Six on Saturday: Dahlia love arrives

Alright technically I’ve already got one dahlia blooming but that was only a little dahlietta. This week has marked the start of the full-size dahlias blooming. This is my first year trying dahlias and they’ve been a pleasure to grow. One bag of Bishop’s Children has given me a mass number of plants for myself and plenty I’ve passed on to visitors. The week has seen boiling sun and heavy rain downpours. This has led to lots of plants shooting up and lots of flowers to choose from this week.

1. Lythrum-robin

The Lythrum was bought for me by my mum a few years back. It grows about half a metre has spires of small purple flowers and keeps going for a good period. The hoverflies have been swarming all over it the last week. It would benefit from another couple around it. It doesn’t seem to self-seed or grow to a point of division so I may have to try cuttings if I want some more. I have seen it for sale but I don’t think it’s worth a tenner.

2. Hollyhocks

This was one of the first plants I grew from seed in the garden hoping to attract bees. The current ones are children of the original that have self-seeded. They suffer from rust but they are still flowering well so can stay for now as they are still drawing in lots of bees. I’ve currently got the standard pink in flower and a darker rich red. They grew to massive heights last year with the extreme heat and look set to repeat that performance this year.

3. Pink rose

This came with the garden. It needed a hard prune the first year I move in as was sprawling badly. It’s now crowded in by lychnis which has meant it has grown lots of straight stalks up to the light with tons of flowers in. It has reliably repeat flowered. Some years it has managed up to four bursts of flowers. Not as showy as some of the other roses but the repeat flowering has meant it’s been allowed to stay. It suffered from the heat this week and has needed lots of water to stop it looking shrivelled.

4. Pot display

This combination of plants has filled out its pot nicely. The hosta lakeside is doing alright, though I may cut its flowers now. The fern is Athyrium nipoonicum var. pictum metallic. It is small in comparison to my other fern choices and has a bright red stem.

5. Pop-up tent

Alice has a new pop-up tent filling the lawn. Pops up easily. Doesn’t pop down and go back in the bag so quickly. But nevermind, she’s enjoying going back and forth through the tunnel and getting her outside in a bit of shade.

6. Dahlia-Table dancer

And now the week’s main event. It has a floozy of a name and it is as showy as the name suggests. It’s a cactus variety spreading out to about 15cm flowers. It should continue to flower for a good few months. I’ve started on a weekly feed of tomato feed to encourage flowering.

A good start to my dahlia venture. It has survived the attention of the slugs and snails to flower. Hopefully have lots more to follow. We’re set to visit the in-laws so will be enjoying their lovely garden. We haven’t been in a while so be nice to see them and see the garden in Summer. Enjoy your weekends.

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In defence of hydrangeas

Recently I’ve seen a slew of comments dismissing hydrangeas. They are often seen as the reserve of old fashioned shrubberies, seen as old fashioned, blousy and a bit tasteless.  Madonna famously showed her dislike for them when a fan presented her with a bouquet. My current garden came with three mopheads (hydrangea macrophylla) and a climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris). Initially, I disliked the vibrant neon pink of the mopheads and barely noticed the climber buried at the back of the border. However, I’ve come to appreciate them for many reasons over the last few years and carried on adding more.

Vibrancy

These mopheads frame the path. They open up as green bracts and develop into a bright pink before fading and drying as brown flower heads. They frame the steps down to the garden perfectly. Hydrangeas require a lot of water and these are situated perfectly. The run off from the patio ensures they get plenty of water. I feed them with banana peels and veg peelings. This gives them both a mulch to keep water in and gives them nutrition.

Alice framed on the lawn by the hydrangeas 2018

The bright colour shows well from above and fills a large space for minimal effort.

The view from above 5.18

Low maintenance

Apart from the already mentioned watering requirements, I don’t have to do very much to my hydrangeas and I get rewarded with a reliable burst of colour each year. I leave the flower heads on over winter, then prune back just behind the flower heads in Spring. Then I thin out a few of the older stems. This seems to work well for me as I’ve had great displays several years running. If you want to change the hydrangea colour you can mess with the pH of the soil to change them from pink to blue or blue to pink, but this seems a futile venture as they will gradually revert. But otherwise, these are a minimal effort plant. They grow well in shade or in sun so long as they are well watered.

Seasonal interest

The various hydrangeas in my garden almost all have long flowering periods. I keep many shrubs in the garden for maybe a week or two return in terms of flowers. The hydrangeas give months of pleasure.

In the initial stage of most the bracts open giving a pleasant green before shifting to the flowers colour.

In Autumn the flower heads brown off and if left remains a solid structural element in the garden.

They then look gorgeous in winter with the frost on.

Wildlife benefit

Hydrangeas are continually rated as low benefit for wildlife. I’ve always found this strange as the mopheads are always covered in different insects. Last year they were covered in the influx of silver Y moths.

Peacock butterfly
Dragonfly
I’ve found ladybird larvae regularly on hydrangeas, although I’m unsure why as aphids don’t generally bother with hydrangeas.

