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Posted:May 04, 2008

Shrubs for the exotic garden.

This blog features shrubs which I think are a useful addition to anyone’s garden and will help give it an exotic look.
All are easy to grow and shouldn’t pose any problems.
An acid to neutral soil suits most of them best and they can also be grown in pots, tubs and raised beds.
To get the ball rolling, I’ll start with one which is guaranteed to give your garden an instant exotic look.

Fatsia Japonica

Fatsia JaponicaIntroduced into the U.K. in 1838, F.Japonica seems to have been one of those “instant successes” rapidly gaining favour as a house/conservatory plant.
Eventually, it found its way out into the open garden where it’s usually grown today.

The bright green palmate shaped leaves have a distinct waxy appearance and they're reputed to be the largest of any hardy shrub.
Even as a small plant, F.Japonica has a tropical look and with its spreading habit, this just gets better and better as the plant grows to maturity.
Fortunately, F.Japonica isn't one of those "prima donna" type plants, being suitable for growing in sun or shade.
It isn't fussy about soil type either as long as it's well drained and preferably enriched with some well rotted manure.
A good mulch is definitely benificial and a feed or two with a good general purpose fertilizer will help keep your plant in tip top condition.
Normally it isn't troubled by pests or diseases, but for some reason, some people seem to dislike the way it sheds its lower leaves.
This is probably because it leaves bare stems, but it's easy enough to plant something else in front of it to hide them.
I think that F.Japonica is a very underated plant and for the instant tropical look it can't be beaten, so if you haven't got one, dash out and buy one. Now!


C.williamsii GwavasAlthough I only grow a couple of Camellias, if I had the room I'd certainly grow more of them, they really are magnificent shrubs.
There are some 200+ species native to East and South East Asia from the Himalaya to Japan.
Camellias have always been popular with hybridisers both amateur and professional and today there are literally thousands of named and unnamed cultivars.
If you just want a plant or two, the most easily available are cultivars of C.Japonica and C.Williamsii which itself is a hybrid between C.Japonica and C.Saluenensis.
There's no doubt that over the years Camellias have had a bad press.
This is due to their habit of dropping buds and the damage that can be caused by strong spring sunshine falling on open flowers that have been frosted.

Initially, I grew my plants in pots in shade at the back of the house, but results here were poor with few flowers.
So four years ago I moved them and they now live in a south facing raised bed with protection from early morning sun provided by a Laurel hedge.
They get full sun for roughly 3 or 4 hours in the afternoon and they now flower like mad.
Because these beds dry out quickly I have to keep them well watered, but this is a small price to pay for the pleasure they bring.
Regular feeding with a fertilizer suitable for acid loving plants keeps them happy and although I still haven't quite cracked the bud dropping problem (I still lose three or four but you can't have everything) I'm persevering.


P.j.Moutain Fire (top) &  P.j. Little Heath (foreground)There are seven species of Pieris native to mountainous areas of eastern and southern Asia, eastern N.America and Cuba.
They are excellent shrubs for bringing some much needed colour to the late spring and early summer border.
The small urn shaped flowers, which depending on the species can be white or pink are nice enough, but it’s the colour of the new leaf growth that really gets these shrubs noticed.
Again depending on the variety, the new leaves can be red, bronze or pink.
In the case of what is probably the most popular variety P.”Forest Flame” (P.formosa ”Wakeham” x P.japonica) the new growth is red turning to pink then creamy white before finally turning green.

I grow two varieties, P.j.”Mountain Fire” and P.j.”Little Heath” and apart from a bit of shoot dieback when I first planted them out, they have proved to be pretty much problem free plants.
A position in light shade suits them best, but they will stand some sun provided they’re not allowed to dry out.
A moist free draining acid to neutral soil is fine and like most shrubs, they benefit from a mulch in the spring.

