Caligularia dentata

This beautiful yellow daisy, with visiting bee, is a Ligularia – Ligularia dentata ‘Midnight Lady’. I’m not great at remembering latin names, so I like to use associations as prompts. My way of remembering this one is to think of the infamous Roman emperor. Unlike Caligula, Ligularia is thoroughly principled (despite the ‘Midnight Lady’ moniker).

I read somewhere that ligularia is grown more for its leaves than for its flowers, which appear quite late in the summer (these have only just come out).The foliage is impressive – large, heart-shaped and dark (darker still on the undersides) – but as you can see from these pictures, the flowers are well worth waiting for. Ligularias like plenty of moisture (the RHS say ‘moist but well-drained’, but then, they say that for everything). Like hostas, they’re recommended for water-side locations, but as for hostas, they are fine in a border; though they can sulk a bit during dry spells. And they’re martyrs to slugs and snails; as you can see from the picture below.

It’s a shame to see those fabulous, lush leaves unfurl, only to be lacerated by molluscs. This plant is by a pond, but unlike the hostas, doesn’t seem to be protected by the resident frogs. At some point during mid-summer Midnight Lady gives up the battle and learns to live with her tattered clothing; a sorry, defeated character. Or so it would seem. In fact, she’s conjuring up a spell, raising candles into the firmament. When those brilliant orange-yellow blooms appear, even on the darkest day, it’s as though the sun has come out.

Words & images © Graham Wright 2019

Recyclable plant pots

It took governments and businesses a very long time to wake up to the environmental damage caused by plastic. And it seems to be taking them just as long to get off their proverbial backsides and do something about it. It’s good that nurseries are beginning to move to recyclable pots. I could say I’m not convinced this is quite the clever environmental ‘fix’ it’s been sold as. But what I’m really wondering is: am I alone in the universe?

The quote below, from the Horticultural Trades Association, might give you the idea that this is old news. But bear in mind that today, more than a year after this report, most of the pots I see in garden centres are still the old, supposedly non-recyclable black ones:

The HTA (Horticultural Trades Association) reported that; “On Thursday 19th July 2018 a group of leading HTA grower members met to discuss the issue of the garden industries reliance on single-use black plastic pots, that can’t currently be recycled, with the aim of agreeing to move to a new alternative as soon as possible that can be widely recycled through kerbside recycling schemes.
A taupe-coloured polypropylene pot was selected by the group as being capable of recycling through current UK kerbside recycling systems and easily identifiable by consumers.”

The reality of the situation becomes apparent when you discover that to say the current pots can’t be recycled is at best misrepresentation. The problem isn’t that they can’t be recycled (they can) but that the optical readers in the machines that sort materials can’t sense black plastic. There have actually been schemes around to recycle these pots for some time, but they have to be collected separately, and while some garden centres and nurseries have made the effort to do this, the industry as a whole, and government too, weren’t prepared to put in the extra effort required.

It gets worse when you consider what the HTA calls ‘the garden industries reliance on single-use black plastic pots‘. As if they were only using black plastic pots because they had no alternative – as if the poor dears were desperately waiting for science to come up with an alternative. And finally, those clever scientists came up trumps with the ‘taupe’ (basically a rather dull beige) pot. But the reality is that the industry has been using plastic pots in a whole range of colours for as long as I can remember. Particularly prevalent is the terracotta coloured plastic that attempts to replicate old-fashioned terracotta pots. All of the ones I have in my extensive collection of so-called single use plastic pots (which I reuse over and over again), except for the very oldest, have the recycling symbol on the base.

So, to recap:

– The garden industry, for reasons known only to them (but most probably because they didn’t give the idea of recycling any consideration) has for years been using plastic pots that are difficult to recycle.

– Having chosen pots that are difficult to recycle, the industry largely wasn’t prepared to put in the effort to recycle them.

– It appears that, having been found out, the industry then concocted a publicity campaign to try and convince everyone that they had no alternative; that recyclable plastic pots weren’t available (even though we all know that they were). This yarn was spun out still further with the pretence that our heroic industry had actually created an all-new type of pot that could be recycled, because they love the environment more than their profits (though curiously, these new magic pots don’t seem to have been widely adopted by the industry).

Of course, we’re not daft enough to be taken in by this. Are we? Are we? It seems like the media (including the dear old BBC) has swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

Maybe I’m missing something. Or perhaps I really am alone in the universe…

text & images © Graham Wright 2019

Garden Visit – Rosemoor

A few weeks ago I visited Rosemoor, in Devon for the first time. I was expecting a lot – as one of the four RHS gardens you would expect it to be good – and I wasn’t disappointed.

