Sunday, 8 September 2013

Honey Fungus, Pretty Pictures, The Old Lawnmower Club, Giant Hogweed, Bakewell tarts and puddings, Coffins and Cheeses of Nazareth.

It has been a while since my last post so here's hoping  absence makes the heart grow fonder. 

I know this is a garden blog but I could  not resist opening with this. It is something you don't  see very often.
I was driving down a  local lane when I passed first a  woman on a sit up and beg bike with   the regulation wicker basket  hanging from  the handle bars and just up a head  was  a guy on a  penny farthing  struggling  with all his might to get up a  very steep hill. It worried me that  if  he lost his balance as you eventually do when  you go slower and slower  on a bike, he would come a tidy old cropper.  Giving him a wide  birth  I drove by in amazement  but  determined to get a picture of  him. There was nowhere to  stop in the narrow  lane  until the  next  junction  about a quarter of a mile down the road. It was  a junction with a   much busier road  and I thought  that would offer a chance for a chat and  a photo  when he stopped  for the traffic. I pulled up  and waited. Eventually  the lady on the bike came into view and I asked if she  had seen a man on a penny farthing. As I asked  his head  bobbed into sight from a dip in the road  and gradually the rest of him and his  huge wheel appeared.She was  his  companion  and explained that he had designed and built this bike himself and  having stayed  at the  local pub overnight  they were  now making their way back  to Silverstone some  thirty three miles away. But just as he hove into view he swiftly hoved out of view, the road was clear  and no way was he going to dismount if he did not have to  so it was quick wave from him and quick jog alongside from me  try to get a quick snap and he was off  with his 'support team'  in swift pursuit.  

Pretty pictures

I had a letter from Mathew Pichu in Peru and he said  the last  issue  was a bit too biased towards  the nastier side of  gardening with all those pictures of  pests  and diseases and how about more pictures of gardens. Here are  few 'pretty' pictures of plantings I have designed  but  sorry Mathew more death and destruction to come.

The first  planting is  a mix of purples and silvers with Sambucus 'Black Lace',  Buddleja ( Where are we with  the spelling of Buddleia? )'Morning Mist', Heuchera 'Plum Pudding' , Nepeta 'Six Hills' and  Allium   'Purple Sensation'. 

A collection of pots with Abutilon, Ostespermum  Discia   Scaevola, Plectranthus argentatus  Echeveria, Pelargonium  Lady Plymouth  and another  pelargonium with a trailing habit and very dark flowers.

Nestling in the  containers above is this  Diascia variety.  It is the most fabulous  dusky, dirty, greyey   purpley,  blue. and not done true justice by the picture. I don't know the  name  of the  variety but it is one I am going to get some cuttings of  and use it again  next year -  only for my own use of course just  in case it carries  Plant Breeders Rights!

The seed heads of Pasque flowers, Anemone pulsatilla run through  an  upright  Euonymus. Too bright a day for  a  really good photo but it does have  a sort of sparkle.

While we are on  a green theme,  just along from the planting with the Pasque Flower above I tried out  is this  green and cream arrangement. Cammasia leichtlinii 'Alba' with a  yet to open fully Stipa gigantea but looking just right. 

This is the same Stipa  later in the season when its  flower heads had opened up and were shimmering in the breeze - lovely.  

More of the same but different.

I tried out this combination of Heuchera 'Marmalade' , Carex  buchanani, Cosmos atrosanguinues    and some tagetes in  a galvanised tub in the jumble of my greenhouse.  

Two large clumps of Pulmonaria 'Diana Clare', some  Heuchera,a  Hydrangea paniculata and  a purple smoke bush make a lively combination  on a shady bank.( no, not Lloyds.)

More green but this time not mine. These are Nectaroscordum siculum subsp. bulgaricum reaching for the stars over a sea of Hosta leaves at Kiftsgate Court garden. 

A bit more Kifstgate. The 'new' garden where the tennis court used to be. All very stylish. 

A closer shot of the metal leaf sculpture. The leaves periodically  drip water  on a timed  system 

I tried this for the first time this year. I bought it as Zigadenus nuttallii  but it does not tally exactly with the images on Google. My nutallii is nicer. Right name or wrong name it is a little charmer.

 A group of box balls patiently waiting to have their hair cut  behind a sea of Marmalade - Heucheras.

