Sunday, June 19, 2016

Huntington again!

Another trip to the Huntington with nothing particular in mind except to see these beautiful gardens at another season. Visiting here really warms my soul, reminding me of the many years I spent in horticulture. Whilst I don't regret moving to Palm Springs, I do sometimes miss temperate horticulture and visiting gardens such as these, gives me a wonderful horticultural high! We went through the desert garden first and although there was interest as always, it wasn't as colorful as the last visit. The flowering Agaves are amazing - spikes towering to 20ft or more! Temperatures soared to 95F, so we went for fluid intake and an early lunch!

Echinocereus viereckii

Fouquieria diguetii

Notocactus warasii

Euphorbia millii cultivar

The afternoon didn't feel quite so searingly hot as we wandered through the shady woodland areas, Japanese and Chinese gardens, jungle and past the lily ponds. A lovely day in a beautiful garden, filled with fascinating plants!

The California garden
Anthocleista grandiflora

Rosa Ballerina

Monday, June 13, 2016

Noxious neighbours

Those that garden in the cooler climates will be less familiar with the family Apocynaceae, although most gardeners will recognise periwinkle, a member of the genus Vinca. These scrambling perennials usually have blue or purple flowers and many garden cultivars have variegated foliage. My own favorite is the golden leaved 'Illumination'. Followers of classic British comedy will remember Hyacinth Bucket's 'Royal Doulton china with the hand-painted periwinkles!'

Vinca minor 'Atropurpurea'
Vinca 'Illumination' with Hakonochloa
Keeping up Appearances - Hyacinth entertaining the vicar with her Royal Doulton China

Here in Palm Springs where the climate is warmer, I have become familiar with several related species, all members of this family which shares the notoriety of being highly poisonous. Bearing some similarity to Vinca, there are the Madagascar periwinkles, cultivars of Catharanthus roseus.  This tender perennial likes warm conditions, so may be offered as a pot plant in the UK but struggles if planted out for bedding as its just too cool. By contrast here it is one of a handful of summer bedding plants that thrive in the searing summer heat. I have grown a few in pots for several years and found that they grow and flower continuously for months and even self seed. The following picture shows  a pot planted a few weeks ago and nearby a self seeded plant from last year, surviving on the run-off from the pot's irrigation. Just this year I have seen for the first time a new range called 'Soiree' that have semi-double flowers. I'll tell you later in the season how they perform!

New cultivar 'Soiree'

Last year I was given some cuttings of Plumeria, sometimes called frangipani. These grew and grew, producing a mass of dark green leathery foliage and drinking rather too much water in our time of drought. Finally this year three of them have flowered. The blooms are beautiful and sweetly scented but I'm really not sure if they are worth all the space and time for just a few delicate flowers. In the right location, they will make huge bushes covered in flowers, so I guess I'll keep some.

Out here oleanders are common landscape shrubs, planted everywhere, tough, evergreen and floriferous.  Sadly they suffer from a scorch disease which causes them to die. Its endemic here in California, with no cure and you can see patches of die-back in hedges everywhere. In my little garden I have risked planting both a red and a white. Struggling with the wind here, I needed to plant something tough in a couple of tricky spots and providing the disease doesn't reach here, they will withstand the buffeting! Remember however that it's highly poisonous - don't be tempted to cut the straight stems for barbecue skewers!

Another noxious relative is the Madagascar palm, Pachypodium lamerei.  Ignore the common name - it has no relationship to palms! It is however, a real desert plant with prickly succulent stems which grows slowly but eventually makes a tall stately plant. When mature, it produces white flowers, very similar to plumeria and oleander.

A mature Pachypodium

Our young plant
Finally I must mention the Mandevillas which are straggly climbers with glossy leaves and pretty starry trumpet flowers in reds and pinks. Despite their habit of growth, they are sometimes offered as small pot plants covered in flowers. Again - same family - pretty but poisonous!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Balboa Park revisited

I was recently in San Diego for an artists workshop with my friend Jim and took the opportunity to visit Balboa Park again.  (Last visit October 2013) This huge 1200 acre green space has a fascinating history and was originally developed for the Panama - California Exposition in 1915. This left it with a huge legacy of unusual buildings, augmented by its further use  for the California Pacific International Exposition in  1935. There are museums, art galleries, theaters, a huge open pipe organ and it is the home to the San Diego Zoo. On the Sunday afternoon we visited it was filled with visitors and families enjoying its many attractions.

As well as buildings, there are gardens; a Japanese garden, desert garden, Alcazar Garden, palm canyon, and the botanical building and lily pond.  At a glance the botanical building, which dates from  1915, looks like a big domed Victorian glasshouse but there's not a pane of glass, as its a lath house. Being a mild climate, the protection of glass is not needed but shade is a must! It is well planted and tended and in particular there are some lovely orchids. Apparently in WW2,  when the park buildings were used as a hospital, the lily pond was used as a swimming pool. I didn't visit the zoo on this occasion but that has a beautiful landscape

The desert garden is no rival for the amazing one at the Huntington but its nevertheless worth visiting and has some wonderful mature plants.

Throughout the park in general there is interesting planting and its always fascinating visiting a new area to see what new is flowering. In particular we loved the beautiful Jacaranda trees in full flower throughout the city. Amazingly they were virtually all intact and beautifully shaped unlike those in Palm Springs which are usually hacked to ugly shapes and rarely flower.