Powerplanter – reflections on using a new gadget to try and ease the hard work of planting bulbs

Each year we plant literally thousands of bulbs around the garden and if you suffer from any kind of wrist or hand problems it can be very difficult and somewhat painful. To date we have got on best using a standard sturdy trowel but it is hard work especially when planting into turf or uncultivated ground. Over the years we have also tried the stand-up bulb planters but found these very tedious. The plug of soil in the planter never comes out again as easily as it should to refill the hole.

When we saw the adverts for Powerplanter we were intrigued. It seemed like a simple and obvious solution. It is basically a large soil drill that fits into a cordless hand drill and digs you a hole for your bulbs, plug plants or larger plants grown in 9cm pots.

At the time of writing there are four types in the range (www.powerplanter.co.uk) in various sizes ranging from one for planting seeds through to a longer one for ‘stand-up’ digging. The one we chose was the mid-range planter, the 307 model (7 inches long x 3 inches wide). It describes itself as being suitable for ‘potted colour and bulbs’ and cost just under £40.

We have used it for planting autumn bulbs over a number of weeks now and in a nutshell it works! Here are some of our observations:

  • If you are going to use if for any length of time you do need a good quality cordless drill. I found my old drill battery was just not up to the job so treated myself to a new DeWalt DCD776S2T-GB 18V 1.5Ah Li-Ion Cordless Combi Drill. This comes with 2 rechargeable battery packs and is certainly able to keep going longer than I can!
  • The planter works well in moist soil in the cultivated flower beds. It also made light work of creating planting holes in previously uncultivated turf that we had killed off over the summer and had never been dug over. It did begin to struggle cutting into hard dry soil under a large oak tree but I was having difficulty getting a garden fork into that anyway.
  • You do need to be quite organised to avoid your drill getting covered in mud or wet. At this time of year the grass can be damp with dew in the morning and you need somewhere to put your drill down as you move around. I just use an old dog towel which keeps everything dry and clean.
  • When planting the bulbs I have got into the habit of working with one gloved ‘dirty hand’ and one ‘dry clean hand’. The dry clean hand operates the drill whilst the gloved ‘dirty’ hand plants the bulbs and covers over the hole with the loose soil. You can work very fast this way.
  • I have found that the planter is quite accurate and you can easily plant bulbs between other plants without damaging them. For example we have been planting bulbs amongst wall flowers that were set out about 9 inches apart in September.
  • If you are using someone else’s drill you might like to get their permission first. You do have to be quite careful not to get mud into the chuck which certainly could be a pain if the drill is normally used for indoor jobs. The 7 inch planter is only just long enough for digging holes for tulip bulbs and in hind site the longer 12 inch planter might have been better.
  • Finally do read the safety instructions and wear appropriate eye protection. Running on a slow speed it does not throw much soil up towards your face but it could.

Finally for the action movie 😉

For some reason my niece dissolved into fits of laughter seeing me drilling holes in the garden! The youngsters of today have no imagination!

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Six star plants for August

Despite the weeks of dry weather here in the UK Midlands some of the garden plants have still performed wonderfully during August.  These late summer flowers are adding a real freshness to the garden which has otherwise looked rather dry and scorched.

Here are my ‘Six on Saturday’ star performers.


One:  Agapanthus africanus

These are the large evergreen Agapanthus with strap like leaves.  They tend to be more tender than the deciduous types.  These plants are growing in large terracotta pots that we take into the greenhouse for protection over the winter months.

P1010986 Agapanthus


Two:  Sunflower ‘Vanilla Ice’

This is a medium height sunflower with delicate lemon yellow hand-sized flowers.  They do need some support but if you keep dead heading you get a succession of good quality flowers throughout the summer.  As you can see they are also enjoyed by the bees.

P1010918 Sunflower Vanilla Ice


Three: Physostegia virginiana

This is a perennial that thrives in damp soil and full sun.  Part of the cut flower garden is waterlogged for most of the winter and also remains moist through the summer months.  The Physostegia (along with the Astilbe) love these conditions.

P1020012 Pysostegia


Four:  Cosmos ‘Sensation Mixed’

One of my favourites.  It is such a happy looking plant and the large colourful flowers complement the green fluffy foliage wonderfully.  Over the years we have learnt not to treat it too kindly.  If you plant it in ground that has not been previously cultivated you get masses of green leaves and very few flowers until very late in the year.  Not terribly helpful for cutting.  Growing in poorer ground with little additional fertiliser gives you many more flowers earlier in the year.

