Friday, August 21, 2015

Honeymoon on board the Queen Mary 2

Well after getting married in 2006, Philip and I just celebrated with a transatlantic cruise.   Actually Philip and I became civil partners in January 2006 but just a couple of weeks ago returned to the Council House in Nottingham to have our Civil Partnership converted to status of marriage for the princely sum £4 and amazingly it is backdated to 2006. We also got married in August 2012 and this was in New York after our first trip on the QM2 - confused - not surprising! But it's all been important in achieving my Green Card status which enables me to now stay in the USA as long as I want. (Maybe longer than Philip would like!)

Rare picture of us in suits with ties - strict dress code on the QM2 for dinner!

Little Ted - our naked traveling companion - actually my childhood teddy and yes I am sentimental! Sadly Philip's Ted is now too frail and cannot travel so he stayed in Palm Springs!

I struggle to say much horticultural about eight days afloat on the Atlantic. There were a few indoor plants, but the deck landscaping, such as it was, comprised a few plastic box bushes. Amazingly there were beautiful cut flowers in various locations; alstroemeria on the tables in our dining room but orchids for the posh folks in the first class area! It was a wonderful trip with plenty to do and lots to eat but I did visit the gym most days. I also spent time nearly every day painting. Highlight of the trip was probably four wonderful, beautifully illustrated talks on musical theater. One sad day a member of staff was lost overboard which entailed retracing our route for three hours and a grid search. Sadly he was not found. The same day there was also a fire during dinner, fortunately extinguished without us having to miss dessert!


I think the florist had an attack of poor taste the day he did these!

Britannia Dining Room where we had dinner each night - amazing to think this is aboard a ship!



Although the cooking demonstration was cancelled, we did get to see three talented chefs making carvings of fruit and vegetables which then graced the buffets for the next couple of days.  Does this count as horticulture? 



The rose is real but the rest are carved vegetables.

Amazing what can be done with a watermelon!





All told a delightful eight days celebrating our marriage - well actually we've now been together for nineteen years! So a good excuse for a margarita or three! And people say gay relationships don't last! More proper horticulture next time with a visit to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Improving on nature

These days I spend more time painting than planting so I'm going to tell you today about a recent challenge. It goes back to when  I started my watercolor painting some years ago. Since then I have traced a path between elation on the successful days and misery at times when it hasn't worked!  I guess I started out ambitious and one of my first attempts was to capture the colorful profusion of the exotic garden at Great Dixter and this is the photograph that inspired me. Wonderful red 'Bishop of Llandaff' dahlias, glowing necklaces of Ipomoea lobata, sometimes called Spanish flag and spidery threads of Miscanthus, the low autumn sun glinting through the foliage.


But I soon came down to earth, when my brush refused to produce the magical images I envisaged. Below is my first rather pathetic attempt at synthesizing the essence of the picture in watercolor, which I amazingly kept. Recently, the Coachella Valley Watercolor Society announced its annual summer challenge. This was to find a picture that any of us had painted way back in our watercolor careers and recreate with our current skills. For some this may mean thirty or more years painting but in my case it was just four. This was my first attempt, painted in 2011. Sorry - poor photo!

2011 painting

Since then I have painted regularly, attended classes, been on a few workshops and despite the many torn up failures have found much reward in painting. I guess I've improved as I now sell through the Desert Art Center and have won a few awards. So up to the present and my two recent attempts at recreating the same scene with my current skills. 

2015 - second attempt
2015 - third attempt

I might have been tempted to leave it at painting number three but when I removed the masking tape I ripped off the corner of the painting, so I have to do it once more - can I improve it again before October?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A rather select garden

It seems like only a couple of years ago that friends Pete and Trevor asked me to look at their new plot and make suggestions. Being away from the UK so much I never got to giving them any help but they've managed fine and now have a great garden with an amazing amount of maturity in a short space of time. I did see it last year in the making but in yet another year it has really filled out. I really like the way they have given different areas a distinct style  like the white garden, the hot borders and the exotic garden at the far end.
I'll let the pictures tell the story.

This first picture taken in 2014 and all the rest a year later, August 2015

















And there's really interesting hard landscaping throughout the plot - interesting choices of paving laid in innovative ways. Pete is not afraid of bold colours and the purple surround to the pool just sings! The other thing I really like about this garden is the selection of unusual plants not just the ordinary garden centre choice but some real curiosities. Iguess its not surprising as Trevor runs his own nursery!


Anyone identify this oak? Update - Chad suggests -
'Quercus dentata ‘Pinnatifida’ with a mineral deficiency!'

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Coffee addict's tree

In the centre of my front garden there is a small tree, well more shrub in size, with delicate variegated leaves. It has been there many years and grows very slowly.  Like so many plants in all our gardens, it is special to me as there is a story behind its acquisition. 



Many years ago (age rearing its head again!) I was asked by a plant collector friend from the USA if I could trace a supplier of Gymnocladus dioca 'Variegata', as he had a challenge on with a friend to be the first to acquire this rare tree. I knew of the  green species, Gymnocladus dioica as it grew in the grounds of Reading University, which I managed back in 1980's.  I remember it as a young tree with handsome green pinnate foliage. It was distinct in the winter as the leaves dropped in autumn but the petioles, leaf stalks did not fall till the spring, so it had a strong skeletonised shape over winter. It is a native to the American mid west and was for some years the state tree of Kentucky. Its seed is toxic when raw but when roasted can be used as a coffee substitute, hence the common name of Kentucky coffee tree.

A young Kentucky coffee tree

Winter - small 'branches' are actually leaf petioles

Back to the story! There were no commercial suppliers of the desired tree in the UK but I did track down a specimen in the Hillier arboretum and the Director agreed to supply scion wood. So the following winter I purchased three small plants of the green species tree and delivered these with the scion wood to Pershore college who in those days offered a grafting service. A year later I collected three small plants of the oh-so-desirable variegated form. Two were dispatched to my friend in the USA and the third I kept, which now graces my front garden. Sadly by the time the trees arrived, my USA friend's challenger had died, so it was all rather pointless. But nevertheless I have a pretty small tree with a curious story!

The Reading tree when I returned in 2010

Thursday, July 23, 2015

So very English

Garden visiting on a Sunday afternoon is so very English. I'm not aware that there is anything like the National Garden scheme with its iconic Yellow Book in any other country, although maybe someone will put me right if there is.  So last Sunday I went to visit a beautiful garden near to Nottingham. My TomTom satnav led me through some tiny lanes with high hedges that reminded me of Cornwall but despite my apprehension, did lead me to the right location. Signs directed me to a nearby field where I navigated the ruts and cowpats to park. At least it was dry! Having duly paid my £3.50 and visited the plant sales table,  I was free to explore. It was  a beautiful 3 acre garden and meticulously maintained by the two owners. Lots of colour and many different plants. I'll let the pictures speak for the garden. 









My only criticism was that it was all very similar. None of the borders had any colour schemes or themes. In a garden of this size it would have created greater variety to have given each border or area an identity of its own. Having said that, as well as lots of colourful borders, there was a woodland garden, a couple of pools, wildflower meadow and a rock garden. Inevitably I also took lots of pictures as inspiration for paintings too.