Monthly Archives: January 2014

Singing the blues


The garden here is quite pink.  Not because I’m a huge fan, although it has definitely grown on me, but because I’ve inherited a lot of good pink plants, particularly roses, and I’ve gone with it as I find a limited palette easier on the eye.

However, today we’re celebrating ‘the blues’ (including purple plants as well as glaucous leaves), partly because of the endless wet weather, but also because it’s time to prune the wisteria.  The picture above shows my wisteria flowering in May last year.  It’s grown significantly in the years we’ve been here and is now happily colonising next door.  I’d like to think my dutiful following of the RHS’s pruning tips has been part of that success, but it probably has a lot more to do with the climate!

The RHS makes it clear wisterias should be pruned twice a year – firstly in July or August after flowering to cut back the ‘whippy green shoots’ and then again in January/February.  At this time of year the idea is to cut the growth back further and to tidy the plant up when it’s leafless and easier to see the structure of the plant.  You cut back to two or three buds so that all the growth is quite close to the main stems and this should help both stimulate flowering, but also ensure the flowers aren’t obscured by the leaves.  Please see skeletal ‘after’ shot below:

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I’ve made life slightly more complicated for myself this year as I planted a Cobaea scandens to grow amongst the wisteria and to provide some flower and leaf once the wisteria had finished flowering.  What’s been interesting is the fact that because it’s been so mild here this winter, the Cobaea is still going strong, and so I’ve had to tip toe around it whilst chopping away at the wisteria.  Anyway, job done, and we’ll see later in the spring  how effective it’s been.

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The second activity this week was prompted by my volunteering visit to Ventnor Botanic Gardens.  Following the Volunteer Fair a week ago I turned up on Wednesday to be given my task.  And although I didn’t work on clearing the dead agapanthus heads (one of the tasks), it reminded me of some seed I’d saved from a new agapanthus (A. Peter Pan) I’d bought at the Palm Centre last year and hadn’t yet planted.  I decided to plant some today (to replicate the conditions of the ones which had seeded themselves at Ventnor) and some later in the spring (as suggested on the RHS website) and see which fares better.

The plants shown below (in 9cm pots) are agapanthus seedlings grown from seed saved from another agapanthus species (not sure which one) over two years ago.  I know growing agapanthus from seed requires patience, but I really don’t see these flowering any time soon….

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Next a few more blues flowering or in leaf now.  The Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis prostratus) is a favourite which cascades over a wall near the front gate and, as you can see, is flowering away now.  The second one is a Teucrium (Teucrium fructicans) also flowering now, which seems brave for something Mediterranean.  And below these, three lovely Euphorbia.  The first, E Wulfenii characias has self seeded in a large pot containing an olive tree, the second, E Myrsinites, I grew from seed a couple of years ago, and the last, E ‘Grey Hedgehog’ is a new one on me – a diminutive, prickly looking thing, bought from Sarah Raven last year and still awaiting a permanent home.

Lastly, my lovely Melianthus major.  I had to take a photo and share it as every year so far it’s got to about January and then the frost has wiped it out to a sludgy mess.  It’s looking magnificent now, well over a metre high, and yet I hear the cold weather’s coming.  Fingers crossed.

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Kissing’s in season when gorse is in bloom

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My granny (unlike my mother) wasn’t known for her horticultural expertise, but she did teach me the saying above.  As a consequence, I spend a lot of time checking the state of the Duver’s gorse to ensure kissing remains a la mode, and I’m cheered to report that you can all ‘buss on’ (although preferably not on the bus).

Following last week’s foray to the cosseted microclimate of Ventnor’s Undercliff, I thought I’d see what was flowering in the more ‘real’ world of St Helen’s Duver.*

And the answer is that the Duver’s flora is almost as cheering as Ventnor’s, albeit a little less obvious.  Firstly, from the R88 footpath down to the Duver, the banks are smothered with a fresh, zingy green (almost as cheering as the new growth of Alchemilla mollis, but less frilly), accompanied occasionally by a rather dull flower (no offence).

