Plant rescue: Senecio angel wings

I have a new rescue project. I think this one may be beyond help but I’ll give it a good try out of a perverse interest in whether the damage can be undone. I have been given this Senecio angel wings from my local houseplant shop. It isn’t really a plant I think of as a houseplant. I think of it more as a garden plant for sensory gardens and see it in a few gardens around me as it is tolerant of our salt winds. It originates from Patagonian region of Chile. Depending on where you read its hardiness goes from -5 in some sources while others say not below 0. It’s generally seen growing in pots as a result where it can be brought in when cold weather strikes. Senecio angel wings are evergreen perennials that are usually short-lived. It’s a succulent with velveteen leaves. I’d been warned this had been allowed to dry out and then watered, possibly too much so it’s fallen into the common trap with succulents. You end up in a cycle of overwatering, and underwatering leading to a slow death.

I forgot to take a picture of how this started but placed back in the initial pot you can see it was a decent-sized pot. It had been top dressed with wood chips. The soil was probably too moisture retentive. This is a succulent that needs free draining soil. The moisture retentive soil with wood on top trapping more water probably wasn’t a great combination for growing this.

I suspected it was suffering with root rot and just intended to inspect the soil by taking it out of the pot to check the roots. It came away from the pot. It appeared that this probably wasn’t that well rooted when delivered from the nursery. It had a central core of roots going down and then circling the pot but not a decent network going through the pot. The plant came away leaving a short root network. The issues with this possibly go back to the nursery selling a plant before it was properly established but without seeing it earlier on I can’t judge that fairly

I’m not convinced it has enough root left to survive but I’m going to chance it. I’ve potted it up in a mix made for succulents and cacti. This has a higher content of sand and grit to allow the water to drain. As it is succulent it doesn’t need lots of water to survive so the limited root system may not be too much of an issue if I carefully make sure it gets water but doesn’t end up waterlogged. I think it will be hard but it may be able to recover and form a stronger root network.

The potting up process was a bit messy leaving lots of the old compost mix stuck to the furry leaves. Some of the leaves had hardened off, possibly through being allowed to dry out too much before being overwatered or just getting old.

I’ve pruned off a few of the worst leaves to reduce the strain on the root system. Fewer leaves mean less photosynthesis so less need for water.

It’s not looking pretty right now and I don’t think this ones going to be recovering anytime soon, if at all. It will need mollycoddling through winter and then might manage to put on fresh growth in spring. For now I’m going to place it outside on dry days to get some more light and then bring it in on wet days and place near the grow lights. I think it probably needs more light than it was getting as a houseplant. If plants don’t have enough light they don’t use water as quickly for photosynthesis. Online sources suggested 6 hours of sunlight a day but as this more often grows outside I think much more than that to really thrive.

So, having addressed the wet compost mix I’ve got to balance the watering, light and heat now for it to stand a chance. It may not survive but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn about what would make it thrive if I end up with another. I probably wouldn’t grow it as a houseplant I reckon it would favour being outside for most of the year and just in for winter. The velvet leaves are quite nice but Stachys can give me the same effect in the garden without being as particular. Tradescantia sillamonata has a similar feel as a houseplant while being more straightforward to keep alive and propagate me, so I’m not sure this has a purpose in my collection but it’s interesting to know more about it.

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Six on Saturday: 10.9.22

It has been a busy week for me as I returned to work after the school holiday. It’s been a good week back but I also had more significant gardening news. I passed my final two RHS exams and to top it off I received commendations for both exams. So, I finished the course with 6 out of 8 as commendations. Very pleased to have made it through so I think a few gardening treats are in order.

Seating area

Work continues on the seating area. I got the weed matting down and started on the stones. It is gradually taking shape. It should be done by next week.

Burton Agnes Purchases

We went to Burton Agnes Hall last week and made a few purchases. Alice picked the Armeria which I reckon we can add to her fairy garden we started last week. Amy picked Euphorbia x martini ‘Ascot Rainbow’. She liked the contrast of the stem and leaf. I’ve put this one in a pot to give it the drainage it needs. I went for Penstemon ‘Pensham Plum Jerkum’. I fancied something forming towers of flowers that flower over a decent period. The gardens are still filled with lots of plants looking great but it is feeling a bit run down in areas. It’s gradually looking in need of a designer to come and bring some cohesion back to the individual garden sections.

Clematis Montana Warickshire rose

I picked up a cheap Clematis from Morrisons for one side of the arch. Their cheap climbers have grown well for me in the past and Montana are vigorous anyway. They have pale pink flowers in late spring or early summer. I planted an unnamed Montana for the other side of the arch. They should cover the arch nicely but without being spiky for walking through.