P1010889 Cosmos


Five:  Rudbeckia

It has been difficult to choose just one Rudbeckia.  They are so important to the late summer garden yielding masses of bold yellow and rust coloured flowers.  This particular variety is an annual Rudbeckia hirta ‘Autumn Forest’.

P1010997 Rudbeckia


Six:  Acidanthera

Last but certainly not least in this six is the Abyssinian gladiolus, Acidanthera murielae.   Unlike many of the garden gladioli it looks delicate and elegant and moves gently in the breeze.  It has a wonderful scent and is good for cutting.

P1020016 Acidanthera


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Snake’s Head Fritillary

The Snake’s-Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) gets its common name from the delicate chequed pattern which looks like tiny reptile scales.  The nodding cup shaped flowers are said to resemble a fritillus or roman dice box hence the scientific name whilst meleagris relates to the spots of a guinea fowl.

As a native of water meadows I think this winter at Honey Pot Flowers will have suited them down to the ground.  As previously mentioned in our earlier overview of the garden (The Site) we have about one or two feet of top soil sitting on a bed of clay.  The water table is very near the surface for most of the winter with many standing puddles of water even though we are on a slight slope.

Flowering for a relatively short period in the second half of April they are so unique and such a pleasure to see.  They are most successful in the orchard and near the wildlife pond.  The delicate nodding heads also seemed to be absolutely irresistible to the playful young puppy we had staying recently (although he seems to have survived and it is not listed on the HTA list of potentially harmful plants).

Purple and white Snake's Head Fritillary growing amongst the grassland in the fruit orchard.
Purple and white Snake’s Head Fritillary growing amongst the grassland in the fruit orchard.

It is possible to cut Snake’s Head Fritillary for use in spring arrangements but for us the pleasure is seeing them growing naturally in grassland.   They are generally trouble free as long as you don’t cut the grass before the leaves have died back and the bulbs have been replenished.  As a member of the Liliaceae they do seem to get nibbled by lily beetle if you don’t keep an eye on them but the bright red beetles are easy to see and can be picked off by hand.

Family:  Liliaceae

Hardiness:  Full Hardy

Origin:  Europe (southern England to the northern Balkans and western Russia and naturalized in Scandinavia)¹

Height:  30cm

Further Reading

¹ “Bulb” by Anna Pavord (ISBN 978-1-84533-415-4)

 


Honey Pot Flowers are wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.

Narcissus – spring itself

Perhaps it is because Narcissus (Daffodils) are so common and easy to grow that we tend to overlook how interesting and different they are from many other plants.  Spring would certainly not be spring without them and their happy colours bring a breath of fresh air after a long grey, cold winter.

In researching for this article I was surprised to see just how many different species of Narcissus there are.  Anna Pavord ¹ indicates that there are over 50.  It has been equally fascinating to see how the different varieties that we have put in the garden over the years relate to each of these species.

Although we have our own native wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) in Britain, many of the species we grow in our gardens have a distribution centred on the Iberian peninsula with others stretching across France and into Italy and Greece.  They are very easy to establish in the English garden and come back reliably year after year.  Any investment in Narcissus bulbs will give you years of pleasure with very little trouble.

The majority of Narcissus are fully hardy and grow well in full sun or dappled shade.  Most daffodils like soil that is well drained but not too dry in the summer.  Although they look lovely in borders and large tubs they look particularly effective naturalised in grass.  One of my favourite parts of our garden in spring is the orchard where the daffodils have established themselves well at the base of each of the apple, plum, cherry and pear trees.  We have written previously about the orchard in an earlier blog (The Orchard – beautiful in spring, productive in autumn).

Spring daffodils throughout the orchard bring colour before the blossom breaks
Spring daffodils throughout the orchard bring colour before the blossom breaks

Pests

Luckily for us Narcissus have their own inbuilt protection against the common pests in the garden.  Due to the thick, unpleasant and toxic sap most wild animals do not eat Narcissus.  They are rarely eaten by slugs and snails although we do sometimes see damage on the open flowers.

Cutting and conditioning

Whereas Narcissus make excellent cut flowers it is important to recognise that if placed, freshly cut, in a vase of mixed flowers the sap will make the other flowers wilt prematurely.

