Thursday, 19 September 2013

Ode to the untidy garden

Garden, garden, why don't you grow?
These are things I'll never know.

Your lawn is rough and full of weeds,
Despite me tending all your needs.
Your shrubs continually expand and balloon,
Despite my best efforts to trim and to prune.

Perennials die with monotonous ease,
Leaving labels behind to bait and to tease.
Bulbs and seeds go in but then die,
My drawer-full of packets proves it's no lie.

The pond is brown and choked with weed,
And the hole in the liner more stress than I need.
The tree at the back is probably dead,
But lends some height to the rest of the bed.

But as I gaze from the kitchen inside
I can't help feeling a sense of great pride.
And although my garden isn't that fine,
It's all that I've got, and mine, all mine.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Beyond Lucifer

If you're lucky enough to live anywhere in the South West west of Exeter the chances are that you will recognise the orange patches of wild montbretia in the hedgerows. Although not native it has naturalised to become a familiar part of the local flora through late summer and well into autumn, and while some groups see it as a wild and destructive pest for most people it's a fairly innocuous plant. But how did a South African plant come to be so widespread in the mild western parts of the United Kingdom?

Weed? Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora
Montbretia is the common name given mainly to the hybrid between two species of Crocosmia, C. aurea and C. pottsii, which were crossed by eminent French nurseryman Victor Lemoine in 1880. It is well worth researching Victor Lemoine and his contributions to horticulture... The hybrid was a triumph, providing gardeners with a freely clumping plant with attractive orange flowers, and a hybrid that would produce different varieties that could be named and grown as garden plants in their own right. The only downside of this hybrid is that it can set copious quantities of viable seeds (a trick picked up from C. aurea) and these seeds could escape into the natural environment.

The horticultural world was nonetheless taken by storm, and Lemoine's legacy was to give gardeners a hardy, bright and colourful plant for the drab days of autumn. WWI saw a decline in Crocosmia cultivation and breeding as many gardeners were taken away from the gardens of the wealthy landowners to serve their countries. Many varieties were lost as plants died, labels were lost or clumps become overwhelmed by seedlings, and the arrival of WWII certainly didn't help things for the humble Crocosmia.

Crocosmias languished for many years until, in 1963, Alan Bloom and Percy Piper crossed C. masoniorum with C. paniculata (what is believed by some to be what is now named C. paniculata 'Natal Red' in cultivation) to raise the most iconic of these late summer plants. Love it or loathe it, Crocosmia 'Lucifer' is quite a plant; standing 4ft (120cm) tall, the devil-red tubular flowers are well presented on a branched inflorescence, and held above sword-like leaves. 'Lucifer' has picked up two bad habits from it's parents, the habit of flopping in late summer (which I think comes from C. masoniorum) and the habit of setting seed. Given some support and a good deadheading after the flowers have finished and it will be fairly well behaved. One good feature about C. 'Lucifer' is that it bulks up well, so a large and impressive clump is easy to achieve (but give it space!). C. 'Lucifer' is so well known in cultivation that I don't really need to provide a picture...!

Now the breeding and selection of Crocosmia varieties is enjoying a resurgence of interest.

I recently visited Crocosmia expert Mark Wash at his nursery in Cornwall. On paper Trecanna nursery isn't such a good idea; grow and sell Crocosmias in an area where nearly every hedgerow is peppered with them! Thankfully Mark's customers are discerning gardeners and enjoy the cultivars on offer. I visited in the very last few weeks of the Crocosmia flowering season, but there was still plenty to see.

Crocosmia 'Hellfire', an unbelievably intense red!
Crocosmia 'Anna Marie', a charming new cultivar for 2013
As the flowers of Crocosmia 'Limpopo' age they take on peachy tones
Crocosmia 'Tamar New Dawn', bred by Mark Wash in the Tamar Valley

Crocosmia 'Tamer Glow', also bred by Mark Wash. Lovely colour!
Small but bright flowers of Crocosmia 'Prince of Orange'
Trecanna nursery isn't just about Crocosmias though; Mark Wash also grows Eucomis ('Pineapple Lilies'), which grow well in the same conditions as Crocosmias.

Eucomis comosa in all it's glory
Although popular South African plants Mark doesn't grow Agapanthus in large numbers as these are covered excellently by other nurseries. However in any small nursery you will find the occasional plant that is grown 'for the hell of it', like this Agapanthus 'Queen Mum', a new and desirable variety.

Bicoloured flowers fading on Agapanthus 'Queen Mum'
Trecanna nursery is not open to the public, but plants can be bought by mail order or from the shows/fairs the Mark attends. As well as South African plants Trecanna Nursery also sells dry bulbs (in season). If you live in Devon or Cornwall Mark does talks to gardening clubs etc., contact him via his website for more information.

You can follow Trecanna Nursery on Twitter: @TrecannaNursery