Over the next few months we are supposed to be getting the outside of the house rendering redone and the patio redone. It is currently just concrete with large parts cracking and falling apart. The plan is for the wall to be sorted and pavers down.
On the patio the plants have ended up being a fairly random selection. The alpine and succulent planters have thrived, but the other plants have ended up being plants that didn’t suit the border. As such, there is really any cohesion to them the main garden is largely wildlife friendly, cottage garden flowers and plants. I’m looking to have more foliage and a few more exotic looking plants on the patio. Rather than lots of cluttered small pots a few bigger one. The patio plants seem to suffer with the sea wind, so I’ll need a few tough specimens on the corner to protect other plants.
So here are six plants probably staying on the patio.
1. Tree fern-Dicksonia antarcita
I planted this tree fern in the border, but I don’t think it got enough water, so I’ve taken it out of the fern corner and put it into a pot. I can wrap it for the winter and then give it a bit more attention on the patio to try and try to get it looking less sorry for itself.
2. Fatsia Japonica
The leave of fatsia has superb foliage. It’s an excellent background plant. I’m imagining this moved into one of the bigger pots once I’ve evicted the current inhabitant. Then in front a variety of ferns, maybe the odd lily or something for colour. Only small at the moment, but will grow quickly enough next year.
These two plants were on the decking in my last house when I bought it. They were shadowed heavily by a number of plants, including tomatoes, that have now been moved. They had yellowed quite a bit, but have recovered fine now. They seem to be survivors having tolerated quite a bit of abuse from weather and neglect.
4. Asplenium scolopendrium Harts tongue fern
I’ve got one of these growing in the fern corner. I like the long tongue leaves. It stays attractive for much of the year. The fronds brown over winter and are replaced by fresh fronds in spring. Quite small at the moment, but at £2.50 I can wait for growth.
5. Aspidistra “China moon”
A few weeks back on Gardeners World, Monty had his houseplants out and it was talked about, on twitter, how some varieties of aspidistra could be kept outside all year. Aspidistras became the symbol of middle class living for the Victorians. I rather like the idea of a patio aspidistra, so I’m testing this variety of winter. It came in a big clump. I’ve divided some off to keep inside as insurance. Not the ideal time to divide, but I think it’s got enough root on. “China Moon” is a darker spotted variety. Hopefully do well in the shade of the wall.
6. Cordyline-Red star
I thought the thin red leaves would make a nice contrast to the other green foliage plants. Recommended for coastal gardens it should survive hopefully survive the winter weather and winds, so long as I keep it in a more sheltered position.
Looking back through my six I’ve mainly got thin leaved plants, so could do with some broader leaved foliage. Maybe time to get some hostas. It’s all a bit of a mess at the moment, but no point sorting until the paving is done. Happy gardening people!
So, what difference does it make?
So, what difference does it make?
It makes none
But now you have gone
And you must be looking very old tonight
Today is the peoples walk for wildlife. Organised by Chris Packham, people have descended on Hyde Park to show support for wildlife. An admirable way to spend a wet Saturday. The event is promoting the manifesto for wildlife. This outlines a number of steps that could be taken to support our rapidly declining wildlife. Now, sadly, I’ve seen a lit of people on social media asking “what’s the point?” “What difference will it make?” Seeing as the movement has borrowed heavily from the punk movement it seems worth recalling a key punk legend.
On June 4th 1976, a little band, The Sex Pistols played a gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall. The gig has become legendary in music circles. Hundreds of people claim to have attended, though the hall probably only held 150 people at most. In reality, about 30 to 40 people probably attended.
So why the fuss? Well, from that small number attending many influential bands were formed. From this gig, we got the Buzzcocks and later magazine, The Smiths, Joy Division, The Fall and in some accounts Mick Hucknall of Simply Red (though maybe that last one wasn’t such a positive development). These bands put Manchester on the music map and have had an impact on modern music that can’t be calculated.
So what does this have to do with a wildlife demonstration? Well if a handful of people can attend a gig and go onto become world famous and sell millions of records around the world, what’s to say today’s attendees won’t go off to spread the message further. Many young people are attending with parents. Maybe we are looking at future conservationists, scientists, educators, politicians and who knows what else. One day can send out ripples for years to come.
Now, I’m unable to make it, but I hope the people who are there enjoy themselves and send a clear message to our politicians and policymakers that we want wildlife on the agenda. But I’ve still been doing my little bit for wildlife today. Here are a couple of quick ways to help wildlife.