The huge flowers of Allium Globemaster in the foreground, with roses, lupins, geraniums and phlomis in the dappled shade of a cluster of Himalayan Birch trees

The weather was cool, but there was plenty of sunshine, so it was quite a good temperature for walking around a garden.
Roses play a big part in the gardens (the clue’s in the name) and late June was a great time to visit.

One of the two formally laid out rose gardens; this is the Queen Mother’s Rose Garden.
Rosa ‘Malcolm Sargent’
A honey bee helping itself to the nectar of a Gallica shrub rose ‘Tuscany Superba’, which is an unusual, rich purple.
Rosa ‘Pax’
Pillars, obelisks and swags dripping with roses and clematis – the Rose Trail

Rosemoor is a large garden. There are formal areas, such as the rose gardens, hot, and cold gardens, a fruit and veg garden, and the long border; and there are informal areas, including two woodland walks. The gardens are dissected by a main road, with an underpass joining the two areas. There was some traffic noise, but it wasn’t too invasive. The café provides some good nosebag and an acceptable coffee, which was good, as we were there for a large part of the day.

The Hot Garden, quite green as yet, with reds and yellows just beginning to show. I love the two upright purple beech trees (Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck Purple’) standing sentinel either side of the rear entrance
A beautiful specimen of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo d’Or’ in the hot garden.
Cornus koussa var. chinensis ‘Wisley Queen’ – spectacular in full flower (well, technically I suppose you should say in full bract, as the flowers are the tiny clusters at the centre of the white bracts)
The borders were looking good
The Cottage Garden

Perhaps influenced by the garden at Great Dixter, a lot of the open areas of grass at Rosemoor have been turned over to wildflower meadow. It’s much softer, more romantic, than formal mown grass, and of course it’s great for wildlife such as pollinating insects.

Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) parasitizes grass, reducing its vigour; so allowing the broad-leaved wildflower plants room to thrive.
Podophyllum ‘Kaleidoscope’ – one of many more unusual plants on in the gardens. A good talking point to grow in moist soil and dappled shade

.

In the end I was defeated by fatigue – mental, as much as physical. Like a child in a toy shop the excitement was just too much, and the coffee was only going to keep me going for so long. It would be great to have the luxury of being able to make regular shorter visits, but alas, Rosemoor is just too far away to justify that. Still, I hope it isn’t too long before I can go back again.

Text & images © Graham Wright 2019

Geraniums – Old or New?

Geranium ‘Rozanne’ was voted plant of the century at the 2013 RHS Chelsea flower show. Which seemed somewhat premature, considering there was another 87 years of the century yet to come.

Geranium ‘Rozanne’ – lauder by the horticultural elite

Why was Rozanne so successful? Traditional blue perennial geraniums, such as Johnson’s Blue (Geranium x johnsonii ‘Johnson’s Blue’) flower prolifically for a period in June, and then are over, leaving just the leaves (which generally then become tatty, and often diseased). Rozanne was a new variety that flowered continuously through most of the summer. Which sounds perfect. But having grown this modern variety for a few years, I think I prefer the older varieties. Why? Well, Rozanne may flower continuously, but it doesn’t flower consistently. After the first flush, the blooms keep coming, but there are less of them, and the plant becomes straggly and tatty. It’s one of those situations where you know you should really cut the plants back, but it seems a shame to forgo the few flowers that are still appearing. The older varieties don’t give you that dilemma. They flower once, and then you know there won’t be anymore. However, they bloom with more intensity. While they’re doing their thing they have more flowers and are more impressive. And if you cut the foliage right back after flowering, they produce a new flush of fresh foliage, and will often flower again too.  

An unknown older variety, courtesy of one of my customers. I wouldn’t like to speculate on the actual variety, but it’s similar to ‘Johnson’s Blue, which I’ve grown before. Thriving, despite being in a not entirely appropriate situation. In my customer’s garden it looks spectacular.

For Rozanne, Crocus say ‘In midsummer, rejuvenate plants that are beginning to look jaded by removing old flowered stems and leaves.’ So basically; cut them back as you would the old varieties, to promote new leaves and (hopefully) flowers. In which case the only difference is that with Rozanne (as well as some of the other new varieties), if you don’t get around to cutting them back, you’ll still be getting a few flowers on the straggly growth that remains.

This year, in my garden, Rozanne formed a mound nearly a metre high, and then flopped to a sprawling mess once the rains came; all before producing a single flower. Add to that the fact that I’m not so keen on the foliage, which is rather an odd shade of green with an unattractive mottling, and I think I’ll be going back to the old varieties. Johnson’s Blue was popular for a reason.

