I found a suggestion, on my own website of all places, that the half-hardy annual Cleome hassleriana will not only tolerate some shade, but dry shade at that, which if true would make it unique among annuals I would think, and therefore well worth my giving it a try. I have never knowingly seen it before. As usual there’s a muddle over its name; most seem to agree that C. hassleriana is a synomym for C.spinosa, but some treat them as different plants.
It sounds a bit more tricky to grow than many annuals. There’s a fair amount of information about it on the internet, and a helpful article by Sarah Raven (so I assume the plant will be a good one for cutting if one wants that). She says ”Cleomes are the longest-flowering, half-hardy annual I’ve ever grown and … I group them in clumps of five or seven, mixed up with dahlias and other tall annuals, tithonia, cosmos and amaranthus”. Shoot Gardening suggests Anthemis tinctoria ‘E.C.Buxton’ as a good companion, a plant I like very much and have some already from CC Plants as it happens.
Sowing will need to be done in the greenhouse in spring, and because they don’t like root disturbance, should best be done in modules. The seeds apparently need light to germinate properly, so I shall sow them on the surface without covering them with anything and water them from below, and do it in May to take advantage of an improving day-length and warmth. The idea is to get them going as quick as possible, in as much warmth as possible, so they don’t get a chance to rot. When they get to about 2 inches tall, their tops need pinching out to promote lateral bud development, and strong bushy plants that will be 2 feet across or even more.
Sarah Raven suggests pink, purple and white varieties, and I think of going for purple purple and white, as we have enough pink here already one way and another. The plant should come quickly into flower, and go on going, in good shape, until cut down by the frosts (which on Tayside can come at any time from now onwards, though we can sometimes escape without one until December even).
Clarkia elegans (syn. C. unguiculata) is another half-hardy annual that tolerates shade quite well. It likes poor to moderately fertile, slightly acidic, soil in full sun or partial shade, and prefers dry conditions, hating the hot humid conditions which are rare here. The RHS supposes C. elegans to be fully hardy, but it is from California, so I am sceptical about this. Suggested companions include larkspurs, for which I read Delphiniums, so the Clarkias should fill in the space below lofty Delphiniums rather well. I gather the seeds are bestsown in situ after any danger of frost is past, (i.e. in early May here) but I might try some that way and some in modules just in case.
About a bonfire
Having a successful bonfire is quite a lot of fun, but it has to be taken seriously. A real gardener only burns what can’t be composted, which mostly means wood, or perennial weeds, or annual weeds which have already got seeds, or general garden trash. You obviously need a clear site, with no danger of the fire spreading beyond where you have it.
Quite likely you would have a pile of rubbish all ready to burn. The first thing you have to do is check it very carefully, to make sure no hedgehog has crawled into the pile for a sleep, or even to hibernate. I have to check mine for frogs always, as well.
If it is very hot weather, and everything is very dry, have a hosepipe nearby at the ready, just in case.
To begin, you need to have some small twigs or sticks that are completely dry, and maybe some more dry stuff, such as dried grass or fircones or leaves. You could use a couple of sheets of scrunched up newspaper first and put the dry stuff on top, and then set light to it. You could use a firelighter instead. From this point on, the rule is, as you know, never to turn your back on the bonfire. They can behave unpredictably.
You need to keep everything in quite small proportions. You add more dry material, and soon you will be able to judge when the fire has “caught” properly. The idea isn’t to wait until you have great flames reaching up, but a combination of heat and flame. Then you can start very carefully adding what you really need to burn, including green stuff which isn’t dry. If you have any branches of conifer trees, be extra careful, because these often contain a lot of resin which is very inflammable, and can cause the fire to flare up (hence the rule about never turning your back on it. For instance, if you find you have some branches of holly to burn, the fire will grab the leaves very quickly, (and make a loud crackling sound which can be alarming if you are not expecting it), and then will very likely leave the leaves alone without having burned them completely. Different sorts of plants burn in different ways. (And there are plants that have developed the way in which they respond to fire, to help them reproduce – there are even some trees that can only reproduce if their cones have been burnt first, and burnt at a particular temperature and speed – it’s interesting).
You have to remain in control of your bonfire all the time. If you think it is burning too fiercely, try and add material that will slow it down. Remember that in order to burn, the fire has to draw in air. In a strong wind a bonfire will burn much quicker once it has got going. So you can slow it down by covering it with fairly solid clumps of green stuff, or clods of earth. You will often see bonfires gently burning away on people’s allotments – they can keep them going for weeks, by almost smothering them when they are finished for the day, so that all the heat is contained, ready to consume anything fresh that it is given the next day.
Finally, once the bonfire is finished, the remaining ash does have a tiny bit of food value for plants, but it doesn’t last long, especially if it gets rained on. So it’s a good idea to spread it on some flowerbed, as soon as it has cooled down, rather than just leave it where it is.