But according to the literature, the mopheads are largely infertile so the flowers aren’t offering many benefits to the pollinators. The fertility of the flowers varies with each type. Maybe mine as higher value as it certainly has a lot of life on it. But my suspicion is that I should probably be feeling a little guilty that insects are wasting journey to these for little or no return.

This has been at odds with my desire to encourage wildlife into my garden. I love the hydrangeas but they aren’t adding much benefit to the wildlife while taking up quite a bit of space. However, a bit of research has shown some types do still offer wildlife benefits. The RHS Plants for pollinators lists Hydrangea paniculata as beneficial with Kyushu, Big Ben, Floribunda and Brussels Lace having more fertile flowers. Unfortunately, I have limelight where only the flowers at the tip are fertile. That said, I’ve seen many butterflies stopping for good periods. I doubt they would stop so long if they weren’t getting some benefit. The RHS trials list more details of fertility.

I also discovered that many of the lacecaps have fertile flowers. The outer ring of larger flowers offers no benefits to pollinators, but the smaller inner flowers do.

The thin stems, lack of height mean hydrangeas don’t offer many benefits for birds. Sparrows perch on mine to survey the garden, but they aren’t suitable for nesting. However, the understory of my hydrangeas show lots of life. I keep a few logs under to provide homes for woodlice and beetles. Few plants can grow underneath as the the leaves stop the light to the ground. But the mass watering they receive means the ground is moist for frogs. I’ve needed to remove builder crud a few times recently and each time I’ve disturbed a horde of frogs. While I can’t argue that hydrangeas are high value to wildlife they aren’t devoid of benefits.

The climbing hydrangea is one of the few exceptions. It provides a good level of cover for many creatures and the small florets are great for small bees and hoverflies.

Variety

For many people when they think of hydrangeas I think they just imagine the rounded balls of the mopheads but there are many more types on offer. The paniculata offers cones in lime green, white pink and purple. The climbing hydrangea offers a reliable climber that can cover fences or house with a stunning layer of foliage without much hassle supporting as it largely finds its own way. The lacecaps offer more delicate flowers. The oakleaf offers stunning large-leaved foliage and gorgeous white flowers. The more recent developments with the award-winning runaway bride offers a variety with a mass of flowers suited to a pot for a display with a long season of interest. There are choices for everyone and many different situations.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my exploration of hydrangeas and if nothing else found some pleasure in the photos.

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Six on a Saturday: 20.7.19 holiday time

It is holiday time for me as a teacher. Got through another year. Now I get six weeks to catch up on weeding and enjoy the garden. But in true holiday fashion, it’s raining. But the water butts are getting refilled at least. I’ve been using the new butts for most of the watering at the front and to do the patio pots at the back. They’d just run out the last few days. Lasted pretty well.

1. Lilies

These lilies came from Thompson and Morgan. I’m sure they were meant to be a variety of colours but so far they are all pink. The growth has been a bit untidy as they were hidden away during building work. They probably would have benefited from staking and being rotated with the sun but the flowers are a nice bright burst. These tall pots are designed for lilies but I think I might change to hostas after these are done. They look good spilling out of tall pots and keeps the snails off a bit.

2. Lavender

I removed a lot of the lavender in the border as it had got leggy in a shaded position. I’ve kept a few in pots. My soil is heavy clay and not suited to lavender. In the pots, I can make the compost with lots of grit and sand to give it the drainage it needs. These pots have thrived for three years now. Very good for wildlife. When in full flower it gets lots of visitors.

3. Bargain Acer’s

I got these two little Acer’s for £5 from Thompson & Morgan. Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum is a purple-leaved variety turning to orange in Autumn. Then the orange dream is yellow turning again to orange for more Autumn interest. These are tiny at the moment and will probably go in pots for now. The couple I’ve got already suffer from leaf scorch with the strong sea winds so I have to keep them sheltered. They are an example of wrong plant wrong place but I like them enough that I’ve persisted trying to find the right place for them and planting shelter for them. While these two don’t look like much currently I’ve got the patience to see them grow gradually.

4. Water bath

Alice has been a bit obsessed with filling the water bath but the seagulls are appreciating her efforts.

5. Love in a mist

I sowed the seeds for these quite late on and they’ve been drowned by other growth. Some are poking out though. A lovely flower to photograph.

6. Hydrangea Libelle

This pretty lacecap was a birthday present. It suffered a bit from frost’s and wind but with plenty of watering it picked up again beautifully. I don’t normally use plastic pots but I thought with the thirsty nature of hydrangeas this would benefit from a plastic pot. This pot is meant to be a self-watering pot. It has a reservoir set up at the bottom so it doesn’t all drain out. The flowers are a bit sparse, but only the first year, though looking lovely. I’ve moved it to the pride position outside the back door so we see lots of it. The limelights planted this year are set to flower as well. Lots of hydrangea love this year!

Today is Hornsea carnival. We’ll probably head out later if the weather holds. There will be a float parade and rides and fairground games in the park, then usually a few craft stall. So probably won’t get up to much in the garden today. On a side note, Alice had her first sporting victory this week at the nursery sports day. Very proud of her.

