Saturday, November 19, 2016

In the Pink

It's mid November. No doubt back in the UK it's a bit chilly and probably grey and dull.  I don't miss the UK weather at all! Here  it was cool enough last night to need a quilt on the bed and this morning we used the heating for the first time this winter but now, mid morning, the sun is shining and  it's about 75F. I've no complaints!  And out in my yard there is quite a bit of color. In particular one  furry little cactus is blooming its socks off! Mammilaria rhodantha ssp McCartenii has produced dozens of tiny cerise pink flowers with a host of buds waiting their turn. What a star for a winter bloomer!

And an update for those of you that read the last blog about my Monarch caterpillars. Suddenly they all disappeared. I have no idea whether a hungry bird gobbled them up or whether they've entered the next stage of the their life cycle. Wikipedia tells me that they will travel 10-15ft to find the perfect spot to pupate. Well I've searched but can't find them. Maybe one day we will see beautiful hatching butterflies or maybe we'll have to wait until more eggs are laid!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Lepidopterous midwifery!

After a disappointing summer, the yard has cheered up a bit and come to  life again in the cooler weather. It's like spring but its actually fall or autumn as we say in the UK. Plants have sprung a new lease of life, fresh foliage and some new flowers. The Cassia 'Buttercream is flowering for the first time, having been a small plant purchased just a year ago. The double form of Madagascar periwinkle, Catharanthus 'Soiree' has sulked all summer but is now full of bloom. And one of our garden center purchased Echinopsis has produced three fabulous late flowers.  Our plant of Canna 'Durban' looked very drab and tired in the heat of summer but now has a wonderful crop of fresh vibrant foliage.

In particular we are thrilled to see that our milkweed is finally acting as a host for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. Probably the only crawlers we'd welcome in the yard! Apparently the butterfly will feed on a variety of nectar producing plants but the larva will only feed on milkweed, so the eggs are laid here. We bought red and yellow flowered plants but only the yellow survived. The caterpillars seem to prefer to feed on the seed pods and appear to be leaving the leaves alone! The final picture is not from our yard but just to show you what we are hoping we will eventually get! Fancy the thrill of acting as midwife to a bunch of butterflies!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Birds of Paradise

Back in our last USA home, we had a large pot of Strelitzia reginae, the Bird of Paradise plant.  It never had any really special treatment, although I did feed it sometimes. It flowered profusely, sometimes having as many as twenty or more flower spikes at any one time. We loved it and  so did the humming birds that used to perch on the glossy green leaves.  We had to leave it when we moved as the plant and pot belonged to the landlord and anyway it was too big and heavy to move.

Strelitzea reginae

Our old plant at our last home - believe me - it did flower!

Once we were settled in our current home and started to establish our garden, a new Strelitzia was on our shopping list and we bought a fairly sizeable plant with one existing flower spike and the promise of more. The first summer it languished, being both shredded by winds and scorched by full sun in our exposed yard, so we moved it to the shelter of our house and partial shade under our verandah. For two years it has continued to grow, produced masses of green leaves and  yet no flowers until a single solitary spike this summer. We are very disappointed and it's on Philip's hit list if it doesn't perform soon!

New arrival two years ago

Its grown but no flowers!
Strelitzias are loosely related to cannas, bananas and gingers. There are several other species and cultivars such as Strelitzia 'Mandela Gold', which has a soft chrome yellow flower, compared to the vivid orange of the species. You can also find compact versions of the plain S. reginae, which make great groundcover plants.  By contrast, the white flowered Strelitzia nicolai can grow into an immense plant where there is space. We tried one once but it burnt easily in the heat here.  The most fascinating is S. juncea which when mature has narrow cylindrical stems, more like a reed or rush without the paddle leaf. Its flowers are orange.

Mandela's Gold

Strelitzea nicolai
Strelitzea juncea
The common name for Strelitzia is Bird of Paradise, which confusingly is also applied to species of the genus Caesalpinia. These two genera that share a common name are not related. So much for 'plain simple' common names! The beautiful orange flowered form, C. pulcherrima, known as the Mexican Bird of Paradise is a widely planted landscape plant that grows easily here  and performs superbly. There is also a delicate yellow flowered form, C. gilliesii,  with striking red stamens which although lovely is shy flowering. I have both in my small yard. And the humming birds love these too!

Caesalpinia pulcherrima

C. gilliesii

Friday, September 23, 2016

Wallowing in horticultural self-pity!

A couple of days ago we had a whole day of steady rain, the first rainfall for months. Very welcome as it settles the dust and washes everything clean. And this is what it looks like but behind the pretty picture is a sad tale of horticultural failure this summer.

