Thursday, January 30, 2014

Favourite Plant of the Week - Pittosporum tobira 'Variegata'

How could you not love a plant that looks pristine and beautiful at this time of the year? That's how I found this Pittosporum tobira 'Variegata' last weekend.

Pittosporum tobira 'Variegata'
Ever since we've moved in to our house and started cultivating the garden we have considered putting in this shrub but somehow never managed to, always being edged out by other plants that are a bit more unusual than this one. Until we saw a beautiful specimen growing inside a glasshouse in Vienna, Austria the last time we visited. Winters in Vienna gets a lot colder than it is here so some plants that grow happily outside here are not hardy enough to grow there unless under heated glass. Quite unusual and was a bit surreal to see some 'staples' here growing in a glasshouse there, including this variegated Pittosporum but I'm glad we spotted their nice specimen which made us appreciate this plant even more.

So much so that when we got back home we immediately bought one from a nearby garden centre and planted it out in the spring!

This plant is unfussy, undemanding, and reliable. That's how we find it anyway but it has a reputation for tolerating a wide range of conditions from full sun to dappled shade, acid to alkaline soil, even coastal conditions. It does prefer a sunny spot in moisture retentive soil. 

The glossy, evergreen, variegated foliage glistens and seems to brighten up its own spot. And the plant can integrate well with different styles and planting schemes, from Japanese, jungle, to formal, and modern.

We join Loree of Danger Garden for her Favourite Plant of the Week meme!

Mark :-)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Potted Life of a Gunnera

As I wandered down the garden the weekend before last I caught glimpse of our Gunnera tinctoria that is sited on the raised bed adjacent to our bottom patio pond. It is dormant at the moment, currently hiding underneath last years growth with its own leaves snapped and folded on to itself to protect the main crown and the smaller bud surrounding it from the worst of the winter. 

On some years we would throw in a few layers of fleece in between the crown and its own leaves just to give it some extra insulation. And sometimes we would even anchor down the folded leaves with netting fastened with tent pegs just in case the winds would uncover it especially as the leaves itself rot down through the course of the winter. This winter we haven't bothered with any of both and just relied on the leaves itself to rest on to the crown and do its thing. So far so good but then again it's been a mild winter so far.

Not a pretty sight but look at those buds!
The main crown and the smaller buds have been steadily increasing in size over the past few weeks and will continue to do so until in spring when they open up and new leaves emerge that will just get bigger and bigger through the course of the growing season. We find that the first batch of leaves that they release tend to become the biggest ones that they'll ever produce in that growing season, with the ones following them only marginally smaller.

Looking at the Gunnera has also reminded me of one of the most common questions we get asked by visitors to the garden: Is it possible to grow a large Gunnera long term in a container?

Yes of course, this one has been container grown by us at least since 2007. I can't remember anymore when exactly did we buy it, perhaps just the year before that but it did live in the garden centre where we bought it from for several years before we actually bought it. As for long term, well that's relative but with the right care a giant Gunnera can thrive in a container for years.

There are two giant Gunneras that are readily available here, G. manicata (Brazilian) and G. tinctoria (Chilean). They both get very big but apparently the former gets a touch bigger than the latter. In reality size difference between the two seems negligible so whichever you choose the care and result you'll get will likely be the same.

This plant prefers a free root run of course and keeping it in a container will curb its growth and the size of the leaves they produce to varying degrees. The bigger the container, the better and leaves they can produce can be bigger too. 

It likes a rich growing medium that is moisture retentive but not permanently waterlogged. Naturally it doesn't grow on ponds or bodies of fresh water that keeps it permanently submerged but rather on the banks wherein it can keep its 'feet' wet by being near the water whilst the rest of the plant well above it. 

So when growing on a container make sure it still has some drainage whilst at the same time conducive to retaining extra moisture which it needs especially in the summer. The Gunnera has an extra high moisture requirement especially in the summer but will also detest being permanently waterlogged. Generous moisture in the summer months will encourage larger leaves and vigorous growth as well as keep their leaves upright even on the warmest parts of the day. Its leaves are prone to droop down when it gets really warm and moisture supply is low and potted specimens are more prone to this, less so for those on the ground.

When we first planted ours on a wooden container it was first lined with strong plastic (compost bags) that were pierced at random places. This made the container hold more moisture but at the same time still has means for drainage of excess of it. Same principle when we transferred it later on to the raised but this time using an old pond liner.

They tolerate dappled shade up to full sun as long as their moisture supply remains constantly high which keeps the leaves from drooping. The best site for it is semi/dappled shade.

