Dahlia Harvest from Year 1 in the Ground

Perhaps a few weeks too early, although not much of the foliage was left functioning to feed the tubers after it got frosted, so they were just about done for the year.

After digging them up I learned that more exposure to colder weather makes the eyes easier to see, which is vital for dividing tubers successfully. Fortunately they were visible enough this time, but I’ll be mindful of that next year.

It was a nightmare splitting the two that had grown into each other, totally fusing together, but I managed to salvage sufficient tubers of each. That’s what happens when you throw all the tubers together in one box without labelling them and hope for the best, and then don’t pay enough attention when planting them in spring.

But that’s not going to happen next year, as I’m as organised this winter as I was disorganised in the last. They’ve been treated properly this time:





These are plastic crates lined with cardboard, with a layer of coco coir at the bottom. The yellow powder on the tubers is sulphur dust, which works well as a fungicide.

They have since been covered with another layer of coco coir and are now stacked out of the way at the back of the garage, which is cool but frost-free.

I might plant a few dahlias in the same bed again next spring, if the hedge has been replaced with a fence by then – we’re still waiting for that to happen.

However, I’ve now got my sights on the meadow/paddock now. Since digging the raspberry bed there, I realised I could grow flower crops there too. They would get much more sun, and it would be great to give them all more space.

But here’s the first ‘dahlia bed’, now sans dahlias:






(beautiful foliage on the smoke bush at the moment!)

I haven’t dug up the osteospermums yet, since they still look fine, but I’ll keep an eye on them, and the weather forecast.

We have the rest of winter to choose a few new dahlia cultivars. I’d like to find one of the cartwheel, or star dahlias (this type includes the ‘Honka‘ series), with their single rolled petals, and I’ll get some ideas from Tom about what else to grow.

There’s now this display to beat:




To keep boring lists tucked away, click ‘Continue reading’ to see the list of tubers that have been prepared.

Continue reading “Dahlia Harvest from Year 1 in the Ground”

early November 2018 update

It’s raining a lot, but there hasn’t been any extreme weather so far this month, nor is any forecast yet. For the time of year, this is a pretty calm and mild few weeks, but it feels cold, and the days feel too short. That hasn’t stopped me being busy though, and we all know I keep enough plants for something to be happening at the moment.

The dahlias have been dug up and stored – perhaps a few weeks early but it’s not the end of the world – but that’s to be focused on next time. Therefore, there was a frost last week. And suddenly they all looked terrible! 😂 So I put them out of sight.

Beginning with outdoors nonetheless, here’s an update on the porcelain vine. I was indeed too quick to write that journal entry about the plant, and the berries have become even more striking azure in colour this month.



They really are that colour; the photo isn’t edited at all!

To move on to another climber, I repotted and am now starting to train these two jasmine (Jasminum officinale) plants up the post of the corner roof.




Under the roof Asphodelus acaulis is getting ready to flower:




The whole roof-sheltered collection is doing well so far, but I know there’s colder weather ahead which will test it further.




Without talking about dahlias, I think that’s it for outside. The rest of the garden is mostly taking care of itself now; everything’s slowed right down.

Where to start in the conservatory? Well, since I’ve left compiling this entry so late, both Thanksgiving cacti (Truncata Group) are now in flower:







I harvested and cleaned the seeds from the first of three fruits (berries). Most of the seeds were black and ripe, but a few were still brown, so I’m leaving the other two fruits on for a while longer. So far I have around 50 seeds, and will sow them indoors in late February.

Since the seeds separated from the flesh of the fruit in their own sticky bundle (an evolutionary adaptation to make birds wipe the seeds off their beaks on tree trunks upon which new plants can then become epiphytic), I tried eating some of it, and though not unpleasant, it was pretty bland, barely sweet, and the skin was surprisingly thick. Not a rival to dragonfruit.

Another plant I’m waiting to harvest seeds from is Gasteria pulchra:



-which I cross-pollinated with G. ‘Magic Dust’, and that also now has seed pods forming, but I can never get a good photo of that because the flower stem has grown up behind two shelves and ended up in a difficult-to-photograph position.

This Conophytum herreanthus was also not easy to photograph:




Conophytum flavum should be open soon:




It would be good to pot up and separate some more of my crowded pots of young Mesembs, but space is limited, however, I am selling plants on eBay again. 🥳

And plants I don’t like (usually desert cacti, let’s be honest, especially when they’ve had a difficult past which has left them permanently disfigured beyond ‘characterful’), if they’re too ugly to sell or even give away, have gone in the bin. I don’t have time or space for unhealthy or unappealing plants any more.

