Quirks of Nature

I reported earlier on the extraordinary re-growth of the Magnolia ‘Royal Crown’. It was broken off by the St. Jude Storm, but I just had to photograph a leaf on one of its strongest shoots.

So far the relative lack of frosts and its sheltered position has allowed the leaves to remain a week or two after the last of the deciduous Magnolias have lost all theirs. I guess the tree is keen on feeding the roots as much sugars for energy for as long as possible. It must have a fairly big root system with a trunk as thick as a telegraph pole.

It doesn’t seem to me that we have had the weather conditions to trigger above ground growth in Epimediums, but I spotted new shoots appearing on an E. x youngianum ‘Shikinomai’.

We don’t normally see growth until February in normal seasons, and even then the young shoots are damaged in hard frosts. I will have to put some fleece over this one if hard frosts are expected.

I have ordered around ten new varieties for the National Collection from a new source in the UK. If they look ok after they have been delivered in the new year, I’ll tell you more.

I’ll sign off by wishing a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to our reader!

A Major Conversion Project.

Yet another Epimedium project to report on, I’m afraid. Wishing to make as good a National Collection as possible and and having acquired a considerable number of new Epimediums, we have been looking for more suitable areas to plant them out, within our limited space.

Once again, the aquatic side of our garden has taken a hit.

There were three concrete raised ponds arranged so that pumped water would over flow from the highest to the lowest.These were built nearly forty years ago and all were leaking, to the point that major repairs would be needed for them to function properly again, as ponds. Also over those years they have become rather shaded by surrounding Magnolias, for aquatic plants to give of their best.

Therefore back in mid September, we started the not inconsiderable task of converting the highest of the three ponds into a raised bed for Epimediums and other shade tolerant plants.

The first job was to pump out the water and to remove the aquatic plants. There were a couple of Peltandra plants which we moved to a new home, but a car full of mostly Iris pseudacorus var.bastardii went to be recycled at our local rubbish tip.

There were three brick built waterlily boxes and a brick retaining wall holding back coarse gravel in an ‘under-gravel’ filter. The soil from the lily boxes was bagged up for later use as was the gravel. The brick boxes and wall were then broken up with a sledge hammer.

I have been hankering for a concrete breaker for years to be told by the better half, I didn’t have enough possible future use to justify buying one. In a fantastic piece of syncronicity or fate, on the day I needed to start breaking up the bottom of the pond, Screwfix sent me an E-mail where their budget concrete breaker was ¬£20.00 off, as a deal of the day. I was permitted to buy this impressive tool, and wasn’t I glad I did? I had forgotten that I had built the pond to hopefully see me out. The bottom was about 6 inches thick of good concrete, reinforced with chicken wire. The chicken wire would have made it nigh on impossible for an old man with a sledgehammer to break it up. As it was, it took quite a few sessions to puncture through the majority of the concrete bottom with the breaker. The broken bricks were spread over the broken concrete, plus other hardcore from around the garden and donated by our friendly builder. Over this went the filter gravel, some odd bags of dirty pea shingle and old aquarium gravel. We also had two sacks of old nylon pot scourers which had formed a ‘state of the art’ koi filter in the 1980s which went in the hole to help fill the void. The lily box muddy earth went over this.

Eighteen months earlier our next door neighbour got us to remove his small front lawn, as it was constantly being dug up by badgers. When we did this we found a lot of cockchaffer grubs which were obviously the cause of the badger activity.

About a cubic yard of the turf and soil which had been in plastic bags for well over a year was used next in the pond. Much to our surprise, there were cockchafer grubs still alive in the long dead turf. With all the above materials in the hole, there was still about 20 inches of soil and growing medium needed, to fill the remainder of the bed. At the end of the day it took 5 ton bags of soil, 20 builders’ bags of sharp sand, 6 x 150 litre bails of peat and 6 x 75 litre bags of multipurpose compost, to complete the job.

Three Japanese Maples have now been planted for structure and about thirty Epimediums plus a few Roscoeas, snowdrops and Cyclamen, to give a longer season of interest. A dozen or so of the Epimediums are new French hybrids from Thierry Dellabroye.We are waiting with a good deal of anticipation to hopefully see many of them flower for the first time for us.

