Growlight On: Portulacaria Afra (Elephant Bush)

|| Flashing Lights || Sirens || Manically Waving Coloured Flags || Loud Speaker Turned On Full Volume || Oh yeah, that's right: New Succulent Alert! ||

Yes, folks, after repeatedly trying (and failing) to save my Caladrina, I gave up. Its four wilting leaves and bending 20cm stalk (thanks, stretching) just couldn't be saved from the big old plant heaven in the sky.

So, of course, I then had a free pot. Having just submitted an essay at university, I decided to treat myself to a brand new plant from a gift shop on Bold Street (Liverpool) called Mi Vida. Shout out to this heavenly shop: everything they do is gorgeous!

So, drum roll please: Let me introduce you to my brand new baby: Portulacaria Afra or Elephant Bush as it's more commonly known.

Ta Dah! Beautiful, isn't it?

I've done a bit research, and apparently this is a fast growing plant, so I'm excited to see progress pretty soon! I reckon the cuttings from this plant will be a regular occurrence. It's already had a few branches trimmed by a previous owner so it's obviously resilient. It was parched when I bought it, so I gave it a good soak and repotted it in a terracotta pot with cacti soil, plus perlite and gravel. Fingers crossed it likes its new home.

The Elephant Bush is regularly grown into a bonsai tree and I've been interested to find out more about this - while I don't think I have the patience to truly commit to making this succulent a tiny tree, I think I'm going to try and prune him into a somewhat tree shape. It's amazing how resilient succulents are and how quickly the replace what's lost of their foliage - that's part of the reason I'm so in awe with them, and other plants.

Is anyone else the proud owner of an Elephant Bush? What are your tips for looking after them?

Succulents Newsflash: Haworthia Cymbiformis and Mammillaria Bombycina

A few weeks back I visited RHS Wisley, and had a nose at their incredible display of dry temperate plants which included more cacti and succulents than I'd ever seen in my life. After this succulent-heaven (that's not a joke), I paid a visit to the Plant Centre next door and bought some new plants for myself, as well as some new fancy pots.

I've been traipsing back and forth from Hampshire to Liverpool this Easter Holidays, so I hadn't had the opportunity to add the plants to my collection up in the North. Finally though, FINALLY, I've got my two new babies up in one piece via car this week, and I've topped up their soil and integrated them with the other plants.

The two new plants are Haworthia Cymbiformis (from South Africa) and Mammillaria Bombycina (from Mexico). They're small and a little hassled but seem to be enjoying the Scouse Sunshine at the moment. The new pots were £8.99 from the plant centre, and came with drainage holes and cute little saucers in the same pattern as the pot. They're much posher than my 70p ASDA terracotta pots, but the contrast makes it all quite niche. 

Right now, both the plants are out in the afternoon sun with the other plants, but I think at night I will pop them on my bedside table to show them off a bit. 

The Mammillaria Bombycina was complete 'agg' to repot. The spikes are hooked so they snag at your skin (I didn't have any gloves up in Liverpool) and it hurts like hell to pull them out. Hopefully won't be needing to touch it for a while!

This is my first Haworthia and I'm a little nervous about keeping it happy. I use a grow light regularly and I'm terrified of burning the leaves as I've heard they only like indirect sunlight and partial shade. I'll try and keep him to the edge of the light, but I'll just have to experiment and get back to you!

This post has been a bit rushed, I admit, and I'm sorry about that. My dissertation deadline is looming and while I'm trying to find anything to do except work on it, I can't spend too long on the blog - give me 30 and a bit days and I'll be all yours.

Greenlight on: Sedum Adolphi

Lying in bed last night, I was trying to think what would be a good regular feature for this blog. I wanted to do a kind of 'spotlight' on singular plants, but I have a unreasonable hatred of the word spotlight so I tried to be clever and come up with something plant-related. To no avail - this title sounds awful and I think I'm going to have to go back to the drawing board with it. Watch this space for more terrible, failed puns. 

Anyway, here goes, my first "Greenlight" (name pending): Sedum Adolphi

This plant can grooow: rescued from a Prince's Garden Centre last summer, where it was shrivelling up into a dry mess, I originally struggled to get it to thrive. Whatever I threw at it it just withered more. After a quick search of the internet, I came across the hallowed ground for succulent and cacti care - the /r/succulents Reddit thread. If you haven't been on it yet then go go go! It's so useful if you're concerned about a plant, want an ID, or just want to show off. People normally reply to posts within a day, giving you surplus opinions on what to do to save your babies.

