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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Its too darn hot!

It's hot here in Palm Springs - VERY HOT! with temperatures exceeding 110F (that's 43C for my UK friends) on a daily basis, it's just too hot to be outside after an early breakfast. Garden work is restricted to a few quick jobs in early morning. Sadly there's not much of interest to report about my yard. On one occasion a couple of weeks ago, the temperature reached 121F (49C), almost touching the all-time record.  The result has been a rather devastating amount of scorch and some losses. I don't recall so much damage last summer and not surprisingly,  days over 110F already exceed last year's records.  So if I were to write about my garden, it would be a sorry tale of woe and some rather miserable pictures of incinerated plants. Instead a little floral color of my own making!

Having to escape indoors for much of the day, I have been trying to paint on a daily basis. And as I haven't inflicted my painting on you recently, here are some of the newer ones. Inevitably there are lots of flowers!

However I've been trying to be adventurous and to paint different subjects and in a looser style. There have been quite a few hitting the failure pile - these are some of the better ones!   Its been fun and challenging.