Aristolochia Macrophylla
Aristolochia MacrophyllaAristolochia are a genus of plants containing evergreen and deciduous vines and herbaceous perennials
They're found in most parts of the world from temperate to tropical and as usual, the more flamboyant of them come from the warmer regions.
Here in the U.K. they're probably best known as plants growing in the tropical house of your nearest botanical garden where the unusual shape of the flower gives us all something to ooh and aah about and gives rise to the nicknames of "Dutchman's Pipe" and "Birthwort".
The reason for the first name is pretty obvious when you look at the flower, but the second name is because it's supposed to resemble a birth canal.
Certain Aristolochia species have a long history of use by Man for medicinal purposes.
Unfortunately, it seems that some of the concoctions can have nasty side effects one of which is death.

I grow Aristolochia Macrophylla which is a hardy deciduous vine from eastern N.America where it's a popular plant for growing up walls, fences and old tree stumps etc.
A glance at the photo, shows that the flowers are pretty insignificant looking things, but this is more than compensated for by the leaves.
On a well grown plant, these heart shaped lustrous beauties can be up to 12 inches long and almost as wide.
As they grow they overlap each other forming a dense screen that's almost impossible to see through. (A great place for hiding the family heirlooms, at least for the summer.)

In nature, A.macrophylla is found in damp woodlands and alongside streams and this gives us a clue as to how it should be grown.
A well prepared soil enriched with plenty of well rotted organic matter is ideal and if combined with plenty of water and fertilizer during the growing period, the result will be a superb plant.

Posted:April 15, 2008

The USDA zone system explained.

If you’re new to growing exotics and you’re looking through catalogues or browsing the web searching for prospective purchases, then you’ve probably noticed this "usda zone 8" included somewhere in the plant description.
This is the United States Department of Agriculture zone system and its use as an indicator of a plants temperature tolerance has become virtually universal amongst enthusiasts and specialist nurseries alike here in the U.K.

Note: The zones range from 1 which is the coldest to 11 the warmest.
The bulk of the U.K. mainland is zone 8, parts of the West and South West are zone 9 while a small area of central Northern England and the central Scottish Highlands are zone 7. (Central London is possibly zone 9 also.)

Although the zone system is a useful tool, it should be used with caution.
It's easy to make the mistake of thinking that because a plant has a rating of say zone 6 then it will be hardy here in the U.K.
Unfortunately, this is not the case because as you will see, there are other factors to be considered as well as frost hardiness.
My thanks go to Mr.Ramon Jordan, Research Plant Pathologist at the U.S.National Arboretum for allowing me to publish this explanation of the zone system.

The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is based only on Temperature. It illustrates Zones based on "Average annual minimum temperature data". It does NOT take into consideration other environmental factors, such as those that you mention, including for example: snow, frost, day-length, days at a given temperature, rainfall, and altitude. It only shows "what is the average coldest temperature for a region". Plants listed with each region have been shown to be "hardy" at those average minimum temperatures. Having said that, every plant has a certain ability to adapt to a range of environments. Gardeners such as yourself have learned through experience where the great variety of landscape plants can (or can not) be grown. I hope this has been helpful.

Reading the above passage, it’s clear to see that there’s far more to buying and growing exotics than just checking a plants zone rating to see if it’s hardy.
In the days when I used to log on to the various online forums, it was clear from the content of many of the posts that people new to growing exotics had bought plants simply on the strength of their zone rating.
As many of them had come to realize, this is a big mistake and can prove to be a very expensive one into the bargain.
Always do some research into your plants needs, because in the end it will pay dividends.   Posted by Mike

Posted:October 23, 2007

Yuccas! Supreme Architectural Plants.

Yucca BaccataAlthough I’ve been a gardener for many years, it’s only since growing exotics became fashionable again that I’ve heard the word “Architectural” used to describe plants. (I put this down to having lived a sheltered life.)
Quite what the art and science of building has to do with plants is a bit above a mere mortal like me so I’ll leave it to those on a higher plain to figure it out.
For the benefit of those who take this kind of stuff to heart though, let me introduce you to some plants which according to all I’ve read about them are the very epitome of “Architectural”. The Yuccas!