Houseplant treats

After receiving my RHS results I figured I deserved a little treat on the day. I got a little Sansiveria. Nothing particularly special, but it isn’t one I’ve got. Then a Crassula Rhapsody in pink. That’s the strange one that looks like little tails. Both of these are barely rooted cuttings so will need a bit of care to keep going. They were cheap but still probably shouldn’t be sent out from their nurseries like this. But the demand for houseplants is outstripping supply I reckon. Then I got a Chamaelobivia, the peanut cactus. It can be grown as a houseplant or in the garden. This one has bright red flowers. It is marketed as a hardy garden cactus. It is reckoned to hardy to -7 though it may be killed by winter wet, so I may put it in the mini greenhouse to shelter it from rain and then it’ll be a garden plant as the weather warms up. They grow easily from offsets so I may pluck out a few to keep inside as an insurance policy.

Cleistocactus strausii

I saw this cactus for sale on Facebook for £7. I’ve been after a nice big specimen and this is fulfilling that role. The big column is a decent two foot. I’m going to need to work out the best way to deal with the browned off stems. I think I will probably divide it and cut out the browned sections leaving me with the tall column and a shorter one. It’s not necessarily a plant you see for sale very often though it is used within a number of well-known gardens planting schemes. Jimi Blake uses it within his garden, Hunting Brook Garden, in Ireland. Looking online these are selling at £100 to £200 so hopefully I can divide this successfully and have a spectacular specimen for the cactus display. Not bad since it included the pot.

Astrantia ‘claret’

I got this Astrantia from Scampston a few years ago and it has proved a reliable plant. It has flowered well through summer and it’s still going strong.

I have the rest of the stone to get on with moving to finish the seating area. We may have ordered too much so the passage around the back of the house may get a fresh layer of stone too. I’d like to try and make it to the garden centre some point this weekend for a few treats for my exam result. I’ve got a few gaps in the border from moving things around that I’d like filled but have to see what’s available. We’ve had a lot of rain this week so the plants that have been moved are largely settling well and the water butts are looking full again. Hope you all enjoy your weekends whatever you are up to.

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Six on Saturday: Epiphyllum plant rescue

I’ve fancied an epiphyllum cactus for a little while. Also known as orchid cactus, these are native to Central and South America. They are epiphytes and would naturally be found in crevices of trees or rocks where enough humus has formed to capture water. It’s a forest cactus rather than the more usual desert cactus that comes to mind with the word cactus. They live in the understory so like a little more shade than desert cactus making them good houseplants. Epiphyllum look good hanging over the edge of pots and suit hanging pots well so they can hang as they would in the wild from tree branches.

1. The plant

I found a large one growing in one of the local garden centres. It is not looking the best currently but it was cheap for the size. This has suffered in just about every way a plant can. It has been sat on a waterlogged bench in a boiling hot greenhouse. The greenhouse has no vents beyond opening the doors so it has been fried and drowned. Not ideal for a cactus. It also appears to have been nibbled on by something and had a good A-Z of weeds including two varieties of Oxalis. On the face of it a plant not worth getting but it was cheap for a decent-sized plant. It may turn out I can’t fix the issues and then it will be used as a large amount of cutting material to propagate more.

2. The weeds

The first step was removing as much of the weeds as possible. I took it out of the pot. A lot of it peeled off the outer layer in big sections leaving the plant behind.

3. Soil removing

The soil it had been potted in was less than ideal and it was rather sodden so I removed much of the existing soil. This left the plant which only has a small root network. I imagine this is pretty normal though going off its epiphytic nature.

4. Potting mix

I mixed a more suitable potting mix made up of part sand, part grit and part compost. This will have some moisture retention but free enough draining that it doesn’t sit in water like it has been.

5. Potting up

I potted it back up in a smaller pot. having removed the weeds and probably losing some of the roots in the process the root ball was much smaller and generally, you want a plant growing in a pot that is just slightly bigger than the root ball. I’ve potted it slightly higher than it was previously as by my reckoning it had been buried a bit low. This has left a bit of unsightly damaged stem but this will be hidden as it grows. But I think the stem may suffer with rot left as it was.

6. Finishing touches

I then top-dressed it with some grit and found it a cache pot. It doesn’t suit the plant that well but it will do for now. There are two rather grand flowers so I get a taste of what it may be like in future years. It’s got quite a bad lean to it that I’m trying to rectify by facing it away from the light. Though to be fair I don’t mind it on a plant like this where I think it looks a bit more natural having a sense of direction.

Hopefully, now it’s out of the direct sun it should darken a bit. It is more yellow than the photos appear. This is probably a mix of the watering and the sun. We’ll see if it sorts itself out over the next few months. I’d still quite like an Epiphyllum anguliger, the fishbone cactus, but this will do for now. It still has signs of its mistreatment but if I can keep it going it will be a plant with a bit more of a story and character.