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Six on Saturday: 13.7.19

Last weekend we were over at my parents for lunch and a lot looking good. This week I’m looking at six aspects of their garden that I’m claiming credit for. I’ve had divisions of their plants for many years and now they are starting to claim from my garden in return. My mum has been dropping not so subtle hints that she wants one of my dahlia seedlings.

1. Lychnis

This was a self-seeder from my garden I passed onto my mum. It’s looking good with the darker fuschia behind it.

2. Heuchera

My mum is adding more foliage plants following my lead. The green, dark-veined I think she bought with me at a local plant sale.  Nice combination of colours and should add some interest throughout the year.

3. Hostas

While my parents have grown hostas before they’ve gone for more this year which I’m sure is down to my mass front garden planting. The forest grass in the middle is also doing well. My clumps are a bit weedy currently but will come on in time hopefully.

4. Succulents

My parents have been away recently so they’d planned to give their usual bedding plants in pots a miss as they would have needed watering. So this means they’ve not bothered with the usual collection of pelargoniums. A plant I’m not bothered for in any way. Instead, they’ve gone for some pots of sempervivum’s copying my pots. They’ll survive better over the holidays through the heat.

5. Wildlife gardening

Over the last few years, my parents have added lots of bird feeders and bug houses across their garden. The middle of one border is dominated by a well-established cherry tree. It fruits well. They’d tried netting it to save the cherries from getting taken by the birds but have given up on this now. In the past, I think my mum would happily have gone along with Mr Twits plan to paint the branches with hug tight glue to get birds for a pie.

But this year there are enough for them and the birds to share.

6. Hide and seek

We had a nice time out in parents garden and a good meal. Alice wasn’t so bothered for the food but she did enjoy playing hide and seek. Though her hiding skills leave a lot to be desired.

It’s looking pretty grey out there. It feels pretty humid. We need some rain to break the heat. I’m heading out with Alice to her nursery today as it’s the Summer Fair. They’ve got birds of prey and the forest school open so should be fun. See what tat we win on the tombola. Hope you enjoy your weekends. Check the participant guide if you fancy joining in with six on Saturday.

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Six on Saturday: 6.7.19-Murder in the garden

After last weeks Agatha Christie-themed six, we return to normal service, though Alice has committed a number of garden crimes this week. The weather has been good allowing lots of the plants to romp away. The consensus on the mystery plant was pericaria. I’ll have to see what happens as it continues to flower.
1. Murder in the garden

A few weeks ago Alice helped prune the dwarf Korean lilac bush with her scissors. The problem is now she wants to cut everything down. In a lapse of attention from Amy, Alice took her scissors to the hydrangea. Luckily she can’t reach too far so it’s mainly lost blooms towards the bottom.

Butter wouldn’t melt.


2. Dahlia progress

She then went onto commit a second garden crime pulling and snapping off one of the dahlia seedlings. Luckily it was one of the varieties I’ve grown from seed and I have around 20 on the go. She wanted to plant the part she’d pulled out, so we now have lots of dahlia cuttings on the go. I don’t know that they’ll have time to grow to any height but it kept her busy while I potted some more of the dahlias.

I’ve potted on about 20 of my little Bishops children seedlings. They are getting to reasonable heights now and the sun should bring them on a lot.

And two of the tuber grown dahlias have gone in the ground now, complete with snail beer traps. We even have a few buds.


3. Nemaslug

In order to try and protect the dahlias and the hostas that have gone in the front garden, I’m trying nemaslug. Nemaslug is a biological control using microscopic worms that prey on the slugs. It is supposed to be harmless to other wildlife, unlike pellets. I haven’t used any controls for about 4 years beyond beer traps and barriers but as I have planted so many slug favourites I thought I’d try this so the hostas can make it through their first year. It comes as a powdery mix that you dilute in water and then use diluted again in your watering can.


4. Watering

The ground needs to be wet for nemaslugs to work so I’ve needed to wet the ground in the heat. I’ve not been using the hose recently. I’ve been managing purely from the water butt. But I want the nemaslug to be effective so I set Alice loose with the hose. It might mean the watering is a bit sporadic. The hydrangeas and the slide got more water than other areas but everything, including Alice, was definitely wet.


5. Lily Martagon-pink morning

I planted these in pots last December. These have been the first of my lilies to flower. They were stuck in a shaded corner while the building work went on. This has led to them growing at a bad slant towards the light but the flowers are still stunning.


6. Poppy

The first poppy has come through. I think this is self-seeded from last year as the two I spread this year were red and pink. These are a stunning colour. Last year the wind came through just as they opened and I only got to enjoy each for a day. But it’s been a bit calmer this year.

It’s getting hard to choose six each week now with so much to do and so much going on. If you want to see more of what is going on check the Propagator’s latest blog to read more peoples sixes. I’m going to be trying to do some weeding and clear a few of the spent Spring flowers ready for dahlias going in the ground.

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