There are certain plants I would like to grow but (almost) can’t. Not because they’re very expensive, or have very exacting care requirements, but for the simple reason that I can’t get hold of them. There’s a story with every one.

Take the lovely bark of manzanitasor Arbutus menziesii, or Lyonothamnus floribundus subsp. asplenifolius. The latter is available from Architectural Plants and Pan Global Plants, but the only arctostaphylos available in the UK is A. uva-ursi which has nothing of the appeal of its brothers and sisters. The seed is supposedly super hard to germinate (smoke treatment maybe?) and you can’t take cuttings from plants that don’t exist. I did hear tell that there are some in that benevolent climate on the south-west tip of Ireland, but as they say, that’s another country. A former friend tapped up an expert in north wales who seemed to think the game was hopeless. Import rules on plants from the U.S. don’t help.

The order I placed this spring from Rare Palm Seeds in Germany included another of the awkward squad. Richea dracophylla would put up with the climate here, but the seeds seem to have a short shelf life. I’ve seen nothing so far, not that that’s unusual for the twenty-one different types of seed I ordered. Only four or five have shown any signs of life so far. I don’t blame the supplier, I blame me for deliberately nosing out oddities. A dig around on a very useful forum for “exotic” gardeners (n.b. I’ve never been totally comfortable with that term, even when I used monstera as bedding plants. Where are the women?) indicates that there’s a grand total of one person in the UK who grows it. It seems he had live plants imported direct from Tasmania as air freight. How’s that for dedication? I don’t see myself going down that route any time soon. While we’re on the subject of Antipodean flora, how about Freycinetia banksii? A borderline hardy member of Pandanaceae that climbs up trees supported by aerial roots like a banyan? OMFG the crush is on. Does anyone grow it? Sell it? noooooooo they do not.

Then you get to the bromeliads. I can find air plants. I can find some obscure tillandsia. I can stock up on a range of puya and the other xerophyte terrestrials. These are all wonderful plants. Nothing wrong with them. I have a few. Can’t get hohenbergia though. Any hohenbergia at all. Can’t get those lovely cultivars of Aechmea chantinii with black and white stripes like a character from a Tim Burton film. There’s one person selling Quesnelia marmorata though. I really should get on that.

Here’s another example: southern hemisphere conifers. Weirdo, primitive, broad-leaved, sub-tropical conifers. There are signs of life here. You might even say green shoots. I’ve got a tub of Nageia nagi seeds doing nothing in the greenhouse. So has someone else I know of. Another one I’d fancy in my life is anything from the genus agathis. I got a hot tip from a pal, sent out an email, got the reply back saying they’d sold the last two a couple of months ago. They even had the temerity to tell me they’d sent them to the north of England. I didn’t ask for the address of this near neighbour of mine. That was a bit of self control, I thought to myself.

How about you, is there anything you can’t get hold of?

Greenhouse reboot

Today I was in the greenhouse putting up some horticultural fleece as shade cloth and sorted out what’s in there. There’s some good stuff going on. Sonchus canariensis with brugs behind:

Those are staying in pots to get maximum growth and hopefully flower and seed from the sonchus. Here’s Allocasuarina littoralis starting to not look like horsetail:

I’ve got high hopes for those. Also promising are these passionflower seedlings. These sprouted in a tub containing four different species. Judging from the notches on the leaves, we’ve got either Passiflora vitifolia or P. loefgrenii here:

If the notches get bigger on future leaves, that is. Another notchy number is mountain papaya Vasconcellea pubescens:

House plant central is underneath the staging, you got the mango (she’s three now), Dragon Fruit and Aechmea ‘Blue Star’:

Looking a bit more scratty but definitely growing out of it in recent weeks are the two at the back here in the following picture. There’s the Broken Bones Tree Oroxylum indicum on the left and Araucaria bidwillii on the right.

