OK, so this might be an admission of burning the damson jam this morning. (Yes, it caught on the bottom of the pan. Don’t worry, it is nothing a good soak won’t fix!) But no, it is rather a reference to the various crops I’ve been gathering this week. Then I had the idea that I could maybe get up to six ‘black’ gardening items of interest for The Propagator’s Six on Saturday. It could have been a Halloween theme. Perhaps, but some of these harvests won’t wait. For instance …
1) Elderberry Honey
I noticed that the hedgerow elderberries were fast disappearing down the throats of our local blackbird population when the idea for this popped up on a foraging Pinterest board. I thought I should try the recipe out as I’ve been fighting off a cold for the last week. Fermented elderberry honey is supposed to be a great first defense with soothing antiviral and antioxidant properties. So I went for a walk to forage the last of the elderberries down the alley and added them to about the same volume of honey in a Kilner jar with enough space for a bit of fermentation. The photograph is the mixture after two days. The honey is turning a beautiful shade of red, although there is no sign of bubbles yet.
2) Indigo Rose Tomatoes
I’ve grown Indigo Rose tomatoes outside this year and they have done brilliantly (hurray for the hot dry summer). There are tons of tresses on each plant. I’ve been picking them for weeks as they turn red underneath, but with this awfully wet weather I am worrying about blight and so am bringing more in to continue ripening indoors.
3) The Inkcaps are back
The gravel driveway is sprouting shaggy inkcap fungi again this year. Although the toadstools start out as rather tall elegant white wigs, these have reached the stage of sporting a tightly rolled black hem around their edges and are beginning to ooze black slime. The fungi only last two or three days before they disappear to nothing.
4) The lovely Lady in Black aster
Symphyotrichum laterifloris ‘Lady in Black’ is one of the last asters to come in to flower in my borders, but I think I love it the most. It forms upright clumps of dark-leaved stems (about 1m tall) which are covered in hundreds of the palest pink tiny daisies.
5) Penstemon Raven
OK, this is not quite black, but pretty darn dark and black through its name association. Penstemon ‘Raven’ flowers for almost half the year (from June) and its colour is sumptuous. I’ve been busy taking cuttings over the last few weeks and know from experience that they will root quickly and easily.
6) Vampire Chillies
Did you ever see such splendid black chillies? ‘Vampire’ is a great chilli to grow, because it has a relatively short lead-in time until it starts fruiting. In fact this one was overwintered indoors last year and has cropped right through the summer. As an added bonus, its flowers are a beautiful vibrant purple and its leaves are mottled black, even its seed leaves. The chillies eventually turn red, but I’ve been picking some at the fun black fang stage this week for use in the kitchen.
That is my Six. Click through to The Propagator’s blog to see other sixes and don’t forget to join in if you can!
Dale Chihuly’s glasswork has appeared in some of the most fabulous venues around the globe for five decades, yet I’d never registered its existence until recently. I think that I must have slowly absorbed its impact and beauty while reading various garden blog posts about his work (e.g. from FlowerAlley). Fortunately for me, there is currently a wonderful display to bring me up-to-date at The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. So this post covers my visit last week to see the gardens and ‘Chihuly: Reflections on Nature‘. The exhibition finishes on 27th October, 2019, so I just made it in time!!
Happily, I chose the only dry day of the week and the stormy sky backdrops and sunny intervals worked some magic on the installations. For instance, look at these sparkles:
The medusa-like ‘Summer Sun’ installation stands lakeside, at the edge of the Palm House parterre and dazzles, with or without direct sunlight. It is a well-travelled exhibit and was previously in London (Berkley Square) in 2014.
With its vibrance and size (5.5m, consisting of 1,573 hand-blown glass elements weighing in at 2,000kg) Summer Sun sits comfortably in front of the ornate Palm House (built in 1844 by Richard Turner) adding a little nuclear fizz to the scene as dusk falls.
Whilst many of the installations convey a lot of movement through their dynamic twisting shapes, there are several much more rigid (but no less organic) affairs on display. These are typically labelled in the guide as ‘* Reeds’ and I can see how they would work successfully in a many locations. My favourite of these Reeds was ‘Neodymium Reeds and Turquoise Marlins’ (Marlins not shown below, being off to the sides):
Neodymium Reeds was in the lovely, recessed Mediterranean garden that climbs up to King William’s Temple. It feels like this little dell should be peaceful and contemplative, but, as pointed out by all the upright structures, overhead the planes roar in takeoff every few minutes.
