Trying to keep pace in the war of the weeds

Monday, August 20, 2012
11:19 AM

In a season like this you only have to be away for a couple of days to find all manner of things clamouring for attention on your return, especially in the garden.

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I find that even with staff to help me, there is always more catching up to do than I would wish for weeds have an unfortunate habit of suddenly appearing from nowhere, garden plants flop over where we have yet to give them support and pathways that we are sure were open and easily passable need opening up, again! Of course, the other job that is staring us in the face is that of dead-heading plants that have gone over. This important task can make or break a garden, for instance with a plant like argyranthemums which has daisies in various colours and flowers in flushes. As the first flush is starting to fade, the dead flowers must be removed at once, I have seen this task carried out where the flower heads have been removed but the stalks have been left! This is almost as bad as not removing them at all; these stalks must be taken back to the main stem so as to leave a comely cushion of foliage, fresh flowers will be reappearing in two or three weeks.

It is amazing what visitors take for granted in a garden. We tend to make Friday a tidy-up day in readiness for the weekend, this means that we try to cut the lawn edges, sweep the paths and generally clean up plants that need a little bit of extra TLC. These tasks are never seen by regular visitors so they know nothing of the trouble that we take but, wait until they start growing the kinds of plants that we are growing, then and only then will they appreciate that their charges are not all well behaved and too look the part there is a large amount of human intervention!

Dead-heading campanulas a few days ago reminded me that it was time to sow Campanula pyramidalis for bringing into the house in July 2013, one has to think ahead. The secret to being successful with the Chimney Bell Flower, as it is known, is to get it growing strongly and into fairly large sized pots, I find that those known as Long Toms work best and they should be a minimum of 30 cms (12 inches) across otherwise the plant will not flower but, will linger on for another year gazing at you reproachfully for not providing it with enough room for its roots.

Remember, the larger the pot, the more flowering stems will be produced. Campanula pyramidalis is reliably hardy and can be kept outside during the winter, the reason for bringing these plants into the house is to prevent their blossoms being pollinated. If left outside and the pollinators get to them, the flowers go over for they have served their purpose to which is to be fertilized and make seed to ensure a future generation of plants. Inside the house this is far less likely to happen and the blooms usually last a good six weeks, they are either blue or white and make elegantly tall columns of colour to a height of around 1.8 metres (5 feet) tall.

I have been picking Sweet Peas for the house and tea room in the garden, there is something very evocative about their scent, I don’t know of a single person who does not love it. We are growing two rows specifically for picking in the Diamond Jubilee Walled Garden where I think I have planted them too close together for it is rather difficult getting the scissors in between the plants.

These are swooningly scented not least because I have included many of the old-fashioned varieties here, these do not have the blousy, showy flowers of the Spencer types but they have a stronger scent that is powerful enough to pervade the house but never cloying, even at close quarters.

Lilium regale is flowering now in spite of the ravenous attention of the now familiar Lily Beetle.

Every time I pass by lilies in the garden, I pause to see if I can locate and see off more of these prominent pests in their scarlet tunics, they are easily squashed between finger and thumb. This year I planted a batch of new lilies in pots to adorn our front door steps in their season. I deliberately put these pots far away from any other lilies in the vain hope that the dreaded beetles would not find them.

For several weeks my ruse was successful but, not any more, now it is necessary for me to attend to these pots on a daily basis picking off these pernicious pests. I notice from experience that Lilium regale is never very good in its first season as a pot grown subject. With me it picks up in its second year and gets better in years three and four provided I remember to take away the top layer of compost in early March and replace it with a rich mixture of leaf mould and well rotted muck.

I use leaf mould because these lilies like an open woodland type of compost that contains plenty of air. Whether I be right or wrong matters not, it works for me!

One of the most elegant of all the lilies that I grow in pots is Lilium formosanum, the Formosa lily. This I grew from seed sown this year in early February, I placed the seed trays in a warm greenhouse and they germinated within two weeks.

The emergent seedlings looked like freshly sown grass and as I had, rather stupidly, sown the seed too closely, I pricked these out in clumps. Many of these are now sending up their first flower spikes each of which will produce a single flower. These are useful for picking with a short length of stem, so as not to starve the plant, for posies for the house. However, next year, when they have been given the luxury of larger containers, they will be splendid getting ever better as the years go by.

Lilium formosanum is graceful at all stages of growth, the dark green stems and leaves are of elegant proportions and the flowering stems grow to around 1 to 1.5 metres (4 to 5 feet) tall. They bloom perfectly well in pots with or without heat, if you have heat, the flowers will be earlier but, there is not much to gain by that, better stick to their natural seasonality. Mine are flowering now with their long, supremely elegant, white trumpets flushed on their backs with reddish-purple. This lily probably has the sweetest scent of any which by day is completely in abeyance but, becomes increasingly pervasive as evening approaches bringing contented enjoyment; it is always admissible even in the most sensitive company!

I have enough pots so that I can revel in the luxury of having them inside the house as well as outside which is just as well given that our evenings have been so cool.

When the flowers have gone over, I cut off the seed pods thus saving my plants from wasting energy but, I leave the leaves and stems to gather strength and build up the bulbs, which are surprisingly small, for future flowerings. If you wish to save some seed, you will only need to leave one seed pod for they are packed to overflowing with them. What an obligingly easy plant this is to cultivate, alas, if only more were of the same ilk!