• Frost... In August!!!

    Very bad news for British gardeners... Met Office are predicting frost... in August!! Normally the height of summer.
    Very bad news. Fortunately we don't have any bedding plants out but the cold weather will hit my Fuchsias which are still out in baskets on the wall.
    Ellon temperatures are around 14C high and around 8C lows so we should be reasonably okay - but frrrrrrrrrrost... in August.
    I'm in India so I won't feel it.

    https://uk.news.yahoo.com/summer-frost-predicted-met-office-issues-severe-weather-165711936.html#dpr7fEk

    Weather forecasters are warning that cold, stormy weather will hit Britain in the coming days.
    High winds, rain and even frost are predicted across the country, and temperatures could fall to as low as zero, the Met Office has warned.
    The Met Office has issued severe weather warnings for most of northern England and Scotland, as gusts of up to 50mph are expected.
    Coastal areas have been put on alert for "large waves" and meteorologists have warned of travel chaos as transport links could be hit by disruption.
    Chief forecaster Eddy Carroll said: "While such wind gusts would not be unusual in the autumn and winter, they are likely to pose a few more problems coming in the summer holiday period, especially for those engaged in outdoor activities such as sailing or hill walking.
    "Some minor disruption to transport is possible, for example delays to ferries, bridge restrictions and perhaps minor damage to trees."
    The warnings are in place for Monday, but the bad weather is set to continue into the rest of the week.
    Temperatures are also set to fall well below the average for August, and forecasters say there is the possibility of frost during the week in some parts of Scotland.
    Calum Maccoll, a Met Office spokesman, said there is a "very autumnal" and "unseasonably cool" feel to the conditions in northern areas. "You could see grass frost towards dawn," he added.

  • Monks hood - aconitum - doing well

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    Last year I put in Monkshood into the garden for the first time.
    We are having a bit of success with them - at the moment two of the three we put in are flowering away while the third (yellow monkshood) flowered earlier in the season.

    The Blue Beauty is Aconitum napellus - straight forward Monkshood aka monkshood, aconite, wolfsbane, fuzi, monk's blood.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aconitum_napellus
    It is called wolfsbane because it was used to poison wolves (and in India used to poison leopards). The rabbits are keeping well away from it and they haven't even had a nibble - shame - they should - go on, have a go, just a tiny bit...
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monkshood

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    Of course after last year's immediate success (the rabbits didn't eat them straight away) I immediately invest in another couple of varieties and several different sets of seed.
    None of the seeds worked and one of the additions seems to have disappeared but the yellow/white one came back earlier in the year.

    For this year I have also invested in a new variety as a plant and it has flowered - the plant below is this year's addition - it is "Bicolor"... should be Bicolour
    https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/details?plantid=55

    They aren't the cheapest plant to buy 7.00 for a pot but I have changed my strategy somewhat from "masses of cheap plants" to "A few more expensive ones". I have also cut drastically on the spending in the garden as we stabilize. My income isn't reduced (if anything it keeps going up) but my outgoings are aslo going up so something has to reduce and that is the spend on the garden. To that end I am concentrating on what we know works out in the main garden away from the bunny mowers with only a few minor (cheap) experiments a year. That should be better in the long term... if a bit less exciting. I'm also going to be sowing more seeds from our garden instead of form the packet - we already have several self seeding plants and are starting to expand our range e.g. the snapdragons are self-seeding all-be-it only in the tubs out of reach of the rabbits. We even have self-seeded tomatoes this year (as I forgot to plant any and they just appeared in the top of a pot - result!!!)

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  • Update on the Bunny Mowers

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    Well this is the situation with the bunny mowers (the rabbits) - they continue to keep the grass undercheck so that we only need to mow every 2 to 3 weeks or so. Considering that it seems to rain every three or four days and that you need to let the grass dry for at least a day (preferably 3 days) before you mow it then this is a big advantage to us.
    Normally there are around half a dozen rabbits in the garden. In the back of this one you can see a wee'un huddled in the tunnel in the crocosmia. (Why are our crocosmia flowering so late compared to everyone else?)

    There are several bairns about. This is the second brood of babies at least, possibly third. I don't think this year's babies from early in the year are quite old enough to breed but I wouldn't be surprised - we had a very mild winter and spring - not warm but not particularly wet or cold either. The rabbits (and most of the garden) loved our winter.

