Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Angelic elephantine aroids

Forgive me for revisiting aroids so soon  but I just have to add a small success story. A few weeks back I visited our local Lowes (for UK customers this is a large multiple DIY & garden centre) and to my astonishment saw  several plants of Caladium at bargain prices. These are commonly know as angel's wings or confusingly as elephant's ears, a name also applied to Alocasia, Colocasia, Xanthosoma and Bergenia. (Who said common names are simple?)

Having tried unsuccessfully to grow these in the past, I just couldn't resist trying again. The larger  plant ($9.99 about £5) and paler pink of the two cultivars was planted in our big yard under the shade of the eaves and the smaller (a mere $4.99 about £2.50) was  added to a planter in our back yard. A month later both are thriving and enjoying the late autumn warmth. If anything the smaller plant has doubled in size and overtaken the original larger one. I wonder how they will fare when the chilly winter nights arrive?

Caladiums are natives of Brazil and parts of South America but are commercially grown in a small area of Florida near Kissimee. These are tender tuberous perennials and in cool climates need to be grown in a constantly warm greenhouse. If you see them for sale, be prepared to coddle and speak nicely to them!
Commercial production - internet picture

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A leafy white elephant?

You may recall I that I have four potted bougainvilleas that are on threat of dismissal if they don't improve their performance. Third and final warning! I've had them two years and despite a mass of growth, taking up a large part of our small yard, they have been largely devoid of flowers. Could be my fault,  although I have reduced the feed and water to try and shock them into flower. Anyway one is now flowering reasonably, although it seems to be a prostrate cultivar as all the flowers are annoyingly sitting on the paving! Nice orange colour though.

Bougainvillea - probably 'Orange Ice'

One of the others does however have a fascinating albino sport - a couple of almost pure white  shoots with pale pink tints, really rather beautiful, so I have left them to see if they will flower and what the flowers will be like against the white shoots. Albino leaves contain no chlorophyll and so have no ability to manufacture food materials on their own and so rely on their connection to the rest of the plant. What is surprising is that these white shoots are growing more vigorously than the others in the plant.

The albino sport in early September

The same shoots late October, sadly also chewed by caterpillars!
This is the flower on the plant that has sported - could look spectacular against white foliage.

Some garden plants have very pale leaves, soft yellows and lime greens but seem to have enough chlorophyll to survive. I would love to know whether there is any chlorophyll in these bougainvillea shoots as a plant grown from these would be spectacular. If any reader lives in the area and has propagation facilities, you be welcome to have some cuttings and see if they will survive!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Plants make wonderful pets

What is this strange relationship we gardeners have with plants? Sometimes we become quite attached and even attribute feelings and senses to them that they really don't have. Go on admit it - I guess at least a few of you talk to your plants. I've done it, although my verbalisations usually go along the lines of 'Grow or its the great compost heap in the sky for you!' Maybe you are the type to tie yourself to a threatened tree 'Woodsman spare the axe!'. I've never done that, although I did get very passionate once when I was told to fell a rare Juglans cathayensis for a new building. I argued and actually won! The tree still lives.

Maybe like me, you remember John Wyndham's science fiction books on the 1950's and the triffids. These were giant mobile carnivorous plants. Did this bizarre story stimulate my early horticultural interest? ('The Day of the Triffids' was revived as a TV drama in 2009 but I must have missed it.) Then there's the musical comedy, 'Little Shop of Horrors', set in a florist's shop. One of the workers, Seymour, raises a raunchy plant called Audrey II, that speaks and feeds on human blood. It's a somewhat macabre story that makes struggling with bindweed seem a walk in the park by comparison! Although I think we've all experienced a few monster plants that we wish we'd never acquired!

Seymour struggles to save Audrey (his girlfriend) from Audrey II

And if both of these seem far fetched well how about the new rock musical called 'The Plant that ate Dirty Socks', all about two brothers and their unusual plants. One of the songs, which caught my attention and prompted this blog is 'Plants make wonderful Pets'. Do click on the link and see if it amuses you as it did me! Apologies for the quality of the obviously amateur filming.

That's it - nothing serious today!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

The highlight of my Vancouver trip was my visit to the VanDusen Botanical Garden, all the more enjoyable as the heavy cloud eventually broke and I saw most of the garden bathed in autumn sunshine. The site was originally a golf course and became available in the late 1960's. Funding from various sources including WJ VanDusen, enabled purchase of the land and development started in 1971, with the garden opening to the public in 1975. Bearing in mind the relative youth of this 22 ha (55acre) garden, plantings appear very mature.

