Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Look Back at the Year 2013

What a roller coaster of a year 2013 has been! Just looking back and reminiscing at the things that we got up to and the events that transpired in the past twelve months, some of which we didn't have any control of has reminded us how intense this year was.

Very intense, and what an insane year, whew!

What a difference twelve months can make. Looking back on our blog archives it's amazing how many things have happened in what is relatively a short period of time. Some of these activities we have almost forgotten about but were instantly reminded of the moment we read them all over again. And that's one of the many advantages of having a blog, it also serves as on online diary that we can refer to if we want to remember what we got up to gardening wise in a particular time of the year from the time we started blogging.

Ahh 2013, such an intense yea!. So many highs, a few unexpected lows, overall very intense. Intense, have I said this word enough? It is the perfect word that sums up how both us feel about this year.

We actually don't know whether to consider 2013 as a good year or a bad year for the both of us. One thing is for sure though, is that it was...well...intense! Too intense at times and that's not always a good thing.

So a good year or a bad year? We will pass judgement as soon as we have finished looking back and we'll deliver our verdict at the end of this post. Join us as we reminisce on the year 2013...


A snowy and mellow start to our year as we continued with the final stages of our big pond build and began its Final Countdown as we completed the decking next to the pond, as well as introduced you all to the Prequel Pond which gave us our first experience in building a raised pond. It is also the pond that jump started our koi keeping hobby and is the mother of our big pond build.

It's The Final Countdown.
The Prequel Pond

Sunday, December 29, 2013

New Palms for the New Year

Where do we even begin....

Today was designated to be a gardening day as soon as we took note that the forecast for this Sunday would be sunny and dry. And sunny and dry it was which made it conducive to get stuck in to gardening.

Having had an extremely busy past few month it has felt like we haven't gardened properly for a long time, and that today was the first time after a busy period. The first 'designated gardening day' for a quite a while!

Facing the patio today, with debris, litter and building materials randomly dotted all over I thought where do I even begin? Without further analysis I just picked up a broom and started sweeping and soon a natural order of activity quickly fell into place. At this moment sometimes it's best to just tidy up and do the planning later on when either of us are inspired or in the mood at least.

Incomprehensible placing of random things....
Anyway, we have been buying a few new palms in the past few weeks with the biggest haul of our recent purchases coming from the winter sales at the Palm Centre. It was too dark to take photos of our haul when we got home last night so we just unloaded the car and freed the palms from their cling film bondage and left the picture taking until today.

Trachycarpus fortunei
First things first, more Trachycarpus fortunei! For the type of gardening that we do they make great backbone and filler plants. Each of them has a trunk of over 40cm and at £17.50 ($28) each are an absolute bargain! So three of them went back home with us. 

Rhapidophyllum hystrix
In my post yesterday I mentioned that I was after three palms in particular and I managed to get all three of them which includes the Needle Palm, Rhapidophyllum hystrix. This very slow growing palm is still a rarity in the UK and specimens for sale with a reasonable price tag are certainly worth getting. It is a cold hardy palm and along with Trachycarpus fortunei can be planted out with confidence in most British gardens and other areas with similar climates or even slightly colder.

Rhapidophyllum hystrix
A palm native to the US, it is a shade loving palm if planted on milder areas or areas that get really warm summers. For British gardens it is recommended that this is planted in full sun or at least in a bright spot as summers here are rarely consistently warm and winters are not always mild. We can attest to this, we have several planted out already in the garden and we actually managed to kill one that was sited in deep shade.

Rhapidophyllum hystrix
The Needle Palm is called as such due to the needles found on its trunk which actually look more vicious than they really are. Still handle it with care as a miscalculated move can result in injuries.

This is a very, very slow growing palm with a shrubby habit. Buy as big a specimen as you possibly can as it is so slow to gain size and best planted in association with other plants with stronger architectural merits.

Trachycarpus 'Naggy'
The second palm on my list is a Trachycarpus 'Naggy' which is a cross between a female T. nanus and male T. wagnerianus and is a Palm Centre special/creation. The hardiness potential of this palm is good with both parents being UK hardy palms with an appearance potentially distinct enough from other Trachycarpus with its deeply split leaves. If you look closely there seems to be some red spider mite damage to the leaves of the one we chose due to it being kept in a greenhouse for years but this shouldn't be a persistent problem as this palm will be planted out soon.

Trachycarpus 'Naggy'
We're hoping 'Naggy' will have the good traits of each parent with the split leaves of the slow growing and subterranean trunked T. nanus, and the the vigour and trunk forming character of stiff leafed T. wagnerianus. Although a palm with inverse trait (squat and stiff leaved) doesn't sound bad either!