Go for a walk and appreciate nature with someone else.
So inspired by the garden ninja’s blog on best tools to start out with I thought I’d show six of my tools. I recently bought a holster, which I now wonder how I managed without. So for this week my super gardening rig out.
The Japanese digging knife. I’ve discussed it before, but this little tool is massively useful. It digs, cuts, plants bulbs, weeds, etc. It feels satisfying getting the dandelions out with this. When I moved in the lawn was more dandelions than grass. While I don’t mind a few for the wildlife it was a bit much.
My gardening snips are used for lots of the smaller/thinner deadheading and useful for a lot of the houseplants that don’t have as thick stems. I bought a holster for them so they weren’t left open and dangerous. Now, I wonder how I got by without them attached to me for easy use.
3. Weeding knife
As well as the hori-hori I carry a small folding weeding knife. The hori-hori is good for the larger weeds and devastates dandelions. The folding knife is better for the gaps in the patio where weeds emerge weekly.
My secateurs are nothing special. Just a set of Spear and Jackson secateurs, but they’ve reliably done the job for a few years. It’d be nice to treat myself to something sturdier, but not essential.
5. Gold leaf gloves
The gold leaf gloves I got for tackling the roses are excellent. Thick yet supple. They have made working on the roses a lot easier and I know will come in use when I tackle the teasel.
My trusty gardeners jacket hangs by the back door. It’s fleecy lined and quite thick. It protects from the spikier garden plants and has deep pockets to hold string and rubber ties. Alice knows big jobs are ahead when the full kit has gone on.
Hope you’ve enjoyed an insight into my gear. I’ve got climbing roses to tie in and an outdoor aspidistra to pot up. Enjoy your weekends!
This week I bring you a houseplant horror story W.F. Harvey. William Fryer Harvey (1885-1937) was a writer best known for writing horror and macabre stories. Born into a wealthy Quaker Yorkshire family he trained in medicine. He served during WWI in various medical roles. He suffered lung damage during the war that caused issues for the rest of his life.
After the war, he worked in adult education until ill health forced his retirement. During his lifetime three short story collections were published. Then after his death, in 1937, a posthumous collection was published following the 1946 film release of his best-known work, the beast with five fingers.
Harvey’s horror stories are interesting as they don’t follow one theme or formula. Many horror writers write one story in different variations, but Harvey’s follow different directions.
The story today is in the open domain now for copyright purposes. It offers a warning to abusing your houseplants, particularly that stuffy symbol of the Victorian middle class, the aspidistra.
The man who hated Aspidistras
The earliest memories of Ferdinand Ashley Wilton were green memories—of aspidistras. The aunt with whom he lived at Cheltenham was fond of the plants. As you entered the hall of Claremont Villa there was on the right an upturned drain-pipe painted a sage green and decorated with arum lilies. This contained Miss Wilton’s umbrellas and her father’s walking-stick. Projecting into the hall on the left a fretful erection of mahogany supported a mirror, hooks for cloaks, and two shelves. On the upper shelf was a porcelain bowl that contained the cards of callers; on the lower, in a sea-green earthenware pot, precariously rested the first of the aspidistras. The second stood in the dining-room—in summer in the fireplace, in winter on the ledge of the window that faced south. In the drawing-room was the third, raised high above the ground on a fluted wooden pedestal. The fourth and last aspidistra stood on the round table by the couch in Miss Wilton’s bedroom. At night it was carried out on to the landing, for Miss Wilton, remembering something that her doctor had once said about sick-rooms and flowers, thought it on the whole wisest that she should sleep alone.
