Where’s Spring?

Early April was so hot and so sunny that I screened the south-side of the greenhouse with netting.

The nine automatic wall and roof vents cool it a little but it still gets terrifically hot in there.  Of course, as soon as I finished stapling the netting into place, the sun slid behind …

… dark cloud, temperatures dived and we had weeks of rain.  And rain.  And then … some rain.

But if the sun does ever peek out again, I shall be prepared.  It had grown too stifling in the greenhouse for me to sit and drink tea.  And that will never do.

In previous years, I have lost plants to late frosts (to which the Priory is prone) and so I am probably overly cautious in moving tender stuff outside.  The greenhouse is heated by a fan heater (the size of a small jet engine)  and the cosseted plants within are blissfully unaware of the wet, cold horror outside.


The auriculas have been blooming since March; as has …

… the lovely scented Pelargonium ‘Royal Oak.’

Last year I potted up a Pachyphytum oviferum leaf.  It doesn’t look much does it?  But it has doubled in size (and not just shrivelled up and died which some do) and it will eventually grow into …

… the weirdly beautiful, powder (or bloom) coated sugar-almond plant … or moonstones … or, as Jim calls it, the hemorrhoid plant.  How uncouth.

The lithops are stirring and beginning to gape as …

… new ‘leaves’ begin to emerge from between last year’s …

… though this one’s new growth is itself splitting, to reveal yet another new set of leaves.  Curious.

An interloper has found a home in one of the pots of sarracenia but I haven’t the heart to remove it; I love ferns.

Other sarracenias are flowering …

… but unlike the nondescript green flowers of last year, these …

… are a deep claret.  I have no idea why.

Most of the dahlias I potted recently are poking forth.  I find starting them off in pots gives them an advantage over the slugs – for when they are eventually planted outside.

After a recent visit to Architectural Plants (on yet another rainy day), there are new tenants in the greenhouse.  For the tropical border, I’ve bought a plant I’ve long hankered after – Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex.’  This architectural, hardy exotic should reach 3-4 metres in height with leaves a metre across.  Goodness.

I also bought Arundo donax or Spanish reed – another 3 – 4 metre hardy big boy and …

… this not-at-all-hardy canna lily, Canna coccinea; relatively petite at about one and a half metres tall (though I’ve heard that it might struggle to get that high).

Now I need it to stop raining and for it to warm up outside.  I’ve got loads to do; the grass is still growing but the ground is too sodden to mow; I’ve got planting to do but the soil is gloop; I’ve got plants to harden off but the wind would rip them to tatters.  There has been so much rain that …

… water from the surrounding fields is still pouring into the grounds, filling …

The east pond. Normally the alders stand well clear of the water.

… the ponds to full capacity.  Thankfully, the emergency channel we dug three years ago  …

The flood waters haven't washed out as much duckweed as I would have liked.

… is carrying excess water out to the river – and away from the front door of the house.  Phew.  Thank goodness the South of England is officially in a state of drought.  Otherwise who knows how wet it might be.

34 thoughts on “Where’s Spring?

  1. Pingback: Spring is here! « AltroVerde

  2. The Lithops look fascinating close to – quite otherworldly. I have some Sarracenias and the ones that have dark red flowers like yours are leucophylla hybrids.
    Lovely to see your pictures taken in this time of drought – surprised not to see your garden colonised by ducks !


    • Thanks for that. I’ve done a search on the leucophylla hybrids (which I hadn’t heard of – the plants weren’t labelled when I bought them), And we have plenty of ducks – I’m constantly shooing a mallard away from one of the borders near the house where she wants to nest. As bad as I feel doing this, she would be to vulnerable to dogs and foxes. There are two islands she could nest on for goodness sake! D


  3. Love your weird and wonderful stone plants…especially the one hat supposedly has a resemblance to piles. Thankfully I don’t know if it has that likeness.


  4. We are having a wet, grey afternoon here today, although this morning was very hot and sunny. You are really making the best use of all your growing possibilities with a tropical border too! Hope that the rain keeps off enough for you to be able to work, Christina


    • Managed to mow one of the lawns the other day, Christina though even then part of it was very squelchy and I left behind some beautiful brown, muddy stripes. I had no choice though – I have to grab what fine weather there is or else the grass will grow too long for the mower to cope with. Sounds like you’re having better weather than Alberto? D


  5. Sending you a truck of 2 by 4 lengths of wood, a bags o’ nails & a hammer to build yourself an Ark…looks like you need it. Never heard of the Lithops or Moonstones before…quite fascinating!


    • If the water level reached the greenhouse, massive built-in air bags will automatically inflate and I shall float serenely away. Quite ingenious – it was a health and safety requirement. But thanks for your kind offer anyway. D


  6. Same here Dave! As soon as they declared the North East of Italy officially in a state of drought it started raining! And it rained and rained… I haven’t seen raining like that for a year! Now it stopped and a hot bubble of hot African air is over us, drying everything like in a oven. The wet ground is forming a crust like terracotta!
    Tetrapanax papyrifer looks stunning, I think it shall be a relative of ivy, right?
    About arundo donax… I suggest you keep an evil eye on it as it grows in every ditch here in Venice and it grows so fast and so tall… Good Luck! (oh! it look gorgeous though!)