First view of the garden from the new entrance

Can't recall the theme of this colourful little garden
Lovely contrast this cool rocky stream bed - theme is Western N America
The garden is beautifully designed and divided into various plant collections and themed areas, boasting 11,500 accessioned plants, mostly well labelled in formal botanic garden style. It's a beautiful and very enjoyable garden but with a serious vision. There is a Master Gardener training scheme, a program of lectures, events and workshops and a horticultural library.  It is also good to see that unlike the Quarry Garden, reviewed in the previous blog, these gardens encourage us to 'Please walk on the grass!'

Its difficult to know where to start describing the garden. For UK gardeners it is probably more like a small Wisley than a formal botanic garden. I particularly enjoyed the Alma Van Dusen garden - very autumnal with sunflower seedheads, pampas and late asters. There was a good exotic border with all the usual lush and leafy stuff, plus a variegated pokeweed that I particularly liked. Sadly the 'autumn stroll' was closed due to construction works, although there were hints of autumn colour in various areas including some fine vibrant orange Rhus. The heather garden was very colourful (compare the sad offering at Compton Acres).

I fell in love with the stark shapes of these seedheads
Had to include some pampas but couldn't find any palms!

You guessed it - the exotic border
Phytolacca americana  'Silberstein' - love the contrast of foliage, stem colour and fruits
Fiery autumn tints on a Euphorbia but what is it - anyone help me out? (Identified as E. villosa - thanks Chad)

Fraxinus americana - possibly 'Autumn Purple'

Hamamelis 'Ruby Glow'

Rhus typhina 'Laciniata' - one of my favourite autumn colour plants

The heather garden - Callunas finishing and Ericas budding up for winter
There were still some brave autumn perennials and burnished grasses glowing in the afternoon sunshine. I sort of missed the black garden which I would like to have seen. On the day I visited the staff were clearing it, so it was partly dismantled but there were still some interesting plantings. I don't think it was particularly well sited being under trees - dark leaved plants always look best in bright sunshine. With collections of rhododendrons, camellias and witchhazels, to mention a few, I guess the garden also looks spectacular in spring. Winter colour was already evident with various coloured berries. Throughout the garden there was sculpture and other small details like the tubs of Sarracenia near the old entrance area.

Asters and Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia' - great combination

Love the way the light catches these spiky leaves - can't remember what they were
Great tawny tints on these grasses - rarely seen it the wetter UK autumn

Callicarpa giraldiana - yes the berries are real, not plastic and last through the winter
Sorbus hupehensis 'Pink Pagoda' - great colour and the birds generally leave it  until they are really hungry!

Great contrast between the black Colocasia and the small leaved Lonicera 'Baggeson's Gold'

Colocasia - couldn't find a label but think its 'Mojito'

How can you not love these wonderful Cyclamen hederifolium 'Album'

Nerine bowdenii - great for a hot dry spot, here livening up some dying grasses

Sarracenia rubra - feeds on flies and small insects (Disagreement here - name comes from garden label but Chad identifies as S. leucophylla 'Red Form')

The Little Green Dress Project - some ephemeral art

This garden is well worth a visit and I guess at most seasons - do allow a full day to explore and don't bother to pack sandwiches. There is an excellent cafe, called Truffles! The food and coffee is good, although the service a little slow and disorganised, so don't leave it till you are gasping as I did! More information on the VanDusen Gardens here.

You might wonder why Philip hasn't been mentioned in the last two blogs but on this occasion, he opted to do his own thing rather than join me garden visiting -  no accounting for taste. He spent the day visiting the Apple store  and in an Irish pub, drinking Guinness and eating battered French Fries -  I'm sending him to get his cholesterol checked later this week!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Vancouver - 3rd time lucky!

We finally made it! At the third attempt we made our long-planned but brief trip to Canada. This was first planned two years ago but had to be cancelled when a running injury reduced me to a hobbling invalid with a cane! The rescheduled trip should have been last winter but again had to be postponed as it clashed with Philip's interview for Citizenship. The USA 'department of whatever' wouldn't consider being out of the country a suitable reason to alter it! We rescheduled again.

The autumn chill of Vancouver was a surprise after the late summer heat of Palm Springs - a drop from around 35C (96F) to 16C (60F) after a three hour flight was challenging to the system and wardrobe but we had packed warm clothes, so survived the arctic onslaught. I had particularly hoped to get some good autumn colour pictures but the low light on most days rather limited this. Although I have many thousands of good garden pictures, being away in Palm Springs in the autumn and winter means that I do not get the opportunity to capture these two seasons. Its a tough life missing the British autumn and winter!

Maples in a brief sunny moment

Lots of grass plantings in landscaped areas - flowering well in the dry autumn air
It was a pleasant few days but having a nasty cold rather reduced my energy and interest and Philip's patience! (He's a nurse but when off duty ...) We didn't perhaps do as much as we intended. A planned trip to the summit of Grouse Mountain via the aerial tramway was abandoned due to heavy cloud so at least one day was lost to 'mouching'! Vancouver is well endowed with parks, gardens, open spaces and trees. Stanley Park, linked to the Downtown peninsula extends to 1000acres (400ha) and much of the waterfront has landscaped gardens with trees, grass and sculpture. There are dozens of other neighbourhood parks. In addition I don't think I have ever seen so many roof gardens and patches of 'aerial planting' on buildings.

