Wednesday, November 27, 2013

NYBG Conservatory - Deserts of America and Africa

In the first installment of our tour of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory in New York Botanical Garden we featured their collection of rainforest and aquatic plants. Now in the second installment we'll be featuring their collection of succulents, xerophytic, and drought tolerant plants as seen in the sections Deserts of the America and Deserts of Africa. 

It was overcast outside whilst we were looking in the rainforest sections which has affected the light levels inside. By the time we have passed through the tunnel into the 'arid' sections the clouds have parted and it was sunny again which made for touring the remaining areas extra enjoyable. And quite appropriate too, like the weather gods have been orchestrating the lighting effects whilst we were there: dark and atmospheric whilst in the rainforests, bright and sunny whilst in the deserts!

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Big Pond Build (Part 4)

We have had several reminders to complete the story of our pond build, particulary since it has been completed since Spring. We had planned to complete the story and share the big reveal in the summer, but with the fire that hit the garden and also house renovations we did not feel it would have been the correct time to have done that. Thankfully the pond was not damaged with the fire, other than some soot on the white paint work and minor damage to one or two plants nearby from radiant heat.

If you have somehow missed the earlier parts they can be seen in these links (part 1, part 2 and part 3). This series of posts left the project in August 2012 when the pergola had just been completed and we were preparing the pond for fibre-glassing.

In the last post we were fitting the insulation board to internal walls. This has two benefits, firstly it saved us having to render the walls to get a smooth finish and also would help insulate the pond from cold winter weather.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Favourite Plant of the Week - Schefflera aff. chapana

Year in year out, every autumn it rewards us with generous sprays of flowers and consequently loads of seeds. Although the flowers in itself are rather nondescript, much like the blooms you see typical of other araliads and the related hedera (although if flowering en-masse they could look good), the abundance of seeds that follow are very impressive.

Schefflera aff. chapana
Schefflera aff. chapana
Now if only we are good at starting plants from seeds! Not that we are incapable, it's just we've both come to terms that we both actually prefer plants  that are 'ready made' - if you may call it that rather than start small from seeds. We're impatient gardeners perhaps, hence a penchance for instant impact? True to some degree but issues with free time and adequate space also comes to play.

I have no doubt the seeds that it produces are viable. But as we haven't tried ourselves and yet want to encourage others who have this plant already to try growing it from seeds, it's best I quote a 'trust' head gardener that we had a chat with before who's had success with them...

I have yet to see any self seeders around the main plant but sown indoors they can come up like cress. Harvest when it looks ripe but before the first hard frosts arrive. Sow the tiny seeds in a very free draining seed potting mix of choice (pure vermiculite he uses) and leave it in a cold frame/unheated greenhouse/gently heated greenhouse (depending on your location) throughout winter. Lots will damp off but eventually you'll get a few to thrive.

Sounds a fine advice to me but I've heard other variations of this too with similar success. There are more ways to skin a cat as they say and seed growing gardeners are no exception to this saying.

Schefflera aff. chapana our plant came from Crug Farm

With so many seeds perhaps we ought try this advice ourselves, at least once?? 

I'll think about it. Or perhaps just peruse the new catalogues that will go out early next year and check availability...

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

Mark :-)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Naked Jungle Hut

The Jungle Hut was completed last weekend much to our delight! And just in time too before the first serious frost and cold spell set in this week.

The Jungle Hut - completed and naked!
The roof is now nicely clad with cedar shingles. The electrical supply has been restored and new plug points and lighting are now in place and working fine. The tongue and groove cladding for the ceiling have been finished. The inside of the hut itself have been plastered and walls looking smooth. Bamboo balustrades are all in....

Jungle Hut
They've done a great job with the cedar shingle roofing!
The entrance to our new jungle hut
Tongue and Groove for the ceiling
So basically whatever the builders need to have have all been done and we are so pleased with the end product!

However, as the title implies, it may be complete but it is still naked, and will have to remain so until early next year.

Our new Jungle Hut
It will receive lots of staining and painting early next year
Before anything saucy comes to mind, what I mean with it being naked is that at the moment it is at a raw state - no decorations, no paint, no preservatives or stains, will need thorough cleaning, will need some sanding, even the pendant light needs adjusting. All of these tasks are weather dependent and will have to wait till next year the soonest we have a (relative) warm spell or a decent spate of good weather.

