Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bromeliad Surprise

Walking to and from the koi pond several times last Sunday (we were busy building something...) I suddenly spotted something unusual on the clump of bromeliad growing epiphytically on our yew tree.

I saw something red and I became suspicious...

Grabbing the camera and stooping down to look my suspicion was confirmed, it was flowering.

And what a nice sight it was, that after several years this clump has finally flowered.

Fascicularia bicolor subsp. canaliculata is possibly the hardiest bromeliad you can grow here in the UK and other areas of similar climate. It is largely a terrestrial bromeliad although it can be coaxed to grow as an epiphyte too on trees and large shrubs with hit or miss success. 

Fascicularia bicolor subsp. canaliculata
It will grow, bulk up, spread, and flowers much quicker and regularly when grown on the ground. As an epiphyte, with its roots having much more spartan access to nutrients and relying largely on humidity and rainfall for water the growth rate is much, much slower. And flowers very infrequently too, if at all.

We don't give it any extra care at all, with only nature giving it what it needs to live. So it was a nice bonus to finally see this clump flowering after living on this tree for years.

Pretty thing isn't it?

Mark :-)

Monday, August 25, 2014

An Infatuation to Remember

When I was fetching some old, ex rain shelters stored at the back of our smaller greenhouse right at the bottom of the garden I caught glimpse of a clump of bamboo at an angle that I very rarely see it from.

Looking beautiful and blue - Borinda papyrifera
It was looking great and I had to quickly grab the camera shortly after so I could take snaps of it from the same spot while the lighting was good too.

Seeing this specimen made me remember why I had an infatuation with bamboos before. I got so into them that at one point a few years ago I had over a hundred different species and forms of them.

Blue new culms...
Alas the infatuation was not meant to progress beyond that. Lacking the space to sustain them all as well as a decrease on the lustre of my affection towards them I let go of many of them.

Graceful cascading leaves
Perhaps in the future if we have more space to garden then I can rekindle this infatuation, and this time let it blossom to a full blown romance. Many of the rarer ones that I let go now reside in a friend's garden and I'm sure I can get a division again when,or rather if that time comes.

Meanwhile I shall continue to cherish the plants that are left in our garden, remnants of an infatuation.

What about you, have you ever been infatuated by a group of plants before to find yourself drifting away from it later on?

Mark :-)

Friday, August 22, 2014


Isn't it nice when you come home from work and you have parcels of newly arrived plant goodies to open up?

Have to say they were all well packaged, much to my delight!
It may have turned rather unseasonably chilly here at the moment but it hasn't stopped me from planning for the garden and looking out for new plants that's for sure. In fact by going on a more indoor mode means it's more conducive to go online shopping...

Saying that I have been over the past few weeks, even before the dip in temperatures thinking about getting more succulents. However, instead of buying several individual types like what I used to do to 'tick the box', this time I bought multiples of the same plant or group of plants that I really like instead.

By having several of the same thing I feel I can be even more creative with the way I'll be able to present them.

Echeveria purpusorum
They look so cute in their tiny pots the size of shot glasses
Echeverias are a large group of succulents and there are some of them that I really like. Echeveria purpusorum were on the top of my list so I bought four of them. I also find the Echeveria agavoides group very attractive and a pot full of them do well in our garden so I bought a few more from the group.

Echeveria agavoides 'Lipstick'
Echeveria agavoides 'Romeo'
Echeveria agavoides (Pink Leaf Form)
They will keep our only pot of Echeveria agavoides company
An Aloe made it on my recent purchases and that is Aloe suprafoliata. The leaves are distichous when young but will eventually spiral as it matures. They look so unusual and attractive and one would not have been enough, so I got four instead.

Aloe suprafoliata
A couple of individual/lone plants did make it with the lot which are Agave 'Mateo' and Echeveria 'Giant Blue'. With the Agave it is a cross and one of the parents is Agave bracteosa, my favourite agave which made me more drawn to the plant. With Echeverias I tend to shy away with frilly pink ones. This one is looking frilly and pink at the moment but I have high hopes it will eventually become less frilly and more blue in time as its name suggests.

