Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Return to the High Line

A few weeks ago when in New York we returned to visit the High line Park. Well actually this was my second visit but Philip's first. Last year he wasn't interested and went off to something boring like the Apple shop! (My opinion!) But he was fascinated by last year's pictures and my blog after the first visit, so wanted to see for himself this year. A convert! This visit was about six weeks later than last year's, so the planting was starting to look autumnal but every bit as interesting as last year. For those of you that don't know the background, do look up last year's blog. This curious linear park was just as good as last year and crowded with locals and tourists all enjoying the October sunshine. Amazing that this little green oasis should be so popular and no great distance from the rolling green acres of Central park.

So many places to sit and enjoy

Beautifully crafted landscape detail

Woodland walks - on a railway line in the sky!

I love the links to the site's railway heritage

Once again we were impressed by the quality of all the landscape features and the attention to detail throughout this beautiful landscape. Some things were new, like the huge metal sculpture covering a blank wall. Others things we noticed that I had missed last year, like the many different views from this elevation. It was also great to see that construction has been started on the third phase, taking one more section of this old derelict railway.

Clerodendron trichotomum

Excuse my ignorance - I've forgotten this - someone remind me! (Update - Tricyrtis formosana - thanks Chad)

Great detailing between soft and hard landscape

Cotoneaster of some sort

Empire State Building in the distance

New sculpture - mirrors and rusted metal - I like it!

A neighbouring balcony but nicely sympathetic

Anyone identify this Iris? (Update - possibly a form of Iris fulva - the Lousiana iris - normally spring flowering but sometimes gives the odd autumn bloom - again thanks Chad)

The High Line Park isn't quite unique as Paris has its own similar landscape, opened a number of years before the High Line. The Promenade Plantée (tree-lined walkway) is a 4.7 km (2.9 mi) elevated linear park built on top of an obsolete railway infrastructure in  Paris, France and completed in 1993. This one is built on the former right-of-way of the Vincennes railway line, which ceased operation in 1969. Part of the line was  completely abandoned and became the Promenade Plantée. This was the only elevated park in the world until the first phase of the High Line Park was completed in 2010.

By comparison on wonders whether the proposed plan for the Thames Garden Bridge is any more than a hair-brained scheme. The planned 367-meter bridge features two fluted pillars that support a split promenade between Temple Station and Southbank. Walkers will be able to enjoy 'a beautiful green environment made up of indigenous trees, shrubs and smaller plant species, stroll under the leaves and relax on benches next to the path'. The Garden Bridge Trust has been created to drive the project forward and organize fundraising in advance of a planning application in 2014 and construction in 2015. One wonders whether it will join that huge legacy of great projects that have never been built!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing

Apologies that this blog is mainly text with few pictures to break up the verbal torrent. I have to admit I'm a very critical person or as I prefer to think of it, analytical. I hope that I am encouraging to others and give praise where it is due but I have never ‘suffered fools gladly’ or remained quiet when a complaint was justified - beware restaurants that serve me poor food! Thoughts about criticism have been running around my mind in recent weeks, since I read about an exchange of words, following another blogger's criticism of a garden open to the public. This all occurred back in the spring when David’s Garden Diary blogged about a visit to Mary Keen’s Garden. He wasn't complimentary and his negative comments drew the ire of this celebrated horticulturalist, who responded through her column in the Telegraph. Now whilst I can't comment on the garden itself, I do know that I have visited many gardens open to the public that have been disappointing and a waste of money, regardless of whether it was a charitable opening. Skim back through my blogs here and you'll find some of my critiques, like my comment on a Mediocre Garden. So are we justified to make criticism of others' gardens? Of course - the whole thing of garden appreciation is subjective and for example, I might like my colourful and exotic little garden but you might find the whole experience rather brash and overpowering. That is purely a personal opinion based on personal taste. But some comments may well be less subjective and a garden that is lacking in interest, is badly maintained, untidy and weedy, deserves criticism!

Garden visiting - should be an enjoyable experience for owner and visitor!

