Garlic bulbs drying
Garlic drying

Growing garlic in the garden is an excellent way of providing your kitchen with one the freshest, and most flavoursome of herbs, especially if you are a little short of space in the garden. Not only is garlic simple to grow, it has also been used throughout history for its medicinal value too.

garlic cloves on wooden table
When do you harvest garlic?
However, the key to keeping garlic through the following months is entirely down to harvesting them at just the right time and then drying them off properly so that they are not prone to rots which will quickly ruin your precious crop.

Your garlic should be ready for harvesting any time between August to September depending on both the weather and individual varieties. The problem with harvesting garlic is knowing when they are ripe in order to lift them.

With their cousin the onion, it is a simple affair. You can simply let the tops bend over and die down where they are and you can delaying lifting until a time that is convenient for you. If you're in a rush, you can move things along by bending over the foliage yourself !

With garlic, though, waiting until all the leaves go brown will promote overripe bulbs whose cloves are starting to separate from one another, and the resulting loose heads won't store as long. Each leaf that turns brown is one fewer potential wrapper to protect the bulb.

lifted garlic bulbs
Image credit - http://www.freshplaza.com/
Harvest them too early and the bulbs will be too small, but harvest too late and the bulbs will begin to loose their quality, and so a more accurate method is needed to determine whether or not the garlic is ready to harvested.

Old hands say that it's time to harvest when several of the lower leaves go brown, but five or six up top are still green (and depending on the weather). The problem is that this can occur as early as the end of July - far too soon.

I would suggest this. If the weather is wet in early August, pull up a single bulb and see how many sheaths (the thin papery layers that surround the bulb) you can peel off the bulb, if the answer is three then the bulb is ready to be lifted. If you can remove four or more layers then it is best to wait another couple of weeks or at least until most of the leaves have turned brown.

When harvesting garlic bulbs, gently ease them out of the ground using a trowel to loosen the surrounding soil, taking care not to bruise them as they will then not keep for long.

How to dry off garlic

hanging garlic bulbs drying
Garlic drying - image credit http://seoulisforlovers.blogspot.co.uk/
To begin with, you will need to brush off any soil clinging to the bulbs, just be careful not to expose any of the cloves.

Then allow the bulbs to cure for three to four weeks in either a well-ventilated room, or a dry, shady position outside.

Be aware that sunlight can change the flavour of fresh garlic so a shaded area is paramount.

Once the tops and roots have dried they can be cut off and stored.

How to store garlic

Keep your garlic is a cool, dark, and well ventilated position. Braiding and hanging garlic is a good way to keep them, but don’t hang it in the kitchen, where they will be in bright light. You can also store your garlic in a mesh bag or dish.

Softneck varieties of garlic can be stored for 6 - 8 months. Check periodically to make sure that they are not going soft or sprouting.

Hardneck varieties may dry out, sprout or go soft within 2-4 months.However, keeping hard-necks varieties as cool as possible but without freezing them cab help them to survive for up to 7 months without deteriorating.

For more information click onto:
HOW TO GROW THYME - Thymus vulgaris
When do you pick Beetroot?


Schizostylis coccinea - http://www.overthegardengate.co.uk/

Although I think that we can all agree that the family name Schizostylis is a rather unfortunate one, it certainly isn't as bad as it's politically incorrect common name - the Kaffir Lily! For those who are not aware of the word 'kaffir', it is an offensive ethnic slur in Africa.

Schizostylis coccinea - http://www.ispot.org.za/
Today, both names have been technically superseded. Schizostylis is now Hesperantha and its common name is now the far better 'River Lily', but old habits die hard and you will almost always see this gorgeous plant sold under its old names.

Schizostylis is a genus of only two species of rhizomatous perennials, both of which are suitable for herbaceous and mixed borders.

The most popular cultivar by far is the stunning Schizostylis coccinea 'Major', a native to South Africa and Zimbabwe. In its natural habitat it can be found flourishing beside streams and sometimes in shallow water, which explains its high watering requirements.

It is an absolute star in the garden. Not only will it flower almost continuously on 9 inch long spikes from late July to the depths of November, it does so in spectacular fashion. Each flower is a retina burning, bright scarlet, star shaped jewel approximately 1 1/2 inches across.


Schizostylis coccinea - http://www.earlydawnnurseries.co.uk/
The best time of year to plant Schizostylis is around March as this will give them plenty of time to establish before the winter. However, pot grow plants can be planted at any time of year so long as you can get into the ground.