Agave 'Mateo'
Echeveria 'Giant Blue'
When I ordered these plants initially I was aiming to sort them out for display this year. Now I'm pondering whether to just re-pot and nurture them under glass and aim for displaying them out next year instead.

I have nice new plants, now I'll need nice new pots for them too. And this time I think plain terracotta just won't do...

Mark :-)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sun, Mood, and Stars

It's amazing how influential the sun can be on ones mood. For most of July and the early part of August here it has been bright, sunny, warm as you'd expect summer to be. However there was a big shift away from this here from last weekend onwards.

The rains were welcome but grey clouds do come with them and unlike last month these clouds stayed on. And temperatures dipped down too and a little chill in the air can be felt since the weather shifted. I had to dig out a thick sweatshirt to keep me warm while out in the garden. And on my way to work it was a bit odd to see a lot of people wearing knitted jumpers (sweaters) like it was mid autumn already rather than middle of August.

Grey days coupled with chilly, damp air make for an autumnal feeling. Although I suspect this is temporary and warm weather will come back again the sudden change has made an impact on my mood about the garden. One moment I was inspired and perky with the exuberance of summer and all the fast growth in the garden, the next moment I have gone on an indoor mood and found myself thinking of plans for the winter.

But it's only August and it's not like nippy summer days are unusual here but the very sudden shift derailed me a bit from my summer state of thinking. Odd feeling but I'll get used to these grey days and cooler temperatures if it persists. It would be nice though if sun and warmth comes back again for the rest of the season. There's plenty of room for the grey and cool/cold in the autumn and winter.

Again, it's fascinating how influential the sun is one's mood and behaviour isn't it? What about the stars? I was supposed to take photos of the star masks while there was still daylight but alas it was dark already when I remembered to do so. So it'll have to be a photo of it with flash instead. I'll take better photos of it in the next few days.

Mark :-)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Summer Vacation from the Sun Room

A few days ago I moved some of the agaves taking almost permanent residence in the sun room out into the patio. I thought I better give them a break from being cooped up inside all the time and let it have a taste of fresh air and unfiltered sun.

Agave pedunculifera (?)
They've all done well actually from being taken indoors and staying in for months on end. Despite that I felt that they could do with a few days stint outdoors in the summer as I've also noticed that they were developing some 'permanently under glass' stress. Before things get worse I moved them out and this should do the trick and revitalise them.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

To Label or Not to Label: That is the Question

A recent post on Danger Garden asked about labels on plants in private gardens and a recent conversation I had with a garden visitor had me thinking recently about putting labels on plants.

In a garden open to the public and especially in botanical gardens (where this is almost a must) this is fine and absolutely helpful to the visitor. But what about a private garden?

A couple of days ago a garden visitor, after seeing a few plant labels in our garden said in a nice jest that we're too young to have plant labels in our garden. I gave her a light tap on the shoulder and said that she was not meant to take note or even see those labels. They are either tucked right down the sides of the pot or underneath it, tag hidden amongst the foliage or at the base of the plant, or label pushed all the way down near the plant with the top part (just enough so I can lift them up again easily) hidden under a mulch or leaf litter. I told her those labels are meant to remind us and not a visitor. Then she claims that she's exactly the same hence she knows where to look for them. Great minds think alike and even better that she called me young (which I take with a pinch of salt).

Can you spot the labels? They are there, somewhere...
But our memories are not as young, accurate, nor photographic as we'd want them to be and we do need those labels to remind ourselves once in a while what they are. And also to avoid confusion and mis-identification especially if a plant looks very similar to others in the garden.

So yes, we have labels on some of the plants in our garden (even more so in the greenhouse but I suppose that doesn't count) but none of them are prominently displayed. 

Labelling in the greenhouse and stock plants, a different matter...
In some private gardens though plant labels are displayed prominently. Is this a good thing or not?

I'd say it depends on the garden, on the situation, and how it is done...

On the whole I'd say I'm not in favour of seeing prominent plant labels on private gardens. But this is a slightly complicated subject that needs further explaining.