Just a nice mix of Heuchera , Carex and a viola that   fades through a whole range of colours one of which  matches  the Heuchera to perfection.
News from our agricultural correspondent  Ivor Field. 

I wrote....
Hello Ivor, I am getting a new blog ready to go. Any chance of a few words on the current state of play in agriculture. Any quirky pests popped up this summer? There seems to have been fields being ploughed up right through the summer this year rather than the usual autumn after harvest ploughing. Good year for aphids? I imagine the warm weather got them going. Roses have been relatively free of fungal diseases because of the dry weather, has it been the same for agricultural crops?
Ivor wrote.....
Hi Paul, Yes a lot more fallow fields this year in the South Midlands! This is a direct follow on from last years wet summer and autumn. Many fields had deep ruts and damage to the soil from heavy harvesting equipment last year and so the only way to rectify the problems were to wait until the soil dried up this Spring or Summer and then rectify the compaction issues with subsoiling. Also there has been a lot of drainage activity going on in fields where previous drainage schemes have become dilapidated/blocked. You may have noticed areas in fields (particularly Winter wheat and Rape) where the crop was sprayed out and killed in June. Areas of orange/brown appeared in the green crops like patchwork quilts - this is where farmers sprayed off crops as they were infested with weeds - mainly Blackgrass, whereby the weed has become resistant to the herbicides used and the only way to control it or reduce the weed seed numbers is to kill it off with glyphosate and sacrifice areas of the crop also. This year there has been much more spring cropping (barley, spring rape and beans and Linseed) due to the wet autumn and cold winter and the fact that the more usual winter crops could not get established last autumn. Harvesting the spring barley and wheat is now underway and the yields are respectable. Fortunately there has been a lot more sunshine this year and the harsh winter and late spring has meant fewer pests and diseases managed to survive this and cause major problems to the crops in the field. By the time the warm spells occurred in June and July bringing with them an increase in aphid populations - many agricultural crops were beyond the stages where the pests cause economic damage or harm. The one thing that seems to have thrived is wasps and sitting here outside tapping this blog on my phone, I am being harassed - perhaps their natural predators failed to survive and with the abundance of fruit on the trees (a result of the very late spring flowering with no frosts or pests to kill off the blossom) they are not short of food. Enough is enough, it's now war!

Giant Hogweed. 
 Heracleum mantegazzianum  (After Paulo  Mantegazzi,  a liberal Italian  neurologist and  supporter of Darwin. ) 

Not one for the naked gardener this, the sap causes serious blisters and long term scarring. Its a biennial and a serious self seeder. Up to four or five metres high with cartwheels of  umbelliferous flowers. Queen Anne's Lace on steroids.   

 Such is its majesty that I did not have the heart to dig out this dramatic plant. 
Jagged leaves and  purple  stems - all as toxic as you like! 

If you want to eat again don't be tempted to  make peashooters out of the hollow stems. 

Honey Fungus - a tale of woe.

I have long known about honey fungus  but never  knowingly seen it in action.  It is one of those fungi that strikes terror   into the   hearts of  a gardeners. It can kill  large trees  and a tree  dying of honey fungus  arouse fear that th whole  garden is suddenly  going to be struck down  but often  just one tree will go  down and  that  is it , no more problems.  Sometimes  though it will spread  and other nearby plants will be affected.  Research has shown that there are what appear to be  species and strains that  are more virulent than others. It spreads underground  by  strands or rhizomorphs ( Rhizo = root.  morph = shape  so 'root like'  structures. ). The  rhizomorphs infect the plant through living  bark on roots or at the root collar then the fungus  kills the phloem (conducting tissue)  and the cambium ( growth tissue) and so   preventing the movement of  fluids up into the tree.  
The  mycelium spreads as  thin  white sheets underneath the bark. This white  mycelium  becomes black with time. The  fungus penetrates the dead wood   and shows as thin  black veins through the decaying wood.
The fungus can be  recognised by its strong  mushroom  smell and and it produces a wet rot. 
The pictures below are taken from a garden I work in. It is a garden that had become neglected  and  when we started work  there were one or two  poorly looking plants which eventually died over a period of a season and a half,  notabley a Rosa glauca, Viburnum davidii and an Escallonia. I put some of this down to   poor growing conditions, a cold winter  and an acceptance that sometimes things die and you are never quite sure why. There were none of the  obvious  honey fungus symptoms ( to this day there has never been any of the  honey coloured toadstools in the garden and  the books say their spores  are not a very likely source  of infection.)   though I did  not suspect honey fungus  and  can't say  I looked hard for symptoms so I might have missed something.The  plants we condemned to the bonfire. 