Elsewhere, appropriately overlooked by the Great Pagoda and in the shade of the Japanese Gateway, ‘Niijima Floats’ (created in 1991 and inspired by Japanese fishing boats) appear to hover just above the gravel of the rock garden. These vibrant marbles feel planetary, with sufficient gravity to bulge slightly about their waistlines like giant pumpkins. They are some of the largest glass spheres ever blown (~1m in diameter)
Chihuly’s ‘Garden Cycle’ began in 2001 and built on his considerable interest in glasshouses, so it is no surprise that, for me, his most stunning works at Kew are displayed inside the glasshouses. The newly restored Victorian Temperate House is the stage for an incredibly diverse set of free standing exhibits that are sunk so deeply into their surroundings that I swear that some of them have truly rooted and are growing.
One of the joys of the Kew Glasshouses are their beautiful open upper walkways and these are the places to get a sense of scale and immersion in the plants and palms growing there.
The upper walkway in the Temperate House certainly allows the best views of many partially eclipsed installations that are dotted around the vegetation at ground level.
But best of all is the view across the restored glasshouse itself, together with a new piece commissioned to grace this fantastic structure – a 9m drop of blue ‘Persians’:
OK, so I’ve left my absolute favourite till last. It’s a piece displayed in the Waterlily House, a house so humid that my camera steamed up every I tried to use it (adding a certain/literal atmosphere to the shots). It is the sculpture called ‘Ethereal White Persian Pond’. I am told that at the beginning of the 2019 Chihuly Kew season there were lengthy queues to get into this glasshouse. Well, it is still busy in there, but the display is still also ethereal and magical:
I’ve not done a flower post to join in with Chloris’ Monthly Top Ten Flowers meme for a while now. My focus has been elsewhere and quite frankly the flower bit of the garden isn’t brilliant this year. However, as I’ve been taking cuttings and assessing the mess, it seemed like a good time to pull my finger out and bookmark some pretty reliable performers. As I chose the photographs of September blooms I noticed that I was picking out a lot of red. It’s interesting, because that isn’t the main colour in the borders by any stretch, but like my MIL says, a splash of red in a picture makes all the difference (there’s some theory behind it too).
Anyhow, here’s what has caught my eye this month:
1) Linum grandiflorum
This scarlet flax is actually in a meadow mix, but it really ‘pops’ in the combination and has the same effect as the poppies earlier in the year.
2) Cosmos ‘Double Click Cranberries’
Each year there seems to be a new Cosmos variety to try out and on paper I liked the look of D.C. Cranberries to go with the plum coloured flowers I was favouring this year. The plants themselves have been a little floppy, but the flowers are exactly as advertised.
Yes, I shameless use that name for them still and I can’t get enough of them, especially the taller forms. However, since I am cutting and pasting its long name you get the proper form now: This is Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Andenken An Alma Potschke’ and it lights up the borders every year. Funnily enough I am beginning to see variations in flower colour and size at the edges of the clumps, so I suppose they are crossing somehow. It seems strange though. Anyone else seen similar?
I invariably grow Amaranthus ‘Red Army’ each season, but, as with cosmos, I have fun testing out additional cultivars most years. For a while now I’ve been wanting to source a variety I saw on holiday, growing in a lovely French potager garden. It was glorious display, standing as tall as head height, with leaves turning from maroon at its base to an incredible lipstick pink at its top. This year I’ve grown ‘Molten Fire’ (above) it is the closest that I’ve got so far. Unfortunately what you are looking at is only 20cm tall!!! What am doing wrong? All the other varieties grow fine.
We revamped a short border at the end of our drive in the spring and have largely designated it a rose bed. I hate rose maintenance and so made some constraints on what was chosen to go in it, namely the roses had to at least be repeat flowering and moderately to strongly scented. This is R. ‘Helen Robinson’, a Harkness rose and she fits the bill perfectly.
This wonderful little salvia (Salvia greggii ‘Cherry Red’) has flowered continuously from late spring. It is still going strong. I’ve been taking cuttings. Lots.
I’ve done a complete about-face with regards to nerine and my affections. Now I love them and they look great with Penstemon ‘Andenken an Friedrich Hahn’.
8) Ah yes, Begonias
Specifically B. ‘Ember Glow’, otherwise I am not a big fan. But this one has beautiful leaves and endless, cascading, lava-like orange flowers. I bought plug plants this year so that I could have even more glowing mounds around the garden.
There’s nothing wrong with highlighting old favourites. I grow zinnias in the borders at Wimpole because the slugs at home mean that I never have any to show there. I grow them against the wishes of one of my team. She really isn’t a fan, but I can’t help loving their cheerfulness, daisy-like flowers and the way the centre flowers grow up and up and up. Plus the visitors and bumblebees love them!
Resistance is futile.
Don’t forget to check out Chloris’ phenomenal selection of September blooms!