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Neighborhood (Plant) Watch

8 Jan

Like Seattle, people in the UK can talk about the weather for hours, which is a handy thing if you are trying to make small talk and don’t know what to talk about. People have been telling me this year’s winter has been milder than it has been in a couple of years, which I really appreciate. Though since we just started winter last month we still have January and February to see if Mother Nature decides to change her mind. It’s been quite windy lately and sheets of rain whipping through Edinburgh, but between all of that we’ve had a few calm sunny days.

The Viburnum x bodnantense across the road can be smelt throwing out its soft perfume on (relatively) warm days.

The Viburnum x bodnantense across the road can be smelt throwing out its soft perfume on (relatively) warm days.

I love that Edinburgh is a walkable city. On my way to the grocery store, museums, and parks, I like to take different streets to see the more intimate parts of town. Plus I like to see what people have growing in front of their apartments. Some homes were very fortunate to have little garden spaces in the front (and some in the back), but most places were paved over. So potted plants and containers of all sizes are a common sight.

Most apartment gardeners have myriad of pots.

Most apartment gardeners have myriad of pots.

The neighbors in the basement level to the left have a wonderful collection of plants. All the potted plants are lovingly arranged and organized. I can imagine it filled with annual flowers and riots of color in the warmer months.

The neighbor's plants down below.

The neighbor’s plants down below.

The neighbors in the basement level to the right are a little bit more eclectic. On the staircase going down, you are immediately greeted by a terrarium. I wonder what secret plantiness is hiding in there.

An outdoor terrarium? It almost looks like there is a Lycopodium living in it!

An outdoor terrarium? It almost looks like there is a Lycopodium living in it!

On the other side of their patio you see this:

Putting a (hopefully) decommissioned toilet to good use!

Putting a (hopefully) decommissioned toilet to good use!

The apartment down from the one above has a nice collection of containers in front. The plant choices of Fremontodendron and olive hint at the types of plants laying down below in the basement level.

I love the cobalt blue containers plus extra points for the Fremontodendron (behind the olive, against the wall on the left).

I love the cobalt blue containers plus extra points for the Fremontodendron (behind the olive, against the wall on the left).

Unfortunately, my camera died the way back home, so I could only get a shot of one side of the patio. The patio is dotted with tropical plants including passion flowers and an Abutilon (which is looking quite alive and good for January).

I bet it's a nice grotto of tropical flowers in the summer.

I bet it’s a nice grotto of tropical flowers in the summer.

It seemed that anywhere I looked pelargoniums (aka zonal geraniums) were still growing and blooming, which really shows how mild it’s been. For the longest time I didn’t like zonal geraniums. I think it was the association with cheesy bedding schemes and their weird smelling leaves, but since then I have learned that pelargoniums are quite tough and deserve a second chance with jaded gardeners/plant snobs – you know who you are!

Still blooming and a nice bright pink, I might add.

Still blooming and a nice bright pink, I might add.

This apartment really took on the idea of container gardening. It looks like a full on garden. The mature potted trees give lovely height and structure and the seasonal annuals really create a cohesiveness between the containers and bring in much needed color to combat the dreary winter weather. I like the addition of the palm and Phormium, a nice strong evergreen contrast to the deciduous trees and soft leafy bedding annuals.

Look at the range of plants!

Look at the range of plants!

As I walked past I was taken away by the weeping cherry tree in the back. I think young weeping cherry trees are a little awkward in a garden – unless trained up to appropriate height – since the branches tend to drape much to early when young resulting with flowers buried in the dirt. Cleverly here, the tree can weep as freely as it likes without the earth below to spoil its graceful posture.

I bet it looks so lovely in spring with a cascade of pink/white.

I bet it looks so lovely in spring with a cascade of pink/white.

Further down the block I saw this entrance and thought it was cute, but then the trough on the right made me do a double take.

Oh I love the pansies - wait...what's that on the right?

Oh I love the pansies – wait…what’s that on the right?