The third palm on my list is Chamaedorea microspadix and we bought three of these, two small specimens and a large one over six feet tall for an instant impact. These are replacement palms. We used to have several pots of this palm but lost them all in the fire last July. Unfortunately all the pots were huddled in the same area that has been badly affected so none survived. It's one of the plants we lost that we really missed so we're glad that we finally have replacement ones.

This is the only palm from our recent purchases that won't be planted out but instead used as part of a summer display. It is hardy enough for milder parts of the UK or favourable areas of a garden with a good microclimate that remains warm enough to keep this palm alive and looking good. We have tried planted a few out in our garden before and sailed through fine on milder winters but not in the most recent ones which were not on the mild side. They got cut back down to the ground and although they did come back in the spring they didn't size up quick enough to make a good showing in the summer. I'd say they are fine down to -6C for brief periods, slightly lower than that they start to sustain considerable cosmetic damage and much lower than that you'll lose all of the top growth and will have to come back from the ground.

Chamaedorea microspadix inside the jungle hut
This is a shade loving, suckering palm and is prone to slug and snail damage so keep an eye out for these pests!

Apart from the Palm Centre we also recently bought a trunked Chamaerops humilis, the European Fan Palm and the only one native to this continent, in Crews Hill Gardening Club a few weeks ago. It is now taking shelter under the roof of the jungle hut verandah until it gets planted out.

Chamaerops humilis
Chamaerops humilis
After Trachycarpus and Rhapidophyllum this genus is the one next in line when it comes to hardiness and suitability for planting out in British gardens. Trailing not far behind Chamaerops are the genus Butia, Jubaea, Trithrinax, and Brahea. Hardiness also depends on the species of each genus, with some species hardier than others. Even Trachycarpus, some of its species are only borderline UK hardy like T. martianus. Other genus of palms that would have been hardy had if we get reliably warm summers here are Sabal, Nanorrhops, just to mention a few.

Anyway, back to the last set of new palms we have bought recently are a couple of Trachycarpus princeps hybrids, and this one came from Hardy Palms

Trachycarpus princeps hybrid palms
Such a beautiful, graceful looking palm even at a small size, our photos don't do it justice...

Trachycarpus princeps hybrid
It is said to be a hybrid palm between Trachycarpus princeps and either a T. nova or T. fortunei. The undersides of the leaves has a blue tinge to it which is akin to the hue T. princeps leaves but the speed and vigour of growth T. nova/T. fortunei. It'll be interesting to see how the appearance of this palm will change and develop in time, we'll all just have to wait and see but the potential for hardiness is really good based on the toughness of both of its parents.

Trachycarpus princeps hybrid
So there you are, a few new palms for the New Year. We haven't figured out where to place each of them but I'm sure we'll eventually figure that out once the ball starts rolling again in just a few weeks time, very early in the spring.

First things first though, we must figure out what to do will all these materials scattered on our patio and where to store them. And make a sensible arrangement of the patio until we're ready to give it a proper makeover.

Mark :-)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Palm Crazy at the Palm Centre

So we had three choices this morning of what to primarily do today: go to Kew Gardens, go to a shopping mall and brave the sales again, or stay at home and do some gardening.

Ok, it's not a palm but a handsome specimen of Dasylirion serratifolium
All three started on equal footing but choosing one would be essential otherwise our sense of laziness would have prevailed and both of us could have easily stayed in bed all day (a luxury activity in its own right).

Friday, December 27, 2013

Call of the Familiar

As I sat yesterday trying to think of things to possibly see and do for the coming new year I also found myself making a list of things and places to best perhaps steer clear of temporarily, just to inject some variety on our visiting repertoire.

Three places stood out for us, namely Madeira, Kew Gardens, and Cornwall.

Nothing wrong with these places, in fact we love them to bits! It's just that we have visited them far too many times already and although each visit is enjoyable, it does make you wonder too if we've just let ourselves get stuck in some sort of routine.

Variety is the spice of life as they say and new experiences keeps ones interest refreshed and on going. And if you only have a limited amount of days off from work in a year there is this little pressure from within to try and include as many new things within this finite amount of free time.

So no visits to Madeira for quite some time? Perhaps bypass visiting Kew Gardens all of next year? And maybe break tradition and skip a spring week in Cornwall next year? There are so many other places and people to visit out there, so many things to see...

But there is also the call of the familiar. If you enjoy a place so much then what's wrong with visiting it over and over again? And isn't it nice that when you go to a place you know it so well than you don't have to adjust to your surroundings anymore? That you can just immediately settle in and not think anymore, but just feel it, straight away.

Heed the beckoning of the new or the call of the familiar? Sleep over it and let the universe answer the question for later on.

And I got some answers this morning, looks like it's going to be a 'meet halfway' thing. Despite initial hesitations due to our previous repeated visits, the feeling seems just right now to just give in and....what the heck, visit it again for the nth time soon. And one we'll be visiting again very soon as it's near a nursery that has a post Christmas sale ongoing.

