Monday, March 31, 2014

Chelsea 2014: Cleve West and the M&G Garden

With just 7 weeks until the 2014 RHS Chelsea Flower show we have been speaking with Cleve West, who returns to Chelsea with a design for the M&G Garden. Cleves Garden is a contemporary version of an Islamic Paradise Garden.

M&G  Chelsea Flower Show Design for 2014
What was behind the idea and inspiration for an Islamic Garden?
The basic ingredients of the early paradise gardens (shade, water, food, scent) continue to influence our gardens today two thousand years and more since the first gardens were built.  I thought it was something worth celebrating. 

Do you think there may be more interest in Islamic gardens from the British public?
Perhaps, but I don’t think this will spark a trend for Islamic gardens in the UK.  English gardens have certainly been influenced by many cultures including those early Islamic enclosures but the current trends are more towards naturalistic gardens where nature is occasionally allowed to look as though it has the upper hand. The point of the garden is to celebrate something that has stood the test of time.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Pot Ghetto Surprise

Most of our Veratrum collection are currently in our 'pot ghetto' - a place where empty pots and a few plants are stashed away until we've figured out what to do to them. It's not usually an area you'd want to show people around but I'm sure most gardens of reasonable size have this sort of space allocated somewhere.

This 'pot ghetto' of ours will need some serious tackling in the near future for sure but I decided to start and do a bit today and that's when I spotted this, tucked right on the edge and on the corner looking...perfect!

Veratrum lobelianum
Veratrum lobelianum
What a pleasant surprise! It looked absolutely pristine and perfect, not a hole or a nibble on any of its leaves!

As you can see it is racing ahead in growth from the other potted Veratrums. These plants are prone to slug and snail damage, and it's not exactly living in the best of spots which made me admire this plant even more that it looked pristine.

I had to take it out of there of course, I can't just leave a gorgeous looking plant like that there. I weeded the pot and placed it somewhere that we can appreciate its perfection while it lasts.

Mark :-)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Right to Privacy

I saw this old photo of our middle patio a few days ago and thought, eek! Look how lush, leafy, and private this area used to be....

How it was in September 2012
Now it looks so bare, sparse, and exposed.

Crikey, like we just moved in and have only started doing up the garden...
That's the way it is though, it is on repair stage and it's only late March and most deciduous plants are only starting to put on new growth.

This area is rather private anyway even without the plants but it would be nicer if the views of our neighbours shed roofs are obscured and fences blended away like it was before. At least old photos of our garden will serve as our guide as we work towards restoring and repairing it to how it was before. Not to be an exact copy of course but at least replicate the sense of privacy the area used to have, eventhough the area is private irregardless.

The road to recovery starts by removing mess and clutter
Speaking of fences, it's one those things that seems most people are preconditioned not to see or take notice of. Fencing - you either blend it away or you emphasise it. Opt for the latter, make sure you have beautiful, well constructed, and sturdy fences for they will not only serve to demarcate boundaries but they become a feature. Opt for the former then use sensible, natural colours to blend it away.

Voila! Clutter gone!
We're opting for the former and will be blending it away, like how it was before. It doesn't have to be perfect but we'll level the panels as much as is possible (our garden actually slopes) then paint the concrete (albeit charred) posts with dark brown masonry paint. Then the fence panels itself with dark brown stain. Then we'll let the planting do the blending and concealing.

I wonder myself how much lushness we will be able to restore this year. I'm pretty confident we can most it even if we have to use more annuals than usual this to fill in the gaps whilst the more permanent plants fill up. 

Looking back at our own past for some inspiration
Anyway, the year is early and the growing season has just begun. And we've only just begun ourselves. I'm curious what we'll come up with and achieve in this area this year. Will it feel private again as early as this year. We'll wait and see...

Mark :-)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Favourite Plant of the Week - Clematis armandii

It is evergreen, leafy, undemanding, vigorous, and great for a jungle style garden wherein it can scramble over trellis, pergolas, trees, and over shrubs...

