Wednesday, February 10, 2016

'Allo Aloe


Forgive the terrible pun for the title of this piece which is all about aloes. Brits of a certain age will all recall the incredibly popular TV series 'Allo 'Allo, about a small French cafe and the French resistance which ran for 85 episodes from 1982 to 1992. 



Back to plants and gardens! There are some 500 species of Aloe which originate from  tropical and southern Africa and Madagascar, and have also become naturalized in other regions such as the Mediterranean, North and South America. The best known is Aloe vera, which although probably extinct in the wild is widely grown for pharmaceutical purposes. Aloes are generally succulent and have a rosette of foliage very similar to Agave spp, although some aloes form woody stems making shrubs or small trees.

At this time of the year, here in California, the many species start to flower and some of them can be quite spectacular.  I haven't managed to get to the Huntington Gardens yet this spring but here are a few pics from past visits. Apologies that there are a few names missing - do tell me if you recognize them!

Aloe vera


Aloe africana

Aloe castanea

Aloe dorothea

Aloe excelsa

Aloe labworana

Aloe polyphylla

Aloe porphyrostachys

Aloe ramoissima

Aloe sp

Aloe sp

Aloe sp
       
Aloe vanbalenii 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Reprieved!

Apologies for the long silence but I just haven't had anything much new to say! I've been writing this blog since January 2012 and the anniversary has slipped by without mention. Over the four years I have written about plants and gardens back in the UK and here in California, where I now live for most of the year. Its currently winter and we are still in drought, the result of which is that many gardens look a little tired and drab. I don't feel there is anywhere as much color in gardens as in past years, although we have had very little cold weather and only one light frost. My own yard is almost devoid of color which brings me to the subject of this piece.

Eremophila 'Valentine'- internet pic - mine failed!

Last year I planted two Eremophilas - small shrubby plants from Australia. They are members of Scrophulariaceae, which includes such diverse plants as snapdragon and foxglove. E. 'Valentine' had pretty magenta flowers but failed to thrive and died.  By contrast E. glabra subsp carnosa grew like crazy making a sprawling flowerless green bush. I had made a mental note to dig it out before spring and replace with something more interesting. However there may be a reprieve, as it's the only plant in flower in my garden at this time. It's got a good smattering of red flowers but they don't really show against the dark green foliage unless the low winter sun catches them, so it still may go! At least a stay of execution for a few weeks!

Eremophila glabra subsp carnosa

Friday, January 8, 2016

Size isn't everything!

I haven't imposed any of my paintings on you recently, so thought it was time to add a few here, especially as I spend much of my time painting these days. I have recently departed from my previous large scale painting and been experimenting with some small ones which I'm very pleased with. There is a purpose as the local Coachella Valley Watercolor Society has a Small Image Show in February and I need something to enter. Anyway - here's a few.







These are all about 8in square and are available for sale. Email me for prices and mailing possibilities.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Red in tooth and claw

Christmas and the New Year has passed and although I feel slightly guilty for not having posted anything for ten days, I'm certainly not losing any sleep! Winter in Palm Springs is a curious but lovely season - still sunny and relatively warm but nights are chilly and the other day a touch of frost browned off the tips of the bougainvilleas.


Horticulturally its quiet - my excuse for not writing! My yard looks OK but not very colorful. We enjoy the humming birds' entertaining aerial acrobatics and like to see the roadrunners strutting about. However we are less happy with the hoards of pigeons that leave their droppings on our patio. We actually bought a plastic hawk as a deterrent but it didn't work!


The other day I commented that it was a pity that the roadrunners (carnivorous) didn't eat pigeons too. To my astonishment within a few minutes I observed a large bird at the bottom of the yard that had caught a pigeon. It wasn't a roadrunner but a red tailed hawk that proceeded to kill, pluck and eat the pigeon. Fortunately he was a tidy bird and finally flew off with the carcass, leaving us just a mulch of fluffy white feathers. The first picture is a library image and the other two are of the rather macabre event in our garden.




We decided to leave the feathers as a warning to the rest of the pigeons to stay clear of our yard and it seems the word has gone around as so far it seems to have worked.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Hard Graft

Visiting the Huntington Gardens the other day, my eye caught a bed of unusual roses. I have no idea what the names were but there were two colors and the effect was created by two different cultivars being grafted (or budded) onto the same bush. It was a bit of a novelty but we often plant complimentary plants together, so why not ensure they grow together.

My knowledgeable friend Chad wonders whether these were 'Burgundy Ice' that had reverted back to 'Iceberg'.  Interesting! Probably not as there was a row of these all showing a similar mixture of colors. Searching for this on the web, I found small standards advertised with just this mix as double grafts. 'Burgundy Ice' does however revert as the following picture shows.

Grafting is of course an age-old process whereby one plant is united with the roots of another closely related plant, to generally give various benefits, such as vigor. However this example set me thinking about a few of the other novelty uses of grafting. In recent years gardeners may have noticed the resurgence of interest in grafted tomato plants - claiming to give extra vigor and disease resistance. But did you know that because they are related, a tomato can be grafted onto a potato plant, giving a 'tomtato' with a double crop?


Another novel use of grafting if to create unsusual coloring and forms of cacti. I don't entirely understand the process and certainly don't appreciate the effects but there is a curiosity factor!


The next example I am not too sure of. The chrysanthemums in the picture below were part of a fantastic exhibition of the Japanese art of training chrysanthemums, Kiku. (Check out my previous blog on this) I think this plant was probably created by grafting a new variety for each different colored tier. However it was grown, it is nevertheless an amazing specimen.