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Plant Rescue Box

The new local houseplant shop, Botany Boutique, has partnered with the plant rescuer, Sarah Gerrard-Jones, to stock plant rescue boxes. These are bags or boxes of plants that need a bit of care to get them back to pristine sales point. They may need a repot or can be saved by taking cuttings. They are an opportunity to grab some interesting plants at bargain prices. When I saw Botany Boutique was going to be offering these I reserved one straight away as I like a plant rescue project. There is a sense of satisfaction in bringing back a plant to health that otherwise would add to the waste in this world. Sarah’s book the plant rescuer is currently on sale for kindle. I’ve bought it and probably going to give a read after I’ve finished my current book. I’m not generally keen on plant books on kindle but as I had a voucher it was pretty cheap. If it turns out to be good I’ll probably buy a hard copy.

The collection

For £15 I received:

Sago palmCaladium, Kalanchoe, 2 African violets, peace Lilly, Hoya, 2 calatheas and a few succulents.

  • Sago palm (Cycas revoluta)
  • Caladium
  • Kalanchoe
  • 2 African Violets (Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia)
  • Peace Lilly (Spathiphyllum)
  • Hoya kerri
  • 2 Calatheas
  • A collection of succulents

The state of these varied of why they’d been included. Some like the peace lily and African violets I think have been included as they are going past flowering point. The succulents are pretty disfigured. The caladium had a good few bent stems. The sago palm had two crisped smaller leaves and two larger healthy leaves.

Caladium

The caladium is one of the plants that interested me more as it isn’t one I have and it has an interesting leaf. It was quite a large plant but many of the stems had been knocked and weren’t going to heal. I don’t know caladiums well enough to know the variety but it looks pretty to me. It could be gingerland but they change a lot depending on the light levels.

I began by cutting out the damaged stems. This left a much-reduced plant but still a good couple of leaves.

The soil had a little bit of fungal growth. Possibly grey mould. Fungal issues are not uncommon for plants like this that need a decent level of moisture. The fallen leaves were causing part of the issue. With some plants, you can leave them to dry out between watering to reduce fungal problems but as caladiums need a good level of water this isn’t a great option. So I went with the more extreme option of removing the existing soil and repotting in fresh soil.

As it was a decent clump and one section had the fungal covering I decided to divide it while the soil was off. Caladiums form tubers, much like dahlias. You can take cuttings so long as it has a little section with a tuber on. I divided two smaller sections with leaves that are set to unfurl. Earlier in the year you could probably get away with just tuber and let it form new stems. I went with how it naturally wanted to split cutting this section with a sharp sterilised knife to avoid spreading disease.

The larger tuber section had a bit of root rot. If you looking at the photo below you can see a number of roots that have gone brown and they felt like mush. These were cut off and the healthy white roots were retained.

To pot it up it needs holding in the pot at the desired level and then the soil was poured around the roots, tapping every so often to let the soil go down and continuing until the pot was full to just below the rim. The old soil has gone in the council bin just in case it was a nastier fungal disease than I believe.

At the end of this process, I have two small pots and a larger one. I have left them for a good soak in a tray. With any luck, I’ll have one decent plant for me and two I can gift away. They are often recommended for growing for one summer season buying the tubers in spring and not keeping so we’ll see how I get on with the winter dormancy period.

Succulents

The succulents are the ones I have the least interest in as I already have healthy versions of many of these. The sempervivum looked like it had just gone leggy but when I inspected it came away from the soil.

I stripped off the rotting and dead leaves back to the small central stem that was still healthy. I have a number of semperivums already so I’ve just poked a hole in the other pots and slotted it in. It may root, it may not. It doesn’t bother me too much either way as it isn’t one I’m that bothered about. It’ll be a while until it gets to any size to be worthwhile.

The succulent at the front has just been labelled succulent. Not sure exactly what it is. Could just be an etiolated echeveria or crassula.

I’ve stripped off the lower leaves and potted it deeper. I could have potted up the leaves and they would form new plants too but it doesn’t look like anything I’m too interested in. I considered composting it but it felt cruel when I was trying to rescue everything else. You can see it has several small leaves at the top that will hopefully form a fresh healthy plant. The stem below the ground can root us into the ground and it looks a bit neater for removing damaged leaves.

Kalanchoe

I was gifted a few Kalanchoe plantlets a few months back and they have been growing well. I think this may be another kalanchoe daigremontiana, mother of thousands. So I may well be swamped with this plant as it is very good at propagating itself. It had a few damaged lower leaves.

I potted it on into a slightly bigger pot. I removed the lower damaged leaves and potted it slightly lower with the repot. This is one I’ll probably just gift on unless it appears to be a different Kalanchoe from what I already have.