Native to the Americas and the Caribbean, it’s the hardier species from North America which are of interest to most enthusiasts including me.
Depending on which book you read or website you access there are between 40 and 50 Yucca species and sub species native to the U.S.A. and Mexico.
Y.Glauca is one of the hardiest and it can be found growing as far north as Canada and from there south through the Great Plains into Texas.
It provides us with a useful demarcation line between the hardy and winter wet tolerant species to the east and south east and the hardy but less tolerant of winter wet species to the west and south west. (This conclusion is based on my experience.)

Yucca Gloriosa

At the present moment I have a small collection of 12 species, the majority of which I’ve grown from seed.
Here’s a breakdown of the plants I’m growing now starting with the hardier types from the east/south east.
All of these are growing outdoors without any protection.
Y.Glauca, Y.Filamentosa “Gold Sword”, Y.Gloriosa, (and Y.Flaccida) are fully hardy and should come through the winter unscathed in most parts of the U.K.
Y.Aloifolia, Y.Gloriosa “Variagata”, these are also hardy but in my garden they’ve suffered some minor leaf damage.

Y.Gloriosa itself is something of an enigma.
I've seen it described as a zone 7 plant on some websites and a zone 9 on others.
Whatever its zone is, my Y.Gloriosa pictured right, which I’ve grown from an offset has turned out to be one of the hardiest plants I’ve grown suffering no winter damage at all.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Y.Gloriosa I’ve grown from seed.
Now small plants, they have suffered some damage to the leaves.
Compared to some of the other's I’m growing though, this has been minor.

Yucca BrevifoliaThe plants in this section are those I’ve grown from seed.
All are native to the west and south west of the U.S.A. and Mexico.
Many find their home in one or more of the 4 great deserts that are found in this part of N.America, The Mohave, The Chihuahuan, The Sonora and The Great Basin Desert.

From these dry semi-arid areas of N.America, come most if not all of the more spectacular members of the Yucca clan.
Y.Brevifolia "The Joshua Tree" largest of all the Yuccas and a magnificent plant which really does grow to tree like proportions.
Native to the Mohave Desert, it has a National Park named in its honour.
Y.Whipplei from California (Baja) and Mexico is best known for its giant stem packed with flowers hence the popular name "Our Lords Candle".
Finally, from the Great Basin Desert comes the smallest of the Yuccas, Y.Nana.
Found in only one area of Southern Utah, Y.Nana was only discovered in 1985.
Described and named in 1998 it has been given species status but this in itself, has caused some disagreement among experts over its validity.
In between these examples, there are a host of other equally magnificent plants deserving of a place in anyones garden.

The names of the plants I'm growing now are listed below together with their U.S.D.A. zone rating.
Y.Baccata (5), Y.Brevifolia (7), Y.Carnerosana (8), Y.Elata (7), Y.Rigida (8), Y.Rostrata (8), Y.Torreyi (8).

If like me you're overwintering small plants outdoors, then I'd advise you to provide them with some form of cover to keep the worst of the elements at bay.
Failure to do so will almost certainly result in leaf damage and in severe cases, the loss of plants usually through the roots rotting.
This is due to the fact that these Yuccas come from areas where they have cold dry winters where as here in the U.K we have cold wet winters.
(How winter wet affects the large or specimen sized plants that are popular nowadays I don't know for the simple reason that I've never bought one.)
If you bring you're plants indoors to overwinter them, then beware of Red Spider Mite as this little beast can do considerable damage to young plants.


There's no great secret to growing Yuccas just two essentials, Sun and excellent drainage.
With some of the hardier species from the East/S.East you might get away with light shade and a slightly moister position.
However, I've found that species from the West/S.West aren't so accomodating and at least with me, they've proved to be very intolerant of excess moisture, even in the Summer.
With these latter species, if they're planted in positions where there's constant dampness, root problems, particularly rotting are an ever present danger and these are difficult, almost impossible things to cure.

