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Return of Pops Plants!

An exciting visit to Pops Plants nursery, home of the National collection of double Auriculas.

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Imagine a small normal suburban street, it could be any street in England, with a row of upmarket terraced Victorian houses. From the outside, anonymous, utterly normal. You could never guess what an amazing, magical delight could lurk in the back garden….

This is exactly what I found when I visited the lovely historic market town of Hitchin in late November. Hitchin was somewhere I knew well as a child, mum adored shopping there. I think the last time I visited would’ve been about 25 years ago and as I drove in there were some parts that seemed incredibly familiar, that funny road junction that dad hated, the old wooden beamed house that leans out precariously towards the road but subtle changes have taken place. As they always do in towns you haven’t seen in a long while, a new sainsburys, coffee shops where once a haberdashery once was. It’s always an odd feeling, vaguely twilight zone.

I had come with a purpose though!

My love of Auriculas had drawn me to this quiet, sleepy town. A chance follow on Twitter from a chap called Tom Morey, I noticed his @ as I scanned his profile and for some reason it rang a bell with me but what got my attention was the most gorgeous Auricula on his Twitter feed. I asked its name. Turned out it hasn’t, as yet, earned one…. An Auricula can’t be named till it’s won a show, Tom replied saying he would be entering it this coming year! He seemed a lovely chap & his feed was full of pretty Auriculas so I followed back… the penny still hadn’t dropped as to the significance of his @

A few days passed, I chatted to another chap ive known online for about 10 years now, Rhizowen, and the subject of my destroyed Auricula collection came up. I was living in a flat that had a communal garden, quite frankly it was awful but that’s by the by, my precious Auriculas which had survived multiple house moves, neglect and vine weevil attack were sat outside my flats windows. A small little ray of sunshine for me in what was a bleak place. One day on returning from work I filled my watering can and wandered outside, noticing the mow men had been and cut the grass, I turned the corner…. Horror!

A crime scene, destruction, wholesale mutilation… I stood not quite comprehending what I was seeing, it made no sense. Shattered terracotta fragments littered the grass, small shrivelled baked shreds of what could once have been plant material, compost and gravel strewn across the floor under my window and strips of black plastic pot …. Gradually the full horror sank in, the mow men had mown my Auriculas, gone straight over the top, pots and all!

To this day the wholesale destruction still amazes me (& breaks my heart) I’d had some of those plants since starting Ryton! Sibsey in particular was the love of my life but now gone… anyway, back to the present day!

Tom popped into the conversation empathising with my grief then did something totally unexpected and hugely generous! He offered me some of his Auriculas! My jaw literally hit the floor. The conversation rapidly switched to DM where on talking to him further the penny finally dropped… @Popsplants2, his twitter handle. Bear with me here, Pops Plants were a huge name in Auriculas for any number of years and I’m 99% sure that it was from them I bought Sibsey at the Malvern show. Pops Plants were owned by Lesley Roberts & Gil Dawson, they were not only responsible for holding the national Auricula collection but also for breeding, introducing & showing many new varieties … Their show medals would be tucked around the doorframe in the kitchen Tom tells me…and i was now talking to Lesley’s 2nd cousin Tom who had taken over the collection of doubles when herself & Gil decided to retire earlier this year! This was an opportunity to go and see the collection that I just couldn’t miss!

So off to Hitchin I went!

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Tom and his business partner Susi Clarke took on responsibility for the collection in May 2017 after receiving full tuition from Lesley & Gil on how to look after and propagate the collection. Susi’s husband built the most wonderful standing out Auricula house and it’s from here that Susi and Tom are rebuilding Pops Plants (hence the Twitter handle). It’s a remarkable undertaking for 2 people with full time jobs, families and a shared love of Auriculas.

They are currently building their stock of Auriculas up, mainly doubles at the moment but looking to expand into the fancies, striped and self’s and have just listed with the RHS Plant Finder. They also will be running a mail order business via their website popsplants2.co.uk

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‘Bittern Bounty’

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‘Cardinal Red’

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‘Forrest Bracken’

All of this plus holding down full time jobs & family lives keeps them very busy but you will still find them selling their plants at various fairs and markets! Here are some of the upcoming dates

Hitchin craft market – 16th Dec 2017

Southern Auricula show, old barn hall, Great Bodeham – 28th April 2018

Rare Plant fair, Winterbourne – 20th May 2018

As more dates are added to their calendar they will be added to the website so keep checking in!

Some of the original plants from pops plants can be now seen at Hampton Court.

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‘Avon Bunny’

Tom & Suzi also told me some hints and tips for growing Auriculas, a couple of which id never heard of before! Firstly, there is a thing called ‘Auricula finger’ this is not as entertaining as it initially sounds. Auricula leaves are covered in very fine hairs, when you’re potting on a lot of them, or have particularly sensitive skin that is prone to irritation it’s advisable to wear latex gloves as the hairs can irritate. Apparently the feeling is akin to pins and needles. Ive never experienced it myself but then I’ve never had to handle as many Auriculas as they do…. Also, I have the skin of a rhino & the only thing I’ve ever reacted to is fig sap, a nasty phototoxin!

Also the farina (the white dust often present on Auriculas) can cause a mild rash on particularly sensitive skin or through prolonged exposure. As with all plants there is a small chance that you can react so don’t worry overmuch about these things, more just be aware.

We had a chat about the shows too, they can be incredibly competitive! People love their Auriculas and in order to be able to name an Auricula it has to have won at a show which means that if you see a named variety it really is the best of the best!

This can sometimes lead people to resort to tricks which I would never have believed! The poor judges have to look out for things such as icing sugar or talc being used to accentuate farina or hairspay or glue being used on the anthers to make them more prominent! Madness!

