Thursday, July 28, 2022


Growing up in the tropics the warmest temperature I've ever experienced was 34C (93F) in the depths of summer (albeit paired up with oppressive levels of humidity). Who would know then that I would experience 40C (104F) of all places in the UK? That's what just happened Tuesday last week when the heatwave that was all over Europe peaked here.

Thankfully from there temperatures have since dropped down to what are considered normal summer levels here, otherwise a lot of our plants would have been toast.

Heat stressed Schefflera taiwaniana Tuesday 19th of July

We think temperatures "only" peaked at around 38C (100F) in our garden but as I was working in central London that day, with the mostly concrete jungle that it is temperatures reached well above that even before midday. That made for a very unpleasant commute to and from work. 

UK is not geared for such high temperatures as usually there is a lack of summer heat and both society and infrastructure here are geared for that, not the other way around. 

The most dramatic manifestation of the high and relatively prolonged heat here was shown by our biggest Schefflera taiwaniana. It took a couple of days when the temperature went down to show recovery, unlike all other plants that showed distress during the same period but mostly recovered in matter of hours. Still a week on and you can now spot true damage on some plants with shrivelled new growth, and on bamboos with their aborted new shoots. Speaking of bamboos, some new shoots bent down at the worst of the high temperature but rectified themselves when the heat subsided, with some eventually aborting. But some damage is better than demise. If the heat persisted we could have lost many plants, including the Schefflera above.

Schefflera taiwaniana Thursday 21st of July

It's been a largely dry summer so far and now there is a threat that we may get a hosepipe ban in August if the lack of substantial rain persists. Let's see how it goes...


Monday, July 18, 2022

Front Garden Update

No gardening blog year would be complete (I know we did skip blogging a year or two) without us giving an update on our tiny front garden at least once. It all started in 2014 when we finally sorted out our front garden and several changes have happened since. Fast forward to now, the plants are much bigger and we have added more pots to the mix

Agave salmiana is the star of the bunch, for obvious reasons

The three nolinas have all done well but the one that remained in the smallest pot unsurprisingly had the slowest progress so we gave it a bigger pot earlier in the year and underplanted it with a few echeverias. We chose Echeverias that have done well and usually sail through winters in our garden unprotected and expect them to do even better at the front of the house which has the best microclimate for succulents.

Saturday, July 09, 2022

Mad About Mangave Update

Last year we posted about out little collection of Mangave displayed on our top patio. Time for an update but first a little rescue story:

Mangave 'Mission to Mars'

Last weekend we spotted Mangaves on the clearance corner of our local nursery, sold for £1 each. There were several available but we only picked up three from the bunch. They were from a batch of Mangaves that were in their main sales polytunnel before, but they didn't fare well during the winter left in the same spot and didn't recover fast enough in the spring. So off to the clearance corner they went.

Mangave 'Pineapple Express' and two 'Mission to Mars'

Despite looking worse for wear they were still a very good deal and with a bit of extra care should recover nicely. 

The Mangave 'Mission to Mars' we have already is the same age as these rescue ones we just acquired. But you can see on the photo below how much difference being cared for makes...

So we gave them a good clean by brown biting, trimming off completely dead leaves, weeding, and removing the bark mulch. They were then re-potted on to bigger pots and re-mulched with gravel and presto, much better...

They are now in the greenhouse to be pampered for the rest of the summer and we're confident by the end of the year they would look really good again. Perhaps next year they will be part of the patio display.

So how do you care for Mangaves? Here are a few tips:

  • As a group, they are generally not hardy for most parts of the UK bar the mildest areas. And even if they sail through permanently planted out, the other challenge is in keeping them looking pristine as the leaves are prone to marking. Repeated and heavy frosts, snow, and winter wet can easily disfigure their appearance. If planting out, a rain shelter is recommended to help them sail through winter alive and looking as good as possible.
  • Otherwise, keep them in a pot and shift undercover during winter, in a bright/sunny spot that ideally gets some supplemental heating during cold spells. They also seem to tolerate permanent indoor culture fairly well provided that they are in a bright/sunny spot (they are marketed as a houseplant too).
  • They do appreciate a free root run and grow really fast on the ground, an advantage of being planted out.
  • Or give them bigger pot to live in and they can still size up pretty quick.
  • You can obtain the best colouration and markings of the leaves if they are sited in full sun. In a shadier spot you may lose the markings and promote plain green leaves that are lax in habit.
  • Supplemental watering in the warmer months and a little bit during the winter (if kept indoors) will encourage them to grow and size up quick.
  • Keep an eye on slugs and snails, they love to graze on their succulent leaves and leave notches and cause scarring.
  • They are monocarpic and relatively short lived, lasting only several years before they send an inflorescence and eventually die. Some offset freely before the main plant flowers or just shortly after flowering, while some send out bulbils from the inflorescence. Be patient when they bloom, you can harvest the offsets and bulbils once the main plant has completely died off.

