Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Schefflera taiwaniana

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Seasons Greatings

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers, we hope you enjoy the festive season!

Monday, December 20, 2010

And the Gardener Must Rest

It's that time of the year again, when you get a major dumping of snow that persists for days on end that you're forced not to do much in the garden, apart from the occasional inspection and shaking off of snow to make sure damage remains minimal.

Winter is not just about the cold and plants going into dormancy till spring arrives, it's also about the Gardener being forced by mother nature to take a well deserved rest after working (and playing) hard in the garden during the other seasons.

And by being 'forced' to rest, you get the chance to take it slowly and re-charge your batteries, as well as reflect on the growing season that's just gone past and plan ahead for the coming spring.

Saying that, it's not exactly total rest for us, we do work full time after all, it's just we'll have less gardening to do in our spare time. A perfect opportunity to just enjoy relaxing and being cosy inside, and catch up with friends and other hobbies, or so it seems.....

We're both hyper and always raring to do things outdoors so it's not always easy being forced not to do much outside. We have a mutual dedication to the garden which is why we are driven to keep doing as much as we can, gaining satisfaction on the process and end result.

Daft as it may be, there are fleeting moments in the summer when I long for the comforts of winter wherein you're forced to rest and just take it easy, usually at times when I've reached a point of exhaustion after a long day at work and still do some manual labour in the garden. But I just quickly remind myself of the cold and darkness of winter and I banish such thoughts, and as soon as I'm well rested I even regret having such silly thoughts! 

We do most of the hard lanscaping of the garden ourselves, both to minimise costs as well finding the satisfaction of building things ourselves, only calling in the professional if we really have to, as required by law or if the task is way beyond our capabilities.

But it's not all about slacking off in the colder months. Having more time to rest, I find my creative juices renewed and take the time to plan ahead for the coming year, writing down ideas and making sketches for the projects we're about to do. It's also the perfect time to do most of the research on the technical aspects of things, as well as sourcing and buying materials for our projects. Something which we did last weekend, we may not be able to do much outside but in a way accomplished something by buying insulation for our future Koi house.

And if you do get the itch to play with plants and do some gardening, there are the plants being overwintered inside and you can do some indoor gardening which we we also did last weekend as we've just bought some palm seedlings and we had to repot them all individually, sent bare rooted from Spain.

And winter is a good time to go on holiday too! If you find yourself not wanting to leave the garden behind in the summer months (and why should you when the garden is looking at its prettiest!), escape the cold for a few days by going somewhere warm in the winter! Oh, and there are the winter garden and Koi shows....

So saying all of that, do I really get to rest during the winter? Not really, I just find myself doing a bit less physically. But for someone who finds satisfaction in pottering, doing something is a form of rest :)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Snow Returns

The winter weather continues, with the UK suffering the worst winter for many years.

Not much gardening can be done which is quite frustrating as we are very much outdoors people and love spending time in our garden, however we braved the subzero temperatures and took a few photos instead.

Knickers seems to enjoy the snow which is good as he has so much energy to burn off!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cookies and Cream anyone?

Cookies and Cream, one of my favourite ice cream flavours and is what I was exactly reminded of as I was preparing to age our newest garden ornament.

We were generously given an Incan/Mayan inspired sculpture by our good friends Gary and Nat (a really lovely family I may add!) last time we paid them a visit. I’ve always thought such an ornament would be perfect for our jungle area, wherein it can blend with the lush planting and will make a little surprise for anyone exploring it.

What makes this sculpture even more special is that it is unique and handmade by Gary himself, carved out of low density concrete blocks. He’s talented and very good in making different sorts of garden ornaments and can turn his hand to many different crafts, which comes in handy as they are currently restoring a 17th century English cottage.

We spent some time choosing a suitable location to show off, and at the same time blend in this new sculpture, which is at the base of a large old tree. As the sculpture is made from a concrete block and still looks very bright and new, we wanted to hasten the aging process so it will look like it’s been there for quite some time already.

So out comes my tried and tested formula, my Cookies and Cream mix of 50:50 Live Yoghurt and Multi-purpose compost to be painted on to our new ornament. I’ve used this mixture many times before and has always worked a treat, and can be used virtually any time of the year.

