Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Quick Trip to the Exotic Shed

One of my regular gardening routines in the winter, when I get back home from work, is to check up on at least one of the greenhouses or the garden outbuilding (which I'll call a shed for ease of reference) and make sure that the plants stored there are doing fine and taken cared of. I check them in turns, one evening one place and by doing it this way the maintenance is more manageable and short. 

It's a jungle IN there!
With it being already dark when I get back home, I'm not that inclined to spend so much of my evenings outside of the house so having a more streamlined routine, organised and in smaller daily doses suits us just fine. And it gives us a steady dose of gardening fix too, and peace of mind that almost all 'kept under cover' plants are checked on a regular basis.

And so tonight it is the turn of the shed to be checked over. Most of the plants that are in there now are actually the same plants that have been kept there for several winters already and so we know that the plants generally do fine there during the colder months. This shed is quite large for, well, a shed and is fully insulated, for in the past this was somebody else's (the one who built it) utility den. It has a couple of windows too which is handy for letting in some natural lights, hence the plants kept there are not under total darkness.

Parajubaea torallyi var. microcarpa - one of my favourite feather palms!
Getting too tall for the shed? Possibly, but this year they can still fit in without needing to be trimmed - Chamaedorea microspadix
There is also a growlight there that is timed to light up several hours everyday. On previous winters there was no supplemental lighting but last year when we added one it has made a noticeable difference to the health and appearance of the plants, looking much better once they come out from their winter residence and ready to take their spring/summer places out in the garden.

Ferns and palms are the main residents of the shed. We keep all of our Cyathea cooperi here
The Cling Film treatment... (photo: Dicksonia fibrosa)
I wrap some of the bigger, trunked tree ferns that we keep in the shed (and only in the shed, never the ones outside) in cling film... (photo: Cyathea australis)
This is to keep the trunk moist and makes it easier for me to water them. I just pour water onto the crown and the water soaks in and dribbles down, soaking into the trunk without splashing water all over the place (which isn't a good idea inside a wooden structure for obvious reasons). In the spring I unwrap them when they move out into the garden, keeping an eye that they are well watered throughout the growing season. (photo: Dicksonia antarctica)
This outbuilding may be more than your typical shed but we do treat it generally as a, well, shed. A place to store utility items, tools, paints, spare wood, etc. So the plants share the space with them. Maybe one time in the spring we'll get the chance to do a massive clear out of the things that are kept there (how many half used tins of paint do we need to keep?) but for now they all have to be snug there in each other's company. 

One thing that did cross our minds is to convert it to a den or summer house of some sort, making it look more like a lounge inside than, well, a shed. But will we use as such?? That was the question we asked each other and truthfully, neither of us thinks so. So it will remain with this function for now. We just to have do big clear outs from time to time.

Mark :-)

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Jiggedy Jaggedy Plant

What's that layered looking plant again on the third raised bed, the one with jiggedy-jaggedy leaves? A visitor asked us very recently, via email upon returning home.

It took me awhile to think about what that jiggedy jaggedy plant could be, and looking layered too for whatever that meant. But the clue was the third raised bed. There could only be one plant there that has 'jiggedy jaggedy' leaves and looking layered too - Schefflera delavayi.

Schefflera delavayi
The use of the term jiggedy jaggedy to describe the the leaves of this plant made me smile. This was the first time I've heard anyone refer to the shape of the leaves of this plant as such. But looking at the following photos (from the newest to the more mature ones), the leaves are indeed 'jiggedy jaggedy' to varying degrees....

Schefflera delavayi

Okay, 'jiggedy jaggedy' is certainly not a proper botanical term to describe the leaves of this plant. But now that we are on the subject of proper botanical terms, I actually don't know myself how to properly describe the shape of its leaves (or at least with full certainty).

Schefflera delavayi

Anyone out there with more advanced botanical knowledge knows?

Do let me know if you do. Otherwise I may have to use the term 'jiggedy jaggedy' myself from now on. It is very catchy after all...

Mark :-)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

To all our American readers, we would like to wish you Happy Thanksgiving, hope you all have a great day - and don't eat too much :)

We didn't have a photo of a turkey, so we hope the above picture of a selection of Yuccas and other plants will be acceptable instead!

Have a great day everyone who is celebrating today, we are both at work!

Mark and Gaz

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Colocasia gaoligongensis

One plant that has really come into its own for us this year is Colocasia gaoligongensis, which despite the tongue twister of a name really is an essential hardy plant for an exotic garden. It is often reported to be the hardiest Colocasia available, and can survive temperatures as low as -10C. It dies back to the ground in winter, only to re-emerge in the spring. We had one survive through the spate of bad winters the UK had from between 2009 and 2011. To be safe it is worth giving it a thick layer of mulch over winter. It likes to be in a moist soil with some shade. We actually lost a plant to drought that had survived the bad winters but was in a very dry spot.

