Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Look Back at the Year 2012

Year 2012, what a year! And my how time flies so quick, I can't believe it's almost 2013 already. As I sat down to write this post I looked back at some of the photos we took and blog posts we wrote over the last twelve months, and looking back at it all I suddenly felt a sense of nostalgia. What a wonderful year and what a blast!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Christmas at La Galeries Lafayette, Paris

Merry Christmas everyone, hope you all have a lovely day however you are spending it. 

Christmas Tree at La Galeries Lafayette

These photos were taken at La Galeries Lafayette on our recent trip to Paris. 

Mark and Gaz

Friday, December 21, 2012

Deserts and Arid, History of Plants - Jardin des Plantes

Jardin des Plantes
Here's the second in the series of blog posts regarding the glasshouses at Jardin des Plantes in Paris.

The biggest section of the glasshouses are the plants from the humid tropics and the remaining three sections are much smaller yet still packed with several interesting plants. The arid section is on the same glasshouse as where the humid tropical section is but it along a narrow section that connects the front to back parts of the structure.

It is more like a Desert and Arid corridor...

Jardin des Plantes
A skinny Desert and Arid section with a modest selection of xerophytes
Mixed arid plants with overly prominent tags.

Agave filifera
Agave filifera (is it about to flower??)
Agave desmettiana
Agave desmettiana
Agave parrasana
Agave parrasana
That's a bit better!

We loved the form of this Opuntia microdasys
A wide selection of barrel cactus, again the display could have been more engaging to the visitor.
Sulcorebutia steinbachii var. gracilior
Sulcorebutia steinbachii var. gracilior - tongue twister of a name but I really like this one!
Agave tequilana
Agave tequilana (?)
We whizzed through this section and just took photos as we passed by, not just because it was comparatively small but also it still lacked the impact of planting as what you'd normally expect in glasshouse specimens. Perhaps this section is newly planted and the plants haven't grown or settled in yet? Newly planted or not they could do with more plants in this area or re-think the planting altogether for more impact.

After passing by this 'dry and white' corridor you go back into the humid tropical section where there is a passageway to get to the New Caledonia section (more of this on the third and final instalment). The last part, which was oddly not connected by glass walkway and is separate from the rest is the History of Plants (Evolution) glasshouse. Small selections of lichens, horsetails, ferns, conifers, and cycads are to be found there, arranged in a way to demonstrate their timeline of appearance on the face of the earth. This section is interesting enough for a ten minute amble. Curiously, this part has a security guard...

The primitive genus that is Equisetum
...and the delicate and fern-like beauty of Selaginella, the spikemosses

Blechnum brasiliense
Fossilised tree trunk
Ginkgo biloba leaves
It may be winter outside but it's only autumn inside the glasshouse - Ginkgo biloba leaves

Encephalartos lehmannii
Encephalartos lehmannii
A large Podocarpus salignus at the back
A large Podocarpus salignus at the back

Cyathea robusta
Cyathea robusta
More Equisetum (I wonder if this was deliberate or just spread around...)
Quite a contrast of a post, from dry to moist and lush! On the next and final instalment will be a short yet very interesting glimpse of the plants from New Caledonia.

Mark :-)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Keeping Busy in the Garden

After the cold snap last week we thawed out over the weekend and the temperatures were quite pleasant again, so much so that we got stuck into a few more jobs in the garden. Just for a change (lol) we got stuck into the pond project again. The pipe work we started in this blog is now coming along nicely for connecting up the pond filters, all that remains now are a few small connections and having received a delivery of a couple more parts we can get that finished soon.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tropical Rainforest Greenhouse - Jardin des Plantes

In one of our earlier blog posts I mentioned that we always make it a point to check out if there are any nearby botanical gardens we can visit whenever we go on a city break. And on our long weekend break to Paris just recently it was no exception as this time we made sure to check out the huge Jardin des Plantes, the main botanical garden of France which is also conveniently located in central Paris and can be reached via several metro stations (or on foot if your hotel is just nearby).

