Monday, September 30, 2013

Endorphins - Runners' drug of choice

Two hours of sweat followed by six hours of aching limbs - why do we runners do it? I'm not quite sure, but there is a certain addictive quality to running and nothing brings it out more than a race! Sunday was the local Nottingham Robin Hood Marathon, although I just ran the Half Marathon, along with 6000 others of all shapes, sizes and ages. Forgive a few minutes indulgence in my non-gardening interests!

I have to commend the organisers on a well planned run despite the horrendous roadworks all round Nottingham. This meant numerous route changes including a tedious stretch through the Boots factor rather than  going up into Wollaton Park. Although nothing ever goes smoothly on such big events and apparently the lead car for the Mini Marathon failed resulting in some of the runners being misdirected. Search parties are out looking for three families who are still looking for the Finish line!

Two hours (and a bit) running on your own makes you aware of all sorts of things and this run made me aware of different noises, perhaps particularly so as the roads were cleared of traffic. Some people are noisy runners and you have to look and see if they are running in army boots. Some huff and puff. Others are the chatterers - generally of one sex! Personally I have no spare breath to chatter! Then there are the bystanders with music, bells, hooters or just shouting encouragement. Another time we could do without the ear-splitting 'music' from Gem 106 Radio, although I guess I did run faster to escape it.

I had almost missed the start as my taxi was 15 minutes late, we then hit solid traffic which meant I had to get out and walk the last mile or so to the event and then there was the inevitable huge queue for the toilets. Whilst waiting I was chatting to a couple, who I later encountered on the race and gave me a friendly greeting. As they ran on and the lady said 'I'm counting him',  I realised they were playing a game clocking up who could see the most familiar faces. We must have been running at similar rates because we overtook each other several times. By the last time she had dubbed me 'Toilet man' - thanks very much!

So after 13.1 miles, 2 hours and 13 minutes later, toilet man, alias Ian, crossed the finish line to the tumultuous roar of the crowd (just for me?). Not bad for an oldie but 8 minutes slower than my last 1/2 marathon in February! Must be that extra mile I had to walk before the race - that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Poppies and pantomime horses

Poppies - what a beautiful but strangely contentious group of plants. If you like big and bold, their big floppy, brilliantly coloured flowers can't fail to attract. They are however fleeting and each flower sadly lasts barely a day or so. I have always loved them and have quite a range of pictures in my photo collection. Over the last couple of years since I started painting, I find myself attracted to them as great subject matter and being honest, fairly easy to paint as the flowers are big and simple. Much easier to capture than roses with their many overlapping petals!

The simple red cornfield poppy, Papaver rhoeas is an annual and only grows when the soil is disturbed, so it fits well into the life cycle of a grain crop, much to the annoyance of farmers and pleasure of those of us that wield cameras.  It also has the deeper significance of the Remembrance Day Poppy, referring to its emergence on the graves of soldiers killed in Flanders, in World War I. Before that poppies had a significance in Greek mythology, including death and blood. The Shirley poppy is an improved form of this, in various colours developed in the 1880's, by the Rev Wilks, vicar of the parish of Shirley.

Native poppy in a cultivated meadow at the Eden Project

Roadside weeds

Rape seed and poppies
Shirley Poppies

The opium poppy, Papaver somniferum has a huge significance and history too. Back in the 19C there were major trade and diplomatic disputes between China and the British Empire. Vast quantities of opium was being trafficked from India into China. There was conflict within China between those who wanted to legalise its use and tax it, and those who campaigned to suppress its use. In 1838 the Emperor had the opium dealers arrested and tried to confiscate the stocks from the foreign importers. In response to this the British sent invading forces and demanded settlement. The Treaty of Nanking allowed further opium trade and also ceded Hong Kong to Britain. This was not the end of the conflict and the Second Opium War followed.

Commercial production

Nowadays laws differ according to the country as to whether the poppies may be grown or not. Opium is extracted from the latex exuding from the seedheads and  is generally controlled. However poppy seeds themselves have very minor quantities of opium so you are unlikely to fall asleep after eating a poppy seed roll! Although opium is still grown abroad, there are also now commercial crops in the UK. As a garden plant they are easy to grow but like all poppies, their display is sadly fleeting. The seedheads are also attractive and can be left to mature but watch out or you'll have thousands next year!

Opium poppies in a garden setting

Papaver somniferum 'Violetta'
Papaver somniferum - possibly 'Scarlet Peony'

There are other good garden poppies such as the big blowsy Oriental poppies - so wonderful but also with such a short flowering season. Plant towards the back of the border where they can remain hidden after flowering. Then there are Iceland poppies with their beautiful translucent petals in vibrant pastel shades and the pretty little ladybird poppy like a native poppy but with big black spots.