How do we maintain ours? In the spring we clear off all the remaining old leaves and give it a dose of liquid fertiliser to give it an initial boost. We also push in on to the soil some plug fertiliser as this plant is a gross feeder and responds really well with extra feeding by putting on large growth. Then it is watered generously as and when needed. As it is on a raised bed with cobble mulch to prevent soil going on to the pond, it has little access to naturally rotting organic matter hence the need to give it summer supplements to support a good display.

So if you don't have the space to have one growing on the ground and getting to gigantic proportions, it is still possible to haveone but grown in a container. It may never get as big but it can still size up enough for an impressive summer show in the garden!

Mark :-)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Madeira Series: Palheiro Gardens

Madeira is full of beautiful of gardens, in fact you can even argue that the entire island is a garden. The Palheiro Gardens, better known as Blandy's Garden is one of their more popular public ones and is also known for it's quintessentially English style. Owned by the Blandy family since 1885, it has a sunken garden, topiaries, and an overall planting scheme that is more reminiscent of traditional English gardens spiced with a few exotic plants dotted all over.

This garden could have well been in England...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Jungle Dreaming

January is often a time of new resolutions, plans and ideas, and for us we are itching to get back into the garden and are planning ahead for the warmer months. We do still have a few things to finish off inside and really must wait for the better weather. 

A key part of the garden plans for 2014 is the restoration of the jungle area following last years fire. The Jungle hut, although finished needs to be painted and we havent yet decided upon the colour. We are keen to include a bright vibrant colour within the porch area but which one...

Last year Mark had visited a restaurant in Chelsea with a colonial vibe, yet using a vivid green combined with dark woods. 

Photo from Blue Elephant Chelsea

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Exotic Garden Revival

Just before Christmas and in the first two weeks of January a series of gardening programs were shown on BBC2 called The Great British Garden Revival and one of the topics they covered was Exotic Gardening. The series had ten episodes with each episode covering two areas of gardening that they reckon needs reviving in the British culture. So doing the maths that's twenty gardening topics or areas getting a thirty minute slot each.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Those Were the Innocent Days

I was preparing for a post regarding the Gunnera tinctoria growing on the raised bed beside the small pond on our bottom garden patio and whilst doing so I had to look at our photo archives. Instead of concentrating on the Gunnera alone I found myself reminiscing as I went through the old photos of our garden.

Charcoal was still with us then - Summer of 2007
Crikey, those were the innocent days!

Why did I say those were the innocent days? Looking back at the photos of our garden back in 2007 made me realise how much things have changed, both in the garden and our way of thinking. I remember how innocent and extra exciting it felt on those early days when we were still discovering new plants and trying to figure how best to develop our garden.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Madeira Series: Reid's Palace Hotel

Reid's Palace HotelIt has been a while since we last went to Madeira, and Marks recent blog post mentioning it reminded me that we had not shared photos of the fabulous tropical garden at Reid's Palace Hotel. The hotel itself was founded by William Reid, who was the son of a Scottish crofter. Reid had originally arrived in Madeira in 1836 where he made an income by renting out quintas to wealthy visitors before he entered the hotel business. Sadly for Reid, he died before his Reid's hotel was completed. Over the years the Hotel has remained the height of luxury on Madeira, we didn't stay at Reid's but at a nearby hotel however we couldn't let the opportunity to see the gardens go amiss!

Iresine explosion!
Blechnum gibbum
A gorgeous border of ferns! Blechnum gibbum and Cyathea cooperi
The gardens wrap round the hotel and cling to the cliff tops, with the pleasant year round climate a great range of exotic plants can be grown, although we have noted many gardens on the island use quite a limited pallet of plants.

Agave attenuata
The Hotel garden offers fantastic views across Funchal.

We pretty much had our visit to the garden to ourselves.
Strelitzia nicolai
Ferns and Agave mixing, the warm and moist climate giving both a good habitat. I suspect this wasn't a planned planting combination.
Deserted pool clinging to the cliff top

Cordyline fruticosa

Farfugium, we grow a number of these at home.

As I mentioned it has been a while since our last trip to Madeira, perhaps we will have to think of another trip soon!


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Favourite Plant of the Week - Arum italicum subsp. italicum 'Marmoratum'

Whew! What a long name but what a cheer to see looking so good even in the depths of winter. Another stalwart of a plant worth highlighting.

Arum italicum subsp. italicum 'Marmoratum'
Arum italicum subsp. italicum 'Marmoratum'
This very exotic looking yet very hardy aroid has large, arrow shaped leaves that are glossy and heavily marbled with cream that in time can cover large areas from late autumn until early spring. Later on the spathes rise up above the foliage and develop into displays of clumps of attractive orange berries, becoming the main attraction of this plant and taking the limelight as the foliage dies down.

But before we even get into the berries later in the year, growing it for the foliage is enough reason to have it especially as it looks so good, pristine, and very exotic at a time of the year when very little else is looking at their prime. A great plant for winter interest.