The plant is Petasites Fragens, (because this is about me getting an education too).  The common name of a related species, Petasites hydridus, is ‘Butterbur’ apparently due to the fact that the leaves used to wrap butter before the advent of fridges.  I don’t think I could really justify that name for these leaves, unless you’re talking the sort of butter pat you get with your scone.

Also near the top was a rather chewed violet as well as small, low growing pink flower that I’m struggling to identify.  Help please!

And to the right of the path you can see the first few heads of wild garlic or Ramsons (Allium ursinum).  Later in the spring the smell pervades the whole path with a Gallic perfume.

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And lastly, back to the gorse where we started.  There are many bushes on the Duver which happily withstand the windswept site.  Gorse (Ulex europaeus) is a member of the Pea family (Fabaceae), which makes sense when you look at the flower shape.  The flowers are apparently edible, but can’t say I’ve tried.  I think I’d rather stick to the garlic, but then what about the kissing?


  • Let’s be honest, not much, but I did finish cleaning the greenhouse
  • And I found another packet of Sweet Peas – Matucana, so I’ve popped them in.

 * “Duver” (rhymes with cover, not hoover) is Isle of Wight dialect for an area of sand dunes.  St Helen’s Duver is the largest surviving duver on the island.

There was a (men only) nine hole golf course on this site from 1882 which became the ‘Royal’ Isle of Wight Golf Club in 1883 when Edward, Victoria’s eldest son, later Edward VII, became a member.  Later, in the 1930’s, David Niven was a member.

In 1961 the few remaining members decided to present the land to the National Trust, with the land to be kept as an open space for all time.

With thanks to the National Trust for this information.  See full article here.

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

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Yes, I know we’re done with Christmas, but whilst I think it’s a little optimistic to say we are done with winter, Ventnor Botanic Garden  seems to have other ideas.

Tuesday’s beautiful weather prompted me to head there for a visit and to renew my annual pass.  Astonishingly, apart from some magnificent Echium skeletons towering throughout the garden, there was very little sign of death and decay, with numerous plants still flowering like it was late September.

Much of the interest during today’s visit came from the South African terraces which get the most sunshine at this time of year, and Grevillea, Euryops, Osteospermum and Geranium were all found there, but there was still interest elsewhere, with Salvia and Schizostylis, as well as a white shrub I’m not familiar with (see bottom right).

As you may know, following the withdrawal of council support in 2012, the garden is now run by a Community Interest Company (CIC) and they are working hard to make the garden financially viable.  A number of ‘Design Walks’ have taken place with John Curtis (head of the CIC) and Chris Kidd (Curator) to invite ideas and suggestions from members of the public.  On the walk A and I attended last autumn, talk ranged from zip wires to luxury accommodation, so I think it’s fair to say they’re open to new thinking.

One of the CIC’s stated aims at inception was to establish three National Collections and it’s exciting to learn that in August last year they were officially recognised by Plant Heritage as the National Collection holders of Puya, Hardy and Half Hardy.  Further progress has also been made in the area of volunteers.  The garden is far from break even, let alone profit, and therefore volunteers are key to its future success.  Already gardening volunteers have doubled in number, and others have volunteered in ‘Meet and greet’ and ‘Education’ roles.  There will be a Volunteer Fair on Saturday 18th January (11-4) at the garden and I’m sure they’d be delighted to see you.  I’ll be going along to see what I can offer, and to see whether they’ve got another slice of fabulous Victoria Sandwich with my name on it….

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Sweet pea perusal

So a sweet pea sort of a weekend.  Firstly, Louise, my friend from the beautiful garden at Kingston Rectory, brought me a Tangier Pea, Lathyrus tingitanus, (above)  grown from Sarah Raven seed.  It’s supposed to clamber like a clematis, so now all I have to do is decide where to put it – and wait for the temperature to warm up (it’s hardly Tangier centigrade here at the moment).