Clematis armandii
Clematis armandii
Drawbacks? It can get too vigorous, and it tends to hang on to its dead leaves that you may have to pick them off manually periodically to keep it looking tidy.

It will need regular pruning if you find it too vigorous and want to keep it within its allocated boundaries. Every few years it may warrant hard pruning, almost starting all over again, and as a bonus you can get much larger leaves on the first year it grows back.

Clematis armandii
Clematis armandii
We used to have several in the garden but only have one now, confined to a portion of the bottom patio pergola alongside a grape vine. Most of the time it just blends away with the other plants in the garden but every spring it rewards us with fragrant blooms that you simply cannot ignore.

Hence it's my favourite plant this week!

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

Mark :-)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Born Out of Frustration

Last night we were forecast to have a heavy frost (and heavy frost it was indeed) so I tucked away a few potted plants inside the greenhouse that could potentially be damaged by late frosts. One of those plants is this Podophyllum delavayi...

Podophyllum delavayi
Which made me think of the beautiful Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'...

Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'
Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'
Which in turn made me remember of an interesting remark a knowledgeable plantsman once made, saying that apparently 'Spotty Dotty' was born out of frustration...

Frustration with Podophyllum delavayi!

Podophyllum delavayi
Podophyllum delavayi
Although hardy, P. delavayi sprouts so early in the year that it is prone to being damaged by late frosts, never to show up again until early next year just to be zapped by frosts again. The cycle continues year in and year out. I have personally observed this in our garden. Every time I see it sprouting out from the ground very early in the year I hope that no frosts will come our way so I can enjoy its presence in the garden for months to come. As expected, that is yet to happen. This year when they start to sprout (the one in the pot always comes up much earlier than ones on the ground) I'll throw some fleece on them when frosts are forecast, hopefully that will be enough to save them from going mush and break that trend.

The only way I can reliably enjoy it in leaf is to have one in a pot that I can shift under cover in the spring when frosts are forecast.

Podophyllum delavayi blooms
Interestingly enough, one would think that if a plant gets zapped every year that it never gets a chance to leaf out that it would go backward each time until the plant eventually disappears. That doesn't seem to be the case in our garden. Each year I see more and more trying to sprout. It seems determined at least.

Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty' sprouting in the spring
Anyway, back to Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty', it is a hybrid between P. delavayi and P. difforme, with the exotic looks of the former and the tendency to sprout much later in the spring from the latter, making it less prone to being damaged by frosts. A winning combo!

Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty' blooms
Sometimes frustration can spawn beautiful things!

Mark :-)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Tropical Dream

Given the opportunity, would you want to live in the tropics? Not just for a few weeks or months but actually move, take residence, and live there permanently.

Would you?

Where it's warm and humid all year round with no winter to contend with. Where you can potentially garden all year round.

Has the tropical dream ever crossed your mind?

Had a wonderful holiday in a tropical location before and would love to live there or somewhere similar one day?

Southeast Asia, Central and Southern America, Africa, India, Northern Australia, The Pacific Islands. The Caribbean....

Having an exotic and tropical inspired garden, we get asked this all the time, especially me, if we want to or would move eventually to the tropics. It's a question that I personally find tricky to answer but before I even start to answer often I would hear the one who asked me say first...

Wouldn't it be nice to live in the tropics?

I would love to live in the tropics one day. 

I would move to the tropics if it was easy/possible (and variations thereof...)


Now I'm curious, given the chance and practicalities aside, if it were to be easy, would you want to live in the tropics?

Mark :-)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

That Giant Poker

I was inspired by Loree's post about her Tetrapanax 'Rex' which made me think of what other plants I can recommend that gets big in a relatively short amount of time and never fails to make a statement in a garden...

Kniphofia northiae
Kniphofia northiae
One of them would have to be the giant red hot poker, Kniphofia northiae...

