Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Walk in the Cloud Forest

In one of the two large cooled conservatories in the Gardens by the Bay is a huge mountain. This is covered in various ferns, orchids, begonias and a whole host of other plants to create a massive living wall. 

On entering the Cloud Forest Conservatory (Cool-Moist) you are welcomed by what is claimed to be the tallest indoor waterfall in the world, (and who am I to argue!), casting a welcome cooling spray to make a change from the heat outside. Coming from the UK where we normally associate glasshouses with heat it is strange to enter one that is air conditioned. 

How's that for a dramatic welcome!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Better than St. Albans

The lure of a day out every Saturday is always there. From Monday to Friday I always look forward to the weekend when we'll get the chance to do lots of gardening (weather permitting). Somehow though when the weekend actually arrives, on Saturday especially, the urge to have a day out somewhere, anywhere is always there. 

Not that I don't want to garden on Saturday mornings, in fact its one of the best times especially if it's bright, sunny, and warm outside. But there also seems to be this subconscious want for a temporary change of scene that tries to pull you away as a part of you also wants to stay put and spend time at home and in the garden. Every weekend, decisions, decisions!

But this weekend, it was neither bright, sunny, nor warm. It was actually cold, with temps hovering just above freezing even during midday and little flecks of snow drizzled intermittently all throughout the weekend, not enough to settle to make the scenery white nor wet (thankfully) but just enough to reiterate that yes, it is still winter after all.

Little granules of ice scattered all over....
It was a cold weekend, what do we do now? Have a day out somewhere of course! We have a strong excuse, it was cold outside and it would be uncomfortable to spend the day gardening. And I also have a long shopping list of things to get for the garden in preparation for spring, so in a way having a day out visiting the shops will also be a way of preparing for the garden. So where can we go that's nearby and have most of the shops I needed to visit? Pretty little city of St. Albans came to mind which is only half an hour's drive from where we live. 

So St. Albans it was but as we prepared ourselves to go out for the day, we saw the large pile of trimmings dotted here and there from the view of our kitchen window. Perhaps we ought to take some of them to the tip first? And so we did.

Not just some of them, we ended up taking all of them! It was nice to see the garden clear again, making space for more spring trimmings in the following weeks to come. And thinking about trimmings, we decided that to tackle that large mass of ivy that had started to ruin some of the fences and was casting so much shadow on the side passage. So we started to hack it and we got carried away, thinking we might as well finish the job. And so we did. Finally we can see through the trellis again (there's a temporary lack of privacy now but that should fill up in the following months, knowing how vigorous established ivy can be).

Ivy be gone....most of it anyway
We can see through the trellis again!
By the time we finished that of course, it was too late to go out, oops! We might as well carry on being productive, so we bought some wooden posts and ship lap fencing panels and presto, the end screening of the new garden was made by early evening.

This went up much quicker than I thought it would!
Now this one I did not expect at all that we'd do so soon, and so quick! I thought we wouldn't be doing this untill next month or so. But there it is now, all done. This panel demarcates the area of the new garden, giving a visual end to when you look down the narrow garden as you enter it. It also screens the more functional working area beyond it, and the gap will serve as the entrance way to it.

It will be painted white like everything else
So no day out that day, we can go the next day, Sunday instead. 

And Sunday morning, whilst having breakfast we saw how grubby the decking was just outside the kitchen doors leading outside. We might as well give it a preliminary and quick scrub before we go out. And then we remembered we have a jet wash...

An algae and dirt laden deck
A jet wash that we haven't used for years and almost forgot about it until now. And it would be perfect to clean this mucky decking, with the old stain flaking away and algae covering large parts of it.

Layers of dirt removed in seconds

It was brilliant in removing years of dirt from the decking, and so much fun to use, so we jet washed the decking, the brick wall, the windows...

Ta-dah! Ready for restaining once warmer and drier weather returns
As Gaz took over the jet washing halfway through I got a bucket of a soapy water and stiff brush and started to brush the walls of all the raised beds and exterior pond wall in preparation to being painted a final coat of white paint, hopefully soon once the weather warms up...

And time flew by again, too late to go to St. Albans! But not too late for a quick trip to a couple of nearby garden centres to do some shopping and cap off the weekend.

It turned out that the lure of spending time in the garden despite the cold weather was much stronger, and we had so much fun! We managed to accomplish loads, without even planning for it nor expecting to do so. 

As I looked back in the garden and saw the things we have done by not going out I thought to myself, "This is better than St. Albans, much much better!".

Mark :-)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Succulents in the Dome

As an antidote to all that tropical lushness we've been posting recently about from our recent trip to Singapore, it's now the turn of Cacti and Succulents as we found a fantastic display of them inside the Flower Dome of Gardens by the Bay.

