Sunday, September 30, 2012

Flirting with aroids

Over the years I have had various love affairs with big lush leafy plants!  I had a long term relationship with cannas - in fact quite a harem with over 500 names until the dreaded virus came and it all ended in tears. Tetrapanax is an old flame but always raises my blood pressure. I've had a few flirtations with bananas and like to dally with Ricinus, Strobilanthes, Coleus and other colourful annuals. 

Zantedeschia 'Kiwi Blush'

But this year my wandering affections have been taken by the  aroids. The family Araceae is a large family and includes all sorts of curious plants from familiar houseplants like Dieffenbachia, through to Zantedeschia (arum lilies) and monsters such as the giant flowered Amorphophallus. But my current infatuations come in three genera; Alocasia, Colocasia and Xanthosoma, all with similar lush foliage. The common name of elephant's ear that is applied to them all adds to the confusion. All are tropical and need a greenhouse to grow well in the UK, although some intrepid exotic gardeners have had amazing success particularly with Colocasias outdoors in sheltered locations. All grow from fleshy rootstocks,  need starting in a warm greenhouse and overwintering in frost-free conditions.

I've dabbled with a few Colocasias in the past and grew an impressive 'Jack's Giant' two summers ago.  This year I seem to have seen them and their relatives everywhere from chilly Norfolk in the UK to the sunshine of New York. Inevitably Will Giles had a some in his exotic garden including some great Xanthosomas in his new polythene tunnel. Not surprisingly there was a good selection at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and a few in the Conservatory Gardens in Central Park. What did surprise me was their usage in planters in public areas. I wonder if this would work in the UK? I somehow doubt we would have enough sunshine and warmth to encourage them to really thrive! Anyway here's a few pictures to show you what has grabbed my attention. Naming may be a bit hit and miss as some inevitably weren't labelled. If you have a better guess - let me know or leave a comment! First some Alocasias - probably the most difficult to grow.

Alocasia macrorrhiza 'Calidora' - probably the most often seen and here photographed at the Eden Project UK

'Calidora' again but with other exotics in Times Square New York - (a reader comments that this is 'Portadora') What's the difference?

Alocasia sanderiana - often available as a houseplant
Alocasia cuprea 'Dragon Scale' - scary looking cultivar at the Tatton Park Flower Show

Now Colocasias - lots of them and some great foliage colours. Google them and you'll find even more  curious cultivars.

Colocasia esculenta - (corrected to Xanthosoma sagitaefolia)

Colocasia antiquorum (syn esculenta) 'Illustris' in Brooklyn Botanics
Seen in Central Park New York - possibly the cultivar 'Black Coral'

'Black Magic' in the arboretum flower garden in Nottingham last year - we like our exotics!

'Jack's Giant' - my own garden a couple of years ago - largest leaf was almost 90cm (3ft) long

Possibly 'Lemonade' - seen in Central Park

Cultivar called 'Pink China' maybe? Brooklyn Botanics.

Love this one - possibly 'Rhubarb' - vigorous grower and Central Park again.

Finally some Xanthosomas and I have to admit I really hadn't much noticed them until this year. I'm also on shaky ground as I'm not quite sure what distinguishes these from Colocasia.

Xanthosoma violaceum in Will Giles' tunnel
Planters in New York - could this be Xanthosoma 'Lime Zinger'
'Lime Zinger' again but just love this picture.
 Hope you enjoy these too but comments and corrections on all this welcomed! Let us know if you grow them.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The chilling tale of the frozen horticulturalist!

I am slowly warming up again after a very chilly weekend in San Francisco. As I shivered under a thin duvet on a friend's couch,  I realised that I had not been so consistently cold since - (I do have a short memory) - my last trip to San Francisco! Will I never learn that San Fran, for all its so called mild climate is VERY much colder than Palm Springs? More clothes next time! I'll get to the horticulture in a minute but first a mild rant.

Hotel rooms were running at nearly $400 a night so I had opted to stay with a generous friend but despite his hospitality - many thanks Josip - I was not comfortable. The first night I was frozen in bed, the second night, I woke up with migraine, the third night I was woken by my host and his friends arriving back after a jolly night out  at 2am and 4am. (jolly = drunken!) The fourth night I ventured to the bathroom in the middle of the night for the inevitable comfort break (yes - its my age!) and nearly stood in a little gift the dog had kindly left on the mat by the toilet. If I am charitable I might say that the poor animal fell off the toilet seat but maybe not! I am glad to be back in Palm Springs, nicely sweating and sleeping in my own bed.

Dancer - a Chinese Crested - the culprit!

Whilst in San Francisco, I visited the  Botanic Garden in the Golden Gate Park. This extends to 55 acres divided into various geographic collections and themed gardens.  In the past I have been with Philip when visiting these gardens and although he's very patient, well fairly patient, I have always taken a lightening trip round, aware of him sitting on a bench waiting with his friend Kindle. This time I was able to take a leisurely trip round in the early morning sunshine and take hundreds of pictures, most of which I'll never use! Anyway - have a look at a few of the best - apologies if they seem disjointed - just plants or views that caught my eye as interesting!