But for now it needs to serve an important purpose of utility storage and winter protection of several potted plants, exactly how the old jungle was used before it was irreversibly damaged.

Pendant light in the new Jungle Hut
The pendant light will need adjusting
Something to look forward to in the spring, getting this naked jungle hut clothed, made p, and very presentable! We haven't decided yet on the final colour scheme but we have some ideas already on the new furniture and decorations that will go in it, and the atmosphere we'd want to create in it. And of course how it will enhance the garden too. Things are bound to change and evolve of course, we have all winter to decide but the process should be fun!

For now it's main purpose is to store and protect plants
It may be naked but it sure is getting our creative juices flowing!!

Mark :-)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Foliage Follow-Up November 2013

We missed out on the Bloomday meme this month and our Foliage Follow-Up (which technically makes it a no follow-up as it didn't have anything before it to follow...) is perhaps a few days late but as they say better late than never!

Euphorbia stygiana
Euphorbia stygiana glistening with morning dew. All photos on this post were taken on a
particularly misty and dewy early last Saturday morning.
The tricky thing is being able to take photos of the garden whilst there is still daylight during the week, in a period when daylight is short hence more often than not it's dark already by the time either of us gets home. So most photos we take of the garden during the colder and darker months are at weekend unless specified so. That's our excuse anyway for not getting into Bloomday but at least Foliage Follow-up we can do.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Welcome to The Jungle (Hut)

With the weather forecast showing some cold weather on its way next week it was great that the builders finished the new Jungle Hut this week. I'll write a dedicated post on the finished building in the next few days. Today, however, was the perfect opportunity to move a number of plants under cover, so that they are all tucked up before the cold comes.

The old jungle hut always was home to plants in winter - see this post from last November and so the tradition continues with the new one!

As you can see behind the plants we haven't had chance to paint the plaster, this will have to wait until spring when we bring everything out. But for now the plants are warm and snug inside the all new jungle hut!


Thursday, November 14, 2013

...And Then We Turned Three

We started the Alternative Eden blog three years ago today, with this short post. At that time we didn't know how this blog would develop or whether anyone would want to read about our garden and travels.

Trochodendron aralioides from our first post
However three years later and having met some wonderful people through blogging (some in real life as well as on line) and having had some great adventures, it would seem you do enjoy reading the blog. 

We haven't been posting as frequently just recently, with our attention turned to the house and having to deal with the aftermath of the fire, however things are returning to normal for us so hopefully our fourth year will bring new interests and adventures!

Thank you all for joining us on this blogging adventure!

Mark and Gaz

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Favourite Plant of the Week - Cycas revoluta

Okay, just this one in particular...

Cycas revoluta
It spent most of the summer under glass after being defoliated when it was left outside last winter. We initially thought it was dead after all of our Cycas revolutas have flushed already when this one haven't yet. But knowing that this cycad can be erratic when it comes to the timing of its flush (ideally it should flush early in the summer so the leaves will have time to harden off before cold weather sets in) we left it where it was and forgot about it.

Well it did eventually flush late in the summer which was a nice little surprise and left it in its position undisturbed until the leaves have hardened off. When cycads start flushing ideally you should avoid moving or changing its position until the leaves have hardened off as they follow the direction of light. Moving them whilst in the middle of this process can potentially distort the shape of the leaves hence best avoided.

Although this particular one was left undisturbed all through it flushing ritual somehow the pinnate leaves on the tips remained fused together as it hardened and now it looks odd. We don't know how it ended up looking like this but...

it's a nice kind of odd though and we like it!

Cool huh?

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

Mark :-)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

NYBG Conservatory - Rainforest and Aquatic Plants

We finally had the chance to start sorting out the photos we took of our visit to New York Botanical Gardens last September and one of the highlights of which was our wander through the different sections of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

This conservatory, a major landmark and considered to be the crown jewel of New York City houses the tender plant collection of the botanical gardens. The building itself was inspired from the Palm House at Kew Gardens as well as the Crystal Palace (which was destroyed in 1936 and was never rebuilt). The conservatory fell into disrepair in the 70's and needed some much needed major restoration which was then made possible by the generous donation of Enid A. Haupt, hence the conservatory being named after her once all restoration work was completed.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Greenhouse Preparation

With winter fast approaching we needed to get the new greenhouse ready for its winter inhabitants. Normally we have prepared the garden for winter prior to now, but this year with builders, and our attention focussing on the house we had out it off until the last minute. 
As it was this morning
This Cycas revoluta spent the summer in the greenhouse, we actually thought it was dead earlier in the year, but
 it flushed late on in summer. Many of the new leaves were fused at the tips. I don't know the cause of this, we
will have to see if it does it next year.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Favourite Plant of the Week - Amicia zygomeris

Every time I wander down the garden this week I keep catching a glimpse of this plant and on closer inspection today I thought, wow, it has done really well this year...