As for the care of your Auriculas, Tom describes this as being ‘wilful neglect’ which I think describes my methods with both Auriculas and Orchids & is incredibly successful.

I often hear people saying they struggle to keep them alive and 90% of the time it’s because they love them too much. To understand their history is the key, they are bred from true alpine dwellers, high up In the mountains. Cold isn’t a problem for them, they happily survive below freezing temperatures and although they look dainty and frail are truly tough as old boots but drainage is key to their survival. Their ancestors grew in rocky positions, with only the barest sprinkling of topsoil, one of natures true survivors!

My Auricula Mix

There are probably as many different mixes as there are growers but this is one that I’ve found works incredibly well for me. I’ve found over time that although they will grow in plastic pots they thrive in the traditional terracotta you tend to see them exhibited in. The terracotta allows them to drain and breathe so much better than plastic and if you’re growing them outside without a frame above to keep rain off then it becomes even more important.

 

 

First, I start by selecting a small pot, this is important as whilst they build up a root system it means they don’t have to sit in cold, wet compost, an absolute killer for them.

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Second, I add a good layer of drainage, I use horticultural grit, this allows for the bottom inch of the pot to drain freely. If you don’t have this ready to hand you could use pebbles, gravel or even hydroleca (expanded clay bobbles) or at a push polystyrene, basically anything that won’t hold water and has sufficient gaps for water to pass through quickly and easily.

Next I mix the growing medium itself, I tend to use a peat free compost, in this case Dalefoot compost. Dalefoot is made primarily from composted sheep’s wool… yes, sheep’s wool… and its awesome!

Unlike other peat free composts it has a wonderfully smooth consistency, no chance of getting splinters in your fingers here and it doesn’t have an overly acidic level to it which can sometimes be a problem with other peat free mixes due to their high levels of pine bark.

To this I add generous amounts of grit, as a rough approximation about 40% but I do it purely based on sight and feel.

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As an extra help, to retain more nutrients within the mix I add some perlite. Perlite is a type of volcanic rock. It should not be confused with vermiculite which is very similar but retains more moisture. The nutrients will be absorbed by the perlite which the roots can then affix themselves to but will still allow for water to pass through easily. I adore perlite, it has so many uses, from sowing fine seeds, taking cuttings to mixing into composts for pelargoniums, orchids and of course Auriculas!

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Next I add a little bit of magic! Forget miracle grow which is basically sweeties for plants, I want my plants to grow big and strong on the horticultural version of my mums hotpot! Don’t get me wrong, chemical fertilisers have their place but should be used sparingly if at all. The problem with them is not just the environmental impact they have but also what happens to a plant raised on them. Imagine the plant is your child, you’d feed them good solid food, right? Something that would give them the energy to grow, all the major food groups and trace elements, vitamins etc. Yes sweets give them energy, they run round like maniacs for a few hours but then the sugar crash! Grumpy, sulky, tearful… and that’s just the parents!

I want these plants to put down roots first then bulk up vegetatively. If I do this right, come spring I will get an amazing display of flowers.

Here comes the science bit!

In order to encourage a plant to put on vegetative growth I need to make sure it has plenty of Nitrogen, preferably released slowly. For this I use pelleted chicken manure. I’ll be honest with you for the first week a sensitive nose can detect a certain whiff of farmyard but it very quickly dissipates & isn’t overpowering. For the 11 plants I made this mix for I used under half a cup, it really isn’t necessary to overfeed.

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Then I add another great Organic food, powdered seaweed. Packed full of trace elements it has an average NPK of 1-0-4… I say average as it can vary slightly given that its an organic food.

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NPK stands for Nitrogen, Phosphor & Potassium, the 3 main nutrients needed by plants… other than water & air, of course. Each has a different role to play and a good way to remember their uses by the plant are

  • Nitrogen – leafy growth
  • Phosphor – flowers
  • Potassium – fruit & root

With these added I now mix thoroughly. (those of you who are on the ball will have noticed in the pics I did this backwards!)

When filling the pot I allow a cm clearance from the compost to the base of the plantlet, this will be top dressed with more grit to level with the pot. This has 2 main advantages, again drainage, so moisture doesn’t sit round the plants neck and cause it to rot off. Secondly, and this is something we haven’t touched on yet, the main reason that last 10% are lost… the dreaded Vine Weevil!

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I have found a good layer of grit puts vine weevil off laying its eggs as direct access to the soil and therefore the roots is prevented.

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Also it has an aesthetic purpose, it just looks right, with Auriculas it’s all about the show!

A final note about Auriculas, they can suffer from a few problems, as I mentioned before vine weevil. Prevention is always better than cure in this case so treat with Nemasys vine weevil prevention as soon as the soil temp is above 15 degrees in the spring and then again in autumn before temperatures drop. If your plant starts looking a bit wilty despite watering then tip it out and check its roots for the beastly little grubs & squish them to death if you find any!

Another is root aphid, this can be an awkward one to deal with as they hide right inside the base of the rosettes. You have 2 real options here, one use a systemic insecticide (with great care that other pollinators are not present so either very early morning or late evening) the benefit of a systemic is it gets into the “bloodstream” of the plant & will continue killing the sap suckers for up to 10 days breaking their lifecycle. Contact insecticides rely on you being able to target the pest which can be difficult if you can’t get to them.