It’s worth noting that you must use ‘Live Yoghurt’ in the mix, as opposed to just a Yoghurt flavoured product.

Once the sculpture is in position I started to generously paint it with the mixture.

And after a few minutes, here’s the ‘finished product’. The plant right in front of it is a small Yucca recurvifolia which I may or may not remove depending on how the area will look like in the spring, which by that time will be lush with native arums. It looks like the plant is more of an obstruction to the sculpture, but I’d rather that it blends in with the vegetation rather than standing out on its own. So one thing I’ll have to think about in the next few months.

Not quite a finished product as yet, it will take a few months to see the more or less final result, hoping that it will look like it’s been there for years in just the space of a few months. But for now I’ll let mother nature take its course and will post an update in the spring.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Monday, December 13, 2010

Focus on Fatsia

Fatsia polycarpa (centre)
 One of the staple plants to many British Exotic Gardens is Fatsia japonica, a glossy large leafed araliad from Japan. It is quite a tough and hardy plant with interesting foliage and flowers. There are several variegated varieties which are also reasonably hardy. Whist F. japonica is the most well known Fatsia, it is not the only member of the genus. Fatsia is a small genus with two other members, F. polycarpa and F. oligocarpella.

F. Polycarpa, native to Taiwan, is almost as hardy as F. Japonica and is an extremely ornamental and garden worthy plant, with often deaply lobed leaves.

Fatsia polycarpa leaf shape
All Fatsias have quite variable leaf forms and so it is worth ensuring that you select a plant with the leaf form you prefer. In the UK there are two readily available forms of F. polycarpa, Crug Farms collection and a separate collection by Edward Needham, (Crug Form and Edward Needham Form, respectively).

Edward Needham was widely regarded as collecting the most interesting and unique forms of a plant, looking for the best available form, and F. polycarpa Edward Needham form is no exception. To my eyes this particular plant is well worth tracking down fo its deeply lobed leaf shape.

Fatsia japonica has several different varieties available to the exotic gardener in the UK, other than the plain green form. Whilst the other types often have more dramatic colours the plain green is very robust and seems to be quicker and maybe slightly hardier.
Fatsia japonica 'Spiders Web'
Fatsia japonica 'Annelise'

Fatsia japonica 'Annelise' in flower

Fatsia japonica 'Variegata'

Fatsia japonica 'Spiders Web' with an unusual "snake skin" variegation,
Fatsia japonica  'Moseri'
Crug farm have an online shop
The Edward Needham form of F. polycarpa can be tracked down at Lower Keneggy Nurseries in Cornwall.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Piptanthus nepalensis

Earlier this year we came across Piptanthus nepalensis (Evergreen laburnum) at the Duchy or Cornwall Nursery and just had to buy one. P nepalensis is a spring flowering shrub with large bluish green oblong palmate leaves. In April and May the shrub bears masses of vanilla scented, golden yellow pea flowers.

Coming from The Himalayas, (Himachal Pradesh to SW China) and growing at at altitudes of 2100-3600 P nepalensis has a reasonable degree of hardyness, although is sometimes reported otherwise, certainly hardy enough to be worth growing in our garden. I had hoped to buy another next time we are in Cornwall but rather fortunately spotted a plant in a local garden centre. An early Christmas present to myself!

Example of P. nepalensis with seed pods
Duchy of Cornwall Nursery

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Winter Gardening

Another lovely day in the garden! After being cooped in the house and not being able to do much in the garden with the recent cold spell and snow in here, the weather has been mild enough this weekend to melt most of the snow and give some relief to the plants, not to mention the gardeners!

The snow and series of frosts have finally put all of the herbaceous and deciduous plants into winter dormancy, so lots of tidying was done, cutting back dead vegetation before they rot and go disgusting, and gathering some more leaves that have fallen since the last time we tidied up. We have to be careful that these leaves from deciduous plants don't swamp out some of the smaller, understory plants. Rather than remove them all, we just reduce and redistribute them. Makes a free mulch, not to mention bringing back organic goodness to the soil which is how it should be.