Succulents inside the colossal Flower Dome
The Flower Dome is one of two cooled conservatories (or glasshouses) within the complex of Gardens by the Bay and it houses a collection of plants from temperate regions of the world. This conservatory is climate controlled, with a cool-dry atmosphere while the other one, the Cloud Forest Dome has a cool-moist one (more about this conservatory in an upcoming post. The Flower Dome itself is colossal, actually both of them are and I will have to feature them in segments as well as a general overview of each of them.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Let the Show Season Begin!

The plant show season for this year has officially started with the RHS London Plant and Design Show being held today and tomorrow. And being the first major plant show and fair of the year, this event is something we always look forward to with much excitement as it signals the start of more plant shows in the following months. Not to mention that after many months of winter, where the horticultural scene as at its most quiet, it's nice to see lots of plants again and get the chance to do some plant shopping!

So off to London we drove this morning, an annual ritual for us and is the only time that we actually drive in to heart of this city where the RHS Horticultural Halls are located and where the show is always held.

RHS London Plant and Design Show 2013
Early birds gets to queue! We didn't, we stayed on the other side of the street where the sun was shining directly. It was a gloriously sunny day!
Traffic going in to London can be hit or miss, one year the journey is quick, the next year it could be slow and patience testing. Fortunately this year it is was a quick and easy one, and for the first time we were actually there before the gates were opened. It wasn't a long wait though!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Karma Camellia

Just before we went off to Singapore we were kindly sent a beautifully packaged Camellia 'Kramer's Supreme' from the lovely folks at Plants4Presents. There is something particularly enjoyable about receiving plants in the post, especially when the box itself is a delight, and on opening the contents lived up to the packaging! A lovely healthy plant, full off buds and ready to burst into flower, along with a smart pot and care instructions.

Camellia 'Kramer's Supreme'
The Camellia itself arrived in great condition, sometimes you do not quite know what to expect when receiving plants in the post, but Plants4Presents sent us a very healthy plant. (thanks guys!!). We now just have to work out where to plant it. As camellia's prefer an acid soil with shelter and light shade we may opt to keep this potted - allowing us to move if harsh weather is expected - especially as they have a habit of producing buds and flowers at the same time as the last few frosts of winter!

Ours is a deep red, but to tie in with mothers day on March 10 (you have remembered haven't you...!!) you can also win a pink flowered plant for your mum (or your own garden if you prefer), with the rather marvelous name of ‘Scentsation’ - yes its a cheesy name, but its a lovely scented pink camellia, and should be in flower in perfect time for Mothers Day.

Camelia ‘Scentsation’
Dont worry if you dont win, as long as you order by 2pm on March 8th you can have the plant in time for Mothers Day. (see here for more details)

To enter simply answer the following question.

What type of soil do Camellias prefer?

a) Alkaline
b) Neutral
c) Acidic

Extra entries can be made by following us and sharing this competition on Twitter or by liking our page and sharing the competition on Facebook. An additional entry can be made by "following" this blog via Google Friend Connect

Terms and conditions: This competition closes at 23.59 on 3 March 2013. Any entries received after this time will not be counted. Entrants must be UK residents aged 18 years or older to enter. By entering this competition you agree and consent to your name being published and by taking part in the competition, entrants are deemed to have read, understood and accepted all of the Terms and Conditions and agreed to be bound by them. The winner will be selected at random from the correct entries and will be announced here on the blog. Please make sure we are able to contact you if you do win, as we will need to provide your name and address to Plants4Presents to arrange for your prize to be sent to you.  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Glimpses of Spring

Back to Blighty now and garden business as usual! The time we spent in tropical Singapore flew by so quick, it was a blast and the experience of going there hasn't fully sunk in yet. Fortunately we did take hundreds of photos to help us remember our visit , and it's just a matter of actually taking the time to gradually sort them all out (it still amazes me how time consuming sorting out photos can be!). So more photos of our visit to this wonderful and amazing city will be coming up in the next few weeks.

Iris histrioides 'Katharine Hodgkin' enjoying some late winter and early morning sun today
Meanwhile, now that we're back (and recovering from jet lag) it's time to face the garden once again. Luckily the weather has been great this weekend. Although the temperatures are far from tropical compared to the place we just recently have been to at least it was sunny and dry this weekend, making it conducive to spend some time outdoors and in the garden.

Sun, sun, sun!
And that's what we did. To add to the lovely ambience, signs of new growth and plant activity are more noticeable, even the odd bloom here and there, with Iris histrioides 'Katharine Hodgkin' looking at its flowering best this weekend.

