Saturday, July 17, 2021

Mad About Mangave

Well not quite but have spent some time recently potting up some of the ones we have...

Mangave 'Inkblot'

We've only every grown Manfreda before with moderate success and two Mangaves, 'Bloodspot' and 'Macho Mocha'. The former has done incredibly well for us in the conservatory until it bloomed a few years ago, while the latter struggled by being constantly nibbled by snails to the point of demise. This cross between an Agave and a Manfreda is monocarpic so once it blooms it can take awhile for resulting offsets and/or bulbils to be good enough to take over the mother plant.

Mangave 'Lavender Lady' and 'Red Wing'

There are plenty of varieties out there, some I find more attractive than others and it's easy enough to get into collecting them. With space a premium in our garden we have to be selective and just go for the ones that really appeals to us. Fortunately they are not that hard to come by here in the UK these days as they are well distributed in garden centres here now. They have a very good marketing team and are appealing to both the garden and houseplant brigade. 

Mangave 'Mission to Mars'

From our limited experience they do well as houseplants too, for a sunny spot otherwise they lose the distinctive markings. 

Mangave 'Pineapple Express'

They also make for a great pot plant so matching them with an appropriate colour and shape of pot add to the fun of repotting them.

another Mangave 'Inkblot'

Mangave 'Lavender Lady'

Are you into mangaves too, and if so which ones are your favourite?

Mark :-)

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Surprisingly Doing Fine

There's a couple of plants in the garden I want to highlight on this post that are doing fine despite our expectations of just being summer bedding due to their reputation of being only borderline hardy for our location.

Pteris cretica

Pteris cretica is popular here as a houseplant but we have been growing it under the eaves of our jungle hut for several years now. Granted that it does have extra protection being under cover all year round, it doesn't exempt it from experiencing minus temperatures in the depths of our winter. It's main problem though is that it is one of the many favoured snack of slugs and snails in the garden, making it tricky to keep pristine but what's left behind remains attractive with its variegated leaves.

Calliandra surinamensis

Next one would be Calliandra surinamensis which is mainly grown for its fluffy pink flowers but we love it for its delicate pinnate leaves reminiscent of Shy Mimosa leaves. This South American plant has always been reputed to be only borderline hardy but we grow it outside all year round, sited next to a Yucca rostrata that died this spring after going through a late cold spell here last April (20C one day then -4C the following day can do a lot of damage). A little mystery here, a cold spell that killed a hardier Yucca and yet this plant remained fine and doing very well now.

Calliandra surinamensis

Perhaps time to revise it's reputed hardiness??

Mark :-)

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Wollemi Pine

We have grown the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) in our garden for over a decade now and despite the set back it experienced in winter 2010, it has recovered albeit slowly to become an attractive specimen that it is now.

Wollemia nobilis

Not the fastest of growers but well worth the perseverance to grow. One amusing anecdote about the Wollemi Pine is that for many years it had the story attached to it of being very rare, or rather one of the rarest plants in the world. It was even grown inside a cage on several botanic gardens including Kew Gardens. And yet you can buy them in the gift shop even then, albeit with a hefty price tag ramped up with its romanticised back story.

Wollemia nobilis

Fast forward to more recent times, its rarely seen in a cage now and readily available in garden centres in the UK. It has seemed to have also shed off of its 'rare' back story, which it can only hang on to for a limited time to begin with. Saying that recent feedback via Instagram indicates that they are still hard to come by across the pond, I wonder why...

The two photos above were taken two weeks apart, with it's 'weeping' habit the latest one, showing it's graceful change in habit as it grows out new leaves.

Mark :-)

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Cordyline Australis

 A staple "exotic" plant, and one that we use fairly sparingly in the garden. With a selection of common names such as Cabbage palm or Torbay palm making reference to the word palm, it is often confused as such. 

Hailing from New Zealand, and pretty hardy in most of the UK, in all but the harshest of winters they are a fairly common sight.

One of ours is in flower at the moment and the sweet heady scent fills the air by the koi pond. People often say they smell like cat pee, so I'm rather pleased we don't seem to get that scent. Regardless of how they smell, the bees appear to love it at the moment.

Cordyline australis in bloom

Cordyline australis in bloom

Cordyline australis in bloom

Cordyline australis in bloom

How do you find the scent, heavenly or cat pee?


Friday, June 25, 2021

A Short trip to North Wales

We recently visited North Wales - see earlier post about visit to Crug Farm Plants, staying in Llandudno. I had visited many times as a child, but I don't think I have been back since my teens. 