The aspidistras dominated Ferdinand’s life. They were always liable to be upset, so that he was not allowed to run about in the hall or dining-room. When he was very small he had a fancy that they repeated to Miss Wilton the many things that he had done amiss, and especially did he distrust that fourth plant, which stood at night, a sleepless sentinel, on the landing close to his bedroom door. As he grew older he learnt, reluctantly, how to sponge their leaves with soapy water. When a gentle rain was falling he would carry them into the garden in order that they might enjoy what Miss Wilton called a thorough soaking. But if Ben, the poodle, were in the garden he had to be brought in straight away and dried. The laws governing the vegetable and animal worlds seemed to Ferdinand strangely different. In very dry weather the bath would be half filled and the four aspidistras would stand in a row for hours partially submerged. Ferdinand was not allowed to sail his boat among the gloomy islands of this archipelago, but if his conduct had been satisfactory he was permitted to pull the plug before going to bed. Ferdinand was still a very little boy when he was sent away to school. He was constantly ailing and even when he was well he received more than his due share of kicks and bruises. In the matron’s room he felt as if he were back again in Cheltenham, the pot of aspidistras reminded him so much of his aunt. On it he vented the hatred of his schoolboy world. When the matron was called out of the room he would share with the aspidistras vegetable laxatives and iron tonics, or impart to their leaves an unnatural glow of health by polishing them with Scott’s emulsion or liquid paraffin. A vertical section of the pot illustrating Ferdinand’s activities would have shown a thimble, three hairpins, a number of needles, the case of a clinical thermometer and, an inch below the surface, an almost complete tessellated pavement of sugar-coated pills. When, however, in a rash moment, Ferdinand, in applying the contents of a bottle of tincture of iodine to the leaves, found to his alarm that the black stains were irremovable, the fat was in the fire. The matron made a formal complaint, but nobody owned up. The ten more or less ailing boys who had visited the room on that fatal morning were indiscriminately punished. To them it was known that Ferdinand was the delinquent. He did not escape. Like the aspidistra he was poked and prodded and shaken to the roots. Boyhood passed. At the university Ferdinand achieved a certain success. He published a volume of verse and was founder and secretary of the Mid-Victorians. He only met two aspidistras during the whole of the time he was up, one in the porter’s lodge whose leaves he would absent-mindedly trim with pocket scissors, and the other in a dentist’s waiting-room. Miss Wilton died. She left to her nephew the villa at Cheltenham and four hundred pounds a year. Ferdinand was able to devote himself to literature, and from Bloomsbury lodging-houses wrote his first series of Antimacassar Papers. It was at this period of his life that he found himself once again under the influence of aspidistras. He began by nagging them, treating them as ash-trays, pen-wipers, and cemeteries for safety razor blades. He ended by torturing them. One, he slowly did to death with weedkiller; into another, following the example of the Good Samaritan, he would pour in oil and wine. A third he garrotted with rubber bands; a fourth, slowly succumbing to a solution of bath salts, filled his room for weeks with the faint perfume of lavender. A horticultural detective would, of course, have quickly got on the track of the Bloomsbury murders, but no suspicion ever fell upon Ferdinand. He was so inoffensive, so subtle, so respectable, and in his own way so quietly ornamental. His requirements were so few and he needed little looking after. His landladies were always sorry when he went. The aspidistras never got over his departure.
Ferdinand, of course, should have realised that it is dangerous to indulge in hatred. The man who hates open spaces as likely as not will be killed when crossing a square. It isn’t the motor car but the square that kills him. Ferdinand had his warnings. Once on a wet morning a pot of aspidistras fell from a third-storey window ledge on to the pavement at his feet. On another occasion when travelling by train a sudden stop brought down from the rack a heavy and bulky package that indubitably involved risk of injury to passengers. If Ferdinand had not been sitting with his back to the engine he would have been struck on the head by the most monstrous aspidistra he had ever seen.
He was smoking one day in a despondent mood when his friend Basset Tankerville chanced to call. The Blue Review had noticed his latest volume of essays with less than its usual appreciation. ‘Listen to this,’ said Ferdinand to Basset. ‘“We begin to be conscious of the limitations of his point of view—the interstices of a Venetian blind. He is the embodiment of the aspidistra.” And then,’ said Ferdinand, ‘they have the impertinence to give half a column to a review of Gertrude Stein.’ ‘Glorious jingles,’ said Basset. ‘You should really try your hand at them yourself. “Ferdinand Ashley Wilton with his dashed aspidistras that wilt unless fertilised. With black tobacco ash. Ad astra Aspidistra.” But seriously, you do remind me of the plants. You are becoming more and more green with envy, more and more pot-bound. And, by the way, have you ever thought of how applicable to aspidistras is St Paul’s description of charity? That specimen which I see before me suffereth long and is kind. It vaunteth not itself, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked. Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. And the same, Ferdinand, in a large measure is true of you. You and the aspidistra are one.’ Those light words of Basset Tankerville, spoken as they were in jest, marked an epoch in Wilton’s life. They stirred the vegetable fibres of his being. His conversation became more and more torpid. The wit that had enlivened the Antimacassar Papers vanished and though from time to time he still wrote, his style—polished and stately as it was—became dull. He left London to live once again in Cheltenham, but it was as an invalid that he lived. Though he took the waters regularly his skin acquired an unmistakeable greenish tinge which the dark green cloak he always wore made all the more noticeable. A little odd, his housekeeper thought him, and very old-fashioned, but Mr Wilton gave next to no trouble. On sunny days she would pull up the Venetian blinds and place his chair in the window, where he would sit quietly for hours occasionally sponging his long leaf-like hands with soap and water. He was happiest, however, when the faintest of drizzles was falling. Then the man who hated aspidistras would be wheeled out into the rain to enjoy a thorough soaking.