A taste of the exotic in central Paris!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Marché aux Fleurs in Paris

Marché aux Fleurs, Île de la Cité, Paris...

Ha! Finally I know the proper name of this quaint collection of plant and flower stalls right in the centre of Paris. We have visited so many times before, and definitely worth popping in to whenever you find yourself ambling around the oldest, and most picturesque part of Paris, and yet it's only now that I finally know (or rather looked up) its proper name.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Oreopanax floribundus

Another fairly new plant for us is Oreopanax floribundus which we acquired earlier this year from Crug Farm.

A member of the Araliaceae family, it bears many of the classic traits of this family, which I must confess we have a great fondness of, having quite a number of other Aralieaceae in the garden.

Attractive purple new flush of Oreopanax floribundus
Attractive purple new flush of Oreopanax floribundus

Crug explains on their site that while they were in the Americas they explored the stunning central mountain range of Colombia where they found Oreopanax floribundus (collection number BSWJ10669) "growing at high altitude on the edge of a dense forest. This species has distinct palmate leaves, covered in bristly hair thickly so on the contrasting pale undersides, while the individual plants are dioecious (plants either male or female) bearing large terminal paniculate inflorescences." 

As you can see from the photo (left) from Crug's website, it has a very exotic and interesting shape and form, looking from a distance very much like a Schefflera.

We had first seen this plant in person at the RHS London Plant and Design Show held back in February at the RHS Halls in London, although we were aware that Crug would have them for sale prior to that. As you can see from the plant on the stand below it has a lovely form and has kept the interesting leaf shape so far. Sometimes the younger leaves on other Araliaceae have a different shape to the much older ones on the same plant, or younger plants have a different leaf shape that gradually changes in appearance into something that looks totally different altogether as the plant itself matures.

Oreopanax floribundas, part of Crug Farms Display at the RHS London Plant and Design Show

Part of Crug Farms Display at the RHS London Plant and Design Show
Our plant is still on the small side and as it's pretty much untested outside yet we have opted to keep it in a pot and moved it to a warmer spot for winter. I think we will wait before testing it outside for winter until its been trialled by a few more people. At the moment there is not much information available on line, probably down to it not being easily available in the UK until Crug released plants recently. 

Our Oreopanax floribundus is now flushing.
Our Oreopanax floribundus is now flushing.
Our plant has, however, decided that now would be a good time to push out a new flush of leaves. I would have preferred that it had not done this until the spring, but it clearly decided to do this now. It wasn't the warm conditions that promoted this as it was already flushing a new set of leaves whilst still outside with the cooler temperatures, prior to being brought into a warmer spot.

I suppose this is already an indication of its hardiness....


Sunday, December 09, 2012

Hosting Danger Garden

Any of our readers who also follow Loree's excellent blog, Danger Garden may have done a double take last week when instead of photos from gardens and places in and around Portland, Oregon there were photos from our garden!

Loree had come to visit the UK with her husband and as well as visiting great public gardens such as Kew or the Chelsea Physic Garden (despite being easy for us to visit we still haven't been to the second), Loree dropped us an email and asked to visit, or in her words "A (hopefully polite) inquiry from me and the next thing I knew they were offering to take a day off work to accommodate my vacation schedule. Yes, just to have a crazy American visit their garden."

We spent ages chatting in our garden, and of course in the time honoured British fashion over tea and cake, before heading into the nearby country side for a pub lunch and then a trip round a local village as well as to a typical local garden centre. Now back home in Portland, Loree has posted two blogs about her visit to our garden.

It was strange to see Loree's photos of our garden, seeing it through another bloggers eyes, with different angles or compositions to the photos. I think sometimes I take photos of our garden to record how it changes, sometimes to illustrate a particular plant or project, but I don't often take photos to illustrate the garden as a whole. Seeing a visitors photos of the garden, taken with a different objective gave us a real insight into our own garden. I hadn't anticipated this. Ahead of the visit being published on Danger Garden I was eagerly awaiting the articles to see what was featured, what had caught our "crazy American" visitor's attention. I hadn't really expected to learn things about our own garden.

