has been plant nibbling, either from slugs, snails or rodents or rabbits.

We’ve now developed a routine of protecting the plant stems with a plastic mesh tree guard, but also slipping an empty plastic bottle with the 2 ends cut off down over the young shoots just into the soil at ground level.

An alternative to a plastic tree guard and bottle…. a few old Miscanthus stems, to help a young Clematis up into its host plant, in this case a Golden Elder, but also as a visual reminder to check for slug damage early in the year 18/07/11

These 2 enable focused slug bait to be used, as well as keeping rodents away from tender young shoots. Once the plant is 18 months to 2 years post planting, these protections become a bit less important – most of these summer flowering Clematis are hard pruned back to about 18 inches in February, and once over this juvenile stage, romp away in the spring. Using these methods also highlights just where you’ve planted them, so that you are prompted to check them regularly for signs of damage in their first couple of years. We know to our cost just how quickly a plant can be taken to ground level by any of the above shoot chompers, and whilst you get a second chance, repeated shoot damage will easily see a plant off in its first year.

Clematis ‘Niobe’ 17/07/11

Just now the plants that have reached their third year are looking stunning, and even those in their second show great promise. I’ll show a couple more below. The other point we’ve become a bit picky about is to choose varieties with the AGM award for garden worthiness. They do seem to be a more reliable bet, and there are so many cultivars that have won this award, that one has a huge range of colours and flower shapes and sizes to choose from.

Clematis ‘Princess Diana’ 17/07/11

Clematis ‘Blue Angel’ growing through a Cornus kousa chinenesis 17/07/11

Hydrangeas are another plant which we increasingly value for giving the garden a boost from now, right into the autumn. Many have flowered even earlier this year, and although the colour does start to change or fade a bit after 5 or 6 weeks, the form persists for months into the autumn. Quite a lot also have stunning leaf colour with hints of bronze and purple, well before other shrubs are showing their autumnal finery.

We think that this is Hydrangea serrata ‘Diadem’ A very reliable early and smaller Hydrangea 17/07/11

Sadly we don’t have names for some of our earlier acquisitions, although most of these fall into the Hydrangea serrata or macrophylla groups. Like most shrubs there are no issues with seeding, or nuisance suckering; they can be underplanted with early spring bulbs like Crocus and Snowdrops; and even better if you’re keen to add more into the garden most of them are fairly easy to propagate from hardwood cuttings taken in late autumn or early winter.

Geraniums can look pretty growing through the larger Hydrangea cultivars…if you don’t like pristine bare earth (or weedy bare soil!) beneath your shrubs. 17/07/11

The only slight chore is pruning and deadheading, which we try to do in very late winter early spring, before too many underplants start to emerge. We remove all dead flower heads back to a pair of fat, lower buds about 4 inches down the stem, but also try to take out about a third of the older woody stems back to ground level. Done repeatedly this helps to keep a more open plant, and new shoots regularly fill the gaps. If all this seems too much like hard work, then the Hydrangea panniculata cultivars are even simpler to grow.

Hydrangea panniculata ‘Unique’, a very recent addition 17/07/11

Hydrangea panniculata ‘Kyushu’ growing in pretty dense and fairly dry (relatively) shade 17/07/11

Like autumn fruiting raspberries, they can be cut back to about 6 inches above ground level each spring, and will reliably send out new flowering shoots in time for late summer/autumn flowering. You don’t get the range of colour variations in the serrata and macrophylla groups; they’re all variations on white, but many change colour as they age to pinks, reds, greens, and again will give months of interest into late autumn. A few have reddish, or pink stems and many have fresh green leaves, and so they associate very well with other groups of evergreen glossy foliage shrubs like Skimmias and Rhododendrons, in a woodland setting. We’ve learned that some varieties of H. macrophllya just don’t flower reliably after a hard winter (e.g.’Emilie Moliere’). The flower buds are killed off by the frost, and really there’s no point growing a Hydrangea which doesn’t reliably flower. However we haven’t yet been let down by any of the H. panniculata forms.

Another new addition seen on a trip to Ynyshir Gardens was the quite early flowering Hydrangea aspera sargentiana 17/07/11. Our other forms of H.aspera are all consistently good flowerers even after this last hard winter, if planted under a bit of tree cover 17/07/11

A final plus point in all Hydrangea’s favour is that of all the varieties which we grow, rabbits don’t seem to touch them, and nor do slugs generally, although H. “Annabelle” and a couple of more recent addition macrophyllas fall down on this point as young plants, but once established, this is rarely a big issue.