A warning to plant keepers. Have you become the plants you look after? Hope you’ve enjoyed the story. Are there any plants you need to ask forgiveness from? For more houseplant conversation check the twitter hashtag #houseplanthour A fortnightly conversation on Tuesday all about houseplants.
After covering other people’s gardens I’m returning to cover my own. I’m back at work now and not been too well at weekends, so garden has been neglected. The lawn needs a mow, but not looking hopeful for getting out. Over the last few weeks got a few of the wedding presents planted. Still got a few more to grow on and find places for.
1. Ladies mantle
Monty Don named this as an essential garden plant a few weeks back. It’s a plant that can cope with a variety of situations, sun or shade, and fairly drought tolerant. I’ve got some growing in the front garden. A few have self-seeded and can be moved to other spots now. I received another from Aunt Pin from the wedding. This one has gone in the back garden in a shady spot. It will provide a nice bit of ground cover foliage Not a flashy plant, but a good backbone plant for the garden.
2. Geranium clarkei “Kashmir white”
Another wedding present, I received two of these. I’ve planted them either side of the path near the shed. They’ll provide a decent patch of ground cover and flowers for a reasonable period. It’ll grow to about half a metre and then spread across the round. They have nice white veined flowers when in bloom.
3. Geranium oxonianum
From the wedding haul again, I’ve planted two of these small geraniums under the camelia. They strike me as a variety that will spread, colonising the area, which is fine with me. Geraniums pretty much always bring the pollinators, which I’m in favour of. If they start taking over, got space to take seedlings to the school garden. Another hardy option, that will grow to a bigger height.
This clematis was in place when we moved in. It had sprawled over but wasn’t flowering much. I cut it back hard last year and come back better. Lovely purple blooms. Unsure of the type as there are quite a few that look similar.
5. Nasturtium-dairy maid
These featured earlier in the year. I trimmed them back as they’d become a bit untidy and been rewarded with a new flush of flowers.
6. Unknown perennial
This perennial covered all of this border when we moved in. Despite digging over the border I still have some return each Summer. It flowers quite nicely through the apple tree looking like blossom. It is, however, a thug that spreads, so I rip handfuls out regularly.
Hope you all have good weekends. Check the propagators six to see more. Read the comments to see what other gardeners are up to.
Having covered the in-laws garden last week it only seems fair to do six from the outlaws, my parents. I’m not feeling too well after a week back at work. I’ve already been infected with cold, but struggle through.
My parents have a couple of passionflowers growing from pots up the wall of the neighbour’s house. It’s become a bit of a monster. I think the sheltered position and warmth from being up against the wall has helped it thrive. It ends up coveted in loads of flowers and always has bees swarming somewhere on it. My own hasn’t taken off anywhere near as well, but maybe in a few years.
The clematis is forming the shiny, silvery seed heads.
The illustrations in the books are clear and demonstrate exactly what you need to know. Many more modern styles don’t communicate their meaning in the way these books do. The houseplant expert is still regarded as the houseplant “bible” by many. Commissioning illustrations for books like this is costly. The illustrator either has to have a good knowledge of the subject or be directed in what is required. Sadly, I have got no further with discovering what work went into these books, but I have read a lot of stories on Hessayon. For one of the most successful garden writers of all time, there is little information about the man. He is, apparently, famously reclusive. I’ve managed to connect a few dots together from the internet. I can’t speak to the accuracy of some of the sources, but interesting nevertheless.
I was vaguely aware that he had made a fortune, but little beyond that. The story is engaging but tinted with sadness at what may have been lost with his retirement from writing.
David Gerald Hessayon was born on February 13th 1928 in Manchester. His Cypriot father, Jack, was a watchmaker. He lost his mother, Lena, when he was six. A fact he attributes to part of his success.