Papaver orientale 'Perry's White'

Papaver orientale 'Raspberry Queen' (where can I buy this?)

Papaver orientale 'Turkenlois'
Iceland Poppies
Ladybird Poppies
And just to check if my partner Philip is actually reading to the end, I must mention the musical 'Poppy'  which was first produced in 1982 and is actually about the Opium Wars. It takes the form of a pantomime complete with Dick Whittington, a dame and two pantomime horses! Dick sets sail for India and then China, Queen Victoria makes an appearance and in true pantomime style,  most of the players live happily ever after. Amazingly there was an earlier 1923 musical by the same name which first opened on Broadway and then moved to the Gaiety theatre in the West End. In this one, the principal character is called Poppy but there's not a flower or seedhead in sight!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A few begonias

I've never been particularly attracted to begonias as such but I realise that several of the plants that performed particularly well for me this summer are members of this huge variable genus. Earlier in the summer I bought a plant of Begonia 'Flambouyant', with single red flowers. I had intended to put it in a group in a terracotta urn I have but I had mistaken the size of the conatiner and bought far too many plants, so the begonia stayed in its pot and graced my patio table. It flowered profusely for many weeks but eventually ran out of steam. I guess if I'd have potted it into a bigger container it may well have continued but it was still good value for those weeks. In a similar colour, (yes I do like bright red) I also purchased a plant of a glossy leaved semperflorens type. It wasn't labelled  'Dragon Wing' but it had a similar lax habit. This has continued to flower and is still now full of colour. I also had 'Glowing Embers'  which was pretty but less vigorous with me.

Begonia 'Flambouyant'

Unknown red semperflorens
Begonia 'Glowing Embers' - another year, another place!

I have previously mentioned the foliage Begonia 'Gryphon' which has done well in a shady corner but clearly viewable from inside my patio doors. Needing another houseplant some weeks ago, I bought a foliage begonia from the Dibley's range in our local garden centre. It has hairy lime green leaves freckled with chocolate spots.  This has absolutely thrived in my north facing porch and covered the cabinet it sits on. Checking Dibley's website, I think its probably 'Marmaduke'.

Begonia 'Gryphon'

Begonia 'Marmaduke'

Planting next year's garden seems an eternity away and by then I shall have forgotten all about this year's successes and resolutions. Better make a note for myself to plant more begonias next year!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Some summer successes

Well in just a couple of weeks I shall have to clear my summer garden in readiness for my annual trip across the great pond to my winter home in California with my partner Philip. Yesterday I took a few final pictures - only just in time, as a blustery afternoon followed and several things blew over. I gave up standing up the pots and have left them on their sides till the wind drops.

Back garden from patio doors

Front garden - could I have got more in?

Inevitably there have been successes and failures and some surprises over this year! Most plants have their season and then take a rest but a few have contributed to the garden for weeks. One of the best has been Thalictrum ichagense with pretty bronze foliage and pink flowers almost the entire summer. Erysimum 'Apricot Twist was in flower when purchased in April and is still blooming. My three pansies bought to cheer me up in coldest February have stoically flowered until I finally reluctantly threw the straggly remains away yesterday. By contrast my 'Violetta' opium poppies flowered so briefly that they really were a disappointment.

Thalictrum ichagense
Erysimum 'Apricot Twist' and calendulas

Papaver 'Violetta' - won't repeat!

Unknown pansy but what performance!

Ricinus have done well this year and my 'New Zealand Purple' have topped 2m (7ft). I guess it's been a good year for butterflies but it has also meant that there have been more caterpillars than I have ever seen, munching through everything including the Ricinus - how do they digest it and stay alive? Calendulas planted in the front garden performed amazingly well for many weeks but finally expired in August and I replaced them with a few brilliant pink New Guinea Impatiens which changed the colour dynamics but worked perfectly. See the raspberry colour in the Hebe and Heuchera? Dahlia 'Mrs Eileen' has provided some startling orange blooms but grew far taller than I expected, so has rather dominated the garden. Maybe I fed too generously? Brugmansia 'Sunset' took its time but finally rewarded me with a huge flush of sweetly scented creamy yellow trumpets.

Ricinus 'New Zealand Purple'
New Guinea impatiens - from a few late plugs

Dahlia 'Mrs Eileen'
Brugmansia 'Sunset'

A single plant of Rhodochiton has performed far better than expected and sitting in the top of a terracotta strawberry pot has helped soften the side of my tiny greenhouse. In order to clear space for the greenhouse, I had to say farewell to my Paulownia but it's come back to haunt me with a sucker which has reached 1.5m (5ft) in a very short space of time. I'll see if it overwinters and then maybe find a new home for it. A quiet little foliage plant that has  given me much pleasure is Begonia 'Gryphon' with lovely silvery foliage - a nice contrast to brighter colours and now a substantial plant. If I were here overwinter, I would pot and bring indoors as a houseplant.