There were many photos Loree took, I understand there were a couple of hundred or so from which she selected a smaller number to publish. Do check the links at the end to see her posts, but I wanted to highlight just a small number.

The photo that jumped out the most for me when I saw it was this one:

It is not a vista in the garden I take many photos of, and those I have taken do not capture the spirit of the garden as well as this. I have spent quite a lot of time looking at this photo, seeing the plant combinations and composition with a new slightly different emphasis. Obviously I have walked down this pathway and sat on that bench many many times, but normally I notice jobs that need doing, or the shed beyond the bench. In this photo you cant even tell there is the large Jungle Hut just 3 feet behind the blue bench.

I would normally notice that I need to sweep the leaves or cut something back, maybe a weed has come up or ivy from the neighbours garden is taking a hold on the fence. Perhaps like many gardeners I look through my own garden with a far too critical eye, perhaps sometimes I need to learn to try and see it as a visitor would view the garden. Looking for that perfect composition or angle. 

We shared this photo on our Facebook page and were impressed by how many "likes" and "shares" it got. It seems it wasn't just Mark and I that loved this photo but other people too.

This photo also made me pause for thought:

This spot looks to be deep in the middle of a jungle, yet just a few inches to the left hand side is a brick wall, and just beyond the dark green bamboo in the background is the neighbour's fence. Sometimes I don't always look at the plants in the garden individually,  this Trachycarpus, for example, has got big almost without me noticing it do so. It was planted as a very small plant from B&Q, if I recall correctly it was about £12 or so back in 2005, so it was quite a baby plant really with hardly any trunk. It was planted with a lot of compost into an area that was once a small pond (liner rather than natural) created by one of the former owners of our house. When we cleared the area and removed the badly damaged liner we filled it in with a lot of compost mixed in with top soil. It had a good start! This area hasn't had many changes made to it since 2005, most of the ferns have been there since then, and only a few additions over the years. Yet now 7 years later the palm is really starting to take off and the local urban environment is completely hidden. 

We built the jungle hut veranda in 2009, before we started this blog although captured it in photos at the time. See here for the photos. I loved using natural bamboo in the balustrading and must have taken dozens of photos that illustrate it, however I don't think I took any like this one, a simple photo but also a lovely composition picking up the natural splits in the bamboo poles with the plants firmly on the other side.

Don't forget to look up! At the far end of the garden near the existing small koi pond we built a pergola, over the last few years a grape vine has covered it (although somehow we managed to select a wine grape so not a very good taste to eat). Again it has featured in dozens of photos over the years but I love the way Loree captured the green enclosed feeling of the space.

As I said earlier it is great to see the garden through someone else's eyes, to see what they pick out and feature. We visit many gardens each year and always look to take interesting photos of vistas, or features that capture our imagination. In our own garden perhaps we become comfortable with it, we know what is there so maybe don't always look at it the way someone does who is less familiar.

One photo not taken by Loree was over lunch in a local country pub:
Cheers! We  didn't manage to get a photo of the three of us, Mark is behind the Camera

We had a wonderful time hosting Loree, despite it being the first time we had met it seemed like we had known each other for a long time, hopefully one day we will get the opportunity to visit Portland!

To see more of Loree's photos of our garden check out the following links:
Danger Garden's visit to Alternative Eden Part 1
Danger Garden's visit to Alternative Eden Part 2


Thursday, December 06, 2012

Tiny Treats, Teeny Treasures

Brrrr... it's cold outside but never mind, it's warm inside and I have some small plants to sort out...

One of the things I've been doing recently to keep the gardening bug ticking over during this relatively quiet period is I've been buying small succulents. I've been buying them gradually over the past few weeks and it's always nice to find a little package every so often by the front door every time I get back home from work.

Mangave 'Bloodspot' - can't get enough of this pretty Agave macroacantha x Manfreda maculosa (?) hybrid
I call them my tiny treats and teeny treasures, and yet none of them were dear, making very little dent in my pocket.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Exotics in the Winter

One thing we sometimes get asked is what happens to all our exotic plants over winter and how do they cope with the snow and the cold?

