Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Propagation 101--and some!

We have been busy cleaning, sorting and consolidating in the greenhouses and cold frames, so as to be prepared when the first frosts appear--one of the worst possible scenarios would be getting caught off-guard!  By starting early, we can be thorough in our inventory-making for spring and maximize our already limited space.  Because we rely so heavily on our bedding plants, this is a very important task. Since space is so tight, we typically start a group of cuttings or seeds together in one pot, and as they begin to develop roots, we re-plant them in their own pot, the size of which varies with the size of the plant. 

Fergus gave us a list of plants, cuttings and plugs to "pot on" for spring.  The term "pot on" basically means moving a plant into a bigger pot to encourage optimal root growth. So much of gardening is about timing and planning ahead, and we want to utilize the next 2-3 weeks for additional root development on these plants, before the cold fully arrives. This will give us a head start come spring. After the plants are potted, we place them in the cold frame under a "light"(the name for a piece of glass), which will help trap the heat, and encourage root growth. 

Newly potted on plants under light in a cold frame

Also included in our punch list were a variety of seeds to sow into seed trays or pots. As these germinate and grow, we will be able to "prick out" the seedlings into plug trays, and then into individual pots as we get into next season. 

Myosotis 'Blue Silver' pricked out into plug trays (Right)
We also started moving unused Cannas and Dahlias into the cellar, making sure they're properly labeled and organized, so they'll be easy to differentiate in the spring. We haven't started lifting any from the garden yet, but that will begin soon enough! 

Sorting out Cannas and Dahlias in the cellar

Having had minimal previous propagation experience, I have enjoyed this type of work and learned a lot. It's fascinating to see a plant in this earliest stage and care for it, while watching it develop into form for next season. Speaking of next season, although one season is coming to a close, we are already getting ready for next year--the cycle never ends really! 

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Great Dixter Plant Fair

It's beginning to feel more autumnal here, as the days get shorter, the leaves begin to change color and fall to the ground, and the temperature starts to cool down. Thankfully, we had a window of great weather last weekend for our 4th annual Plant Fair. We spent so much time preparing for this season-ending shindig, and our hard work paid off--it was the best Plant Fair yet! 

Shoppers peruse the different stalls 

The Great Dixter Plant Fair plays host to some of the top nurseries from around Europe and the UK. The nursery representatives began arriving and setting up their stalls on Friday, for the fair which ran on Saturday and Sunday. It was fun to meet and talk to everyone over the weekend. I especially enjoyed the group dinners, put on by our staff, where we were able to get to know some of the nursery men and women in a more informal setting. It really was a special weekend. 

Great people and great plants--What could be better?! 

The whole weekend was like a big family reunion. Not only does most of the staff participate in some capacity, several former staff members and "friends of Dixter" return to volunteer. Also, the gardeners who live at Dixter offer up their rooms to the nursery folks for the weekend, and "camp out" together in the one of the large common rooms in the house. 

I was assigned to car parking duty for the weekend, but we worked in shifts, so I was still able to see the fair. Although I didn't anticipate car park management as part of my training at Dixter, it was a key component of the weekend operation, and it was fun in its own right. Actually, I did get a laugh when one woman, finding out I was from America, exclaimed: "How did you end up at Great Dixter, parking cars?" It's true, you really do a bit of everything around here, when it's all said and done! 

Beautiful weather for plants and picnics! 

Although the festival itself only lasts 2 days, the Plant Fair requires much more time, energy, and thought than most people know--It really is a group effort! In the end, I think everyone would agree that it's worth it. Thanks to all the people who helped organize and put it on. Thanks to the nurseries that came and provided great plant material and horticultural knowledge. And thanks to all of you that attended and made it the best fair yet! 

One of my favorite scenes from the weekend

Friday, 4 October 2013

Horse Pond Cleanup

Last week went by quickly. Fergus returned from America on Monday, where he had been giving a series of lectures. His first speaking engagement was in South Carolina, only a hour from my hometown. One of the first things he mentioned was that he had a great burger! Despite a tinge of jealousy, I was happy to hear he had a good trip. 

Late afternoon view of the house from the Horse Pond meadow

We began the week cutting grass and cleaning up around the Horse Pond. This was a multi-day project. Similar to the meadow cutting, this late season cleanup will ensure that the grass is still short come spring, when the bulbs start to emerge. It was a little more tedious than the meadow, however, since there were plants that we couldn't strim around, but had to hand clean. One example is the group of Redtwig Dogwoods, Cornus alba, by the water's edge.  We had to weed and cut the grass that was growing up underneath the shrubs by hand, since they're planted so densely. It's monotonous work, but it is necessary to provide a nice, clean view in the winter, when the plants are displaying their brilliant red bark. 

Bracken Fern naturalizes on the hillside

Across the Horse Pond meadow, there is a large hill, which is home to a wonderful stand of Bracken Fern, of the genus Pteridium. These ferns, which spread by underground roots (rhizomes), seem quite happy where the clay soil meets sandy soil, on what used to be an iron mine, several hundred years ago. We cut back the grass and ferns on the hill, and sorted them into different piles as we went. The grass went on the compost heap, but we will save the fern fronds as insulation material for the winter. Specifically, we will use the fronds to protect the Banana plants that stay in the Exotic Garden over winter (I'm sure I will have example photos when the time comes). 

Bagged fern fronds