Secondly I finally planted my own sweet pea seeds.  I bought seed this year from English Sweet Peas for the first time.  I was tempted by some of their mixes, particularly the ‘Parfumiere Mix’ from the ‘Sweet peas for fragrance’ collection.  I also bought ‘Mrs Collier’, ‘Cupid Purple’, ‘Lianne Marie’ and ‘Breath of Fresh Air Mix’.

I plant my sweet peas in old washing liquid capsule boxes – it makes me feel green recycling the boxes, but sadly think I’m paying way over the odds for my washing liquid.  I planted the seeds in multipurpose compost, figuring they didn’t need cosseting in a seed mix, and didn’t chit or soak.  I’ll keep you posted on their germination.

Meanwhile I’ll share a picture of sweet peas on the pergola last year, as well as the serried rows of planted seeds from this afternoon.  Oh the potential – surely it’s what keeps us all going?


  • As well as the sweet pea seed planting described above, I also planted some poppies (Papaver orientale – ‘Patty’s Plum’ and ‘Manhattan’ above) bought as bare root plants from Hayloft Plants.  They’d arrived before Christmas but had been ignored until now, largely due to the Madeira sojourn.  I gave them a soak and planted them up.  Annoyingly I managed to mix up the two varieties in the process, but at least they’ve now got their feet in some soil…
  • And no, I still haven’t cleaned the rest of the greenhouse, which made taking the photo of the sweet pea seeds quite an art in avoiding the grotty bits.

New year, new blog

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It’s not every day you lose your job and your son turns eighteen, but both happened to me on New Year’s Eve 2013, and both managed to be foreseeable and yet shocking (not quite sure how that works, but that’s how it was).

Consequently I now feel it’s time (and now I have time) for a new offspring – Duver Diary.  Nearly nine months gestation, so that’s familiar, but let’s be honest, blogging isn’t, so let’s just get on with post #1 and see how we get along.

The trouble with January is that it’s not the most active in the plant and gardening world, and so thought I’d start with a little scene setting.  The picture above shows a misty December view towards Bembridge, and below, the beach at St Helens, looking towards the ruined St Helens church seamark.  The latter images show the dramatic difference between the 1st and 2nd January this year.  I’ve never seen the waves so high at the beach, and yes, I know the ones in Cornwall and Wales were more impressive, but we’re at the eastern tip of the Isle of Wight for goodness sake, this beach has a whole island protecting it!

Secondly, just so you know this blog is about plants too, see below a handful of photos from a recent trip to Madeira.  It wasn’t actually that sunny there either, but the plants were beautifully exotic, and kind enough to flower in December.  The photos were all taken in the charming ‘Magic Garden’ which sits behind the promenade to the west of Funchal (scroll down on this Madeira Parks and Gardens site).  I’m not sure about the top left succulent (please let me know if you know) but think the rest are (clockwise) Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae), Prickly Pear (Opuntia compressa), Christ Thorn (Euphorbia milii) and Grevillea rosmarinifolia.  I have a couple of Grevillea here, but it’s fair to say they’re not looking as chirpy as this one at the moment.


  • I planted a few bulbs that had somehow missed their autumn window.  I don’t hold out much hope for them but they were looking at me in such a forlorn, wrinkled way I had to do the decent thing and get them out of sight.
  • Weeding.  Not just any weeding, but weeding our lovely pebbly paths which are rapidly turning into lovely wildflower paths.  Now I like a self sown verbena bonariensis as much as the next woman, but there are limits.
  • What I didn’t do was finish cleaning the greenhouse.  You’ll meet the greenhouse soon, but it’s fair to say it’s a good size and cleaning it is not a good job.  I reckon it’s about 60% complete but to get to the remaining windows requires a great deal of shifting of staging and pots and I’ve had a cold you know.

Here’s to a fabulous, floriferous 2014.