They require a moist, fertile soil in a sheltered and sunny position.

An annual mulch in April or May will help to retain moisture and encourage new growth.

Water freely over the summer and dry weather, and over the winter cut back any untidy or damaged growth. In exposed or northern sites, Schizostylis will require some root protection, so cover with bracken or leaves.

For related articles click onto:
SPIDER LILY - Hymenocallis species and cultivars
The Hardy Begonia - Begonia grandis
The Monkey Puzzle Tree - Araucaria araucana
What is an F1 Hybrid?
When and how should you prune back Lavender?


Image credit - http://www.botanicalgarden.ubc.ca/

The White Bird of Paradise - Strelitzia nicolai, is a very impressive banana-like plant with erect woody stems that can reach a height of 20 ft. Ideal for use as an architectural plant in open landscapes, the white bird of paradise forms clumps that do not spread much more than 12 ft in diameter.

Over time it will produce beautiful, white with purple bird-like blooms, but the large, exotic, sword-like foliage alone makes the White Bird of Paradise a superb container plant. In fact, it is an ideal specimen for the conservatory.

The White Bird of Paradise is restricted to evergreen coastal forest and thicket of eastern South Africa from the Great Fish River northwards to Richards Bay.

If given the right conditions, they will flower several times in a year once established.

How to grow the White Bird of Paradise

Image credit - http://bloomiq.com/
The White Bird of Paradise is fairly tolerant of most soil conditions and will need little water once established making them ideal for drought tolerant conditions. However it will perform best in rich loamy, moist soils with good drainage in full sun to part shade.

This stunning plant will respond well to regular feeding and a seasonal top dressing with a rich compost, and once established will.even tolerate light frost!

For related articles click onto:


Image credit - http://www.plants.com.pk/

I was in southern Spain when I came across my first, fully grown Foxglove tree - Paulownia tomentosa in flower. It was alongside the hot and dusty mud track that led to a field the holding the Thursday market. I remember it distinctly because the dramatic colour of those stunning bluish/violet flowers was so intense that it almost hurt my eyes to look at them! God's truth! And let's be honest, how often do you come across a bright blue tree?

Image credit - http://www.anniesannuals.com/
Since that day they have always been a favourite of mine, and better still they are hardy enough to survive in northern European gardens so long as they are grown in a sheltered position. See, life is good.

The foxglove tree is considered to be a small to medium sized tree growing to between 15-25 ft tall and 10-15 ft wide. They have an open, rounded habit.

Over the winter the foxglove tree has these fascinating brown-felted flower buds, but in exposed gardens these can become damaged.

The foxglove tree requires a sunny, sheltered position in a deep, well-drained, loamy soil. The best time to plant them is between October and March.

Normally, no pruning is necessary, but the foxglove tree is often grown as dot plants in in bedding or herbaceous schemes. If this is the case then they will need to be cut down to ground level each year in March. This will encourage vigorous shoots clad with exceptionally large leaves. However, these 'stooled' plants will not produce any flowering shoots.

For related articles click onto the following links:
HOW TO GROW THE FRANGIPANI TREE- Plumeria rubra var. acutifolia
How to grow Isoplexis canariensis
How to Grow the Sago Palm from Seed
THE CANNONBALL TREE -  Couroupita guianensis
The Monkey Puzzle Tree - Araucaria araucana
The Tree peony -Paeonia suffruticosa


Picking blanched rhubarb

Tempting though it may be, if you have newly planted rhubarb plants you do not harvest any stems during the first season as this will seriously weaken the plant. You need to allow the plant grow during its first year and establish a good healthy root system.

During the second season, you can harvest only a few stems, ensuring that you only pull two per plant at any one time. Make sure that five healthy stems always remain.

The stalks are ready to harvest once the leaves are fully open so you are looking to take stems from May to August.

Harvesting stops by the end of August to give the rhubarb plant a chance to recover its strength before winter arrives.

Rhubarb stalks are harvested by gently twisting the stems and pulling from the base of the plant. Rhubarb leaves shouldn't be eaten as they contain oxalic acid and are poisonous.