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    Unfortunately the rabbits don't eat the main weed in the grass, the dock leaves. I think most of ours are broadleaved docks Rumex obtusifolius.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumex_obtusifolius
    A good latin name that - obtusifolius. They do keep coming back and back despite the lawnmower chop. The lawnmower is the only really effective way we have of controlling the dock.
    "Broadleaf dock is considered a weed and is slightly poisonous. It is designated an "injurious weed" under the UK Weeds Act 1959.[5] Livestock have been known to get sick after feeding on it. But eradicating the plants is difficult. The perennial plant can have a deep taproot reaching 5 feet down. Also, the milk of the plant has been known to cause mild dermatitis.
    Seeds have toothed wing structures, allowing them to be dispersed by wind or water, and also allow them to attach to animals or machinery to be spread great distances. They can lie dormant for years before germination, making vigilant pulling or tilling essential.
    First year plants can seed, making early detection important for eradication.
    The main weaknesses of Broadleaf are its poor competition, crowding causes flowering to be delayed for up to three years, and its susceptibility to disturbance. Frequent tilling will disrupt the roots and kill the older plants and seedlings. The plant also thrives in moist environments and improved drainage can also help control its growth."
    So, basically, mow and pull and dig and mow and pull and dig continuously - or learn to live with it for most of the time.

    Unfortunately our back fence is next to some farmland that is basically neglected - there are 20 square metres or so of Rosebay Willowherb aka fireweed, nettles and docks. These will keep reinfecting the garden whatever we do (as will the rabbits) so we have learned to live with the rabbits and the weeds - keeping them at a manageable level. As to the rabbits - well some have learned to live with them better than others. The dog doesn't even bother to chase them any more, and the rabbits don't run away from CJ. Similarly they ignore us and the cars unless you get within about three meters. We have been so tolerant of them that they just treat the garden as a smorgasbord of expensive salad.
    Some people could at least make an effort to chase them away couldn't they?

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  • Apple of Sodom in the Great Thar Desert

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    On my travels again - moved from Equatorial Guinea to Rajasthan in India - in the Great Thar Desert (not nearly as bad as it sounds.... so far). The first thing to hit me botanically - I'll leave out the cliches about "cows on the road", "roads laced with holes", litter and the rest - was this plant - Calotropis procera - it is all over the place and some fields have ten percent of their area. Clearly Calotropis procera has more to it than a roadside weed.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calotropis_procera

    Thanks to the great Wikipedia I now know that this is Sodom Apple aka apple of Sodom, mudar, or osher or stabragh but I still don't see why it is useful and seems to be allowed to cultivate in the fields. I need to look into it further. Also I am looking forward to seeing the poisonous fruits that "if you pluck them with your hands, they dissolve into smoke and ashes".

    Each leaf is around the size of my hand and the plant grows to around 2 metres tall so it is a fairly distinctive plant.There must be some usage for it beyond using the seed fibres to stuff pillows like they use it in the West Indies.

    http://flowersinisrael.com/Calotropisprocera_page.htm

    With there being so many goats and cattle around (and I have seen water buffalo, sheep and camels too)maybe it is the medicinal aspects that are important - although there is so much of it I can't see that you would need to grow it.
    "Medicinally, the acrid sap latex is used to treat boils, infected wounds and other skin problems in people, and to treat parasitic skin infestations in animals. [The cheese-makers in Benin, country located in western Africa (formerly called Dahomey) use the sap from Calotropis procera as the agent to curdle milk.]
    It also yields ash for making gunpowder, and extremely strong fiber, which may not be used as wicks for the Sabbath lamps as mentioned in the Mishna (Shabbat 2:1, 'Bemeh madlikin')."

    It may simply be a matter of shade - here the wheat definitely grows better in the shade of trees probably because of the lower evaporation of water from the soil and transpiration from the leaves. The trees must be stripping some of the water and nutrients from the soil but the benefit of the shade out weighs that.

    Anyhow it is a distinctive plant of this region so a start to the botanical interests here.
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  • Singapore Cannonball Run

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    When I arrived in Singapore, late July 2014, I saw loads of these trees along the road from Changi Airport to the city. They were quite a shock to see.
    Off course I knew instantly what they were as I am sure you do - they are Cannonball Trees (Couroupita guianensus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannonball_tree. They are related to Brazil nuts but in these trees the fruit grows until it literally looks thye size and shape of a cannonball up to 10 inches in diameter.
    They really are a sight to sea as the big nut fruits seem to hang direct from the trunk of the tree (though in reality they actually hang down from a stem about 50cm long - it is just that the weight pulls them close to the trunk.).
    I've just read that you can get up to a thousand flowers on a tree so you could (in theory) get a tree completely covered in cannonballs - now that would be a sight to see. As it is the cannonball tress look so weird to us temperate people where fruit never grow direct from the stem... do they?