The Mangaves we featured last year are all still doing very well and have sized up further, check them out:

Mangave 'Mission to Mars'
Mangave 'Mission to Mars'

Mangave 'Lavender Lady'
Mangave 'Lavender Lady'

Mangave 'Red Wing'
Mangave 'Red Wing'

Mangave 'Lavender Lady'
Mangave 'Lavender Lady'

Mangave 'Inkblot'
Mangave 'Inkblot'

Mangave 'Inkblot'
Mangave 'Inkblot'

Mangave 'Pineapple Express'
Mangave 'Pineapple Express'

And a few new additions this year:

Mangave 'Silver Fox'
Mangave 'Silver Fox'

Mangave 'Blazing Saddles'
Mangave 'Blazing Saddles'

Mangave 'Snow Leopard'
Mangave 'Snow Leopard'

All three together now

Mark :-)

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

When Self Criticism leads to Better Things

 A few days ago the photo below came up on my Facebook timeline, from around 2015/2016 (I think)...

It's quite a significant photo in the sense that it led to the more familiar succulent pot display we do nowadays on our top patio.

The display above was fun to do, and perhaps quirky enough that it actually made it to a gardening magazine. However, it also made me cringe looking at it shortly after....can't believe I displayed two agaves so prominently in ordinary plastic pots, and to be published too!!

Perhaps it wasn't too bad, after all we had fun doing it then. But it led to several changes:

  • To never ever display plants in plastic pots so prominently ever again.
  • As I fell in love with Vietnamese pottery and other glazed pots shortly after, to use them instead. They are more robust and instantly adds colour (plus I enjoy looking at the pots itself).
  • Instead of using a collection of small pots, use larger ones instead that can hold bigger specimens.
  • And to make a more permanent year round pot display, by using hardier spiky plants that can stay out all year
How it looks this year

As with the last point, the display above consisted mostly of non hardy succulents that needed shifting under cover before the first frosts arrive. The sheer volume made moving them in and out very time consuming and impractical. So a more permanent display of hardier spiky plants made less work and provided interest on the top patio all year round.

On a more poignant note, whatever happened to most of those succulents in those tiny pots? Most of them are gone now, they perished in the autumn that followed that summer. It was also a period wherein both of us became exceptionally busy at work then when the time came that they needed shifting, neither of us could do it before the first frosts arrived. It was a little heart breaking that they had to be sacrificed due to lack of time. So another important lesson: finding a balance between what spare time you have available with the kind/amount of plants you acquire. We have since moved on....

Anyway, on a more contemporary note., I took the photo above yesterday of our 'spiky jungle' area. I thought it looked alright, but Gaz spotted the pot on top of the pillar, saying how much of a non entity it was. So he's thinking of replacing it with a bigger vessel/urn with a plant in it.

I say go ahead, bring it on!

Mark :-)

Monday, June 27, 2022

Scheffleras from Taiwan

Let's have a quick look at a special group of Scheffleras with no ID growing in our utility/propagation area. Their background is explained below.

A few years ago we visited Taiwan and had the chance to look around a few towns just outside the capital Taipei. The island is very accessible by car via their excellent road network but you can easily get a glimpse of rural life from nearby towns just outside the capital using their metro system. Taiwan has an amazing array of flora that has provided the world with so many interesting plants for the garden. The genus Schefflera (or now known as Heptapleurum) is just one of the multitude of beautiful group of plants that originated there.

And Scheffleras are abundant indeed all over the island. You don't even need to venture out of the capital to spot them but of course more interesting and potentially hardy ones are best seen outside of it. 

I don't remember exactly where we got the seeds from (from different plants), it could be Jiufen area but I do recall a mental note that they were sourced around 200 meters above sea level. On the scheme of things when it comes to hardiness, that is relatively low elevation so unlikely to be hardy but interesting nevertheless. The seeds germinated like cress but getting them past this stage is very tricky as they are notoriously prone to dampening off which was the case. Of that batch only five remain which are fortunately rather vigorous and seems to be doing well. They seem to grow pretty quick and spend winters in an unheated greenhouse.

The seeds came from different plants and although one or two will look identical to each (those coming from the same parent plant) there are still subtle variation from each other at least. For now their exact identity remains a mystery and I haven't taken the proper time yet to investigate to find out. In a way, they are treated as novelty plants and make great part of our plant collection. And a prelude that maybe one day we'll do this plant collecting thing in a more organised fashion one day!