Planting Out

A south to west facing position in well drained soil is o.k. for the eastern species, while the western species need as much sun as you can give them, a south facing spot being ideal.
If you live in a cold area, planting them against a south facing wall will help give them some protection from the worst of the elements as these areas tend to be a bit drier than the open garden.

As noted above, I've found that the ability of the soil to dry out quickly is critical for the western species and for those whose gardens have less than perfect drainage, I'd definitely recommend building raised beds.
There are those who advocate digging in piles of gravel to improve the drainage, but if like my garden clay makes up a large part of the soil, then to my mind you're simply wasting time, effort and money.

In Pots

Some of the eastern species make attractive pot/tub plants for the sunny patio with Y.Gloriosa variagata and various forms of Y.Filamentosa being popular.
I prefer plain clay pots for larger plants, only using plastic when I’m growing plants from seed or offsets.
A straight mix of half and half J.Innes no2 or 3 is fine and if you want to add more gravel, then it won’t do any harm.
If you use plastic or glazed pots, then increase the amount of drainage material.
Remember, unlike plain clays, plastic or glazed pots do not “breathe” so water takes far longer to evaporate, the compost must dry out quickly otherwise you could get problems. Posted by Mike

Posted:September 18, 2007

Phoenix Canariensis The Canary Island Date Palm

Phoenix CanariensisAlthough Trachycarpus Fortunei would win the Gold Medal for being the most recommended palm, the one you’re most likely to see growing in gardens here in Birmingham is Phoenix Canariensis.

The reason for this popularity is easy to explain.
It looks different; most gardeners like to grow something a little unusual occasionaly and P.Canariensis certainly fits the bill.
It’s available almost anywhere; I’ve seen P.Canariensis for sale on market stalls, in d.i.y. stores, corner shops, even in supermarkets, so with this kind of exposure, it's no wonder everyone's buying them.
It’s cheap; at £5.99 for a 2ft plus palm, you can afford to plant a forest of them.

This popularity isn’t confined to the U.K. either.
Like T.Fortunei, P.Canariensis seems to have found a niche in the palm world and it can now be found growing in virtually every country where the climate is suitable.

One thing that I've noticed about the P.Canariensis I’ve seen growing in various parts of Birmingham, is the lack of winter protection.
Despite this, all the palms that I’ve kept my eye on in passing are thriving and are a pleasure to see.
Clearly, the gardeners must be doing something right or P.Canariensis is hardier than we believe.

Growing anything up to 60ft tall and looking very majestic with it, P.Canariensis is I think everyone’s idea of what a palm should look like.
To come across a group of them growing in the wild is a very impressive sight and if it doesn’t raise at least an "Ooh" and an "Ahh", then you have no Soul.

For cultivation tips I refer you to my blog Palms! Planting out your treasures.
The one thing you should remember is that P.Canariensis grows in what amounts to semi arid conditions and it’s essential that they’re planted in fast draining soil or compost.
Any excess water hanging around the roots will cause no end of problems and could end up causing the death of your palm. Posted by Mike.

Posted:August 20, 2007

Some flowering plants for the exotic garden.

This is another Blog to which I'll be adding items to occasionally but this one is about some of the flowering plants I grow.
Featured here are:Roscoea, Zauschneria Californica, Salvia Patens, Dicentra Scandens, Cannas and "Whiplash" Arisaemas.

Roscoea, the hardiest gingers.

Roscoea Auriculata Named in honour of William Roscoe, founder of Liverpool University Ness Botanical Gardens, the genus Roscoea has a long history of cultivation here in the U.K.

A genus of nearly 20 species, they grow at high altitudes in the Himalayas and South West China etc.
Normally found growing in well drained meadows, on slopes and in lightly forested area, they are the most northerly growing members of the ginger family. (Zingiberacae)
All of the Roscoea can be regarded as frost hardy in U.K. gardens.

By tradition, they’ve always been looked on as plants for the alpine and woodland specialist and despite the present day popularity of other members of the ginger family; this still seems to be the case today.
In recent years, there have been several new introductions and by carefully choosing the species, you can have Roscoea in flower from late May until mid autumn.