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  • Singapore Cloud Forest - we work our way down from top to bottom

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    When you get to the top of "the Cloud Forest Conservatory" in the Garden by the Bay in Singapore there is a pool known as "the Lost World". Here there are four or five boats carved in a tribal style which are planted mainly with pitvher plants with a few other carnivorous plants and, at the back of one boat, slipper orchids. It makes a fine tabnleaux and there were many people taking pictures with the boats as a background or the orchids. It wasn't a busy day when I visited and I hate to think how crowded it would get when it was busy.
    The slipper orchids were a little troubling and I had to check that they weren't carnivorous plants as every other specimen seemed to be.

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    From the Lost world you start you descent - and it is a long, long way down with 50% the path being grating not solid looking. I was looking very hesitant in the photo above but I don't know why - I walk over grating all the time offshore. Perhaps it was the sheer eight or the lack of obstruction. I was amazed to see how many people could stroll over the grating with no problem - I stuck to the middle or hung on hard to the metal handrail.
    It was a long way up but that didn't bother me - it was the long way down that bothered me.

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    The walls are hung with bromeliads, aroids, orchaids and various other epiphytes so it is relatively easy to pretend to pearing at an interesting leaf shape while you come down white you are actually white-knuckle kacking yourself.

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    A few floor down you get to step out and have a good look at the waterfall and pretend not to suffer from vertigo before you scamper in and enter the display of stalactites. The shapes are so fantastical that you wonder if some of them are fake. I definitely saw a least one fairy castle in the collection.

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    There are a few other interesting items as you go down - tree ferns and two Lion gates tat were made from the root systems of Lychee trees as seen below. There is also a learning experience re glocal warming but I won't go into that.... dspite what the makers claim this Garden cannot be good for the environment - I'm sure it will take a long time before it is carboin neutral in terms of the $1 billion construction and $28 billion a year running cost.

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    And finally out to go and look for other wonder to photograph on your iphone/ipad - so many people do all their photography on their ipad it's quite amazing. Still I guess it means that you don't have to carry more than one or two devices with you. I wonder what the quality of the photos are like sometimes because the lens on those things can't be that good compared to a proper camera.
    Anyhow one of the things you can take piccies of are the "Supertree Grove" which is a collection of concrete and metal trees that are used as heat exchanges and such things for the park as a whole. Not so botanically interesting - though they do light up at night.

    In all - the Cloud Forest was well worth seeing though expensive and very artificial and I'm glad I've been but I don't think I'll be going back soon (unlike the Singapore Botanical Gardens which are brill."
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  • Singapore - the Cloud Forest Dome

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    After the disappointing Flower Dome (see yesterday) in Singapore's Gardens by the Bay http://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg/en/home.html I went straight across into the Cloud Forest Dome and was wowed.
    This cooled conservatory is basically a 35 metre (110 foot) tall waterfall on front of an artifical hill. You ride to the toip and then walk your way down throuygh various displays and some lovely flowers. Now this was worth coming to see (though 28SGD was still expensive compared to other attractions in Singapore).
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    First you had to make your way past a wall of aroids, orchids and various damp and cold loving plants including some luscious fuchsias (love them) and some fine orchids.

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    In Singapore I think it is probably the law that tourists have to take a picture of some orchids.
    Above is Arundina graminifolia aka the bamboo orchid.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arundina_graminifolia

    Funny thing in the Wikipedia article...
    "With only 200 of the plant to be recorded growing naturally in Singapore, the species is close to extinction there, largely caused by the destruction of its natural habitat, namely the rainforests and mangrove forests. The remaining plants, commonly called Tapah weeds, can be found in the secondary forests or at the forest fringes. It is however very common in road cuts and other disturbed areas in full sun in Sarawak, East Malaysia, where it often is the most common flowering plant to be seen along the roadsides."

    At least this garden isn't on destroyed land - it is on new land created by landfill.

    From the base of the hill you take a lift up 6 floors (I think) then climb another set of stairs to start working your way down. There are some lovely plants to look at on the way down the first of which I spotted was this.
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    Now I didn't recognise the plant in the background or even the type of plant. The one in the front is a tiny orchid of course. The one in the back - the green snakey, furry thing is a species of Huperzia aka tassel fern aka fir moss aka fir clubmoss (Hyperzia squarros according to the Garden by the Bay website - it is worrying that they spelled the species name incorrectly).
    I'd never heard of (or seen) a tassel fern before and it seems that it is a type of clubmoss so another new one to tick off the imaginary list I don't have.
    I'll save the rest of the cloud forest for a few more posts.

