I am sitting like Miss Havisham at Satis House (minus the wedding dress, but I have cake). All around there is decay and filth. Cobwebs hang from every nook and cranny and the floor is covered in indescribable detritus. Over in the far corner of the room I can just make out some half gnawed bones of what looks like a small animal. The door has bloody claw marks scraped all the way down it as if some poor wretch had made a last ditch bid to escape the indescribable horror of the fate that awaited them. The walls are covered in strange chalked pagan symbols that in places are painted over with what looks like blood. Everything is very dark even though outside the Sun is shining. I think I better get out of Cruella’s (my wife) bedroom before she finds out I’m here and turns me into a toad again.
Don’t worry she won’t find out , she is still at our English house. You will remember from my last post that she flew there (the usual way) with a mission to save our idiot son from coronavirus. Having cast various spells, surrounded his apartment with a Pentangle and flown regular missions around the whole block every night, she assured me this was enough to keep him safe. Unfortunately the government decided to locate a 5,000 bed emergency hospital at the Excel Centre in London, a mere 500 yards outside Cruella’s safety zone. Faced with taking on the whole government she decided to relocate the idiot boy to our house in Rochester for safety. When I asked her how she convinced him to leave his apartment she said it was easy she promised him free beer, wine and takeaways. He is still there now and Cruella is in heaven ministering to his every need like a small Wren to a giant Cuckoo chick.
Anyway enough of stuff we can do nothing about. The real magic is here in the garden where self isolation gives us great opportunities to garden night and day without interruption. Let’s get going.
31st March. Things I have been doing lately:
🏺 Giving pots a make over. No matter how large or small your garden you are bound to have pots around the place. Now the trouble with pots is that most people just stick a plant in, water it occasionaly, and only really look at if it flowers or dies. Now that you have time on your hands I want to encourage you to look at all your pots. At this time of year I check all my pot plants to make sure that I can optimise their performance. The photo below shows a set of pots that I can see need attention for various reasons.
Taken collectively they look a real mess, but they are all suffering from different problems; some of which can be remedied whilst others are terminal and they are headed for the compost bin.
The first plant to be looked at was a large Agave that was suffering from some form of virus that has decimated this plant in our area of Spain. Most of you will have lost this type of plant over the last few years. From the photo below you can see that the plant is severely disfigured and distorted by the virus. There was no way of restoring the plant. In the past I have cut this type of plant right down but the disfiguration comes back on the new growth. It had to be thrown away, but don’t try and compost it as you will introduce the virus to the compost. In my case there was no way it was coming out of its pot as it was tightly bound. The second photo shows the only solution – more added to my large heap of pot crocking that sits beside the compost bins.
The next pots contained a selection of bulbs that just failed to perform this year. These are stored on the potting bench during the Winter and then brought out in Spring to perform. The first photo below shows how sad they looked. Whilst the second photo shows the problem. The bulbs have become soft, soggy and rotting and would never flower again. Either they had got too wet, or, something had infected the bulbs. Either way they could not be saved.
The next plant wasn’t a lost cause, it just needed some help. From the picture below you can see that this lovely little flowering shrub had become the host for a pernicious weed that was stealing all the goodness from the soil. The remedy was to take it out of the pot, carefully remove every bit of the weed and then repot in fresh compost. The first photo below shows the weed all over the soil but lying low so that you would not notice it. The second shows the remedy. The last photo shows the plant securely repotted and it should hopefully recover. Click on each photo for a larger view.
The final plant from this sickly selection, is in fact a very healthy plant part of the Bromeliad species this is Aechmea which is very common as a Naya or veranda plant here in Spain. This plant has a particular resonance for me as our idiot son bought this when he was at University and for some peculiar reason named it “Alan”. He studiously neglected it for 4 years – though I am pleased to say not his studies, 1st in a Physics Masters now you ask. This of course is not Alan the First, but is son of Alan as I shall explain below.
Bromeliads are typically watered through the centre of the plant down its funnel of leaves. In addition they famously reproduce in the same pot and end up with lots of crowded plants (which they don’t seem to mind). The photo below shows one of my Aechmea in its undivided state.
To make more plants, all you have to do is ease the plant out of its pot. Then cradling it in your hands gently prise each individual baby plant away from the main plant. The plants do not have a lot of root so don’t worry if it looks as if all you have is just a few leaves. Once you have prised them apart repot the new plants in a nice free draining compost and then place them back into semi shade (the Naya is ideal). They will flourish there and you will have got some plants for free. If you don’t want them all give them away to friends. At the moment I have Alans all over the Naya as Cruella is not here to complain. The photos below show the divided plants and their eventual new home. Click on each photo for a larger view.
🌺 Renewing compost in various pot plants. Just because you put a plant in a pot a few years ago, doesn’t mean that it will stay happy and healthy for ever. How would you like it if you only ever got fed once? That’s why at this time of year, and especially as you have nothing else to do as you are self isolated, you should replenish the compost in all your pots.
Although I do not have that many plants in pots, I always once a year, renew the compost in each pot (not succulents). All you have to do is scrape away and remove the top layer of soil in the pot. Only do this as far as the main roots, don’t worry if you dig up some fine feeder roots as these will renew themselves. Once you have scooped out as much soil as you safely can, then add into the pot a handful of granulated slow release plant food. Then top the pot up with nice fresh compost from your compost bin or from a bought in bag. Your plants will reward you with fresh vigour and better flowering.
The first photo below shows my compost renewal set up with a stool to sit on (I’m old) and trugs for old soil and for new.
The next photos show the process of scraping out the old soil, note the feeder roots. Whilst doing this take the opportunity to remove any weeds and suckers from the stems. And finally topping up with lush compost. Click on each photo for a larger view.
🌳 Potting on Fig trees. Every so often I will take hardwood cuttings from trees and try and grow them on. I have been very successful over the years with Fig trees which have a tremendous lust for life and just love to develop from cuttings. However, the trick is to move them on to larger pots every year to 18 months so that they can develop and progress to achieve their potential. The photo below shows three cuttings sitting on the potting bench. These are 18 months old and ready for their next size pot.
The trick to successfully potting on is to make sure that the plant is settled into its new pot at the same level as in its old one. To achieve this you need to place compost in the bottom of the new pot and then rest the plant inside its old pot on top of this until you are happy with its level. Then leaving the plant in its old pot begin to fill around this with the new compost, first photo below. Tamp the compost firmly into place, and then twist the old pot around and carefully remove it from the new compost. If you have done this correctly then you should be left with a pot shaped space inside your new compost, second photo.
The final photo shows the potted on trees now settling into a Summer of full Sun. These cuttings will give Figs this Summer which are always welcome. Their next stopping point will be planting into the ground; I don’t quite know where.