Often when you revisit a place from your childhood, it fails to live up to memories, and I must admit to being slightly apprehensive as to whether visiting with Mark would live up to expectations. Fortunately we really shouldn't have worried with Llandudno, the resort town was so clean and tidy, with signs of work and fresh paint everywhere as it gears up for the summer season. A typical Victorian holiday resort, with rows of hotels and guest houses facing the sea, that by and large haven't fallen victim to conversion to budget living accommodation or poor flat conversions. We opted for a traditional guest house a couple of roads from the promenade.


Sunset with the Victorian Pier and Grand Hotel (although the Hotels Tripadvisor reviews would suggest its glory days are well behind it).

Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Never Ending Task

At this time of the year one of the regular garden jobs is to hunt the wayward bamboo rhizomes, we grow a number of Phyllostachys species, and most have been seen to wander in our garden (ignore any nursery or garden centre that claims they clump - they dont!).

But by and large we are able to keep them where we want them, usually with a little gentle persuasion from a trusty pickaxe or in todays case a mattock. 

In todays example a Phyllostachys aurea that was one of the early plantings in our garden needed a little attention. this is growing in a planting hole chipped out from crazy paving a former owner had long since buried under a layer of gravel that we see today. Fortunately this has helped contain this one. and when it does wander, the initial exploration is though a gravel layer - not that that deters the bamboo of course. But it does make it easier to get our once it starts to loosen.

How we went so long in our gardening life without a mattock is anyone's guess, but really it is an essential tool, easily chops through a matted mass of bamboo roots, and helps lift those wayward rhizomes for subsequent disposal.

All of which brings me on to Danger Gardens recent post about palms and bamboo, where Loree had been involved in a discussion where a participant commented about bamboo, "As a screening plant, it screams “I am entirely unable to think outside the box”.

Whilst I wouldn't agree with this exactly, perhaps I do have some sympathy for this view point, we have been removing bamboo over the last couple of years, funnily enough several Phyllostachys aurea have had the chop. When we started the garden, limited budgets and a desire for some instant height meant this was a regular repeated plant. It was readily available and relatively inexpensive, screening the neighbours or in the case of the plant above, hiding the shed. 

Perhaps, one could argue we lacked some knowledge to think outside the box, but really it was that desire for a garden that wasn't all under 30cm tall that meant we headed in that direction.

We have never fallen out of love for bamboo, but we have limited space, and ejecting repeat bamboo gives us a little more space. They are of course quite messy plants at some times of the year, so a little less summer leaf litter isn't a bad thing either. From memory I think eight Phyllostachys aurea clumps have been removed over the last few years, with a further one on the radar for a new planting space later this year. 

But as to the future for this particular plant, thats a little more safe for now, its location works, and I have no great desire to have to get rid of the crazy paving around it to stand any chance of removal. So for now its future is secure... 


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A Trip to Crug Farm

Crug Farm Plants are well known for their large selection of unusual plants, and despite having been buying plants from Crug for many years we had not managed to visit until recently. Our lack of visiting had long passed being embarrassing, as Sue and Bleddyn usually reminded us each time we saw them at a show or exhibition. However finally, we made the trip to North Wales. 

We had opted to stay for a few days in the area, having a break at the coast, and of course enjoying visits to some of the world famous castles that Wales is renowned for.

But more about castles and coastline later, our first (and also last) stop on our trip was to Crug, we had selected a number of plants, and as we were staying in a hotel, left the plants until our final afternoon, when we went back to collect - and saw more of the growing areas, picking out a handful more plants of course. 

We started our visit with a tour round the gardens, packed full of fabulous plants, many collected by Sue and Bleddyn, and showing that if thy can thrive in North Wales, then they should be hardy and thrive elsewhere. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

What's in the Box and Bag?

Through the years we've had blog posts before answering the question  'What's in the box?'. This time we've added a paper bag for good measure...

First one was something I spotted at a garden centre near where I work. It's not that unusual anymore but I was instantly drawn to it's standard habit and very fine cut leaf form.

Fatsia polycarpa 'Green Fingers'

I suspect it's standard habit is a result of being grown in a small pot for quite some time, and that the fine cut leaves won't stay as is as it gets bigger but we shall just have to wait and see.

The next one is something we have grown before but lost after a few years. Looking at photo archives last year I was reminded that I must have this plant again. It took awhile to find a nursery that had them in stock but search was eventually rewarded. Loree over at Danger Garden featured this a few years ago as her plant of the week with the reminder to cut it back regularly to keep it under control and be rewarded with the fabulous red stems. 

Rosa sericea subsp. omeiensis f. pteracantha (Chinese Winged Thorn Rose)

So what's in the box and bag? Two not so new additions to the garden.