Amicia zygomeris

Despite being razed down to nothing by flames last summer.

It has proven itself to be a very resilient, tough, and rewarding plant for us and deserves to be highlighted this week! It is a hardy, herbaceous perennial in our location, dying back down to the ground in the winter and comes back vigorously by late spring and rockets upward all through summer. Had if not it was burnt down a few months ago it would have been much taller than it is now.

But still it has performed well after that. 

Prefers full sun to partial shade, and does even better when sited in a rich, well fertilised area that gets generous moisture in the growing season. It is easily propagated by cuttings and potted specimens can be overwintered evergreen under heated glass.

Hardy in our garden, down to perhaps -10C

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

Mark :-)

Thursday, November 07, 2013

The Scent of Cedar

When you have a heavy cold any wonderful scent that manage to pass through your clogged nostrils is a welcome treat, and that scent must be very powerful to do so. And such was the scent of cedar.

Being all arty with cedar shingles!
I didn't even need to be right next to it, it was wafting in the air and you get a whiff of it the moment you open the patio doors.

The cedar shingles for the new jungle hut has arrived and was piled on the top patio ready to be installed in the following days. I followed the scent to where it was obviously coming from and found myself deeply inhaling the scent of  roof tiles - now that's something I bet you won't hear too often! And even better, a couple of builders did the same after me. There we were, a trio of people sniffing roof tiles!

But cedar wood also meant cedar oil and some of it were leaching from the shingles on to the patio. It doesn't matter at this point as the patio will be repaved anyway but this is something we'll have to keep in mind for the future. The initial plan is to use cedar slats to screen the existing fences in this area next year, as part of this patio's looming makeover. The stone paving must go on first before the screening and the last thing we want is for oil to leach out on to the porous. So if we go for this material we'll have to store them somewhere else.

The new jungle hut is shaping up very nicely. The builders are not always good at following design brief faithfully but so far so good, it looks like, for a change it is heading towards there a hundred percent. Full credits to Gaz here, he made all of the sketches and did all of the redesigning and all I did was to give him full faith to do so. I'll have lots of input with the furniture, decor, and colour scheme though but that will have to wait till next year.

Before they go on the roof they might as well serve a temporary purpose - as a platform whiche helped me tidy up this Nolina longifolia

Ahh, the sweet scent of cedar!

Mark :-)

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Chosen Ones - First Batch

Choosing plants to go in the conservatory feels like being a judge in a beauty pageant! You have to select the most beautiful amongst the already beautiful lot (well most of them anyway). But apart from beauty other criteria must be fulfilled such as:

So who are the lucky ones that will wear a crown (or in this case a Bishop's Cap)?
Tolerates conservatory conditions at least during the winter (some of them will go out again in the summer).

Does not mind central heating and the conditions it can cause (fluctuating temperatures and low humidity).

Tolerates enclosure during the winter (very little breeze and air movement).

Relatively easy and disease free under glass (okay, strictly speaking there is no such thing but with little effort and maintenance by the owner, should remain fine most of the time).

Will actually benefit from being overwintered under glass with warmer temperatures as compared to a minimally heated greenhouse (i.e. more tender plants. Some plants do need a bit of seasonal winter chill hence unsuitable to be kept in a greenhouse and yet will need a bit of protection in the winter. In such a case an unheated greenhouse will often suffice).

Appreciates brightness and sunlight during the winter, and tolerates artificial lighting too (some plants prefer gloomy winter conditions and detest artificial lighting).

Most of important criteria of all:

It must be beautiful and serve a decorative purpose.

Although the last criteria is also the most debatable of them all. If you have a conservatory, and you're a plant lover/hoarder, surely you should use it to cram in and protect as many 'not so hardy for you area' plants as possible, right? Maybe...