It gets big, really big, sometimes up to a metre in height and spread in just one season and looking more like a giant, succulent aloe rather than a red hot poker. The longer you have it the taller it can go both upwards, forming a trunk, and outwards as it sends out more shoots to form a colony.

The flowers are a bonus but grow it more for its foliage and architectural form.

The long, heavy, and succulent leaves have a tendency to sprawl all over and can smother nearby plants so regular trimming down of leaves can be necessary. Or if space is not a problem give it a generous portion of it and watch it do its thing without anything else crowding it.

It has a tendency to go scruffy in the winter, much like most plants but in early spring before new growth kick starts give the old leaves a good trim like we did ours last weekend, as we do year in and out.

I quite like the way it looks trimmed like that but if you're not keen all the trimmed leaves will be replaced in no time at all as the weather warms up.

This giant poker will do well in a well drained spot in an aspect that is in full sun to light shade. It appreciates feeding and generous watering in the summer but good drainage in the winter is essential to prevent it from rotting which it can be extra susceptible with.

Put it in a prominent spot and watch it grow...

Mark :-)

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Little Bit Here and A Little Bit There

It seems like spring has definitely arrived here much earlier than usual. I'm not complaining of course especially compared to March last year when around this time we were still covered in snow. Last Sunday was warm enough that we were in t-shirts for most of the time we were pottering outside.

Euphorbia characias 'Silver Swan' enjoying some early spring sun
In general the main task in the garden is to do as much tidying up as possible as we do have lost time to make up for. This lovely weather we've been having has been a great help in our pursuit and if it carries on like this then we'll be catching up with tasks we've been lagging behind pretty soon.

Cutting back the dead foliage of a clump of Miscanthus I rediscovered the beauty of this Rhododendron roxieanum var. oreonastes which I wrote about before about having a lovely scent all year round
The only other thing is that, with it only being March, a lot of plants are still bare, dormant, or at least just starting to show signs of life. It still feels a bit early, early to make decisions where some plants will go and feels early to buy more plants. And speaking of buying plants, most nurseries are still minimally stocked despite the deceivingly beautiful weather we've been having that makes it feel more like May rather than March.

The evergreens and the deciduous
Vision, visualisation, and imagination helps though. We have been doing some planting on top of tidying up. On plants that are still bare we imagine them in full leaf as we figure out appropriate places for them. And as our plant buying for this year has barely started we have to leave lots of gaps too for whatever plants we may be buying in the months to come. Not long to wait now as the proper plant buying season starts in April. And speaking of gaps they will be handy as places to stand on to for when we paint the new fences and exterior of the new jungle hut, a task we ought to prioritise really (there you go, I'm organising myself as I type this!).

Replanting has begun on the middle patio border although more tidying up still needs to be done
And some more progress on the border to the other side of the jungle hut towards the jungle walk with more clearing out done.
Oh and we have to order some more compost, topsoil, bark mulch, manure, gravel...

The towering Schefflera alpina has been liberated from its pot and is underplanted with Illicium majus
Lovely March weather it may be, it still feels early on various aspects of gardening. But doing a little bit here and a little bit there all adds up, and when the warmer months of spring arrives it should help in making the remaining tasks much lighter.

Everything looks so much nicer on a sunny day, including these empty pots!
And two of those pots were planted up by the end of the day. I like this photo, it looks rather 'conceptual'...
And isn't that one of the nice things about gardening? Sometimes you just go out there and do a little bit here and a little bit there and later on you find yourself getting calmer, relaxed, revitalised, with a clearer and better vision of bigger things to do in the future. Wonderful!

Mark :-)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What's In The Box?

Ohh so what's new and in the box?

Before I reveal let me show you first this sprouting Eremurus...

I love the way that to me they look like tentacles or corals rising up from the ground and waving from the surface. Admittedly my attraction towards certain Eremurus started with their foliage and if we get blooms from them later on then that's just a bonus. I've forgotten the name of this particular one but they reward us with spires of orange blooms in the summer. The beauty of the foliage only lasts though until the flower spikes emerge and as that progress the foliage dies down to almost nothing and eventually the blooms take centre stage. Lovely plant, just wish the foliage lasted longer and didn't go scruffy as it bloomed.

