Monday, April 28, 2014

More spring blossom

Another tree that I've never seen in full bloom out here before is the palo verde, These beautiful yellow flowered trees are all species of the genus Parkinsonia. The common species here is P. aculeata, the Mexican palo verde. The common name means green wood and refers to the green colouring of both the young twigs and to a certain extent the older branches and trunk. There is also a hybrid called 'Desert Museum' that is vigorous, upright, thornless and has larger flowers. Like so many trees out here, the palo verdes are overpruned and often at the wrong time of the year. We have one in our front yard which is maintained by contractors and was sadly pruned in the autumn but despite this has still produced a fair bit of flower.

Palo verde in a landscape scheme - pruned
Palo verde growing wild - no pruning - a mass of flower

Regular readers my recall me reviewing the garden at Sunnylands last year and expressing some mis-givings (polite way of saying criticisms!) Recently I returned, this year a little later than last, to view the palo verdes and I have to say that walking through these many trees in full bloom was a lovely experience.

Palo verdes at Sunnylands - probably the cultivar 'Desert Museum'

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Blue hyacinth trees!

What nonsense I hear you say - hyacinths don't grow on trees! Well of course they don't but the Jacaranda trees that are blooming just now remind me  of trees full of beautiful blue hyacinth spikes. This is really rather special for me as being here somewhat later into the spring this year, I am experiencing species that I have normally missed when I return to the UK in early spring. I guess my late return to the British spring will mean that I have missed the daffodils but I can live with that if I get to see Jacarandas in full bloom!

A good specimen - library pic - not mine

Jacaranda mimosaefolia is a sub-tropical tree from South America which is cultivated in many warm parts of the world. It has very delicate finely divided foliage, sometimes leading to the common name fern tree. In the UK I have only ever seen small foliage plants grown for bedding or floral decoration. Indoors it is useless as it readily drops hundreds of tiny leaflets making a total mess and ending up looking a skeletal mess. 

See what I mean - big blue hyacinths!
Unpruned tree in private garden

Tree in car park

In warm countries it makes a large tree up to 15m (50ft) Here in Palm Springs they are common in older landscape schemes, although less readily planted nowadays, presumably due to their high water requirement. Sadly they are so often heavily pruned and so the trees become ragged in shape, full of rotting stubs and truncated branches. Flowering on such specimens is severely limited. The best ones here are those that are a little neglected and left to grow naturally. They seem to be semi-evergreen and flowering occurs on trees that are only sparsely foliated. I guess a sharp winter frost would cause the leaves to drop and flowering would be on totally bare stems.

This is sadly the usual treatment!

Friday, April 18, 2014

The highs and lows of plant shopping!

Like many gardeners, I regularly check out what plants are on offer at the local nurseries and DIY multiples.  Over recent weeks I have taken a few pics for you. Firstly there are the sping flowers. Now to those of you back in the UK, pots of hyacinths, tulips and primroses might not seem so odd, but here we are in the desert with no water and daily temperatures that soar into the 80's. Despite the nostalgic aspect of these flowers from 'home' I can't believe they would survive here for more than a couple of days.

I guess stock for such stores is sourced regionally and just despatched to each outlet but without consideration for local conditions. I was surprised to see hostas, scabious, aquilegias and other temperate perennials on offer. What chance of survival do they have in the desert? At least no slugs here!

Then there is the cult for anything dwarf. Now whilst tying up tall floppy plants is not an endearing job, there are those plants whose very essence is their height.  Compact foxgloves have been around for a few years but I cannot conceive who would want dwarf delphineums rather than the towering blue spires that these majestic plants can produce.  I also find it annoying when tall plants are offered in forms which suggest they are small. The yellow flowers below are on a plant called Tecoma stans, very beautiful but makes a huge shrub maybe 8-10ft tall.  These pots contained four or five rooted cuttings but all flowering, suggesting a small compact plant.

Delphineum 'Guardian Mix-Lo' - truly awful!

All gardeners love a bargain and so its always worth checking the reduced area.  I do love the terminology here - 'distressed plants'. On this occasion, I think they were terminally distressed.