The first thing to remember is that not all of our plants come from tropical locations, an exotic plant by definition is one that is not native, however like many others we use the word to conjure up the image of the tropics. Only some of our plants are actually tropical, many are unusual or hardy relatives of tropical plants or simply hardy plants that help create a feeling when grouped with other plants.

Of course we do grow a number of tender tropicals, and for the small number of these plants, there are warm places for them to get tucked away into, such as our two greenhouses which are heated, the "exotic shed" Mark mentioned in this post, or even the house (see the photos here of our kitchen from 2010).  But for the majority of plants they just have to get on with things out in the garden, taking the snow frost and cold in their stride.

Cycas revoluta, reasonably hardy, however we keep these in pots and move them if very bad
weather is expected. But for the majority of winter they stay outside. Last year they were moved
under cover for just a couple of weeks or so.

And the cycad with the recent snow...
Plants that are truly tropical would not cope with such weather, for example coconut palms, which immediately make you think of tropical beaches, quite simply would not grow in the UK. So instead of using tropical plants we use plants that look tropical but in fact are often far from it.

One of the hardiest palms that will grow in the UK is Trachycarus fortunei. This is very tough, with some reports indicating it can survive well below -20C (the worst we have ever had is -10C). It is tolerant of our cold and wet winters, and is reasonably fast growing. The humble Trachy, as its affectionately known by many, can put on a foot or so of trunk in a year once it is established and we now have several that are growing at this rate. It is also pretty tough when it comes to being dug up or transplanted so larger specimens are available to buy for that instant impact. There are of course a number of other hardy palms suitable for growing in the UK, such as Chamaerops humilis, but in terms of speed and the ability to take what nature can give them, nothing else beats the T. fortunei (including the smaller, stiffer leafed T. wagnerianus.)

Trachycarpus leaves
Palms look tropical, but Trachycarpus fortunei is totally hardy here

For height we also grow quite a number of bamboos and all of the ones we grow are reliably hardy for our location. Bamboos such as Phyllostachys nigra,  P. vivax, or P. aurea are easily available, fast growing and tough. Bamboo does have a reputation for being aggressive, but we have found by keeping on top of them and by not planting the very thuggish ones such as Sasa palmata f. nebulosa, they can be controlled. These bamboos are not going to be adversely affected by a typical winter. So are they exotic? Yes they are, with some of them originally hailing from East Asia. But are they tropical? No they are not, rather temperate plants but they do look tropical, and by combining them with other tropical look-alikes then you can easily imbibe such a feel to the garden.

Butter yellow new cane on Phyllostachys vivax 'Aureocaulis'
New shoots on Phyllostachys aurea
Other plants such as unusual looking ferns, rhododendrons, grasses, and hostas also helps add to the feel of being exotic.

Exotic looking, but all hardy plants
Big leaves, palms, and ferns give the exotic effect. The ferns on the right hand side are potted as not fully
hardy, these are moved to warmer places over winter.
Plants with big leaves, the bigger the better, also help weave the story. Fatsia japonica (on the left hand side of the photo above) looks far more delicate than it actually is, its relative Fatsia polycarpa is slightly more tender, but is happy in our garden. 

As well as using plants that already have a long history of existence in the UK such as those mentioned above, we also use a number of newer introductions. The fact that these are not widely available and won't be found in your ordinary nursery or garden centre helps with the illusion, if people are not familiar with something then it can seem far more exotic. One of the best families of plants for this are the Scheffleras, with S. taiwaniana and S. rhododendrifolia amongst the best for growing in the UK. We have featured a number of these before, including this summary from November last year.

Schefflera kornasii

So although we have an exotic and tropical style garden, and grow mainly exotic plants that look tropical, most of them are actually hardy in our location, and can sail through the typical winter conditions our garden receives every year. Saying that, we always live in hope that we don't get seriously cold temperatures every winter, and every mild spell during that season is certainly preferred and appreciated.