Another clump of Iris histrioides 'Katharine Hodgkin', peeking through the base of a Kniphofia caulescens
Despite the jet lag, we still came home mentally revived and refreshed with ideas, with that extra zest to carry on gardening and look forward to the growing season ahead. Taking advantage of that, as well as the good spring like weather we have started our spring tidy up. So lots of cutting here and there, and lots of mess to get rid off too. But it's a ritual we're used to now. It's not just spring flowering bulbs and fresh growth we associate spring with, but also huge piles of trimmings and cuttings piled up everywhere. Most of them will end up in the green recycling facility near us.

Yucca linearifolia enjoying the sun
and so is this Yucca rostrata
Not to forget this Yucca faxoniana
The Kniphofia northiae had its yearly foliage trim today. The long, wide, and razor sharp edged leaves sprawls all over by the end of winter so needs to be trimmed back every so often. 
And so did this other Kniphofia northiae. Both look very odd now but growth should speed up in the next few weeks to replace most of the old foliage. We might even get a flower this year!
The Yew tree (Taxus baccata) beside the Trachycarpus fortunei in the photo above have had a major trim today. The tree is now in a better shape and is letting in more light now in that area.
No flowers from our Foxglove Tree (Paulownia tomentosa) this year. The frosts and snow early last week have zapped all of the flower buds. This tree has had a trim today, to keep the size under control as well as.... 
Give us a better view of this clump of Phyllostachys bambusoides, which after several years on the ground is now beginning to send out larger culms. The smaller culms from previous have been removed today too.
Several trips to the tip will be needed. If we had the space we'll compost them all...
It's been a productive weekend, although we made a huge dent on our spring tidy up there's still loads more to do but it all adds up. It might get cold here again next weekend (hopefully it won't) but at least it's comforting to know that spring is definitely just around the corner now.

Mark :-)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Gingers in The Jungle

Yesterday we featured our visit to the Bromeliad Collection at the Singapore Botanic Gardens but prior to that we first visited the Ginger Garden which is another one of their dedicated areas and this one concentrates on plants from the order Zingiberales. It features plants from the genus Alpinia, Hedychium, Costus, Etlingera, Curcuma, Zingiber, Canna, Heliconia, Strelitzia, Musa, and perhaps many more, including other plants that are not gingers per se but associate well with them.

There weren't many that were in bloom when we visited, just a few to give a shot of colour here and there rather than a riot of it but what struck me the most is how this garden was presented; the pathways, the plants, hard landscaping, and seating areas. Forget the blooms, what I loved the most about this area is that it is a stunning jungle garden. After all, nearly all gingers make fabulous foliage plants. Mass them together, combined with towering palms, mature trees, and leafy epiphytes here and there; and gloss them all with a tropical rain shower and the scene is complete, and even perfect. Come and explore the ginger jungle garden with us....

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Beautiful Bromeliads

The weather here in Singapore has been pretty much unpredictable on a daily basis, one moment it is sunny and dry, the next moment it is absolutely wet and pouring down with rain. Such is life in a coastal, tropical location but whether it may be rain or shine one thing remains the same: it's still warm and feels nice nevertheless especially for temporary cold winter refugees like us!

So on our visit to the beautiful Singapore Botanic Gardens, we started off the day there sunny and dry and after a couple of hours the grey clouds rolled in and the heavens opened up and poured it down with rain, in true tropical fashion too. Fortunately there was the visitor centre to seek refuge in during the worst of it. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Supertree Grove at Night - Singapore

It's snowing again at home but we've managed to escape it this time as we are currently enjoying the warmth and tropical lushness of Singapore. This evening we've just been to watch the light and sound show of the Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay - the newest and grandest botanical attraction of this metropolitan and very green nation.

Seeing the Supertrees in person has been amazing, such unique and statuesque structures that are fast becoming iconic symbols of Singapore. Not only are they attractions in their own right, they also serve a purpose in collecting solar energy as well as rain water to be used in maintaining this newly developed area. The trees also serve as vertical gardens too, covered with various ferns, orchids, bromeliads, and other epiphytes.

It was great to see the trees in daylight, but seeing them at night was a unique experience. And the light and sound show was a fab bonus! 

The outdoor area where the trees are located are open to the public till midnight, well worth a wander around in the evening to soak in the atmosphere of the brought about by the tropical planting and illuminated trees. 

Panorama Shot
One of the Supertrees with Marina Bay Sands Hotel in the background
The supertrees in daylight and more botanical sights and wonders of Singapore to follow soon!

Mark :-)

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

It's Oh So Quiet

It's oh so quiet, it's oh so still, it's oh so peaceful until...

Snowcone anyone?
As I found myself painting this trellis indoors recently (it's the way to go with the weather still too cold and wet to paint outdoors, plus it's only small) I also got to thinking how horticulturally quiet January has been. For us anyway, and more likely for a majority of gardeners in our region and anywhere else with a similar climate. Not really a surprise, it is winter after all and most plants are in dormancy and generally it has been too cold outside to spend lots of time in the garden.