For related articles click onto the following links:


Ask any mildly disruptive child what their favourite dinosaur is and you will invariably get the same answer - the Tyrannosaurus rex. I will of course accept that are other dinosaur species available, but for the benefit of this article it's T-rex all the way. And why wouldn't it be? Every single film from the 1933 stop-motion movie 'King Kong' to the very latest computer generated effect extravaganza has a Tyrannosaurus Rex as a lead character. If they haven't, then they have a species so similar to a T rex that you have to question why the producers bothered with the change. Example, the Carnotaurus in Disney's 'Dinosaur'. So, if you are looking for someone to blame for the T. rex's popularity, look at the filmmakers.

But what exactly do we know about the Tyrannosaurus rex?

Well, as far as we can know anything about an extinct animal, what we do know is collection of well crafted assumptions based on relatively few facts. And of course, these assumptions are still being honed. Remember this one...

'...the T-rex's visual acuity is based on movement...'

Luckily, more than 30 specimens of Tyrannosaurus rex have been identified, some of which are nearly complete skeletons. More interestingly, soft tissue and proteins have been reported in at least one of these specimens. This abundance of fossil material has allowed significant research into many aspects of the Tyrannosaurus rex's biology, including life history and bio-mechanics. The feeding habits, physiology and potential speed of Tyrannosaurus rex are just a few of the subjects still up for debate.

To make it simple to absorb, I am going to list what we know as bullet points.

1. To begin with, the name Tyrannosaurus means "tyrant lizard", from Greek tyrannos meaning "tyrant," and sauros meaning "lizard". Rex means "king" in Latin.

2. Going by size, the Tyrannosaurus rex was the largest known tyrannosaurid and one of the largest known land predators. The most complete specimen measuring up to 12.3 m in length, up to 4 metres tall at the hips, and up to 6.8 metric tons in weight.

Image credit - http://sukubbs.cloudapp.net/
3.A 2012 study performed by scientists Karl Bates and Peter Falkingham of the University of Liverpool suggested that the bite force of Tyrannosaurus could have been the strongest bite force of any terrestrial animal that has ever lived.

The calculations suggested that adult T. rex could have generated from 35000 to 57000 Newtons of force in the back teeth, or the equivalent of three times the force estimated for a great white shark, 15 times the force of an African lion, 3 and a half times the force of an Australian saltwater crocodile and around 7 times the estimated force for Allosaurus.

However, even higher estimates were made by professor Mason B. Meers of the University of Tampa in 2003. In his study, Meers estimated a possible bite force of around 183000 to 235000 Newtons or 18.3 to 23.5 metric tons; a bite force equivalent to that of the largest Megalodon shark specimens.

Image credit - http://gammillustrations.bizland.com/
4. Like many bipedal dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex was historically depicted as a 'living tripod', with the body at 45 degrees or less from the vertical and the tail dragging along the ground, similar to a kangaroo. This concept dates from Joseph Leidy's 1865 reconstruction of Hadrosaurus, the first to depict a dinosaur in a bipedal posture.

Henry Fairfield Osborn, former president of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City, who believed the creature stood upright, further reinforced the notion after unveiling the first complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in 1915. It stood in this upright pose for 77 years, until it was dismantled in 1992.

By 1970, scientists realized this pose was incorrect and could not have been maintained by a living animal, as it would have resulted in the dislocation or weakening of several joints, including the hips and the articulation between the head and the spinal column. The inaccurate AMNH mount inspired similar depictions in many films and paintings until the 1990s, when films such as Jurassic Park introduced a more accurate posture to the general public.

Image credit - http://static.fjcdn.com/pictures/
5.Tyrannosaurus rex arms are tiny when compared to its overall body size, measuring only 1 metre long, and some scholars have labelled them as vestigial.

However, the bones show large areas for muscle attachment, indicating considerable strength.

This was recognized as early as 1906 by Osborn, who speculated that the forelimbs may have been used to grasp a mate during copulation.

It has also been suggested that the forelimbs were used to assist the animal in rising from a prone position. Another possibility is that the forelimbs held struggling prey while it was killed by the tyrannosaurs enormous jaws.

Image credit - http://cdni.wired.co.uk/
6. Skin impressions from a specimen discovered in Montana show that in some part, the T rex has small patches of mosaic scales on its body.

However, other specimens show preserved feathers on various sections of the body, strongly suggesting that its whole body was covered in feathers. It is currently assumed that the extent and nature of feather covering in tyrannosaurids may have changed over time in response to body size, a warmer climate, or other factors.