To give the store some credit, they did have some lovely compact bougainvilleas in wonderful colours, a good range of cacti and some stunning hibiscus which I had trouble resisting! Wonder if they still have some - I have just the gap that needs filling!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

High Tea on a low table!

Now I know this is a gardening blog but today I'm doing a food review. There were roses on the table so maybe that's justification but who cares! Philip says I need to be more personal in my scribblings and let you faithful readers into our lives. Well today I spent a delightful hour at a local coffee shop, Expresso Cielo in Palm Springs. They had started a new event 'high tea' and I went with my friend Jim. Now you may wonder why I was so fickle as not to go with my husband Philip but as he has a wheat intolerance, he couldn't have eaten any of the lovely foods, so hence accompanying Jim.  The term 'high tea' is slightly confusing, as to me this meant the family meal after work or school when I was a kid with something cooked, bread and jam and cake - usually served sitting up at the kitchen table! Today's delicate confection was more afternoon tea, such as would be served in Downton Abbey but I understand that the terms are nowadays often interchangeable!

Anyway - the tables were set perfectly with bone china, shiny milk and sugar containers, the aforementioned roses and napkins folded into flower shapes in the cups. Michael, the proprietor and his team were dressed in peacock blue waistcoats (vests). There was a choice of teas including a good strong English Breakfast, served in a proper teapot. The food was served on a three tier cake-stand - Quentin Crisp eat your heart out! Tiny sandwiches all in different shapes with delicate flavours, tiny round scones with jam and real clotted cream, and on the top layer, perfect little two-bite cakes. Scrumptious!

Many years ago I had the privilege of attending the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace and sampled Her Majesty's afternoon tea - it was OK - bit of a scrum really. And more recently Philip and I enjoyed afternoon tea aboard Cunard's Queen Mary 2 when sailing over to the USA. So I have two very British comparisons to make. As you know I am inclined to be judgmental, so  was expecting to have good fun criticising this British tradition but I was dissapointed - as there was nothing to criticise! Michael - don't change a thing - its perfect. If you want to go folks, you'll have to book - its popular!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Butterflies - Come out of your chrysalid!

For those of you that are of a certain age and from the UK, I hasten to say that this blog is not a sickly reminiscence of the 70's sitcom with Wendy Craig and Geoffrey Palmer but about real live butterflies! Curious creatures - as gardeners, we love the colourful motion of butterflies, visiting our garden flowers but equally hate it when their caterpillar offspring munch their way through flowers and foliage of our prized specimens!

After the Japanese garden, described in the last post,  we moved on to the Museum of Natural Sciences and purchased a couple of tickets for the Rainforest Conservatory.  This is a three storey glass structure built around a 50ft waterfall and filled with exotic plants  and hundreds of butterflies. We started at the top and were fascinated to watch butterflies emerging from their chrysalids in large environmentally controlled glass cases.  As we watched, a staff member opened the cases from behind and carefully removed the hatched butterflies - beautiful, colorful creatures with gently unfurling wings. I commented that he looked bored!

Moving into the glass atrium itself, we were surrounded by tropical foliage and the air alive with delicate floating butterflies. As we gazed around we were joined by the man from inside the glass incubator, carrying a huge muslin basket full of the newly hatched butterflies. 'Here you can help me', he says. For the next ten minutes we helped release all the new butterflies into their new home. No-one else appeared, so we had the joy of this experience just to ourselves! And he wasn't bored or boring but told us fascinating facts about the butterflies he tends as a volunteer.

We then descended into the 'rainforest', with so much to see - both plants and butterflies! We learned that the butterflies are fed on various sugar preparations and also fruit. The museum has a license to keep the butterflies which are shipped in as chrysalids but not to actually breed them. For this reason, the plants do not include the butterfly host plants, so eggs are not laid.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Wot no cherries?

Last week I visited Houston, primarily to see the John Singer Sargent exhibition at the Museum of Fine art. On our third day after a feast of art,  we had some spare time and with my friend Jim, we first visited the Japanese garden - quite beautiful but strange because of its absence of flowering cherries, such a quintessential part of any Japanese garden.  No doubt the climate is just too warm, being between zones 8b and 9a in Houston and species of Prunus generally growing between zones 4 to 9.

Anyone identify this for me? (Update - Bignonia capreolata - thanks to Max!)