Gardens of Spain

While on holiday in Andalucia a few weeks ago I took the opportunity to drop in on the botanic gardens at Malaga; the Jardin Botanico Historico La Concepcion.

The gardens are just north of Malaga, looking down on the city from a hill. The view of the old town is now mostly obscured by modern apartment blocks, and sadly, the gardens are immediately adjacent to the main A-45 highway. The traffic noise is a bit intrusive, but it fades into the background after a while. Hibiscus play a significant role, with many fine specimens, like the one above. Interesting that all of the many hibiscus plants there were in the yellow/red colour range. The hibiscus that we see in the UK – the varieties that will survive a British winter – tend to be in whites and blues; cold colours for a cold climate.

The Gazebo, or Mirador Historico (Historical viewpoint)
The Gazebo, or ‘Mirador Historico‘ (Historical viewpoint) on a hill looking down on Malaga.
Looking up to the forest route, which runs along a ridge at the western boundary of the gardens. I think of pines as being dark, rather gloomy trees, but on a peak, and in bright mediterranean light, these pines are equal to the ethereal beauty of eucalypts in an Australian landscape.

The gardens are primarily an arboretum; an impressive collection of trees from all over the world. I loved the section they’d called ‘La vuelta al mundo en 80 arboles‘ (around the world in 80 trees) at the start of which is this lovely stone and metal (bronze?) signage:

As you can see, the bottom section has suffered some damage, and the gardens, while generally well maintained, were in places in need of a little TLC. There are quite a few ponds and water courses, many of which could have done with being cleaned out more regularly. The leaflet shows a lot of water features – waterfalls and fountains, but not many of these were in operation. All that standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and they were voracious – I regretted wearing shorts, rather than long trousers, and got more bites on this last day than over the rest of the holiday. The middle section of the gardens are mostly tropical planting. You could almost be in a rainforest; it’s lush, but dark and damp (despite the 35 degree temperature and full sun). Lovely to experience, but unless you’re fully covered up, you really need to keep moving.

Just one of many beautiful trees in the collection, this Lagerstroemia indica (Crape Myrtle), as you can see, has wonderfully smooth, tactile, patterned bark.

The staff are doing a good job with the labelling, which is very helpful for students of horticulture (such as yours truly) and there’s plenty of information about the history of the gardens, and the collections. Visiting other countries can be a challenging experience when you don’t speak the language very well, but when you visit a garden, wherever you are in the world, the plants all have the same familiar Latin names.

An example of the information boards
A pond with giant water lilies (Victoria cruziana). The flowers apparently open at dusk. I’d left long before then – maybe next time!
Nice to see plumbago rampaging wild; clambering up into the trees. It needs a very sheltered position here in the UK to even survive – no chance of ever reaching this size. A shame that my camera didn’t seem able to capture the intense blue of the flowers.
There were some healthy and impressive cacti on show. These five characters caught my attention – maybe I’m as twisted as they are, but they seem to me to have a rather human quality.
A dragonfly, perched on the tip of an aloe leaf, shimmers in the sunlight.

And in case you were wondering, yes; the gardens have a very good cafe, which I took full advantage of – a tasty salad for lunch, two (damn fine) coffees and a brownie. All in all, it was a sad moment when the time came to leave. Though I didn’t miss those mossers…

Text and 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

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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

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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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

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

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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Bodnant in the rain…

Bodnant is a National Trust garden in the foothills of Snowdonia, just a few miles south of Llandudno, on the North Wales coast. Its location lends it a very special character, with the heavily contoured landscape making for a very dynamic garden, with plenty of spectacular views both within the gardens, and beyond. Being in Snowdonia, it gets plenty of rainfall, which keeps it lush and verdant. And the soil is acidic, which means the gardens can support a range of plants that would struggle elsewhere – particularly Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Camellias.
It had been some years since I last saw Bodnant – far too long – so it was a particular pleasure to visit the gardens again, with family, over the bank holiday weekend. Continue reading

Garden Visit – National Botanic Garden of Wales

On a cold, frosty and windy Sunday in January I got up and set off early (well, early for me) for the National Botanic Garden of Wales, near Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire (https://botanicgarden.wales/). I’ve visited the gardens before, but never at this time of year, and I have to admit to wondering whether there would be enough of interest to merit braving the icy wind. Once there however, it didn’t take me long to forget my doubts.

It’s true that most of the perennial plants, as is this case in all gardens, had shrunk back into the ground, not to be seen again until the spring. And the deciduous trees and shrubs were devoid of leaves. But there’s something marvellous about seeing a garden stripped back to it’s structural elements; particularly a garden that is so extensive, varied, and beautifully laid out as this one. And despite the cold, the day was perfect; bright and sunny, with the winter light from the sun low in the sky making the water in the fountains and rills sparkle and shine. Backlit, and constantly moving in the breeze, the many species and varieties of decorative grasses that flow through the gardens were dynamic and bright. Continue reading

Gardens of Spain

With the summer gone, the sun ever lower in the sky, the days shortening, and our British gardens becoming ever more damp, from rain and from dew, ever more cold and forlorn, I was very fortunate to escape to Andalucia last week. Blue skies and 34 degrees centigrade really did feel like an escape.
Oranges ripening on the trees – the joys of a hot climate!
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