To conclude

The debate about whether Tyrannosaurus was an active predator or a pure scavenger, however, is as old as the debate about how it stood and moved. Ever since the first discovery of Tyrannosaurus most scientists have speculated that it was a predator. Like our modern-day large predators it would readily scavenge or steal another predator's kill if it had the opportunity.

Image credit - http://images3.wikia.nocookie.net/
Paleontologist Jack Horner has been a major advocate of the idea that Tyrannosaurus was exclusively a scavenger and did not engage in active hunting at all.

However, Horner himself has claimed that he never published this idea in the peer reviewed scientific literature and used it mainly as a tool to teach a popular audience, particularly children, the dangers of making assumptions in science (such as assuming T. rex was a hunter) without using evidence.

Nevertheless, Horner presented several arguments in the popular literature to support the pure scavenger hypothesis:

1. With regards to the Tyrannosaurs short arms, Horner argues that they were too short to make the necessary gripping force to hold onto prey.

Image credit - http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/
2. Tyrannosaurs had large olfactory bulbs and olfactory nerves (relative to their brain size). These suggest a highly developed sense of smell which could sniff out carcasses over great distances, as modern vultures do. Research on the olfactory bulbs of dinosaurs has shown that Tyrannosaurus had the most highly developed sense of smell of 21 sampled dinosaurs.

3. Tyrannosaur teeth could crush bone, and therefore could extract as much food (bone marrow) as possible from carcass remnants, usually the least nutritious parts. Karen Chin and colleagues have found bone fragments in coprolites (fossilized faeces) that they attribute to tyrannosaurs, but point out that a tyrannosaur teeth were not well adapted to systematically chewing bone like hyenas do to extract marrow.


Opponents of the pure scavenger hypothesis have used the example of vultures in the opposite way, arguing that the scavenger hypothesis is implausible because the only modern pure scavengers are large gliding birds, which use their keen senses and energy-efficient gliding to cover vast areas economically.

Image credit - http://www.designboom.com/
However, researchers from Glasgow concluded that an ecosystem as productive as the current Serengeti would provide sufficient carrion for a large theropod scavenger, although the theropod might have had to be cold-blooded in order to get more calories from carrion than it spent on foraging. They also suggested that modern ecosystems like Serengeti have no large terrestrial scavengers because gliding birds now do the job much more efficiently.

Other evidence suggests hunting behaviour in Tyrannosaurus. The eye-sockets of tyrannosaurs are positioned so that the eyes would point forward, giving them binocular vision slightly better than that of modern hawks. Horner also pointed out that the tyrannosaur lineage had a history of steadily improving binocular vision. It is not obvious why natural selection would have favoured this long-term trend if tyrannosaurs had been pure scavengers, which would not have needed the advanced depth perception that stereoscopic vision provides. In modern animals, binocular vision is found mainly in predators.

For related articles click onto the following links:
DINOSAUR: Archaeopteryx
DINOSAUR: Did Pterosaurs hang upside down?
DINOSAUR: The Pterodactyl
TERRA NOVA - Dinosaur trailer
The Tyrannosaurus rex - http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/prehistoric/tyrannosaurus-rex/


You may not have heard of the company DARPA, but I can guarantee that in the next few years the name DARPA will be as commonplace in our global vocabulary as McDonald's and Coca Cola. Unfortunately it is unlikely to be as well loved because DARPA design, engineer and create some of the world's most advanced military robots.

Evolution of man - http://almostnerdy.com/
DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) was created in 1958 by President Eisenhower after the launch of Sputnik by the Russians in 1957. It purpose was simple, it was to research all of the highly advanced scientific discoveries and the take the next step with regards to technology.

So what has this to do with a site dedicated to plants, wildlife and the environment? Well, it is all about the progression of life. Most of us are familiar with Charles Darwin's theories on evolution and natural selection which, if you believe in such things, is a mechanism used to explain how one species can change to another genetically distinct species through environmental pressure.

Of course, this can take thousands, even millions of years to occur, but what happens when scientists takes over the role of God and create their own form of life? This is where DARPA comes in. Over a few short years they have created a number of 'animal inspired' robots, and while they are continually 'evolving' to become evermore efficient and effective beings, the speed at which these creations have come about is impressive if not a little worrying.

To find out just how far along we have come you can view DARPA's latest creation in the above Youtube clip Little Dog. The way this small robot navigates its way across challenging terrain is very animal like and you can see that little dog is 'thinking' its way through.