David describes the garden as just a little plot with four square beds, some lilies and a hydrangea. As his father’s health wasn’t too good he helped. It wasn’t so much for a love of gardening, but for a love of his father. Which, as a father I certainly know Alice comes to help me for the positive attention she gains in that time.
He attended Salford Grammar School. The school which amongst others has given us: Albert Finney, Peter Hook, Mike Leigh and David Quinn. He grew up helping look after his fathers small garden.
David studied Botany and Chemistry at Leeds University, graduating in 1950. He worked as an assistant lecturer in Manchester and then gained his PhD in soil ecology at Manchester University. The PhD document was one of the reasons for becoming an author.
Over the years I believe 28 books have been published covering pretty much any aspect of gardening you could want information on. As already said, the houseplant expert is considered a definitive text. The books don’t suffer from fashions. There are mentions of rock gardens, gravel gardens, houseplants and other styles that have gone in and out of fashion. If there is something you fancy doing with your garden chances are Hessayon wrote about it. The presentation of the books is probably seen as quite old-fashioned. But, the illustrations and text give you exactly the information needed.
Some of the book push gardening techniques that are unpopular now. As an employee of an agrochemical company and later managing director (1964-91) and then chairman of the board (973-1993), the book often push weed killers that are no longer legal or considered good gardening practice. That said, you can still read and choose the techniques you want to use.
In 1993 a legal case was made against the company claiming the chemicals potentially caused cancer. It’s interesting looking back on the case in light of the recent Monsanto case. In this case, Monsanto is paying out despite no conclusive direct link being made to cancer. While I do garden without the use of weedkiller I’ve found the case interesting for its success and changing attitudes. The case against PBI, however, was dropped.
The irony of Hessayon writing the “green garden” in 2009 was commented on by many reviewers (thinking gardens review). In 2010 B&Q withdrew the expert series from their shelves in favour of Alan Titchmarsh’s how to garden series, despite significantly fewer sales. The Titchmarsh books covered the same subjects, had similar covers, but sold for £1 cheaper. I own a few and they are nice introductions to the subjects, but sadly don’t contain as much detail as Hessayon expert books.
David has criticised some of the TV garden makeover shows for the damage they have done to gardening. Which I have to say shows like ground force presented a fairly unrealistic version of gardening. A step away from the unrealism of a Chelsea show garden. One of the few shows of that style I’ve enjoyed was Monty Don’s Big dreams, small space. But this revisited gardens over a good period, so the gardens had time to develop. It also gave us Jack Wallington’s wonderful fern wall.
In 2013 he announced his retirement from writing. He listed the internet as one of the reasons for the demise of the gardening book. If people want to look something up they no longer need a book, they can look it up online. Sad, but probably true. If you look at the best selling garden books they are largely either TV gardeners or coffee table books of the Instagram kind. The actual content is often lacking. Not always, I refer to Carol Klein’s book on propagation regularly and Monty’s down to earth had lots of useful information. But many releases are now style over content. Plants being placed in the wrong places to create a good photo. His statement that to sell a book it needs to be something you can’t find on google is probably true. But, it saddens me that new gardeners may miss out on book knowledge gained from books like the expert series. Advice online differs massively in quality (my own included). Whereas Hesssayon is a qualified expert. While there are many sources of excellent information online it feels like something has been lost.
Davids contributions to gardening have been well recognised with the RHS Veitch memorial wedding in 1993. This is awarded to people who have made outstanding contributions to science and horticulture. Also in 1993, he received the National Book Awards lifetime achievement award. Then in 2007, he received an OBE.
So having spent an afternoon reading through the various online sources I still don’t feel like I’ve even scratched the surface of this gardening legend. I apologise for any inaccuracies. I can only go off the limited information on this reclusive man available online. If anyone has any further information I will happily correct any mistakes. For now, I would like to thank David for the information he shared with many of us over the years. For those of you who have never encountered them check your charity shops and used and new on Amazon. For those of you familiar with the books what’s your favourite?
I have one copy of the expert guide to houseplants. If you are interested check my Twitter and retweet and like the pinned post. Running until the end of Geo-Fleur’s Kickstarter campaign. It’s all or nothing with Kickstarter. The campaign is still off target, so please share. Even if you don’t want to pledge to Geo-Fleur, you have the chance to win a very useful book.