Survival of the fittest

I thought I would show you how my twelve large potted plants survived (or not) their six months in storage back in UK, and their subsequent journey out here. I think the success/survival rate has actually been quite good, considering that they were only watered by what rained on them during that time.

This was the sorry state of affairs on arrival, which admittedly was straight after a few weeks of heatwave in England (yes, I know!).

Pot plants on arrival

So I gave them all a good drenching to see which of the dead-looking ones, if any, would recover. And lo and behold, some did!

The best survivors were my euonymous, heuchera (‘Rachel’) and skimmia japonica. They all looked alive on arrival, and after a good watering started to produce healthy new leaf growth:

The two cordylines survived, as you would expect. They hail from Australia (Cordyline australis) so should be able to handle drought. I hardly ever water them myself. They had browned a bit, but after pulling the lower dead leaves off, they looked a lot better. The leaves that are browned at the ends will fall eventually, and the new growth is all healthy:

There were two blueberries, both of which looked virtually dead on arrival. However, after a drenching, one started to sprout fresh new leaves all over, and the other produced a few new live sprigs, although the majority of the plant is dead. I hope the second one survives as you really need to grow two blueberries together for pollination:

My contorted hazel (Corylus avellana) made a great recovery. Most of its original branches had to be cut off, but it is producing a lot of fresh young growth from the base, so its prospects are good. The pieris and vinca minor in a large pot are alive, but don’t appear to have rejuvenated at all with watering. I must admit a limestone plateau probably isn’t the best environment in which to try to grow acid-loving plants!

Less fortunate was my beautiful Chinese witchhazel (Loropetalum chinense f. rubrum) which appeared dead as a dodo. After a good watering, it still has some life in it, although some of the new shoots that have appeared have subsequently snapped off in the wind. I fear it will never regain it’s lovely shape, so may be a lost cause. A shame, as it was one of the deepest-red flowering specimens I’ve seen. Other lost causes were a nice low pot of bronze-when-young ferns, and (last photo) my Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’):

So, I make that a survival rate of something like 90%, which is a lot better than I ever expected. And I’ve always gardened by the philosophy that if something can’t survive for a while on its own, it’s not for me!

Food for free!

This is one of the many broken pots full of not much that were left by the previous occupants. Before throwing it out, I thought I should just check that what was growing in it was a weed and not some beautiful specimen of a plant.

Purslane in pot

Correct – it is common purslane (Portulaca oleracea), also known as little hogweed, red root, and pursley. My first bit of research revealed severe warnings: “Pull it out before it goes to seed” and “Don’t leave the pulled plants on the soil – they often re-root!” The plants grow from a central taproot, and their slightly succulent characteristic make them very tolerant to drought. They are annuals, so if you want to get rid of purslane, follow the above advice!

However, it seems purslane is also something of a superfood. The stems, leaves and flowerbuds can all be eaten, either raw or cooked. According to one source it “has seven times more beta-carotene than carrots, six times more vitamin E than spinach, and fourteen times more Omega 3 fatty acids”.

Common purslane

The taste is said to be slightly bitter/salty/lemony – I found it to be pleasant, refreshing, and with a nice bit of crunch. Apparently it can be used in salads or sandwiches instead of lettuce or pickles, steamed or stir-fried, or used in soups and stews. It can be substituted for spinach in many recipes. Interestingly, the tangy taste is due to oxalic and malic acids, which are at their highest levels when harvested first thing in the morning, and which convert to glucose as the day goes on.

Common purslane

So the pot may have to go but the plant can stay. And I’ll be trying it in a salad or sandwich later on today!

My fruit trees

I have inherited a number of fruit trees, some of which I am familiar with and some of which I am not, and some of which I may struggle to clearly identify until they bear fruit! Anyway, here is walk through of what I have found so far.

Fig trees

There are two large and overgrown fig trees, both of which I would like to prune and train somewhat, although I believe the season for doing this is the dormant season. They are attractive as they are, but sprawling, and probably not best pruned for fruiting (while one has quite a lot of fruit developing, the other has far fewer and much smaller fruits). I know they can be pruned and trained up walls, making quite architectural features with their bare twisting trunks, but I need to think carefully about what they would look like freestanding in a lawn if I were to do that sort of pruning.

This one is at the front of the house and rather outgrows its space, blocking the view from a window (along with the bay tree [left] which is growing above roof height):

Fig tree

It also has a wild plum tree growing up in the middle of it!

Fig tree

This one is behind the house, and is the one that has fewer fruits:

Fig tree

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Then there is at least one small self-seeded sapling growing up in a quiet corner:

Fig tree

Wild plums

At first, when we discovered a thicket of saplings growing up right beside the house, blocking the entrance to a back door and supporting a mass of old man’s beard that was creeping up under the tiles, I thought ‘I can’t cut those down, there are plums on there!’. Then I looked around the garden a little more closely, and realised that much of the boundary is formed of a thicket of wild plums, and wild plum saplings are popping up everywhere they get a chance.