It takes awhile to get used to gardening in the winter I must say, you'll have to wrap up warm and get used to a little bit of freeze on your fingertips in the process, stopping only when it gets too painful. I could wear gloves all the time but it's never the same, and I could never seem to do a good job on more delicate tasks whilst wearing them.

It's also during this period you appreciate the evergreens; beautiful exotic (and not so exotic!) plants that look lovely and green all your round despite the cold weather, providing structure and cheer to the garden on cold, dreary days. And with lesser distraction I get the chance to inspect them more closely too!

The nursery area in summer.
I also spent some time this morning tidying up in our utility area, which most of the time I refer to as the 'nursery'. It's the least photogenic part of our garden because it is what it is, a utility area. But a utility area doesn't have to be untidy, and I pride myself of being able to maintain this area as neat as possible.

And this utility area is also our nursery where I can group together plants that are still to be planted out, as well as stack new acquisitions. At least by being in the same place I'm more able to take care of them more efficiently whilst I think of places to eventually plant them in. Not to mention that being grouped together, you get a sense of pleasure looking at a plant collection.

The nursery obviously looks so much nicer in the summer, but for now the cloche has to be in position there to protect some of them. Today I tucked in some small specimens of big leafed rhododendrons such as R. macabeanum and R. sinogrande, hardy here but since I've got plenty of space in the cloche I might as well pop them in there.

And our lovely kitten Knickers has kept us company as usual, or rather climbed and explored about in the area where we are at any moment. Although adventurous, quite a relief he's been sensible enough not to stray too far from us. And no more pond accidents this time!

And today I've actually seen him go up a tree for the first time, and got back down again on his own :)


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A dusting of snow

We had another fall of snow last night, again not too heavy, maybe an inch or so. But it did make the garden look very magical.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Variegated Delights

It may be cold and gloomy outside but one of the ways I cheer myself up is by browsing at plant photos I've taken last summer, admiring plants looking their best during the growing season. And I'd like to share one of my favourite group of plants, the Variegates!

It's one of those 'love it or hate it' sort of topics in the plant world, and if I'm going to categorize myself to either of the two only, I'd put myself under the 'love it' side.

As a mainly foliage gardener (who only regards flowers as a bonus), variegated plants give me an opportunity to introduce more variety on my plant collections, as well as have some contrast in the garden.

I do recognise that not all variegated plants are attractive and garden worthy, and certainly I don't find them all attractive myself. Some are better than others of course.

Here's just a few of my favourite variegated exotics. No doubt I'll feature some more in the future. Hope you'll find some of them attractive too!
Magnolia denudata 'McCracken's Variegate'
Daphne odora 'Rebecca'
Yucca recurvifolia 'Bright Star'
Aeonium 'Sunburst'
Farfugium japonicum 'Kaimon Dake'
Fallopia japonica 'Milkboy'
Fatsia japonica 'Spider's Web'
Echeveria 'Compton's Carousel'
Amicia zygomeris 'Variegata'

Ginkgo biloba 'Variegata'

Top: Ruta graveolens 'Variegata'
Bottom: Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cool Tropicals

One of the common views of a tropical garden in the UK is that everything is dug up and cleared away for winter. Whilst some exotic gardeners may do that, we want a garden that looks good even in winter. The philosophy for the garden is that most of the plants, especially all the backbone planting are hardy, often they are not tropical at all, but grown for a tropical effect.

Many of the interesting introductions in recent years have come from mountainous regions of Asia such as Yunnan Province in China, or Mount Fan Si Pan in Vietnam, areas used to cold conditions, but teaming with interesting plants such as Scheffleras and Fatsias that have an exotic look but are capable of tolerating quite low temperatures.

Last night we had a low temperature of -4C (25F) and a light snow fall, whilst many of the plants drooped in response, by lunchtime they had shook off the cold and were looking as they normally do. Some of the more tender plants are root hardy such as hedychiums and banana (Musa basjoo), so whilst these will be cut back this year they will return in the spring once the weather warms up again.

Here are a selection of photographs of the garden from today.

Fatsia polycarpa


Fatsia japonica in flower