I leaned in for a closer look and I thought it was a Haworthia! (Haworthia is a genus of succulent plants originating from Africa and are not cold hardy.) It’s growing in a container in an exposed site and what puzzled me most was that very evidently it has been growing undisturbed here for a few years. I took to Facebook that night and it turns out it is Haworthia look-alike Aloe aristata. This Aloe is from the winter rainy high elevations of South Africa and lends itself to growing well outside in the UK.

Are my eyes deceiving me? Is that a hardy Haworthia?!

Are my eyes deceiving me? Is that a hardy Haworthia?!

As I looked back (and below) I realized whoever lives here has a taste for tropical/succulenty plants.

Looking back up the street. (The lady on the left jokingly asked if she could be in one of my photos.)

Looking back up the street. (The lady on the left jokingly asked if she could be in one of my photos.)

In addition to tall beautiful specimens of Trachycarpus fortunei and Cordyline australis  emerging from the depths, there is a yucca at the foot of the palm and potted plants including an Agave, an Aloe vera and some Sempervivum.

A statuesque Trachycarpus fortunei with lovely frayed older leaves - much like a botanical illustration.

A statuesque Trachycarpus fortunei with lovely frayed older leaves – much like a botanical illustration.

A mature Cordyline australis with faded inflorescences.

A mature Cordyline australis with faded inflorescences.

Oh I bet that Aloe vera is feeling a bit chilly...

Oh I bet that Aloe vera is feeling a bit chilly…

The next apartment, which I think is actually an office for a business, had a nice healthy Fastia in bloom.

Nothing like a healthy Fatsia for a softening touch of the tropics.

Nothing like a healthy Fatsia for a softening touch of the tropics.

Another block down another planty person must live here. There was a range of plants with wonderfully different shapes, textures, and colors. Though it seems like the focus was on evergreen foliage, some of them, such as the ChoisyaOsmanthus and Sarcococca, would also provide some flowers and sweet fragrance.

Very foliaceous and a nice touch with the Eucalyptus.

Very foliaceous and a nice touch with the Eucalyptus.

More foliage...

More foliage…

and more foliage!

and more foliage!

Around another block there is this wonderful secluded basement patio (except for the fact that nosey people like me enjoy peeking in).

I love the bench for relaxing - a walled garden in the city.

I love the bench for relaxing – a walled garden in the city.

This it on a quiet street next to a church. I know some may find it bleak, but I like it. I love seeing an effort to green up a space and there is nothing more encouraging to see. Plus it’s fun seeing the Pyracantha and bulbs busting out of the pot (literally).

I like the shiny leaves and golden berries against the slate-grey walls.

I like the shiny leaves and golden berries against the slate-grey walls.

Across the street there is a small tree hole erupting with growth! If the birch tree wasn’t enough, there is a giant rose climbing up and arching over into the sidewalk, and a large Brachyglottis greyi ballooning out through the “cage”.

This tree hole(?) is stuffed!

This tree hole(?) is stuffed!

It’s nice to see green and life thriving in a place surrounded by stone and concrete. Again, very encouraging! (Plus there is something poetic about seeing plants escaping and busting out of their confines.)

Evidence of someone trying to keep the overflowing planting in check.

Evidence of someone trying to keep the overflowing planting in check.

On the same street there is this apartment with more evergreen goodness. The Pieris and camellias must be lovely in the spring.

I love seeing people's personal collection of pots and plants.

I love seeing people’s personal collection of pots and plants.

Back at the apartment, the landlady has a wonderful collection of houseplants. In my last post I mentioned that the houseplants in the entrance really excited me, but little did I know what treasures the living room would hold. The night I arrived, I was invited to have some drinks with the landlady, her daughter, and friends (it was the daughter’s birthday) in the living room and to my delight I saw more thriving houseplants!

The plants growing and blooming in the living room are a wonderful sight!

The plants growing and blooming in the living room are a wonderful sight!