Your second option can risk the plant a little it involves taking the plant from its pot, disposing of the compost and washing the base of the rosette in just very slightly soapy water. When I say wash, I don’t mean scrub the plant rather just sluice it completely. Why soapy? Because soap acts as a wetting agent, it makes water wetter. Greenfly breathe through tiny tubes on the side of their body called spiricles. Water has too much surface tension ordinarily to flood these spriricles but the addition of a small amount of soap allows it to flood them and drown the aphids. Just 2 or 3 drops of washing up liquid to a litre of water is sufficient. Rinse under running water and repot.

Watch out for soft yellowing leaves, this indicates the plant has too much water.

Dry crispy wilty leaves, not enough water.

I hope you’ve found this helpful and are now inspired to grow your own Auriculas, don’t forget to follow @popsplants2 on twitter & check out their website!

Here’s a few other things I’ve written about this subject if you’d like to know more…

Primula auricula, the beauty & obsession

A short history of auriculas and description of ‘Show’ auricula standards (part 2)

Auriculas part 3, Alpines, Doubles, Borders & Seeds

 

Secret Gardens of East Anglia – Book Review

The secret gardens of east Anglia is a beautifully presented, informative & well written work of art which would grace any bookshelf, a must have book for garden lovers…

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Barbara Segall & Marcus Harpur

Some months ago I was given the opportunity to review a wonderful book. Although I had wanted to do it as soon as I received it circumstances forced me to put it on the back burner. A new job in Ulting Wick, lack of internet signal, blah blah blah & then there were so many other wonderful bloggers writing about it!

With a feeling that the market was somewhat saturated at that point I decided to wait till now as a reminder to all of you struggling to find that must have gift for the gardening love of your life for xmas!

Also, it gave me a bit more time to savour the sumptuous photographs of the late Marcus Harpur, sadly Marcus died shortly before the book was released and was honoured at this years Garden Media Guild Awards. He was posthumously awarded the prize for “Garden book photographer” an honour which he richly deserved.

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Marcus visited the gardens featured in the book many times which allowed him to capture them at their very best. Sadly for me I never got to meet him but seeing his pictures, particularly of Ulting Wick I found an inspiring experience. He captured the essence of the gardens featured in the book so skilfully and not just the gardens themselves but the owners, having met a few of them, their personality shines through.

What makes this book more than just a “Coffee table” book though are Barbara Seagalls skilful descriptions of the ideas, the driving force behind the creators of these wonderful spaces. Barbara visited and talked with the owners of each of the 22 gardens featured. She weaves the stories of each garden & draws you in till you feel an overwhelming urge to step into the book.

For each garden Barbara starts by setting the scene, giving a short history of the gardens and their owners. Between her words and Marcus’s photographs a skilful tapestry is woven. One thing I particularly liked was the fact that Barbara talks with the owners about the various challenges they’ve had to overcome whilst creating their dream. Too often we see just the finished product, we don’t see the disasters, the hard work, the sometimes crushing disappointments that come with creating something which is essentially ephemeral, temperamental & capricious in its nature. Gardens are a living breathing work of art, they do not stay static and in that require the viewer to be fluid in their own right. I’m often reminded of the old joke line “ you should’ve been here last week!” as the fleeting nature of perfection in a garden makes us gardeners pull our hair out.

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Introducing the book is the formidable Beth Chatto, the lady that made gardening in the challenging conditions of East Anglia famous, in introducing the gardens which are so inspiring she in turn mentions the gardens & their creators that she has been inspired by. East Anglia is of course a large area, the soil conditions varying from chalk to clay & everything in between. From the Fenlands to the Thames estuary every garden has its own character

All except one of the gardens, Winterton Lighthouse, are open to the public at various times of year and at the very back of the book is an awesome map which shows their approximate locations and a list of addresses, contacts and opening times so you can easily plan your visits to these wonderful creations.

I had planned to buy this book for my dad for xmas…. But I’d forgotten Dad reads my Twitter feed! Seeing me recommending it so highly when I first received my review copy he only went and bought one himself and excitedly text me to say how much he loved it & could we go and visit some when he came down next! To which of course I replied yes… then he asked very sheepishly if I knew the author Barbara and if I did could I get her to sign his copy, I said I’d ask nicely. If you knew my Dad you’d realise exactly how much this meant that he loved the book, which is one of the highest commendations you can get… in my eyes!

Dad will be coming down for xmas and I plan on taking him to some of the gardens (but don’t tell him obviously). Ulting Wick will be an easy one but given the time of year others may be a bit tricky!

I can understand why Dad loves this book so much, he & mum often visited East Anglia’s Gardens and Barbara’s descriptions combined with Marcus’s pictures have brought back memories of happy times for him and for me also as we would often go as a family.

Heres hoping you all have a fabulous Xmas however you celebrate it, although I can’t think of a better way than snuggled up in front of a fire planning your trips to the various “Secret Gardens of East Anglia”

 

Apple Tree Pruning course

Always wanted to learn how to prune your fruit trees?
Want to feel more confident about it?
Heres your chance to get some great training

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Some of you may remember I held my first training day last year for winter pruning. It was such a resounding success with great feedback I’ve decided to do it again, only this time bigger!
So what can you expect?

The Venue

This year we will be holding our first event at a private house with a large walled garden in Buckinghamshire on the 3rd February 2018 .
Approximately 25 fruit trees of a decent age to challenge yourself with & 2 instructors on-hand with between them over 25 years experience.Places will be limited so please contact A.SA.P. to reserve your place, all details will be sent through to you Via email as soon as we have heard from you.

