THE GLORY LILY - Gloriosa rothschildiana

The Glory Lily - otherwise known as the Gloriosa Lily or Gloriosa rothschildiana - is perhaps one the most delicate and beautifully flowering climbing plants you will ever come across. A native of North Africa, this exceptional plant was named after Baron Z.W. Rothschild, a renowned ornithologist who brought it back to enter it into the English Horticultural Society’s exhibition of 1901.

Related to the Lilium family, the Glory lily is a tender tuberous rooted perennial climber that will require cold protection in all but the mildest areas within Great Britain.

A piece of glory lily root
Root section of Glory lily
Despite its tropical looks the Glory Lily is relatively easy to grow. It is best off started in pots and then transferring them to the ground during May to June once the threat of late frosts have passed.

Similar to the oriental lilies the growth of the Glory Lily is upright at first, but these are climbing plants that love to scramble. If you look carefully you'll see that the tip of each leaf has a barbed end which it uses to support itself on whatever is at hand to climb on.

With an overall height of about 2 metres you can place this plant either against a small piece of trellis against a sunny wall or you can place it amongst the borders with the support of an ornamental obelisk. You should expect to see the first set of flowers opening out around July.

Wherever you place it it's important to make sure that it can get as much sunlight and ventilation as possible. If you intend to grow it in a pot , choose one with a bit of weight to it, preferably an unglazed, porous terracotta pot, that way when the plant gets a little top heavy it is at less risk of being blown over. Also you can consider planting the whole pot into the ground for better protection making it easier for lifting before the cold weather of winter is back upon us.

A display composed of a bag of compost. Vermiculite, bone-meal and potted glory lily root
How to grow the Glory Lily
Typically, the Glory Lily will be purchased as pre-packed root sections in the spring. Using loam-based compost - with either horticultural grit, perlite or vermiculite or bark chippings to aid drainage. To help give it a head start you can also throw in a handful of growmore or bone meal, just make sure that it is mixed in thoroughly before planting.

Plant the bulbs 3-4" deep, in larger pots you can plant several specimens so long as they are about 6" apart. Just lay them on their sides and cover them up - they will know which way is up. Water well, thoroughly soaking the compost and then allow any residue to drain away. If kept in a warm room you can expect to see new shoots in two to three weeks.

During the growing season the Glory lily should be watered thoroughly, but again, they will need to be allowed to dry out almost completely before re-watering – never leave them waterlogged or standing in water as this can encourage rots. When growing begins in the spring they should be given a liquid feed once a week to encourage new growth. Later on in the season a half strength fertilizer added to the water every two weeks will keep plants blooming strongly throughout the summer and sometimes further into early autumn.

To save your tubers from one year to the next it’s best to stop watering the plants from about the end of October. Allow the compost to fully dry off and any foliage to die back down. Now place the pot in a warm dry area over the winter period where temperatures will not go below 5°Celsius. As soon as the threat of frosts has passed, the compost has been allowed to dry out. You may wish to re-pot your Glory Lily into a larger one at this time. The new seasons growth should appear after about three weeks, at which point you can put your glory lily back outside.

Main image credit - Kwelstr
All other images - Simon Eade

For related articles click onto the following links:
Gardeners World Glory Lily
HOW TO OVERWINTER THE GLORY LILY – Gloriosa rothschildiana
LILIUM NEPALENSE - The Lily of Nepal


Potato foliage
Why and how to chit potatoes

Chitting (sometimes known as sprouting) potatoes is one of those practices handed down through the generations that appears to encapsulate the mysteries of gardening. It's one of the jobs that gardeners will do without question but when you ask them why they do it - most of them won't have an answer.
Compared to the potatoes natural habitat of 'subtropical' South America, the English climate isn't perhaps the first place you would think to grow these staple crops, but with centuries of selective breeding the modern potato now does very well in our soils. There is one problem though that still remains and that is our comparatively short growing season and this is where the art of chitting comes in.

Seeds potato with emerging eyes
Why and how to chit potatoes
While our soil temperatures remain below about 10 degrees Celsius not much will happen as the potato - a modified storage organ - is in a state of natural dormancy. Left to their own devices, by the time the soil has warmed up sufficiently to break the dormancy period and begin the new season growth the majority of potato plants won't be ready to crop until the late summer or even autumn. The reality of this growth cycle means that we need to 'force' the seed potatoes into growth artificially by introducing light and heat - normally provided by a warm, well lit room. This stimulates the production of new shoots and kick starts the potato out of it normal dormancy and reduce the time until cropping from anywhere between 1 and 2 months.

