Cactus Gardens

The Moorten Botanical Garden in Palm Springs, California was created by the film star, horticulturalist, and Palm Springs legend Chester Moorten, otherwise known as ‘Cactus Slim‘.

From the information on the gardens I’d seen on the internet, I didn’t have particularly high expectations of the Moorten Botanical Gardens. True, they were highly recommended, but most of the photographs were of a small and rather shabby greenhouse packed full of cacti. Satellite view in Google maps seemed to show a small site, without too much in the way of obvious plant life. It was a long walk too, in the opposite direction to the downtown area.

The entrance is at first sight slightly cranky: small scale and a little amateurish, but perhaps that’s unfair. Informal would be a better description. The gardens are indeed compact, but there are a lot of plants packed into that small site. A gravel trail winds its way through groupings of plants from different regions – Sonoran desert, Texan Desert, Central America region, etc. Labelling is not strictly along full botanical nomenclature lines (though the Latin names are given for many of the plants) but is clear and very creatively done; carved into pieces of sandstone, or painted onto driftwood.

The plants are set in the dusty sand and gravel of a desert landscape, with artfully arranged, sculptural dead branches, petrified logs, and rusting mining paraphernalia (Chester Moorten spent five years of his life as a miner). While the plants are closer together than they would be in the wild, the planting looks, as it is intended to look, natural.

There is a plant sales area with a good range of plants, both as mature specimens and very young, very reasonably priced plug plants, which means you could come away with an impressive collection of plants for very little money. It was hard to walk past all those lovely, healthy little plants, but as there was no way I would have been allowed to take them on the plane home, that’s what I had to do!

The greenhouse (or ‘the world’s first Cactarium’, as they endearingly called it) was small, and had definitely seen better days (one cactus had burst through the plastic canopy and was reaching for the sky) but it did have some very interesting plants inside.

Echinocereus brandegeei

All in all, I’d say the gardens were worth the walk, very good value for the $5.00 entry fee, and well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Palm Springs.

Website: Moorten Botanical Gardens

Text and photographs © Graham Wright 2019

Slugs on the March

It’s easy to imagine that what’s left of the slug and snail population, having been decimated by the cold and the frost, is holed up somewhere, sitting it out until spring. It’s tempting to think we can sit back and relax for now, secure in the knowledge that our emerging plants are safe from attack. Tempting, but sadly mistaken. I don’t know how they do it, but the little blighters seem able to take anything the weather can throw at them. And on any mild night, while we stay indoors wallowing in complacency, an army of molluscs sets out to graze on our plants. The new shoots of perennials are particularly at risk. Now is the time to wage brutal war on slugs and snails, before they start breeding in earnest [1.]and the population gets out of control.

With this in mind, I put out slug traps the other day. I should have got out to do it earlier, because there’s quite a lot of damage. Sometimes slug and snails are so quick to eat the shoots of perennials that you never see them coming through. It gets later and later, and still a plant isn’t shooting. It’s then you realise the plant has been trying, but its shoots are being grazed off almost before they are visible. That kind of treatment can seriously set back or even kill a plant.

You can see from the photo that my beer traps have ensnared large quantities of slugs. At this time of year the really large slugs don’t seem to be very active, but the small ones can be equally damaging – below ground, where they munch on roots, as well as above. I use beer traps because it’s a safe, environmentally friendly method. Despite the brave talk of waging war, I actually don’t like killing these creatures. But it’s them or the plants, and as a gardener, the plants are my responsibility. At least the slugs die happy this way!

On a cheerier note, the hyacinths that had been over-wintering outside have now really come good. We put them into a slightly larger pot, with some fresh compost, in December. These were bought as forced bulbs, to be brought into flower indoors in Xmas 2017. I’ve decided they’re better grown outdoors. The flowers might not be quite as showy, but they’re still good. And it’s a lot less hassle than keeping them in a dark place for a prescribed time, taking them out and putting them somewhere cool, before moving them to where you actually want them… and finding the flower spikes flop about and need supporting… and they don’t last very long… and when they start to go off, that lovely fragrance starts to turn a bit nasty…

  1. …reminds me of the joke about the two worms, who were making love in dead Ernest.