The araucaria was bought as a germinated seed from Zoltan and Madeleine at Jurassic Plants. I love their selection and their focus on selling young plants. It makes plant shopping so much more economical and gives me the joy of growing them up myself. Last night I ordered three different species of podocarp and a King Billy Pine.

Finally a broader view featuring Canna lageriformis ‘Dortmund Export’ in the centre.

A trip to the garden centre

Much as I prefer visiting specialist growers and browsing their catalogues online, there’s still something to be said for a bog standard garden centre. Especially one that’s seen better days. You never know what you’ll find forgotten about in the corner.

Have a rummage and see what turns up: hopelessly pot-bound trees clinging on to life and waiting to be rescued? Check. There were two conifers, redwoods maybe, that had pushed the root ball an inch above the rim of their pot. They weren’t reduced in price though, and they get too big even for my appetite. Hugely inflated prices on things I grow better myself? Check. £20 for Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’. The plants weren’t even all that big, they’d just been hugely overpotted in a vain attempt to stop them falling over. You know what aeoniums are like. Half the stems were broken. Cacti and succulents labelled up as just ‘cacti’? Check.

I enjoy seeing those because I get to play a game of ‘guess the identity’. There were some poor, abused agaves with their roots as dry as a crisp and wound around the edge of the pot. It’s June! Water them! I rescued one of those. Nice chunky leaves and pale colouration. There was an aloe (aloe ferox, maybe) in a thimble for £1.99 so I got in there too, took it home and put it in a clay pot that is much too large for it. Here they are, both repotted:

There were mini Asplenium antiquum going cheap too. Have you seen what those things end up looking like? Quite a sight. I bought a roll of fleece to use as shade cloth in the greenhouse. It’ll need it.

Final thing, Darren introduced me to a youtube channel called Crime Pays, Botany Doesn’t. Those videos are the polar opposite of British gardening TV. There’s none of that fucking awful childish simpering.

Much warmer weather here tomorrow, 23c instead of today’s 16c.

Overgrown Agave

Four years ago I absent-mindedly planted up a gravel border in the greenhouse with plants that I was tired of wrestling into pots every October. The worst culprits were Puya berteroniana, the so-called ‘sheepkiller’. It took off. I’ve mentioned it a few times. Last month I gave it a haircut so I could get past it to access the far end of the greenhouse. I’m fine with the puya, it’s staying there until it flowers.

So far so good. The variegated agave I planted at the same time is creeping up on my personal space. It’s not as vicious as the puya (is anything?) and it’s lower growing. Just a harmless little ankle biter. Except it’s dawning on me that it’s happy as Larry and growing exponentially bigger and bigger. Call me a fool, but it’s staying put. I can’t even get in there to remove the pups from it. It’s a twisted morass of saw blades near the base.

Here’s a gardening glove for scale

It’s choking the aloes and opuntia I planted inbetween it and the larger puya. I can’t make my mind up whether or not I want to remove them altogether before it’s too late. For now, all i’ve done is take a few cuttings from the aloe.

See those opuntia at the back, not waving but drowning? Austrocylindropuntia subulata. I probably should do something better with them than watch them disappear.

A Grey Day

The weather’s not too good out there. 15c and blustery. Seems a suitable day to notice the first grey poppy flower has opened. This has been described as like “Victorian mourning dress”. It’s Papaver rhoeas ‘Amazing Grey’.

There’s a smaller, darker one on the little berm. It struggled for moisture, hence the diminutive size. It’s so small that couldn’t get the phone to focus on it

More colourful is Opuntia phaeacantha. Drought? What drought?

A Piece of Folklore

Several years ago, I recall seeing a TV presenter speak of something called the ‘June Gap’. The way I remember it, it was expressed as a dearth of flowering plants at that time of year. At the time it seemed a strange thing to say. June has always been littered with flower in my gardens.