When cutting Narcissus we always cut into a separate bucket of cool, fresh water away from other flowers.  Every 20 minutes we change the water until the sticky sap stops running from the cut stems.  Once the sap stops running we leave the flowers to condition for a couple of hours in a cool place.  At this point it is safe to incorporate the Narcissus with other mixed flowers in a bouquet or arrangement.   Don’t cut the stems again otherwise the sap will start to run again and contaminate your vase water and affect the other flowers.

Narcissus should be picked when the flowers are still tight and fairly green but their necks have turned towards 90 degrees rather than facing straight up.  They will have a long vase life of up to 10 days if cut at the right stage and properly conditioned.

P1000655

Varieties across the garden

Over nearly 25 years we have planted a huge range of Narcissus throughout the garden and I am afraid that the names of many have been lost in the mists of time.  Carol and I tend to disagree on which we like best but luckily there is a place for all of them.

Some of the more miniature daffodils such as ‘Jenny ‘ and the ever popular ‘Tête-à-tête’ (both Cyclamineus types showing the characteristics of Narcissus cyclamineus) are establishing themselves beautifully in the front of the borders.  As mentioned earlier, the larger trumpet varieties look wonderful in the orchard and woodland.

Miniature daffodil Jenny

Later in the spring the Pheasant Eye’s begin to emerge (Narcissus poeticus).  These have smaller and more delicate flowers and we find these particularly useful for cut flower arrangements.

Pheasant's Eye Narcissus (Narcissus poeticus type)
Pheasant’s Eye Narcissus (Narcissus poeticus type)

Although we like them all, one of our favourites has to be ‘Thalia’.  This is a multi-headed white Narcissus of the Triandrus type which show the characteristics of Narcissus triandrus.

Multiheaded Thalia (Triandrus type daffodil)
Multiheaded Thalia (Triandrus type daffodil)

More recently we have started to introduce ‘Bridal Crown’ and ‘Avalanche’ which both have small fragrant flowers and are of the Tazetta type (related to Narcissus tazetta).  As well as growing well in pots amongst the tulips and violas we have also planted some amongst newly planted roses giving a lovely spring show as the rose bushes begin to break (see: New additions to our garden of Roses and 3 fragrant roses for Autumn).

Narcissus Avalanche (multiheaded Tazetta daffodil)
Narcissus Avalanche (multiheaded Tazetta daffodil)

Family:  Amaryllidaceae

Floriography (the language of flowers):  Self-love ²

And finally a little poetry…

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth (1815)

Further reading

¹ “Bulb” by Anna Pavord (ISBN 978-1-84533-415-4)

² “The language of flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (ISBN 978-0-230-75258-0)


Honey Pot Flowers are wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.

A selection of tough little plants that give a spark of colour in the early spring garden

I am full of admiration for those flowering plants that can take all that winter can throw at them and emerge pretty well unscathed when the snow melts.  Here is a selection of some of the stars of the moment.

Iris reticulata

Originating from Russia and the Causasus mountains Iris reticulata comes in shades of blue through to white.  They have been flowering here at Waverley since January and are still producing good quality flowers now in late March.  Named after Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow, the shot of yellow and white along the centre of the blue petals I think fits this derivation beautifully.  The species name ‘reticulata’ relates to the netted tunic which covers the bulbs and is unique to this group of Iris.

Iris reticulata 'Blue Note'
Iris reticulata ‘Blue Note’

These beautiful early spring bulbs prefer sandy soils in a sunny position.  In theory, once established, they should keep coming back year after year but we have struggled to keep them going in our soil which gets rather waterlogged in the winter.  For us, they do much better in terracotta pots where we can control the drainage.  It also gives us the chance to plant the bulbs with other plants to make striking spring combinations. The blue goes particularly well with the contrasting orange crocus ‘Orange Monarch’.

Iris reticulata 'Alida' with Crocus 'Orange Monarch'
Iris reticulata ‘Alida’ with Crocus ‘Orange Monarch’ growing through a backdrop of the black leaved Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’

In preparing for this article I was interested to come across a point about planting depth in Anna Pavord’s book ‘Bulb’.  She indicates that in open ground Iris reticulata should be planted at least 10cm (4 inches) deep.  Anna suggests that this helps prevent the bulbs splitting up into masses of bulbils and so encourages the bulbs to flower again the next season.   If bulbils develop they will take at least 2 years to grow back to flowering size.  This is quite deep for a small bulb and something we might try next autumn when we come to plant the next batch.