Text & images copyright Graham Wright 2019

Sunnylands

As previously mentioned, earlier this year your gad-about gardener was fortunate enough to be in Palm Springs. While there, I visited the excellently named Sunnylands Center & Gardens.

The view from the car park – not a bad way to start.

Sunnylands is in the Rancho Mirage area of town. Cruise down the palm tree lined Frank Sinatra Drive, turn left onto Bob Hope Drive and you’re there. In the movies. I mean, in Sunnylands.

Sunnylands was formally the winter home of the wealthy and influential Annenbergs – Walter and leonore (it’s alright for some!) The estate runs to 200 acres, including a golf course and various lakes. The guided tour of the Annenberg’s mid-century modern house was tempting, but at $48 a ticket, and with limited time available, I stuck with the gardens and the ‘center’ building, which is free (yes, that’s FREE) to enter.

The visitor centre (or center, in US English) is a stunning mid-century modern building, very bright, and with a relaxed atmosphere, with comfy sofas on which to rest (if you have the time). The are a few pieces from the Annenbergs’ illustrious art collection, including a small sculpture by Rodin that I would have liked to have taken away with me. There was a short video – interesting, good to look at, but somewhat cheesy – explaining the history, and an exhibition of stunning photographs of birds, taken on the estate.

The gardens were compact, but very beautiful, and very different to what we’re used to here in the UK. Desert plants – Golden Barrel cacti and Palo Verde trees – were marshalled into pristine garden symmetry. Immaculate twin reflecting pools hydrated the air, and provided the magic that made the whole scheme come alive. We sat outside the café, by one of the pools, and it was such a beautiful, calming place to spend some time drinking a coffee and eating a pastry. Both coffee and cake were good, and very reasonably priced too, particularly bearing in mind the amazing setting.

There are no plant labels, but that can be forgiven in a garden that is all about design, rather than showing individual plants.

For a spikey-leaved plant, aloe has flowers that are surprisingly colourful and romantic.

Many of the agaves were in flower, and there were a few hummingbirds taking advantage of their nectar. If only they’d keep still – they’re almost impossible to photograph.

Not the best image of a hummingbird you’ll ever see. Note the swathe of aloe flowers in the background.

Everything about Sunnylands is immaculately presented and very beautiful. Perhaps it needs to be in order to meet the approval of the world leaders that convene there. I’ll probably never share the company of presidents and ambassadors, but it was a privilege to share the beautiful gardens of Sunnylands for one glorious, sunny afternoon.

text & photographs ©Graham Wright 2019

RHS Malvern Flower Show

Last Friday I took a day off work (well, I’m actually calling it a work’s outing) to go to the RHS spring flower show at Malvern. It was the second day of the show, and while the weather might have been better than the first, it was still cold, with the odd shower. There was some sunshine too though.

Couldn’t get a prettier setting – the Malvern Hills, from the showground

The RHS flower shows seem to get ever more popular and hence, ever more crowded. There’s a lot of shuffling and jostling to get to see what you want, particularly the most popular areas, which are generally the floral marquee and the show gardens.

The floral marquee was as well turned out as ever, even if most of the stalls were familiar – immaculate and unfeasibly colourful displays of tulips, bougainvillea, chrysanthemums, streptocarpus and the like. I was taken with the stand by Grafton Nurseries, also known as Hardy Eucalyptus. They had so many varieties of eucalypts, including many hardy enough to be grown in UK gardens, and some that are even suitable for patio pots (not all eucalypts are giant trees). I particularly liked the narrow-leaved varieties, such as E. moorei (also known as ‘Little Sally’) and E. nicholii (‘Narrow-leaved black peppermint’) which has leaves that smell, as the name suggests, of peppermint.

I also saw this…

… a plant I’ve seen in photographs but without any captions, so I didn’t know what it was. I had assumed it was a form of Trachycarpus, but it is in fact called Brahea armata. So now you know. The combination of silver/grey foliage with that astonishingly spikey structural form is incredible. Unfortunately it’s native to Mexico, so I won’t be getting one for my garden any time soon. According to the RHS website its common name is ‘Big Blue Hesper Palm’, which sounds very Sesame Street.

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Palm Springs – Presidential Hospitality, and being scalped by Indians

The presidential hospitality came from the Annenbergs’ Sunnylands estate, which has hosted summits between American presidents and other world leaders. More of that later. The less than hospitable welcome came on our visit to reservation land on the edge of Palm Springs. OK, so we weren’t actually scalped – I was using poetic licence. Although our supply of cash took a significant haircut.

I was actually nervous about using the term ‘Indian’, as I’ve been told it isn’t politically correct. But it’s used on the website of the ‘Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians’, so I guess I shouldn’t get into hot water. Just as well, as the reference to all those old (politically incorrect) Westerns wouldn’t have worked as well with ‘Indigenous Americans’ or ‘First Nations people’.