This plant is in the raised bed next to the filter house, and as a very small plant in a pot survived being frozen solid last winter. It really is quite a tough plant.

Colocasia gaoligongensis, Alternative Eden
Colocasia gaoligongensis in our garden
As you can see the leaves are quite a bright green with an almost black dot in the centre of the leaf plus quite a pronounced veining to them. It produces surface runners (stolons) that will spread out quite some distance from the mother plant that will grow "pups" (new plants) at the end when they anchor themselves into the soil. We have had it flower but somehow have managed to not take any photos of it before, however it produces a fairly typical aroid flower. 

Colocasia gaoligongensis flower illustrated on

Colocasia gaoligongensis can also be propagated by cutting off the stolons, these can be cut into sections between the nodes. Once cut they should be allowed to dry off slightly, for about a day before placing them horizontally in seed trays with a good quality multi purpose compost. They should be given a light covering of compost and kept moist but not waterlogged. If you can give them a little bit of bottom heat them they will respond well.  Once the plants sprout, allow them to grow on until late the following spring when they can be divided and potted on. It will grow reasonably quickly so small new plants will get to a good size quite quickly if kept moist and well fed. 

I'm really hoping this bulks up nicely next year and gives us a number of spare plants to put in other places in the garden.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mark and Gaz become Nintendo Heroes!

Mario and Luigi
Last weekend we were starting to feel a bit like Mario and Luigi, the little Italian plumbers of Nintendo fame. Not that we were rescuing princesses, racing around in karts or running through strange worlds killing mushroom-like things. No, none of that at all, even though it would, I must admit, make a pleasant change from our usual routines, but we were playing with pipes and fixings. We were for the weekend plumbers... of sorts.

I'm sure you are now thinking, why am I reading about plumbing on a gardening blog? (well maybe not) but what were we up to?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Waiting to Shed

Nope, this isn't a post about garden sheds (you know, those wooden garden outbuildings that's meant to hide tools etc....) but plants shedding leaves in the autumn.

Some autumn colour (and llots of leaf litter) in the garden

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Star Light, Star Bright

The first star I see tonight...

Or rather the first plant I tend to see whenever I step into the garden because it is so bright...

I have been meaning to feature this plant for quite some time now, but like anything else that got side stepped for some reason, never seemed able to until I had a quick wander down the garden earlier today and spotted this plant again, like I always do over and over again. So I thought I should actually take the time now and write this long overdue blog post, which is an homage to this beautiful plant.

The original plant I bought from CGF - Yucca gloriosa 'Bright Star'

Sunday, November 11, 2012

On a Sunday Afternoon


It's strange how at this time of the year we only ever really see the garden properly and spend time in it during the weekend. It takes some time to get used to it, and we better do as it will be like this yet for many weeks ahead. But that is winter for you, more than just the cold, it has the inconvenience of extra long nights and much shorter days.
Any plant that flowers again, and at this time of the year too is certainly extra appreciated - Kniphofia thompsonii
So you always hope that the weather behaves during the weekend. If it is rainy, then that's it, most likely you'll just have to do something else that involves less exposure to the elements.

And so that was Saturday (but that was fine, we had to do something else anyway). Sunday was much more well behaved, well actually better than well behaved as it was sunny and relatively warm for the time of the year. Perfect, at least I had the chance to do a bit of tidying up and take some photos of the garden too!

A peek into the window...
We did spend most of the afternoon indoors though, in the koi filter house that is, trying to figure out the layout of the filters, pumps, and pipeworks. It's not an easy task I tell you, it took us all afternoon to figure out possible sensible placements, and I think by the end of the day we have figured out most of it. 

It was a task on its own shifting these huge equipment into the filter house to start with. On the plus side we have gained some space back in our kitchen and dining room where these equipment lived for more than a year, yay! All we need to do now (sounding so simple yet in reality is complicated) is to connect them all up and the pond should be up and running soon.

The filtration puzzle has begun.
So there you go, we have officially started solving the filtration puzzle, which is like a combination of piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, building a lego structure, and solving a rubix cube. A challenge yes, but fortunately not really that stressful.

