Thursday, 18 August 2011

Daylilies...

With a name like ‘Daylily’ you might take some convincing that these particular flowers make a worthwhile and long-lasting impact in the garden. Even their scientific name of ‘Hemerocallis’ in translation tells the same story- ‘Beautiful for a day.’ There is certainly some truth in this title through the short lived nature of the flowers. Each individual bloom opens at dawn and is done for by dusk. But fortunately for us, there are always plenty more ready to open the next day, and they continue to put on a good show for just as long as their neighbours.
These lily relatives have the exotic looking, large trumpet shaped flowers of the family and are available in a huge range of colours. My favourites are the often sweetly scented lemon yellows, though we also have the double flowered peachy orange sorts and deeper, richer mahogany reds. Originally from the far east, a few forms have been grown in European gardens for centuries. Early settlers then spread them across America, where their ease and adaptability has made them hugely popular. In recent years enthusiastic U.S. nurserymen have gone on to hybridise a staggering sixty thousand registered variants for the avid collector to crave.

Their main period of flower is through the summer months of July and August, though their beauty is apparent long before that. The arching, grassy foliage is one of their finest features, bubbling up in low lime green fountains along the borders in early spring. Perfectly contrasting with dark soil and the more run of the mill, rounder leaved plants around them. 
Tough, hardy perennials, growing two to three feet high, they cope happily just about anywhere that is not completely waterlogged or in deepest shade. The dense fleshy rooted clumps, when congested do however benefit from slicing up with a spade, spacing and re-setting every few years. A daily dead-heading would be a counsel of perfection, but for the most part the faded flowers drop off on their own and do little to detract from the main display. When the last one has passed, tired leaves can be sheared right back encouraging a fresh flush to revive good looks until autumn. 
Although individual flowers may be ‘one day wonders,’ Daylilies have longer-lasting appeal and earn their place in any garden...

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Chillis...

‘Some like it hot’ - but others may not. As far as spicy food goes, I’m certainly in the latter camp, but realise I am in something of a minority as modern tastes yearn for new, exotic and ever hotter culinary challenges...
The chilli pepper is at the heart of this switched-on food trend and is a truly remarkable plant available in a huge range of varieties. The attractive waxy skinned fruits come in all shapes and sizes, from squat and squashed, scotch bonnet types, to perfect balls, to impossibly elongated thin fingers. Colours too are equally varied, ranging from near black/purple through browns to lighter, brighter yellows, oranges and of course the signature reds.


Although I might prefer the delicate, more subdued flavour of the ‘sweet pepper,’ or its slightly spicy derivative Paprika, I know it is the more fiery forms that attract most attention. Heat output here is measured in ‘Scoville Units.’ My mild mannered sweet bell peppers measure in at a reassuringly bland zero, but those hotter chilli peppers on the same scale score into the thousands. That’s fine for the foodies looking to spice up their dishes, but for real, hard-core chilli-heads there are even a few forms that top out, almost off the scale, at over a million!

I’d grow them out in the garden, just for the look of those shiny skinned decorative fruit. Sadly however, these plants are originally from south and central america and we just can’t give them the warmth they need. In a greenhouse though, or even on a sunny windowsill they will thrive and will flower and fruit with ease. They need an early spring start to grow them from seed, but it is worth remembering most plants will go on from year to year getting bigger and more productive over time. Soil based compost suits them best, and although not exactly thriving on neglect, the opposite in the form of too much feed and water will only encourage lots of leaves.


It may be too late to start plants from scratch right now, but we will have plenty for sale in flower and fruit at the ‘Lakes Chilli Fest’ here at Levens Hall this weekend. Whether your taste is for subtly steamy exotic cuisine or for full on, mouth blisteringly hot food, there is a Chilli to help you get there...




(Ironically, our 'Lakes Chilli Fest' has just been cancelled for this year due to heavy rain turning our event parking field into a Lake! Anyone want 1200 fine Chilli Plants?)

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Catmint...

Catmint, though never a centre-stage, star performer would win prizes for its supporting roles. Always dependable and always delightful, this hardy herbaceous perennial brings joy in a subtle and relatively subdued way for many months every year. More extrovert, flashier flowers burn up and out in a fraction of that time.

In spring, dense mounds of aromatic, grey-green, scallop edged leaves rise up. In time, their lengthening wiry stems finish in loose spikes of light blue flowers. Individually beautiful, they are too small to take note of. It is however the overall effect they create that is quietly enchanting. Growing up to three feet high and easily as much across, they create the wonderful form, feel and fullness of Lavender, which in our wetter, northern climate is difficult to create and maintain in the real thing. 

They begin their long display through the ‘June Gap,’ a difficult period to populate with bloom as spring flowers have mostly faded and the main flow of summer flowers is yet to come. For two full months they continue, then just as the first show begins to fade, new shoots push through and fresh flowers take over, rejuvenating the display until autumn brings all to a close. Tidy minded gardeners will shear the plants right back after the first flush to clear space for the second. Whilst those with a more relaxed approach enjoy seeing the old growth naturally covered in time by the new.
Undemanding, though preferring sun and well drained soil, these tough plants give good service year after year.  Minimal maintenance is simply the shearing off, rolling up and removal of the faded tangle of fibrous stems before new growth emerges in spring. Their lax, sprawling habit makes them ideal for edging along paths, steps and driveways where they can spill out to soften hard edges.
Bees and butterflies love this long lasting nectar source, bringing areas where it is used to life on warm afternoons and evenings. Cats apparently love it just a little too much. They get ‘high’ on its aromatic oils and often roll in ecstasy on the plants, squashing or even shredding them in their excitement. Fortunately, here at Levens, untroubled by our feline friends uncalled for attention, this humble performer thrives and for a hundred yards or more, borders the ancient bowling green in subtle and long lasting style.

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