So now there is a lot more space in the conservatory! And I was able to move plants that are active over winter into brighter positions.

While I was completely rearranging the middle tables (they’re two square Ikea coffee tables next to each other), I moved them out temporarily and mopped where I could, since there’s now a lot more floor space visible!




I moved the big Clivia miniata into the middle of the floor so it gets light from every direction rather than being stuck at the back against the wall where it was. Not that it’s done too badly there – it is flowering:



(and no mealybugs can hide from the paintbrush dipped in alcohol any more)

The cosy biosphere that the conservatory provides becomes even more apparent at this time of year. It’s a pleasant space to work in.

Fenestraria 1st time flowering

Fenestraria rhopalophylla is a succulent species in the Aizoaceae family native to Namaqualand in southern Africa. In the wild the leaves are almost entirely buried by sand, but in cultivation it is usual to see the entire leaf.

Fenestraria is a monotypic genus, containing just this species. There is also a recognised subspecies: Fenestraria rhopalophylla ssp. aurantiaca, which has yellow flowers.

My plant is now flowering for the first time. It’s clearly not the subspecies, but the colour is not as white as some examples of F. rhopalophylla.

From the back it’s close to apricot in colour:




And the front is the palest yellow.




These were sown some time in October 2015, so they’re 3 years old now, and it’s great to be able to identify them at last.

They were germinated and grown in a similar method to what I’d use today, but still before I started using coco coir as the organic component in my seed mixes.




Like most mesembs, they germinated in a mere few days and early growth was rapid. Here they are again just 3 months later, in January 2016:




The next few progress photos are pretty boring, and make my old setups look particularly bad somehow, so I’ll just skip to today! 😅

Oh, and in the meantime I swapped/sold dozens of them away.

In attempt to photograph the plant better, I moved it away from the untidy shelf on which it was growing, but of course it’s in an ugly old mineral deposit-covered pot:




Still taken with my phone, but with the improvised black background of a bin lid and a little post production, here’s the best ‘proper photo’ I could do:



Porcelain Berry 7-year update





Porcelain berry, or amur peppervine (Ampelopsis glandulosa var. brevipedunculata) is a climbing plant in the grape family native to temperate parts of Asia. It has become an invasive weed in North America, yet I have never seen nor heard of this species grown in the UK – and no, it’s not on any of our noxious plant lists yet!

It’s proved itself hardy in exposed sites over the last 7 winters, and grows well enough in a container. In a better soil mix than I had mine in, and with more care and fertiliser, one could get it to fruit in a container, but it took planting mine in the ground for it to finally grow the coloured berries I was hoping for.

In mid-2011 I received these seeds as part of one of the first seed swaps I ever did, long before I started exchanging live plants. They were sent from someone in Canada – in zone 6a according to her account on the site we used to officiate swaps.

I don’t have a record of whatever ignorant way in which I managed to germinate these seeds (probably a peat-based seed-and-cutting compost with a small amount of perlite, perhaps in a round pot with half a clear plastic bottle on top, I think that’s how I did things in 2011), so the first photo I have of the plants is from June 2012:



And they look like they’re sharing a pot with a konjac corm and a purple shamrock. So there have always been two plants, and there still are today.




These photos are from when I lived in south London, and since then the plants have moved with me several times. This was at a time when although I was interested in cacti and succulents, I was experimenting with growing all sorts of plants, whatever I could find, often for free, and keeping whatever survived, which wasn’t very much back then!




Here are the plants this time in the second flat I lived in in south London, just before I moved in with Tom into our first house together in 2012.




June 2013, growing in a container and being trained up a trellis. I think I repotted both plants in situ, into the very largest size of plastic pot, and they stayed growing up that trellis and into next door’s overhanging trees until we moved house last December.

At that point the dormant vines were cut right back, leaving just a foot of woody growth, for ease of transportation.

There’s no photos of their progress until this year! I’m sure they flowered before but never fruited so that’s probably why I didn’t document their progress further.




June 2018, still both in their pots. The one that didn’t get planted in the ground because I haven’t decided where to plant it yet has remained here. It’s already lost its leaves for this season; it didn’t enjoy the hot, dry end to summer in a container.




This one was planted in the ground on July 6th 2018.




And then I cleaned the shed! This photo is from a few days later and shows how the vine was first trained up the post.




September ’18. It’s amazing what a few months of summer can do.




Here’s the foliage a few weeks ago.







