MY CLEMATIS DIARY
Before leaving a garden for any period of time there are some precautions for the wellbeing of the garden which have to be taken. This is particularly true of a clematarium (a garden devoted largely to clematis). For the last week there has been a frantic effort by Bill and I to hoe all the weeds we could see. A garden left for two weeks without any attention to weeding is a major problem area. Furthermore, periodically, clematis need tying up. The whole collection as been gone through, one by one, to tie up all those needing this help. This will have to be done again upon my return in two weeks.
Some of the clematis in the greenhouse may well find it too hot there. So, these have been taken out and put into trenches in the garden. Each pot will lie over a 'leaky pipe' and so will receive water whether it rains or not. Two or three clematis need their flowering retarded. So these have been put in a shed where there is very little light.
With the trip starting tomorrow last minute thought has to be given to a watering programme. In the greenhouse plants have been placed on mats which end in tubs of water. These tubs are filled every three or four days. Plants can tolerate this treatment for a couple of weeks. They are not so happy over a longer period of time because they receive too much water. Bill will operate the leaky pipe watering system at least twice a week while we are away. However, there are some small parts of the garden where the leaky pipe system does not reach. These will be watered by hand by Bill.
As planes from Europe reach the island of Majorca they cross into the island over the northern range of mountains with the Bay of Puerto Pollensa on the left hand side of the plane. The planes almost touch the mountains as they slip into the plain and take a right hand turn into Palma airport. This range of mountains is the heart of the island. It is it's life blood for, from the mountains, come the water that the island needs. Torrents run down from the mountains into the plain, giving a vast supply of underground water. This is pumped up by a large number of water mills - a feature of the island.
The northern mountains, Serra de Tramontana, give the walker a paradise to explore, either searching for the coves on it's northern slopes or climbing into heights or exploring the gentler wooded walks on its southern aspect. I particularly like the gentler walks on it's southern slopes. For the naturalist the mountains offer birdwatching supreme as the birds rest here on their flight in and out of Europe from Africa. The island is known as a tourist centre for Europeans. But you need hardly to meet another tourist unless you want to.
I touched the soul of the island on a plane flying in to San Francisco many years ago. Next to me sat a Franciscan monk. In conversation he revealed he was just back from Europe, from Majorca. From the deepest moment of peace in his life. In the central village of Petra the birthplace of the friar, Junipero Serra (1713-1784), who founded many mission stations in the state of California, USA, including the mission in San Francisco. My acquaintance had spent a period in the mission home in Petra. These central villages are as if time had not touched them. The narrow streets are not for cars. Walk the street, but not in the afternoon, as the siesta dictates complete inactivity. Petra also touches clematis. The missions of the Catholic church has played a major role in the introduction of clematis to Europe from China. Just to mention the findings of Father Armand David and Father Jean Marie Delavay.
A garden I love to visit is that of the monastery of Valldemosa. A central feature are the box hedges around the beds. There is such an abundance of box that no-one minds you pulling a few leaves and crushing them in your fingers for the gorgeous scent. It has a number of roses and a magnificent Magnolia Grandiflora. Most intriguing are the old, gnarled, and almost dead-looking, olive trees. Despite their age they each sprout new leaves. There are pines and tall columnar trees and there is peace. There is a background of dazzling bougainvillea. Perhaps a place could have been found for the native Clematis flammula now in flower in the island. Leaving the garden one is addressed by some of the back gardens of Valldemosa, full of lemon trees, orange trees and vines. In one a modern sculptor is at work, but I was intrigued to see there was one neglected garden, a wild garden, which was just as colourful as any other.
Majorcans rather assume that visitors are not gardeners. It has not gone out of its way to open many gardens. The best known garden is that of Alfabia. This Moorish garden is a lesson on how to use water in a garden. At La Granja, an enormous spouting fountain has been produced from an underground spring. It also has a Renaissance garden. In a quiet square in Lluc Monastery, there are two magnificent Magnolia Grandifloras. Visiting a country warmer than your own allows one to study how their gardeners cope with the extra heat. One glorious private garden I saw was full of colour. But the colour came from the shrubs on the walls, on hedges, and on artificial structures. But all these vigorous plants had their roots in the ground. Here and there the same shrubs had been put in containers to add colour on stone patios. But the same shrubs in the containers were only a fraction, maybe one-tenth, of the size of the same shrubs put into the soil. This makes a point. Put your clematis into the ground whenever you can. If there is no ground then cultivate the art of growing the clematis in containers. It's a possible art but very time consuming and exacting.