There are other advantages to breaking the dormancy by chittings as modern early cultivars will crop far earlier and more heavily. You can help the process further by rubbing off all but the four strongest sprouts so that the tuber's energy is diverted into a few really strong shoots that form the new potatoes as early as possible. Second early and maincrop potatoes also benefit from chitting but they don't need a thinning out of the sprouts. Chitting late cropping varieties will result in them producing their foliage earlier and hopefully produce new potatoes before being hit with infections of potato blight or problems with summer droughts. Again, they will mature earlier and can be gathered before slugs do too much damage the tubers.

You can buy seed potatoes from as early as January but it is probably better to wait until the beginning or middle of February before you begin chitting potatoes. Put the seed potatoes into a box where they can be supported in an upright position - cardboard egg boxes are ideal for this – and place them indoors into a light and airy position. During this time they will require a cool temperature of a little over 10 degrees Celsius. Position them so that the end which has the most eyes (dormant sprouts) are uppermost and the 'stalk' end where they were severed from the parent plant is at the bottom. The new sprouts will form in a couple of weeks and - as mentioned before - it's good practice to remove the weaker sprouts leaving four of the strongest to continue. As a general rule of thumb it will normally take about six weeks to chit a batch of potatoes.

If the weather is unsuitable at the time of planting then you can remove all of the sprouts and start again. Also, if you have positioned some of your potatoes upside down and the potatoes sprout from the wrong end, simply rub off the sprouts and turn the potato the right way up. Keep them where they are while the shoots are developing and they can stay there until they are ready for planting later on in March.

Main image credit - Running trees
In text credit - Mathias Karlsson

For related articles click onto the following links:
Gardeners World: How to Chit Potatoes


Close up of Fritillaria meleagris purple and white chequerboard effect blooms
How do you propagate the Snake's Head Fritillary? - Fritillaria meleagris

The snake's head fritillary is a gorgeous yet delicately patterned ornamental flowering bulb. It is extremely popular as a seasonal garden plant and as such is cultivated in huge numbers. However If you are looking to create a large scale planting then purchasing pot-grown or pre-packed bulbs can prove to be expensive. However as a species which has proven hardiness in England it is worth considering propagating Fritillaria meleagris yourself. So just how do you propagate the Snake's Head Fritillary?

Luckily, as a native to Britain (or a garden escape from the 18th century), the Snake's Head FritillaryFritillaria meleagris, is relatively easy to propagate. This can be done either by division when the bulbs are dormant at the end of the summer, or by collecting and sowing viable seed.

Botanical illustration of Fritillaria meleagris
How do you propagate the Snake's Head Fritillary?
Collect the seed as soon as they ripen – around June or July - otherwise dormancy can set in and it can then take a year or so before germination occurs.

Before you sow your seed however, you will need to make a change in your seed compost recipe in order to help optimise the germination results. Simply make up a mix of 1 part perlite or horticultural grit to 2 parts John Innes seed compost. Sow them thinly – as this will avoid the need to prick out the delicate seedlings later, and then cover the seed with a thin layer of compost carefully adding no more than ¼in of horticultural grit on top. Place outside in a shady spot, but open to the weather and if you have collected the seed early enough germination can start to occur as soon as 1 month.

It's important to keep the compost moist throughout the summer and once most of the seeds have germinated, they can be moved into a cold-frame or well-lit spot in the garden. At this point they can be given an occasional liquid feed as this will help to prevent problems with loss of nutrients due to leaching. Grow them on for at least another year before transplanting out into a moist, semi shaded position in August when the plants become dormant.

Fritillaria meleagris is relatively pest and disease free although it can be susceptible to damage from the scarlet lily beetle. If beetles are seen then measures must be taken quickly due to the small size of the plant compared to the voracious appetite of the scarlet lily beetle.

Main image - Attribution: Sten Porse
In text image - Johann Georg Sturm public domain


THE SNAKE'S HEAD FRITILLARY - Fritillaria meleagris

Close up of the chequerboard affect of THE SNAKE'S HEAD FRITILLARY - Fritillaria meleagris
THE SNAKE'S HEAD FRITILLARY - Fritillaria meleagris

The Snake's head Fritillary is a darling amongst late spring bulbs but it happens to be a bit of an oddity. Despite its exotic appearance this intractably patterned plant is a native to Great Britain and unlike most bulbs – whose natural habitats tend to be nutrient poor soils with low moisture availability – this species prefers the damp environments of traditional meadows and pastures.

Botanical illustration of Fritillaria meleagris
THE SNAKE'S HEAD FRITILLARY - Fritillaria meleagris
Up until the beginning of the 20th century, meadows of fritillaries were common place around Britain but many of these areas were seriously affected during the “Ploughing for Victory” campaign of the Second World War. In an attempt to further increase food production much of our boggy pasture-land was drained for agricultural use and this significantly reduced the overall number of sites which could support these beautiful plants.