The Instructors

At this point I’d like to introduce you to Nick Black.
Nick is a fully trained arborist & whilst we don’t expect you to be climbing trees like this his knowledge of both how trees work & horticulture is invaluable.
Nick can be found normally working as The Muddy Gardener. You can also find him being cheeky on twitter @imnickblack
As for me, I have nearly 20 years of looking after fruit trees under my belt, trained at Pershore college under John Edgerly, then at Ryton Organic gardens, I moved onto become the Veg gardener at Sissinghurst where we established a large Orchard under Amy Wardman who had been the Fruit student at RHS Wisley and was very generous at passing on her knowledge.
I was there that I first started training people to prune fruit & it gives me great joy to help people become confident and proficient.
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The Orchard at Sissinghurst

The course

The day will start at 10am where you will all gather and we can discuss where your skill level is as we are happy to take on absolute beginners through to those that have experience & want to progress.
You will be shown all the tools you will need and have their safe use & maintenance explained to you. Then we will go through pruning maiden trees to establish the correct framework for freestanding, espalier, fan & other styles of fruit trees.
After a short break, to warm up & refuel on hot tea & cake, we will start to tackle the big trees! This will give us an excellent opportunity to discuss different methods of pruning & the reasons for it.  If you have a tree which has got out of hand this will be exactly what you need!
A break for a warming lunch of soup and then..
Once the demonstration is over you will be let loose on your own trees with both of us at your beck & call for advice if you get stuck!
Finally, we will gather to discuss any questions & do a quick session on apple tree pest, diseases & disorders
These are the trees we will be working on

The Cost

The day will cost £60.00 per person but will include Drinks, soup & snacks

Also £20 will go straight to Marie curie via my Just giving page

If youd like to sign up just fill in the form below and I will send you further details or if you wish to buy it as an xmas present for a loved one and keep it as a surprise we can arrange that too, look forward to hearing from you

3 months in Ulting wick

A quick update on the ever changing and exquisite Ulting wick

Hard to believe I’ve been here 3 months already! The garden has grown & changed so much in such a short time. We’ve had so many visitors, raising huge amounts of money for the NGS who in turn donate to lots of worthy charities. 

Soon we will be doing the change over from summer planting for the spring display of bulbs, an incredibly exciting time. Ulting wick is a dynamic garden which I am still learning about. Very different to any other garden I’ve ever worked in, I know it will take me a year of watching it through the seasons to get to grips with.

For me this is both slightly daunting & also challenging in a very positive way. It’s very easy to become complacent as a gardener, going through the routines which become habit. Ulting wick doesn’t allow for that due to its ever-changing nature.

Of course there are the jobs which need to be planned in as with every garden, pruning, training etc. But Phillipa’s enthusiasm for trying new things is bottomless, as is her energy!

Already plans for the next year ahead are multiplying and new planting in the beds has started. We cleared an area of rampant vinca a month or so ago. Some dead hawthorn hedging was removed opening huge possibilities. Last week we started to actually create in that area, adding exquisite Epimedium ‘spine tingler’, Geranium ‘splish splash’, G. Pheum & lots of thalictrums, ferns etc which when viewed from the opposite bank will create an amazing display!

We also noticed that sadly another tree has taken a blow in this year’s climbing tree toll! The old pollarded oak just across the boundary had succumbed to rot and one of its main limbs has ripped the trunk to the base, heartbreaking! Measuring just over 6 metres at the narrowest point of its base (making it between 5 & 600 years old!). This of course isn’t a death knell for this tree even if it’s a significant event, the tree will happily carry on for another 100 years at least but some of its perfect symmetry has been lost.

Other things that have been happening, I went to GLEE & to Kew (see previous posts!) Next week a lot of us are going to the Cotswold’s wild animal park, Harriet Rycroft (The guru of all things pots, colour & form) has very kindly organised us a tour with the HG & it coincides nicely with Roy Lancaster being there, so books shall be bought & signed! Exciting to meet such a gardening legend!

I was invited to do a talk on organic gardening for Tottenham flower and produce show, competing for volume against a steel drum band was a challenge even for someone as loud as me! Thankfully I had an incredibly receptive & interested audience who asked so many questions I ended up talking for far longer than planned which was lovely!

Phil cat has thoroughly settled in an honestly I haven’t seen him so happy in years! A few territory spats out of the way & an uneasy truce (on Phil’s part) with Bobby the spaniel, who is absolutely convinced he can make Phil love him if he just wags his tail a bit harder!

Although Phil’s reputation as a killer of all things rodent may be challenged given his reaction to the new residents in the cottage roof space the other morning… his face was a picture when he heard the skritching, scratching noises coming from above us! Hilarious!

The big hedges are now fully done for the year too, leaving only a bit of box to be completed. The weather has been utterly frustrating me on this front though! I’m beginning to think the whole “drier than Jerusalem” thing is a myth! We fitted irrigation in my first week here and since then it’s rained consistently and at times biblically! But hey ho! These things are sent to try us & I’m hoping next week for a few days of dry so I can crack on & finish up the parterre in the old farmyard.

Our meadow was cut & bailed for hay last week, done with a flail on the back of a tractor it took literally half an hour to cut. A few days later they came back to bale. To do this manually would have taken days!

The garden still has lots to offer in this beautiful autumn light so I’ll leave you with just a few of its delights to peruse until my next Ulting wick update…

Last of all, possibly one of my most favourite ever pics of Phil & I ever…

Behind the scenes at Kew

Behind the scenes of kew’s glasshouses
Rare tropical plants saved for the future of the world and how they do it!

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A few years back now myself and a few others went to Kew one weekend to see behind the scenes of their amazing tropical Glasshouse. Kew opens the doors once a year, one weekend in September, and you really have to keep your eyes peeled for this fabulous opportunity!

I happen to follow several of Kew’s Botanists on Twitter and with only hours to go I spotted a tweet saying it would be happening that weekend. So much excitement!