Once you have had a chance to absorb what is being shown in the above film clip, you can ask yourself this question. Just how much further are we going to go before the role of mankind becomes superfluous?

For related articles click onto the following links:


The lizard vine

Not only is the lizard vine an absolute gem of the plant kingdom, it is a supreme a master of disguise. However, despite its startling look, it was discovered only three years ago by a research team cataloging new species in French Guiana.

Headed by the renowned Dutch botanist Doctor John Apryll, the team heralded their new find as akin to a discovering a new primate.

Commonly known as the lizard vine or honeyvine, it was named after the head of the team, hence the botanical name of Fossilis apriliana.

The 'eye' is in fact a swollen flowering bud and is a defense to deter browsing animals from eating it. When opened, the flower produces copious amounts of nectar and is a delicacy of the local Wayampi tribe.

Unfortunately, the lizards vine's flowering period is very short lived as they begin to die back as soon as they are pollinated. Bud initiation to pollination can be as short as 7-10 days, and when the lizard vine is not in bud it is sadly a rather nondescript plant. This explains why it had remained undiscovered by the scientific community for so long.

Of course none of this true, I made the whole thing up. The image is a photo-shopped fake, but looks soooo real that I had to include it in my Facebook page.

Of course you knew it was a fake as soon as you read the botanical name Fossilis apriliana. In other words - APRIL FOOLS!

For more information click onto:


Gladioli have been out of fashion for many years now and that is a good thing. Why? Because that means the growers haven't been growing them, so I haven't been selling them and now that I have them in the garden they are effectively a brand new plant for me. (I accept that they have always been available as pre-packed bulbs, but a picture on the packet is no substitute for seeing the real thing in full flower).

Image credit - Claude Monet
AND WHAT A FLOWER IT IS! Let's be honest, when it comes to mid-summer flowering plants you won't be faced with much of a selection at your local plant retailer. So how can anyone in their right mind ignore the delights of this outrageously, flamboyant summer flowering bulb? Especially when it does what it does so well.

Gladioli are native to Mediterranean Europe, Asia, Tropical Africa and South Africa, but to be fair the center of diversity is located in the Cape Floristic Region, where most Gladiolus species were discovered. They are considered half-hardy in temperate climates, and grow from rounded, symmetrical corms, that are enveloped in several layers of brownish, fibrous tunics.

The spectacular giant flower spikes that we see in cultivated varieties are the result of centuries of hybridisation. The flower spikes are large and one-sided, and coloured, pink to reddish or light purple with white, contrasting markings, or white to cream or orange to red.

Growing Gladioli from seed

Image credit - http://www.thisgardenisillegal.com/
Gladioli seeds can be sown in February or early March, Sow them into seed trays containing a mixture of 5 parts loam, 4 parts well decayed leaf-mold, and 1 part well rotted compost. Alternatively, use a good quality seed compost such as John Innes 'No 1'. Add a generous sprinkling of bone meal and just enough horticultural sand to improve drainage.

Sow the seeds thinly and shallowly, gently water and then place the seed tray in a warm, bright position such as a heated greenhouse or warm windowsill. They will need to be kept at a temperature of between 7 - 13 degrees Celsius where the seedlings should emerge four or five weeks later.

After germination the gladioli seedlings can be transferred to a cold frame. During the first fortnight in June the seed trays can come out of the cold frame and sunk into the ground so that the compost level in the seed tray is the same as the soil level. They will be happy in sun or partial shade at this point.

Keep the roots moist and feed moderately with a liquid feed over the summer. In the autumn, and once the foliage has died back, the corms can be lifted. Remove any compost and dry off so that they are ready for storage. They will then be ready for replanting in the following spring.

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Villa Tritone
Villa Tritone

Villa Tritone is considered to be one of Italy’s most unique and elegant seafront villas. Perched dramatically on top of a sheer, 100-foot cliff it is ideally positioned to view the delights of the Amalfi coastline, the Mediterranean Sea, Naples and of course, the magnificent Mount Vesuvius.

Villa Tritone garden
Villa Tritone garden
This 19th-century show-piece was bought and improved by William Waldorf Astor in 1905 while living in Italy as Ambassador for the United States of America. In fact it stands over the remains of an important ancient Roman villa which dates back to the 1st century AD. Some parts of which are still visible within the grounds. As historic and beautiful as it is, it is not the villa I am interested in, but the gardens.

