Behind the scenes - Growing Pineapple Lilies

I do like bulbous plants, and it helps that so many originate from Southern Africa and I have a chance to work with them.  Growing these plants from seed to flower is generally a two to three year project, so a lot of patience is required.  Behind the scenes we are growing our own Pineapple Lilies.  These are not true Pineapples but unrelated plants that bizarrely have flowers that resemble pineapples, hence their name.

Plenty of gardens contain Eucomis comosa, especially a dark-leaved variety Sparkling Burgundy.  A lovely plant, but does not flower true from seed, so has to be grown from bulbs or leaf cuttings..

My favourite is Eucomis bicolor, a perfect height for the edge of a dry or gravel garden, with lovely bi-coloured flowers.  The flowers stay on the plant all summer and well into autumn (still flowering in November) and they are little effort once established in the garden.  Plants grow best in warmer or sheltered UK gardens, but survive in most gardens if mulched over winter or the bulbs can be lifted in autumn and replanted in spring.  The plants grow wild in the Drakensberg Mountains of Southern Africa, which can be cold and damp, and this explains why they adapt well to life in the UK.

Below is a photo of one of our seedlings, now one year old in late autumn.  They will die down over winter and emerge in the spring and I am hopeful a few may flower in their second season.  More likely it will be another year after that before most bulbs are large enough to flower.

Next year, I will try leaf cuttings, which are done in the summer.  It is something we are getting better at, having used them successfully for Peperomia house plants earlier this year, so feel this is worth a try.  Plants can also be propagated by growing on small bulbs or offsets that form alongside the adult bulbs.  These can be separated when the plant is dormant in the winter/early spring, and grown on in pots.  These are easy to do, but also take about three years to reach flowering size.


 One year-old seedling

 Adult plants in flower

See more on buying, sowing and growing Pineapple Lilies.

Created On  14 Nov 2018 16:06  -  Permalink

Sow Acanthus mollis in autumn

Sow Acanthus mollis in autumn

No Mediterranean or coastal garden is complete without Acanthus plants.  Favoured by the Greeks for their beautiful leaves and unusual flowers, they are still popular today, and for good reason.  Being very hardy, they can be grown right across the UK in most gardens. They are great coastal plants, tolerating high winds, salt spray and hot summers.  

Autumn is a good time to sow Acanthus seeds if you have a greenhouse or windowsill to get them started.  Acanthus seeds are unusual as they dry out quickly after ripening in late summer and are difficult to store for more than 6-12 months.  We keep ours in a sealed container in a fridge and donít keep them for more than one season, preferring to sow them fresh off the plants in the autumn.

These large seeds germinate well in the lower temperatures of autumn and grow fast once germinated, which only takes 2-3 weeks.  Spring is also a good time if seeds are still plump and not dried out.  As seen below, we sowed the first batch of seeds in a pot and the plants are growing so well they are crowding each other already.  I will sow the next batch with one seed to each small pot and keep the seedlings in their pots until the spring.

The small plants need no special treatment other than giving them some protection until the weather warms up in spring when they can be re-potted or planted out after hardening off.  Flowering may start next summer, but more likely the summer after.

See more on sowing and growing Acanthus.

Created On  12 Nov 2018 15:27  -  Permalink

Behind the scenes - growing Wachendorfia

I thought I'd share some photos of our Wachendorfia seedlings.  These plants have become more popular after featuring in a BBC Radio 4 Gardner's Question Time programme in 2017.  We are now struggling to source the seeds after our main supplier stopped shipping them, so we are cultivating the remaining seeds into plants.  I am not sure if the plants will be naturally pollinated and produce seed in the UK as they are a Cape Flora plant, growing in the southern areas of South Africa, and ecologists are not clear how they are pollinated.  Not bees, possibly beetles, which may not be resident here in Cornwall.  I know mature plants can be divided once the underground rhizomes reach a decent size.  This is a behind-the-scenes long-term project delivering plants for sale in maybe three to four years. But we are hopeful they will be an unusual and popular choice of waterside plant for our mostly mild and sometimes very damp conditions in Cornwall.

These are seedlings sown two months ago - they started germinating within three weeks and germination stopped after about six weeks - on a west facing windowsill indoors.

These are the plants we are aiming for!

We have a few remaining packets of seeds if you would like to try yourself.  Let me know how you get on or if you are a supplier (Nagoya Protocol compliant) who can source seed for us. Jane

Created On  9 Nov 2018 12:28  -  Permalink

Sow Sweet Pea Seeds in November

November is a good time to sow Sweet Pea seeds.  A November start gives you earlier flowers in the summer.  Sow more seeds in spring and you have later flowers too, resulting in a longer season of interest.

Sow three seeds into each 9cm pot, keep in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse and each pot of seedlings can be planted out directly into the soil in spring.

Try our new Multipack selection of Sweet Peas.

