Himalayan Balsam Nightmare!

Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) has rapidly become one of the UK’s most invasive weed species, colonising river banks, waste ground and damp woodlands. It successfully competes with native plant species for space, light, nutrients and pollinators and excludes other plant growth, thereby reducing native biodiversity. As an annual, Himalayan balsam dies back in the winter, and where the plant grows near water it can cause flooding and erosion.

Like most introduced plant species Himalayan balsam arrived in the UK without any of the natural enemies that keep the plant in check in its native range. Without these natural enemies, Himalayan balsam is able to grow faster and has a greater ability to reproduce, giving it an advantage over native species. Traditional control methods are currently inadequate in controlling Himalayan balsam in the UK. This is often because the plant grows in inaccessible areas or sites of high conservation status where chemical control is not an option.
A single plant can produce up to 800 seeds in autumn which it ‘fires’ up to 7 metres away and seed can even survive in water for up to 18 months. Unbelievably for a plant related to the Busy Lizzie, this invasive plant can grow up to 3 metres tall and is a real thug, crowding out adjacent plants.

Last year, I noticed some plants on nearby waste ground which is at least 200 metres from home but this morning I found one in my flower border! It is only about 1 metre high but in full flower so I am about to remove all traces of it before it has a chance to set seed! Pity it is such a thug, it is quite pretty! The hooded flowers remind me of an ancient military helmet and it is one plant that would be guaranteed to grow in the most difficult areas of the garden!

Plant of the Day – Cosmos

One of the easiest plants to grow and one of the most reliable to flower and put on a great show all summer is Cosmos. I think my favourite is ‘Purity’ simply because it has such pure white flowers which highlight and accentuate the rich colours of other plants.

Equally stunning are the single and double pinks and purples which seem to come true from seed every year despite the bees hopping from colour to colour all day long.

Cosmos ‘Double Click Cranberry’

This year I tried a couple of new varieties from which I will collect seed, the unusual ‘Double Click Cranberry’ and the pretty ‘Picotee’ with delightful pinky purple edges.

Cosmos ‘Picotee’

The taller varieties can get a bit ‘top heavy’ and begin to lean or even topple over in high winds but they usually survive if pushed back up and staked. The shorter varieties make colourful front of border plants. They are all very attractive to pollinating insects, flower for months if deadheaded regularly, are drought tolerant and will grow in almost any soil. What more could any gardener ask for?

Seedpods

I am madly saving seeds at the moment to send off to the Cottage Garden Society for their annual Seed Exchange. The organiser wants them by 30 Sept but it has been such a mild, wet summer that most are still not ripe or dry. However, sometimes I find the seed pods as beautiful as the flowers themselves. Take Canna iridiflora for instance, first the flower:

And then the equally pretty seed pods swell, darken and burst with ‘Indian Shot’

And in the case of the enormous and beautiful Castor Oil Plant, Ricinus communis, as well as having fantastic dark reddish green foliage, it produces some fairly insignificant flowers

followed by these brightly coloured seed pods the size of chestnuts!

Seed pods of Ricinus communis ‘Impala’

‘Good’ Garden Visits

I generally find that visiting so-called ‘good’ gardens which open for charity is great therapy. Some are better than others but they are all usually better than mine. They provide me with inspiration and motivation, a living catalogue of plants and design ideas I may like to try and, normally, a mixture of admiration and envy. We only visit a handful each year but I look forward to them all with great excitement and anticipation. Coming from a background of launching housing developments, showhomes and new products, I know first hand what goes on for weeks beforehand. The work rate is frenetic, all hands are at all pumps, long lists are made and worked through, lots of midnight oil is burnt all with the aim that at 10am on a certain day, everything will be perfect. So, I always imagined similar effort and energy going on behind the scenes in the weeks and days leading up to a garden opening, the immense pride and  satisfaction achieved when the gates opened and people flooded in to admire and coo over beautiful plants at their peak, a manicured lawn cut early that morning, and not a weed in sight.

Perfection! Hidcote Manor Garden in July

However, this weekend we donated £10 to charity to spend an hour in a well known Gloucestershire garden and came away bitterly disappointed. If it had not been for charity, I would have been sorely tempted to ask for a refund. And the reasons for our disappointment? An almost complete absence of colour except green, rampant Alchemilla mollis everywhere , an uncut lawn infested with clover and daisies, borders awash with woundwort, nettles, brambles, sun spurge, chickweed, hairy bittercress and ground elder, and nothing unusual, special or experimental. In short, and my book of humble opinions, not a garden to be particularly proud of and certainly not a garden to put on show for money! My wife and I walked around the garden without a word, occasionally glancing at each other with a grimace or a look of disbelief, but mainly listening to the sycophantic and obsequious comments from what I call the ‘Emperors new clothes brigade’ who either couldn’t or wouldn’t bring themselves to believe the awful truth – the garden was dreadful!

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t any weeds in my lawn and borders, of course there are; but I’m not opening my garden to the public and believe me, if I was, there wouldn’t be any weeds! Talking it over with my wife on the way home, we assumed we must be wrong and that the rather unkempt and bland appearance must have been characteristic of a ‘country cottage’ garden at the end of August. In which case, we both agreed, why bother to open it? If it is a spring/early summer garden past it’s best and with few virtues to show, surely it would have been best to stop opening it in July? I looked at the leaflet when we got home and to my absolute horror, I noticed that the garden has further opening days until end of September!

The garden concerned was not open under the auspices of the National Gardens Scheme but according to them, the top two criteria for opening a garden are:

  • are the plants, landscaping and design interesting and attractive?
  • is the garden well maintained?