One of the most beautiful beaches in Majorca is that of Formentor. During the day it is visited by thousands of people. During the morning and evening it is a place of sheer delight. The visitors leave in the early evening and by 7 o'clock and entirely different order of being takes possession of the beach. These are the scavengers. In the shallow water the fish move in to pick off what they can find. This gives the cormorant an opportunity and they move in after the fish. On the rocks and in shallow waters stand the gulls, occasionally making a dash onto the beach to find a tasty morsel. From the trees come a cloud of small birds, such as thrushes and sparrows, all gleaning the beach. Lying in the grass close to the beach is a danger to all on the beach. These are the wild cats, many of them. The cats wait until there is real stillness and then make straight for the waste-paper bins. They are also on the look out for any unwary bird that comes their way. I have never been on the beach at night but I expect, then, that one could be sharing it with the foxes and any wild dog there may be in the vicinity.
Our balcony is almost in the trees. Just a few yards away there is an enormous pine tree which invites you to scramble into it and share the life of the tree and its inhabitants. Almost within touching distance are the date trees and at this time of the year enormous shrubs of tamerix. The tamerix here are of immense size and the gnarled stems suggest they have been here a very long time.
About 8 o'clock in the evening is the time of quiet here. The winds drop and all the branches of the trees become motionless. There is no movement in the fronds of the date trees. This is the moment, too, to look out for the sea eagles. These come from the crags in the mountains for their evening meal. They fly much higher than the gulls. Then they wheel about. Then comes the dramatic moment when they dive down into the sea. In all my watching I have only seen them diving once. They seem to move away from the shore and prefer diving when out of sight.
Today I saw our cheeky local cormorant. He has become so friendly that he is prepared to sit on the end of the nearby pier. He does not allow anyone to approach. Anyone getting too close is immediately pecked. One jaunty dog tried his luck but was soon running whelping down the pier. The waters are so clear that one could see his mode of fishing. Fish often move into the shore, about ten yards out, in the hope of picking up snippets. The cormorant swims about 15 yards out and on his approach the fish move towards the beach. Thus he traps them between himself and the beach. The fox uses the same techniques with the rabbits in my garden. He tries to hem them against the hedge.
One of the pleasures of a hot climate is having the satisfaction of drinking cold bottled water. This island supplies an excellent product, Binifaldo. The product with gas, con gas, give an extra sparkle. But to read the label makes you feel so good. The water is full of every ingredient likely to be of benefit to you! As it happens the water comes from a spring near one of the most beautiful walks on the island.
I see from the local paper that Verdi's Requiem will be sung in Palma at the end of the week. Alas it is not possible to attend. Clematis claims attention. Italian opera, particulary Verdi opera, commands even more. Verdi was a gardener as well as a farmer. He eschewed flattery and honours. He regarded himself to be a craftsman who merited the correct payment for the right job. As he grew wealthy he invested in farms. But at his home he had a large garden and a lake so large that he and his wife could take to the water in a boat. Not only an honourable man but a generous one. He wife and he, confidentially, supported many good causes. A large part of his wealth ultimately went to found a home for retired musicians. This is still to be found in Milan. He decreed that there should be no attenders at his funeral. However when his body was moved to its final resting place in the home for retired musicians, the public made an audience of a quarter of a million people. But the largest funeral in Italy was only some few years ago. A million people attended the funeral of a communist deputy thought to be the only honest politician in Italy.
In the beautiful clear water of the beaches here, I like to bathe once or twice a day. I avoid the pools, indoor or out. Things happen in the ocean which never happen in a pool. Furthermore, seawater is saline and therefore a mild disinfectant. When I came here I was aware I had mild conjunctivitis. There was a prickling sensation in my eyes. I made it my business to open my eyes underwater, and in two days the prickling had gone. Any mild infections of the skin clear up in the same way. Pools, on the other hand, are where you pick up infections.