  • On my travels again - Singapore Garden by the Bay

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    It's almost three years since I was in Singapore but I was back there for a few days this week. I visited the billion dollar "Gardens by the Bay" which have been open since 2012 on reclaimed land at the seaside.
    http://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg/en/home.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gardens_by_the_Bay

    As a new garden they are still developing both biologically and as an attraction. Most of the outside garden was typical botanical garden and there there will be aisles of trees in the medium future as the palms develop but at the moment they didn't seem very shaded and pretty uninteresting to be honest. The lack of shade is a problem because the native Singapore flora and fauna is tropical rainforest. The damp shade is very noticeable and very enjoyable at the Botanical gardens in the centre of town, at the zoo in the central heights and at the Jurong Birdpark along the coast. Still, two years is not very old for a botanical garden so that can be excused and they will develop given time.
    Also they were almost empty of people despite the external gardens being free to walk round.
    This absence of people probably also reflects that they are not in a residential area but in a shopping/hotel area. These gardens are so frequented by the locals yet unlike the botanical gardens which are well used. You can the see the massive Marina Bay Sands hotel towering over the garden and the two glasshouses.

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    Flower Dome Garden by the Bay Singapore

    So the big attractions inside the garden are the two glasshouse domes - one was amazing, the other not so. And expensive to get in - SGD28 (14 or around USD22 for the two and visitors have to pay for the two) but then if you spend a billion dollars you might expect to recoup some of the cost.
    let start with the Flower dome as seen at the top of the page.- that was not so amazing. It took me maybe fifteen minutes to walk around the lot - it just wasn't very interesting (to me)and not many flowers. Maybe it wasn't so interesting to me, but might be to locals, because it was a cooled conservatory and mainly dedicated to cool dry types of garden such as Austrailian,South Africa, California, Mediterannean and Persian. Above is a quick snap of a wall in the Persian display - definitely botanically influenced don't ya think?

    There were a few interesting plants but if I'm in Singapore I want to see tropical, orchids and helliconia and the like. I think the flower domes would be much more exotic to a tropical local than to myself.

    A few of the interesting plants were Australian plants like the grass tree Xanthorrhoea glauca (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xanthorrhoea_glauca)which is the silver spikey tree seen below and the kangaroo paws seen below that.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangaroo_paw)

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    Anigozanthos pulcherrimus Hook. (Yellow Kangaroo Paw) This species flowers in late spring through to early summer with golden yellow flowers on stems to 1.2 metres and is found naturally on the sand plains between Perth and Geraldton.
    Anigozanthos rufus Labill. (Red Kangaroo Paw.

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    The species that most took my fancy was Erica verticillata seen above. This was a tall heather with long flowers 1 to 2 centimetres in length. They really stood out against the dark spikey foliage. However it isn't until just now - when I read the Wikipedia page - that I find out that this species is classified as "Extinct in the Wild". It had only ever been found in the Cape Town region of South Africa. This is a plant that has now been released back into the wild!!! And I never knew that this happened - I wish that I had known the story while I was there - the Gardens by the Bay missed a real educational/promotional opportunity there... or maybe they did write that and I never bother to read it - it does happen.

    Anyhow this Erica was the highlight of the Flower dome to me but overall not so satisfying a glass house as I expected.

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    From the Wikipedia article above "It formerly grew only in certain areas of the Cape Flats on the Cape Peninsula of South Africa.
    Habitat
    It grew in Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, a fynbos type that is threatened by urban sprawl and fragmentation. It preferred damp sandy soils such as those that were naturally found around Wynberg, Kenilworth and Zeekoevlei.
    Conservation
    Although the species became functionally extinct due to agricultural and urban development of its habitat in the early 20th century, cuttings from several plants discovered in the wild in the later 20th century have ensured that the species will continue in cultivation.[1] 1984 saw the introduction of cuttings from two specimen, one in Protea Park, Pretoria and another in Kew. The former were collected by Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden scholar David von Well after he recognized the plant from herbarium sheets photocopied by Kirstenbosch erica horticulturist Deon Kotze. The third infusion came from a plant found by Kirstenbosch foreman Adonis Adonis in a clearing.
    This species was introduced back into the wild at Rondevlei, a bird sanctuary and nature reserve in Cape Town.[2]
    Ecology[edit]
    Various pollinators such as bees and birds such as Southern Double-collared Sunbirds have been observed feeding on the tubular pink flowers on E. verticillata.
    Cultivation[edit]
    E. verticillata comes in three forms: the Kirstenbosch form, the Pretoria form and the Kew form. It prefers seasonally moist sandy soils, but will grow well in average garden conditions provided the soils are acidic. The best time to plant is in autumn or during the winter although they may be planted at other times of the year if regularly watered. It is important to never disturb its roots when weeding. Plants should be well watered after planting and then every two to three days unless good rainfalls occur.