I realise that over the years I have been called upon to be critical in a number of ways as part of my career. Many years ago I taught horticulture and as part of my duties I acted as an examiner, both marking written work and assessing the practical work of students. It was judgemental and depending on the students work, they passed or failed. I hope I was always fair! In recent years I have been privileged to act as a judge for the Royal Horticultural Society at Chelsea and the other major UK flower shows. There was a time when as judges, we walked around, had a good look at the exhibits and then proposed an award with a simple show of hands. This was not a very accurate procedure and tended to be far too subjective. Now all judging is based on a series of criteria to which are allocated marks. The result is that judging is far more objective and analytical, although there is still an element of assessing the artistic quality of the stand and the impressions of those in each judging panel can vary. As RHS judges we have earned the authority to be critical because of our knowledge and experience but equally all gardeners who have an appreciation of gardens and plants have a right to express their opinion on other gardens.

the judges' opinion and awrds do not always align with comments from the garden media!

With any aspect of the arts, there will inevitably be criticism and differing opinions. Some of us may like jazz but to others it is a meaningless cacophony. The vast world of music will speak to different people in many ways. The composer Rossini is quoted as once saying "Mr Wagner has beautiful moments but bad quarters of an hour". We will conclude that he was not a fan of German grand operas! The famous artist John Singer Sargent once painted a portrait of a young French lady who was noted for her beauty and rumoured infidelities. He created a beautiful portrait of the lady posing in a black satin dress with bare shoulders and thin jewelled shoulder straps, hinting at her sensuality.  Apparently after originally painting the picture, Sargent was persuaded to repaint one of the shoulder straps which in the original was off the shoulder. The picture became known as the portrait of Madame X and now hangs in the New York Metropolitan Museum of art, where we were thrilled to see it some weeks ago. By modern standards the picture is harmless but in the Paris society of 1884, it engendered much criticism and scandal, almost resulting in the failure of Sargent’s career.

The renowned Madame X by John Singer Sargent

All of which brings me up to date, thinking once again about criticism and my own artwork. Regular readers will know that about two years ago I took up watercolour painting and if you check the Ian’s Watercolours tab on this website you will see my work. Since returning to Palm Springs, I have joined the local Desert Arts Centre. As part of my involvement here, I have chosen to have my art work juried with the possibility that I can become  a ‘ hanging member’ which means that my work can be displayed in the gallery and hopefully sell some paintings. So I find myself in this situation where somebody else will be criticising my work, judging my ability and concluding quite simply ‘I like it’ or ‘I don't like it’!

Poppies and penstemons by a me!
Finally - just today I went out and purchased a large houseplant for our kitchen and proudly positioned it before Philip arrived home from work. His immediate response was 'I don't like that' - so much for my carefully chosen purchase but at the end of the day its all a matter of opinion. After ten minutes grovelling in the bin for the receipt, the plant is awaiting its return to the garden centre! Actually - maybe he is right - it is rather big!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Creepers in the fast lane

Whilst I have the privilege of the leaving the UK autumn and winter behind me, I do miss some things such as autumn colour. The demise of summer is a real sadness for many people but the brief multi-coloured autumn tints from some plants do soften the otherwise grey days. One of the most brilliant of autumn displays is given by the creepers in the genus Parthenocissus. I have to admit that I've muddled these for years and although the common ones both provide brilliant  orange autumn tints, they are quite distinct.

Hugh Stewart Hall in full autumn splendour

Parthenocissus tricuspidata is the botanical name for Boston Ivy, which not surprisingly has three lobed leaves or leaves with three leaflets. It comes from China and Japan. The cultivar 'Veitchii' is commonly available and has deep purplish autumn colours.  By contrast P. quinquefolia, the Virginia creeper  has five leaflets and grows wild in North America. Both are self-clingers, although the Boston ivy has a tighter habit and sits flat against a wall whereas Virginia creeper has a more lax habit and sort of scrambles.

Parthenocissus tricuspidata - Boston ivy
Parthenocissus quinquefolia - Virginia creeper

Virginia creeper rambling through trees

Over the years, I have had a love-hate arrangement with these vigorous climbers. One cannot but love their brilliant autumn colours or even the lush summer softness as they wrap an old building in foliage. However from the management aspect they are nightmares. Whilst at the University, I planted a few on big blank walls that needed softening but negotiated the removal of many others that had become problems. As they grow in summer they rapidly obstruct windows and need constant trimming. In this age of ultra safety, one cannot send a gardener up a ladder with a pair of secateurs - he has to go through ladder training and with the taller buildings this has to be a fully qualified tree surgeon! I recall having a long battle with one Warden of a Hall of residence to remove a proportion of the creepers that took many weeks to trim each summer. He argued that it was a vital part of the Hall ambiance and tradition. It was a long, hard fought battle but I won - well achieved a compromise and many of the creepers were removed! Annoyingly their ghosts remain as having removed the stems, the tiny suckers remain firmly fixed to the masonry like a nasty attack of acne.