When I was working I used to say plants were no problem but it was people and the weather that gave me challenges and problems. Well this summer in Palm Springs has certainly been challenging for gardeners and I blame it mainly on the weather! I have shied away from talking about my own garden for weeks as its been a rather sorry tale of losses and failures. Earlier in the summer it was persistent strong winds for weeks that shredded foliage and although the winds have now dropped, it is still breezy here. Its been an exceedingly hot summer with temperatures persistently  above 110F with one notable day when it rose to 122F, resulting in widespread scorch to many plants throughout the area. Added to this I have had snout nosed weevil that has attacked some of the Agaves and mealy aphid that's popped up here and there just for fun!

root system totally eaten away by the weevil
So lets give the roll call! The plumerias have been kept in shade and have thrived to the point of growing enormous with lush green leaves but only three flowered with single flower spikes - are they worth the space, effort and water. At the moment they are on parole - they may go! My Beaucarneia struggled in the wind and lost its growing point which shows no signs of regenerating. Its now a sorry specimen so will have to go. (Its gone!) My three year old Strelitzia has produced no more than a single flower this year - no idea why! The plant in our last yard sometimes had 20-30 blooms at a time! That may go too!

My nice established Agave  'Medio picta'  was obviously too attractive to the weevils and was the first to succumb. Two others have followed although I'm now drenching with a systemic. Several cacti have died. The one common factor seems to be Rebutias which don't seem to like the extreme heat. One Opuntia, amazingly has died too.

Scorched euphorbia and skeletons of dead succulents

Dead agave!

My attempts at summer color have struggled. Out of the three original pots of Catharanthus, Madagascar Periwinkle, only one has thrived. These do normally love the heat but mine suffered soon after planting from wind damage.  A later planting of the new double one has survived but they are poor creatures!  Out of my mixed pot of bedding, the purple leaved sweet potato has thrived and the a pink flowered bedding plant whose name eludes me, is still alive. All the rest have died or been smothered by over-exuberant purple leaves. A pot of yellow celosia has survived but is distinctly boring! I have had mixed results with the blue flowered Alyogyne over the years. My first attempt was planted in a border, thrived and flowered like crazy but died mid summer. Last year's version was left in a pot and performed similarly. This year's is still alive but has given virtually no flowers all summer and provided a haven for mealy aphid. Not sure why I struggle with these but they are so exquisite when they do flower.

So disappointing

Hardly a summer display
So its been a sorry tale of failure. We do however have a new challenge. Over the two past drought summers, the small patch of grass in our front yard has died completely and we have approached our landlords to be allowed to replant this with desert planting - maybe that will be more successful!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum

Just back from a great holiday on the East coast during which we spent three lovely days in Boston. One of the highlights was our visit to  the  Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum. This is housed in what was the family home of Isabella and John Gardner. Together they traveled widely, collecting Italian Renaissance art, furniture and architectural items. The house she built, that now houses the museum, is somewhat whimsical and said to evoke a 15C Venetian Palace.  The museum was the subject of a major art theft in 1990 when two thieves dressed as police stole 13 major works of art that have never been recovered. Some empty frames still hang on the walls. The museum was first opened to the public in 1903. 

The museum surrounds a beautiful glass roofed courtyard,  that is visible from all sides and from each floor. Isabella had a passion for horticulture and the courtyard itself is a work of art, beautifully designed and exquisitely planted. The floral display in the courtyard is changed throughout the year and includes azaleas, cyclamen, poinsettia in the winter, nasturtiums and delphiniums  in early summer, going through to orchids, chrysanthemums and coleus in the fall. During our visit,  there were pots of the delicate chimney bellflowers, Campanula pyrimidalis in white and blue, together with white hydrangeas all set among lush green ferns and other foliage.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


Right now in Palm Springs we really have rather too much sunshine - not that I'm complaining. With temperatures still over 100F (38C) it's really too hot to enjoy being outside most of the day. Breakfast in the garden is lovely but by mid morning it's too hot for work or relaxation. However one of the reasons I came to Palm Springs was for the year-round sunshine and I don't regret it! Back in the UK I used to suffer from SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder and, in the winter when it was dull and sunless, my mood would drop considerably - here with all this sun, I might be accused of being hyperactive! 

Anyway - reviewing pictures for a magazine article reminded me how light levels affect our gardens and plants. Photographers have known this for years but it still amazes me that the right light creates shadows and highlights that just make plants and flowers sing! I'm really no great photographer - I'm more of a point and shoot guy -  but some of the following pics will show you what I mean by light and plants.