Crocus

An area of emerging spring crocus is such a lovely site.  Planted en masse, these tiny plants can be spectacular.  For us it is usually the yellow flowers that emerge first with the purple shades following later.  We plant our Crocuses mainly in grass where they can get the warmth of the spring sunshine yet the corms stay relatively dry and undisturbed throughout the summer when they are dormant.

Yellow crocus
Yellow spring crocus

The crocus is a native of Turkey and south-eastern Europe.  It is a member of the Iris family and grow from corms (rather than bulbs).    Whereas true bulbs are made up of modified leaves that store food, a corm is a modified stem which is solid and does not have rings or scales.

Spring crocus
Spring crocus

Not satisfied with crocuses in the springtime alone we also have autumn flowering crocuses planted around the garden that emerge in October/November.

Miniature daffodils

Although we love daffodils it is the miniature varieties that perform particularly well when subjected to rain, sleet, hail and snow.  Whereas the taller varieties seem to get battered down by the snow and don’t bounce back well, the miniature varieties like tête-à-tête and Jenny seem to be hardly touched by a blanket of heavy snow and emerge virtually unscathed.

Miniature narcissus
Miniature narcissus

Viola

The happy little faces of viola grace the patio pots in the garden all winter.  We tend to find that the viola flowers withstand the ravages of the winter weather much better than larger flowered winter pansies.

DSCF8418

In the autumn we usually buy viola plug plants which we will add to our tubs when we plant them up with a lasagna of narcissus, tulips, Muscari Paradoxum Bellevalia and crocuses.  Once completed we top with the violas which will provide colour throughout the winter whilst the bulbs are developing under the soil.

When the temperatures rise and the bulbs begin to emerge the violas also start to develop providing a dense cascade of flower and foliage which softens the surface of the tubs and also hides some of the dying foliage from earlier bulbs.

Planters of tulips and viola - Late April 2011
Planters of tulips and viola – Late April 2011

Primroses and Hellebores

Last but not least we must not forget the primroses and hellebores which continue to look good despite the tough winter conditions.  We have written in previous blogs about these wonderful and fascinating plants so rather than repeating ourselves take a trip to visit these earlier articles (Primroses and springtime, Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose)) for more pictures and background.

Primula vulgaris
Primula vulgaris
Helleborus orientalis
Helleborus orientalis

Further reading

“Bulb” by Anna Pavord (ISBN 978-1-84533-415-4)

Crinum x powellii – exploring something new to flower in late summer

Every year we have fun trying out a number of new things. This year we are trying to grow Crinum, something we have seen in other gardens and the catalogues but have never tried before.

Anna Pavord’s introduction to Crinum in her book ‘Bulb’ creates a lovely image – “Crinums bring a wonderfully dangerous whiff of the tropics to gardens set in more sober, temperate parts of the world” . Sounds enticing doesn’t it!

The bulbs we have purchased (from Sarah Raven) are of Crinum x powelli ‘Album’. This hybrid is a white form with large, wide trumpet like flowers with up to a dozen on each head. They flower in late summer/early autumn.

The books tell us that in the wild crinums grow on the banks of streams or along lake shores. They require full sun but also require moist but well drained, organic rich soil. Although the ones we have chosen are fully hardy and can be planted in the flower beds, many writers indicate that their large strap like leaves make them difficult to integrate into a mixed boarder. Equally they seem to hate root disturbance once they are established and so if we get the placing wrong we are unlikely to be able to move them around later.

We have therefore decided to grow the three bulbs we have bought in three large pots. This will enable us to move them around and place them in different parts of the garden to try them out. At this point we feel they might go well with other South African plants like Agapanthus but time will tell.

Crinum bulb with 2p piece for scale
Huge Crinum bulb with 2p piece for scale

The bulbs of these plants are simply enormous and we have had to get hold of some suitably sized pots. We are going to plant the bulbs in a mix of ⅔ John Innes No 3 compost and ⅓ perlite. We are using perlite here, instead of grit, to add extra drainage but also with the aim of reducing the overall weight thereby making them more manageable when we want to move them around. As the plants grow to 36 inches in height these large plants will need feeding and watering regularly to ensure they have all they need to grow the large leaves, flower profusely and maintain the bulb for next year.