Healthy plants

The calatheas largely look healthy enough. They just have a few yellowing leaves. These have gone in the bathroom along with a few relatives as I already have a maranta and Goeppertia. These like to be moist with good humidity so the bathroom is the ideal spot. Mine is south facing so if I place them on the far wall they seem to get about the right light level and be happy. I’ll monitor these and see how they do and if there are any more problems. They are in small pots currently and it is always harder to keep the water level right. As plants grow and get potted on they become a bit more forgiving. The leaves need a bit of a clean so I’ll take them in the shower with me over the week to give a clean off.

The African Violets look to be fine. They have finished flowering so it will just be a matter of growing them on and potting as needed until they are ready to flower. For now, I have just put them in the north-facing spare room. I’ll keep my eye out for some small pots to put these in.

Sago palm

Despite the name, they aren’t actually palm trees, though they have the look of one. They are actually gymnosperms, relatives of conifers. They originate from southern Japan. Cycads have very ancient origins going back to Jurassic times with many dying out in the great extinction but some survived to modern times. This had two smaller leaves on the outside that had browned off. These have been removed. If I remember rightly new leaves form from the centre so hopefully, I have just removed older leaves. When checking plant health the roots are my first port of call. By taking a plant out of its pot you can check for watering issues, whether over or under watering as well as pests and disease. This had some white powdery egg like growth at the bottom and similar yellow growth higher up.

As I was unsure of what this was I figured a repot was probably a good plan. I removed the soil and washed off as much as I could. Scraped off a little bit of what looked to be fungal growth.

It seems to be increasingly rare to receive a plant in a potting medium that actually suits the plant. I reckon I see daily posts on the British Cactus and Succulent Society Facebook group where people have root rot from cactus purchased in moisture retentive soil. The sago palm comes from Japanese islands and when I’ve seen pictures in its native environment it is usually rocky slopes. So I’ve gone for a free draining mix with a good level of sand and grit. I’ve top-dressed it with grit as I plan to place it outside for summer and this will prevent a few weeds getting in. I’ve kept it in for now as it is a particularly windy day out there and didn’t want to traumatise it anymore. These can grow 5m or so but as it is slow growing this won’t be happening anytime soon.

Hoya kerrii

Hoya kerrii is known as the sweetheart plant. It is generally sold around Valentine’s Day as a single cutting of the heart-shaped leaf. I rarely see it actually sold as a vine with any stem. It is almost always sold as leaf cutting that is barely rooted and doesn’t survive much beyond February. Removing it from the pot confirmed my suspicion. This had the tiniest bit of root wrapped in a little bit of what I assumed was coir fibre wrapped in an elastic band. The leaf is yellowed and a bit wrinkled so I’m assuming the issue with this was underwatering made worse by its lack of root system.

I carefully unwrapped the fibre from around the root and kept as much root as I can. I then potted it into the soil so it has space for more roots to grow. The plant looks better on one side so I’ve kept that side facing out while the yellower side is hidden. The yellowing is difficult to judge why it’s happened as it could be over or underwatering, lack of nutrients, too many nutrients, too much sun, or too little sun. So I’m just going to have to see if giving it a better root run helps first and that should help with watering and nutrient issues. My suspicion is its days are numbered but I can probably get a little enjoyment from it before composting.

All in all, I’m very happy with what I got in the plant rescue box. There are several plants that appear decent enough quality without any effort and a good few that I think will recover. A few succulents I’m not so bothered about, not that I dislike succulents, I have many, but these are already ones I have or close enough to ones I have. The plants would have cost many times the amount paid so if I can bring them back it’ll have been a good saving. I’ve enjoyed the initial process of diagnosing and starting them on the road to recovery. We’ll see how many of them I manage to keep going back to full health.

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Dinosaur Terrarium

It’s been a good while since I made a terrarium and I’ve found several good containers to make ones in. The last one I made was an open terrarium that lasted a good few years before the fittonia outgrew it and it started looking messy. The point of a terrarium is to help grow plants that need higher humidity. Unfortunately what you mostly see sold are succulents encased in glass. Succulents are adapted to dryer conditions and the higher humidity of a terrarium will slowly rot the plant. The plants that are suited terrariums are ones which want high humidity and are slow growing. A lot of plants that come from the rainforest understory are used. These would naturally grow in the damp undergrowth which will be similar to the conditions of a terrarium in our houses. A really well-made sealed terrarium can be left for long periods without much maintenance making them an attractive choice for the home or work.