The planthunters must have had extraordinary pleasure from making findings in the wild. Today we set off for an excursion to find one of the clematis native to this island, Clematis flammula. The name comes from the fact that when the leaves are placed on the tongue they give a burning sensation. The flower is rather reminiscent of Clematis vitalba, another wild flower in the rest of Europe. I had found Clematis cirrhosa earlier in the year on the old road from Pollenca to Campanet. Sure enough, in the gorgeous valley the hedges were covered with Clematis flammula. Not as profuse as last year, possibly because there has been a drought in the island this year. The scent, of course, is overwhelming.
One of the joys of travel is the return home. In general the garden looked good from the windows. As soon as a moment is available one naturally walks the garden. Everything seemed as it should be. Bill had made a fine job of looking after everything. He was helped by the cloudy weather which, although it did not give rain, at least kept off any danger of overheating the plants. The plants left in the greenhouse had all survived without drying out. Those trenched in the garden itself were in excellent shape. They had made excellent growth and were all green and happy. The main collection of clematis was in good form also having benefited from the 'leaky pipe' system. The plants whose growth had been retarded were only just coming into bloom. So that was satisfactory too. Now let the summer come because we can cope with the watering.
The peacocks, no doubt, have had a ball since we've been away. But the damage they do is not obvious to the eye. They are after shoots coming out of the ground or the shoots at the top of the plants. One rabbit has managed to slip into the garden. No doubt this is the result of an open gate at some point. He is not likely to do much damage and we can just leave that to nature to sort out. A most welcome sight is to see a group of at least eight swifts in the sky. There is also a nest on the south side of the house.
Plucky, the pheasant, looked in poor shape when we arrived home. Presumably he has become dependent upon us for food and in our absence felt the pinch. Even in two days he is looking much better, filling out, and his colours are beginning to glow again. We had supper in the garden tonight. My son threw a grape to Plucky. He gobbled it up with gusto. He had a second, and a third, and a fourth. When the fifth arrived a blackbird dashed in with great speed and plucked it from the ground so quickly that Plucky was not even aware of the blackbird. He looked around in amazement then paddled off at great speed to tell the missus: "Can you believe what happened to me today . . . !"
Have you met the phenomena of having a cherished plant, so cherished that you give it special attention. However despite that special attention the plant dies. What accounts for this? I have such a plant and it is not doing as well as it should do and bearing in mind the great care I have taken of it. Where have I failed? Probably I have over fertilised it and the excessive fertiliser is not to its liking. Another possibility, of course, is that one can over water.
Another peacock incident today. There are three dents in the side of my car. This had been washed the previous day and was shining bright. The largest peacock has no doubt seen rivals in the paintwork and attacked them. There they are. Dents of about an inch wide with broken paint at the centre. What do you do with these creatures? They do damage to your plants, they are noisy, and they are dirty. Furthermore they are vicious. A friend of mine had a peacock and he dared not turn his back on it because it would attack him with beak and claw. Presumably it had got attached to the wife and was now jealous of the husband.
While some people keep peacocks others keep bears. Lord Byron was such a person. Someone near here also kept a bear. Again, the bear was very attached to the wife. However she also had a visiting man-friend. One day she and the man-friend and the bear set off for a walk in the woods. It's not then entirely clear what happened, except that the bear took umbrage at the man's behaviour. He attacked him. The man disappeared up a tree. The wife went screaming back to the house with the bear in pursuit. The husband heard the shouting, saw the situation and got his gun and shot the bear. There is no justice for bears!
In the cottage garden today I could see that my very large plant of 'W E Gladstone' is in a very sorry state. Most of it has died to the ground. But there are three good stems, new stems, coming from the ground. The Large Flowered clematis are susceptible to stem rot (clematis wilt). However I doubt whether that is the cause here. This plant has thick woody stems. Stem rot does not attack such woody stems but simply the green stems above. So the cause of this is probably an attack by phytophthora. This condition attacks the roots. It is particularly likely to occur in waterlogged soils. Being a clematarian is so difficult! Clematis loves water. Water encourages phytophthora.