Under William Asters close supervision, the grand architectural style of the gardens were designed by the famous landscape architect Harold Peto, and are considered by some to be one of the finest in Europe. Furthermore, the garden holds one of Italy’s most important botanical collections containing upwards of 1000 plant species!

Secret mossy paths and covered alleys run throughout the lush vegetation, revealing Greek and Roman statues, fountains and making the gardens appear much bigger than they actually are. Rather than have the gardens open straight out onto the breath-taking Mediterranean views, Harold Peto designed a wall along the coastal edge of the garden. This created both privacy, but more importantly intensified the vistas by creating large Gothic 'windows' which perfectly frame and contain the full majesty of the landscape beyond.

Image credit - http://www.jardins-de-france.com/
In the 1970's Villa Tritone became the residence of Rita and Mariano Pane, a wealthy shipping family. As soon as they moved in with their young family, Rita Pane became the custodian of the garden, and continued to do so for the best part of 40 years!

During this time Rita has gently allowed the gardens to take on a romantic style, '...a garden of the poets...' as she would say, rather than a garden of the architect. Her technique of allowing the plants to naturalise just out of their original design, but without 'out-competing' neighbouring plants. By allowing the gardens to take an element of control, by not over-managing the plants or trying to keep the original design no matter what, Rita has created one of the world's great Romantic gardens.

Villa Tritone is a private house and so the garden is not open to the public. However I had the good luck to visit Sorrento earlier this year and so took the opportunity to contact Rita Pane to see if an impromptu visit could be arranged.

Villa Tritone gates
Villa Tritone gates
Unfortunately, it turned out that the timing of my visit was absolutely terrible as the property had recently been sold to a Russian property developer for a mind blowing 35 million Euros!

This is a copy of the reply email sent to me by Rita Pane:
To Simon Eade,
thank you for your consideration, we do have a passion in common! I'm always proud of the visit in our lost garden with Monty Don from BBC.
Unfortunately we are not any more the owner of the beautiful gardens and the new owner are not in the spot but few days in the year...I doubt about the garden will be still fascinating!
The memory will always help the lover of a lost Paradise!
Kind regards
Will the gardens be kept as lovingly as before? Only time will tell.

Update October 2015

In a recent correspondence with Rita Pane, she has kindly given her permission for us to publish a number of private photographs of the garden. These beautiful images were taken by her daughter Amelia Pane Schaffner and are a wonderful insight to how the gardens were in their heyday.

For related articles click onto:
ELCHE GARDENS - The Huerto del Cura
How to get to Villa D’Este from Rome
SISSINGHURST GARDENS - a secret history


Image credit - http://www.abc.net.au/

As far as summer flowering plants go, the Canna lily is one of my absolute favourites. Now I know that it is a plant completely overused by council grounds staff, but I choose to turn a blind eye to that. With that in mind, while I would rather not have my garden look as if its design has been lifted off the local roundabout, I couldn't stop myself from purchasing three gorgeous examples, each one now in different stages of flower, earlier on in the year.

And why wouldn't you want one of these? I admit that, at least in my opinion, the tall, green leaved varieties are not particularly desirable, but the newer, low growing cultivars with their large, bold coloured leaves do it for me every single time.

How to grow the Canna lily

Canna leaves - Image credit http://sequoiagardens.wordpress.com/
You can purchase pot grow Cannas late in the spring but it can be expensive so with a little forethought you are better off buying pre-packed Rhizomes in February and March.

The advantage of this is that there will be a far larger selection of cultivars available to you.

Plant these rhizomes in pots or boxes, just giving each section of root just a covering of rich, peaty compost.

From there they can be placed in a greenhouse or a cool room in the house with a minimum temperature of 16 degrees Celsius. If more than one shoot appears on a rhizome you can divide it into sections - each with a shoot and some new roots. These can be potted on into individual pots, again with a rich, peaty compost.

Canna flower - Image credit http://www.redbubble.com/
Looking like miniature bananas their soft, luxurious foliage will unfurl from the soil late in the spring, promising much for the summer.

In April the growing plants can be moved into larger pots or tubs and grown on at a temperature of 13-16 degrees Celsius. In late May, these tubs can be moved outside.

Alternatively, Canna can be grow outside in a sheltered border once the risk of late frosts is over. However, it is advisable to lift and bring the rhizomes under cover before the autumn frosts arrive.