Today there are only three sites remaining - notably in Oxfordshire - where you can still find the Snake’s Head fritillary in its natural habitat.

Although now a protected species and rarely found in the wild the Snake's head Fritillary is readily available from cultivated stock either as bulbs in late autumn or as pot grown stock in the spring. In the garden they are tolerant of most soil types so long as they are kept moist.

However, if you intend to naturalise them you should try for a neutral to slightly alkaline soil in a sunny or partially shaded position. If the soil is too free draining add plenty of humus such as leaf mould, but the most important condition that is required for successful naturalisation is to not allow them to dry out over the spring and summer period.

Under favourable conditions you can expect the Snake's head fritillary to grows between 15–40 cm in height. The blooms appear from March to May and have a characteristically chequered pattern in shades of purple; although some individual specimens can have pure white flowers. The greyish-green leaves lance-shaped appearing in the spring until mid-summer.

If you are growing Snake's head Fritillary from bulbs then you should get them in the ground as soon as possible - before the worst of the winter weather arrives. Plant them to a depth of approximately 4-5 inches, again adding plenty of humus. The delicately purple, pink and white chequered flowers - which are both hermaphrodite and self-fertile - should appear from April to May on stems of around 12 inches high.

Main image - Attribution: Sten Porse
In text image - Johann Georg Sturm public domain

For further reading on native plants click onto:
Dracunculus vulgaris - The Dragonlily
How to Grow Native Wild Primroses and Polyanthus from Seed


Blue flowered crocus in full flower
Gardening jobs for February

February is the first month of the year where you can put the dreariness of winter behind you and experience those tentative signs of spring. The first of the early bulbs will be starting to push through the soil and with a bit of luck you may catch a glimpse of blue sky breaking the monotony of our usual winter grey. It’s a month that brings hope to the garden, but where there is hope there is also some work and the more you can get done while things are comparatively quiet then the less you will have to do when things really kick off in March and April.

1. If you have any dogwood (Cornus species) that are displaying their characteristically coloured stems over the winter period, now is the time to cut them hardback. This should be done to about 6 inches above ground level, but if you are looking at plants which haven’t been pruned for a few years then only cut them back by a third of their original height. This pruning technique is designed to encourage plenty of new growth, and this will help to produce a repeat display of colourful stems the following winter. With regards to the highly prized specimens of Cornus controversa, C. kousa and C. florida, it is best to just leave them alone - unless you are removing dead, diseased or dying wood.

2. This is also an ideal time to cut back late flowering clematis, and again they need to be pruned back hard. Cut them back to about 1 foot from the ground, leaving only a couple of stems with healthy buds to provide the new seasons growth. Removing this amount of plant material may seem harsh but there will be no flower initiation on this old wood come the following summer. This is because late flowering clematis will only flower on the top 2-3 feet of new season’s growth. Popular plants from this late flowering group include Clematis viticella, tangutica, jackmanii, ‘Perle d'Azur', and 'Duchess of Albany'. In restricted areas, you can try training two strong side shoots to grow off horizontally – like an espalier fruit tree – 12 inches off the ground. From these permanent stems the new flowering stems will grow upwards. During the following spring these old flowering shoots can be cut back to a pair of plump buds near the base of the stems.
3. If you are planting asparagus this year then now is the time to start preparing their beds. They are happy in most soil types provided they are well-drained, but if you are stuck with a heavy clay soil then you may wish to consider planting them into raised beds. Dig in plenty of well-rotted manure and if your soil is particularly acid you may also need to add lime as asparagus plants prefer a pH of between 6.5 and 7.5. Remove all perennial weeds as they will compete with the growth of your crop.
4. With regards to fruit trees and bushes, this is a good time to apply a general-purpose fertiliser or top dress with manure mulch as the production of new leaves, flowers and eventually fruit can be a huge drain on the plant's resources. Apply the fertiliser or mulch over the whole root area of the plant - this will normally extend as far as the spread of the branches. Fruit bushes in particular will benefit from a fertiliser with high potash content as this helps with flower initiation and fruit production. Prune the canes of any autumn fruiting raspberry varieties back down to ground level, and again apply a dressing of fertiliser or a mulch of well-rotted compost.