When we are feeling strong again, we may start changing the other two ponds into raised woodland beds. Fortunately from the work and back filling point of view, the two together are probably smaller than the one we have completed.

More Epimedium News!

The new bed just described, has been planted for several weeks, with our order of bare-root Epimedium plants from Koen Van Poucke. The plants received from him last autumn and planted in the air-raid shelter greenhouse, have been assessed and the strongest ones lifted and carefully divided. This has given us between 2 and 4 good plants with the odd extra little piece needing closed case care, following planting in tiny pots. Some of these have rooted out within a few weeks.

A second smaller fibre glass pond has also been converted into an additional Epimedium Nursery bed, by having drainage holes drilled in the base and filling with a suitable compost mix. The bed is now on the greenhouse bench, where it should be safe from badger activity. It has had a few small holes dug in it, I think, by squirrels. The bed has been planted with some of rhe divided Koen Van Poucke plants which were too many for the air-raid shelter green house.

Five round polypropylene water tanks have been converted from water plant tanks to planting tubs by adding drainage holes and soil etc. Where they are sited is now too shady for aquatics, but should be fine for Epimediums. We have planted running root types such as E. leptorrhizum ‘Mariko’, E.shuichengense and E. macrosepalum which will be contained nicely by the tubs.

New Epimedium Nursery Bed From Recycled Fibreglass Tank.

Since about 1989, a 6ft x 3ft fibreglass tank has sat on the greenhouse bench and been used for a number of purposes. The most notable were for the raising of pygmy water lilies, baby koi carp and tiger salamander tadpoles. For a few years it has been sitting there taking up valuable bench space and not being used. Linda came up with an idea to recycle the water tank as an additional 18sq ft nursery bed.

Recently having ordered more bare-root Epimedium plants from Koen Van Poucke (www.koenvanpoucke.be) in Belgium, extra protected nursery bed space was needed. The raised bed in the ‘air-raid shelter’ greenhouse, planted last autumn, has been very successful. Some of the plants have been lifted and potted, while others will be left in situ for the moment.

We realised that it would be more convenient and less likely to be dug over by badgers or cats, if the soil surface were raised to bench height. With the considerable weight of soil and organic matter it would contain, it was obvious that a stand of substantial construction would be required. Therefore 3″ x 2″ and 4″ x 2″ timber has been used along, with two pieces of a very dense MDF type board. The MDF was given to us quite a few years ago having been used as temporary dining room table extensions, for Christmas dinners. It has been patiently waiting in the garage for another good use! We have painted it with yacht varnish and put two layers of polythene over it to avoid it getting wet. To prevent the wooden legs getting wet at the contact with the ground they have had lengths of drainage pipe pushed over their lower ends. The pipe was softened with a hot air gun to accommodate the wood and then driven on with a rubber mallett. The legs stand on 9″ square pieces of paving slab.

Drainage holes have been drilled along the outer edges of the base to prevent possible water-logging. We have filled the tank with a sandy loam mixed with sphagnum peat and fine composted bark. The bed will be shaded with netting shortly. The plants will hopefully arrive later this week.

Epimedium Display at Hyde Hall

We were asked shortly after being given National Collection status, whether we would be willing and able to put on a small display of Epimediums at the Plant Heritage Spring Plant Fair at Hyde Hall, at the end of April 2014. We potted on some of our recently acquired and un-planted plants with this in mind.

In the week leading up to the plant fair the weekend’s weather forecast seemed a bit unsettled and knowing we were not being supplied with any shelter we looked on Amazon and eBay and ordered a cheap pop-up gazebo. As it turned out there was not a great deal of rain but it was quite windy so the expense was deemed worthwhile.

The display created quite a lot of interest. Some people had never met the genus before, but the majority had no idea that Epimediums were so variable. The majority of people are only familiar with about half a dozen varieties that have been around for more than a hundred years.

One of the things we noticed was that almost everybody who came to look, touched the plants, to better look at the flowers. We were worried that there would be no flowers left on the plants for the second day, but most of them hung on. I guess they do have a certain tactile attraction, being dainty and airy.

