This blog reviews the latest products, plants and innovations in gardening. It also provides a link for my many gardening friends who are members of the GardenMessenger and Seedmessenger Yahoo groups and their sub-groups that I moderate.

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Location: Australia

I am a semi-retired UK botanical garden curator and former international horticultural consultant, who has worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East, North America and Australia. I spend part of the year in Australia and part in Europe, mainly due to family and work commitments. I earn my living from writing and editing Internet copy, articles and books. I have written over fifty books on gardening and have been translated into twenty-four different languages. I am a former UK Garden Writer of the Year and a previous Quill & Trowel Award Winner from the Garden Writer’s Association of America. I am interested in developing gardening communities on the Internet and I manage the popular GardenMessenger Yahoo group, along with its various sub-groups like PondMessenger and SeedMessenger. I also edit International Water Gardener and its associated regional web-sites.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Water Gardens Endangered, Schizanthus, Marking Out An Oval

Waterlily heritage threatened

The main purpose of this blog is to provide news, views, information and updates about gardening matters. It has never been my intention for it to become a soapbox for my opinions, but once in a while something in the news causes my grave concern and I feel it important to share those concerns with the wider world. This involves a serious threat to the future of one of international horticulture’s most treasured centres of excellence, Bennetts Water Gardens in the south of England. One of the most ill-conceived proposals that can be imagined, is being put forward by Andrew Price, Head of Planning for the local Dorset County Council. A decision having been deferred at a meeting of the Council’s Planning Committee on 5th May, it is expected that it will reappear for consideration at a meeting on 2nd June (although at present it is not scheduled in that meeting agenda).

Mr Price is tabling a proposal to the Council Planning Committee recommending that they approve a waste transfer station and sorting depot within 50 metres of the world famous Bennetts Water Gardens at Putton Lane, Chickerell, Weymouth. Gardening organisations, professionals, and enthusiasts from around the world have been horrified to learn belatedly of the proposal and are organising opposition by making the members of the Planning Committee, the Head of Planning, as well as the local press and gardening media aware of the opposition, which goes well beyond the shores of Britain. If you want to know more about this folly and would like to add your voice to the growing chorus of dissent, please visit the PondMessenger blog click here, where I have related the controversy and provide contact details so that you can have your say. I do hope that you will help to stop this foolishness.

Poor Man's Orchid

One of my favourite plants for indoor display is Schizanthus. While most popular house plants are perennial, Schizanthus, or the Poor Man's Orchid, is annual and discarded after flowering. Plants are often sold in full flower in the garden centre or florists during the autumn and winter, but the enthusiast can easily raise plants from seed sown during the summer months. Although widely known as the Poor Man's Orchid, because of the orchid-like shape and markings of the blossoms, Schizanthus is not remotely related to the orchid family. It is a fast-growing plant with much-divided soft green, somewhat fleshy foliage, and conical-shaped mounds or loose spikes of brightly coloured, usually pink, red and gold blossoms which look like small butterflies. The old-fashioned species Schizanthus wisetonensis, grows to about 1.2m (48in), but the compact hybrid mixture 'Hit Parade', and other short-growing strains scarcely exceeds 45cm (18in). These are wonderful pot plants and the ones usually sold by florists.

Being annuals, Schizanthus can be successfully grown from young plants to maturity in soil-less compost. They require regular potting on, and the taller S.wisetonensis must be staked for support once the plants have reached a height of no more than 30cm (12in). Schizanthus will tolerate low temperatures, but dislikes wide variations. Good stocky plants can be achieved with a temperature of 5º -10°C (41º-50ºF) and plenty of light. Much warmer conditions encourage them to grow out of character and become floppy, the flower stems twisting and kinking badly. When raising Schizanthus from seed always select the most vigorous young plants to grow on and discard the rest. During the growing period be ruthless and remove any plants that do not make good progress. Apart from being grown solitarily as pot plants, Schizanthus can be grouped together in a large pot for striking impact. Plant evenly developing plants together for the best effect.

Marking out an Oval

Loop a length of string around the three inner pegs and take up the slack with a short, sharp piece of bamboo cane.

The neighbours a couple of doors down the road from my parents are enthusiastic newcomers to gardening, and have enquired as to how they could accurately mark out an oval flower bed. I thought back to my early days in horticulture and working for a landscape company. Also more recently when I was photographed for a gardening encyclopaedia actually undertaking that very task, so I have dug out my old notes and relate them here for Jill and Derek, and anyone else who is interested in producing an accurate oval shape for either a flower bed or garden pond.

Knock pegs in at both ends and the intended centre point of the shape. Add two more pegs at two-thirds of the distance between the centre and end pegs.

Tie a length of string around four of the pegs. This establishes the correct length for the marker.

Loop this length of string around the three inner pegs and take up the slack with a short, sharp piece of bamboo cane.

Making sure that the string is held taut, score a line in the ground with the sharpened bamboo, moving in a curve around the centre peg.

Moving around towards the end peg will result in the bamboo cane naturally inscribing an oval shape on the ground.

Once the ground has been marked with the cane, sprinkle sand along the line in order to define it clearly.


Anthurium ‘Hocus Pocus Brown’
This is fascinating cultivar of this popular indoor plant. The flower gives the appearance of having two bracts, but in fact it is one. This is dark brown with red veining and has a contrasting pencil-like spadix . It grows up to 60cm (24in) high.

Sansevieria cylindrica ‘Skyline’
A novelty house plant with grey-green leaves which are both grooved and striped. The long dark green grooves run the length of leaf and the dark green stripes are horizontally. Each leaf is about 3cm (1in) thick and arranged as an upward pointing fan. Small pinkish flowers

Chukrasia tabularis ‘Sleeping Beauty’
This is a tropical tree, popularly known as Chittagong Wood , which following experimental pot culture and selection, is now being sold as a house plant. Its great attraction is that each evening it folds up its leaves and goes to sleep. Next morning it awakes and the leaves are unfurled once more.


North American Lily Society Show and Symposium
12th - 16th July
Eau Claire,
Web-site click here.

Happy Gardening



Today’s Sponsor

Schizanthus: Suttons Seeds
Marking Out: Interpet
New Plants: Flower Council Holland

If you have enjoyed this publication, you may also like to visit the monthly SeedMessenger gardeners’ seed saving and seed exchange blog click here.
and the weekly water gardening blog PondMessenger click here.

To join the GardenMessenger gardening community
click here

To visit the SeedMessenger seed exchange web-site
click here

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