Looks like only one will get the chop for a visit next year. But what about all those wonderful nurseries there, in a year when we need to stock up on plants again?

Ahh C'est La Vie! But what about you, would you prefer to keep coming back to the same place you are familiar with, or would you rather visit somewhere new each time? Or have you found a middle ground between the two?

Mark :-)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas Everyone

Wishing all our readers a very merry Christmas, hope you all have a wonderful day wherever and how ever you are celebrating.

Merry Christmas from Mark and Gaz.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Favourite Plant of The Week - Agave weberi 'Arizona Star'

Agave weberi 'Arizona Star'
Agave weberi 'Arizona Star'
We join Loree from Danger Garden again this week with our Favourite Plant of the Week. This time its the turn of Agave weberi 'Arizona Star'. 

I must say I haven't been taking many photos of the garden recently too preoccupied with indoor pursuits, so when i was thinking about what plant to feature as our favourite plant of week this week then why not feature the only plant that graces our kitchen this year. In previous years we have at times packed out the kitchen with a number of plants being protected from the cold (see this post from 2010), but this year is different.

Agave as a houseplant? This is a bit of an experiment and we will keep an eye on how it will do in the months to come. There is a skylight just above it so it well get some natural light during the day and with it being in the house, hardiness won't be an issue. The only thing I have observed so far is that the variegation of this plant is no longer as distinct as the one that is inside the conservatory which gets more light. However I think that it is still pretty enough to merit a space in the kitchen, to occupy that one spot that is home to a plant. And it has its very own bodyguard to protect it!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Front Garden Plans

With the builders now finished and the house almost back to normal our thoughts have again turned back to the garden. One area we have mentioned that is long over due a makeover is the front of our house. Just a few weeks ago it was very much a dumping ground for the builders (see this post from September).

Delightful landscaping courtesy of our builders. 
The existing pots and plants had been moved to one side, many of which really need re-potting or planting out. Some of the palms in the pots will be planted in the back and one or two others will get new homes in a larger pot.

With the new porch the area by the front door has reduced in size, so there is not as much space for as many pots as there once was. With the obvious change due to the porch it is a good time to rethink quite what we do with this space. Its size (or lack of) makes it a tricky space to garden, and the benefits offered by keeping the majority of it as a hard standing further restricts the use.

The space itself is not big enough to park our car on, unless you park almost horizontal to the house, so a useful parking space is also ruled out.

As the house is close to the road we are keen to add some height with any planting to create some visual block to passers by. Fortunately we live on quite a quiet side street so there's not lots of people looking in as they walk along the pavement outside.

Our plans are still developing, but the current idea is to add metal railings on the left and right hand sides, with a matching gate in the arched passageway. From chatting to our builders we found out about a small local firm that makes railings to any design and size, so in the new year we can go and have a chat with them about what we want to do.

On the right hand side we want to introduce a small border and grow several hedging shrubs in an informal hedge. We have a number of ideas as to what we will grow there, it is south facing and sheltered from the buildings to the north. The block paving may well also act as something of a heat sink absorbing warmth to radiate back to the plants.

On the left hand side, we need to be wary of service pipes - electricity, gas and water that are all buried somewhere under that paving. They come into the house on the far left hand side, and the water meter is in the pavement outside the house on that side, so we do not want to risk disturbing any of these items. A simple makeover could become very expensive if we sever a pipe!

As a  result we have been considering pots or a planter for this part. Again its not a large area but we don't want something that is underwhelming.  Mark has written before about having a raised gravel bed there with yucca or other succulents that should enjoy the sheltered aspect. I quite like the idea of building a planter from new railway sleepers. This would give us a reasonable planting depth without disturbing the ground below the paving. If it were to sit on top of the block paving then if access was needed it could be dismantled. We haven't needed access below ground so far, so with any luck there will be no need to disturb the plants.

Some Winter colour from last year.... probably a one off
We had also thought about placing large pots on the paving in front of the bay window. These could be moved if needed and would keep the paved surface available if needed to store materials on for future projects. 

Whilst there is still plenty to do indoors, our minds are already jumping ahead to these future projects!

In case you wondered where the picture of the finished porch is... watch this space all will be revealed soon :)


Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Different View

Have you ever wondered what a cat would look like viewed from below? Have you ever thought what a cat would look like seen through the figurative eyes of whatever it sits on to?

Well I haven't but before I even had the chance to wonder and ask myself these questions I saw this view of Twinkles for the first time this morning, as I looked up whilst having breakfast in the kitchen...

I suppose I can mimic this if I put her on top of a photocopy machine...
Okay, it's not really a gardening topic but since Twinkles is one of the many characters in our gardening blog I thought it would still be appropriate to feature this unusual view of her in here.

Two in One - a cat and a seagull
We had a fabulous weekend. The builders came over on Saturday and they finished off all the little and odd jobs that were still left outstanding.