We will let you know later in the year how we get on. We may not get flowers in this first year so may have to be patient (not one of my strengths when it comes to gardening!)

Further information

Family: Amaryllidaceae

Hybrid: Crinum x powellii is a hybrid cross between C.moorei and C.bulbispermum

Photography credit – feature image

By Inga Munsinger Cotton from San Antonio, USA (Pink flowers) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Further reading

“Bulb” by Anna Pavord (ISBN 978-1-84533-415-4)

Snowdrops (Galanthus sp.)

There is one flower above all that signals the beginning of the new gardening year and the promise of great things to come. In the garden here at Waverley some varieties of snowdrops (Galanthus) begin to start to flower in early in December with others flowering right through the winter months and into March.

All snowdrops prefer cool, moist conditions in the spring followed by a dry summer dormancy in the shade. Planted in the right conditions about 4-5 inches deep, snowdrops seem to love the growing conditions here in Warwickshire.

Often seen as a symbol of purity and chastity these delicate looking flowers are really tough pushing through the winter soil and emerging like white pearls. Alternative names include ‘Fair maids of February’ and Candlemas Bells however the French name of Perce-Neige (snow piercers) seems particularly apt.

The love of these tiny flowers I think must run in the family with Carol’s uncle, snowdrop expert Colin Mason of Fieldgate Snowdrops, providing us with a number of varieties and species that have now established throughout the garden. It is a lovely thing that your individual garden plants can remind you so vividly of friends and relatives and the times that you have spent together.

Galanthus elwesii
Galanthus elwesii

Snowdrops and Snowflakes

Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Snowflakes (Leucojum) are closely related species. Whereas as Snowflakes have six equally sized petals, Snowdrops have three larger outer petals surrounding three smaller inner petals typically marked with green.

In addition to the snowdrops we have also been increasing the number of summer snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) that we have around the Honey Pot Flowers garden. These flower much later (May to June) and because of their longer stems prove much more useful as cut flowers than the shorter snowdrops.

Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum)
Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum)

Leaf morphology

The arrangement of the paired leaves at the base of the snowdrop plant is helpful in identifying the different species. For example, in the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) the two leaves are pressed flat together (applanate) whilst in Galanthus elwesii one leaf is clasped around the other (supervolute).

Galanthus nivalis leaf morphology (applanate)
Galanthus nivalis basal leaf morphology (applanate)
Galanthus elwesii leaf morphology (supervolute)
Galanthus elwesii basal leaf morphology (supervolute)

Propagation

We find, if you have patience, that the snowdrops bulk up very effectively throughout the garden with little effort on our part. When the clumps get too dense we lift them when they are ‘in the green’, gently separate the bulbs and distribute them more widely throughout the garden. In particular we have started to develop a snowdrop walk through the copse at the north end of the garden providing a fresh splash of white on dull February days.

It is also possible to bulk up plants more rapidly through chipping, twinscaling and micropropogation. Galanthophile Colin Mason’s article on Galanthomania, Chipping and Twinscaling explores this in more detail.

Galanthus elwesii (Geoffrey Owen)
Galanthus elwesii (Geoffrey Owen)

Use as cut flowers

If you believe in such things it is worth noting some of the common folklore around snowdrops. In her book Snowdrops , Gail Harland reports that there is a country belief that it is unlucky to decorate a room with cut snowdrops and that these should not be brought into one’s house until after Candlemas Day (2 February).

Whereas this mythology, and the wider meaning associated with giving particular flowers (floriography), are less widely understood these days, it is worth bearing these aspects in mind when preparing bouquets and giving flowers. A bouquet of flowers, buttonhole or gift of flowers with inherent meaning is always a nice touch.

The short stem length of snowdrops really only makes them suitable for small posies and arrangements. We have found that they make charming place settings for dinner parties in tiny clear glass vases (but only after the 2 February of course!).

Snowdrop Table Place Setting
Snowdrop Table Place Setting

Hardy Perennial Bulb

Family: Amaryllidaceae (ref: Royal Horticultural Society)

Floriography: Purity and innocence

Origin: The common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) has a distribution from the Pyrenees to Balkans however there are also some 20 species of Galanthus in total occurring in a wide variety of habitats.

Further reading

“Snowdrop” by Gail Harland (ISBN 978-1-78023-492-2) – an interesting account about the biology of snowdrops, collecting and their appearance in poetry, art and music.