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.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Garden Path, Bedding Calceolarias and Monkey Flowers

The most important garden feature

After my diversion into the futuristic field of magnetic therapy to control diseases yesterday, my wife Hazel says I must come back to earth and down to basics. She is not really a gardener, but she enjoys a nice garden and having lived with me and been my typist and secretarial help for some thirty five years is quite knowledgeable, and no longer phased by Latin names. She also knows what she likes in a garden, and the two priorities for her are a good place to hang the washing, and a sound dry path to take her to the washing line. I have to say that I concur with her view. So often a garden is ruined by a badly positioned or constructed path. Thus my opening theme today - the garden path.

A well-laid path is essential for the successful management of every garden. The direction that it takes must be very clearly thought through to ensure its efficiency. It must be arranged so that there are no temptations to cut corners across the lawn or flower beds and yet as far as possible it should be unobtrusive. Like the garden itself, a path should be properly drained, especially if it is to be constructed from gravel or a similar porous material. Surrounding ground must also be drained in such a way that the path does not become a watercourse during periods of heavy rain or after snow-melt in colder districts. The scouring out of neatly raked gravel by fast-flowing ground water can be a great source of irritation.

Before construction, consider the possibility of the path also being the line that takes services. Water and electricity can very conveniently be directed along the line of the path so that there is never any danger of interference from cultivation. It is ill-advised to place such services beneath a solid path, such as concrete, but ready access can be gained through gravel, or beneath a paved path. A sound foundation is vital, even for a simple gravel path. If a generous layer of stone foundation is not laid down first of all it is almost certain that mud will squeeze through and within a season the path will become an unpleasant mud and gravel mixture which will then play host to weeds. Prevent this by using fabric landscape matting laid over the soil in the path area before spreading the gravel. Such material permits water to seep through, but prevents the mud from squeezing upwards.

There are all kinds of gravel and gravel-like materials that can be used for path construction, but all require a proper edging to retain the material. Many gardeners choose 15mm (1/2in) gravel as this is substantial and looks good. It is not the best utility choice though for it is quite difficult to push a wheelbarrow or pushchair over and it creates havoc with high-heeled shoes. Fine shingle makes a far better surface providing that it is not scattered too liberally. However the best of all is self-binding gravel. This is of gravel-like appearance but of such a texture that it binds together in a neat hard surface. Once laid it merely needs rolling with a garden roller. Crushed limestone can also serve the purpose, but it tends to become dusty during dry weather and stick to shoes on wet days. It can also increase the alkalinity of nearby soil. Concrete is a serviceable but harsh option, which if laid properly with expansion joints, will last indefinitely. It is not a comfortable path to walk along or work from in hot weather, as there is considerable reflection and glare. The same applies to some of the modern paving slabs made from reconstituted stone. Select these with great care choosing softer more subtle colours to reduce discomfort. Also carefully select the surface. There are a number of more or less non-slip surfaces available; the most natural looking of which is referred to as riven paving.

Calceolaria integrifolia

A few days ago I wrote about the Slipper Flower or Calceolaria, and described them as being pot plants. However, I have been reminded that there are a number that are much smaller flowered than the florist's Calceolaria and which are excellent plants for bedding purposes. These have been mostly derived from the half-hardy perennial yellow-flowered Calceolaria integrifolia. In Victorian times the species itself was widely grown and over-wintered in a cool greenhouse during the winter as stock plants and the new shoots used for spring cuttings, or as cuttings were taken during late summer and over-wintered in pots. With modern hybrids seed raising is much more usual. 'Bright Bikini' is amongst the best of the new strains, being brightly coloured flowers on plants no more than 10cm (4in) tall.

Calceolarias are tender and have to be raised indoors in the greenhouse or on the window ledge. They will not stand any frost. Sow the seeds thinly in good seed compost during spring and cover the seeds lightly. It is important to use a properly prepared and sterilised seed compost rather than garden soil. Rarely is garden soil in as good a physical conditions as seed compost and it is certainly likely to be host to a range of pests and diseases which could cause early problems for seedlings under warm indoor conditions. Once the seeds have germinated and the first true leaf, as opposed to seedling leaves, is emerging the seedlings should be pricked out into a good potting compost. Use potting compost rather than seed compost as potting composts contain significantly more nutrients and these are essential for healthy plant development. During the growing period it is important for light and warmth to be consistent. Average room temperature is fine for seedlings if they are being raised on the window ledge, but it should be consistent. When any danger of frost has passed, the young plants should be hardened off before planting out. Ensure that they are well watered until established.

Mimulus ‘Maximus Ivory’

I am always surprised by the things that are mentioned in this blog which create discussion and bring me emails. Yesterday it was the new Mimulus ‘Maximus’ strain developed by FloraNova, the specialist seed breeders in eastern England, which are now making such a splash around the world. Some GardenMessenger members cannot get enough of them apparently and have asked for more, so I am taking the opportunity of showing you a few more, at the same time doing a short review for those gardeners who have not grown them before.

Mimulus ‘Maximus Red Shades’

There are innumerable wonderful Mimulus or Monkey Flower which are perennial and well suited to life in the mixed or herbaceous border. They all enjoy moist soil conditions and on occasions are also seen living happily in a bog garden at a streamside, and with certain species like the yellow flowered Mimulus luteus and lavender-blue M.ringens, in the margins of the garden pool as well. Mimulus are all summer flowering species and cultivars, mostly in very vivid hues, their strongly lipped and funnelled blossoms being carried in great profusion on stout flower stems which are liberally clothed with bright green foliage.

Mimulus ‘Maximus Yellow’

Mimulus luteus is the easiest, most commonly grown and versatile species. It is also an important component of many of the colourful hybrids which are currently so popular. In good moist conditions it will grow 60-75cm (24-30in) tall, but is often seen in the traditional herbaceous borders where conditions are drier than to its liking, at scarcely more than 30cm (12in), but nevertheless content. The copper-red M.cupreus and yellow and red spotted M.guttatus are other important species, neither growing more than 45cm (18in) tall. These, together with M.luteus have produced hybrids with a rich palette of colours. Some have blossoms which look almost like orchids and so exotic that the plants would appear as if they will not be hardy enough to survive the winter, especially the widely grown 'Queen's Prize' and 'Monarch' strains.

Mimulus ‘Maximus Orange’

These widely grown seed raised plants are often replaced annually in order to secure high quality flowers, but they are perennials and pass through the winter unscathed. However, they behave rather like Sweet Williams, which are perennials but rarely retained after the first season’s flowering. All Mimulus benefit from life in the sun providing that the soil can be kept moist. In winter they produce ground-hugging rosettes of foliage and these can be lifted and divided. Alternatively seed can be sown in a good seed compost in spring with the protection of a cold frame.


Physalis ‘Little Lanterns’
An outstanding new patio plant of compact umbrella-shaped habit, with creamy-yellow and maroon blossoms followed by delicious fruits.

Melampodium 'Golden Globe'
This is amongst the latest bedding plants coming from German flower seed breeder Benary. A tender annual, it attains a height of 15-20cm (6-8in), and has a very uniform, compact and neatly globe-shaped habit. 'Golden Globe's myriad golden-yellow star-shaped flowers are produced all summer long. It is idea for hot sunny situations.


Rocky Mountain District Rose Show & Convention
16th-18th June
McKee Hospital Conference/Wellness Center
Website click here.

Happy Gardening



Today’s Sponsor

Calceolaria: Wikipedia
Mimulus and Physalis : FloraNova
Melampodium: Benary

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