So what’s my gripe with the indigenous peoples of the Palm Springs environs? Well, being keen walkers, when in Palm Springs last month we were keen to do a hike (as our American cousins call any walks that involve anything other than smooth tarmac). We selected a trail a short distance out of town, up Mount San Jacinto. Unfortunately, due to rain the previous night (how unlucky were we – it hardly ever rains in Palm Springs!) that trail was temporarily closed. We were directed to another, which was still open.

We parked the car, and then headed up to the start of the walk (hike), where we had to join a queue. For a walk! (I mean hike). I don’t think I’ve ever had to do that before. We queued for 20 minutes to get to the counter, where we had to pay a fee. To do a walk! (I mean hike). The fee for the one we’d planned to do was $8. For this one, it was $12.50 each. For a walk! (I mean hike). Eventually, we got to walk (I mean hike) the trail. All 1.5km of it (I believe that was there and back). It was a nice little walk, up to a nice little waterfall. Except, it was like Oxford Street on a Saturday morning. So we queued for 20 minutes, and payed 50 bucks, all for the privilege of a 30 minute walk (I mean hike!) through crowds of people.

Now, I have two problems with this. The first is the price. I understand that walking (I mean hiking… sorry – is this becoming annoying?) trails need to be maintained. But how much work is involved in cutting back a few branches or consolidating an eroded path now and then? For not too much more than what we paid, in the UK you can spend the whole day at Chatsworth, looking around the huge mansion, finely manicured gardens, and large areas of parkland. Imagine how much all that must cost to maintain – you can really see what your entry fee is paying for.

The second problem is more to do with freedom – the basic human right to exist. Centuries ago, in the UK, there was such a thing as common land. And then the enclosures began, and the wealthy annexed the land and denied access to the common people. Later, in the 20th century, we finally won the ‘right to roam’. It doesn’t get us in everywhere, and most of the land is still owned by a few wealthy individuals (apparently half of England is owned by 1% of the population), but there are large areas of what we call wild land (even though it isn’t truly wild) where we can pretty much roam freely.

There’s a principle here, espoused by people such as Marion Shoard, in her book ‘This Land is Our Land’; that the countryside shouldn’t be fenced off from the people. We shouldn’t be restricted to towns and cities, and to the narrow corridors of tarmac that join them, just because we aren’t fortunate enough to have been born into the right family, or to have made a fortune. We’re free-born animals, and we should have the freedom to move about freely in the natural environment. To quote Billy Bragg: ‘this land was made a common treasury for everyone to share’ (I take issue with the word’ made’, but I appreciate the sentiment). This land is our land!

You’ll say, of course, that I was only a visitor, that it isn’t actually my land, because I don’t live there. But those who do live there have to pay too. And in what kind of a land is it customary to fleece (or scalp – I’m mixing my metaphors) visitors, rather than offer them hospitality? And in any case, aren’t we all citizens of the world?

Now, I know that their ancestors were violently displaced by invading Europeans. But I’d say that what happened in the past, many generations ago between ancestors of different sets of people to whom I have no relation, isn’t my responsibility. I’m more interested in the here and now. Wherever you are in the world, whatever your ancestry, it’s the poor who are denied opportunity. Always. To me, it doesn’t make any difference who owns a tract of land. It might be someone who received it, down the line, from a distant bloodthirsty ancestor who invaded a country and took it by force (such as the Duke of Westminster). It might be owned by someone who made a fortune through their own business activities, or those of their ancestors, whether from coal, steel, or slavery, and who used it to take possession of the countryside. Or it might be a group who claim possession by virtue of the fact that their ancestors once lived there, before being displaced and treated most cruelly. Whoever they are, and however they came by the land, if they deny access to open countryside, or demand a fee for access (particularly such a high one) then they’re tyrants who are denying the common people a basic human right.

All that land sitting there doing nothing, and they only give us access to a few short trails, and charge us a fortune for the privilege! Reading between the lines, I get the impression that if you know your way around you can find trails to walk without having to pay. But in Donald Trump’s ‘we don’t dial 911’ USA, poking around where you might not be welcome could be a dangerous business. As a visitor, I suppose you could say it comes down to hospitality. The mean-spirited hospitality of the Agua Calientes can be contrasted with the generosity of the Annenberg family, who own the Sunnylands estate in Palm Springs. I’ll tell you about my visit there in my next post, for which I promise lots of beautiful photographs, and far fewer words…

The waterfall and pool – heavily cropped to avoid the large crowd of people gathered around the waters edge.

text and photographs © Graham Wright (although the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians will probably expect royalties)

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