Mark :-)

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Fixing What Ain't Broken

The hard landscaping of our top patio has pretty much been unchanged since we moved into our place back in 2005. The paving is composed of mainly thick concrete paving slabs and bricks arranged to a pattern. It's not the most elegant nor impressive of materials but they were laid solidly, aged well, and served the purpose.  Having just moved into this property then, the priority for both budget and time was to sort out the house rather than the hard landscaping of the top patio. It wasn’t broke so why fix it?

As it was until last weekend

Through the years it had been playing in our heads to eventually upgrade the paving to real stone. But as it wasn’t changed early on, the patio has since filled with plants and pots as we also carried on sorting the rest of the garden. 

It would be wonderful if we were to change the paving to all stone now (a herringbone pattern would be nice!). But the idea of shifting all those pots to one side and having to deal with the mess and disruption for months on end didn't sound appealing either. Plus you put all that stone down only to cover more than half of it in pots seemed counterproductive. So we decided on a compromise...

Instead of lifting and changing everything, we'll concentrate on the pathway of the existing layout instead. With a little dose of creativity, we opted to use mix shades of sandstone to replace concrete paving slabs along the pathway, laid out to look random and planned at the same time.

We already have a plan for the old slabs but that will be revealed in due course :)

It'll be a relatively easier job to do this way, with only having to lift a few paving slabs at a time and not having to shift so many pots along the way. It should give the patio a bit of an upgrade and provide extra interest.

It's a work in progress at the moment and we’ll post photos once the work is finished, fixing what ain’t broken.

Mark :-)

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Palm House at the Garfield Park Conservatory

Continuing on from our previous post regarding the Fern House at Garfield Park Conservatory is a feature on the first section you'll see when you go in the conservatory: the Palm House.

The vignette of palms and related complementary understory planting that greets you is a fantastic preview of what else is in store...

Palm House at Garfield Park Conservatory

Much like the Fern House, the path divides into two that will lead you into the other portions of the conservatory. The Palm House, as it's namesake suggests consists of a collection of tropical and subtropical palms of great architectural merit. Under the care of their horticultural team, they are all looking very healthy and for most towering with huge leaves.

In contrast to the Fern House however, the understory planting is less naturalistic but more manicured and formal, much like what you'll see in private gardens, parks, and show gardens. They have generously used bromeliads and other colourful planting in a more coordinated fashion, to a stunning effect.

You can clearly see that this is a well maintained and taken cared of conservatory that is open to the public to enjoy.

Mark :-)

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Aroid House at the Garfield Park Conservatory

 The Garfield Park Conservatory has several botanical sections with the Palm House and Fern House occupying the largest spaces. The smaller ones are no less remarkable and the best of the smaller sections is the Aroid House. Let's have a look:

Aroid House at Garfield Park Conservatory

As the name suggests, this section is all about different kinds of aroids, planted together for a beautifully naturalistic and cohesive display. It is a showcase of different leaf sizes of aroids, from the minute to the largest, together creating a lush, jungle feel.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Favourite Plant of the Week - Cyphomandra corymbiflora

Cyphomandra corymbiflora, sometimes called a hardy tree tomato, has been growing in our garden for well over a decade, going through the poor winter of 2010.  We have found it pretty tough, although a very late frost last year did it some damage. Fortunately it recovered - fairly late in the season - and a mild winter for 2021-22 has helped it on its recovery. 

At this time of year it starts to put on its display of blooms, one of just a handful of plants flowering in the garden despite the season, we missed this display last year as it was in recovery mode but its back.

Cyphomandra corymbiflora

We grew this one from seed, i think we had a fairly good germinations rate but only kept one plant for ourselves. Where its been planted in a relatively shady spot, with quite a lot of competition.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Side Passage Makeover

Last weekend we took on a mini project by making over the side passage of the house that leads on to the garden. It had a partial makeover before, when we sorted out the planting halfway through this narrow passageway nearest to the house. But the area adjacent to the conservatory leading towards the top patio only received further attention in the last few days.

New planting on the garden side passage

Existing planting on the side passage, done many years ago

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Fern House at the Garfield Park Conservatory

A glimpse of what Illinois may have looked like 300 million years ago. That was the vision of landscape architect Jens Jensen when he conceptualised the Fern House within Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago, Illinois. The plans were made in 1906 and opened to the public in 1908 much to the delight of locals and visitors alike. It was reported to have been a sensation...

Fern House at Garfield Park Conservatory