Monday, February 28, 2011

Madeira Series: Monte Palace Tropical Gardens

Whilst in Madeira one garden caught our attention so much we visited twice in the week. As promised here are a selection of photos from our visit to Monte Palace Tropical Gardens

In the 18th century the English Consul Charles Murray, bought a property south of the church in "Monte" to the north of Funchal, then called "Quinta do Prazer" (The Pleasure Estate). At the turn of the century the property changed hands again when in 1897, Alfredo Guilherme Rodrigues purchased the estate and built a palatial property which was later converted into the "Monte Palace Hotel".

After Alfredo Guilherme Rodrigues died in 1947 and the hotel closed, forty years later the hotel and gardens was purchased by entrepreneur José Manuel Rodrigues Berardo, who donated it to a charitable Foundation he had founded to create what is now Monte Palace Tropical Garden.

The two visits couldn't have been more different, the first was in glorious sunshine, the second was in very atmospheric mist and light rains.

On entering the garden there is a museum of modern African art, whilst this is reasonably interesting in itself, the museum balconies give a spectacular overhead view of a pool surrounded by Yucca elphantipes and Cyathea cooperi.

As you pass down though the garden the next section follows a stream through an oriental styled landscape complete with stone lanterns and large stone buddhas. There is a new building project underway in this area, with the slope above having been cleared from trees. This may have been connected with the landslides the island was affected by last year.

Further down the hill side the garden gets wider, there is a spectacular collection of cycads, with many huge old examples of rare and unusual specimens.


One of our favourite sections of the garden is beyond the former hotel building with a long narrow Chinese/Japanese style garden featuring a series of koi ponds and more oriental statues.


We hope you have enjoyed this photologue from Monte as much as we enjoyed visiting. This garden is truly one of the best in the world.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Presents in Brown Boxes

This week a very nice parcel arrived from Amazon containing a book I had discovered by accident but wish had found it sooner - Plantsman's Paradise: Travels in China by Roy Lancaster.

As many will no doubt be aware Roy Lancaster is well known gardening "personality" in the UK but has also travelled extensively collecting some fantastic plants. We have a number of Roys introductions in our own garden, some of which we hadn't realised until recently were introduced by him.

Plantsman's Paradise is a second edition of the book, first published in 1989, but given a substantial update with full colour images and updates to plant nomenclature and information on introductions to plants into western cultivation. However the tales of the various expeditions detailed in the book have remained unchanged. Some places Roy travelled to have now been lost forever, such as the Yangtze Gorge which has since been flooded.

The hundreds of full colour photos are a beauty in themselves, and it is rather enjoyable to spot plants we are growing in our garden described and photographed in their natural location.

Whilst I have so far only dipped into the 500 pages of travels and photographs I can recommend this to anyone with an interest in the plants of China or just traveling in the country itself.

Amazon UK

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Welcome to the Barbershop!

Cough, cough, cough, that's the story of my life for the past few days. I've been pretty much housebound till recently as I help my body recover itself from chest infection, and been doing a good job of it so far! I do miss the garden and it was only yesterday when, feeling I've got enough spare energy going, was able to venture outside and do a quick inspection. It was lovely to see the garden I must say, a great feeling just stepping outside and seeing the general greenery. But the realities are also there, it is the tail end of winter after all, and some plants are showing signs of weariness, and there are the usual pockets that needs tidying up in preparation for spring.

They can wait for now, too much hard work for my currently ailing body and best reserved on healthier days. But I was itching to do something, something that contributes to the spring tidy up but at the same time not so labour intensive as to tire me out of the little spare energy I've got.

And that's when I spotted 'the boys', and some of them are due a haircut. Perfect! Not too tiring a job but just as rewarding! So with the sharpest secateurs on hand, scissors just nearby, and a bit of Sweeny Todd character in mind (with less intent to kill) I started the job in a flash and was most pleased with the results.

The 'boys' I'm referring to are some of the plants on our top patio near the house, and their 'heads' needs some tidying up!