Roscoea are easy to grow plants with no particular vices.
Light shade is a good place to grow them and they don't mind a bit of late afternoon sun.
Soil should be well drained but moist with plenty of organic matter dug in.
If you water and fertilize well during the growing season you'll soon build up a really nice clump.
Winter protection isn't required.

Zauschneria Californica, California Fuschia, Humming Bird Trumpet.

zauschneria californicaBelieve it or not, I’ve spent many hours keeping watch on my Z.Californica hoping to see a humming bird sipping nectar from the flowers.
Sadly, there seems to be a shortage of humming birds here in Birmingham and I haven’t seen one yet!
Still, ever the optimist, I continue to watch in the hope that one day one will come along.

Seriously though, I’ve grown Z.Californica on and off for over twenty years and it’s one of my all time favourite plants.
For late summer colour it can’t be beaten, the fiery orange red flowers giving the border a real lift. (“Lift” also known as the "WOW" factor because you can’t miss it. The larger the plant the bigger the "WOW"!)

Native to California, (you guessed) Z.Californica is a low growing, problem free, easy to grow hardy perennial for the hot sunny border.
Once established, it’s drought resistant and requires little in the way of maintenance.
In late winter, cut off the dead stems from the previous years growth and you’ll be rewarded with a mass of new shoots which in my garden flower from mid August through to first frosts.
Z.Californica does have one vice in that it can be invasive.
Personally, I don’t mind this but if it does spread too far, it’s very easy to pull or dig up the stuff you don’t need.

So my friends dash out and buy Z.Californica, plant it in the sunniest, hottest spot you’ve got and prepare to be “WOWED".
Of course, you can always join me and spend your days watching and waiting for the elusive humming birds.

Salvia Patens

Salvia PatensFor this plant, we move from California down into Mexico.
Here we find Salvia Patens, which is another easy to grow trouble free plant that’s worthy of a place in anyone’s garden, in fact a real gem.

The most notable feature of course is the flowers, which are large, usually described as beak shaped and are one of the most stunning, intense blues you’re ever likely to see.
One other notable feature is that amongst a genus of plants which normally have fibrous roots, S.Patens grows from tubers, just like Dahlias.
The flowering period is usually July/August but this can be extended by cutting off the old stems as the flowers die.
Plant in sun in a rich, well drained, moist soil and give it plenty of water and fertilizer when in growth.

Usually classed as a half-hardy perennial, S.Patens is hardy in my garden so I leave it where it is.
However, if you don’t feel that confident, dig it up when the foliage has died down and store the tubers in damp peat in a frost free area for the winter.
Pot up the tubers in spring and put them somewhere warm to bring them back into growth, then plant out after last frosts.

(Despite continuing advances in digital imaging, I’ve yet to see a digital photo of S.Patens which does justice to the flower colour.
The closest I came to capturing it was some years ago when I used Kodachrome 25 in my 35mm film camera and although digital is catching up, I think we’ll still have to wait awhile before it’s as good as film at rendering colour.)

Dicentra Scandens "Golden Tears"

Discentra ScandensDicentras, are a genus of generally low growing perennials from moist mountainous and woodland areas of North America and Asia, the most popular being D.Spectabilis the much loved “Bleeding Hearts”.
Hidden away among the 20 or so species, are a couple of little known climbers, D.Macrantha and D.Scandens. D.Scandens is probably the easiest to obtain and this blog is my bit of homage to a very fine plant.

I grew my D.Scandens from seed many years ago and when I first saw it I had trouble believing it was a climbing plant at all.
This is because it has none of the “hard” woody look about it that most climbers have.

Foliage. D.Scandens With its bronzy coloured almost translucent stems, tendrils which are little thicker than a human hair and delicate looking foliage, it doesn’t look as though it has the strength to climb anywhere.