The rain has of course done wonders for most of the fruit and vegetables, though yet again Squash are struggling. Lettuce, Sugar Peas (now finished), Broad Beans mainly cropped now, have all been pretty good, and after the rainy weather from mid June onwards, there have to date been no issues with Small and Large White butterflies on the Brassicas planted out so far.

Next year’s purple sprouting is so far caterpillar free, and growing better than previous years 17/07/11

Broad beans in Dumpy Bags before picking this week 17/07/11

A white wash full tub of broad beans from 2 Dumpy Bags. After the work of picking the pods, and pulling out the plants, time to sit in a chair, with a couple of bowls and put on some relaxing music. My Beethoven piano sonatas disc which gives me both ‘The Waldstein ‘ and the ‘Appasionata’ on 1 disc made the task fly past 17/07/11

2 Dumpy Bags of ‘Stereo’ and ‘Witkiem Manita’ yielded 4.25lbs of shelled beans. How good or bad is this? Well I found that Riverford Organics who grow broadbeans organically get between 1 and 8 tonnes per acre of beans in pod, depending on the year. In other words as I’ve already mentioned before, a hugely variable crop yield from one year to the next. Given that shelled weight is about a third of podded weight, and that a Dumpy Bag gives about one square yard of soil area, and that an acre is 4,840 square yards……my yield seems OK! ( 6 tonnes per acre equates to about 1 lb of shelled beans per squre yard according to my records….so my yield was about twice this – but do check the maths!)

A first for me this week was doing my usual pre-lunch walk round the fruit and vegetable garden pulling off some mixed lettuce leaves, and herbs for a salad into a colander, then walking inside.

Lettuce for lunch anyone? 17/07/11

The leaves were plunged as usual into a bowl of water, and torn up into smaller pieces. Then a water change and the leaf washing was repeated. Into the salad spinner and after whirring for a while out onto the plate with a bit of Feta and homemade bread. A light vinaigrette onto the leaves, and I started to tuck in. Fortunately, no one was around to see me leap into the air as midway through the pile of salad I lowered my fork into the mound of lettuce only to nearly skewer an emerging large face which struggled out and flew towards the open door! Following, I spotted a large Dark Arches moth. How it had escaped the pre meal salad preparation I don’t know, but I guess that hiding up underneath the lettuce leaves was a good way of keeping out of the recent deluges.

A big beastie to emerge from your plate of leaves….17/07/11

As a follow-up to moths, I learned this week from posting the image of a moth feeding on grass stems onto iSpot, the Open University’s natural history identification site, that the consensus view was that the moth shown in last week’s blog was probably not a White-Point, but the more common Clay. Although as with many of these issues, the angle of the photo meant that this diagnosis could not be made with 100% accuracy by !

Finally some other photos of strange rainbows and evening light which we’ve enjoyed amongst all the gloom of the last week.

Moody skies above home…  17/07/11

The copsed hill bathed in an eery light 19/07/11

Very vertical rainbow 19/07/11

The other end of the rainbow….

Soggy summer pinks….Geranium and Anemone japonica 17/07/11


2 thoughts on “Flowers in the Rain, Watching the Garden Grow, and A Moth for Lunch.

  1. Mmm! I can just about smell those Sweet Peas.
    Funny you should discuss the weather!!! The Beeb is also running a programme on the Great British Weather and one of the things mentioned is that due to all 4 wind masses coinciding in our area we are normally supposed to have warm, dry springs and cool wet summers (long dry summers being abnormal, as we all know!!), so it would seem we are sitting in a normal weather pattern!!
    As for the non-tasty Hydrangeas, I can add one more; Deer! Along with Hellebores, daffodils, sissyrinchum (sp?), evergreen azaleas and rhododendrons, skimmias and euphorbia, these plants seem to be deer-proof. (Luckily, I don’t have rabbits and my toads/thrushes keep most of my slugs and snails at bay.) I can even grow Pittosporum Thom Thumb, though the deer do sometimes nibble the young shoots. I grow clematis successfully, but only if I get them up high enough and the stems to the woody stage, so I too protect the stems, but also cut back to about 2ft for all types (except Montanas), with a pragmatic view that those that do survive, will survive!!

    • Hello Rinka,
      Were at Lampeter Food Festival today with a stall , and at the last minute I decided to cut a bunch of the sweetpeas to take along for table adornement….and we had large numbers of ladies asking for permission to come over and smell them. So yes they do have a great scent as well, but I wonder how many younger folk even know what a Sweet Pea flower is? Most of those coming to have a sniff were of a certain mature age. Long live the Sweet Pea! And those who appreciate them!
      GH …….
      . PS We must check , but driving back thought we spotted a Hogweed flowering in our track!

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