Unlike the Orchid festival in February where I was given my Wonderful Zygopetlum this is much more about the nuts and bolts of how Kew not only cares for some of its rare specimens but also, perhaps more importantly, how they are saving them and reintroducing them to the wild.

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On hand to give you all the information about the exhibits and massive glasshouses, not normally open to public view, are an army of helpful, knowledgable volunteers and staff alike.

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The different zones are climate controlled giving the plants as close to possible the perfect environment and growing conditions needed to keep them in tip-top conditions for seed production.

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Some of the plants on display are very familiar to us now, the bromeliads over the last 10 or 20 years in particular have become almost ‘throwaway’ houseplants. Sold en masse in a certain swedish furniture shop with the most feeble of care instructions they often die at the end of their flowering season but they need not! I kept a bromeliad overwinter in a cool domestic greenhouse once for 3 years and not only did it rebloom but also had pups…. weird turn of phrase I know, but the process of a plant having pups refers to the babies it produces vegetatively around its base after flowering. They are of course complete clones of itself and many plants do this. Agave’s, Aloe’s and Bromeliads being just a few…

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Bromeliad is a wide term that includes 3475 known species ranging from the humble pineapple through to the more exotic looking Tillandsia or Guzmania. Some are epiphytes, growing on the bark of trees for example. Others are classed as terrestrial, their roots firmly in the soil.

They often have intensely coloured bracts, modified leaves, to highlight their tiny flowers. This of course is one of the reasons their popularity has risen in home decoration. The colour on these can last for many months.

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Another set of plants whose popularity is rising are of course the Orchids although not all orchids are what you would consider suitable as houseplants. Most people will have seen a Phalenopsis, sometimes dyed hideous colours, at their local supermarket. Very few would associate the flavouring Vanilla with an Orchid though! The Vanilla Orchid is a beautiful twining, climbing epiphyte whose seed pods have become synonymous around the world with ice cream, imagine a world without Vanilla, another good reason to save endangered habitats!

Not all orchids have showy flowers either, they are as diverse as we are…

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But lets face it… most do

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It’s not just orchids and bromeliads on show though!

Kew’s work encompasses everything from this massive Amorphophallus titanum

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To these beautiful Colocasia….

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and the incredibly rare Ramosmania rodriguesi, which they have helped save from extinction.

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In fact there are so many amazing examples of plants to view I couldn’t pick just one to concentrate on for a short post! So I’ll leave you with a few of their loveliest/weirdest and urge you to keep your eyes peeled next September for news of when the glasshouses will be open again… and the Herbarium! Another on my “To do” list!

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Finally, one last reason to visit Kew in the autumn…. the leaves!

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Six of the best from #glee17

#glee17 is over & the bloggers are here to tell you what we loved, heres my view

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For those of you on Twitter I’m sure you will have seen a lot of this #glee17 hashtag but for those of you not perhaps I ought to explain. GLEE is and has been for over 20 years the “must go to” show for the horticultural trade. It’s where the suppliers to the retail industry launch new products and as a buyer it’s where you get to make the interesting contacts, see the tools & of course meet friends, eat cake & listen to seminars from the likes of Nick Bailey (heart flutters) & James Wong etc.

I had wanted to go last year but it clashed with the Landscape Show, which was awkward, so sadly I didn’t get the chance but this year I had myself fully booked from as early as March! Then myself & others were invited as VIP guests of Hornby Whitefoot PR, it seems the blogging community is really being welcomed with open arms now which is wonderful for all concerned.

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I haven’t been to GLEE since I was a student. My tutor at Pershore pushed all of us to go & see & make contacts. I was young and wasnt as ballsey as I am now so spoke to very few exhibitors and frankly was a bit overwhelmed as the show was and still is HUGE! This year I had a game plan of people I really wanted to see, things that could be of benefit in particular to Ulting Wick & our work there … but best laid plans etc… it’s always easy to get distracted by shiny things and cake!

Anyway, here are some of the lovelies I saw and in some cases will be trialling over the next year to see how they stand up to constant use (& maybe a bit of abuse) from a full time gardener. After all if I can’t break them you might not be able to either…. maybe?

Haws Watering Cans

These guys have been going since time began & have become a byword for quality in the hort trade. I honestly can’t think of a place I’ve worked that hasn’t had a Haws, or several! Wonderfully balanced for ease of lifting and watering, they have a range of brass roses (The bit the water comes out of) for seedlings to a direct jet for hard to reach pots.

Weird fact! I lived opposite the factory for just over a year when I was studying to become a Jeweller. It’s a small little world.

I’ve also had one of their beautiful mini watering cans which was a pressie for around 15 years, it’s still in absolutely perfect nick.

They have a funky range of powder coated rustproof watering cans now to run alongside their classic plastic range. I totally fell in love with their copper watering can on their stand this year. I honestly don’t think I’d ever use it, its way too nice, just keep it highly polished and look lovingly at it.

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The lovely chaps also answered a question that’s been bugging me forever about their products. Have you ever noticed that you sometimes come across the odd watering can with a broken handle, predominantly in red, apparently this was a fault in the manufacturing which has since been sorted and the nice people at Haws will happily send you out a replacement handle! Easy to fit too!

Spear & Jackson

Spear & Jackson are a well known name in gardening, constantly updating their range & looking for new solutions for us gardeners

In the next few months I’ll be trialling a couple of their products out, firstly their range of professional quality secateurs…. well, actually it will be my dad, only don’t tell him as he doesn’t know it yet. He has some lovely apple trees which he has grown from maidens that he regularly updates me on but frankly his secateurs are a mess.

I will be giving their most recent introduction a run for its money!

The dinosaur headed zombie killer range!

Jokes!

