Wednesday, October 3, 2012

In Paradisum

For many years when Philip and I used to escape to Palm Springs as visitors we had the habit of waking up, opening the shutters to the perennially blue sky and saying "Another day in paradise" - pathetic but that's the sort of witty repartee that's keeps  relationships alive and vibrant! Anyway we still love the paradise of blue skies, the mountains and the vivid colours of the desert landscape. Apologies to those of you putting on the winter warmers back in the UK! So what's the link between our waking up habits and horticulture you might ask? Well a rather tenuous one - just two beautiful plants that thrive in this paradise and share an elysian name.

Another day in paradise!

Both plants are called the bird of paradise - confusing - well yes - common names often are - hence the reason for us snobby horticulturalists insisting on spouting Latin and using botanic names. For most of you, bird of paradise will conjure up a picture of Strelitzia regina with its striking architectural foliage and vivid orange spiky flowers. This native of South Africa makes a wonderful plant when it has space and warmth. Our own potted plant has as many as 30 spikes on some winters. Last summer I saw small plants sold in the UK, complete with a plastic flowers spike. Now whilst time, patience and good culture could turn this into a flowering specimen, I do feel such selling tactics are close to fraud!

Strelitzea regina

The 'leafless' Strelitzea juncea - like a chunky grass

Strelitzea nicolae - never seems to make a tidy plant
The other so-called bird of paradise is Caesalpinia pulcherrima. This is a common landscape shrub seen in gardens and public landscape areas everywhere here. Its as common as Viburnum tinus is in the UK but far more attractive. Throughout the summer and early autumn it is covered with vivid flaming orange flowerheads that look particularly startling against the blue skies here. It has a medium requirement for water, so is not planted in the particularly Eco-sensitive desert landscapes. Although it is a tall, straggly shrub, it responds well to pruning so can be cut hard each winter and then re-grows again the next season, rather as buddleias would be treated in the UK. It originates from the West Indies. There is also a yellow form, C. gilliesii that for some reason is far less common.

Caesalpinia pulcherrima
Close up the flowers are quite beautiful - bees and humming birds love them!

Caesalpinea  gilliesii- less familiar but just as attractive
 Hope you enjoy my taste of horticultural paradise.


  1. Paradise...yes the desert is that, skies and forms. Not corny at all.

    I think the last bird of paradise is only common in higher deserts, as you can grow C. pulcherrima as a root-hardy perennial in El Paso and as a real shrub in the low desert like perhaps over mostly yellow?

    The others...that S. juncea is nice, never seen that. In San Diego, that's where those couple Strelitzia you show really are at their prime in the SW, at least. Real estate costs are prime for the available jobs there, too!

    Back to reality in the high desert.

  2. Two quintessential plants that evoke paradise indeed (not just because of its namesake).

    The lure of moving somewhere sunnier and warmer will always be there. However, the sight of British countryside, gardens, and even the city of London in full sun and blue, is unbeatable, no matter how infrequent they may be. Makes me fall in love with this place all over again :)

  3. Blue skies and sunshine are both key ingredients for anywhere that wants to be called paradise. For weeks (months) now that has been the case here in Portland, Oregon. Still the plants you feature are another kind of paradise only found in points south.