Despite it potentially taking over large areas, it is slow to do so and unlikely to be a nuisance and doesn't seem to smother other perennials. Also they are in leaf at a time when most plants are dormant and by the time other plants leaf out, the leaves of this aroid starts to fade away and the area is taken over by others.

Arum italicum subsp. italicum 'Marmoratum'

This plant is easy to establish, doing well in moist and shady areas, perhaps even in a sunny spot as long as the area doesn't dry out. You can introduce it in the garden via plants in leaf bought in the autumn and once you get the berries you can scatter them in other parts of the garden where you want it to be seen. Sometimes blackbirds can do this deed for you however you won't have control where it will come up (unwanted seedlings are easy enough to remove though).

We join Loree of Danger Garden for her Favourite Plant of the Week meme!

Mark :-)

Monday, January 13, 2014

In Praise of the Humble Trachycarpus

What would an exotic garden in the UK be without the humble Trachycarpus fortunei?

The wonderful and hardy palm, Trachycarpus fortunei
First of all, using the word humble to describe this palm is already doing it a disservice as it is actually a tall growing, potentially imposing, stately, and a very architectural palm.

However, it is also usually maligned for being so 'common'. And being maligned makes it humbled which is very unfair.

There are different types of Trachycarpus palms out there with T. fortunei being the hardiest and most popular and T. wagnerianus a very close second on both aspects. This photo was taken at the Palm House Nursery in Devon, a nursery specialising in T. wagnerianus

So what's not to like about this palm when it is:

As stated above: tall growing, stately, and very architectural.

Hardy for most parts of the UK

Hardy for most parts of the UK
Relatively fast growing for a palm, more than a foot a year is possible once it is established on the ground, slower when in a pot.

Fancy a different look? When it is tall enough you can strip its trunk from its fibrous covering

Leafy and very exotic looking. Equally at home to jungle, xeric, and Mediterranean style of garden.

It's a jungle out there!
Solitary trunk. Once it has gained a significant size of trunk and the crown is well above ground you regain precious garden space beneath it for layering and under planting. Or just leave it as it is for a minimalist look.

It can be dug up with just a small rootball left and yet survive and transplant successfully into a new location. It will sulk for a year or two of course but afterwards it will carry on growing as usual.
Will grow happily either in full sun or shade and anything else in between. 

Drought tolerant (except in pots) but does appreciate and perform much better when watered generously and fertilised during the growing season.

Severely scorched by flames but it carried on producing new growth as normal
Provides a very good backbone and structure to a garden.

Easy, undemanding, reliable.

However, it's own good merits are also the very reason it is often maligned by other exoticists. By being so easy, undemanding, and reliable it is readily available hence 'common'. And by being common, snobbery comes into place by others.

Personally I am so glad, thankful, and appreciative for the existence of this palm and all of its good merits. It's easy enough to focus on what's not existing out there (like a reliably hardy feather palm for a start) but I can't imagine if this palm did not exist at all!

It is of course possible to have an exotic garden in the UK without any palm in it. Or even a palm based garden with only a few or no Trachycarpus fortunei in it at all. But you'll have to be in one of the few milder areas in the UK, or have an exceptionally good microclimate, or do loads of protective measures during the winter.

Whenever we visit nurseries it's funny how we still gravitate towards this palm whether it is surrounded by other exotics or not. We don't always buy them of course but good sized ones for a good price the temptation gets very high and resistance becomes weak, just like when we recently went to the Palm Centre.

Bargain Trachycarpus fortunei
Sometimes I wander down the garden, looking out for some of our rarer and more unusual plants and thinking of writing a blog post about them. Often I get on such a mindset that I overlook some of our reliable stalwarts, like this palm when they really deserve as much focus as some of the rarer ones. So here I am singing praises for this wonderful palm, a plant we couldn't be without in our exotic garden.

What about you, any plant in particular that is 'common' and yet you couldn't be without in your garden?

Mark :-)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Temptation In The Air

There is temptation in the air here.....the temptation to garden.

But it's only January, but then again why not?

'Twas a frosty night
Winter has been very mild so far and only last night did we have our third frosty night and our lowest temperature this winter so far, -2C. We're hoping that the frosty episode we had last night would be the worst of it this winter, and that winter will not really arrive and that it will be a smooth coast to spring proper. Unlikely but possible. I remember very early in 2011, after having had a vicious start to that winter (that nasty winter that killed many borderline plants that exoticists had been getting away with previously) come January and all the way to spring the temperatures remained mild with a barely a frost or two happening again.

The koi are still active and eating
So its possible and we're optimistic! Not only will it be good for plants but it will save us money too by not using greenhouse heating that much.