Family fruit trees have been around for ages. These are small trees that are grafted usually with three different cultivars of apple or pear which will in theory give a selection of fruit on maturity.  My good friend Tony back in Nottingham has taken this  to a new level by top-working an old apple tree with numerous different cultivars of apple. I forget how many but he has a whole orchard in one old tree.

Graft union on a top worked apple tree

Family apple tree
One of my favorite curiosity plants is +Laburnocytisus adamii which is a graft hybrid. Many years ago a French nurseryman grafted together a Laburnum with a broom, Cytisus purpurea, two loosely related plants. The result was a plant in which the tissues mingled completely and this is known as a graft hybrid, designated with the little + symbol before the name. When in flower, it produces yellow laburnum flowers, purple broom flowers and some murky pinkish blooms half-way in between.


Back in the 80's I was responsible for the campus grounds at Reading University. As part of a restoration project we discovered an old manna ash, Fraxinus ornus, in a woodland called The Wilderness. It had been part of a garden that once existed and the tree was described in great detail in an old Gardener's Chronicle article, somewhere around the 1900's. The text described the tree's graft line and its contrast between smooth and rough bark, above and below the graft line, so we knew that it was the one. We treasured the tree but one day I noticed it looked frail and gave instructions for the branches to be supported. Sadly I was too late as that night the tree collapsed. A sad ending for an old warrior!


Monday, December 7, 2015

Winter Gardens

Gardens in winter - conjures up all sorts of images, generally of a rather sad, brown, dripping landscape. Originally the term winter garden was used for large glass conservatories, which were heated to create a garden-like atmosphere in winter. Many were of course attached to big private residences. The first public one was built in Regents Park, London in 1842 and probably one of the most famous was Paxton's Crystal Palace, built in 1851.


More recently the term winter garden refers to a carefully chosen blend of very tough evergreen shrubs, winter flowering plants and colored stems such as the winter garden at Cambridge Botanics in the UK. However today I am going to chat about my own little winter garden here in drought-ridden California.



It's looking a little windswept and not as colorful as in summer but it's still a great outdoor space with lots of interest even in December. Just today I have replanted a low bowl with all my small special cacti, moved an agave into a pot on its own and planted a Euphorbia millii. Euphorbias are a wonderful group of plants and I'm amazed how many of them manage to produce red colorings  like this Euphorbia trigona 'Royal Red'. 




I usually plant a few new annuals in pots for a bit of winter color but to my astonishment both the celosia and zinnia I planted earlier in the summer self-seeded before they shriveled up in the August heat and I now have a new crop.



The Canna 'Durban', which I was thrilled to find earlier in the year has continued to provide us with lush foliage. I think we are now on the third flush of growth and having cut out some dull tatty leaves and a couple of old stems this morning, it still looks quite presentable.


I love the tropical looking Hibiscus and whilst they are usually great the first year after purchase, they seem to struggle once planted  and are sparse in flowering. Mine have currently got an attack of a rather obnoxious mealy grey aphid which seems resistant to the common pesticides. The local ants seem to like them though and are busy - maybe it's the honeydew the aphis secrete.



Finally I thought I'd show you my nursery corner where I cosset any new or young plants. Agaves are very generous providing 'pups' which I grow on and there's also a few new plants and my plumerias, sheltering for the winter. All told a very small and simple garden, but one that gives us much pleasure.



Thursday, November 26, 2015

Fall color at the Huntington

Having become a member of the Huntington and having a willing driver in my friend Jim, it is great to be able to visit regularly and see this beautiful garden at various seasons. This last trip was an attempt to see some fall color but apart from some beautiful ginkgos in the Japanese garden, there was little. Foliage of plants such as maples seemed to have just dried up without coloring. Despite this there was much to see in the garden and in particular some colorful aloes starting to flower in the desert garden. For those that want to know and see more of this garden, check out my earlier blogs in March 2012 and May 2015. As I've described the gardens in those earlier pieces, I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves this time. Increasingly I find myself captivated by the desert garden and all the curious and wonderful plants that thrive there.




Agave americana Variegata - common but I love the way the leaves twist

Agave multifilifera 'Chahuiqui'

Aloe ramosissima


Echevaria agavoides x E. olorata - love this but it just burns up in Palm Springs heat

Barrel cactus - lovely to see so many


What is this? An Agave? Update - Ananas comosus 'Variegatus'  - the variegated pineapple - thanks Chad.

Opuntia littoralis var austrocalifornica

Opuntia microdasys

Stapelia - species?

After the desert garden (and a very nice lunch)  we headed off through the jungle and subtropical gardens and then briefly visited the Japanese and Chinese gardens.

Grevillea - love it but couldn't find a label. Chad thinks maybe 'Moonlight'

Chorisia insignis

A small palm but what is it? Chad suggests Chamaedorea microspadix - thanks!


Love the reflections - I feel a painting coming on!

Love the sun hitting these and the Iresine below



Delighted to find a Monarch caterpillar on a milkweed, particularly as I have just planted some in my little yard. I now know what to expect.



The beautiful Chinese Garden
Sapium sebiferum -  Chinese tallow tree - at last some fall color!

Camellia sasanqua flowering in various areas

Wonderful cones on these cycads

What is this pretty butterfly?


And finally Ginkgo biloba in fall finery!