If you live in the warmer regions of northern Europe such as the south coast of England then you can leave your Cannas outside all year round.

Canna roots and stems - Image credit http://www.slow-life.co.uk/
In which case they will need to be planted a little deeper into a free draining soil, or better still, have them planted into raised beds.

They will still benefit from protection from ground frosts, so they are often overwintered with a covering of straw or a open structured mulch.

In my own sheltered, raised beds I have overwintered Cannas with no additional protection and they have all come up fine.

The only problem is that you may not see your first leaf emerge until late June, maybe even early July!

How to overwinter Cannas

Plants lifted from beds or borders should be partially dried before the leaves and roots are cut off in readiness for storing through the winter.

Store in moist, but not wet peat or leaf mold in a frost free position. If kept too dry, the rhizomes will shrivel up and die. If they are kept too wet then they will rot off.

Pests and Disease

On the whole, Canna lilies have very good pest and disease resistance. However there has been some issue with Canna rust on this species, but in recent years new varieties have been far more resistant.

For more information click onto:


Hydnora africana - giardinaggio.efiori.com

As far as plants go, scaly skin is never going to be an attractive look, but throw in some freaky looking teeth and you have the plants world's equivalent of a horror movie.

The star of this flick is the Hydnora africana, a plant native to southern Africa that is a parasite on the roots of plants of the Euphorbiaceae family. Like most fungus species, Hydnora africana spends its life growing underground. In fact the only time it makes itself known is when its fleshy flower emerges above ground and then everyone knows about it. Why? Because it emits a 'nose bending' odour of faeces from the ivory-coloured pad of tissue in the centre which is designed to attract its natural pollinators, namely dung beetles, and carrion beetles.

Hydnora africana
When the flower of Hydnora first opens, it has white threadlike structures that cross the gap between the "sepals." The openings between these threads are just large enough for a beetle to enter. However it has difficulty in finding its way out. This keeps the beetle inside the flower long enough so that the beetle can pick up pollen or deposit pollen on its surface onto the stigmas at the bottom of the floral tube.

The threads that cross the gaps between the "sepals" are pulled apart after a few days. Any beetles that entered the flower through those threads can now easily escape.

Strangely, the fleshy pulp-like flower can be eaten, which is often where all of the plant’s seeds are located. Presumably this is how the Hydnora disperses its seeds, from being eaten by browsing animal and deposited elsewhere when the animal defecates.

For more information click onto:
DEVIL'S FINGERS - Clathrus archeri
THE EYEBALL PLANT - Actaea pachypoda
THE GHOST PLANT - Monotropa uniflora


History of the Dahlia

The Dahlia has become so entrenched in popular English and European gardening that you can be forgiven for thinking it must be of European origin, but you would be wrong. It is in fact a relatively new discovery, finding its way to the wealthy estates of Spain in 1791, as an export of South American exotic species. 

Stranger still, the roots are the Dahlia are just about edible as so it was originally brought back to Europe to be considered as a food plant, and not an ornamental flowering plant!

The Dahlia and the Aztecs

The young prince Montezuma
There is more to these plants than being simply discovered by a passing botanist.

Interestingly, the early history of these plants is closely linked to the Aztecs, Montezuma and the period that passed before and shortly after the Spanish conquest! 

When Hernan Cortes and the Spanish conquistadors entered the Aztec city Huaxtepec in 1519, they were the first Europeans to view the most impressive of Emperor Montezuma’s botanical gardens. Plants from all over the empire were propagated there for the pleasure of the Aztec upper classes.

Undoubtedly, one of the most curious sights in the garden at Huaxtepec would have been the incredible Dahlia imperialis, the tree form of out garden dahlia which the Aztecs called acocotli - meaning water pipe in their language.

These plants grew to a spectacular thirty feet tall and had blossoms ten inches in diameter. The stems were hollow, at least three inches in diameter, and used for transporting water or even as a source of water itself.

The young prince Montezuma took the throne in 1502 and ruled for the next 18 years until he was captured by Cortes in 1520.

The history of the Dahlia
During this period there were a number of eyewitness accounts that described the horticultural practices that were engaged by the Aztecs during this time.

It was part of the Aztec culture for the ruling classes to express their wealth and power by constructing a series of specific gardens.

Each garden was designed to fulfill a single purpose, for example medicinal plants, cut flowers, ornamental or food plants. 

The plants found within these gardens were greatly valued by the Aztec nobles, so much so that and every new plant introduction involved a rather 'over-the-top' ceremony.