This is part of our boundary, which is all plums, inside a crumbling stone wall:

Plum tree hedge

… although some trees bear more fruit than others (many being barren or very sparsely fruiting):

Wild plums

An apricot tree

With a little help from a friend I believe this to be an apricot tree. It is not bearing any fruit, I suspect because the blossoms got frosted in the spring. Other than that, it is one of the healthier fruit tree specimens here, so hopefully I’ll be able to coax it to fruit next year. It did have a mass of suckers growing around the base, which I have removed:

Peach tree

These are the leaves – rather riddled with holes. The red leafstalks and central vein are quite distinctive:

Peach tree leaves

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The trunk also has strange black staining around it, where the bark is also worryingly split. I wonder whether this could be to do with the former use of grease bands or the like?

Peach tree trunk

Stunted apple tree

This one is definitely an apple tree of sorts, although it is more of a bush than a tree.

Apple tree

I know it’s an apple tree, as it has three rather small and sorry-looking apples on it:


What has happened is that the main trunk – a couple of inches in diameter – has forked. One fork is broken off, and the other is that main branch that is leaning out sideways a couple of feet above the ground. The rest is all suckers.

Apple trunk close up

I don’t know if this one is recoverable, as I think the suckers all need to come off, so it will leave just one rather odd looking branch.

More apple trees?

There are two further fruit trees, which may be apples. They appear to be the same as each other, but may be too young to fruit (seemingly never having been watered won’t have helped either):

Apple trees?

At least they are showing plenty of fresh young growth amongst the older tattier leaves:

An almond treeĀ 

I didn’t even realise this was a ‘fruit’ free at first – I thought it was just a slightly neglected willow or similar.

Almond tree

The leaves are quite small (mostly 3-5 cm long) and quite dry and brittle and fall off easily when touched. I expect like most things around here it needs a good watering.


And a mulberry bush

Or rather a mulberry tree!

Mulberry tree

This was a surprise find. I first marvelled at its leaves, which are lush and varied, some more lobed than others:

Mulberry leaves

Then I noticed the berries, which were not very obvious at first. They are curious looking, rather like long thin raspberries with hairy protrusions. They are ripening to red at the moment, although different mulberries are different colours when ripe (white, red, black).


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I’ll let you know what they taste like when they ripen!

Japanese wineberries

A mystery fruit in our garden has turned out to be a Japanese Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) – also called wineberry or wine raspberry. Apparently the Latin name means “raspberry with purple hairs”. It is native to Eastern Asia, but after being introduced to Europe and North America for the purposes of breeding new hybrid raspberry varieties, it has escaped cultivation and naturalised, sometimes to the extent of being considered invasive.

In our garden there are a mass of sprawling canes at the foot of a tree near the house, and another less healthy plant in a small flowerbed against the wall of the house, so we think they were probably planted by the owners-before-last.

Japanese wineberry

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They intrigued me first by having very bristly but not too prickly stems and very hairy, bristly pointed seed pods. They also have lovely fresh green soft leaves which are almost heart-shaped.

When the fruits emerge, they look a bit like small, very bright red blackberries, but the plant is actually a species of raspberry.

Japanese wineberry

When the fruits emerge, they look a bit like small, very bright red blackberries. I love the way the fruits all develop at different rates within the one bunch, and when ripe they almost start to pop off their bright orange cone-shaped receptacles.

Japanese wineberry closeup

Japanese Wineberry

I should add that the fruits, although small, are very juicy, and sweet but with a slight tartness to them – refreshingly delicious!

Meet my garden!

We have been reunited with our belongings from storage, and have made a start on the unpacking, so I’ve now had a chance to start to explore my garden. A bit on the overgrown side, but actually with more going on than I realised in terms of plants. Here are a few pictures to introduce you.

A large area of lawn that would easily revert to wildflower meadow if left to its own devices. I have found meadow sage, thyme, common restharrow, bird’s foot trefoil, cut-leaved selfheal, mullein and mallow an all flowering away in it, to name but a few:

Lawn 1Lawn 2

A few fruit and other trees, in varying states of health:Fruit trees etcA shady corner that may become ‘hammock corner’. Not sure what has caused the big bare patches of soil:Hammock corner


My vegetable patch – a little overgrown! :


A shady terrace covered with vines:Shady front terrace

Some tucked away sheds:

A few plants outgrowing their spaces:

A climbing rose that’s more ‘dead’ than ‘red’:

Dead red rose

A surprise in a woodland clearing:

Horse sculpture

And a few nice and interesting plants:

I look forward to showing you how things develop!