Don’t let all this delicacy and fragility fool you though because this plant is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Once it gets into its stride, it will amaze you with its speed of growth, walls, fences, shrubs, trees, in fact D.Scandens will grow up, over and around anything, including you if you stand still long enough.

Now reading this, you might think that D.Scandens is a real thug and has no place in your garden, but you’d be very wrong.
For a few brief weeks in summer it graces the garden with its beauty, the panicles of flowers hanging down like little drops of gold.
Then, almost as quickly as it arrived, it disappears completely leaving behind just a few, easily removed dried up stems to mark its passing.

If you plant it in a well drained, rich, moist soil with some shade to stop the roots from drying out, then I’m sure that D.Scandens will bring you as much pleasure as it does me.


Canna IndicaCannas are another plant that has made something of a comeback in recent years bringing height and with some varieties gaudy leaf colour into the garden.

Like most people, I’ve always thought of Cannas as garden plants but this is far from the case.
In fact, Cannas have a history of cultivation as a food source stretching back hundreds possibly thousands of years.
The rhizomes of C.Edulis and other species are a rich source of starch, the leaves and stems can be used as animal fodder while the young shoots are cooked and eaten as a vegetable.
In fact nothing is wasted even the seeds are used in rattles and in tortillas.

Canna StriataThe first garden hybrids were created in the middle of the 19th century and this led to an explosion of new varieties ready for an eager gardening public to buy.
In the U.K; Cannas fell out of favour in the early 20th century and many of the new introductions were lost to cultivation.
There’s a fair bit more I could write about these magnificent plants but with space at a premium, I’ll finish this section here.

I’ve grown many varieties of Cannas over the years but nowadays I tend to stick with four of my favourites and they are: C.Indica, C.Musifolia, C."Striata" and C."Tropicana".

Cultivating Cannas is easy, in fact it really isn't any different from growing Hedychiums.
The rhizomes should be planted in a warm sunny spot, in moist soil that's had plenty of well rotted manure dug in.
Cannas love moisture and they're greedy feeders so for best growth and appearance, really give them a good regular soaking and feed heavily with tomato fertilizer.
At the end of the season, the rhizomes can be lifted and stored for the winter or they can be left in the ground and mulched for protection.

"Whiplash" Arisaemas

A.CostatumThe plant in this photo, which if you’ve never seen one before probably looks like something out of an “Alien” film is actually Arisaema Costatum.
A.Costatum is one of several of the genus which are collectively known as “Whiplash” Arisaemas.

The reason for the name “whiplash” is the threadlike appendage that you can see wrapped around the leaves of the plant in the photo.
This “whip” which can be anything up to 36ins long on some species is an extension of the spadix and it seems that it serves a very useful purpose.

As the leaves and the spathe (flower) expand the “whip” unravels and stretches out along the forest floor where it gives off enticing odours.
These odours attract insects to the plant and these in turn pollinate the spadix.
Unfortunately, the enticing odours don’t seem to be working on my A.Costatum and I’m still waiting for it to set seed.

If you want to grow these strange but wonderful plants, here are some more species: A.Griffithii, A.Propinquum, A.Speciosum and A.Thunbergii.
For tips on cultivation, see my blog Growing Arisaemas

Hibiscus Coccineus & H.Moscheutos

Hibiscus coccineusWhen you consider that there are two hundred plus species of Hibiscus growing throughout the mainly warmer regions of the World, it comes as a bit of a surprise to find that only two of them are regularly offered for sale here in the U.K. H.rosa-sinensis and H.syriacus.
In order to redress the situation a bit, here are two more species for you to try, if you've a mind to that is.

H.coccineus (Scarlet rose mallow) is the first one.
This beauty comes from the southern States of the U.S.A where it's found growing in wetlands such as swamps, marshes and river systems.
It grows to eight feet tall and on the slender stems are borne the most stunning scarlet flowers, each between six and eight inches across.