These ceremonies began with the arrival of the plants gifted by wealth noblemen. The plants were 'balled and burlapped' a process where the roots are enclosed in earth and the whole specimen wrapped with richly decorated mantels.

Now this is where it gets serious. Priests were then summoned to make animal sacrifices for each planting, spilling the blood of the offering, as well as some drawn from their own ears, onto the soil prepared for the plant!

The Aztecs used Dahlias for food and medicine, and Dahlia motifs decorated the helmets of the Aztec warriors.

The petals of the Dahlia were used in ceremonies, including human sacrifice to their sun god.

In 1570, 50 years after the Spanish conquest, King Philip of Spain sent Francisco Hernandez to Mexico to make a study of the natural resources of the country.

The Dahlia and the Europeans

Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff'
In Europe the dahlia was named by Abbé Cavanilles - Director of Real Madrid Botanical Gardens - in honour of the botanist Anders Dahl, a student to the world famous Carolus Linnaeus. Although due to a slight misunderstanding, the dahlia was named Georgina in Germany after the botanist Johann Gottlieb Georgi, a name it bears even today.

Cavanilles sent seeds that he had collected from three dahlia species to M. Thibaud of France in the year 1802. These initial named species imported into Europe were Dahlia pinnata, Dahlia rosea and Dahlia coccinea.

They were passed on to the botanists of the Paris Museum of Natural History where they were grown and tested, developing the modern procedures for the cultivation of dahlias.

A breakthrough occurred in 1884 when Rivoire of Lyon, France introduced the first all black foliage dahlia under the name of ‘ Lucifer’. 

This dark foliage then went on to figure prominently in the introduction of many of the modern Peony-flowered dahlias, often used as one of the parents in cross breeding further varieties.

In 1927, Stephen Treseder of Cardiff, Wales introduced a dark Red Peony type which also had the 'black' foliage and central disc. It was originally called Dahlia’ Bishop Hughes it went on to be called ‘BISHOP of LLANDAFF’ after Hughes kicked up a fuss.


To bring us up to date there are three dahlias in my garden including the outrageous tree dahlia. So there we have it, myself and King Montezuma are separated by just a single plant!

Main image credit  - Loïc Evanno https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en
Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff' credit Ramin Nakisa https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
Scarlet Dahlia illustration - S. Edwards, Sansum - The Botanical Magazine Vol. 20 This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less.
Montezuma image credit - artist unknown. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less.


red gladioli blooms with white edges
How to grow gladioli

Gladioli are native to Mediterranean Europe, Asia, Tropical Africa and South Africa, but to be fair the center of diversity is located in the Cape Floristic Region, where most Gladiolus species were discovered.

They are considered half-hardy in temperate climates, and grow from rounded, symmetrical corms, that are enveloped in several layers of brownish, fibrous tunics.

Image credit - Claude Monet
The spectacular giant flower spikes that we see in cultivated varieties are the result of centuries of hybridisation.The flower spikes are large and one-sided, and coloured, pink to reddish or light purple with white, contrasting markings, or white to cream or orange to red.

Growing Gladioli

Gladioli grow best in a well-drained soil in a sunny position. If you are planting out a reasonable area with gladioli then you can make efforts to prepare the ground in early spring.

Cover the area with a thin layer of well-rotted farm manure and then dig in. Then rake bone meal into the surface at a rate of 3-4 ounces per square yard. Heavy soils or soils that are too light will need to be improved and this can be done by working in plenty of peat or organic matter.

Image credit - lostgardensofheligan.blogspot.co.uk
Plant the corms 4 inches deep in heavy soil or 6 inches deep in light soil from mid-March to mid-April. Just make sure that each corm is is settled firmly into the soil. In heavy soil you can set the corms on a base of sharp sand to to aid drainage.

You can extend the flowering season by making three or four plantings, that way the same variety will provide blooms throughout the summer.

Do not plant the corms too shallow as they can topple over under their own weight when in full flower. If you are at risk of high winds them make sure that the flowering stems are supported by stakes.

How to overwinter gladiolus corms

Gladioli corms that can survive in a dormant state when lifted and stored. In milder areas of the UK and in sheltered, well-drained, parts of the garden, it may be possible to leave the corms to overwinter in the ground. Cut back the tops and cover them with a thick mulch to protect them from winter cold and ground and ground frosts.

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