Mark :-)

Monday, June 21, 2021

Two Unusual Gunneras

Large leaf Gunneras seem to be extra popular in the UK this year, and there are a lot of questions and discussions floating around forums and Facebook groups about them. Mainly the discussions are centered around how to tell the difference between Gunnera manicata and Gunnera tinctoria.

I won't go in that direction as personally I've found such topics tedious, however I will highlight instead two lesser known and relatively obscure large leafed Gunneras that are starting to get into the exotic plant circulation here:

Gunnera insignis - from Costa Rica and the photo below was taken earlier this year at Tregrehan Gardens in Cornwall

Gunnera insignis

Gunnera killipiana - from Costa Rica and was collected at high altitude elevations by Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones. Photo was taken at their nursery Crug Farm Plants and was also featured in previous editions of Chelsea Flower Show

Gunnera killipiana

Both stunning big leafed plants and much more ornamental than their well established but hardier Brazilian (Gunnera manicata) and Chilean (Gunnera tinctoria) cousins.

Mark :-)

Friday, June 11, 2021

Favourite Plant of the Week - Monstera deliciosa variegata

Monstera deliciosa variegata

An easy choice this week, and a houseplant rather than one out in the garden, Monstera deliciosa variegata.

We have had this plant for a good few years, it doesnt get the really large leaves that some do, and came back with us from a holiday in Madeira, where they seem to be everywhere. We had asked for one at one of the many plant stalls in the Market in central Funchal, using a photo of one we had seen in a garden to explain what we wanted. They were all out on the stall, so the owner had pop home to get one for us to collect later. 

Monstera deliciosa variegata

This is kept in a North facing room, so although fairly bright, it doesnt seem to burn with the lack of direct sun.


Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Favourite Plant of The Week - Brassaiopsis hispida

It has been a while since we last featured a plant of the week on the blog but we really couldn't let this week go by without featuring Brassaiopsis hispida.

Brassaiopsis hispida

The new leaves are fabulous, and despite the cool spring are now racing away.  Still relatively new to cultivation, Brassaiopsis hispida is borderline hardy in our location, so at the moment these go away into the greenhouse for us.

Brassaiopsis hispida

Brassaiopsis hispida

Finally we have a variegated plant, which we are hoping will be stable as it matures.

What is standing out for you in the garden this week?


Tuesday, June 01, 2021


 We posted this teaser image on facebook yesterday.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

May at Alternative Eden

This time  of year is one of my favourites, as the garden wakes up and all the fresh new growth hints at what comes ahead. Spring has been cool, so the garden seems a little behind this year. But regardless of that, I thought it was a good time to share a few photos of whats looking good at the moment. 

The top patio is a little chaotic at the moment as a result of the new pond project. But I dont think ill grow tired of this view. 

Persicaria runcinata 'Purple Fantasy'
Persicaria runcinata 'Purple Fantasy'

View from the middle patio, the Ficus carica 'Adam' towards the right hand side seems very late to get going this year. 

View along the main pathway from the house to the jungle. 

The trachycarpus are all full of flower buds - with some still full of last years seed.

Aesculus parviflora
Aesculus parviflora

Schefflera rhododendrifolia
Schefflera rhododendrifolia

trochodendron aralioides
Trochodendron aralioides

Jungle Pathway

Enjoying just watching the garden "do its thing" this year as the pond project is occupying much of our free time. Fortunately the garden does seem to know just what to do!



Friday, May 28, 2021

Petasites frigidus var. palmatus ‘Golden Palms’

We have grown Petasites frigidus var. palmatus ‘Golden Palms’ in the jungle part of the garden for well over ten years. In recent years it seems to have suffered from drier conditions, but with Covid-19 enforcing working from home rather than the office the garden has benefited from more water as one of us has been about during the day a lot more. As a result we have seen it spread and recover significantly, and were rewarded with some superb leaves this spring.

Petasites frigidus var. palmatus ‘Golden Palms’
We must remember to keep up the watering regime this year!


Thursday, May 27, 2021

Pond Update

Theres a strange smell in the garden at the moment! We are having the new pond fibreglassed, and whilst we will tackle most jobs in the garden this is one to leave to the professionals. 

The pond was lined with insulated board, partly to help with heat retention if we cover in winter and also to give a smooth finish to the walls. 

The slightly unusual shape is more obvious now, This was a result of extending the existing pond without demolishing the entire structure, and also to keep the excavation away from the roots of an established magnolia grandiflora on the the left hand side. 

I suspect many pond keepers would have sacrificed the tree but it has taken us about 12 years to get it to the size it is now, and so the pond wasn't excavated next to it. I think we got the dimensions about right as we didnt spot roots poking through the soil where we stopped the dig.

The final finish will be black, but that wont be until later today.