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This is the Allotment Hoe… but wait it’s so much more than just a Hoe. The arrow head shape is designed with creating furrows for sowing your seeds in and the serrated flat head for pulling the dirt back over. How cool is that! why take 3 tools to the allotment when you could just have the allotment hoe!…. I’m so excited to give this one a go and will be reporting back soon!

Burgon & Ball

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If you only buy one tool this year make it a Burgon & Ball tool!

It genuinely doesn’t matter which one but if you have heavy clay soil or borders where plants are crowded on top of each other I would recommend this weird looking implement! A genius idea, it’s basically a cut down border fork. Two main prongs which are designed to slip between plants for lifting or aerating the soil but it has a full support for your foot!

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Another tool which I look forward to trying out are these wonderful, shaped, stainless steel spades. We have a lot of planting to be done at Ulting Wick so I can see it being very useful and I’d like to see how it holds up against my old favourite spade.

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The last genius idea I saw on their stand was a range of flourescent tools! Amazing! I can’t count the times people have told me they’ve lost secateurs, hand forks etc, only to have them turn up in the compost 6 months later!

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Fito “Drip by Drip” feeders

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Now we all know how incredibly precious I am about my Orchids, right? …. Well I am!

I currently use feeds that have been recommended by other Orchid growers but the lovely people at the Blument stand assured me I would be delighted with the results of their Drip by Drip feeders. The idea being the plant receives a constant, gentle supply of the nutrients it needs (which honestly in the case of Orchids is very little).

I’m still waiting on the technical data, eg NPK ratio’s, but I am going to give these lovelies a go and I’ve chosen one of my most awkward buggers to trial it on. A rescue Orchid which despite being repotted and given various locations in the house has stubbornly refused to thrive…. or die! It just sits there looking at me sadly…

Fingers crossed this may be what it needs to jolt it into action!

Next up…

World Botanics range Johnsons seeds

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Johnsons seeds were established in 1820 & are now part of the Fothergills range which also includes DT Brown.

Their World Botanics range though steps a bit outside the norm for what you would expect from a larger company which is nice.

It gives your average gardener a chance to try something a bit more exotic or unusual, I hesitate to say rare as obviously the seeds offered are easily produced in their millions but they can definitely be a bit different from your normal urban gardens fodder.

We have about 10 different varieties which we will be trialling here at Ulting Wick next year & I’ll be giving you the full run down on these nearer christmas!

Thompson & Morgan

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The people on the Thompson and Morgan stand were incredibly helpful and were happy to talk about some of their garden favourites as well as some of their newer exciting introductions, like these Radishes! How cool are they! I cant wait to try them out in a salad next summer. They also had an amazing Breadseed poppy, something unusual for your Kitchen garden & the Tagetes that actually does repel whitefly, Tagetes minuta. I’ll go through the others in more detail in a later post.

Last but by no means least!

Goldleaf Gloves

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A lot of you will have seen a lot of us bloggers raving about Goldleaf on social media recently, there’s a reason for that, they’re AMAZING!!

It’s not just that the products are exceptionally high quality, it’s not just the thought and care that goes into every single detail, the thing that makes Goldleaf so different is that it’s a real old fashioned family business!

Started by Peters father as a hobby after he retired in the early 70’s it supplied gloves to the engineering trade from his fathers garage. When Peter & Kelly took over just before the birth of their first child Peter realised there was a gap in the market for a well made high quality glove in the gardening market. Their gloves are made from deerskin leather and are incredibly soft and supple, giving you the dexterity normal gloves just don’t. Their history of making gloves tough enough to withstand the rigours of engineering has also allowed them to produce gloves which are tough enough to allow you to grip a rose stem, hard, and not feel a single scratch. I tried it, I actually broke the thorns on the rose and they didn’t come close to even puncturing the leather! Awesome!

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Goldleaf have just launched their new range, the RHS Collection, for which the won the GLEE exhibitors Award. Kelly regaled me with stories of sitting crosslegged on the sitting room floor prior to launching it going over samples with a fine tooth comb. As a family they REALLY care about what they’re doing.

The RHS Collection has a choice of 3 lovely designs to choose from which makes them a perfect gift. Named after 3 famous RHS shows & on the back is also an explanation for the language of flowers!

Rose, symbolises friendship

Iris, symbolises wisdom

Poppy, symbolises remembrance… a lovely way of telling someone they’re in your thoughts!

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For those of you who read this far I wonder if you can spot the deliberate mistake I made on the title of this blog…. 😉

A forgotten love affair rekindled…

As I head off to #glee17 this week I’m thinking tools & which ones I love.
My Wolf Garden “claw” is high on my list so here’s my review…

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We all have our favourite tools, some have been passed down to us from beloved family members or bought as presents giving them an extra sentimental value. Some are those that we spend years hankering after before finally justifying the cost to ourselves (then wondering how we ever lived without them). Some, like mine, we’re an almost accidental purchase.

You see I wanted a particular Wolf Garten tool, I remember it clearly. My family and I were at the Gardeners World show & I’d set my heart on a small hoe/fork combination tool but it came as a pack of 3 tools, the other 2 didn’t really set my world on fire but I was desperate to have this attachment.

I bought myself the small handle to go with it, I already had the long handle, I figured that between the 2 I’d be well set up.

I got home & like any kid in a sweetshop I ripped the packaging open and tried out the 3 tools one by one, leaving the rather lethal looking claw till last… in a moment my life had changed!

The hoe/fork attachment was exactly what I’d expected & would be perfect for using on the veg beds, it’s narrow profile slipping between the rows easily, the other tool too was satisfactory. If I’m honest I can’t even remember what it was. The Claw though was exemplary!