The succulent garden - not as good as the Huntington but still attractive

Fascicularia - a terrestrial bromeliad but is it F. bicolor or F. pitcairniifolia? How do you tell?

Just loved these sunflowers - part of a small trial bed.

Passiflora parritae - in the Andean cloud forest garden

Interesting colour in a group of ferns - anyone identify?
Tibouchina semidecandra - common here - often seen in gardens
Now this is sad - plant graffiti
Bergenia 'Silberlicht' - strangely flowering in autumn

The Redwood Grove

I also went out to the  Botanic Garden on the University of  California campus at Berkeley which I have also visited previously. This is an extensive and beautiful garden established in 1890 and extending to 34 acres. The garden contains over 20,000 different plants, all carefully labelled. The site in Strawberry Canyon is undulating and includes various hot slopes as well as cool moist valleys, making it possible to provide ideal conditions for desert plants from South Africa through to Asia's rhododendrons and so on. Now if you read my post a couple of weeks ago, you will know that I am not a great lover of things that jump, crawl or slither in the garden - yes I know I'm a big girl's blouse! Well I was trying not to respond too much as small lizards skittered over the paths in the midday sun but I did jump when a snake slithered away! It was only a small one but it was a snake not an earthworm! It left me rather jumpy!

View from near the garden entrance

Aloe polyphylla - what a wonderful pattern

Another curly plant - yes I'm easily pleased! Probably Costus speciosus - thanks Chad for the name correction!

Brunsdonna parkeri (the garden's name) - growing in the South Africa area (Chad corrects this as X Amarygia parkeri)

Cautleya spicata - I think - patterns of light and shade were dramatic

Comarostaphylis arbutoides - easily mistaken for an Arbutus

Heliconia psittacorum

Heliconia rostrata - in the trpoical house

Justicia fulvicoma - a lovely rusty colour

Opuntia phaecantha - a Caifornian native

Sarracenia - no idea of species

Sedum rubrotinctum 'Aurora' - again - lovely colourings

Although I didn't walk the streets this time,  I must mention San Francisco's wonderful record with street tree planting, most of which is organised by The Friends of the Urban Forest. Over the years this organisation has planted thousands of trees in residential areas including some quite unusual species. This beautiful tree was growing just down the road from where I was staying.

Corymbia ficifolia - used to be a Eucalyptus ( or is that an Eucalyptus?) Again - thanks Chad for the spelling correction - I'm glad someone is reading this blog!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

High Line Park

Whilst in new York a couple of weeks ago I managed to visit a quite unique park which exceeded all my expectations. A city centre park constructed on a derelict railway line sounds well intentioned and very 'green' but hardly spectacular. The real thing kept me walking and camera clicking for a couple of hours! This was originally an elevated freight rail line built in the 1930's and linking various warehouse and factories. The last train ran with a load of frozen turkeys in 1980 and the line then became derelict. The Friends of the High Line Park was established in 1999, proposing use of the area for a linear park similar to the Promenade Plantee in Paris. After ten years of planning, fund-raising and construction, the initial phase was opened in 2009. A New York landscape architect was used with input from the well known Piet Oudolf of the Netherlands, for the planting. More information on the Friends of the High Line Park here

The High Line as it was (internet pic)
Looking up from road level to the High Line Park
The park extends to 2.4km (1.5 miles), amazingly with many twists and turns which give variety and interest. At some points, the park passes through old buildings and in the shade there are small food outlets and buskers. The landscape is of the highest quality with beautiful paving and well designed street furniture. Sculpture and other artwork sits comfortably in the landscape. At one point, there are permanent sun loungers and throughout, small viewing decks. Punctuating the site, sections of the old railway lines have been preserved and integrated into the landscape, reminding us of the park's heritage.

Beautiful landscape detail

The old railway lines skillfully integrated into new planting
One of many seating areas, this overlooking the Hudson river.

Ribbons of wetland planting
An intimate seating area

One of the many twists in the line of the park - who knows how the trains negotiated this!

Decking, trees and timber benches this time
One of the few areas of grass but well maintained and a lush green sward

Sun loungers - in the early morning shade!

Planting varies between small woodlands with trees overhanging a central path, through to broad swathes of prairie planting, ribbons of wetland planting and some shady groundcover under elevated walkways. There are familiar plants but also many unusual species giving lots of year round interest. Over 200 species have been used including many North American natives but not exclusively so. This is no second-rate landscape but a beautifully maintained and well used park. On the busy weekday I visited, there were many users, plus numerous hard-working staff and volunteers, sympathetically maintaining this landscape. (No hedge trimmer hacking here!)

Rudbeckias in this typical prairie planting

Coreopsis and grasses
Colourful Asclepias
More lush planting - can't remember what this was!

Aesculus californica - I think.

Woodland walk

Shady groundcover under the decking and again the reminder of the railways

The end of the line or rather the park and the next stage of the park renovation.
The founders of this park will be speaking at a symposium in London in October with the possibility of a similar new open space in London. Check out information on the High Line Symposium.