Wednesday, February 26, 2014

An arty garden

Finally I've made a couple of trips and have some new gardens to tell you about. Over the weekend, I travelled to Los Angeles with my friend Jim to visit two art galleries, both of which have great gardens. I'll tell you about our second visit first as it was the smaller and easier to describe. The Norton Simon Museum, located in Pasadena, just outside LA has beautiful art collections, including much sculpture located around the garden. Norton Simon himself was an industrialist, owning corporations such as Max Factor, Avis car rental  and Canada Dry. His amazing art collection was amassed over a short 30 year period and found a home in the Pasadena Art Museum which was eventually housed in the current striking building in 1969. The building wraps around the garden designed by Nancy Goslee Powers in 1999 on the site of an established garden originally called Carmelita.

The centre of the garden is an informal lake around which there are meandering paths and beautiful plantings, designed as settings for the many pieces of sculpture. There are numerous examples of sculpture by Rodin, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and other 20C sculptors. Each piece is beautifully integrated into the garden with real sympathy and unlike other sculpture gardens, is not overcrowded. Having been horrified to see a young person being warned for touching a priceless painting, it was most embarrassing to be reprimanded ourselves for sitting on the rough stone base of a Henry Moore! Woops!

Love the shadows on the wall behind

The climate in this area is mild and frost free although not so hot and harsh as Palm Springs. Exotics such as Strelitzia, Chrondropetalum and Aeonium mingled with more temperate species such as Phlomis, Nandina, Euphorbia and even grape hyacinths. Later in the summer the pool will be ablaze with marginal irises, water cannas  and water lilies. In particular we were fascinated by the huge pods and escaping fluffy seeds of the silk floss tree.

Dried seedpods of Koelreuteria

A shrubby Tagetes

Strelitzia of course - part of a huge bed of them


Silk floss tree - Ceibia speciosa

Silk floss tree in flower - not taken at Norton Simon!
Doryanthes palmeri - Palmer Spear lily

An Aloe - don't know the species

Seedpods of Cassia leptophylla - gold medallion tree
Dead flower husks on a young liriodendron - tulip tree. Never seen so many on a young tree and it wasn't a freak as there were several similar aged specimens.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pretty colourful!

Our visit to San Francisco the other week reminded me of a couple of genera of plants that whilst not spectacular can be very pretty. these are Diascia and the closely related Nemesia, both natives of South Africa. In San Francisco they were freely flowering in the thin January sunshine in various planters around Fisherman's Wharf. It took me a moment or two to recognise what was providing the delicate colour. Most of these plants are low in stature and all have masses of small flowers so the effect is definitely 'pretty' rather than big, bold or spectacular.

Most Diascia have pink flowers, although the colour range delves into lavender and soft apricot orange. Apparently in South Africa they have a short flowering season before the heat sends them into dormancy. When grown as half hardy perennials in the UK and other temperate areas, the cooler summers allow for an almost continuous flowering season. The tallest is D. rigescens which can reach 60cm(2ft) with quite substantial spires of flowers. The recent hybrid 'Sundiascia Rose Pink' would seem to be a hybrid with D. rigescens in its parentage.

Diascia rigescens

'Sundiascia Rose Pink'
Nemesia have similar small flowers also over low growing plants. I have always liked these since I grew the seed raised, multicoloured 'Carnival' strain as a child. They were great early summer bedding, providing fast colour but the plants were short-lived and died by mid season. There are now many modern cutting-raised perennial cultivars with a long flowering season. Some nemesia also have a gentle, sweet perfume, although its a long way down to sniff the delicate scent!

We used to grow both nemesia and diascia when we ran our nursery and my main memory of them is that the latter were almost impossible to handle as the tiny stems tangled and twisted. Plants taken to shows were usually unsaleable on arrival! Penhow nurseries have specialised in both genera for a number of years, winning many Gold Medals including nine at the Chelsea Flower Show. Their displays of perfect cushions of flower en masse do put them in the spectacular category!  Each triangular patch of colour is made up of three huge, beautifully tended plants.

One of Penhow Nurseries Chelsea exhibits

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Flood or drought

It seems bizarre to be reading about the floods back home in the UK at the same time that an official drought has been recorded here in California. In Palm Springs, we have had no rain this winter at all. There has been no snow on the surrounding mountains, where there is usually a distinct white frosting and there will be no wild flowers this spring. I shall miss seeing the wild verbena and other colourful annuals that usually spring up so fast after the winter rains here.

After the last wet winter - but not this year!
Much of California's water is used by agriculture which would seem to be a valid use. We do need food! A huge amount is also used by golf courses. (update - I've  since read that its around 25% of the overall usage) Many of these are lush green, close-mown courses which are re-seeded twice a year and include huge open water hazards. The are quite simply water guzzlers, using a profligate amount of water.  A few courses have made the decision not to reseed in the autumn and to retain the summer grasses which brown over the winter. The course is still playable just not so pretty and uses far less water. Some local courses have made a commitment to reduce by 10% but this seems miniscule compared to their usage. Surely its not impossible to design a desert style course with areas of 'native rough', more sand hazards and just irrigate fairways and greens.

Most private gardens have an irrigation system of some sort as landscape plants just will not survive the summer heat without water. However many are poorly maintained and it is not uncommon to see water freely running down the road tp the nearest drain from a poorly maintained system. Really it is not surprising that there is a water crisis!

Amazingly we also have a huge lake called the Salton Sea, extending to over 500 square miles just a few miles from here. Its a huge inland lake, created by accident from flooding of the Colorado river in 1905. At one time it supported a thriving community with hotels, marinas and other resorts all linked to the water. However in recent years it has been declining, due mainly to ever increasing salinity. Numerous proposals have been made regarding its restoration but quite simply, there is currently no money so it continues to decline and stagnate. Water - what a controlling factor when we either have too much or too little!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Another not a palm

I've always had a rather soft spot for cordylines, or cabbage palms as they are sometimes called. I love their slinky strap-like leaves and architectural shapes. I've used them in planting schemes on many occasions over the years. I recall many years ago when at Reading University we had two huge specimens that had at some stage been cut back and had sprouted a number of shoots which had grown into gnarled branches with tufts of green foliage at various heights. I used to use them for floral decorations at events and my poor staff got quite tired of constatly moving around these unwieldly plants in their big pots of heavy soil. In more recent years I have loved the colourful cultivars such as 'Pink Stripe' although they are very frail an not at all hardy. Out here in Palm Springs, they thrive in the warm winter sunshine but always seem to shrivel in the heat of summer.

Cordyline australis as a street tree in San Francisco
Amongst my recent purchases for my yard, I acquired a plant of Beaucarnea recurvata which at a glance looks very much like a green cordyline, with a main stem and a mop-head of narrow green leaves. It's common name is pony tail palm or elephant's foot, referring to the swollen base of the stem which looks rather like a woody onion. This is a native of Mexico and like cordyline has no relationship to palms, despite its common name. This one belongs to the asparagus family and was discovered in 1870. The swollen base is used for storing water and so it is a much more durable plant for the desert conditions and high heat levels here in the summer. My plant is just a small one but hopefully it will survive better than the cordylines! Just don't muddle it with palms or onions, for that matter!

A mature group of Beaucarnea recurvata
My humble little plant, hopefully feeling at home with a piece of Mexican pottery!