Back then to Summer 2016 and my shrivelling Sedum Adolphi. I posted a photo on Reddit and got back a definitive answer: 'water it you dumb-ass'. I had been watering it, but gently and fearful of rot. On second advice taken from my Nana, I soaked the plant overnight in it's pot and then repotted it the next day and crossed my fingers.

Thankfully, the good soaking worked. Within a few days this plant looked incredible and since then it's been growing good. The broken leaf you can see was my fault (don't ask) but this week I noticed some little pups growing on the lower stem which is mega exciting.

The plant was labelled Sedum Adolphi when I bought it, but I'm still not 100 per cent convinced it's a correct ID. Looking at photos of other Adolphis online, I think mine is altogether more green (when when I counter in exposure to sunlight). However, it fits most of the other characteristics - if you think you have a better idea, comment or send me a message!

Like I said, it's mostly green but when exposed to lots of sun it takes on a paler colour, with slight reddened tips. It's really hardy - can take a good lot of water without too much risk and always looks incredibly healthy. If you're looking for a 'starter' succulent I would recommend one of these: people often say jades are hard to kill but I've had the opposite. My jade is constantly on the cusp of death where as this little plant has been through thick and thin and still looks beautiful.

New pots and new growth: spring-tidying my succulents

Spring has finally sprung in the North West of England and before I get hit with deadline season, exams and the dreaded dissertation hand-in, I decided to do some tidying up with my plants.

Spring and Summer is definitely growing season for succulents: most of them have signs of fresh growth peaking through, especially my sedums which are sprouting pups from their lower stems. I’m keen to keep them as happy as possible and I felt a lot of the pots my plants were currently in didn’t give adequate drainage to prevent the dreaded root rot.

I’ve been planning on buying some small terracotta pots for a while, but as always happens, I didn’t realise I’d find the perfect ones quite so soon. Walking around ASDA with shopping for groceries, I happened to wander down their new gardening aisle and lo-and-behold, the perfect terracotta pots I’d been looking for were smack-bang in front of me. I bought three, and the next day went back and grabbed three more – they were at steal a 70p!

They didn’t have drainage holes, which is a pain, so I had to think outside the box. The standard ‘hole-making’ process uses a masonry drill bit (legit, it’s on Wiki-How). Being a student of little means, I didn’t fancy buying an electric drill and instead sort an easier way to make the holes. I ventured forward with a screwdriver, soaked the pots for a few hours and then applied pressure to the bases while twisting. It took ages, and the bases did flake and my desk looked like I'd dropped a glass of red salt all over it but finally I had drainage holes, and minimal damage, to the pots.

I’ve now repotted four succulents in a cacti and succulent potting mix, adding extra permilite and gravel to help with drainage. At the beginning of this month, I was putting my succulents outside to get some real sunlight. Right now, though, the days are more grey and I’ve had to keep them in under my growlight.

All in all, a successful spring tidy-up. Now I need to stop procrastinating and get on with my dissertation.

Visit: RHS Wisley, a succulent heaven

On a grey, drizzly day last week I visited the Royal Horticultural Society's Wisley Garden, in Surrey. 

The garden is one of four run by the RHS in the UK, and within its 240 acres are nestled orchards, rose gardens, rock gardens, a canal, a woodland wild area and the huge bicentenary glasshouse, which was my main destination for the day.

Within the glasshouse are three planting areas: tropical, moist temperate and dry temperate. The structure is awe-inspiring, a great glass temple filled with deep, rich, green foliage. There's a hush when you walk through the door as though the plants themselves dampen the voices of visitors (even the god-awful shouts of over-excited children).

I headed straight to the dry temperate to check out the succulents and cacti. The air in there seemed to rustle with its dryness, rasping against the huge, years-old plants that were hardened with age, tough at the edges and thick-skinned. On the floor, nestled in the rocks were many-headed thick leaved succulents, some as big as man's hand, others younger. The cacti were unbelievable - they surpassed anything I'd ever seen in terms of height, seize and stature (not hard in England).
View from the top of the Alpine Hill (I think)
After the dry temperate, we explored the two other plantings areas. The difference between tropical and dry temperate climates was crazy, considering there didn't seem to even be a door. You walked in past a jungle-like swamp and the wet, sticky air hit you in the face. Tendrils hung around your head, brushing gently against you and at each turn we expected to see the flash of neon of some tropical bird or frog (there aren't any, unfortunately).

Afterwards, I wandered through the rest of the garden with my Mum, admiring the fruit blossoms that were starting their celebration of spring and walking through the Bonsai avenue, and the Alpine rockeries.

Here is a selection of photos from the day:

A Rockery Garden

Mum blending with the blossoms