Saturday 16 April 2011

16.04. Stepanotis in flower

There’s been a small miracle in my bedroom lately. No, no...not that kind of miracle, I haven’t finally got myself a boyfriend; no, this is more in the region of a horticultural miracle – that’s probably the only kind of miracles you can expect at my humble abode :-) Let me explain....Many years ago I bought a houseplant called Stephanotis floribunda, you might know it as Madagascar jasmine, not to be confused with the many types of ordinary Jasmine you can have both in your garden and as houseplants. Other names for this houseplant are Waxflower, Hawaiian Wedding Flower, Stephanotis jasminoides and Marsdenia floribunda. In warmer climate this plant grows outdoors and can be a 3-4 metre tall climber, in our part of the world it is kept as a houseplant and mainly cherished for its highly scented flowers. Back to my purchase from 2004...I just had to try to grow it outdoors...yes, I know, pretty mad when all instructions say it has to be kept frost-free, but we had had many winters in a row without any frost by then so I thought I would give it a try. I re-potted the Stepanotis in a large pot and let it grow quite big during the summer and autumn, so it perhaps would have a chance of surviving. And it did survive...until March the following year! That’s when we got a few nights with well below minus, and most of the plant was dead next morning. See, it almost survived the winter! Well, I cut off the few pieces that were OK, put them in water and let them root, and then potted them on later.
They survived to become a nice houseplant and I hoped to get a big plant with lots of flowers on eventually, so I kept re-potting it on whenever the plant was big enough - obviously keeping it indoors from now on! The plant is now placed in my bedroom, in a bright place, but not in direct sunlight. And the Stepanotis kept growing and growing and growing, but I didn’t get any flowers. Finally, I had to look it up on the Internet, and realised that I had done it all wrong; in order to get flowers on this plant you have to be a bit mean to it, you have to let the pot become root bound and certainly not let it have a new and bigger pot every year like I had been given it!  All you get then is a whole lot of leaves...So I took the plant out of the pot, shaved off as much compost I could and squeezed it into a much smaller pot. That should do it right? That was in 2008 and I was hoping for lots of flowers the next spring. But spring 2009 came....with no flowers. Spring 2010...nada. And here we are in 2011....and lo and behold, the Stepanotis has produced 5 clusters of the most incredibly scented flowers :-) When the sun is shining into my bedroom, I can smell the scent as I enter the room! Patience pays, eventually...

Here is a close-up of its flowers, the most exquisite perfume you could wish for. The flowers last for quite a long time, at least a week each, but that is providing the pot isn’t turned whilst the plant is in flower, the plant doesn’t like that! So even if the plant has produced more flowers on the back than on the front, resist the temptation to turn the pot around; that could lead to all the flowers falling off in one go! And when the plant is mature enough the flowers will be followed by large seed pods looking a bit like green mangoes. Each seed pod will contain 70-100 seeds and each seed can become a new Stephanotis floribunda :-) I haven't seen the seed pods yet, so I look forward to experiencing that too. I have 3 cuttings taken from this plant, they are in my kitchen right now, where there unfortunately isn’t a lot of light, but hopefully they will survive long enough to become mature and start flowering too.

I turned my back to the next door garden for 5 minutes, and the weeds are growing as if they are getting paid! Just look at this photo, the whole ground is covered in tiny shoots of clover. Yesterday I finally got the delivery I have been waiting for; the log rolls I am going to use as edging for the flower beds. I have been staining some of them today, a slow process as they have to be stained on both sides and dry in between. I have been sitting on my stool painting most of the day, fortunately it has been great weather for it and there is no rain in sight for the next 5 days....I could do with some rain in my garden, saves me all the watering, but right now it’s fine – all the log rolls are spread out on the ground next door, at different stages of being stained. I will give them a second coat once they are in the ground.

Things happen at an astonishing pace in my garden, I can hardly believe how fast it’s gone the last few weeks. Here is my snowball bush, a Viburnum ‘Eskimo’. It is sweetly scented, but not in any way as strongly as the Stephanotis, but the flowers have a similar waxy surface. The Viburnum is an evergreen, one of many in my garden, which keeps my garden green all year round.

And here is the ‘snowball’ in close-up. Isn’t a marvellous flower? These are the kind of flowers that bees prefer; flowers with lots of tiny flowers tightly packed together. That means the bees can collect much more nectar in one place without having to fly between each flower; saves time and energy! The Viburnum has had several different places in my garden; first in a small tub where it got too dry every day in the middle of the summer, then several years at the bottom of my garden where it definitely didn’t get enough sun, then I decided to dig it up and remove it from there and discovered it had made roots half way to China! I am afraid the only way to lift a plant like this is to sever the roots at some point....which I did, gave it a much bigger tub than it had the first time and a place in semi shade. I am pleased to say that the plant seems to thrive now, and all the flowers is a good sign that space and place is just right now...for now. It is not a fast grower, but eventually it will need a place in a bed. The problem is that there is fierce competition for the bed on the sunny side of my garden; I doubt the Viburnum will get priority when that time comes. However, I can always put it next door, although I am a bit cautious that I might not have that garden for forever; there might be a future tenant at some time that would want to deal with the garden themselves. Or, there might move someone in who would refuse to have someone like me walking around in what is supposed to be their private garden! I am prepared for that future scenario, and therefore not willing to put my most highly priced plants into the new flowerbeds I am about to make next door. Small cuttings from my plants are OK, but not plants I have paid a lot for or plants I have spent the last 8-10 years meticulously nursing. So, we'll see, for now the Viburnum is doing well where it is :-)

One last photo? This is one I took earlier this month, of a bush that is rather unassuming and not much of a looker most of the year, but when it flowers; oh, it really takes on a different look. This bush, Ribes speciosum, is a species of gooseberry, its common name is fuchsia-flowered gooseberry from the shape of the flowers. It is a native of California and often called the Californian fuchsia. In California hummingbirds visit it, which may be why it rarely fruits in the UK. My plant is 7 years old now and not very big, but just as the Viburnum it is growing in a tub which restricts its growth and it is long overdue a bigger tub or a place in the ground. If I gave it a place in the sunny side of the flower bed it would probably double in size in two years. Tempting....but, that would mean something else would have to go...and what would that be?? I can’t bear the thought of getting rid of any plant I have. Another one for next door perhaps?!

Right, I think that’s it for tonight, more photos next time, when I might be able to show you what I have done next door since last time. Till then, take care.