Text and images © Graham Wright 2019

The Last Blooms of Summer…

…well, late autumn, perhaps!

These are Hesperantha coccinea, which until recently were called Schizostylis coccinea (thank you botanists!) Just a few, coaxed into flower by the mild weather. They’re accompanied by Australasian foliage – Eucalyptus gunnii, Callistemon citrinus ‘Splendens’ (bottlebrush) & Melaleuca squarrosa (scented paperbark) – all from our garden in plain old South Wales (rather than New South Wales). The Melaleuca was grown from seed. It’s nice to have a display inside at this time of year, even if it is a small one.

Text & Image © Graham Wright 2019

Singapore Memories

The cold, wet, grey, dark conditions at this time of year can be quite depressing. To cheer myself up, I’ve been looking through my photographs from a visit to Singapore earlier this year. Prepare for an image-heavy post!

This is the magnificent Torch Ginger (Etlingera Elatior) Some of you may think I’m sad, but for me, coming across these in the Singapore Botanic Gardens was akin to a religious experience.

The (relatively) new Gardens in the Bay are the star attraction, with enormous glasshouses containing a cloud forest and a flower dome, and ‘super trees’ lit up with a spectacular light show after dark. But for all their splendour, I got more out of the older, less showy, Botanic Gardens.

The ‘super trees’ in the Gardens in the Bay – very impressive, but as much about technology as plants.

The Bukit Timah gate of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Imagine you’ve just a had a tasty lunch, followed by a great coffee, in a nice café over the road, the weather is beautifully warm, and you’re about to spend the afternoon wandering through the Singapore Botanic Gardens…

Hymenocallis speciosa – Spider Lily

As you might expect, orchids were everywhere, in both gardens. Here’s a selection:

The above is one of my favourites, labelled as ‘Papillionanda Ernest Chew’. And below – not so pretty, but very eccentric…

And finally, this is another ginger – Hedychium coronarium (White Ginger Lily).

Gardening at this time of year is not always a pleasant experience. It can be cold, wet and miserable. Even with gloves on, hands get cold to the point where they hurt – particularly when you come inside. Everything gets covered in mud – tools, gloves, boots. It’s tempting to think that there’s nothing to be done in the garden, so as not to have to go outside, but it just isn’t true. I’ve been busy pruning deciduous trees, planting bare-rooted hedges and trees (especially fruit trees), clearing the rest of the leaves, digging over soil in preparation for planting and mulching. Even the weeds are still growing, though they shouldn’t grow so much as to be out of hand by the spring. So maybe we can leave those for now…

Words & images ©Graham Wright 2018

Stars of the Autumn Border

By this time of year, so many of our flowering plants have done their thing and are in various stages of decay – some more decorous than others. In autumn we rely on the turning leaves to provide colour and interest in our gardens. But there are some flowering plants that are at their peak now. One of these is the plant we know as sedum.[1.]
A dark-leaved sedum, sold as an unnamed variety, but which is probably ‘Xenox’).

A closer view, showing the intense colours of leaf and flower.

Another Autumn favourite is the aster, or Michaelmas daisy. The one below was actually taken last month at Picton Garden, near Malvern, which holds the national collection of autumn flowering Michaelmas daisies. Continue reading

Is it autumn already?

With leaves changing colour all around us there’s no chance of pretending autumn isn’t on its way. All we can do is to embrace the season and enjoy the show. What’s your favourite plant for autumn colour?

Parthenossisus cinquefolia (Virginia Creeper) is early to colour up.

It’s been an unusual growing year. It began with an apparently very early spring, which turned out not to be spring at all; just a mild spell in winter. The cold and the snow that followed was harsher than anyone would have expected and the winter, far from ending early, dragged on.
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Pruning a Rambling Rose

…in this case, Rosa ‘Francis E. Lester’; a beautiful single-flowered rambling rose with clusters of pink tinged white flowers. Like most ramblers, it delivers all of its blooms in one magnificent show of colour, in June. When the flower buds start to form and swell there’s a great sense of expectation. And when the first blooms begin to burst open, like bright stars in a lush green firmament, you know that summer has truly arrived.

