Friday, April 18, 2014

The highs and lows of plant shopping!

Like many gardeners, I regularly check out what plants are on offer at the local nurseries and DIY multiples.  Over recent weeks I have taken a few pics for you. Firstly there are the sping flowers. Now to those of you back in the UK, pots of hyacinths, tulips and primroses might not seem so odd, but here we are in the desert with no water and daily temperatures that soar into the 80's. Despite the nostalgic aspect of these flowers from 'home' I can't believe they would survive here for more than a couple of days.

I guess stock for such stores is sourced regionally and just despatched to each outlet but without consideration for local conditions. I was surprised to see hostas, scabious, aquilegias and other temperate perennials on offer. What chance of survival do they have in the desert? At least no slugs here!

Then there is the cult for anything dwarf. Now whilst tying up tall floppy plants is not an endearing job, there are those plants whose very essence is their height.  Compact foxgloves have been around for a few years but I cannot conceive who would want dwarf delphineums rather than the towering blue spires that these majestic plants can produce.  I also find it annoying when tall plants are offered in forms which suggest they are small. The yellow flowers below are on a plant called Tecoma stans, very beautiful but makes a huge shrub maybe 8-10ft tall.  These pots contained four or five rooted cuttings but all flowering, suggesting a small compact plant.

Delphineum 'Guardian Mix-Lo' - truly awful!

All gardeners love a bargain and so its always worth checking the reduced area.  I do love the terminology here - 'distressed plants'. On this occasion, I think they were terminally distressed.

To give the store some credit, they did have some lovely compact bougainvilleas in wonderful colours, a good range of cacti and some stunning hibiscus which I had trouble resisting! Wonder if they still have some - I have just the gap that needs filling!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

High Tea on a low table!

Now I know this is a gardening blog but today I'm doing a food review. There were roses on the table so maybe that's justification but who cares! Philip says I need to be more personal in my scribblings and let you faithful readers into our lives. Well today I spent a delightful hour at a local coffee shop, Expresso Cielo in Palm Springs. They had started a new event 'high tea' and I went with my friend Jim. Now you may wonder why I was so fickle as not to go with my husband Philip but as he has a wheat intolerance, he couldn't have eaten any of the lovely foods, so hence accompanying Jim.  The term 'high tea' is slightly confusing, as to me this meant the family meal after work or school when I was a kid with something cooked, bread and jam and cake - usually served sitting up at the kitchen table! Today's delicate confection was more afternoon tea, such as would be served in Downton Abbey but I understand that the terms are nowadays often interchangeable!

Anyway - the tables were set perfectly with bone china, shiny milk and sugar containers, the aforementioned roses and napkins folded into flower shapes in the cups. Michael, the proprietor and his team were dressed in peacock blue waistcoats (vests). There was a choice of teas including a good strong English Breakfast, served in a proper teapot. The food was served on a three tier cake-stand - Quentin Crisp eat your heart out! Tiny sandwiches all in different shapes with delicate flavours, tiny round scones with jam and real clotted cream, and on the top layer, perfect little two-bite cakes. Scrumptious!

Many years ago I had the privilege of attending the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace and sampled Her Majesty's afternoon tea - it was OK - bit of a scrum really. And more recently Philip and I enjoyed afternoon tea aboard Cunard's Queen Mary 2 when sailing over to the USA. So I have two very British comparisons to make. As you know I am inclined to be judgmental, so  was expecting to have good fun criticising this British tradition but I was dissapointed - as there was nothing to criticise! Michael - don't change a thing - its perfect. If you want to go folks, you'll have to book - its popular!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Butterflies - Come out of your chrysalid!

For those of you that are of a certain age and from the UK, I hasten to say that this blog is not a sickly reminiscence of the 70's sitcom with Wendy Craig and Geoffrey Palmer but about real live butterflies! Curious creatures - as gardeners, we love the colourful motion of butterflies, visiting our garden flowers but equally hate it when their caterpillar offspring munch their way through flowers and foliage of our prized specimens!

After the Japanese garden, described in the last post,  we moved on to the Museum of Natural Sciences and purchased a couple of tickets for the Rainforest Conservatory.  This is a three storey glass structure built around a 50ft waterfall and filled with exotic plants  and hundreds of butterflies. We started at the top and were fascinated to watch butterflies emerging from their chrysalids in large environmentally controlled glass cases.  As we watched, a staff member opened the cases from behind and carefully removed the hatched butterflies - beautiful, colorful creatures with gently unfurling wings. I commented that he looked bored!

Moving into the glass atrium itself, we were surrounded by tropical foliage and the air alive with delicate floating butterflies. As we gazed around we were joined by the man from inside the glass incubator, carrying a huge muslin basket full of the newly hatched butterflies. 'Here you can help me', he says. For the next ten minutes we helped release all the new butterflies into their new home. No-one else appeared, so we had the joy of this experience just to ourselves! And he wasn't bored or boring but told us fascinating facts about the butterflies he tends as a volunteer.