Another one that is flowering again, and for the third time this year too - Celmisia hookeri
Magnolia denudata 'McCracken's Variegated' is just about to start shedding its leaves
But this Toona sinensis seems to only start changing colours now, mostly it is still lush and very green still
Fatsia polycarpa about to flower, as it always does every autumn
But this Schefflera kornasii is already in its full floral swing!
A clump of Cotula hispida glistening with some morning dew
And so are the Euphorbia stygiana leaves
The Ricin to the right is still looking majestic, but it is on borrowed time (but we hope it will be a long one!)
For those who like their bamboos bright, bendy, and stripey - Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Argus'
Our tallest Schefflera taiwaniana flowering as well
And this Agave bracteosa is enjoying a lashing of some autumn sun
Overall though, it was a fine, chilled out Sunday afternoon. It was nice to finally start sorting out the filtration of the pond project, but even nicer to see the garden again in daylight.

Mark :-)

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Hola Atocha!

I first thought about this post many weeks ago when I first read Loree's blog about railway stations with interesting plantings. But when I looked at our photo archives I was disappointed at the photos we took of the interior of the Atocha Railway Station in Madrid. The tropical planting inside the station is grand and stunning, looking more like the inside of the Palm House at Kew rather than a railway station. I've never seen anything like that anywhere else, railway station wise, and for an exotic plant lover it's almost a reason good enough to visit Madrid for a weekend break (or longer if you travel from a different continent).

Atocha Railway Station

But why oh why did we end up taking so few photos, and of low quality too?? It's a question I initially couldn't comprehend or even know the exact answer but after some thoughts I came up with a couple of clues. I think we still used our old camera then and it wasn't brilliant at taking digital photos (digital camera technology moves so quick nowadays). And another thing, I remember there was a used book fair ongoing whilst we were there and the area seemed 'solemn' with people reading books and it would have felt rude to break the solitude with flashes from our camera.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Kew, A Wander Through the Palm House

When we visited Kew a couple of weeks ago, we included a tour through the Palm House. Built between 1844 to 1848 its one of the most iconic looking Victorian Glasshouses and home to a fantastic collection of Palms, Cycads and other exotic plants. But on a cold day the warm and humid tropical conditions are a real draw and the lush exotic plants a wonderful escape from the cold autumnal weather outside.

Inside the Palm House, Kew Gardens London

Monday, November 05, 2012

Lights! Camera! Action!

With the garden gradually going to sleep now that November is here, we are making the final push to get the pond finished. With only a short list of tasks to complete before we can add water it feels like we are at long last on the home straight!

As Mark mentioned in this blog we had got the main electrical cable in place and safely buried under the pathway, so now it was time to get the installation of lights and actual power into the filter house itself. We had picked up most of the supplies last weekend and were ready to get things set up. Fortunately a good friend of ours is a qualified electrician so was able to oversee everything and make the final connections. Grub I am sure is well known to a number of our readers in the UK, being another Exotic Gardener and also a Koi keeper. Do check out his Facebook page - Grubs Jungle Hideout.

Grub explaining the finer points of a fuse board.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Behind the Scenes at Kew

Last Sunday, Kew Gardens held an open day for members to go behind the scenes at the Tropical Nursery. The Tropical Nursery is where Kew keeps its scientific collections and also where it propagates plants for use in displays within the Palm House, Temperate House, Waterlily House and Princess of Wales Conservatory.

The Tropical Nursery covers an area of over 6,500m2 and is itself divided into a further 21 climatic environments that are separately controlled and monitored by computer. These zones are split into four main divisions Cacti and Succulents, Moist Tropics, Orchids, plus Temperate and Conservation Collections.

So with various guides and Nursery people on hand we called in for an hour or so on Sunday.

The main walkways though the nursery more closely resemble a laboratory than a nursery, with computer control panels for the climate control situated outside each section. Temperature and humidity are closely monitored and adjusted as required automatically. 

Cacti, Euphorbia, Agaves, etc all being carefully tended and grown on, perhaps some of these will grace the arid section in the Princess of Wales Conservatory one day. 

Just one section along from the arids and the area is dedicated to exotics, every available space is used, with pots hanging on racks on the walls.

Please dont water the Saintpaulias... no really please dont! 

A selection of more tropical plants needing warm, humid conditions

I don't think we have seen a variegated lemon before, not just variegated leaves, but fruit too. Stunning!

Close up of the fruits forming on the Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum)

Seed of Agave bracteosa drying ready for sowing and storing,
The world smallest waterlily (Nymphaea themarum), incredibly rare and endangered. but something of a success story at Kew
Nymphaea themarum is extinct in the wild (native to Rwanda) but a small number of plants were collected by the Bonn Botanic Garden. However despite the care and attention lavished on them in Germany the scientists were unable to successfully propagate more from seed. That was until Kew worked out the secret and have now grown on a significant number of plants. Perhaps one day this will be reintroduced to the wild.

Aloes as far as the eye can see!

Its lovely to see behind the scenes to get an idea into just how much work goes into maintaining the glasshouses, as well as getting to talk to a few nursery men and women that tend to these plants :)