Monday, 28 May 2012

Photos: Flowers & Plants in the Balcony Garden

Californian poppies (Eschscholzia californica) are just lovely and these self sown seedlings are flowering earlier on the warm balcony compared to those in the ground, giving a much needed splash of colour after a long wet spring. There is a wonderful genetic variability in the seed giving rise to a range of tones, from these deep oranges to a light lemon, as well as many differences in the forms. My favourite photo of the day.
The bright green new growth on the Box (Buxus sempervirens) contrasts with last year’s darker, more mature growth. We have two Box balls that we usually place either end of the sofa we take out onto the balcony in summer. Sitting right by the arm rests it encourages you to run your fingers through, releasing that wonderful scent. Slow growing, Box is expensive, especially when clipped, but these came from a chain DIY store during a hot June and couple of years ago, when the idea of using water on the plants didn’t seem to occur to them. Wilted and rather unhappy looking we bought them for £5 each. If you are willing to give a little TLC it’s amazing what bargains can be found, as well as a warm glow that comes from rescuing a plant from uncaring hands.
We've no idea how this clump of forget-me-not (Myosotis) got up onto the balcony, but this is the first year we remember it - perhaps we sowed them or we had one or two plants that set seed last year. It's going over now, but has given a much needed lift to this corner. However it arrived when weeds are this pretty they are more than welcome.
This Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla 'Altona') must be as tough as old boots. It's the second variety we have had up here, as the first withered and died at the first breath of sea air that blew across its leaves. Last year family matters meant that all our plants were abandoned without water and at the start of spring this year this new Hydrangea was pronounced dead too. Then on a closer inspection we noticed just one tiny shoot from the base, then another and another. So we pampered it a bit, some water, a warm spot and it has rewarded our attention with the fresh new growth. I wonder if it will flower this year?
It doesn't show up quite so well in the picture as it did on the plant, but this bright yellow streak of pollen looked quite shocking set against the vivid orange of the Californian Poppy (Eschscholzia californica).
I am always amazed that for a Middle Eastern plant, with such an exotic appearance, the fig (Ficus carica) is one of the earliest plants on the balcony to awaken from its winter slumber. At first you don’t actually believe that the figs are swelling, to soon surely?, and its only when the leaf buds start to break that you realise that it is gearing up for the coming seasons. What could be more hopeful during a wet and damp March than the sight of the juicy summer figs starting to grow? A couple of nights ago I heard Bob Flowerdew suggest a fig as the ultimate balcony plant for absent minded gardeners looking for something edible and unusual, that is virtually indestructible. The key thing is to keep them in a pot to restrict the roots, so that they produce fruit as well as foliage. Ours is only the usual ‘Brown Turkey’, but Reades Nursery hold the national collection of figs and can supply a wide range of plants.
It’s the first year we have grown Dahlias (‘Coltness Mix’) from seed for cut flowers at the allotment and in doing so have we also learnt an important lesson in bringing on plants. The seeds were sown in a covered seed tray back in March and once the first true leaves appeared we pricked out a few into pots. For some reason (we might have run out of compost) we didn’t prick them all out. Those that had been potted on went into a bay window in the house. After a few weeks most were transferred to the greenhouse at the allotment, leaving a few in the window and at the same time the remaining ones in the seed tray were potted on. Well what a difference at planting time. Those that were left in the seed tray and potted on late were considerably behind, with poor root growth – good enough to go out, but behind. Those in the bay window, that I had always considered to be bright & light, were rather lanky and delicate looking and it is these that we have potted on to mollycoddle on the balcony, as in the photo on the left. Finally, the ones that were potted on in a timely fashion and then transferred to the greenhouse are wonderfully stout, sturdy plants that look great planted out in a row. Of course it’s nothing that you don’t read regularly in the gardening books, but often it’s only this firsthand experience of seeing the difference that makes it sink in. 

The photo on the right shows some Box cuttings I took a couple of years ago, but never got around to potting on. They had stalled, but I repotted them this winter and they have now started to put on new growth. The cuttings took easily in the usual way and I intend to take lots more this year, when I prune the Box balls, for use as edging at the allotment.
This is a hardy Osteospermum with lovely flowers, although I have no idea of the cultivar. We had ‘Silver Sparkler’ a few years ago, which was a nice plant with whiter flowers and variegated foliage, but it was tender and we lost it very quickly one unexpectedly cold night. This hardy plant survived some reasonably cold nights, including snow, although the balcony is spared the worse of the frosts. One thing I could never do was get ‘Silver Sparkler’ to take from cuttings, but I’ll have a go with this one as I would like a second plant for the allotment for use as cut flowers.
This Copper Birch is possibly the most unsuitable tree that we could have bought for the balcony! Seeing it (Betula nigra ‘Summer Cascade’) discounted at the local nursery, I imagined that as Silver Birch is almost endemic on the sandy commons here in the Sanderlings it would cope with our salt laden winds and tolerate dry soil, as it was to live in a pot on the sun baked balcony. Once we had got it home, carried it through the house and upstairs (sadly breaking one or two smaller branches) and got it planted into its specially made pot, I looked up the particular cultivar and found it was an American bred river birch...!

However, we have fallen in love with its form and after a rough start (it had to be laid on its side for four weeks because the painter was in), it is responding to daily watering and starting to come into leaf. The best thing, and one of the reasons we bought it, is that it is acting as a sign post to the garden for birds, which seem happy to share the small space with us.

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