I had a lot of the ingredients for making a terrarium in and bought in a few others. Today’s terrarium used:

  • Glass container
  • Leca (Lightweight expanded clay aggregate)
  • Spagnum moss
  • Potting mix
  • Moss
  • Plant (fittonia)
  • Decorative items

Alice helped make the first closed terrarium. We started with the drainage layer. I used Leca for this one. This acts as a reservoir for water so the roots don’t sit in water. Leca makes for a good choice as it’s lightweight and holds the water and releases it up as needed. Gravel or stones can be used but are heavier. Glass pebbles can be used for a more decorative choice.

Next, we used sphagnum moss to act as a barrier between the drainage and the potting mix. Some people use activated charcoal as it is believed that it helps filter toxins and impurities. We misted it down at this point to help squash it down before adding the potting mix.

The potting mix went on top of the sphagnum moss as the growing medium for the plants. I had bought a fittonia for the main plant for this terrarium from a new local houseplant shop, Botany Boutique. The shop seems to be doing well and I hope it continues to as it’s nice to have somewhere close to buy interesting choices from. The fittonia will eventually outgrow the space and then I can either restart it or cut and replace with cuttings. The moss is a carpet moss I bought from Etsy. I have used moss from the garden before and it has been alright in the spare room as we don’t heat it. But in most situations, our native moss will dry out too quick inside which is why I’ve bought actual terrarium moss. Alice chose a few rocks, the Trex and a polished ammonite for decoration. She was very proud of the end result.

Open terrarium

Then we made a second larger terrarium in an open gold fish bowl I’d bought cheap from a charity shop. I’m keeping my eye out for a glass plate or acrylic disc so I can make it a closed environment. While it’s open it will need more watering whereas if I can close it it will increase the humidity for the plants.

I used the remaining fittonia from the first and I was able to split it again to use for two sections. I had a little bit of carpet moss that I arranged around the fittonias and made a path between the two. Then grit was used to cover the bare soil.

I think it looks pretty good. Now we have to work on getting the moisture levels right in both. The nerves of this fittonia are great vibrant ones.

And a dinosaur prowling for good measure. I’ve made this one for work where it’s probably going to be in a room with fairly low light so I will probably be supplementing the light with a grow light.

I would like to develop a better knowledge of terrarium plants. There are better choices than fittonias that will stay small for longer but these should give me a year or so by which point I’ll probably want a different display at work anyway. A lot of the fun is in the construction. It makes for a pleasant craft activity.

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Six on Saturday: 16.7.22

With the heatwave, last weekend watering has been the main job. I’ve not been looking at planting anything in the heat we experienced. I did a little deadheading but got quite a few shrubs in need of a prune now they’ve flowered. A job for the summer holiday probably.

Asiatic lily

This was part of mixed box of bulbs from Tesco’s labelled as something like hot colours. I quite like the muted red. There are a few more to come. I’ve got them growing in a pot on the patio currently.

Potentilla ‘William Rollison’

This was a purchase Alice made back in 2020. I wasn’t that keen on it at the time but it seems to be a reliable plant. Fairly drought tolerant which is useful currently and producing a reasonable spread of flowers.

Outside play

It was too hot for many gardening jobs but it was good weather for getting out for a play. We filled the paddling pool up. I reckon it probably took about as long to play as she actually spent in it but it did give a good section of lawn and border a water after. She enjoyed doing a bit of birdwatching.

Eyngium planum

With the heat, we are experiencing these drought-tolerant plants are coming into their own. Sea holly does grow naturally on coasts but it is primarily a grassland species. In the border, it grows tall towers and then lots of the flower spikes off the main stem. It formed part of our wedding flowers along with daisies and I’ve been steadily adding more since we got married. It’s beloved by insects and the flowers are seeing lots of visitors.

Dahlia

Another dahlia in flower. It’s possibly Addison June, though possibly not. It was left in the pot over winter. No lifting and nice and bushy. Plenty more flowers to come.

Hildewintera Colademononis-Monkey tail cactus

I saw a decent-sized one at Wassand Hall and I was very taken with it. They form long tails over the edge of a pot. Well suited to macrame hangers. But more importantly, they are very tactile. This is a cactus you can stroke making it a much safer option for me than some of the recent cactus purchases.

We had some light showers last night. It will help the parched lawn a bit as I refuse to water it. It will recover fine. It looks like watering is still going to be the main garden job with the predicted heatwave. Hope you all enjoy your weekends.

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Six on Saturday: 2.7.22

Now the RHS exams are out of the way I’m going to look at getting back into the routine of recording the garden progress through my blog. It proves a good archive of plant purchases for when labels are gone if nothing else. It’s been a busy week at work but got a fairly relaxed weekend ahead before a week of extra shifts at work. I’ve got some fairly mundane garden jobs to catch up on after neglecting it during exam revision. But I’ll probably just end up tinkering with the cacti and succulent purchases from Wassand Hall last weekend.