Shrubs were  put in to replace them  and all was well for a year  then  this year  a Hamamelis, Rosa Nevada and Wiegela all  died and and now a Magnolia stellata  is looking sick.  They  all deteriorated  slowly.  Subsequent  investigation has shown a dead Leyland cypress in amongst a hedge of Prunus laurocerasus  near  what seem to be  one of  three sites of infection.   
There is nothing that  can be done other than to remove as much as possible of the infected roots  so as to  remove the food source  for the  spreading  mycelium. Unfortunately one of the  stumps I need to dig out has since  had a  low retaining  wall built over half of it so  a barrier of stout  plastic will  seal  off  the part of the stump that  cannot be removed.  

This close up of  infected wood shows the  wet  decaying wood,  the  sheets of white mycelium  and the black 'marbling ' typical of honey fungus. This was found in the  middle of a decaying tree stump that  had been covered over   and  lay as a prime source of infection right next to where I was planting new shrubs. 
The soft decayed tissue is easily dug out  and was burnt.  
Peeling back the bark at the base of the stem  on this young Hamamelis revealed sheets of white mycelium working their way up under  the bark
Another shot of the  damage to the  Hamamelis which limped along for several months before eventually giving up. 
A piece of decayed  root showing  black mycelium penetrating  the decaying tissue,  and  white sheet of mycelium 
The base of this Leyland cypress  showed signs of  attack by mycelium  and smelled strongly of mushroom. It is in a long hedge of Cherry Laurel,  Prunus laurocerasus which is  showing no signs of damage  and  is fortunately on a Forestry Commission list of trees  thought to have a useful degree of resistance.  

Datisca cannabina.
I have written  about this  plant before. It is dioecious - having the male and female flowers  on separate plants  and comes from the  Greek oikos meaning home Monoecious  is where the  male and female flowers  are on the  same plant i.e. one home,  and dioecious  they are on separate  plants  i.e. two homes.   (Ecology has the same derivation)   but I had never seen the male plant. The  first two pictures below are the females  and they are elegant  with long and open tassels ( the herbaceous stems are  some three metres  tall)
It is not possible to  know what plant you have bought  unless you know the nurseryman who propagated  it and  if it is a division you will know what you are getting  but if it is an un-flowered seedling you could get either  male or female.  They are  fairly easy to raise from seed.

The long female  tassels swirl elegantly in the wind

Male plants looking more like Goldenrod .....

.... and  not looking as elegant as the females.

Bakewell Show
I was at two shows with our Gardening Question  Time  Road-show  a few weeks ago and came across some great stuff. 
The first show was in Derbyshire at Bakewell.  Here in the UK everybody goes oh yeah, Bakewell Tarts (it is a  kind  of small cake/ dessert)   and  tries to cast some slur on the women of Bakewell  which is downright rude of course. Others say 'but what about  the Bakewell Pudding  and are the  things Mr Kipling  produces anything like the original Bakewell Tart?'I tried to sort out the  tart pudding thing while I was at the show. Apparently the   modern,  somewhat sanitised,   Bakewell Tarts  we get offered  in the supermarkets are tarts  and the icing and cherry on the top are  new additions and were not part of the  original tart. They all have  a pastry case  with an almond paste and  strawberry jam filling  but the  original pudding has a flaky( that might be  puff, I can't remember)  pastry  case  and a filling which according to the Original Bakewell Pudding Shop  has a secret ingredient. Anyway  here is a picture  of  two small puddings and as you can see from the grease soaked bag and  dollops of jam they are a very healthy dessert. They are extremely sweet, so sweet in fact that  I would struggle to eat more than  six at a sitting. They definitely call for a strong cup of tea or some not too sweet custard - crème  fraiche might be an idea if not a very traditional one.


I am always envious of  vegetable growers  and I can only guess at the commitment it takes from these   allotment holders to  produce such magnificent  crops. 