Those are the very least I would expect of any garden opening to the paying public. I would go further and suggest that anyone who takes the time, trouble and expense of visiting an open garden is going to be a pretty serious gardener themselves and it had better be at least as good and preferably a lot better than their own!

Pollen-Free Lilies

One of my mini trials this year has been to see if so called ‘pollen-free’ lilies are as worthy as the fully loaded versions. The main purpose was to find a group of lilies that I could grow as cut flowers but which did not have the usual annoying habit of dropping their pollen and staining hands, clothes, tablecloths and runners, and even furniture. Strong stuff that pollen! Incidentally, the last thing you do if you want to remove pollen from material of any kind is to use a damp cloth. This just makes things worse. The best thing to do is to use sticky tape and lift the pollen off without rubbing.

I bought 3 pink varieties for the trial; ‘Elodie’, ‘Miss Lucy’ and ‘Brokenheart’.

First mistake was ‘Elodie’. Absolutely no scent! What a waste of time and money. It looked like a lily which should have had pollen but had it washed off. The style and stamens were in place but there were no anthers or stigma and no pollen. Weird!

‘Elodie’ a pretty lilly and no pollen, but no scent either!

Next to open, two weeks later than ‘Elodie’ and thirteen weeks after planting, was ‘Miss Lucy’, a beautiful white and shell pink lily with an intense fragrance. Unlike ‘Elodie’, the reproductive parts are hidden by sepals which do do not open but form a central ‘cone’. Two stems in a vase filled the room with scent.

‘Miss Lucy’ pollen-free and highly fragrant.

A week later than ‘Miss Lucy and fourteen weeks after planting, ‘Brokenheart’ finally opened and is pleasant but not as striking as ‘Miss Lucy’ in my personal opinion.‘Brokenheart’ was certainly the most branched and with the most flowers, approx 6 on each stem, but the buds opened pointing downwards and gradually lifted their heads to reveal their beauty and amazing scent.

Overall, I would rate this trial a success because it has proved you don’t need the pollen to get beautiful scented lilies. However, the colour palette is currently limited and would therefore not satisfy every occasion. There is also one slightly worrying aspect which I need to investigate further. Although there is no pollen, the flowers appear to exude a colourless sticky residue which falls on to the leaves and then on to the surface holding the vase. In our case, this was an expensive oak side table! Fortunately, it does not seem to stain and is easily wiped off but annoying and unsightly nevertheless.

Plant of the Day

Japanese Anemones

I have two small collections of Anemone x hybrida which have gradually spread their underground rhizomes to form bigger clumps. White ‘Honorine Jorbet’ is in a shady spot by the back gate and set off by the feathery foliage of Fennel, and pale pink ‘Richard Ahrens’ which enjoys the north side of a large Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ in the middle garden.

Both varieties are beautiful in their simplicity, and despite their fragile appearance are sturdy, weatherproof plants which are reliable and fully hardy. They light up a shady spot and provide height and colour where others might find the conditions difficult. They are easily propagated by taking root cuttings when flowering is over in November.

Blog Tech Support!

Being around 60, I came to Information Technology a bit late in life and I have to admit, I found setting up this blog a bit tricky! It is, of course, entirely logical and “easy when you know how”. Trouble is, I didn’t know how and my brain is not tuned in the same way as those born after 1965.

My very own Tech Support Manager!

Fortunately, I have children! And my eldest in particular not only works with computers every day for a large bank, he also takes pity on his poor old Dad! So, my very own Tech Support manager came to my rescue and helped me find my way around. He is cheap, always available and patient with old people – just what I need!

Daily Jottings

Update on “New Variety” Nicotiana mutabilis…

Just had a response from Ray Brown at Plant World in Devon. My “new variety” is not particularly unusual, it happens all the time with “mutabilis”. The clue is in the name meaning “changes” Not going to get rich this time! I will continue to save the seed though; who knows, it might throw up an even bigger change next year.

On the same subject, I thought I had recently found a new variety of Lychnis coronaria too. As far as I knew, it either came in shocking cerise pink or white. However, from a packet of ‘Alba’ seeds, up popped what I now know is ‘Angel’s Blush’. Surprising, delightful and disappointing all in one go!

Snipping or Sniping?

Anyone who has been in the garden recently armed with bucket and snips will know that there is no greater pleasure than getting up close and personal with pollinating insects in the herbaceous border! What I am talking about is, of course, deadheading. I mention this because I have just spent a wonderful two hours in amongst the Cosmos, Dahlias, Knautia and Calendula which need attention every few days to keep them flowering. However, I am still reeling from a comment made by a good friend and neighbour at the weekend that “life is too short for deadheading Cosmos”. To me, deadheading is the very essence of gardening. If you sow the seed, grow them on, plant them out, water and feed them, enjoy the bounty and cut them for the vase, the least you can do is prolong their life and beauty – isn’t it?.

Lepidoptera Dilemma

Camouflage expert! The Small White caterpillar

I am in a bit of a dilemma. The other day I told a friend I had been squashing caterpillars of the Small White butterfly which were wreaking havoc amongst my Sweet Rocket seedlings.

Carnage!

She kindly reminded me that caterpillars turn into butterflies and as I want to attract butterflies into the garden I shouldn’t be killing their children! And, if there is a shortage of butterflies next year, it will be my own fault. Point taken!

No Apples!

At first, I thought my bare apple tree was just having a ‘rest year’ which I understand they sometimes do. But then a friend told me what I imagine is a little known fact, that bees don’t fly unless the temperature is at least 54° F (12°C) and of course, they don’t fly in the rain. The cold and wet weather in April meant that the blossom didn’t get pollinated, hence no apples!

It just proves how vitally important bees and other pollinating insects are and how important our gardens are in providing food and shelter for these tireless workers.  However, it doesn’t explain why next door’s tree has apples on it!