Cuttings

I had kindly been sent some cuttings from Noni. I’ve set them up in the heated propagator to encourage the rooting and keep the humidity up to prevent water loss while they root. It’s a balancing act of creating the right environment but not rotting them.

She sent me cuttings of Hoya bella. This is a lovely houseplant that has beautiful flowers. I’m trying some rooting in a jar of water and then these ones in a fairly free-draining mix of compost and perlite. The other cuttings are Kalanchoes tubiflora, the mother of millions plants and Kalanchoe daigremontiana. I’ve got two cuttings that I’ve put in compost. I don’t know how reliably they root this way but I’ll give it a try.

The more common way to grow these is to remove the plantlets that form on the edges of large leaves. These are just placed on the soil surface and allowed to root.

Hydrangea libelle

Hydrangea libelle is flowering. The flowers are quite nice but the growth and shape this has formed is just not that great. The leaves have suffered with frost. It seems to form a lot of the flowers low down in the foliage so they are lost. It’s a bit too big and sprawling a plant for the space when I don’t actually like it.

The individual flower heads are very pretty but the form, how it interacts with the rest of the border and their lack of hardiness mean I’m probably going to remove it after the flowers are done.

Rose Charles de Mills

I had pruned this back last year and started to retrain it as a climber. It was a bit too big for something that only flowers once. It’s an old English Rose and flowers with an odd flat surface. It has a pleasant smell though not overwhelming.

Astrantia claret

This was a lovely dark Astrantia I bought from Scampston Hall two years ago. It has proved a good purchase. It’s been flowering for the last two months and will hopefully carry on into autumn.

Potted dahlia

This was bought last year or the year before and it was an unnamed variety when I bought it. It has been left in a pot over winter and it hasn’t suffered in any way for it.

Potted dahlia not black Jack

This was originally bought as Black Jack. It flowered last year and obviously isn’t black Jack which is a dark flowered variety. But it is a good showy red and I don’t object to it. As with the other dahlia it was left in the pot over winter outside and it is still growing strong.

Well, it’s been nice to start the log of garden activity again. Alice is determined to go to the garden centre, though she isn’t looking for plants. She is looking to buy a soft toy triceratops. I don’t particularly need anything but never know what you’ll discover.

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Cacti and succulent purchases

In the last blog, I described my visit to Wassand Hall. I came away with a good haul from the British cactus and succulent society stall. For tonight’s blog, I thought I’d take a look at a few of these in a little bit more detail to get a better sense of how to care for them.

Lithops

I have attempted lithops from seed before and they’ve germinated well, started to put on growth and then just frozen at a small size. But I do like their strange brain-like form so I happily choose three different ones. These are a succulent that often goes by the name of living stone. In the wild, they are native to South Africa and survive in habitats with rainfall from almost 0 to 700mm a year. So, as houseplants, they survive on neglect. Watering is avoided from October until the old pair of leaves die away which can be as late as May. They go dormant in the heat of summer and then start growing in autumn. So need a little water around September. They were first described to science in 1811 by William John Burchell, a botanist and artist when he accidentally picked up a curious pebble from the ground.

The adaptation to look like rocks camouflages them against being eaten. They survive in the heat of the desert by mainly existing underground and just having the top surface of the leaves above ground. The leaves can shrink below ground if it gets particularly hot.

Lithops hookeri var. marginata

The first Lithops hookeri var. marginata is the first form from around the Cape Town area. It varies slightly, but the face (the top) is usually a speckled rust brown.

Lithops hookeri var. dabneri cv. Annarosa

Lithops hookeri var. dabneri cv. Annarosa is a greener variety.

Lithops schwantesii var. rugosa

Lithops schwantesii var. rugosa comes from the Namibia area at north west of Helmeringhausen. I like how plants these take you on a trip around the world to show different niches plants can live in. People become very obsessed with collecting Lithops with their small size they make for a nice windowsill or greenhouse collection.

Crassula columella

This grows in cliff faces in the Northern Cape of South Africa up to Namibia. It forms small upright columns. It forms four-angled compact velvety leaves. This reduces the leaf surface and thus the evaporation so it can survive in the heat of its native habitat. They are susceptible to mealy bugs and fungal infections. Overwatering is the commonest mistake growing them as a houseplant. I have a few other forms of Crassula and they have generally been fairly easy-care plants.

Mammillaria gracilis

Known as the thimble cactus, it is a slow-growing small cactus from Eastern Mexico. This was one of my favourite purchases. I love how the spines spread to give a web-like effect. It’s listed as an easy-care cactus so hopefully, this one will thrive.

