Our New Koi Pond

Regular readers will have followed the progress of our Koi Bond build, heres the finished result

Bright White and full of Light

As well as rebuilding in the garden we had plenty going on inside as well, one aspect was the new conservatory.

Singapore Botanic Garden

Whilst in Singapore we visited the botanic gardens, a fantastic explosion of tropical and exotic plants.


One of the key events of 2013 in our garden was an unfortunate fire coming from a neighbours garden.

Phoenix from the Flames

After the fire came rebuilding and our new Jungle Hut is better than ever!

Singapore SuperTrees

On our trip to Singapore in 2013 one of the highlights was visiting the Gardens by the Bay, with the magnificent SuperTrees

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Summer Vacation from the Sun Room

A few days ago I moved some of the agaves taking almost permanent residence in the sun room out into the patio. I thought I better give them a break from being cooped up inside all the time and let it have a taste of fresh air and unfiltered sun.

Agave pedunculifera (?)
They've all done well actually from being taken indoors and staying in for months on end. Despite that I felt that they could do with a few days stint outdoors in the summer as I've also noticed that they were developing some 'permanently under glass' stress. Before things get worse I moved them out and this should do the trick and revitalise them.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

To Label or Not to Label: That is the Question

A recent post on Danger Garden asked about labels on plants in private gardens and a recent conversation I had with a garden visitor had me thinking recently about putting labels on plants.

In a garden open to the public and especially in botanical gardens (where this is almost a must) this is fine and absolutely helpful to the visitor. But what about a private garden?

A couple of days ago a garden visitor, after seeing a few plant labels in our garden said in a nice jest that we're too young to have plant labels in our garden. I gave her a light tap on the shoulder and said that she was not meant to take note or even see those labels. They are either tucked right down the sides of the pot or underneath it, tag hidden amongst the foliage or at the base of the plant, or label pushed all the way down near the plant with the top part (just enough so I can lift them up again easily) hidden under a mulch or leaf litter. I told her those labels are meant to remind us and not a visitor. Then she claims that she's exactly the same hence she knows where to look for them. Great minds think alike and even better that she called me young (which I take with a pinch of salt).

Can you spot the labels? They are there, somewhere...
But our memories are not as young, accurate, nor photographic as we'd want them to be and we do need those labels to remind ourselves once in a while what they are. And also to avoid confusion and mis-identification especially if a plant looks very similar to others in the garden.

So yes, we have labels on some of the plants in our garden (even more so in the greenhouse but I suppose that doesn't count) but none of them are prominently displayed. 

Labelling in the greenhouse and stock plants, a different matter...
In some private gardens though plant labels are displayed prominently. Is this a good thing or not?

I'd say it depends on the garden, on the situation, and how it is done...

On the whole I'd say I'm not in favour of seeing prominent plant labels on private gardens. But this is a slightly complicated subject that needs further explaining.

Most of our plant labels are not out in the garden but in a plastic box
When we visit a garden and spot some plant labels and labelling it is easy enough to tell whether the labels exist to mainly help the garden owner in remembering what those plants are, as well as consequently informing visitors of the plant's identity. Usually those labels are discreetly positioned, likely on the small side, or tucked somewhere within the vicinity of the plant in a position that is inconspicuous so as not to distract from the main attraction - the plant or the the vista where that plant is located. Even if plant labels are hidden some visitors are determined enough that, like the lady I mentioned above, almost by intuition know where these labels could be hidden and manage to find them despite the owner's attempt at discretion. 

Gardens with these sort of labelling I find are fine, tasteful, and even occasionally endearing as it humanises them. That they are just like most of us, may own a garden but does not always remember each and every plant in it by its botanical name.

Pushed all the way down...
Some private gardens however cannot resist the lure of putting prominent tags on some of their plants especially for the days when they open their garden. We've even seen a couple of gardens before wherein each and every plant they have has a very visible label on it. Helpful perhaps but personally I'm not keen on this sort of plant labelling.

Depending on the situation, prominence, and degree of labelling, for me it can come across as pretentious, patronising, and most important of all, distracting. 

Again, I'd like to emphasise, depending on the situation but why pretentious? Dog tagging a few plants with botanical names, does it imply that the private garden also moonlights as a botanical garden, and the owner is botanically intelligent? No need to even do that if that's the case. The variety of planting, combination, and health of the plants will speak volumes about the skill and intelligence of the gardener. No need for a few 'steel plant necklaces' to do that.

Patronising? Not all of the time of course but to be honest, of private gardens that do put on large labels on some of the plants they usually put it on the most commonly available ones, and funny enough rarely on the obscure. In our experience, of the exotic plants in the UK the most commonly and proudly (and even solely) prominently labelled plant in a garden is....