We then descended into the 'rainforest', with so much to see - both plants and butterflies! We learned that the butterflies are fed on various sugar preparations and also fruit. The museum has a license to keep the butterflies which are shipped in as chrysalids but not to actually breed them. For this reason, the plants do not include the butterfly host plants, so eggs are not laid.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Wot no cherries?

Last week I visited Houston, primarily to see the John Singer Sargent exhibition at the Museum of Fine art. On our third day after a feast of art,  we had some spare time and with my friend Jim, we first visited the Japanese garden - quite beautiful but strange because of its absence of flowering cherries, such a quintessential part of any Japanese garden.  No doubt the climate is just too warm, being between zones 8b and 9a in Houston and species of Prunus generally growing between zones 4 to 9.

Anyone identify this for me? (Update - Bignonia capreolata - thanks to Max!)

Friday, April 4, 2014

In defense of the Getty!

Well I thought I'd finished on the Garden at the Getty but a detailed comment  on my blog of 22 March, More on the Garden at the Getty, set me thinking. And even though I may disagree, I appreciate the comment.  Anonymous says that he finds 'Irwin's garden slightly disturbing and disrespectful of real garden design.' That's a strange comment bearing in mind the huge range of beautifully grown plants arranged with a great deal of thought and artistry. He says 'it offers the wrong lessons to a gardening public', but this isn't a demonstration garden any more than a gourmet restaurant attempts to promote home cooking - this is horticultural theatre! It is indeed an unexpected style of garden set against such stark modern architecture but maybe it is because of it's unexpected detail and true artistry, that it is so unique and undoubtedly popular with the visitors. The Getty is a centre of excellence which extends to its gardens.

Planting detail at the Getty

Anonymous goes on to compare with the garden at Norton Simon and the Huntington both of which I agree are superb but very different gardens. He comments on sustainability which of course is a current buzz theme. Putting an appropriate landscape in the correct environment is entirely right and I myself find the rather pathetic spots of highly irrigated seasonal bedding here in Palm Springs totally wrong. Sustainable plantings of desert plants are so much more suitable. Having said that, environmentally correct planting schemes often only  use a narrow palette of entirely 'appropriate' plants, ignoring a huge range of wonderful opportunities. Irwin and his team did not limit themselves when designing and developing this garden but used every 'paint in the paintbox'! Yes this is expensive and ephemeral horticulture but it is superbly executed. I recently had the opportunity to see a festival of chalk art; extensive and creative pictures, executed on the blacktop surface of a car park - here today and gone tomorrow but still fun and art. There is nothing wrong with ephemeral in the right context.

A corner of planting at Great Dixter

Back in the UK we have gardens like 'Sissinghurst Castle' created by Vita Sackville West and Great Dixter, home of the late Christopher Lloyd. These are very similar to the Getty, full of a huge range of wonderful plants, arranged with great artistry. These are  appreciated by thousands of visitors each year who admire the artistry and horticultural skills demonstrated in these plantings. 

I guess I'm also waving the flag for horticulturalists and artists, rather than landscape architects of whom I have a poor opinion. I recall once hearing that as part of their training, landscape architects are taught a palette of thirty plants. I guess if that is still so, then they would be unable to appreciate the Garden at the Getty. And I welcome being proved wrong!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Getty Finale

Finally before leaving the theatre and the Getty Garden really is horticultural theatre, I want to tell you about the showstopper. This is a feature that I just loved, the Getty umbrellas. No it wasn't a rainy day and these certainly wouldn't have kept out a shower, let alone a downpour. These are huge metal frames - quite sculptural, like giant rusty parasols with bougainvillea trained through them.

I've seen them a couple of times and maybe on neither occasion at their peak but loved this unique way of training this wonderful scrambling shrub. Bougainvillea has been a favourite of mine for years and I have several brilliantly coloured cultivars in my yard here but these are really something! On this occasion, as the last picture shows, much of the frames were naked but being sculptural in their own right, they still looked great!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

More of the Garden at the Getty

Well I promised a bit more on the beautiful Garden at the Getty, as its called. This is the work of the artist Robert Irwin. He describes this as 'a sculpture in the form of a garden', but this is no esoteric experiment with inert materials. It's a beautiful plantsman's garden - sorry - plantperson's garden,  filled with glorious plants arranged in the most exquisite way. Irwin's statement, "Always changing, never twice the same," is carved into the plaza floor, reminding visitors of the ever-changing nature of this living work of art. Not surprisingly a horticulturalist was also involved right through the planning and production stages, sourcing plants and experimenting with planting combinations. Leading into the garden is a ravine with zig-zag paths, a shallow rocky stream and some strong planting. 


One then passes down into a circular path that runs around the pool at a lower level with closely planted borders on either side. Annuals jostle with shrubs and herbaceous perennials in lovely combinations. The path passes under arches ribboned with climbers and shade is provided by a matrix of trees which we struggled to identify in their leafless state but finally decided were Lagerstroma - lovely in a few weeks. Anyway - I'm going to let the pictures tell the story.

What more can one say - an absolute joy to experience!