Oreocereus trolli var. majus

This just looked to be a fabulous cactus. It’s got the spines to prevent the water loss and protect and then the hairy strands to create the humidity trap. It’s a South American species from South Boliva and North Argentina. It’s one of the bigger ones I bought. It’s frost hardy and should be fairly tough in theory.

Anacampseros papyracea

This is another South African species. The scales act in two ways. They reflect some of the suns light away from the plant and shade the small leaves underneath. They grow amongst rocks in their natural habitat. It’s recommended they are grown in a small shallow pot.

Sedum hernandezii

This is a little Mexican species forming jelly bean like succulent stems.

Gasteria huttoniae

A relative of aloes, huttoniae has been renamed as excelsa in some sources. It is another South African succulent. It grows within shady thickets, on cliff edges and slopes. It has been found inland and in coastal positions. The leaves are brittle and new plants form from broken leaf fragments. The speckled dark green is one of the more attractive looking succulents I purchased. Alice choose a smaller one she fancied.

Oreocereus hendriksenianus

Unlike the other Oreocereus this one has the potential to grow big. In the wild they can grow 1-2m but I doubt I’ll be seeing any growth that big for a good while as growth is slow.

I’m going to need to work out how to display them to make the most of such interesting plants. I was wondering about putting them in terracotta pots and sinking them into a larger sand tray. A bit like the Wassand Hall display on a smaller scale but I’ll have to see what I can get hold of. I rather fancy a monkey tail cactus too though I’d then be adding to my problems of where to put all these plants. The furry hanging cactus at the front. Though this would probably be an accident waiting to happen. I can see how people can be obsessive about collecting these plants. They are fascinating, though luckily for my family I am limited to a few suitable windowsills. I hope you’ve enjoyed a closer look at the weekends purchases. I feel I’ve got a better grasp of conditions and watering from writing this. Hopefully they will survive and thrive.

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Wassand Hall

It’s been a good while since I wrote a blog but this week I finished my last RHS exams. Hopefully, I passed and won’t need to resit. The first exam covered fruit and veg which isn’t my strongest knowledge area but it didn’t feel too bad. The second is on protected environments. They had changed the exam from any of the previous past papers. You usually have a good few questions where you write profiles of particular houseplants. There weren’t any of these questions but a lot more of growing veg in protected structures. A bit disappointed as I know houseplants better but so it goes. Now I’ve got the exams out the way I can get back to actually focussing on my own garden so expect a few updates.

Yesterday I made it out with Alice to Wassand Hall. It’s our closest country house and garden open to the public and we’ve visited it plenty of times before so I’m not going to go into lots of detail about the gardens in this blog. Check the previous blogs for more information. After a few weekends of revision, it was good to get out and to get Alice outside into nature.

Meadows

We began with a walk around the meadow land that surrounds the house. The grassland was filled with butterflies and damselflies. Countless speckled browns and meadow browns and a few more colourful butterflies on the wing. I’ve spotted the deer quite a few times while I’ve been out on my own but no sign today. We did see a good few orchids though.

Alice walked much further than I thought she would, enjoying everything we saw. This area is such a valuable habitat for so much wildlife I’m glad we have it on our doorstep. I’m glad it’s managed as it is creating a variety of niches for different wildlife.

Walled garden

After a snack refuel we headed into the walled gardens. The walled garden is roughly split into four beds with a tropical corner, a more cottage garden feel, a shaded corner and a more mixed one. Alice loves a water feature. Whenever we visit the garden centre she loves spending her time on the water fountain aisle. She spent a good while watching the fish in the central pond.

The tropical corner is probably my favourite area. The large foliage plants mixed with spectacular lilies and dahlias are just so lush to be irresistible.

With the heat, an ice cream break was needed.

Hot house

After cooling off with ice cream we headed into the hot house. Every time we visit I am very envious of the hothouse. They have a fabulous collection of plants growing in there at sizes I could never achieve without the heat and humidity they can create in here. As the last exam was on protected environments it was good to see it all in action.

Alice loved walking through the mist of the humidifier which with the heat outside was quite refreshing. I don’t think Amy will allow me to do this with the summer room though sadly.

Fabulous gloriosa.

Mandevilla growing from a large pot.

The carnivorous pitcher, sarracenia guards the door against insects.

And a few more carnivorous nepenthes protecting the greenhouse from pests.

Back to the outside world Alice was attracted to the rill. As I said she is fascinated by the water features.

Woodland Walk

I thought Alice would have had enough of walking by this point but she was determined to do the woodland walk. It takes you in a circle around the woodland surrounding the walled garden. Along the way you look for animals doors and record the colour on a sheet.

It takes you to the stumpery, which any long term readers will know I like a lot. The mix of ferns and gunnery and wonderful foliage plants makes for a wonderfully calm environment.