In my eagerness to do the deed I forgot to take some before shots, only after shots but I managed to find older photos taken the past few years to give an idea what they looked like prior to their trim.
Before - Yucca rostrata (extreme right)
The first one on to the barber's chair is this small, trunked Yucca rostrata. It has grown so well since I acquired it some four years ago, unrooted at first but soon rerooted succesfully in the large terracotta pot it is in now. Prior to the trim , lots of its older, dead leaves had accumulated forming a skirt down the trunk, so much so that you could barely see its short trunk, and you see more of the dead leaves rather than the living blue ones. And it's the blue leaves that makes this special. So off the dead leaves and I think it looks so much nicer!

Before - Yucca thompsoniana
The second one is this taller, trunked Yucca thompsoniana. Bought nearly three years ago, again unrooted but has since rerooted in its large terracotta pot. Not the best looking specimen I must admit, but it looked decent. I was hoping it will carry on and start looking much better until it decided to flower. Yuccas tend to have one of the most beautiful and dramatic inflorescence, but it does take its toll on the appearance of the plant, and it can take years for it to recover again. Now, I think it looks bloody ugly, even more so before the trim. But it's alive, I just need to be patient with it. One interesting thing is that after flowering, the growing point starts to split and it starts to become multi-headed, or two headed in this case (click on the photo and you can just about see the two growing points emerging).  Eventually, it will be a specimen with two full heads. Cross fingers it doesn't flower again for years.

Yucca thompsoniana

The third one, the tallest of the lot is a Yucca linearifolia (green form). I decided to withold the secateurs as I thought it looked nice the way it is, untouched. It is tall enough that the old leaves neatly falling to the sides doesn't obstruct the view of the trunk nor it detracts from the symmetry of the head. Some 'gents' do look good with a bit of facial hair!

Yucca linearifolia (green form)

A little note, of the current shots of this patio, whatever you see is not the likely position it will have for the rest of the year. It's all in a bit of disarray for winter and the patio is due for a change of layout. That's one of the few advantages of plants in pots, you can change their positions much more easily.

Group Shot
Now a group shot of the Yuccas, with the big Dasylirion quadrangulatum amongst them. Only the Dasylirion will remain as it is placed now, all the Yuccas will be planted out in the next few weeks. I'm slightly worried about this as Yucca roots are notoriously brittle, and if done haphazardly you could easily break off all of the existing roots in the process. All those years of getting them well rooted again could go be in vain, if I lose them it will be like starting all over again, not to mention setting them back too. And almost always they would need some form of staking to keep them as straight up as possible, until they are well established and rooted in their planting area. As the photo illustrates, they have the tendency to lean in whatever direction they wish without the support of an adequate stake (and the stake of the Y. linearifolia clearly isn't good enough). It'll be fun and games come the time we plant them out. If we need to break off the pot then so be it, my main concern is preserve as much of the existing rootball as possible.

Speaking of the Dasylirion quadrangulatum, all it needed was a very light trim. What needed doing was some 'hair teasing' as I used a stick to tease off some of the dead bamboo leaves that have accumulated in between its leaves. They are prone to accumulate debris on their crown so it's best to tease off the debris from time to time to keep them looking attractive.

Dasylirion quadrangulatum

Last one on to the barber's chair is a much smaller Dasylirion quadrangulatum. All I do to protect it in the winter is truss up the leaves and bubble wrap the pot. Despite the small caudex, it has a big footprint for its size as the leaves form a lovely, symmetrical sphere that sways with the breeze, gorgeous! I trussed it last year with no effects to the leaves nor its symmetry. This year, when I untrussed it the outer and middle leaves were pointing all over the place, in different direction, and strange enough it reminded me of the hair of the Cat Lady character in the Simpsons (my imagination can get overactive at times!).