Just the trellis, not the entire fence panel....
Our post rate last month has been more frequent than usual, certainly more when compared to January of last year. We have been using this quiet month to catch up with several blog posts that we never got the chance to write during the warmer months, plus we had more time to spend indoors and actually write them. But generally, garden wise and plant wise it has been quiet for us. 

Ohh what's happening here?? The clues are beyond the bowl of stones...
Not to say we haven't been busy in the garden, we carried on doing what we can do as long as the weather was ok enough to get stuck in, with the biggest exception being the weekend we had heavy snow fall. And when the thaw came we carried on as normal. Best to do as much as we can so that when better weather arrives we don't get overwhelmed with too long a list of things to do. Yet somehow, despite being busy it still felt so quiet, so peaceful, almost therapeutic.

Reminds me of a river bank, or a gravelly beach
Quiet moments are appreciated, even enjoyable in a serene sort of way. Quiet moments are needed, periods of mental rest that make you even more appreciative of manic moments when spring and summer finally arrives, when plants wake up and more blooms appear. When horticultural interests naturally rise again. Without quiet moments, you risk burning out, losing ones 'mojo' as some would say.

Tempting to dip your feet in, until you realise it's only 4C outside...
But January is now over and February can be quiet too, but not for us this year. February the ball starts rolling again and it won't be oh so quiet like how it was last month. Which makes me look back at January with fondness. I'm glad of quiet moments, it makes the anticipation of the coming months even sweeter...

Mark :-)

Monday, February 04, 2013

The Pond that Spawned the Big One

Fondness... that's how I will always view the 'Prequel' pond, with fondness. Not only did it lead to us to building a much bigger one but the lessons we have learned from maintaining it have been invaluable.

Yes lessons, so many lessons learned and they are all valuable, like a string of real pearls (how aquatic appropriate!).

Friday, February 01, 2013

What's Ahead?

With just a handful of small jobs left to do on our big pond project we are frequently asked what will we do next...

Well to be honest we haven't entirely decided, sure we have a few ideas but as yet we haven't prioritised them all.

One early project that we will do something with is the area beyond the filter house, we have referred to this as the working area, and it's our intention to erect a greenhouse here, once the area is tidy and all the remaining spoil from the pond is removed. We have a greenhouse that we blogged about when we collected it but I have been wondering if I should build one to fit the space better and also to allow it to be better insulated than a typical greenhouse. For us the key time of the year with a greenhouse is the winter, we use them to protect our more tender plants, and so provide some additional heat. Although there are numerous ways to do this, electrical heaters are generally the best for the plants as they provide air movement and don't add extra water vapour (as paraffin does for instance). However the downside of electrical heaters is that they can be on the expensive side to run without a decent level of insulation. Once the pond is finished I will draw up some plans and then we can decide what to do.

This area will become our "working area"
Outside the koi house is a small area we havent quite decided how to use, we have considered adding some garden furniture in this spot either a small bistro style set or possible a bench however it may become an area for plants instead... time will tell.

We have also hinted at a project at the front of the house, we have been drawing up sketches for this for a while and have a few ideas. One element may be the addition of an arid bed to take advantage of the south facing aspect and radiated heat from the house and driveways. That idea seemed popular with several readers when we mentioned it before! The other aspect of this make over we are considering is the addition of period railings that would be in keeping with the 1930's period of the house. Again we have yet to decide fully on what we will do but this is a project I'm keen to progress.

Frequently used for storing building materials, perhaps this year will see the front look more like a garden.
A longer term plan is to give the patio near to the house (the top patio) a make over. We have numerous ideas for this area, most of which will be on a bigger scale than those mentioned above. Whatever we decide to do here will probably be in 2014, but will no doubt include a change to the style of the patio accented by new furniture. I am considering building seating integrated into new raised beds, but I think the design for this area will evolve later in the year. Currently everything in the area is moveable, with the plants you can see in pots. We tend to develop our ideas, although often have a good idea of what we want before we put pen to paper. The pond project layout for example was pretty much designed in a hotel room in Madeira, perhaps another holiday is needed!

The Top patio as it looked last summer, time for a change perhaps...
 The Live Outdoors Garden from RHS Hampton Court Flower Show 2012, aspects of this design I would like to incorporate into our garden.
Mark has blogged recently about the "prequel pond" and that is another project we may revisit. I would like to amend some aspects of this pond. It was after all designed to be a goldfish pond, and it developed into a koi pond, with much of the filtration retro fitted. I would like to make it slightly deeper and improve the filtration, so this may be a project for later this summer.

The existing koi pond
So lots of ideas, and possibilities, we shall have to wait to see which will grab our attention and happen next, but of course we will share them with you all whatever we do.