Tag Archives: Flowers

Harvest festival and your garden

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gypsophilla

Harvest festivals are traditionally celebrated around the time of the Harvest Moon which is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. It’s an important time in the garden as well as on the farms.

Harvest festivals are thanksgiving festivals, a way of showing gratitude to one’s God or gods for a good store of food to keep the people fed through the lean winter months. Historically, Harvest festival was also an opportunity for the Landowner to give a feast for his workers in recognition of their hard work over the growing season. The first new ale would be drunk and loaves of bread made with the freshly gathered and milled wheat.

So why is the autumn equinox important to your plants? The Harvest Moon usually falls as a full moon at the end of September, but occasionally falls at the beginning of October. It’s at this point in the year that the day and night length are equal. The plants in your garden and allotment will notice the difference as they respond to day length.

chrysanthemum

Well actually, it’s not quite that simple, not all plants decide to hibernate once the nights become longer than the days; whether we’re having an Indian Summer or an early hoar frost makes a difference too. So, without dumbing down as you’re an intelligent bunch of readers, let’s have a brief botanical explanation as to why the plants in your garden start behaving differently now we’ve reached the autumnal equinox.

It’s important for a plant’s existence that it knows not to lets its seed germinate during winter, when hard frosts would be likely to kill the emerging seedling. Nor would it be productive to flower when there are no pollinating insects around. Neither is a good plan for survival of the species! There are both internal plant factors, such as the production of particular hormones and external factors that affect plant growth. It is the two major external factors that we’re looking at, and they are, as you’ve probably guessed, light and temperature.

white tulips

Generally speaking, most plants require a certain temperature in order for the seed to germinate and for the plant to grow. Which is why many plants lie dormant or semi-dormant over the winter months. Some plant species require a period of cold to encourage germination of the seed; for example, Tulips. When these plants are grown where the winter is not cold enough, Florida for example, they can be artificially chilled so as to stimulate flowering in the spring.

Photoperiodism, or plants’ response to day length, has been constant over millennia, and it is only recently, over the past couple of hundred years or so, that humans have been successfully able to interfere with the process artificially. Flowering plants are especially sensitive to photoperiodic stimulus; for example, have you ever forced Hyacinth bulbs for Christmas by putting them in a cool dark cellar then bringing them in to the warmth and light to flower?

There are three main grouping of flowering plants in relation to day length and their growth and flowering. Assuming that the plant is sufficiently mature and ready to flower, the day length becomes crucial for many of our favourite garden flowers.

Hyacinths

Short day plants, Chrysanthemum, for example, react to the day length being shorter than a specified time; or put another way, when the hours of darkness are longer than the hours of daylight. So these plants tend to flower later in the season, during late summer and autumn.

Long day plants, such as Gypsophilla, tend to be spring and summer flowering plant; they respond to the day length being longer than a specified amount of time. However, day neutral plants, for example, Viburnum, are unaffected by the length of daylight hours and will flower when they are mature enough to do so.

So this is why the Autumn Equinox, as illuminated by the Harvest Moon, is a crucial turning point in the gardening year.

The cover illustration for our newest eBook “In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design” shows Demeter, who was the Greek goddess of the harvest and fertility and one of the aspects of the Triple Goddess, or Earth Mother, Gaia. An appropriate subject for a book about crops and harvest and food in your garden and allotment, we thought.

In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design - cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

Plants that tell the time

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Mirabilis jalapa

Or should that be “Plants that tell the ‘thyme’”?

The Victorians loved their bedding plants, and parks and private gardens would have intricate designs made from flowers; including clocks and the royal coat of arms. But this blog isn’t about flowers displayed as a giant timepiece in your garden, although that would make an interesting change in a front garden.

In fact, in some ways it’s a misnomer, as all plants can tell the time; possibly better than many of us with our dependence on watches and mobiles for alarms to wake us up. Perhaps we should be using a dandelion clock? Not quite, blowing the seeds off a dandelion head is more accurate for increasing the spread of the dandelion than telling the correct time by the number of puffs it takes.

So when your dahlias start waking up an hour before the sun rises – everyday they’re in bloom, regular as clockwork – and you struggle with the snooze button…how do they do it? Quite clever really, there’s a pigment in the plant that reacts to the increase or decrease in the amount of daylight; well to be more precise, the lack of light or darkness of night. This enables plants to open their petals at sunrise and close them at sunset. It is also part of the system whereby plants live their lives; knowing when seeds need to germinate and when leaves should fall.

Some flowers are really accurate in their sun watching. Sunflowers track the course of the sun as it moves across the sky, turning those beautiful heavy heads of yellow to mirror the golden sun. There are many plants and flowers which seem to have a favourite time of day to open their blooms or close their leaves. A favourite of mine is the ‘Four o’clock plant’ or Mirabilis jalapa. This beauty has fragrant flowers in the evening, and can be grown as an annual or a tuberous perennial (like dahlias). It is a stunner at this time of year in particular, cheerfully throwing out petals of yellow, pink and cream all blending together on the same plant and even on the same flower.