The second one is H.moscheutos (Swamp rose mallow) and again this is a wetland plant.
This one is found in Texas and the eastern States of the U.S.A. as far north as Ontario.
H.moscheutos is one of the shorter Hibiscus growing to four feet tall.
It is also very variable both in form and petal colour and there are many unnamed sub-species.
Plant breeders have also been at work on this plant and they've produced hybrids with
flowers up to ten inches in diameter.

These Hibiscus are very hardy and easy to grow, but to get the best out of them they do need plenty of water.
A rich soil and plenty of fertilizer when in growth will all help the plants along and keep them in tip top condition.

They make excellent plants for a sunny bog garden or a spot that's permanently moist and if you grow them in a pot, then you can stand them in a pond where they look very effective.
They can also be grown in the herbaceous border, but you'll have to keep them very well watered as they don't like drying out.

I've never seen these species for sale, so like me you'll have to grow your own from seed.
I soak the seed for twenty four hours in water that's just luke warm and then plant them into fibre pots.
When the seeds have germinated and the plants are large enough, the fibre pots can be planted straight into the open garden.
(Using fibre pots eliminates the shock of transplanting which is something else Hibiscus aren't keen on.)

These Hibiscus really are excellent garden plants and I think it's a great pity that no one seems to bother with them.

Posted:August 18, 2007

Fascicularia Bicolor. Last of the Bromeliads

Fascicular Bicolor Fascicularia Bicolor is the third and last of the Bromeliads that I grow.
Another Chilean plant, it has, like Bilbergia Nutans and Puya Alpestris turned out to be one of the best plants that I've bought for my garden.
These three plants alone have amazed me with their ease of growth, freedom from pests and their hardiness
They are without doubt, some of the most rewarding plants I’ve ever grown and I’d recommend them to anyone.

F.Bicolor is a clump forming plant made up of several vaguely urn shaped rosettes.
On my plants, the leaves are narrow, about 12 inches long and they’re armed with spines along each leaf margin.
As the rosettes age, they become more open in their growth and the leaves begin to turn a silvery colour.

On reaching maturity, the rosettes are almost fully open and in late summer the leaves turn a bright red or scarlet colour.
At this point a flower head develops and if you look closely at the photo, you'll see that this is made up of many small buds.
It's the petals on these buds opening up that give the flower head its pale blue colour.

Unfortunately, once it’s flowered, the urn dies away to be replaced by new growth.
You do need a bit of patience with this plant because flowering doesn’t happen every
year, so you need to wait until more of the rosettes have matured before it happens again.
Mind you, it’s worth the wait because to see two or three of the rosettes in full colour is really spectacular.
(If you want to take a photo of your plant including the blue flowers, then you'll need to be quick.
The reason for this haste, is due to the fact that the petals are a magnet for every mini-slug and wood louse in the area and in a very short space of time you're flowers have been eaten.)

In the garden

Cultivation is easy, full sun and a very well drained soil is all that’s required.
For more details, see my Blog at Puya Alpestris a gem plant.

That my gardening friends, is about it. Posted by Mike.

Posted:July 16, 2007

A miscellany of tips & "bits 'n' bobs"

This blog, to which I'll be adding to from time to time is made up of tips, observations and general gardening info which I hope will be of use to the newcomer. To start the ball rolling though, I'll begin with a popular myth.

Slugs, Snails and Puppy Dog tails.

Snails and gravel I very much doubt if there's a gardener in the land, possibly the World who hasn't heard an expert say "If you want to deter Slugs and Snails then put down a layer of gravel" or it could well be eggshells, bark chips or some magic potion.

Well my friends, look at the photo and you will see in glorious colour, irrefutable proof that gravel does not deter Slugs and Snails and if you look at the photo below, you'll see that plants with sharp spines don't deter them either.
As you can see, this little fella on the left, was on his way to dine on one of the remnants of my alpine plant collection while his chum was passing through.
Needless to say, after I took the pictures they were on their way, winging it through the stratosphere to places anew.