Created On  30 Oct 2018 10:18  -  Permalink

Grow Dusky Crane's Bill / Geranium phaeum

Grow Dusky Crane's Bill / Geranium phaeum Now is a good time to start the Dusky Crane's Bill from seed.  Also known as the Black Widow, these plants grow wild in most parts of Central and Western Europe but less so here in the UK.  They are great ground cover, with lobed leaves, and dark purple flowers in early summer.  They are very hardy and cope well in just about all conditions, from sun to full shade and all soil types except heavy clay.

These plants have a reputation for being tricky to grow from seed, with some experts recommending a period of cold to get them going.  However, a recent test germination we have just done here in Cornwall in late September resulted in a strong flush of seedlings within a couple of weeks.  No special treatment - just sow the seeds in a tray of seed compost or multi-purpose compost in autumn and early winter, cover the seeds lightly with compost, keep outside somewhere, eg in a coldframe or on an outside table, and the seeds germinate within a few weeks.  If the weather turns cold they may wait and germinate in the spring!

You will see the first two leaves of the seedlings are very different to the next true leaves.  The first leaves are rounded, followed by the lobed true leaves seen in the top left of the middle photo below.  Transplant the seedlings into their own small pots once the true leaves have formed and the seedlings are growing well.  Grow on over winter, protecting the young plants from slugs and snails, and then plant out in spring. These plants are semi-evergreen, and may die down in cold winters or colder gardens.  Do not assume the young plants have died and wait for a new flush of leaves in spring.  Plants flower in early to mid summer.  Trim the plants back after flowering if they look untidy.

Once the plants are established in your garden, they will spread around naturally.

             Seeds...................................Seedlings..............................Plants in flower

Updated exactly one month later on 12th November 2018 is the small plant below.  The seedlings were moved on into small pots shortly after the middle photo above was taken and they are now growing strongly outside in the mild Cornish autumn, looking really healthy and not troubled by pests, wind or heavy rain!  You can still see the remnants of the first two leaves on the bottom left of the image, being very different to the main leaves that followed.

See here for more information on buying, sowing and growing Dusky Crane's Bill.

Created On  12 Oct 2018 10:00  -  Permalink

Is a garden made in the autumn?

A summer garden is often a reflection of how much gets done in autumn.  The days can be long and sunny.  There are plants to be divided, spring bulbs planted and lots of seeds to be sown for a promising start to the following year.

September to December is the time to plant spring flowering bulbs. They are so little effort for the effect you get in the spring.  I like to plant some bulbs into the flower beds and others into pots.  The pots can be moved around and placed on an outside table when in flower, to be enjoyed with the first outside coffee in spring.  Sometimes smaller delicate spring flowers need to be seen close up to appreciate their full beauty!
 Star of Bethlehem

Autumn is a great time to sow seeds.  Clear some cultivated space in your garden, and sow hardy annuals or biennials:

- Love-in-a-Mist - typically blue flowers, but there are pink mixes now available Nigella 'Mulberry Rose'

- Hollyhocks, try something different Hollyhock 'Single Black' 

- Annual poppies, my favourite this year was Poppy 'Mother of Pearl Mix'

- Ammi majus, lovely for naturalistic garden

- Cornflowers, try the original wildflower, or a cultivated variety such as Centaurea 'Black Ball'

- Toadflax, flowering all summer and right into late autumn, Linaria 'Fairy Bouquet' is a beauty

- Californian poppies, flowering much sooner with an autumn start, my favourite is Eschscholzia 'Ivory Castle'
 Californian Poppy 'Ivory Castle'

- English Marigolds, such as a nearly-pink variety Calendula 'Pink Surprise'.

Sweet Peas flower earlier in summer when started in autumn.  November is a good time to sow Sweet Peas.  Try sowing 3 seeds per 9cm pot, keeping them in a cold frame or protected place, and plant them together into the ground or into a larger container in the spring.

- Climbing Sweet Peas are always lovely, and great to cutting - try Sweet Pea 'Blue Ripple', 'Apricot Sprite' and 'Royal Wedding'
- A pot Sweet Pea trails beautifully in a hanging basket - Sweet Pea 'Sugar 'n Spice' is worth a try
Sweet Pea 'Sugar 'n Spice'

Slightly-more-tender annuals can be sown in a greenhouse in autumn.  Nemesias are good to sow in autumn as they take a while to get going and you get a head start.  Nemesia 'Blue Gem' looked lovely this year.  Clarkia was the big surprise of the year - Clarkia 'Pink Buttercups' is still flowering in October in a very attractive subtle pink.  Try Snapdragons early.  A dark leaved variety, Antirrhinum 'Bronze Dragon' adds contrasting colour to the garden.

Violas sown in autumn flower in early spring - try a green variety Viola 'Envy' for something different.

So, is a garden really made in the autumn?  Perhaps, but maybe that is when I like to put in most of my effort.  And besides, we are very busy in spring and I need to be here, indoors, tending our lovely customers in the spring!

Created On  3 Oct 2018 15:21  -  Permalink