Cooperative  Funeral Care. 
The Cooperative Funeral Service sponsored the heavy horses and carriages  classes  which displayed in the main arena. What I was dying to see was the display of  coffins which offered an odd mix of sobriety, lightness and quirkiness to the show.

This as green as you are going to get - a wicker coffin  pedaled to the grave side. I am afraid it does conjure up images of  a rainy day  and a bike bogged down  in rather sodden ground.

This looked so cosy I was tempted  to get in for a short snooze.  A  felted coffin, it was hard to resist the temptation to stroke it.  
You would  have to be careful  where you parked this Japanese style Buddhist temple hearse in case you ended up  with  queue  for 99s

A very plush interior. Why would  you want to go floating off to heaven when you  have this? 

In the Pink.

The display of pinks for judging was just so lovely with near perfect flowers and in colours I never thought I could like but I did. Sorry about the  pictures being a bit fuzzy. 


The Show Bench.

The mixed veg class   impresses  me most  because you have to show your skill across a range of   produce. Anyone who can  grow good caulis gets all my admiration.

What can you say!

 Preened roots a horse would be proud to have as a tail. 

It's a bit  of hard Cheddar.
I am struggling to find a reason  to include pictures of cheeses  in a garden  blog but  to be in the cheese tent was an experience  you couldn't help but to want to share and  a couple of the cheeses have  plant connections 

I don't have the words  to describe  the feeling I had seeing these cheeses. The colour, the smell, the weight and somehow a timelessness.

New satellites have  given us some fabulous close up pictures of the suns activity and particularly  the sunspots.   They could have saved some money  and just  sent a camera to Bakewell show cheese tent. Conspiracy theorists  may well say that's  just what they did.

We all know this cheese. It's Yarg from Lynher Dairies and  it is wrapped with nettle leaves. How could you bring yourself to cut it? Yarg sounds like some ancient word dragged up from the  depths of time but this a relatively new cheese, early 1980s and first made by  Alan Gray 
 and who just turned his  name around to create this  great sounding name. 


A cheese by the same maker  but this   time wrapped in wild garlic leaves.

Cheese mould. Very similar colours to many of our lichens.

A blue continental cheese making a run for it.


No words needed. New Close Farm Shop

That's the end of the food section.


Canwell Show is a great one day show  in the UK  Midlands. Very friendly and hospitable.

French beans for judging. 


In the horticultural tent  apart from all the judged classes  was a display of old garden implements including a range of  lawnmowers and turf care equipment. 

This  lawn edger  was  engineered to last. The metal  tray on the side would collect the trimmings as you went along. . 

I am a sucker for old metal and  patterns and symmetry so this  riddle or sieve  took me to a seventh heaven. The detail  and accuracy of the work was astonishing. It was made of steel so had  rusted over time   but for me it just added to its appeal.. The name on the wooden  rim was  that of a  malt suppliers  but I have no idea what part of the malting operation would have involved  a mesh so fine.

Of all the old tools this tiny lawn mower took my heart. It was so solidly built and as sharp and  efficient as you would want. Here it is turned upside down so that you can see the rotating blades  and the fixed bottom blade. It has a cut of about three inches.

It is just pushed along with one hand and the  wheel drives the blades around. The make is Tudor  who were also  makers of  kitchen appliances  and I seem to remember my mom had a  pressure cooker  made by them though it might have been a Tower.

The mower is upside down here showing where the clippings are thrown out. Look how thick the metal is.

I had a really good chat with Dave ( I hope I have remembered you name right  it has been a few weeks ago now.)  and  he  told  me about  his collection and collecting and also about The Old Lawnmower Club which brings together  enthusiasts at annual rallies  and  via the website. He demonstrated  the mower and it cut to perfection even on the  bumpy  grass of the show-ground. There was whole range of tools which  I could have  photographed  had I not been nattering  away for so long. One item was a three pronged flat bladed  fork cum spade  but with the  blade ends joined with a pointed,  flat piece of metal which if you stood the fork upside down looked like a  house with a  pointed roof held up by the three flattened prong. Suggestions were  that it was a  ditcher's fork  and would be used to dig ditches in heavy soil  and the  open spaces between the blades would let air in and  reduce the 'suck' you get when trying to dig wet clay.

LA FIN - that's for our French readers.

P.S Anyone looking for the reference to Cheeses of Nazareth there isn't one it was just a cheap gag. P.W.