Before - small Dasylirion quadrangulatum (right side)
Gone was the symmetry, it looked a wiry mess. I think what happened was, with the mild January it carried on growing, pushing new leaves. Trussed up and in a different position to where it usually is, it carried on growing despite being tied up and growing in the direction of light at the same time, hence the distorted leaves. The central leaves looked fine but it needed a big trim so off came all of the older, distorted leaves leaving just the pristine central leaves in place. It's not as spherical as it used to be, more like a fountain spurt now but as it carries on growing it should regain its spherical form. I think I've done a good job with it!

smaller Dasylirion quadrangulatum

Astelia nervosa 'Westland'
The barber is about to pack up when I spotted this 'customer', Astelia nervosa 'Westland'. Oh dear, it looks so scruffy and in bad need of tidying up, like trying to sort out someone with dreadlocks. This is such a reliable, unfussy plant and have had this for years in the same pot, with little care, and it always looks good, until this year. Going through a harsh December with temperatures dipping down to -10C has taken its toll on its appearance. But it is alive, and all it needs is extra TLC (and a trim!) and it should look good again in no time.

But the barber is too tired to sort out such a complicated job. I'll sleep over it now, maybe I'll tackle it tomorrow energy permitting!


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Arum italicum var. pictum

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Winter Koi Show

A little break from our usual plants and gardening posts with a feature on our other hobby, which is still related to the garden, our favourite 'garden pets' Koi :)

Last Saturday we attended the 2011 Winter Koi Show, the only winter Koi show in the UK organised annually by the East Midlands Koi Club (EMKC).

Koi painting, from one of the stands in the show
As our blog is mainly about plants and most of our readers are particularly interested in horticulture, I'd like to take this opportunity to showcase and give an insight, on a 'gardener's' point of view (i.e. rather than a professional Koi hobbyist), as to what typically happens at a Koi Show.

Many garden owners and gardeners regard Koi as just those big, colourful pond fish which can be fun and relaxing to watch as they swim around, and if tame enough can be fed by hand. Or a nuisance altogether with their tendency to rip apart your precious waterlilies in their never ending quest for food, and their demand for often complicated filtration systems. With adequate pond size and filtration, you can keep these wonderful fish and leave it as they are, pond pets. But there's a large group of people who get so enamoured by them (us included) that they take them to the next level and become hobbyists. And the Koi industry is a thriving one, with a large following here and all over the world, and companies popping up and vying for every hobbyists attention.

As soon as you enter, you're greeted with the sight of vats and vats of Koi on show. Each vat is allocated to participating individuals and all of their Koi, irregardless of size are placed within their allocated vats. The judges will later on go through all of the vats to select the winners. This is the highlight of the event and is great fun looking at all of the beautiful Koi.

The fish in each vat is individually photographed and measured prior to the show, categorised depending on the size and markings for judging purposes, and is posted on the board for ease of identification

One of the exhibitors is Adam, a member of Kangei Koi Club which we also belong to, gamely posing beside his allocated vat. We wished him goodluck as the judging was just about to take place when we arrived.

Apart from the fish, there are also plenty of stands related to the hobby including filtration companies, koi dealers, fish food and medication, food stalls for the hungry human attendees........

And some plants too, especially Bonsai and Japanese Acers, and garden ornaments. Japanese style of gardening is also popular amongst enthusiasts as Koi is mostly associated with the Japanese culture.

The judges hard at work, scrutinising every individual fish entered into the competition. A difficult task as the entries are nearly all of the highest quality.

The fish are once again re-measured individually in front of the judges, also giving them the chance to inspect the fish much closer for clarity of the skin, quality of the markings, etc.

And some of the participants will be lucky enough to bring home one of these...

And then one participant will bring home the top prize of Grand Champion for bringing the most outstanding fish of the show.

But the main attraction of course are the beautiful and outstanding Koi entered into the show, here are some of them:

I hope you enjoyed my feature on what can be seen inside a Koi show. The biggest event in the UK Koi calendar is the annual BKKS (British Koi Keepers Society) National, which is usually held at the last weekend of June, and we're hoping to attend that too. Now I'm looking forward to that as it's a much bigger event, with plenty more fish to look at, and stands related to the hobby :-)