5. Now is the time to buy your early varieties of seed potatoes, but they will need some preparation before planting - this is commonly called chitting or sprouting. Place the seed potatoes into a box where they can be supported in an upright position - cardboard egg boxes are ideal for this – and place them indoors into a light and airy position. During this time they will require a cool temperature of about 10 degrees Celsius. Position them so that the end which has the most eyes (dormant sprouts) are uppermost and the 'stalk' end where they were severed from the parent plant is at the bottom. The new sprouts will form in a couple of weeks and it's good practice to remove the weaker sprouts leaving four of the strongest to continue. If the weather is unsuitable at the time of planting then you can remove all of the sprouts and start again. Also, if you have positioned some of your potatoes upside down and the potatoes sprout from the wrong end, simply rub off the sprouts and turn the potato the right way up. Keep them where they are while the shoots develop and they can stay there until they are ready for planting later on in March. Click here to find out Why and How to Chit Potatoes

For related articles click onto the following link:
Gardening Jobs for October
Gardening Jobs for November
T&M February


Two red pyrethrum flowers in a sunny border
How to make your own organic pyrethrum insecticide

You may be familiar with the word 'Pyrethrum' from the packaging of many ready-to-use organic insect sprays. However it was once one of the most popular insecticides available until the introduction of modern synthetic insecticides.

This insecticidal chemical is derived from the dried, powdered flowers of the pyrethrum daisy, Tanacetum cinerariifolium and has been used as early as 1880 as a treatment to control mosquitoes. The active ingredients 'Pyrethrins' are mainly concentrated in the seeds of the flower head, and work by way of a contact insecticide. This means that the insect only has to be touched by the active ingredient to be affected.
Pyrethrins have a quick knock-down effect on insects, working in some ways like a nerve toxin. With the right dosage insects can be paralysed in mid-flight, but if the dose is too low they will just be knocked out and fly off later on once they've recovered. On food crops pyrethrins can be applied up to one day before harvest because they are quickly destroyed by light and heat. This means that they are not persistent in the environment and this is why pyrethrins have their 'organic' label. Be careful though as Pyrethrins will kill ladybirds, aquatic insects and the predators that eat them although they do not appear to be harmful to bees.


Three images of a dry pyrethrum seed head
How to make your own organic pyrethrum insecticide
Pyrethrum daisies are easy to grow in the English garden and are readily available at most good plant retailers. That way - if you have pyrethrum in the garden - you will have the main ingredient conveniently close by when you are ready to make your spray. The importance of this becomes clear when you realise how quickly the active ingredient within the pyrethrum flower will degrade..
The concentration of pyrethrin is at its peak when the flowers are in full bloom, this is recognised as the time when the first row of florets on the central disk opens - up until the time that all the florets are open. Pick the flowers in full bloom and then hang them in a dark sheltered spot to dry.

Traditionally, in Japan, the flowers were harvested with their stems intact, and hung upside down in water for between 24 to 48 hours before drying. The reason for this process is that it can increases the pyrethrin levels. Once dry, crush the flowers into a powder using a mortar and pestle or a blender. The finer the powder is the more effective it will be against insects, but it will deteriorate more rapidly.

To apply as an insecticidal dust, simply apply the dried and crushed flowers on to the leaves of plants that require its protection.

To use as a spray, soak ten grams of pyrethrum powder into three litres of warm water for three hours, after this it is ready to be sprayed. It is possible to use fresh flowers instead of dried but you will need to use up to four times the amount of plant material to get the same concentration of active ingredient.

The efficiency of pyrethrum can be greatly improved with the addition of other products such as sesame seed oil or washing up liquid. These can be added at a dose of one teaspoon per litre of solution and can increase the effectiveness of your spray up to four times the norm.
As mentioned before pyrethrum breaks down quickly after application giving no more than 48 hours of protection (12 hours is generally nearer the mark) depending on the concentration of the mixture sprayed. One of the ways that this degradation can be slowed down is to add antioxidants such as tannic acid, a chemical found in the bark of several tree species. Even so it will be necessary to reapply after rain.

You may need to experiment with the amount of water your powder is being added to as the concentration of pyrethrins in the dried flowers will be an unknown variable. If your spray does not seem to kill insects, try using use less water next time you make your spray.

HOW TO USE YOUR PYRETHRUM INSECTICIDE: Pyrethrins are more effective at lower temperatures, so for best results, apply in early evening when temperatures are lower. Spray both the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves, because the active chemicals must directly contact the insects. Try to reach any which may be hiding between the leaf crevices. You should find that your first spray will often excite hiding insects and bring them out of their place of hiding. If so, a second dose of the right concentration should finish them off. Remember to never use pyrethrin sprays or powders around waterways or ponds.

HOW TO STORE YOUR PYRETHRUM INSECTICIDE: Pyrethrins are notoriously unstable components which can quickly break down when exposed to light and heat. However the levels of pyrethrum concentrations can be maintained for up to six months by keeping the crushed flowers in a freezer. Alternatively you can try keeping your powder in a sealed container, and storing it in the fridge. This should also keep your prepared pyrethrum powder viable for at least a couple of months.

REMEMBER: It is illegal to produce and use insecticides without being licensed by Her Majesty's government.

Main image credit - KENPEI
In text image - By Roger Culos - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

For related articles click onto the following links:
Organic Pyrethrum Insecticide
Sacrificial Planting