Trachycarpus fortunei

Sometimes it's accompanied by it's common name and a little description too like...

Trachycarpus fortunei
Chusan Fan Palm
The Hardy Fan Palm
From China but hardy in the UK

Trachycarpus fortunei - a favourite plant to be labelled in open gardens
Or variations of the same theme. It makes me giggle whenever I spot such prominent labelling in gardens. But hey I'm sure this is still helpful to some so why not?

A little tip, if you still go for prominent labelling especially only on days that you open your private garden and show it to groups of people, know your audience first. The more experienced the group is, the likelihood of impressing by putting on special labels will be less. You may gain impression points though if you do so for the rarities.

What about distracting? Well you have this beautiful plant, in what could have been a beautiful vignette, save for the one or several wooden/plastic/slate/white/black/copper/steel labels jutting up from the scene. And too much labelling can quickly turn a garden into looking more like a nursery (except none of the plants are for sale). Walking through, you get more of a feel like you're walking through a garden shop or a garden show rather than a...garden.

My favourite memory of such an inappropriately, over labelled garden was one that has a rather large patch of land covered in wildflowers and is 'naturalistic' in style, and yet there were so many labels jutting out from the meadow indicating what each and every wildflower was in there. Not that naturalistic then. I'm sure those labels didn't just sprout on their own and came with the wildflower meadow seed mix that was sown there in the spring....

But then again, it all depends on the garden, sometimes having lots of labels can look right too. Usually these gardens are the 'collection showcase' types and great ones we've seen have showcased impressive and very vast collections of particular of plants like alpines, succulents,fuchsias, and snowdrops. 

Oops, too proud, must push it down...
Usually in these types of gardens plants, planted out or under large greenhouses, are arranged in very neat orders, long rows or clustered/grouped together depending on their classification for ease of comparison. The impact of these gardens rely mostly on the impressiveness of the quantity of the collection, to overwhelm the spectator with the vastness of the collection that are often in peak at the same time. And as part of the neatness and order of the display each and every plant will be labelled. In these situations over labelling actually looks right and even appropriate. 

So, back to the title of this post, to label or not to label, that is the question. What are your thoughts about it?

Before I finish this post off, at the risk of rambling too much, a few thoughts that also came to mind was, on the occasions we have visitors in the garden and show our garden to groups of people we both thoroughly enjoy sharing our passion and the human interactions we gain from the visit. We both enjoy it when a guest would get intrigued by a plant or two they spot but are not familiar with then asks us a question about its identity. If we know from the top of our head we say so and the follow up conversation that stems out from it becomes an instrument for sharing and gaining more knowledge, as well as strengthening friendships.

And if we don't know it's identity but know there's a label there somewhere we simply say, come let's both go over there and find the tag together. Then we talk about the plant together and bond over a mutual interest while holding a piece of plastic with a botanical name written on it.

Mark :-)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Few New Plants from Crug Farm

Last Thursday we received a delivery of nice new plants from Crug Farm. It's a small delivery compared to some of our previous orders but some items were ordered in multiples and the resulting amount still warranted the use of their big box option.

Some exotic looking, hardy, and beautiful gingers were in the box!
All day I've been looking forward to this delivery, like I do with any new plants that I ordered online that will be coming my way soon. And it's a nice sensation knowing that I have nice new plants to look forward to after a hard day's work.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Favourite Plant of the Week - Plectranthus oertendahlii

My favourite plant of the week is this gem that we got from Hampton Court Flower Show last month from the Trewidden stand. While I was busy scrutinising the succulents and proteas they had on offer, Gaz zoomed in on this one amongst the other plants on the table and the decision was made right then and there that it will go home with us. They only bought one plant with them for the show and we were fortunate enough to be there early and at the right time too to grab it before anyone else could.

 Plectranthus oertendahlii
Plectranthus oertendahlii
And I'm so glad we did! As soon we got it home my thoughts immediately went into finding a nice new pot to put in that will also complement the colours of its leaves.

I just love the way it looks with its dark green leaves contrasting with its purple undersides and its velvet like texture!

This evergreen perennial is apparently easy to propagate by cuttings so we'll definitely do that to increase our stocks as well as to ensure we have some back ups.

I've been reading conflicting aspect reports on this plant, with some sources saying it requires full sun while others say it tolerates full shade. Perhaps they are that adaptable?  Personally I'd say they do well in a bright location with some sun to partial shade. Perhaps full sun too if it's not allowed to dry out. It is not hardy in our location and can only tolerate light frosts if left outside but they seem easy enough to overwinter indoors or in a greenhouse gently heated to keep it just above freezing.