I ended up with quite a few new plants at the end of the weekend, bought from a number of the specialist nursery traders at the fair. I bought a small selection of Arisaema tubers to have another go at keeping them happy. The plant I could not leave un-purchased, was a Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’, which at a distance looked like four white Delphinium spikes. The flowers are white semi-double with a very attractive green eye.

Epimedium Nursery Greenhouse

Before the storm and its destruction described in the previous post, we had been working on our little half-glazed greenhouse, built on the concrete roof slab of a Second World War air raid shelter. Many years ago we constructed it to fit the slab, from aluminium sections bought from a company selling everything you needed for self designed small greenhouses or conservatories.

Over the years it housed various slightly tender or delicate shade plants and amphibians.

Of late, the house had been taken over by Begonia evansiana,and the planting medium had sunk by about 6 inches, due to the organic content having composted (oxidised) down. We have removed a foot high clear plastic animal barrier around the raised bed, inside the greenhouse and the fibre glass rectangular pond used by the amphibians. Then we made up the levels with a mixture of light top soil, peat and multipurpose compost.

Then recently a parcel of rather small, bare root Epimediums arrived. These have been planted in the raised bed, and labelled with our new ‘posh’ labels, carrying their accession numbers etc. We hope they will establish and grow well enough in a year or two to be planted outside in the garden. I have been more successful over the years, when planting out well established plants than smaller ones.

News and Updates

A few years ago I was very pleased to obtain a very small plant of Phyllostachys kwangsiensis. It sounded as though it was a very exciting addition to my bamboo collection, as it is said to have many of the desirable features of Phyllostachys edulis, but doing them much quicker in the UK climate. Indeed it had heavily pubescent culms when they appeared and small leaves in profusion.

However when it had reached about eight feet high it started to flower. I had been examining the flower heads over two summer periods, but was doubtful that there was any good seed being set.
Last month I sowed some small seed like material, I had collected in the autumn, with no great optimism. However a week or so ago it started to germinate, much to my excitement, and now there are around a dozen seedlings.

I have potted off my pan of open pollinated Epimedium seedlings and currently have just

over forty. I say currently because two have already been eaten despite the trays sitting on a dry polystyrene board which I thought would deter slugs and snails and having a generous sprinkling of slug pelets over them. After staring at the seedlings for some time I spotted one tiny green caterpiler around a centimeter long and a milimetre in diameter. I am hoping he may be the culpret, but wonder if there’s one there may be more.

We have continued the good work of Karen, our volunteer gardener with our potted Hosta collection.

We have carried on weeding, potting on as necessary and putting on slow release fertilizer and wool, anti mollusc pellets, over the Hosta pots. We have now run out of the latter and are debating whether to buy more, or leave the rest of our Hostas as a control, to see how effective the deterrent effect of wool actually is.

Epimedium Seedlings

A few years ago I collected seed from a number of different Epimedium plants and sowed each variety in separate pots, so that I would at least know the female parent. Not a single seed came up in any of the pots.

Last year I collected seed from whatever plants set any, and put it all in the same paper bag. In August I sowed them into two pots. One I put in a plastic bag and put it in the fridge, and forgot about. The other pot was left on the greenhouse bench This started to germinate in February, so we looked at the one in the fridge. .

Unfortunately this had obviously started germinating much earlier as there were etiolated remains of seedlings. We had a similar experience years back where Tropaeolum speciosum seed germinated in the cold temperature and was not spotted in time, but we didn’t expect the Epimedium seed to germinate before the seed in the greenhouse.

The successful pot has about thirty seedlings in it. at the first true leaf stage. It seems they will all be hybrids, but it will be fun when they get to flower. There is already a variation in leaf with some showing red mottling. Thirty seedligs is a good number to trial, more might be a problem!

The only seedlings I have had previously are a very few found in the garden including the one we have named Epimedium ‘Pathfinder’.We thought this plant was worth naming as it produces a lot of lowers, and over a long period, May to September, in its second year of flowering.

Even Colder

I’m beginning to panic now about what will have been killed or severely damaged by the freezing temperatures. We healed in the majority of unplanted ornamental woody plants,

so hopefully their roots should be OK. There are however a number of perennials, fruit bushes and trees which are above ground and therefore more vulnerable. Only time will tell.

My newly purchased Epimediums are frozen solid in their pots in the greenhouse. It will be very disappointing if they never even grow for one year.