Another SnailLet me assure you, that in all the years I've been gardening, I've never known gravel to deter Slugs or anything else. (Human intruders excepted)
You have only to look at a Slug or Snail to realize that they're ideally suited to moving over gravel or anything else that nature or humans put in their way.
After all, the slimy trail they leave behind isn't just for show or to make us go URGH!
It gives protection to the "foot", acts as a means of travelling from A to B and when it's finished dining on your choice plants, provides it with a trail to follow back home to that lovely cool, moist, bark chip mulch that you've provided for them to live in.

So fellow gardeners, forget gravel, bark chips, eggshells, beer traps (much better if you drink it) and dancing around naked by the light of a full Moon casting spells, stick to the traditional ways.
Namely, a dose of salt, creeping around in the middle of the night with a sharp knitting needle, the heel of a boot squash (also good for vine weevils) or the traditional slug pellet.

Two Scoops and a Seed Washer

Two Scoops and a Seed WasherThe photo left shows some items that are easily made and hopefully, you might find to be very useful.
(If they look brand-new, that’s because I made new ones especially for the photo, no mucky pictures on my Blog.)

The two items on the left are scoops made from plastic bottles.
The first of these is made from a bottle that once held “Radox” bath foam.
This is useful for measuring the ingredients of a compost mix, so one full scoop equals one part of the mix.

The centre scoop is made from an empty “pop” bottle; those with straight sides are the best to use.
I use these for repotting especially with plants like Agaves which have sharp spiny leaves.
If you part fill the scoop with compost mix then gently squeeze the open end partialy together, you’ll find that you can accurately pour the compost between the inside of the pot and the plant root ball, no more spilling compost everywhere.

The third item on the right is a seed washer or colander.
I’ve always grown plants from seed and apart from hardy annuals and dust like seed such as Begonias I always give the seeds a good soaking.
This can be anything from 48hrs to a week.
Every twenty four hours, I decant the seeds into the washer and hold them for a minute or two under a gently flowing tap.
This washes away any chemical inhibitors that have leached out of the seed.
I can then plant them up or put them in another container for more soaking.

Making your own log roll

Log RollI'm the first to admit that my d.i.y. projects leave a lot to be desired.
I'm terrible at hanging wallpaper and don't even mention woodworking projects. (Except this one it's easy.)
Despite these minor setbacks, I do have the occasional success and making log roll is one of them.

Like many gardeners, I've used log roll for edging and the occasional raised bed but I've found that the roll that's available commercially, is pretty dissapointing stuff.
For starters, you're usually limited to three widths 6, 9 and 12inch.
The 6inch makes good firewood, the 9inch makes passable edging, while the 12inch is bit too wide for edging but not quite wide enough enough to make a decent depth raised bed.
I've also found that although the roll is usually treated with wood preservative, it really isn't up to much.
Some roll that I've used started to split and rot after only two years use. Very poor!

So what's the answer? I hear you all ask.
Easy really; make your own!
I should say here, that I doubt if making your own will work out any cheaper than buying the commercial stuff: in fact, it's probably more expensive.
From my point of view though, the extra expense is cancelled out by the fact that if it's made properly, your log roll really will last for years and years and a long time to boot. (Trust me, I'm an expert.)
(Oh dear! I've heard it all now an expert. Ha!)

If you want to make your own log roll, you’ll need the following materials.
The “log” bits are made from wood called “rail”.
This has the same “D” shaped profile as the roll that you buy and mine came from a local branch of Wickes builder’s merchants.
For making curves or shapes, you’ll need some lengths or a coil of strong wire.
This is nailed to the back of your roll with wire staples.
For straight lengths, it's best to screw or nail the "logs" to lengths of 2x1 timber.

Before assembly paint all the wood with preservative.
I use Wilkinson’s own brand called “Colour your garden” and I’ve found it to be excellent stuff.
I give the wood two coats, allowing the first to dry thoroughly before putting on the second coat and that's it.
All you need do now, is put it all together.
I won’t go into how you actually make the roll because I’m pretty certain that you’re all far better at d.i.y. than I am, but rest assured, if I can make log roll then so can you.