On looking it up on the internet just now, it seems more common an expression amongst beekeepers than gardeners; that there’s a shortage of pollen available between the spring flowering native trees and hedgerows and the summer flowering of perennials.

I can only claim for what i’ve noticed the bees going for in my garden over the past week. Their favourite at the very beginning of June was still Passiflora actinea in the greenhouse. This week they are making the most of the opium poppies, the vast majority of which are the cringily titled Papaver somniferum ‘Boudoir Babe’.

Other less showy favourites of theirs are Disporum cantoniense and Graptopetalum paraguayense. At the weekend my youngest said “can you get rid of that side of the garden? The desert’s alright but that bit’s just full of brown dead leaves.” The takeaway from that is “the desert’s alright”. He never said that before.

P.S. that Cunninghamia is getting the chop this autumn. It’s sulked ever since I planted it. If it were the blue colour it’s supposed to be, and if a burglar hadn’t broken half of its limbs off when vaulting the fence, i’d keep it. I’ll try to root the cuttings, although the internet advises using something called a ‘mist chamber’. What is this mist chamber of which you speak? Some kind of science fiction dream? I’m not Buck Rogers, so a big milk carton chopped in half will have to do. Once that’s done, i’ll leave the roots in the ground. Cunninghamia is one of only two conifers that will sprout again after being chopped right back. The other one’s yew. Bye!

The Back Garden in June

Some general views here. Reading blogs from other parts of the world this morning made me reflect that i’m fortunate to live in a climate where dividing the garden into a xerophytic half and a lush green half is an option. Australian and SoCal gardeners would have a chuckle at me running for the shade after half an hour in 23c “heat”!

Looking out from the living room through the glass doors
Agave next to hostas on the greener side of the back garden. The grass seed is taking a while to get going on the “lawn”
Quite a few colourful annuals are punctuating the blue and black shades in the desert
Quite a range of colours here now
I’m quite a fan of those pink scapes set against powder blue

New flowering

Among the arisaemas, Arisaema ciliatum v Liubaense is furthest along.

The mulch is new. It was getting difficult to keep the ground from drying out. On the other side, the sempervivums are sending up their odd little flower shoots

Also in the desert, a red version of Californian poppy opened today

My state of mind is better this week. I have a bit of a fascination with conspiracy theories, but I don’t let the foolishness get me down. At least it’s good for a sarcastic laugh. I can’t be bothered to try to understand why some people think that coronavirus isn’t real, George Soros has found phalanxes of anarchists to foment riots, our heads of state are down-to-earth regular guys, shape-shifting space lizards are sapping our vital life forces, Obama is Skeletor to Trump’s He-Man or blah blah nonsense blah. There’s no accounting for taste.

One more day of this warm weather before cooler temperatures and a chance of rain for the rest of the week. It’ll be welcome.


You know how i’ve been gibbering on about the lawn? I watered it four times today to give the grass seed half a chance. It was another day of blazin’ squad weather. Sorry, that’s a household joke. Blazin Squad were a risible scally boy band from years ago. It’s been dry weather again today.

The lack of rain has turned Eucalyptus nicholii scarlet in parts. A leaf – sorry, phyllode – fell off and tangled in the lavender:

I had a couple of visitors today. Eva the Brugmansia x candida ‘Creamsickle’ left winter quarters to go live in another part of Manchester for patio season. I got hostas as a gift:

It’s taken its time to catch up with me but at long last i’m going stir crazy in lockdown. So i’m heading into the hills next week. There’s eleven miles between me and the last town before the Pennines. That’s walkable. The rules state that I shouldn’t be staying out overnight, but my way of camping is to not use a campsite or indeed any facilities at all. I’ve long has in mind a particular spot on the map between Bleaklow top and Howden reservoir to the east. It’s empty and featureless. Just the job.

Back home, the almond I bought last week is sulking. It isn’t dry; that’s not the problem. I’ll put it in a gritty mix and pot on the two Furcraea macdougalii while i’m at it.