Most of our plant labels are not out in the garden but in a plastic box
When we visit a garden and spot some plant labels and labelling it is easy enough to tell whether the labels exist to mainly help the garden owner in remembering what those plants are, as well as consequently informing visitors of the plant's identity. Usually those labels are discreetly positioned, likely on the small side, or tucked somewhere within the vicinity of the plant in a position that is inconspicuous so as not to distract from the main attraction - the plant or the the vista where that plant is located. Even if plant labels are hidden some visitors are determined enough that, like the lady I mentioned above, almost by intuition know where these labels could be hidden and manage to find them despite the owner's attempt at discretion. 

Gardens with these sort of labelling I find are fine, tasteful, and even occasionally endearing as it humanises them. That they are just like most of us, may own a garden but does not always remember each and every plant in it by its botanical name.

Pushed all the way down...
Some private gardens however cannot resist the lure of putting prominent tags on some of their plants especially for the days when they open their garden. We've even seen a couple of gardens before wherein each and every plant they have has a very visible label on it. Helpful perhaps but personally I'm not keen on this sort of plant labelling.

Depending on the situation, prominence, and degree of labelling, for me it can come across as pretentious, patronising, and most important of all, distracting. 

Again, I'd like to emphasise, depending on the situation but why pretentious? Dog tagging a few plants with botanical names, does it imply that the private garden also moonlights as a botanical garden, and the owner is botanically intelligent? No need to even do that if that's the case. The variety of planting, combination, and health of the plants will speak volumes about the skill and intelligence of the gardener. No need for a few 'steel plant necklaces' to do that.

Patronising? Not all of the time of course but to be honest, of private gardens that do put on large labels on some of the plants they usually put it on the most commonly available ones, and funny enough rarely on the obscure. In our experience, of the exotic plants in the UK the most commonly and proudly (and even solely) prominently labelled plant in a garden is....

Trachycarpus fortunei

Sometimes it's accompanied by it's common name and a little description too like...

Trachycarpus fortunei
Chusan Fan Palm
The Hardy Fan Palm
From China but hardy in the UK

Trachycarpus fortunei - a favourite plant to be labelled in open gardens
Or variations of the same theme. It makes me giggle whenever I spot such prominent labelling in gardens. But hey I'm sure this is still helpful to some so why not?

A little tip, if you still go for prominent labelling especially only on days that you open your private garden and show it to groups of people, know your audience first. The more experienced the group is, the likelihood of impressing by putting on special labels will be less. You may gain impression points though if you do so for the rarities.

What about distracting? Well you have this beautiful plant, in what could have been a beautiful vignette, save for the one or several wooden/plastic/slate/white/black/copper/steel labels jutting up from the scene. And too much labelling can quickly turn a garden into looking more like a nursery (except none of the plants are for sale). Walking through, you get more of a feel like you're walking through a garden shop or a garden show rather than a...garden.

My favourite memory of such an inappropriately, over labelled garden was one that has a rather large patch of land covered in wildflowers and is 'naturalistic' in style, and yet there were so many labels jutting out from the meadow indicating what each and every wildflower was in there. Not that naturalistic then. I'm sure those labels didn't just sprout on their own and came with the wildflower meadow seed mix that was sown there in the spring....

But then again, it all depends on the garden, sometimes having lots of labels can look right too. Usually these gardens are the 'collection showcase' types and great ones we've seen have showcased impressive and very vast collections of particular of plants like alpines, succulents,fuchsias, and snowdrops. 

Oops, too proud, must push it down...
Usually in these types of gardens plants, planted out or under large greenhouses, are arranged in very neat orders, long rows or clustered/grouped together depending on their classification for ease of comparison. The impact of these gardens rely mostly on the impressiveness of the quantity of the collection, to overwhelm the spectator with the vastness of the collection that are often in peak at the same time. And as part of the neatness and order of the display each and every plant will be labelled. In these situations over labelling actually looks right and even appropriate. 

So, back to the title of this post, to label or not to label, that is the question. What are your thoughts about it?