Yep, that was it, everything that they're supposed to do have been done. The house renovation is over. It's up to us now to finish the decoration but as far as we're concerned, after months of living with them (it felt like that anyway) we finally have the house to ourselves once again.

Big smiles here :)))

Mark :)))

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Back In The Game

It's been a long time since we've bought any new plants for the garden. Mainly because both of us have been in a 'house mode' for months now that the desire to buy new plants have been pretty much non existent.

Until recently that is when I suddenly found myself needing to buy a plant, not for the garden but for the house to fill up a very important spot in the conservatory.

I've selected many plants before to go in it as featured on previous blog posts but there was one particular spot that I've had difficulty finding a suitable plant to fill it amongst the ones we have already. They either didn't meet the criteria I mentioned before, too flawed to be displayed, or simply they were just the wrong size and habit for that particular spot. 

Monday, December 09, 2013

Lighting up The Jungle

Over the coming winter, once the house redecoration is complete, we have set ourselves a couple of tasks in the garden. I'm sure you wouldn't expect us to be doing nothing at this time of the year no would you!!  We have the quarantine pond to finish and also we want to add irrigation. However one task that has been long over due is to make the jungle part of the garden more illuminated.

With the new koi pond we added lighting to the pergola to illuminate the pond and fish, keeping it not too bright so as to not upset the neighbours. We also added lighting to the first and second raised beds, using small spot lights to pick out some of the more specimen plants. Mostly the plants highlighted are yuccas, which I guess was probably right as they are the most architectural in that border.

Lighting up the Koi pond
Yucca linearifolia
Yucca rostrata
I would like to add some light to the third raised bed and also the koi filter house, although now things are completed there I'm not sure I can hide the cables without disturbing the finish, so perhaps not.

With the fire and birth of the new Jungle Hut we changed the style of the lighting, adding a pendant and two wall lights, with which we are really pleased. We would now like to add extra lighting to that bottom part of the garden, partly to illuminate the pathway and also to pick out key plants.

For the pathways, I would quite like to have something like this post light from Zed Lighting, keeping quite a simple look to the lighting so the lights themselves don't steal the show compared to the garden itself. We have started to introduce a few other stainless steel elements into the garden so they would tie in.

Where we want to pick out particular plants we will use a similar low voltage solution to that we used in the raised beds by the pond. These were easy to install and being low voltage reduces the risks in the garden. 

I have seen a few gardens where they make a feature of the lighting using coloured lights to illuminate trees or other features at night, whist these can be quite impressive, I'm not sure that would work with the enclosed nature of our garden.

Having just walked down the garden with a torch to take photos of the Jungle hut it makes me realise just how important new lighting along the path in that direction will be, so when the jobs in the house are all finished I'm looking forward to new projects!


Sunday, December 08, 2013

Where Light Floods In

So what did we get up to last summer that took up so much of our time and energy from the garden, and that up to now still is our main preoccupation (although definitely tapering off now)?

All but a few odds and ends of the house renovation have been completed and the most recent weeks have been spent decorating and recovering our house away from the builders, converting it from a building site into a home. Slowly but surely we're getting there starting from the back...

Our new Conservatory

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Never the Idle Dreamers

A summary and a monthly timeline of our Koi Pond project from start till finish...

May 2010 - Clearing the area
June 2010 - Construction of first raised bed and pathway begins
July 2010 - the Big Dig has begun

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Pretty on the Outside too...

As a conclusion to our previous two part feature on NYBG's Enid A. Haupt Conservatory (Part One and Part Two) we'll also share a few photos of the immediate surroundings of the glasshouse as well as highlight the structure itself. The weather was glorious the moment we stepped out from the conservatory and it was looking pretty on the outside too...

But first I can't help but admire the pots of Furcraea foetida 'Mediopicta' just outside the main entrance to the conservatory.

And the conservatory itself looks good!

Once you've completed your journey through a series of glasshouses, or at least go outside via the desert and temporary exhibition section you will be greeted by a huge pond that has a variety of aquatic plants growing in it.

A good selection of Nymphaeas, Nelumbos, and even Victoria amazonica can be found growing in this pond and the effect of them all together looks splendid!

The aquatic display looked amazing despite being past its prime. I can imagine how extra magnificent this pond must have been during the peak of summer just a few weeks earlier to our visit.

They have used some very nice plants too for their summer/seasonal display...

Solanum sp, at the back
A pair of Bismarckia nobilis
Gaudy colours and summer do go hand in hand!
After exploring this area we spent another hour exploring as much as we could of the rest of the botanical garden but it was a bit of a rush and we didn't take as many photos as we should have. The day we visited was our last day in the city and after our visit here we collected our luggage and headed for the airport to catch our flight home.

I'm sure we'll visit again sometime in the future. Hopefully quite soon!

Mark :-)