19th November 2017
Fascicularia bicolor ssp. canaliculata .
It hasn't rained and it hasn't been dry. It has been one of those weeks when moisture seeps out of the shadows and soaks everything. I started rummaging around in the undergrowth
this week. It passes for a winter tidy. I thrash around in some bushes, emerge triumphantly clutching a bramble or two and call it finished. This time I emerged soaked to the skin
and called it off.
Fascicularia bicolor took me to drier places. It is a Chilean native from dry, sunny locations, mostly along the coastal strip. There are two plants in cultivation, currently treated as the subspecies
F.b. ssp. bicolor and F.b. ssp. canaliculata. The latter has a more southerly distribution and is hardier in the UK, though the two overlap.
Both subspecies need full sun to prosper. F.b. ssp. canaliculata has narrow, slightly rolled leaves and it may be that these are simply less prone to damage by radiation frost
than the broad leaves of F.b. ssp. bicolor.
There is some variation in plants in cultivation. The genus was made up of several species in the past but in 1997 it was reduced to a single variable species though there are suggestions
that F. pitcairnifolia is distinct enough to warrant recognition. I am happy to grow some of the variability, the taxonomy is like a tangle of worms in the winter. If you leave it alone
a blackbird will eat them all and resolve the issue.
This is the form with the bluest flowers, I have another that is pale glacial blue and a third where the red rosette of leaves are paler orange and grow upright like the explosion of a volcano
(more like a prickly orange cushion but whatever, you wouldn't want to sit on it).
19th November 2017
Watsonia hysterantha .
At the start of the week I thought I had nothing new happening. The early autumn snowdrops are finishing and the flush of winter flowering forms are still buds. The Nerine sarniensis cultivars have
faded so although the N. x versicolor are looking their best, they are surrounded by old seed heads. As I walked around the garden I found this and that but it felt like
filler. Like sitting in a cinema and listening to the music in the intermission (I know, they don't do that anymore). It wasn't until I sat down to look at the pictures that I realised
how much there was. I have left things out that is was almost painful to discard. That was when I realised how much I still cared about Watsonia. They have had a difficult few years here.
I needed their sunny border (access for building work) so they have been sulking in pots. Something will have to be done because the flowering of W. hysterantha left me frothing bubbles of incredulity at the mouth.
Last year I tried to self pollinate it without success. This year I would like to cross it with something else but there is nothing in the garden at all. Watsonia are quite happy to cross,
I assume that in habitat they are isolated by geography but in the middle of November I am struggling to find a mate. I will ask around.
W. hysterantha is only known from a small area on the coast of the western Cape and has a strange growth pattern. The flower spikes are produced on distinct shoots with reduced leaves as soon
as the first winter rains fall (just when I start to water the Nerine house). In spring new leafy shoots will grow and the seed will ripen and fall.
It fits in well with the growth pattern of the Nerine and I would love to have a range of autumn hybrids in all the screaming colours that the limited imagination of Watsonia will permit.
Before that can happen I need a naughty and confused summer Watsonia with an unseasonal spike.
19th November 2017
Liquidambar styraciflua .
I have put aside the dangling charms of the biggest Cyrtanthus ever to show some poorly focussed leaves of Liquidambar styraciflua. Poor thing, it has had a hard time.
It was a seedling planted directly into the subsoil when I cut the first terraces into the hillside here. It is about 30 years old now and perhaps 4m tall. It didn't get a good start,
it was planted from a small pot and the roots had spiralled into a knot. It grew to about 2m and started to fall over. I dug it up, slashed through the knotted root ball
and replanted it. Since then I think it has stabilised but it still doesn't like the soil. In recent years it has started to colour a bit in the autumn. It is paler and cleaner
orange than 'Worplesdon' which grows higher in the garden where I haven't messed around with the soil level and where the wind can animate its colour. The last of the
glowing autumn leaves are hanging to the tips of the branches. I'm not sure how it holds on to the leaves most exposed to the wind but they have fallen from the centre and base
leaving the silver twiggy structure wrapped in a thin shawl of bright colours.
It is the colour that confuses me. This is as bright as the Nerine or the giant dangling Cyrtanthus but I don't value it in the way I value flowers. I was driving along
the roads of Devon yesterday marvelling at the bright colour of the Beech trees. Bright, but not engaging in the same way as flowers. I had come from a talk by a bulb merchant
who showed a picture of a green tulip with flowers the same colour as the leaves. He didn't like it, I though it was wonderful.
I don't have a conclusion but I wondered if this was the porn star effect in action. When it really comes down to it, it isn't the brightness of the fake tan that engages the interest.
19th November 2017
Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' .
Much of the pleasure resides in the anticipation. On the way home yesterday I bought a box of eggs and spent a couple of hours on the road in the comforting anticipation
of egg and chips when I got home. It was good, but by the time I got to it I had already extracted most of the joy. In some way the eggs were no longer needed. I had watched
the shiny domed cars speeding past me on the road and imagined their succulent yolks spilling over the crispy chips. That is to say, I had been driving along at a sensible speed,
without daydreaming or distraction, just paying attention to the road conditions and enjoying the burnished Beech in the hedgerows.
Last week I walked across the meadow where the tumbling leaves of the Liquidambar coloured the turf, looking for the first misty green shoots of the daffodils.
I couldn't find anything, though I am sure they must have been there. This week the first flower has appeared, bursting through the grass. I went to look for its leafy shoot
and it is still only a couple of centimetres tall, barely even showing. That is why the flowers appear so suddenly.
They aren't unexpected. I cut the grass a month ago hoping that I wasn't cutting the shoots at the same time. I like to be clear of the ground by the middle of October
because the flowers are unpredictable. I have had them earlier than this, but not by much. Sometimes they only just make it in time for Christmas. There is probably some simple trigger
that sets them off but I don't know it so I can't predict their appearance. I'm happy with that. Ignorance is anticipation. If I knew when to expect them, they would just be flowers.