Boston ivy in full growth in mid summer!

Charming but without trimming this young lady will soon be lost!

On another occasion I recall being asked to trim creeper that was obscuring a laboratory window and I dispatched the gardeners to deal with it. When a second phone call came in for the same job, I firmly instructed them to make a decent job of it. On the third occasion, I became defensive and then discovered that the problem creeper was inside the laboratory windows and making its way across the ceiling! Such is the vigour of these leafy monsters!

Parthenocissus henryana

There is one Parthenocissus that is less vigorous than the others, although can still reach 10m (30ft) and this is P. henryana from China. Its is prettier than the others in summer having distinct white veins on its leaves. It is said to be less hardy but I have never had problems with it.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Shock tactics

Philip has reminded me that I've been back in palm Springs for three weeks and hardly mentioned it. Well here goes - mainly text this week! My arrival in the desert each autumn is always a bit of a shock! I love my life with Philip in Palm Springs but there are so many things that are different and require adjustment for an oldie such as me, (should that be I?) set in my English ways.

On arrival there's the immediate money change, grovelling about in the airport to remove the pounds from my wallet and replace with dollars saved from last year. Driving of course is on the right, although I do love automatic cars which are so common out here. But I still tend to get in the car here on the wrong side and wonder who stole the steering wheel! Fuel is called gas and sold in gallons but I love being able to fill up for $40 (about £25)! And I must remember to refer to the trunk and not the boot!

Measurements are still in imperial which includes temperature, meaning that all those carefully remembered cooking temperatures have to be looked up again. Cooking and shopping in itself is a challenging experience. So much of what we do is subconscious and going to a cupboard or shopping in a grocery store (not supermarket) takes so much longer. Not only are products displayed in different places but packaging is all different so one cannot just grab a familiar packet off the shelf. (Talking of which I was delighted to find Bisto here.)  And whilst on cooking I do so miss my ceramic hob whilst out here. Cookers are mainly gas  looking like something out of my mother's kitchen in the 1950's and cleaning it is a pig!

Electricity is 120 volts and all the plugs are different but many electrical devices, such as computers are dual voltage. And then light switches are down for off and up for on. Of course with the wonders of the computer age and WiFi everywhere, one isn't out of contact for long but I have to remember to alter my outgoing email settings or it doesn't work!

And of course the garden is called a yard which brings us finally to some horticulture! Faithful readers will remember that we moved into our current home just a few weeks before I left last spring so there was little time to start on the garden. I did however bring from our previous home some big pots, mostly of bougainvillea which have survived. I also planted three citrus trees, two of which have thrived, although the third is struggling.

We have a magnificent crop of two small Meyer lemons! A large clump of Pennisetum setaceum has appeared in the irrigated soil around one of the trees and amazingly a pink flowered Lantana - both of course are regarded in some areas as weeds. The grass is a problem here as it is not a native but spreads rapidly from gardens into the canyons  and smothers native species. Gardeners in the UK may well know its more refined relative, the purple fountain grass. Annoyingly the mesquite tree just outside our yard has almost doubled in size since last year, is covering half the yard and blocking our view of the mountains. Reluctantly I have asked for it to be pruned! I'll let you know what happens!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Its a weed show!

This blog is unashamedly garnered direct from the local paper here in Palm Springs but I loved the quirkiness of the article, so thought you might like it too! The headline of 'Its just a weed show' continues 'just not that kind'. Cannabis is a big issue here in California where, although technically legal for medicinal purposes, still causes much controversy. But the article is not about pot, hash, grass or whatever!

An early entry from the 1950's
Anyway, the story goes that back in 1940 in the small township of Twentynine Palms, a group of society ladies were having the vapours as there were no fresh flowers available for a flower arranging demonstration. The demonstrator responded that there was no need for florist's flowers with so many beautiful desert weeds and bric-a-brac available. Since that time the local Historical Society has held an annual Weed Show, described as everything between artistic to quirky and off-the-wall! This year's show has over 200 entries all vying for coveted Blue Ribbons (First Prizes)!

The rest of these pictures more recent in the last few years.

For a full gallery of pictures check out the Twentynine Palms Historical Society website. Anyway it gives a new excuse for all those verdant weeds filling your plots! Maybe your neglected, garden may yet be a prize-winner!