And here are the berries, mostly hidden away but dazzling when you do catch a glimpse of them.




Absolutely beautiful, and I think unique among berries and climbers.

Well worth the 7 year wait and small amount of care needed. They’ve mostly looked after themselves, so I apologise if in 50 years’ time porcelain berry has become the new knotweed entirely because of a seed swap I did in 2011! They’re not difficult to grow!

And I will be attempting to grow some of the seeds out of this crop.

Edit: I’m appending a photo from November, as the berries got even brighter:


October 2018 update (part 2?)

Just catching up with a few things I missed in the previous entry.

I’ll start with indoors:




The new shield frond on the largest staghorn fern is so cute! This is kept in the bathroom, on an east-facing frosted window. Since it was from a cheap pot of unlabelled seedlings in a garden centre, I’m still assuming it’s the most commonly grown species, Platycerium bifurcatum, but I don’t know for certain.




Ceropegia denticulata is flowering at the moment. I should get some proper mini trellis for it, as at the moment it’s just suspended on one stick. It also needs repotting, so I’ll do that and retrain the stems after flowering. I’d like to do some better photography of the flowers too!




That’s just one of a few small stapeliads, euphorbias and caudiciforms which have been brought indoors onto my west-facing office windowsill, as they should benefit from some additional warmth over winter.




Oh, and since that last photo was taken, I moved the Sinningia leucotricha seedlings across to the warmer, brighter office.

These were sown just under 3 months ago, and are growing steadily, with most now forming caudices below the leaves. The seeds were harvested from my own plants this summer, and I just sowed the other half of those a few days ago, and am hoping for equally good germination results.

The mature plants remain in the conservatory all winter, but they can dry out when it’s really cold. These still need constant moisture and humidity, which I’ve increased since they’ve left the bag they germinated in by placing a gravel tray beneath.




The one ceropegia whose growth and flowering has not been slowed at all by the falling temperatures in the conservatory is C. woodii, of which there are many, many propagations and they’re all growing fast and blooming constantly. I untangled all the stems and moved them up to a higher position where they can trail down shelves and not get in the way of anything, and not reach the floor too soon!




A plant that was moved out from the conservatory so late in the year was the huge dense cluster of Gasteria carinata, which is the only one of its genus to be risked out here, and is in the most sheltered spot.



Aeoniums are all looking happy in the corner under the roof. It was reassuring to return from their native habitat to observe little difference between those living there and these back home! It’s a sunny corner!




And there’s the corner.




Further afield, in the central bed, the seed pods of Iris foetidissima are looking just perfect at the moment.




Dahlia ‘Bishop of York’ keeps improving, with enough blooms to harvest without depleting the plant.







The Fatsia japonica I discovered behind the other overgrown trees and shrubs in the main front border has sprung to life since I freed it and is starting to flower.




There will be a separate entry all about this plant, but there’s a real highlight of the month: the porcelain berry vine (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata).

It won’t be disastrous if there isn’t an opportunity to mow the lawn again this year. Despite a warm October, growth has slowed down considerably. We have had a few grass frosts already.




Let the fungi do their thing. Autumn is a beautiful time of year.

back from La Gomera

Tom and I have just returned from 10 days in the Spanish island of La Gomera. It is a beautiful, exhilarating, and overwhelming place and it will take a long time to process it, not only the photographs and plant identification, but the memories and all that I’ve learned from my experience there.

Thankfully, everything back home was as uneventful as our excursion was eventful! I didn’t miss seeing any ephemeral flowers or find seed pods exploded everywhere, nor find any insect damage or even wilting. Everything was just as I had left it, with perhaps a few little floral surprises which I’ll share later on.

It’s always funny going away during this dynamic change of season; to have left with the last sigh of summer and to return to this:




Back in the midlands while we were away, the weather was breezy but remained within a comfortable range, with two brief ground frosts but nothing was affected.

Where should I start with the garden? That dahlia bed I suppose, which has remained in stasis but for minimal deadheading required.

















I may not have mentioned that I removed the lower dahlia leaves about 3 weeks ago. As I’ve lamented numerous times, I didn’t label any tubers, so we’ve had lots of talls shading the smalls. All the tentative little Bishop Series at the back struggled but they have all managed to bloom this year.

These are the three plants from the Bishop series I have so far, left to right: Llandaff, Oxford, York:




And here, at last, is ‘Bishop of Llandaff’:
I wasn’t sure this plant would have the strength to produce a flower this year, but I think cutting back a lot of the growth in front of it has made all the difference.