Just one of many roof gardens we saw
Queen Elizabeth Park is situated a few stops down the subway from Downtown where we were staying and at one of the highest points of Vancouver. The 94 acres were first developed into a park in the 1930s and it was named after Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother during the Royal visit in 1939. (King George was at that time King of Canada and Elizabeth was his consort.) The land had previously been quarried for stone, so was scarred with two huge quarries which were developed into gardens in the 1950's. The more formal gardens are surrounded by a huge arboretum, various walks and recreation areas. The quarry gardens are good but in a traditional 'parks' style and being autumn, the change from summer to spring bedding was taking place. Remaining summer flowers were mingling with autumn tints, all on a very misty morning. It was quite ethereal walking through the mist to find curtains of vivid red Parthenocissus draping the quarry walls.

The large quarry garden and the Bloedel Conservatory in the misty distance

Parthenocissus quinquefolia - is it?

Bit of everything, trees, shrubs, conifers, herbaceous, aquatic and bedding - very parksy! And note the 'keep off the grass' railings

Beautiful rock strata reminding us of the origins of the garden

I just loved this muted mix of autumn colours

Celebration Plaza at the centre of the gardens and at the highest point, features  seven Tai Chi arbours, a dramatic dancing fountain and Henry's Moore's impressive 'Knife Edge - Two Piece' sculpture. Apologies for the almost monochromatic pictures due to the low light.

Henry Moore sculpture and dancing fountains
The Bloedel Conservatory

The sculpture was gifted by Prentice Bloedel as was the adjacent conservatory constructed in 1969 at a cost of $1M. The structure is not dissimilar to the great Biomes at the Eden Project, although the panels in the Bloedel Conservatory are triangular and those at Eden are hexagonal. The conservatory was threatened with closure in 2009 but was reprieved following fund raising by a Friends group and support from the nearby VanDusen Botanical Garden (more in next blog). The conservatory is lushly planted and maintained at a tropical temperature but the planting is confused and Alocasias are mingled with Brugmansias, cacti and charm chrysanthemums. It needs a good sort out and some interpretation. Over 100 species of tropical birds live, flying freely, within the conservatory. Again apologies for the poor pictures - none of the birds seemed willing to pose and face the camera!


Inside the conservatory
Great foliage combo - anyone know what the Alocasia is?

Costus pulverulentus which I wrongly named in a previous blog, this time in bloom.

Dichorisandra thyrsiflora - often called blue ginger but actually a relative of Tradescantia
Pachystachys lutea, a relative of the shrimp plant and same family as Acanthus

And the next post - wait for it - The Van Dusen Botanic Gardens - truly wonderful!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

9/11 Memorial

Just back from a few chilly days in Vancouver - lots to tell you about but whilst I gather my thoughts, I'll catch up with a piece I wrote a few weeks ago.

Whilst in New York a few weeks ago, we visited the 9/11 memorial on the site of the twin towers. It was a moving experience and I hope my comments don't minimise the significance of this site. As a memorial it is very meaningful with two vast sunken pools marking the positions of the two towers. Water trickles down the sides of these black pits from perfectly engineered ledges just below the lips. In the centre of these huge square craters, the water drops again into even deeper hollows.   Around the top of the pools  the names of the 3000 victims of both the 2001 and the 1993 terrorist attacks are engraved in the bronze rims. These are beautiful and poignant reminders of that awful event.

The pools are set in a landscaped plaza which will be the core of the new developments rising  around the perimeter of the site. The landscape is a simple and formal mix of paving, grass, blocks of green ivy groundcover and 400 swamp white oaks. This is Quercus bicolor, a North American native, used for lumber production as well as landscaping.

One particular tree was different - a single specimen of Pyrus calleryana, a native of China, more commonly seen in the UK as the cultivar 'Chanticleer'. This particular tree is known as the Survivor tree and was a part of the landscaping of the original World Trade Centre Plaza, planted in 1970. After the 9/11 disaster, the tree was found, reduced to a stump but still alive amongst the wreckage. It was retrieved and nursed back to health in a nearby park. Once again in 2010 it was wrecked, this time by a storm but still survived. In December 2010 it was moved to its current location as part of the 9/11 memorial and despite supporting guy wires, appears to the not just surviving but thriving.

The Survivor Tree
Visiting the memorial at the moment means a timed ticket, thorough security checks and snaking through to what is really the centre of a vast building site. The museum is not yet open but the plaza and the pools are well worth visiting. More information

1 World Trade Center, one of the new towers, surrounding the Memorial Plaza