At the time I was gardening on Birmingham clay, not the toughest in the UK but still gave tools a run for their money!

The Claws three prongs slipped through the compacted surface, digging themselves deep into the ground and breaking the soil with minimal effort! Weeding and hoeing in one fell swoop, I was delighted!

I tested it out thoroughly, weeding the whole of my garden in record time, then took it to work! Work at that point was Ryton Organic Gardens, their soil was far lighter, siltier & generally speaking in far better condition than mine at home but even the bog garden, which was the toughest test I could give The Claw, yielded before its mighty prongs!

I then moved to Kent, where the soil was the heaviest clay going! Seriously you have a 2 minute window between it being like dairylea or concrete to work it. The Claw didn’t care! The Claw bit into the the hard cap like a hungry cougar on steroids! Once more proving it’s worth & securing it’s place deep in my heart.

Then disaster, I had to move as I took on a different job. Financial circumstances meant I had very little storage space & taking your own tools to this job was frowned on so The Claw went into storage, consigned to a friends shed for nearly 2 years along with a lot of other equipment that I dearly loved.

Two weeks ago I finally got some of them back, it was like Christmas! I had remembered my weed burner & also my Wolf Garten rake attachment but not the trio of attachments I’d bought those many moons ago at Gardeners World. Seeing them brought back so many memories. It honestly felt like a different person had bought them so much had changed since they came into my life.

I got The Claw out & stared at it lovingly, I’d missed this workhorse. The next day I started using it & the love affair was rekindled. Weeds in gravel were no obstacle, unlike a hoe The Claw could slip through the stones easily, catching the roots and bring them to the surface. Fallen branch in the pond? No problem! Just fit the longer handle & The Claw has you covered. Dragging that annoying branch back to land. Compacted ground under the sorbus? The Claw doesn’t care! It’s nimble, nifty & versatile, there is practically no situation it can’t be used in!

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This week I’ll be visiting GLEE, the horticultural trade show, and one of the stands I’ll be making a beeline for is the Wolf Garten stand. I saw another tool I like the look of… I’ll let you know how it goes…

Also, if you’re looking for The Claw yourself it goes by a far less evocative name of “grubber” which is far less exciting.

 

My Zygopetalum

A love of Orchids is all consuming, the flowers and scent from my Zygopetalum are one of the reasons why

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I’m a great lover of orchids, as some of you may know, I own about 20 now. The vast majority are Phalenopsis, given the nickname of the moth orchid, it could now be happily called the supermarket orchid. Most are rescues as I can’t bear seeing them thrown away simply because they have finished flowering. It pains me to see a good plant go unloved when I know it will go on to thrive once more with just a bit of tlc.

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For years though I have been hankering after 1 orchid in particular. I’ve never dared buy it for myself, terrified I might lose it! That is the zygopetalum.

Back in February an All horts visit to Kew gardens was organised by @gardenwarrior (twitter handle, his real name is Andrew) to see the Orchids there. These visits to various gardens & events are always great fun as not only do you meet wonderful, like minded, enthusiastic horts but in such inspiring places!

This visit for me was particularly special though as it coincided with my birthday woo-hoo!

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We happily trotted round the glasshouse oohing & aahing as appropriate at what is a truly impressive display of Orchids when the scent of one caught me unawares!

Sweet, so very sweet! And musky, you almost smell it in your throat…I’m not sure if that makes sense but honestly you do! It was a familiar scent and immediately I was looking for the zygopetalums!

Not all orchids are scented and as a rule of thumb the bigger & showier a flower is the less scent it needs but zygo’s break that rule!

Lime green with maroon spots they are about an inch across. To my mind they look like little happy faces with purple flecked beards, like punk gnomes.

My friend Justin (Twitter handle @allotment7b ) , who knows a lot more about orchids than me, had very generously said he would buy me one from the shop for my birthday! Imagine how excited I was! Any orchid I wanted!!

Now I did have several “favourite” orchids in mind, one of which is a purple Vanda, these are relatively tricky to look after successfully in a normal home but are absolutely luscious!

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Vanda

Another I had in mind was a Paphiopedilum or slipper orchid. As I think I already have one in my collection of rescues though it seemed wasteful to not get something different. Even when they do look this good!

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Paphiopedilum

I eventually settled my mind on a zygopetalum which after raiding the unpacked cages of orchids in the shop I found and the wonderful Justin bought for me.

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Look at the stupid look on my face! Such joy!

For weeks it flowered it’s head off, making my bedroom smell amazing & in fact the whole house! Eventually it finished and I worried I wouldn’t be able to keep it happy. I forced myself to NOT fuss over it. Most orchids die from being loved too much! I lost my first one this way. I’ve found they much prefer being ignored for the most part. I water them with rain water if I can get it, if not I’ve been known to fill up the sink & plunge them in for an hour or so. I keep a bottle of water to go stale as an alternative. I bought a mist to encourage them to flower which I use intermittently & I also have a feed which encourages leafy growth which I use every few months but I worry about overfeeding as the build up if salts from these in the growing media can kill them just as quick as abandoning them altogether!

The strong sun on my window sill scorched one of the leaves of my beloved zygo back in June, also caused one of my others to abort flower production. It was the week I was moving & my well meaning housemate closed the windows and cooked them all in my absence. I could’ve cried… but hey! They survived! In the next few weeks as we all settled in to Ulting wick I repotted a few of my beauties & in the process noticed flower buds forming on the zygo!!

SUCH EXCITEMENT!!

I tweeted Justin to let him know.

That’s the thing about giving someone a present of a plant it’s a joy that keeps going.