Out of this series, York’s won it for me this year. It’s a vigorous plant, with big bright flowers and the best contrast between flower and leaf colour. I’ll give that one the best position next year! That said, it wasn’t a fair test at all, and I shall give them all much less crowded positions, as well as try out the other few in the Bishop series that I don’t yet grow.

A few more dahlia photos after a heavy rainstorm:










That meant lots of fresh flowers with which to adorn the house. Just look at this harvest! I’m so proud. And it’s nice to have made something that people like; a bouquet tied up neatly with twine is always appreciated.




Next year I’m considering entering some in a local horticultural show. Dahlias just produce so many flowers, giving so many perfect blooms to choose from. I reckon I could at least display something cheery enough to entertain the onlookers.

Oh, and one last dahlia that I must show before I shut up about them and talk about other plants, is this fasciated one:




Staying outside in “the dahlia bed”, this Onoclea sensibilis is starting to go dormant and blending in with the fallen leaves:




Then to move on to this: the porcelain vine (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata).




And its berries:







From looking at images online I see that some of the berries can turn a dazzling cyan. No such colour from mine yet but there is definitely an unusual blueishness to some of the fruit.

I grew this plant from seed 7 years ago and it’s never shown any signs of suffering while being confined to a container, but now it’s loose in the ground it can really do its thing.  I do wish I could track down the person I originally did the seed swap with, just to thank her, and tell her just how well the plant is doing!!

I know I promised an exclusive journal all about this species but I’m almost wondering if I should postpone that and see if I can get any seeds from this one to germinate. That’s one excuse, and the other is that I just really want to talk about it here because it was one of the most pleasant things to return to!

Moving on indoors, another lovely thing to return to were the staghorn ferns, one in particular whose first shield frond is looking rather majestic already:




Here are a few smaller ones around the house:







Having only ever seen them as those huge expensive mounted things in posh florists, I’d always found staghorn ferns intimidating. But it turns out you can just buy pots of seedlings from normal garden centres, they’re very easy to separate, and then, much like with kokedama, you can wrap their roots in sphagnum moss, wrapping more around as the roots grow through. At least that is my experience so far.

This is another subject that should have its own separate journal entry but more experience would make more a more informative post. So perhaps in a year’s time!

And in that time I hope to learn more about ferns, and try to grow a wider variety of species.

A few new Mesemb flowers are out!
Here’s Lithops helmutii:




and Conophytum praesectum (pink-flowered – the white-flowered one is almost out now too (yes, and then it will be paintbrush time))




And next, that Haemanthus is still in its prime! They do last a good while!




And speaking of Haemanthus, here are all the H. coccineus in their second year of growth from seed:




And I shall conclude with something to look forward to: holiday cacti getting ready to bloom! Specifically Thanksgiving cacti (truncata group).




And that’s just the white one – there’s also a gorgeous magenta one that’s at the same stage in bud at the moment. I hybridised these two last year, the seed pods on the magenta plant are finally ripening and I’ll get those harvested and dried once this year’s flowers start to open.

Faucaria bosscheana

Faucaria bosscheana (A. Berger) Schwantes Z. Sukkulentenk. 2: 177 1926 is native to the Karoo biome of South Africa. Comparing leaf characteristics to descriptions and images, this plant could be the local form F. paucidens, but I’m not sure.

It arrived as a young plant as part of a swap a few years ago. Since then it has grown fast and produced multiple offsets, and is already large enough to fill a 1L pot. It’s flowered several times already.

It’s kept in the brightest corner of the conservatory. Like most of the other mesembs, it had a summer rest, but is currently being watered sparingly to facilitate a little growth before it gets too cold.

Some photos in context first, to show how eye-catching it is!










Not much else is flowering at the moment, although to be fair this is mostly just a propagation shelf so I’m not expecting a lot of flowers here. Anyway I don’t grow succulents for their flowers, if I did I’d be more interested in cacti! I love my plants for their form all year round, and it’s just a lovely bonus when they do flower.

Temporarily moved outside to photograph more easily:




They didn’t all open at the same time, but there were six flowers in total this year!

Speaking of the bright (south) side of the conservatory, I have just covered a side of the cupboard with a section of foil blanket, which has made a considerable difference:




I gave the windows a clean too, which also improved light levels.

Finally, and further off topic, we’ve just had the first storm of the season: Ali. That was cause for the polytunnel to be closed for the first time since spring. All zips and clips are still working! And since the storm, all plants and structures are still standing.