Before I finish this post off, at the risk of rambling too much, a few thoughts that also came to mind was, on the occasions we have visitors in the garden and show our garden to groups of people we both thoroughly enjoy sharing our passion and the human interactions we gain from the visit. We both enjoy it when a guest would get intrigued by a plant or two they spot but are not familiar with then asks us a question about its identity. If we know from the top of our head we say so and the follow up conversation that stems out from it becomes an instrument for sharing and gaining more knowledge, as well as strengthening friendships.

And if we don't know it's identity but know there's a label there somewhere we simply say, come let's both go over there and find the tag together. Then we talk about the plant together and bond over a mutual interest while holding a piece of plastic with a botanical name written on it.

Mark :-)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Few New Plants from Crug Farm

Last Thursday we received a delivery of nice new plants from Crug Farm. It's a small delivery compared to some of our previous orders but some items were ordered in multiples and the resulting amount still warranted the use of their big box option.

Some exotic looking, hardy, and beautiful gingers were in the box!
All day I've been looking forward to this delivery, like I do with any new plants that I ordered online that will be coming my way soon. And it's a nice sensation knowing that I have nice new plants to look forward to after a hard day's work.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Favourite Plant of the Week - Plectranthus oertendahlii

My favourite plant of the week is this gem that we got from Hampton Court Flower Show last month from the Trewidden stand. While I was busy scrutinising the succulents and proteas they had on offer, Gaz zoomed in on this one amongst the other plants on the table and the decision was made right then and there that it will go home with us. They only bought one plant with them for the show and we were fortunate enough to be there early and at the right time too to grab it before anyone else could.

 Plectranthus oertendahlii
Plectranthus oertendahlii
And I'm so glad we did! As soon we got it home my thoughts immediately went into finding a nice new pot to put in that will also complement the colours of its leaves.

I just love the way it looks with its dark green leaves contrasting with its purple undersides and its velvet like texture!

This evergreen perennial is apparently easy to propagate by cuttings so we'll definitely do that to increase our stocks as well as to ensure we have some back ups.

I've been reading conflicting aspect reports on this plant, with some sources saying it requires full sun while others say it tolerates full shade. Perhaps they are that adaptable?  Personally I'd say they do well in a bright location with some sun to partial shade. Perhaps full sun too if it's not allowed to dry out. It is not hardy in our location and can only tolerate light frosts if left outside but they seem easy enough to overwinter indoors or in a greenhouse gently heated to keep it just above freezing.

Because of this plant I've started to explore its genus even further and there are some other nice ones out there too. Perhaps this one will lead to more Plectranthus in our garden in the future.

We join Loree of Danger Garden in celebrating our favourite plant of the week!

Mark :-)

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Mind The Gap

Gaps in the garden and plant borders, don't we all have them? Or maybe not.

At least we do anyway, especially in the jungle area. Some of the gaps were the result of understory plants dying recently or not making an appearance from last year. Some because the plant occupying the space have already become dormant. Some because plants previously hugging the ground space are now much taller hence freeing up the space below its canopy. Whilst some simply because we haven't found the right plant yet to permanently occupy that space. 

Strike a Pose

Knickers - Image (c) Alternative Eden unauthorised reproduction prohibited
Knickers loves to watch what we are doing in the garden, either trying to help or asking for extra attention if we have ignored him!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Fling 2014: Rhone Street Gardens

One of the highlights of the Fling was to visit the Rhone Street Gardens, home of Fling organiser Scott, his partner Norm, assorted cats, neighbourhood chickens and a really cute house! We had quite a long journey getting to Scotts garden, as we stopped at a railroad crossing for what must have been the longest train in North America. It felt like one of those cartoon moments where the train was on a loop, seemingly never ending, but get there we did and the garden was well worth the wait.

Friday, August 01, 2014

They Look Like Flowers

On my recent trip to our little succulent greenhouse I can't help but especially notice the group of Aeoniums on the right hand side by the door. At the moment some of them look more like flowers than fleshy leafed succulents.

I love Aeoniums, it is a fantastic group of succulents but this year only one made it outside (Poldark), the rest remained in there. I have bought a few more in the past month or so to add to my collection and they all went straight into the greenhouse as soon as I got them home.