    • Blow that hot bubble this way please, Alberto – at least temporarily. Thanks for the warning re the arundo (see Mr K’s comment below). I shall have to think about where it can go and keep it away from the water, I think. Perhaps plant it in a sunk container within the tropical border. Dave


      • I read Mr K comment before leaving mine and I just wanted to add some more first hand drama to what he wrote! Keeping it in a container could be a very good idea, keep the pot over the ground level so the plant doesn’t walk around!


  7. And here I thought the lithops were fascinating when they bloomed. Wow, Dave–those new leaves are AMAZING! There’s something very modern art about the green ones.

    This is a naive question from someone in a dry climate, but how do you keep the greenhouse from getting too humid when it’s rainy for days on end? How do you avert problems like damping off and all those kinds of things? Is your prickly pear happy?

    I’m sorry to be a drought snob, but I don’t think you all are really doing the thing properly over there. 3 cheers for the drainage channel!


    • My prickly pear is er, prickly, Stacy, and I put it outside a week or two ago (to help hide the manhole cover, of course). It seems healthy enough (the house walls protect it from the worst of the rain). I actually have to increase humidity in the ‘house (to ward off red spider mite), by dousing the floor. The heater keeps it very dry. Chuckle – drought snob or no, you’re right. We Limeys just can’t seem to get the hang of droughts. D


  8. Loving your unusual greenhouse plants. I’ve always been fascinated by those stone plants. I’ve never grown any but I never fail to be amazed by the different forms plants take. My dahlias, safe in a cold frame are pushing through but like you I can’t do much else. The ground is too wet to plant and I’m suffering from coldframe and window sill backlog. If I can’t get some plants out soon I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’m very envious of your greenhouse. I could quite easily while away days in there, sheltered from the weather with a cup of tea.


    • I did a post of about lithops last year, WW – they have the most beautiful flowers; I’ve loved them since I was a kid. Finally managed to plant out some lilies and the tetrapanax yesterday on a rare sunny afternoon. Joy.


  9. Hello Dave, I think the south of England is having a worse time of it than we are – although temperatures in Scotland have not risen above 7 degrees for the last three weeks! BTW I was warned off Arundo Donax by Diana at Elephant’s Eye http://elephantseyegarden.blogspot.co.uk/ and on checking in wiki, I found:

    “The rhizomes are tough and fibrous and form knotty, spreading mats that penetrate deep into the soil up to 1 metre (3.3 ft) deep (Alden et al., 1998; Mackenzie, 2004). Stem and rhizome pieces less than 5 centimetres (2.0 in) long and containing a single node readily sprouted under a variety of conditions (Boose and Holt, 1999). This vegetative growth appears to be well adapted to floods, which may break up individual A. donax clumps, spreading the pieces, which may sprout and colonise further downstream (Mackenzie 2004).”

    So take care….I fear for your drainage channel, if that gets into it!


    • That’ll teach me, Mr K. The Arundo was that most dangerous of things – an impulse buy. But I did ask the lady at Architectural Plants whether it was invasive and she told me, no. That it would form a mat of roots easily cut off by a spade (I was worried it might spread like pseudosasa). That’ll teach me. Thanks for the warning; I shall think long and hard where I plant it. Another plant with meter deep roots – sheesh. Hope it warms up for you a bit soon. D


  10. Such irony isn’t it! They announce the hosepipe ban, all of us bask in the early spring warmth and the heaven poured, and poured, and poured….

    Great photos as always! You’ll love that T-Rex, plant it out, stand back and watch! Getting the greenhouse done is still well worth it. Once the sun decides to come back (hopefully soon) at least you’re prepared and don’t have to do it. One tick off the box!


    • Hi Boys, yes the shading is necessary as I find toms and cucumbers (which I grow in an open bed in the greenhouse) do get scorched otherwise. Yep, one tick off the box indeed. Excited about the T-Rex – will let you know how it gets on. D


  11. oh I dont like those living stone things at all – remind me of brains! I gave up shading my greenhouse about 3 years ago as whenever I put shading on the weather deteriorates. My dahlias are showing no signs of joining us either hopefully they will get their act together soon or it will be another non-dahlia year like last year.


  12. Maybe you’d be able to advise re. lithops belonging to a young relation? There are two branches (I expect there’s a better word for this) coming up from the base and one is very much taller than the other which means they can’t both be flush with the mixture in the pot. (I re-potted it in cactus mixture because the little pot it came in kept falling off his window sill.) Does it matter that a lithops stem (stem?) sticks up above ground level? (Half and inch to an inch.)


    • Hi Lucy, the ‘branches’ are actually its leaves (believe it or not) and it sounds like it isn’t getting enough sun. Is that possible? They do tend to grow too tall if they’re not sun-baked. Mine are all on a south facing shelf in the greenhouse – you can’t really over do sun with lithops. If you move them to a sunnier spot then they should, next year, produce new leaves that’ll be nice and compact. Hope that helps. D


  13. What weird and wonderful plants you grow in your greenhouse. All the fields round here are like lakes – luckily we live on top of a hill – all the streams are like rushing torrents – and my wellies have sprung a leak!


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