Rhodochiton atrosanguineum

Paulownia sucker

Begonia 'Gryphon'

Aralia 'Sun King', an herbaceous species, should be perennial but I think the lovely black leaved Angelica 'Ebony' will prove to be a biennial. Astelia 'Silver Shadow' seems to be very similar to 'Silver Spear' but its hardiness seems to be a bit unknown. Time will tell! My 'Silver Spear' died in 2011 whereas 'Westland' survived. Fatsia 'Spiders Web' was a cautious purchase but it fitted the spot I needed to fill and I've rather come to like it!

Aralia 'Sun King'
Angelica 'Ebony' - rather crowded out!

Astelia 'Silver Shadow'
Fatsia 'Spider's Web' and no it doesn't have a bad attack of red spider mite - that's it!

Some weeks ago I wrote about my frustration with the award winning  Digitalis 'Illumination' (An Annoying Plant) which has now finally produced some flowers but the spike is small and I have to say its very disappointing - not at all like the Chelsea preview plant. Acanthus 'Tasmanian Angel' has struggled too, maybe not surprisingly with so little chlorophyll in the leaves. 'Hollard's Gold' has romped away and I shall have to move it as its swamping my Fatsia Annelise'. My white Cosmos have been a bit variable too. I had though I'd ordered seed of the short one - I think it's 'Sonata' but some have been over 90cm (3ft) tall.

Digitalis 'Illumination' - was it worth the wait?

Acanthus 'Tasmanian Angel'

Acanthus 'Hollard's Gold' and Fatsia 'Annelise'
White cosmos - I do love these!

It was good to grow a few coleus again including the old Victorian cultivar 'Walter Turner'. Canna 'Durban' has been a favourite since I first imported it from South Africa many years ago and before it became commercially dubbed 'Tropicanna'. (Real correct name 'Phasion'!)

Coleus or I should say Solenostemon 'Walter Turner'
Canna 'Durban' (Phasion) sold as 'Tropicanna'

None of these are rare plants although a few might be regarded as unusual and several are very common bedding plants. As Gertrude Jekyll is quoted as saying 'There is nothing wrong with bedding plants, only the way they are used'. Anyway they give me a lot of pleasure. Clearing the garden will be a little heart-rending but it will be good to expose some of the permanent planting that has been a bit lost under the lush summer annuals. Each year I try to make the garden more structural but there again I do love the explosion of colour that comes from seasonal planting! Next year's another year!

Incidentally - if anyone lives near Nottingham and would like any of my tender plants, they are free to a good home and I don't expect them back next year.  The following are available.

Canna musifolia ‘Grande’
Canna ‘Wyoming’
Canna ‘Assaut’
Canna ‘Prince Charmant’
Canna ‘Australia’
Canna ‘Durban’
Abutilon ‘Salmon’
Begonia ‘Gryphon’
Various named coleus
Ensete ventricosa ‘Maurelii’
Dahlia ‘Mrs Eileen’ x3
Brugmansia ‘Sunset’
Cyperus papyrus
Iresine ‘Briliantissimum’
Iresine ‘Aureo reticulata’
Fuchsia ‘Blackie’

If interested - email me!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Its a frame up!

At the moment with the garden looking good and summer drawing to an end, I find I am spending more time with a paintbrush in my hand than a trowel! Those of you that have followed my blog or clicked the tabs at the top will have seen some of my earlier watercolours and hopefully I am improving somewhat from the simplistic efforts of two years ago! Over the summer I have attended local watercolour classes and next week I have a two day workshop with Vivienne Cawson who like me, specialises in flower paintings. Anyway I thought I'd take the opportunity of a lull in my gardening inspiration to show you my efforts with paint, brushes and paper. And one of my readers has also said 'too many gardens' so this one is for you, faithful follower!

Hibiscus and Campsis

Summer exotics based on a group of pots outside my patio doors in Nottingham
A rhododendron from a magazine

Lilies - probably 'Stargazer'

Ampelopsis quinquefolia
As you can see, I love colour - I always have done and my gardens reflect this too! Another of the painting successes over the summer has been having two of my pictures accepted for exhibition, one at Patchings Art Centre and one in the University Summer Exhibition. That was thrilling but even more so, both sold! Great to think that someone else likes my art enough to have it on their wall! And yes - these are for sale so do contact me if you are interested and we can discuss a price, framed or unframed.