Sunday, March 09, 2014


It seems like spring has finally arrived here this weekend with both days being gloriously sunny and dry and temperatures rising to high teens in centigrade, very conducive to gardening!

Dasylirion quadrangulatum and Twinkles
The garden is waking and so have we. Still feeling in a daze and almost out of practice after a winter slumber, the process of 'waking up' started last weekend and continued this weekend. If the weather continues to be great as it was over the past few days and we don't get any more surprises (it's only March after all) then we should be fully awake by next week, awake to gardening.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

A Poem Lovely as a Tree

Whenever we go tree shopping I always find myself thinking of the poem Trees by Joyce Kilmer, a poem that as a child we were made to memorise and recite over and over again on numerous occasions in primary school. Even during typing class (do they still have typing lessons in school nowadays?) one of the exercises that we had to do to pass was to type the lines of this poem arranged in a way to form a symmetrical shape of a tree.
Tree shopping, what a bliss!
Ahh memories! Memories of a poem that was overused in school with its simple, melodramatic lines and religious overtones written to exalt the virtues of trees. Overused it may have been (and it possibly still is) but this is just a testament to the  simplicity, effectiveness, and beauty of the poem. A big kudos and a lasting legacy to the poet who penned it.  

So tree shopping it was for us last Saturday, albeit an impromptu, spur of the moment decision. I know I just mentioned on our previous post that we stayed at home and gardened for most of that day but connected to that was the urge to start reinstating plants that will provide structure to the garden. With the clearing out starting it would also feel great to commence some planting too. And what way to start this process than to put in a beautiful tree we've always wanted to have in the garden but never had the space for it until now.

Given the space (and fortune) I'll happily have all of them!
This is the Tibetan Cherry, Prunus serrula 'Tibetica', a tree introduced into cultivation by Ernest Wilson in 1908 from Western China and is one the finest trees available mainly for bark interest but its graceful habit, form, and not so large size are also notable features. The bark can be polished by regular hosing and even rubbing to further enhance its most attractive feature. There is a beautiful specimen of this that greets visitors to Kew Gardens via the Victoria Gate entrance and ever since we caught sight of this elegant tree it immediately went into our wishlist. And from last Saturday it finally leaped from our wishlist into reality and into our garden.

I couldn't find any of our photos of ones growing at Kew so I borrowed this from Loree of Danger Garden who took this photo when she visited Kew Gardens in 2012
And here's another one taken by Loree (she does take fab photos!) - Prunus serrula 'Tibetica'
I do love trees, perhaps just as much as Joyce Kilmer indicated in his poem (okay, perhaps less melodramatic and religious). In fact whenever I get asked what would be the first non practical thing we would do if we acquired acres of land (hypothetical question but who knows, it might actually happen in the future) to garden I always say I want an arboretum, much to their surprise as they almost always expect that we'd say something like an arid bed, jungle walkway, or even a large pond. Fortunately for me Gaz shares the same sentiments on this matter. We'd still have those of course, given the chance but an arboretum would be really nice.

Given the generous space I could happily indulge in collecting Sorbus, Prunus, Magnolias, Acers, various conifers, you name it. Small trees, large ones, slow growing, fast growing, long lived, short lived, legacy, newly introduced, etc etc! And then underplant these trees with various bulbs that would come up and flower in succession through the seasons. Galanthus, Trilliums, Daffodils, Aconites, the list can be endless.

Snap! That's me daydreaming now! Better get back to reality and focus on this one particular plant, or should I say tree for now.