Mirabilis jalapa also known as ‘Pride of Peru’ opens its flowers in the late afternoon – hence ‘four o’clock plant’. It was introduced into Britain around 1633 by John Tradescant the Younger and has been around ever since, although subject as many plants have been, to the vagaries of fashion. The Tradescants, father and son, were instrumental in discovering many plants from the Americas – the brave new world – and bringing them back to the homeland. As early plant hunters in the Americas, Russia and North Africa we owe many plants in our gardens to their discoveries. We also owe thanks to the gardeners and botanists who took the seeds and plants and grew or tried to grow these strange herbs and trees in their own gardens and estates.

The botanist John Gerard was said to have grown the ‘four o’clock plant’ in his London garden. However, this might have been a different member of the mirabilis family as Gerard died in 1612. Of course the Spanish had been to Mexico and Peru  in the late sixteenth century and could well have returned with some seeds, which, courtesy of Drake and the other English privateers of Elizabeth Tudor’s reign , could have found their way into English gardens.

One last note about those ‘Pride of Peru’ seeds: black and hard coated they are poisonous, so don’t mistake them for seeds of the onion family. Store them in a safe place and sprinkle around in spring and you will have your scented, colourful timepiece in the garden. As for thyme, planted with the ‘four o’clock plant’, it would add a decorative and evergreen contrast.

For planting ideas or a re-design of your garden, why not drop us an email to talk about it?

Jubilee Jubilation

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The weather is rather good for Britain this weekend, glorious in parts…hands up those who think it will rain for their street party over the Jubilee weekend? … Hmm, not sure whether that’s a pessimistic or realistic response given the vagaries of the British climate! Now the Chelsea Flower Show madness is settling down, we can switch our focus to community and country with thoughts of 1952. Or 1977. Or even 2002. Not just 2012.

Ok, explanations: 1952 was the year our Queen ascended the throne. 1977 was the year of the Queens Silver Jubilee, ie she had reigned for 25 years. In 2002 we celebrated her Majesty’s Golden Jubilee, ie 50 years of being on the throne. (Remember the ‘Party at the Palace?) 2012 is of course the year of Olympics in Britain and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

All of these celebrations lead certain garden designers & plantswomen to conjure up patriotic planting schemes, both short term for street party and general decorative purposes but also for the longer term, this summer and beyond. The demands of a red, white and blue colour scheme can lead to a few tweaks; true blue is not the commonest colour among flowers. So, what about a few ideas to get you planting?

A red rose for Lancaster and a white rose for York hark back to the Wars of the Roses which was largely about who should rightfully sit on the throne of England in the 15th century; perhaps surrounding  these rose bushes with soft blue Nigella, also known as love-in-a-mist, will help keep any protagonists calm. The roses are perennials, of course, and the Nigella will self seed. After the blue flowers you can enjoy the decorative seed heads. What about a native species mix of blue/purple scented violas, white yarrow (for the butterflies) and scarlet pimpernel? They’ll keep going all summer long and you’ve added to the garden’s biodiversity too.

Or would you prefer a quicker fix, flowering for the Jubilee weekend but looking good afterwards too?

Something which brings in architectural planting (very 2002), municipal bedding schemes (very 1952 and 1977), plus biodiversity (2002 and 2012 themes) might take your fancy if you have an historical bent, or Royalist streak. Try Persicaria ‘red dragon’ for the foliage drama with its red stems and red/purple/ bronze tongue shaped leaves; mix with purple/blue pansies (try to find scented ones for extra sensory delight) and Geranium ‘Kashmir white’  with its mound of feathery cut foliage . Both the pansies and geranium are flowering now and will continue for another month.

Or you could have a Royalist selection, maybe Anchusa ‘Loddon royalist’ (blue), Lobelia ‘queen Victoria’ (red) and for white it has to be Rosa ‘queen Elizabeth’, named for our current monarch. Have I got you wondering why ‘Loddon’, the other two being obviously royalist in connection? Well, the River Loddon flows through royal Berkshire, home of Windsor castle, which is the more obvious relationship and sufficient for our needs. However, for those of you with magpie minds, you may like to know that there have been mills on the river Loddon since the 14th century, including a early 19th century silk mill. Which makes a royal link with Queen Elizabeth Tudor, who encouraged the planting of white mulberry trees in order to promote silk worm, and therefore silk, production.  So we have a connection between our two Queen Elizabeths. The connection between Queen Victoria and our reigning Queen is that they are the only two British monarchs to date who have ruled over us for 60 years. (Victoria’s reign was 63 years long).

Reigning – or raining – brings us neatly back to the weather: personally, I would take a brolly; it can double up as sunshade or rain cover…Whatever the weather, Plews can help you with planting and design schemes; solutions for garden issues; garden lessons and more.

Whether you’re Royalist or Republican, why not contact us and let us spread some jubilee celebration fervour into your garden?