He had given me my hearts desire & now it’s  scent fills the little cottage. It’s smiley punk faces greet me every morning. I have no idea what I did to make it so happy but it obviously is!

Zygopetalums were first found in 1827 by a chap called Mackay from Brazil. He gave one to the esteemed orchid expert of the day sir William Hooker, who promptly created a new genus for it. They can be found growing in cloud forests of south America and are classed as both epiphyte & terrestrial giving them the ability to be flexible in their growing conditions. The growing media need to be free draining, I tend to go for some of the more difficult to get hold of stuff which I buy from the Orchid experts at shows. This is a mixture of perlite, charcoal, bark and a few other bits.

If you’ve never tried growing Orchids before don’t be put off giving them a go, the Phalenopsis are probably the most forgiving, here’s a tip to getting them to reflower, leave them on a window sill where the temp will drop overnight. This triggers the flowering response, I found out by mistake and all of mine proceeded to flower their heads off for the next 12 months!

Heres a few of the loveliest you may consider…

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A month in… Ulting wick

I’ve been at Ulting wick just over a month now & so much has been happening!
Here’s a quick catch up as Phil & I settle in…

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Phil catnaps on the patio, he’s fully settled in here now & very happy!

With a bit more time I’ve started planning this post early!

Yesterday I took some cuttings of the salvia blue merced I bought at Hampton court from William Dyson of Great comp gardens in Kent. Look at their loveliness! Hopefully all will take & they will look marvelous in the pots next year… fingers crossed

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I also had a surprise on surveying the dahlias this morning, in a clump of Bishop of Auckland I spied a gorgeous anomaly! As beautiful as this lady is she’s just not right and so will have to be removed!

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On Thursday myself & Phillipa tackled the mystery weed that clogs up the stream. Phillipa got stuck right in, almost literally at a few points, leaping into the stream itself and between us we hauled tons of the watery stuff out of the stream!

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Phillipa was kind enough to invite me to join her in the evening to RHS Hyde Hall’s opening of their new veg garden in the evening. Spectacular new glasshouse and raised beds, all beautifully planted up with some quite unusual specimens. I’ve not seen Ullaco or Oca like that for many moons! I’ll be popping over their this weekend coming to offer up some  Achocha seed. Far nicer than the shop bought stuff it has less spines on its fruit, I hope it will be a welcome addition. Mine came from HSL’s own stock available to members.

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one of the lovely melons developing in the glasshouse

Today was Friday & overcast so much box cutting ensued! I’ve finally finished the rather over fluffy sides in the farmyard, it’s taken longer than I expected as it missed it’s cut last year so bringing it back to straight has been a challenge! I’m hoping the tops & pyramids will prove quicker then I can move onto the spirals & balls.

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The farmyard looking increasingly tropical!

We’ve also had to start cutting back the mixed hedges at the front, they are young hedges & are putting on so much growth they’re starting to encroach on the road, not good on tight country lanes!

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salvia bullulata – pale flowered form, with a delicious coleus/plectranthus

Massive changes to the stream beds are now underway. Winnie the Pooh tree (a willow tree) finally gave in to gravity 2 weeks ago. The base of the tree was about 6ft across & 4ft high, swathed in Ivy. It had basically rotted through and it’s one new trunk had completely snagged up in nearby trees as it slowly & graciously fell over! It’s removal has opened up all sorts of exciting new planting possibilities!

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coleus have gone through so many name changes but are still some of the most beautiful leaf colours available, love them!

When moving here I was assured it had the lowest rainfall in England, after the last 2 weeks of almost daily rain I can only assume the rest of England has developed gills? The rain shows no sign of letting up but it has meant watering has been an infrequent task. In between showers though the heat can be quite intense so we seem to be in prime grass growing weather at a time you would normally be expecting to ease up.

We ended the month trying to get everything finished up before Phillipa went away. A constant stream of deadheading & pulling out of things that have finished ready for our visitors.

As I finish this up ready to publish our Dutch group have been & gone, all the feedback was very positive & I hope they will return again, a truly lovely group of people!

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Gloriosa superba rothschildiana

Hard to believe I’ve been here just over a month now, it’s gone so fast, equally it feels like I’ve always been here, in a nice way. I’m starting to settle in… I’ve also found a place I can get free Wi-Fi for 4 hrs!! Woo-hoo!

 

2 weeks in..Ulting wick

Wildlife, plants and shows. It’s all been happening here!

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A quick post to let you know I’m not dead!

Just busy!

I also have limited internet access, which is driving me a bit loopier than usual!

The last 2 weeks have flown by though, nervous new girl was greeted by Phillipa and Neil, who’s shoes are rather large to fill… size 11 to be exact! I had an information full 3 days which I can barely remember now, thank the gods I take notes!

Then on my 4th day I met my assistant and what a lovely, enthusiastic chap he is, which makes life just about perfect!

Those of you who have been following me on twitter will have seen my continual posting about the reams of wildlife here, on my first night I saw my first hare in over 35 years!! So incredibly exciting, swans made an appearance, coots too!

I’ve heard owls at night, muntjacs in the day & honestly it feels like paradise here… *happy sigh*

Last Monday I played hooky and snuck off to Hampton court for the press day, had a fabulous time and got to see Charlie & the teams work on colour box.

Hampton court – Team Colour Box

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Much fun & silliness ensued with the #gdnbloggers

So what else has happened?

I’ve started cutting the box hedges, borders have been cut down, veg garden planted, an absolute stash of huge bulbs were unearthed! Then promptly replanted… oh, and I went to Hampton court again! Volunteering for Perennial. They’re great people, big love!

So to make sure I don’t waffle any further here’s the pretty bit…

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Hope to  get back to my usual posting soon!