Some gardeners say yes do that exactly as that and we've even seen a few that their conservatory is so packed during the winter you could barely walk through and let alone in it. If that's what they want and the purpose of the space suits them then so be it. At least their plant collection is protected and they get to enjoy them even if the weather is adverse outside (that is, if they can still walk through the plants).

But personally, our answer is no and this is where we will draw the line from now on. On previous winters our house gets so crammed with plants that it becomes a literal jungle for months on end. Both of us got sick of it and made it a resolve not to go in that direction again from this year onwards. Hence we have been doing a gradual culling of 'not so hardy plants' all through the year and most of it actually happened before the house renovation began.

We're both gardeners and love plants but the house is for humans (and our cats). It may be a jungle/desert out there but it should never be like that in the house any more and at any point. How long will we keep this resolve? Will we be disciplined enough to remain as such? Who knows! But we have to start somewhere and the future is already looking promising.

And this resolve will apply in our conservatory too. It will have plants to define the space as such but the plants that will be chosen must primarily serve a purpose of being decorative to enhance the space rather than just sit there seeking protection from winter.They will be part of the decoration and design of the space. And in moderate quantities too (it's only a small conservatory), so as to have ample space for the human (and cat) dwellers to enjoy them properly.

Enough of the wiffle-waffle now and the first batch of chosen ones are:

Agave lophantha 'Quadricolor'
Agave 'Cornelius' - extra fond of this Agave as I bought this as an inch and a half only diameter plant five years ago
Agave weberi 'Arizona Star'
Agave pedunculifera - I better take really good care of this as this was entrusted to me by a lovely Cornish nurseryman and it took him years of persuasion to make him part with it! It still has some debris and will need to dry up so I can give it a more thorough clean.
Astrophytum myriostigma - a winner by default as this was bought at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show last July for the main purpose of being placed in the conservatory. It needs a nice new pot though!
Graptopetalum 'Ron Evans' RE611 - another one that needs a nice new pot but was chosen as it looked so good in the greenhouse. I think it deserves as upgrade of abode for the winter!
Strelitzia reginae - the first non succulent to have made it among the 'chosen ones'. Strelitzias on the whole seem tolerant of conservatory conditions all year round so that was a huge plus point as to why this was included. I tend not to bother with Strelitzias any more to be honest but this one made its way into our plant collection as this 'special one' was entrusted to us by another kind Cornish man. I just wish the variegation is more regular and pronounced. Still it's a nice plant! 
Some are in nice pots already (and have been featured previously) and by luck fit in with the planned decorative scheme of the space. Others will be re-potted on to nicer pots (there won't be leeway for functional looking pots indoors this time) and it should fun hunting down suitable ones in the next few days.

The conservatory itself is mostly finished with just a few bits of adjustment left to be done by the builders. Although these adjustments are minor, we can never really properly sort out the inside and decorate it until everything, as in completely everything that the builders needs to do have been done. Builders and delicate plants are rarely a good mix....

But the first batch have to start drying up so I can clean them thoroughly before they get their winter pride of place. It has been raining here almost everyday and it's quite astonishing how much dirt succulents can accumulate when wet and combined with autumn leaf fall. I have removed most of the dirt before I took them in but they really need to dry up first before I can 'polish them up' to perfection. At the moment they are on the floor but once the builders are all done I can move them to where they should be.

So far a few succulents and a Strelitzia have been chosen but what about more lush and leafy plants? That will have to be the second batch!

Mark :-)

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Spark

I had a quick walk around the garden yesterday and I heard the sound of sparks somewhere....

But where? I couldn't see any nor could smell anything that would indicate combustion caused by sparks....

Like nothing happened eh?

I was just being playful with myself (or perhaps I am now losing my mind?). The sparks I heard were figurative sparks. Now that the house renovation is calming right down as compared to how it was last summer my interest in the garden and plants are returning.

The spark is returning and hopefully it will become full on flames again (pun intended).

Insulation going in for the Jungle Hut
Great! And just in time for winter! Perhaps the spark with trigger the flame that will then heat the greenhouse?

Not much change outside but inside...
Anyway, enough of the sparking around. If I want to get into gardening again I better go indoors again and finish painting that door frame.

Mark :-)