RosaFrancis E. Lester’, late June 2018

Rambling roses epitomise the optimism of early summer, when the winter just passed is finally forgotten, and the one to come is so far from our minds as to seem improbable. For a few weeks in June they re-assure us that life is good, and that summer will last forever.

The flowers begin to fade all too quickly of course. Luckily, that’s when many perennials and annuals are coming towards their best, so it isn’t too difficult to distract attention away from the slightly messy, uninteresting background that the rambler has become. Even then, it does the job of covering a bare wall or a fence with foliage. And all the while, the faded flowers are gradually forming attractive rose hips that will give another, albeit more muted, burst of colour in the autumn.

The hips are swelling and beginning to colour up – due to the prolonged hot weather, they may well be early this year.

You don’t have to prune rambling roses. If you plant them under a medium to large sized tree they’ll happily clamber all over it and provide a fabulous show every year without your having to touch them. Alternatively, some of the more vigorous varieties are capable of colonising a large section of your garden. As you can see from the photos, this one is busy sending out long shoots in every direction. So now is the time to knock it into shape.

Francis Lester attempting a ‘land grab’!

The Basic Principle

… is to cut out some of the old shoots, and tie in new ones to replace them.
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Ness and Eucryphia

The weekend before last I visited Ness Botanic Gardens, on the first dull and cool day in a very long time. Though the grass was brown here and there, the lawns were in better condition than in most places, so they must have had more rain than many other parts of the country. Some of the plants were suffering as a result of the drought – quite a few heathers had died for instance – but the gardens were looking surprisingly good. In the herbaceous borders there was a nice mix of grasses and perennials.
One of the highlights, for me, was a plant you don’t see much. I remember seeing a specimen of Eucryphia on previous visits, and I was glad to round a corner and see it still there, still flourishing, and in full flower. The first time I saw this tree I was amazed. Imagine a rose bush smothered in flowers. Now imagine it grown to the size of a small tree. Eucryphia flowers give roses a good run for their money (although they don’t have much scent, and unlike some roses, they have a limited flowering period). It makes a good, upright tree, so it can be used in a limited space; in a small garden it won’t outgrow its welcome. Many species are evergreen too, so you still have the leaves over the winter.
Mary Agnes Eames – isn’t she a beauty?!

How many trees can you think of that give such a wonderful show of flowers?

One problem is that most Eucryphias prefer an acidic soil, but there is one variety – Eucryphia nymansensis, which will grow in neutral soil. My faulty memory had me thinking this was the specimen Ness have, but in fact it’s Eucryphia glutinosa ‘Mary Agnes Evans’. My RHS book tells me that unlike most Eucryphias, glutinosas are deciduous, but on the plus side, they do have good autumn colour.
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Strange Fruit…

They look a little like runner beans, but you’d be best advised not to eat these, as they’re the seed pods of wisteria, and reputedly very poisonous.
Wisteria seed pods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When ripe, the seeds can be sown and will produce new plants but, unlike the grafted plants sold in garden centres, it may be a number of years before they produce flowers. And, the RHS warns, the flowers they produce may not be up to much.
Wisteria seed pod

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still, the seed pods have a soft, downy coating and feel lovely to the touch. And they look good too, staying on the plants right through until late winter…

Wisteria seed pods02

Words and images © Graham Wright 2018

 

Hydrangea Roulette, anyone..?

One day last week I was asked to remove last year’s flowers from a mop-head hydrangea. It’s normal to leave the flowers on over the winter, as they look quite decorative, and then snip them off in the spring (not too early, as they provide some protection from the frost for the new growth). Normally, this particular customer would do this kind of thing herself, but she had been so busy that she hadn’t got around to it. So she asked me to do it.
Spot the problem!
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