Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Another desert garden

Six months ago, my good friend Jim had a very ordinary yard around his condo, planted with typical dreary evergreens like so many other yards in this area. But Jim, who used to garden on a huge plot back in Michigan had other ideas and with water restrictions imposed by the drought, he turned to desert planting with a fervour. 

It all really started with the Cactus and Succulent Society plant sale at the Huntington last spring. Bit by bit, the old planting went to be replaced by an expanding collection of cacti and other desert plants.  Whilst the narrow borders may not be ideal for this type of planting, he has created a garden full of interest.  To my astonishment many of the cacti have continued to flower right through the summer.

Low maintenance, low water and lots of interest - what more could you want from a garden!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Horticultural snobbery

I have tried to plant species in my little yard here in Palm Springs that are not the most common landscape plants but I do struggle  sometimes between common sense and horticultural snobbery.  When I planted the yard two years ago, I planted a yellow version of the Mexican bird of paradise, Caesalpinia gilliesii. Its a pretty shrub that produces delicate yellow flowers with bright red stamens. It has grown well but flowers just spasmodically and I find myself disappointed with it and craving the bright orange one that taunts me at every street corner.

Having been here most of the summer, I have seen that the orange species, Caesalpinia pulcherrima just goes on flowering for months with these wonderful fiery blooms that also attract the humming birds. It grows anywhere, tolerates hard pruning in winter and always makes me smile. It's a member of the pea family and grows well in most frost-free locations hence its widespread use. It is not related to Strelitzia regina also called bird of paradise. Other common names for it include peacock flower, dwarf poinciana, pride of Barbados and in Hawaii Ohai Ali'i.

So do I eat horticultural humble pie and plant one or remain an elitist and plant something else obscure?

Sunday, October 4, 2015


I wonder what it is about sunflowers that makes them so endearing to all ages? Kids just love to grow them, adults love the challenge of the tallest and artists love to paint them. Botanically it is Helianthus annuus that is commonly grown. Despite being a stickler for botanical Latin, I really can't bring myself to call these wonderful flowers anything but sunflower! They originate from North America.

The most famous painting of sunflowers is probably that of Vincent Van Gogh. Some years ago the British Bedding Plant Association wanted a summer promotion and so planted a rendering of this in bedding plants on a vast scale. It was the size of several football pitches and contained thousands of plants (see second picture).

The painting

The giant flower bed

I have painted sunflowers several times and with mixed success but they are fun to paint. These are in the order I painted them. I think Van Gogh painted sunflowers in probably fourteen different variations, so I've got a few more to practice on!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Grow your own margarita

What a thought - an amazing tree that produced  beautifully chilled margaritas! A product of my vivid imagination.  But that delightful fruity cocktail comes from a variety of plants that all grow in hot climates like Palm Springs.  Here in the desert we grow many species of Agave and of course tequila is produced from Agave tequilana, a native of Mexico. Apparently the spirit is distilled from the sugary heart of the plant in its twelfth year - a vintage before its even distilled! The other major spirit in a margarita is of course triple sec, an orange flovoured liquer made from the dried peel of both bitter and sweet oranges and 'yes' the Californian climate is great for oranges. Finally of course the perfect classic margarita will contain lime juice and a slice of lime. You guessed it we can grow limes here too! So grow your own margarita - there's a challenge!

As usual I have more to say! Over recent weeks we have spent many lovely evenings in our Palm Springs yard. Summer here is of course HOT, with temperatures soaring above the 100s on a daily basis.  Using the yard is confined to early morning breakfast  and then late evening before bed, when it cools a little but not much! What could be better than a chilled margarita to finish the day. And Philip has become a skilled mixologist!

Now why suddenly the yard at night you may ask, rather than an air-conditioned lounge? Well - earlier in the summer I bought a set of solar powered garden lights, much to Philip's skepticism. 'They won't work!' But they proved to be quite powerful, the charge lasting the whole evening and half the night. Philip so liked these (instant conversion) that he went out and bought another set and eventually two more. Now whilst this is hardly a son et lumiere or a Disney light show, it does give us great pleasure, allowing us to enjoy the yard in the relative cool of the evening! Pour another margarita - cheers!