One of the great paradoxes of the gardening world occurs in the UK. We have massive rainfall yet, every summer, throughout the land, there is a call for economy in water use. Even the gardening associations and gardening journals join in the plea to the gardener to cut the use of water. The country is divided into regions, each having a water company that sells water to the gardener. Yet, amazingly, when the gardener needs water and thus water can be sold with great profit, the companies have no water! This is because the water companies will not invest in lakes to store the water. I garden in one of the driest parts of the UK, with the lowest rainfall. Yet we have abundant water. This is because the water company created a reservoir some years ago. Now we have abundant water, though it's not as cheap as it should be. We also have a wonderful leisure area - walking, cycling, motoring, sailing, bird-watching, etc. Gardeners must press for a copious, cheap, supply of water, and at a time when they want it, in the summer.
A troubling weed in the garden is woodbine. It climbs and curls a bit like clematis. It loves to get amongst clematis where, of course, it benefits from all the feeding we give the clematis. However, there is now a good answer. If the weed is twined in with the clematis it is often possible to unwind it. Then it can be spread on the ground. It should then be sprayed with a weedkiller that has got a root destroyer in it, such as Glyphosate. It's a waste of time to hoe woodbine. The roots left in the ground quickly spread and make growth again.
Visiting a nursery today I was impressed by what they called 'nursery hygiene'. They go to infinite care to leave no leaves or stems about the place. Everything is clean and orderly like a well-run kitchen. The clematis are regularly sprayed. They do not meet stem rot (clematis wilt). However it is vital to remember that the effect of the fungicide used by the nurseries wears off in three weeks. So once put into the garden the plant can contract stem rot from its neighbouring clematis. If collected from the nursery and planted amongst clematis that have been there for some while, then the chances of a rapid attack by clematis wilt is great. Put it in the garden away from other clematis then the chances are reduced. Put into a garden where there are no clematis then there may be some time before it is attacked by clematis wilt. The chances of it never being attacked are remote. These remarks, of course, only apply to the Early Large Flowered clematis, which is the group susceptible to stem rot.
Nurseries, of course, have to make a living. If they don't they go bust and then they are no use to us gardeners. Therefore we must support their efforts to prosper. Their shop window is often to display clematis at shows. It is only natural that they display the most eye-catching clematis. It certainly attracts your attention to clematis. However, those very attractive clematis may not be the ones suitable for your garden. Therefore don't buy on impulse. Study the books and find out what is suitable for your garden.
In the garden the viticellas are very well advanced. Some of the early ones such as 'Alba Luxurians', 'Etoile Violette', 'Jenny Caddick', 'Madame Julia Correvon', 'Margot Koster', 'Minuet', 'Prince Charles', 'Sodertalje', are already in bloom. The earliest of the orientalis group are also showing bloom. The earliest in my garden is 'Helios'. As its height is not great it is excellent in a border. It needs a certain amount of artificial support or to be able to lean over a shrub. It flowers a long time.
The best display in my garden at the moment is being produced by that incomparable clematis, 'Victoria'. It's covering a wall about 12ft x 8ft and amongst it is that lovely yellow rose 'Casino'. Together they make a perfect companionship. I like 'Victoria' also very much with the climbing rose 'Pink Perpetue'.
I have a long wall with a holly hedge behind it extending about 100 yards. It is this holly hedge over which the viticellas are now climbing and have, most of them, successfully gone to the other side. On the other side, the road side, I have a large number of Large Flowered clematis growing up to meet the viticellas. The junction is about to take place. However I have to be careful. The viticellas are so vigorous that they come down almost to the ground on the other side and swamp the Large Flowered clematis. So I cut off the viticellas once they have reached the level of the top of the Large Flowered clematis. It certainly is a dramatic comparison. On every viticella I literally have hundreds of blooms. I feel pleased if I get twelve blooms on the Large Flowered clematis. In a poor season for a particular Large Flowered clematis, I may only get one bloom. If one is after colour in the garden then the viticellas have it.
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