So after spending most of the day clearing and tidying up by mid afternoon we cleared enough space of an area to make way for a tree. There used to be a common elderberry tree, Sambucus canadensis growing sort of in that area and just behind the fences that provided some structure and privacy to the garden but that's gone now, perished by the fire (and rootball subsequently dug up just in case). So a replacement was necessary and this tree immediately sprung into mind. We still had about three hours of daylight left to do anything in the garden and we took advantage of this by immediately driving to a garden centre within our area that we took note of before that sells larger specimens of this tree for a reasonable price.

Not a bad size for price and will provide instant height and impact
We got there, made our choice amongst the best of what they had that is tall yet will still fit in the car, paid, and tied up the top growth with the only thing we had available then to tie it up which was literally a tie (we were a tad unprepared) then headed straight back home.

Why use a rope when you can use a tie!
Unloaded the car, dug up a hole, then presto, there it was in its new home. We forgot to buy a tree stake then so that will follow soon.

We thought it would be nice to cap off that day by planting out a tree that's we've wanted for awhile, and also symbolic that the road to recovery of our garden has truly begun.

Prunus serrula 'Tibetica'
And there it is, in it's new home, and playing with a few plants potentially for underplanting by positioning the pots.
Yes it was spontaneous but so, so satisfying! It all starts with that beautiful tree, more plants to follow later.

Prunus serrula 'Tibetica'
The fences will be sorted out, painted, and blended away later on but for now we're just admiring and appreciating the presence of this tree in our garden
Now back to the poem, after me saying how overused it was Gaz tells me he is not familiar with it at all! Perhaps it's just me and my school contemporaries then? I'm sure that's not the case.

But for those who are not familiar, let me share to you:


by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Mark :-)

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Rebirth

We had planned to go to our local HPS monthly meeting last Saturday but the sun was shining and the lure of the garden was so strong that we abandoned the idea and spent most of the day gardening instead, oops!

Usually Kniphofia thomsonii almost totally disappears in the winter but this time it remained evergreen and the old growth has gone floppy hence it's received a good trimming. White crocus have emerged between it and the Cotula hispida
Now the garden has been pretty much left to its own devices for most of the winter. The areas that were affected by the fire last summer were pretty much untouched from the point when the builders had finished constructing the new jungle hut up until last Saturday when we started clearing and tidying up.

Eremurus have started to creep up, together with Cyclamen seedlings
The garden recycling bin was filled up in no time!
Trimmings get dumped in the middle patio first before they get taken to the recycling centre
How nice it was to finally get stuck in again! We didn't do any clearing out of debris and dead plant materials in the autumn and winter and now that spring is looming we must remove all of them to make way for new growth, and more importantly to make our garden look nice again.

This Dicksonia antarctica fell down during the fire and was never propped up since then. Late in the summer it threw out new fronds much to our delight but as it was lying sideways the growth continued to go skywards...
It was well rooted on to the ground before the event. We'll be propping it up again very soon and bury almost a foot of the trunk on the ground to give it the best possible chance of recovery and make re-rooting much quicker (and make it more stable too). It will be one of the first things we'll do in this month before the new growth comes out so the fronds won't be lopsided in relation to the trunk.
This one wasn't a victim of the fire but of winter 2010-11. It will be used as a pathway edging.
It looks like there are loads to do and it also feels like we are starting all over again. But after spending nearly the entire day clearing out and making plans we reckon it won't take us long to sort things out. 

The gravel is heavily contaminated with ash, broken glass, and other debris that the top layer needs to be skimmed and replaced with fresh gravel
Where a tall Magnolia delavayi once was has now been finally cut down to a stump. Some new growth sprouted at the base and we'll let that take over. Hopefully its growth will be vigorous.
Some surprises - Chamaedorea radicalis sprouting back and...
Chamaedorea microspadix making a comeback after this potted plant was totally burnt to nothing but a charred root ball. The plastic pot was gone and was just a black ball but the rains have washed the soot to reveal the roots and looks like also triggered it to throw out new growth.
We're feeling quite excited on how the garden will shape up this year. The rebirth of the garden has begun.A Phoenix will rise.

Mark :-)