Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year

Here's to a happy, healthy, hopeful New Year to everyone in Blogland. Thank you all for your comments, thank you all for visiting, and thank you all for your brilliant blogs, which have cheered me up, made me laugh, made me think, and sometimes made me cry.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The aiming of the shrew

There was a small news article in the Royal Horticultural Society's The Plantsman journal about a novel way in which a particular pitcher plant gains its nitrogen requirements. This got me thinking about 'carnivourous' plants.

Plants need nitrogen to live, thrive and survive. However, some environments are a little lacking in this nutrient - for example peat bogs and rock outcrops. So, what is a plant to do? They have to find an alternative source of nutrients.

In nutrient poor habitats in the UK, we have the beautiful but deadly sundews. In some areas of the Lake District, you can't move for these deadly (at least to tiny invertebrates) plants. But they are hardly the stuff of nightmares.
Incidentally, Charles Darwin experimented on sundews to find what type of foods caused the greatest reaction. He found that his urine (rich in nitrogen) caused the plant to react very rapidly. Presumably anyone else's urine would do just as well.

The Venus Fly Trap is a bit more active in its capturing of small insects but is still rather small. Not very Triffid-like.

It's the pitcher plants which have really taken to alternative sources of nitrogen-rich materials.

Most rely on insects as a source of nutrients. Some, however, have become rather more ambitious...

(brilliant use of the word 'flange' by David Attenborough).

The pitcher plant which inspired this post, however, wasn't aiming for insects, rodents or other such prey. No. This plant has taken a more prosaic route to improving its nutrition. Nepenthes lowii has evolved to act as a toilet to a shrew. Droppings are full of nutrients, and the pitcher design has evolved into a shape "manoeuvring the animal to sit astride the pitcher orifice". The droppings can then be broken down in the pitcher's liquid, to provide much needed nutrients for the plant.
Nature, isn't it beautiful?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Who's that in the trees?

Is Santa related to this chap? The Santa/Bigfoot conspiracy has been hushed up by the FBI and MI5 for too long!

Merry Christmas. from the Inelegant Gardener and SomeBeans, the under-gardener. And no, I haven't been on the sherry. Yet.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Out on the Streets - December

VP over at Veg Plotting has been running a series of posts about public planting this year, with both her and other contributors showing what's been growing out on the streets in March, June and October. Now it's time for December's OOTS. VP beat me to showing you all the Christmas lights in Chester, but I can give an update on the public planting I looked at in June.

Chester has been nominated as a Cycle Demonstration Town, and so cycles have featured heavily in the planting this year. The planting scheme has been changed to winter plants recently, and these cycles in the grounds of Chester cathedral show a range of hardy plants.

They also have baskets planted up with some evergreens, and supplemented by cut branches.

Finally, something which technically wasn't Out on the street, but can currently be found at Ness Gardens. In 2008, Liverpool went Superlambananas as part of its celebrations as the City of Culture. Currently, Liverpool and the surrounding areas are hosting a colony of penguins. This horticultural chap was found at Ness Botanic Gardens.

With celery and sweetcorn cobs for feet, isn't the Grow Your Own penguin handsome!

Please visit VP's blog for links to many more December OOTS

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ephemeral garden art

Lawns as temporary art.

Chris Parsons creates vast geometric patterns by sweeping the dew that has settled on close-cut lawns. The art lasts a few hours before the dew evaporates.
A photograph of a dew garden (page 16 of link)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fine words butter no...

Parsnips. A very seasonal veg. And with the cold weather that the UK is currently enjoying, the parsnips will be much tastier.

The one fact that everyone seems to know about parsnips is that they taste better after they have had a frost through them. The starches turn to sugar, making them sweeter, that's what all the web pages say. But why? With sweetcorn, it's the opposite. You have to run to the pan of boiling water to throw them in before the sugars turn to starch. Vegetables are contrary things.

According to this website (which describes the parsnip as "slightly mucilagenous" - not a great marketing slogan), at low temperatures starches are converted to sugars. This has been known for quite some time, as this textbook from 1867 mentions the change.

This paper from the 1940s looks at how these changes occur in potatoes, but the physiological reason behind the changes from starch to sugar is best explained by this article. Again it looks at potatoes but the reason must be the same - the change of starch to sugar lowers the freezing point of the fluid in the plant cells. This makes the vegetable cells less likely to be damaged by the cold weather (if you want to do an experiment, water with sugar or salt added to it will freeze at a lower temeprature than pure water).

So - great for the plant as it can cope with lower temperatures without its precious storage organ being damaged over winter, and great for us as we get a sweet, tasty veg for our Christmas dinner table.

Just don't try and make parsnip cake.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A huge sigh of relief

I've just about worked the last few days of my current job. A job which has, for the past two years, taken over most of my life, driven me nuts, given me huge lows and (one or two) wonderful highs.

Instead, I get a new job, three days a week. No weekends, no evenings, no 12 hour days. No managing, no budgets, no income targets. Same employer. It's only a 13 month contract, so at the end of Jan 2011, I may well be out of a job, but I will be (relatively) sane, having had a year or so of a 'breather'. More time to blog, to garden, to be what I want to be, rather than see myself becoming something I don't like, something hard. A weight is slipping off my shoulders.

So here's to 2010.

I might now even have a chance to visit other people's blogs again.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Famous five

I was asked a very difficult question last week. If I had to choose just five perennials to grow in my currently over-planted, unstructured front garden, which five would I choose? That's hard.

I can still have shrubs, trees, bulbs, even annuals, but just five herbaceous perennials.

Some of what I have in there at the moment (for details see GBBDs passim)

Aster x frikartii 'Monch' - a delight;

Penstemons from pink, through blue to deep purple. I like the fact that they flower forever, but am beginning to find them a bit 'twee';

Verbena bonariensis - hmmm, bit of a pain

Verbena hastata - nice but not something you can plant a drift of;

Sedum - several. Worth it just for the butterflies and bees.

Alchemilla mollis. Love the acid green colour of the new growth but never get round to dead heading it before it sets seed. Consequently everywhere;

Dierama - delicate flowers with hidden depths but scruffy (probably my fault);

Self sown poppies - fun and flouncy for a while;

Asters - nice and bright late autumn colour but they die ugly;

Nepeta - appreciated by the cats, who splat it;

Perovskia - hmmm.

Japanese anemones - lovely flowers but rather frisky. I've grown them in clumps but better off as individual plants, I think.

Geraniums - the ones I have are too low growing and just sprawl on the floor, like a drunken student, but there are others which would do a better job;

Ooohhhh, my beautiful, beautiful peony. Gorgeous but a bit like a firework - anticipation followed by a brief spectacular bang, then the equivalent of the stick left in the milk bottle for the rest of the year. Actually that's a bit harsh, as the foliage is nice if rather nondescript;

Aquilegias - always a surprise what they'll flower like as they're more promiscuous than [insert appropriate bawdy comment here];

Solomon's Seal (at least until the sawflies get to it);

There are lots more individuals, shoehorned in. So, a real rag-tag mix. No "unity". I'm rather attached to many of the above list, but would any make it to a list of five? I think I would have to save Aster 'Monch', as it flowers for ever and would look good with a lot of plants. The sedums make it onto the list, too, for their butterfly attracting abilities, their nice shape and I love the way their new growth peaks through in the spring. As for the others? I'm not so sure, so there are three gaps in my list. A grass such as Stipa? It would add movement, and it feels so nice.

What is your 'must have' perennial?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Happy Anniversary

To SomeBeans

I love you x