I’m glad Alice still enjoys doing activities as basic as these trails. It’s valuable time together and she still found such pleasure in finding each door. At the end, we returned the clipboard to the cafe for a reward of a bag of sweets.

Cactus house

To the side of the cafe is a long thin glass-ceilinged room with the cactus and succulents collection. A stark contrast to the hot house. From warm and humid to super dry. Cactus and succulents are fascinating if strange-looking things. My A-level biology teacher had a love of them and had them dotted around the lab. At least I assume she loved them from the quantity. I also have a suspicion that they were out so the more annoying students would end up touching when they decided to give the furry-looking ones a stroke. She did have a bit of a sadistic sense of humour, though a very good teacher. For adaptations, there are few plants as interesting botanically.

While I’m sure most readers understand the cactus and succulent distinction a few might not. Succulents are defined as plants with water-storing adaptations such as fleshy leaves or fleshy trunks. While cacti are succulents with leaves that have adapted to become spines or scales to suit desert conditions.

While it is only the one stretch of plants there is an amazing variety of plants that have adapted differently for dry conditions. The spines forming micro climates to conserve water and protect the plant from anything that might eat it.

While the succulents have fleshy leaves for water storage in all manners of configurations.

I think this little one was one of my favourites, Mammillaria gracillis. I like how the spines are adapted to flatten over the cactus stems to make a web.

Plant sales

OK, I’ll be honest this was one of the main reasons we came out. I was looking to take Alice out for a nice day but no reason that couldn’t cross over with me seeing some interesting plant stalls. There were a few local nurseries there with a mix of perennials and bedding plants. Long Riston plants are very reasonably priced. The Hardy Plant Society were there with a good selection of perennials. But as we visited the local open gardens a few weeks back I already have a good pile of plants needing planting so I resisted these. I couldn’t resist the Hull branch of the British Cactus and Succulents society stand.

I think they have involvement with the display at Wassand and they had brought out a great selection for the display table.

Alice likes the ones which look like they are covered in wool as mum likes to needle felt and she felt it looked like the wool she uses.

Best of all, all of the pots were £1 each regardless of size and rarity value meaning we could pick many just based on what we liked. We both picked a good few. Then a picked up a not-so-mini tetrapanax. This is capable of becoming a large-leaved tropical-looking tree. In milder areas, they can remain evergreen. I expect mine to be deciduous dying to the ground in winter. Accounts online differ in how it copes with the wind. But I have seen a good few accounts saying it can manage with sea salt winds so I’m going to risk it. If it works out it will make for an impressive specimen within the front garden jungle.

Glad I managed to find my favourite cactus from the cactus house. I can see how people become obsessed with collecting and growing these wonderful plants. Their small nature means anyone can fit a good few. The great variety makes them very interesting. I’m tempted to join the society as they look to have a good number of online lectures each month making it easy for me to fit it around Alice. Then they meet once a month close enough for me to get to. If they ever have a press office job going I’d leap at that for the amount of bad puns that can be made. “They’re a bit of a prickly bunch with dry sense of humours.”

It was a great day out and wonderful seeing Alice taking such enjoyment from the wildlife in the meadow, to the plants in the garden, to the woodland trail, to simple pleasures such as watching the water. Despite dragging her around for over 16,000 steps, during the whole day out the only whine was when I said it was time to go.

Six on Saturday: 6.11.21

After a busy few weeks, I made it out into the garden. Only to mow the lawn but it’s a start to the autumn tidying.

Fire log

We went out in the garden last night for Bonfires night. I bought a fire log as we had one last year and it did a good job of keeping us warm and cooking marshmallows. But this one was a bit poor. It never really got going.

Sparklers

We did enjoy some sparklers though.

Fireworks

And we enjoyed watching a few other peoples fireworks going off.

Geranium Brookside

I had a quick trip to the smaller garden centre while Alice was in ballet and picked up a few discount plants. This hardy geranium is a reliable blue spreader. I will probably use it for work. I don’t have a particular purpose for it but it was cheap and will be useful somewhere.

Crambe maritima

Sea kale was a favourite of Derek Jarman. It’s drought-tolerant and can stand sea winds. I tried it from seed before and a few germinated but didn’t make it to adulthood. This one looks a bit sorry for itself but it was cheap enough I’m willing to chance it and bring it back to life.

Senecio herrianus

Another cheap purchase. A little pot of string of beads houseplant. I’ve swapped it to a new pot as it’s a trailer. It needs something with a bit of weight so it doesn’t drop off. It’s a succulent that trails over the edge of the pot. It can be propagated easily either by rooting cuttings into soil or water.

I’m slightly more hopeful of starting the bulb planting this week but we’ll see. We have a wood delivery coming today for the log burner so going to have to have a tidy of the patio if nothing else. Hope you all enjoy your weekends.