Because of this plant I've started to explore its genus even further and there are some other nice ones out there too. Perhaps this one will lead to more Plectranthus in our garden in the future.

We join Loree of Danger Garden in celebrating our favourite plant of the week!

Mark :-)

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Mind The Gap

Gaps in the garden and plant borders, don't we all have them? Or maybe not.

At least we do anyway, especially in the jungle area. Some of the gaps were the result of understory plants dying recently or not making an appearance from last year. Some because the plant occupying the space have already become dormant. Some because plants previously hugging the ground space are now much taller hence freeing up the space below its canopy. Whilst some simply because we haven't found the right plant yet to permanently occupy that space. 

Strike a Pose

Knickers - Image (c) Alternative Eden unauthorised reproduction prohibited
Knickers loves to watch what we are doing in the garden, either trying to help or asking for extra attention if we have ignored him!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Fling 2014: Rhone Street Gardens

One of the highlights of the Fling was to visit the Rhone Street Gardens, home of Fling organiser Scott, his partner Norm, assorted cats, neighbourhood chickens and a really cute house! We had quite a long journey getting to Scotts garden, as we stopped at a railroad crossing for what must have been the longest train in North America. It felt like one of those cartoon moments where the train was on a loop, seemingly never ending, but get there we did and the garden was well worth the wait.

Friday, August 01, 2014

They Look Like Flowers

On my recent trip to our little succulent greenhouse I can't help but especially notice the group of Aeoniums on the right hand side by the door. At the moment some of them look more like flowers than fleshy leafed succulents.

I love Aeoniums, it is a fantastic group of succulents but this year only one made it outside (Poldark), the rest remained in there. I have bought a few more in the past month or so to add to my collection and they all went straight into the greenhouse as soon as I got them home.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How Much Perfection?

After seeing so many perfect looking gardens in Portland recently, and whilst tidying up in our garden earlier I found myself thinking and wondering, how much perfection is needed when you open a garden?

We don't do open days but we do show our garden to individuals or groups of people. In fact we have two groups coming over the weekend. Although we're both relaxed and easy going about it (most of the time at least) we still anticipate and prepare for anyone's arrival with that extra bit of effort in tidying up than what we usually do just for ourselves. In doing so I also can't help but wonder what are people's expectations, do they expect perfection? They better not for our garden ain't perfect. We're happy to show but they'll have to take it as it is. Perhaps such attitude lets us prepare without panicking.

With the events coming up and work on the garden it makes you also reflect on what is there already and what still needs to be done. At the end of the garden after the filter house we are once again catching up with the jobs. The fences still need to be completed, im not sure exactly what we will do, Gaz was looking through the Buy Fencing Direct site to help us decide, something functional, or something more "designer", time and budget will no doubt influence us.

But what about me, do I expect perfection whenever I visit a garden? Honestly, I don't for nearly all of the time I just let myself get consumed with the emotion of happiness of just being there. I take in the beauty and look for inspiration, so much so that any 'flaw' just goes over my head without any notice.

Does this sound really positive? Well everytime we visit a garden we start in a positive mind frame and most of the time it stays that way for the duration of our visit. Sure some gardens we'll love more than others but there will always be something special in each of them, ideas and inspiration to take home with.

Positive but not blind. Yes we've seen poor gardens too, and even more annoying is that we have even paid to see them. Thankfully they are very few, rare, and far in between.

Going back to 'flaws', so I rarely notice them in other gardens. But I do notice gardens that are too perfect, too unflawed. Contradicting sentences? A garden that is too perfect, like being lifted from a photo spread in a magazine that has been airbrushed too much I find disconcerting, even strange. Where has the character of the garden gone? What does it say about the gardener apart from being too clean? And is that so bad?

There is perfect, then there's too perfect. Like a human face, put on too much concealing makeup and you also erase the character of a face. You get a mask instead. But isn't it more fascinating to find out more about the person behind the mask?

I'm rambling on too much now...

So how much perfection?

To answer my own question I'd say, perhaps perfect enough to show respect to whoever is visiting and not to embarrass yourself. But not too perfect so as to lose character. 

What about you, how much perfection?

Mark :-)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Rain - The Garden in July

On my way home from work this evening I was mentally preparing myself to be doing another long bout of watering the garden. Instead what I came home to was rain...

Rain, feel it on my fingertips, hear it on my window pane...

Rain, beautiful rain, most welcome rain.

The entire country is having a spell of sunny and dry days so rain in between those days is most welcome. The garden needs it. And the gardener needs it too.