  • The Great Mullein Mystery

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    We have introduced a few plants into our garden whuich have become weeds (in effect) - most noticeably foxgloves and teasel - each is biennial and produce thousands of very tiny seeds - literally thousands.
    They crop up everywhere - especially the foxgloves - all over the planted pots, all over the rockery, all over the tubs. To be honest I don't mind too much - they are easy to pull out and deal with and make great additions to unused/neglected parts of the garden.
    Another biennial which was in the garden when we arrived was the Great Mullein Verbascum thapsus - which also turns up all over the garden in the most unlikely place and in the occasional pot or tub. It isn't found quite so frequently as the teasel or the foxglove as I think it's requirements are a bit more restricted - it needs more open ground and can't survive shade like the foxglove does. I love it. It tick and furry leaves are ignored by everything except us and we usually have around a dozen in various parts of the garden.

    So the mystery: we have two plants fairly close to each other and both have twisted flowers stems which are twisted in almost identical ways.
    One is in front of the greenhouse - in the gravel garden. The other is growing from the side of a paving stone (and you don't want to know what that stone is covering) and yet they have twisted in almost identical way as you can see. Is this genetic or is it an insect attack at the same point on each flower stem during development. They are the only two that have twisted like this and I am intrigued that the shapes are so very siumilar. Maybe it is genetic - I must collect the seeds and try to grow them to see if they do it again - if they do we might be on to a winner.

    As far as weeds go then this is definitely one of the better ones to have in a garden.

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    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Mullein

    "Verbascum thapsus (great mullein or common mullein) is a species of mullein native to Europe, northern Africa and Asia, and introduced in the Americas and Australia.
    It is a hairy biennial plant that can grow to 2 metres tall or more. Its small yellow flowers are densely grouped on a tall stem, which bolts from a large rosette of leaves. It grows in a wide variety of habitats, but prefers well-lit disturbed soils, where it can appear soon after the ground receives light, from long-lived seeds that persist in the soil seed bank. It is a common weedy plant that spreads by prolifically producing seeds, but rarely becomes aggressively invasive, since its seed require open ground to germinate. It is a very minor problem for most agricultural crops, since it is not a very competitive species, being intolerant of shade from other plants and unable to survive tilling. It also hosts many insects, some of which can be harmful to other plants. Although individuals are easy to remove by hand, populations are difficult to eliminate permanently.
    It is widely used for herbal remedies with emollient and astringent properties. It is known to possess anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial, expectorant, and analgesic properties.[1] It is especially recommended for coughs and related problems, but also used in topical applications against a variety of skin problems. The plant was also used to make dyes and torches."

  • Elders go wild in Tipperty

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    Well the elders are going wild in Tipperty this year. That's not me and Jiurie by the way that the trees Sambucus nigra (although me and Jiurie do occasionally go wild).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sambucus_nigra

    they really love our place. Even when we chop them down and lay the logs on gravel they refuse to die! Above is the elder growing in our log pile. That's five years worth of growth on at least six inches of gravel. The tree was cut off at about 2 feet tall and we intended to burn the logs in the fire but never got round to it - as you can see. Not only here they have sprung up all along the back fence under the Lawson cypress trees - a very dry environment that has manageed to deny growth to everything except the nettles and the Elders. Again these were branches cut off the old tree in the front and intended eventually for the fire.
    I did take advantage of the growth to plant a few trees along the bank to fill in some spaces - i.e. I hacked off a few thin branches when I tried to keep the main tree off the paeonies and then stuck the branches in the ground and left them. No special treatment at all - and these branches are steaduly growing - maybe a metre tall after 18 months.

    Because elders do so well I put in a few fancy ones at the back. You can see below that these are taking off too. The one at the back (variety "Gerda" or "Black Beauty" https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/details?plantid=1770)is now 2 years old - the one at the front (Golden Elder https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/details?plantid=1771)is one year old. The dark one struggled for the first year and another different lacy black elder (variety "black lace") didn't survive it's first winter. That was a very bad winter with lots of snow (so no grass) and the bunny mowers decided to snack on the elders. Last winter was mild in Tipperty so the bunny mowers didn't need their elder bark salads.
    Neither are protected from the bunnies now and both are thriving while the rabbits keep the grass short around them.

    If you wantr a hardy plant that will grow anywhere I can recommend most elders (except blac lace).

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