Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bargain babies

One of the many chores I've been meaning to do for ages is to pot up my Chlorophytum plantlets. While on cloakroom duty for the NCCPG at the Chelsea Flower Show this year, I sneaked out during the great plant sell-off and bumped into some bloke who was dismantling a tropical plant display. Chlorophytum had been used as an edging around the display and he was selling them off at four for £1 (then worth $2. Oh, happy days). Although my heart didn't exactly beat faster at the sight of them, it was an offer I couldn't refuse.
I shoved them into some containers in the garden, and left them to it. As you probably know, when you leave many Chlorophytum to their own devices, the first thing they do is to produce plantlets. They are viviparous, like certain sorts of reptiles, in that they produce active offspring, rather than a seed or an egg. Isn't viviparous a wonderful word? It sounds ever so slightly sinister.
In a rare moment of prudent horticultural housewifery, I gathered up the plantlets in late summer and carefully chucked them into a glass tank vase (the only thing I had to hand) where they have lurked ever since. They're on a fairly sunny window sill and they get topped up regularly with (hard) tap water to a depth of about half an inch. Amazingly, they have thrived.

The plantlets in their glass tank. When I first detached them four, erm, months ago, the biggest one was only about two inches high

Even more amazingly, the ones in the garden are also thriving, despite night temperatures of around -2C (28F) in London. They are still producing plantlets, too.
My Chlorophytum are not the common spider plant, C. comosum 'Variegatum' but a darker, greener version, with more organised fine white stripes. I think they are C. bichetii but if any experts out there know better, please say. Apparently, they are hardy down to -6.6C (20F) and so is their spidery cousin. Who knew? If I hadn't got them so cheap at Chelsea, I would never have dared leave them to take their chance in what has so far been quite a cold winter by London standards.
Strangely enough, I hate spider plants indoors (as does the Garden Monkey, according to this post), though I can see why they are very popular. They are virtually unkillable. However, C bichetii make brilliant outdoor container plants. They always look fresh and green, even on the sultriest summer day, or the murkiest December afternoon. They make a lovely neat frill along a path, or in a window box. Just one on its own in a small terracotta pot looks good, and of course, the dangly plantlet bits make them ideal for hanging baskets.
The most fascinating thing I discovered about Chlorophytum while researching this post however, is that there is an aphrodisiac species. It's called Chlorophytum borivilianum and it comes from north-western India, where it is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine. It's better known by the name Safed Musli.
It's only the roots of this particular species that are said to contain the aphrodisiac properties, however. So there's no point munching down your spider plants.

Above, a single C. bichetii in a terracotta pot. The surrounding plants are, clockwise from left, Echeveria glauca, Chamaerops humilis, Fascicularia (might be pitcairnifolia) and Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'. This is quite a sheltered bit of the garden, very close to the house and facing south.

Below, two C. bichetii in windowboxes, either side of a cordyline and another echeveria. These pictures were taken yesterday, when the temperature was 2C (36F)

A closer view of the righthand windowbox. The babies (top righthand corner) look as if they're trying to make a break for freedom by scrambling up the fence. The tumbling mass of greenery is Erigeron karvinskianus, or Mexican daisy, one of my favourite plants of all time. Behind that is some jasmine

Sunday, December 28, 2008

You say you want a resolution, well, you know...

I never make New Year resolutions. For me New Year is a time for clearing things away, not cluttering up my brain with vows and intentions, particularly when I know I'll never stick to them. Spring is the logical time for resolutions, because you can put them instantly into effect.
I gave up smoking in the springtime (five years ago, if you must know). One unseasonably warm evening in April 2004, I wondered to myself why I was sitting in my garden enjoying the balmy air -  and simultaneously polluting it with my cigarette smoke. I haven't smoked since. Now, if that had been January 2004, I wouldn't have been sitting in my garden, and I might still be smoking now.
Most of my bad habits are at their worst in spring. Impatience. Carelessness - especially failing to take account of other people's feelings (or even just to take account of other people). Arrogance - thinking I know best about everything.
These bad habits manifest themselves most obviously in the garden. The number of times I haven't dug quite a big enough hole for a plant, simply because I hit a piece of old paving or some other obstacle and couldn't be bothered to dig the whole thing out. Sometimes I've forgotten to add organic matter, and carried on planting without it because I couldn't be bothered to scramble my way out of the border again to fetch it.
I often forget all about my children for hours while I stand and work out a new bit of planting. (OK, they're probably on the phone or out with their friends, but even so...) Even worse - from their point of view - I might drag them to visit a garden I want to see. And I insist on growing all sorts of unsuitable things in unsuitable places, despite the learned advice of nurserypeople and other experts.
I never get around to doing any of the things that I really should do, that don't cost anything apart from effort, such as potting up seedlings, or taking cuttings. 
So this spring, I'm going to try to become a real gardener. I'm going to do things properly. I'm going to think carefully about what I'm going to plant, and prepare accordingly. I'm going to plant things within six weeks of acquiring them, instead of leaving them to moulder in a corner for months on end. I'm going to grow things from seed, instead of telling myself that I don't have room. I'm going to try to nurture things, rather than boss them about. (And that goes for my kids, too.)
Good grief, I'm glad it's only December 29. It's going to take me three months to gear myself up for all this.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas

I haven't had time to take any photographs. My Hippeastrum 'Emerald' (the one I bought at the RHS Christmas show) has come and gone without being recorded for posterity. The garden is full of birds squabbling over the feeders, and I'm trying to cook a Christmas Eve supper consisting of vegetarian nut loaf with a parsley, sage and thyme stuffing layer, and roast chicken, without getting the potatoes in the chicken fat, or mixing up the gravies.
However, I couldn't run the risk of going through Christmas without sending out a message of thanks to all those of you who've supported me through bad times, laughed at my awful jokes, and generally been absolutely wonderful cyber-friends since I started this blog in May.
Happy Christmas, everyone. And may 2009, despite all the gloomy prognostications, be for all of you a fabulous year.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The naming of names: the search for order in the world of Blotanical

Anna Pavord is one of the nicest people in the whole world, so I'm sure she won't mind me paraphrasing the title of her fascinating book for what, I'm sorry to say, is a bit of a rant.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I belong to a kind of super-cyber-allotment of bloggers called Blotanical, which is run by an Australian chap called Stuart. Stuart is a genius. He has single-handedly set up this amazing organisation (it now includes more than 1,000 blogs worldwide), and deals with all the problems and glitches and bugs and whinges that it generates on a day-to-day basis without fee or fuss.
The trouble with successful organisations is that they get bigger and more cumbersome, which means administrative changes are needed to ensure that they continue to function smoothly. The trouble with geniuses is that sometimes they fail to realise that some of us are bears of very little brain and have great difficulty adjusting to these changes. (Some of us - and I'm speaking personally here - are bears of absolutely no brain at all, especially when it comes to computers.)
Blotanical has just been through one of these periodic changes, which has meant that we have all had to resubmit our usernames. They have to be longer than three letters and a maximum of 16. In my case, I was lucky: my name has eight letters in it and no one else had nabbed it.
But my friend  Zoë, who writes one of the best blogs I know, and who ranks 29th on the Blotanical list of favourite blogs, has had to change her name. So has VP (No 24), another wonderful blogger. Her online Open Garden was not only a fantastically creative idea, but has also raised more than £1,000 for the charity WaterAid.
As I said, Stuart is a genius, so he'll probably come up with some clever solution. Either that, or after a lot of grumbling, we'll all get used to the new regime. But I think there's a lesson here. People don't like change, and in an uncertain world, they like it even less. So I'm sure Stuart will forgive me if I give voice to a small howl of protest. AAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRGGGH!!!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Frost and sunshine

We never really think of winter as a time when colours alter. The blazing tints of autumn or the new green leaves of spring: these are the dramatic scene changes that are celebrated and eagerly anticipated. Yet winter can take you by surprise. Its tints are subtle, and have more to do with light and weather conditions than physical changes in plants, so perhaps that's why gardeners can sometimes overlook them.
I took this picture of my garden this morning, from the attic bedroom, and I was fascinated by how the frost on the cordylines, the phormium and the loquat on the right of the garden had turned their leaves to a lovely blue-grey, matching the silvery eucalyptus on the left-hand side. Appropriately for a frosty morning, this eucalyptus is a Jounama snow gum, or E. debeuzevillei. Like all eucalyptus its bark peels and drops, but with E. debeuzevillei  lovely creamy-white mottled trunks are left behind (mine is multi-stemmed).
In the foreground, the sunshine has caught the top of the pine, below left, and the bamboo on the right, turning the needles and leaves to a fresh, spring-like yellow-green. This soft citrussy colour goes beautifully with the blue-grey and is a world away from the garden's normal livery of jungle green. All you can see of the normal colour is the bamboo and holboellia that clothes the fence at the rear of the garden.
By the time I'd finished taking the photograph, my cat Pushkin was miaowing for his breakfast and the first line of his namesake's famous poem, Winter Morning (Зимнее утро) came into my head. Pushkin's work is notoriously difficult to translate into English, but the first line of this poem is pretty straightforward. "Frost and sunshine, day of wonder" (Мороз и солнце; день чудесный!)