I loved the range of plants in there, but what I was most impressed with was the not just growing, but a thriving and blooming florist azalea! Normally these azaleas are doomed to die when they enter any home, but this one was doing very well. (The landlady said she is just as surprised as I am, but I think she is just being modest.)

Seriously this is beyond words - an amazing feat!

Seriously this is beyond words – an amazing feat!

It might be the combination of large, bright windows and cool temperatures in the living room that is allowing this florist azalea to flourish. Either way, I’m entranced!

Those flowers just glow with the promise of spring.

Those flowers just glow with the promise of spring.

Sitting next to the florist azalea is her collection of blooming clivias. Clivias are as tough as nails: they can take dim, dry, and drafty situations and plus they grace us with flowers during the winter when color is most appreciated.

One of the toughest houseplants around.

One of the toughest houseplants around.

I love the much needed fiery flowers of Clivia during the winter.

I love the much needed fiery flowers of Clivia during the winter.

Such a welcoming sight. Almost all of the landlady’s houseplants are Victorian classics, but the one, and only one, in the TV room is the poster child for Victorian houseplants.

This perfect specimen of Aspidistra rightly deserves center stage in the window.

This perfect specimen of Aspidistra rightly deserves center stage in the window.

Yes, it is an Aspidistra! Also known as “cast iron plant”. They were very popular then, because, like their common name suggests, they could survive Victorian parlor rooms. These rooms were drafty, dry, dim, and smokey – a death sentence for most houseplants. Despite all of these things aspidistras would stay alive and look quite good (though,  understandably, they didn’t grow much). There are many Aspidistra species and they are naturally found growing in the dim and often dry-ish forest floors throughout east Asia. The species Aspidistra elatior is most commonly grown as a houseplant (which is the species of this one), it is hardy enough to grow outside in USDA zone 6. If you have dry shade and nothing seems to grow there, an Aspidistra is a good candidate.

I love the deep green and glossiness.

I love the deep green and glossiness.

Every morning and evening I am greeted by her pelargoniums in the kitchen window. She also keeps those live herbs that you can buy at the grocery store there too. I love that she has plants that are well suited to the conditions of the apartment and they carry on with their planty lives without taking over her’s.

The landlady just picked the basil leaves (two pots on the left) the night before.

The landlady just picked the basil leaves (two pots on the left) the night before.

Here’s my temporary “houseplant” while I am staying here. Yup, another Primula! Though this one doesn’t really have a scent, it’s quite cheerful and it reminds me of home and when I have to sadly leave Edinburgh I can guerrilla plant it somewhere in the city. Anyway, I gotta run again, but I will write to you soon!

So sweet and cheerful.

So sweet and cheerful.

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Holi-daze

31 Dec
This mini Santa dropped out of my Christmas Cracker.

This mini Santa dropped out of my Christmas Cracker.

It’s that odd time of year again, that ambiguous period between the Christmas Holiday and New Year’s, when time doesn’t seem to pass. It has been nice having late starts to the morning, and then working on cards and letters most of the day. It also has been a good time for self-reflection, which has been a theme recently. Though for me the holidays began to run together long before December.

If we turn the clock back to late-September, the Wisley Shop had started setting up for Christmas, and by October both the Shop and the Plant Center at Wisley converted the entire front section of the stores into Christmas! As October slipped into November, I began thinking about Thanksgiving. Some of the trainees asked me if I was planning on celebrating it and through them I thought it would be a great idea to have a meal together with everyone.

During Thanksgiving weekend I invited whoever was around to come over. I was feeling a bit nervous cooking a big turkey, so I went with a small chicken instead. I made the usual fixings of mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, roasted vegetables, and pumpkin pie, but to bring in a bit more of the American experience, I made candied sweet potatoes (with marshmallows) and collard greens.

Here's the first batch gathering together for lunch.

Here’s the first batch gathering together for lunch.

After the meal we sat around chatting and making hand turkeys, while a movie was playing in the background.  The trainees and staff that came thought Thanksgiving was like having a second Christmas, since all the activities and the food laden aftermath is much like Christmas day.

Third time's the charm! I got the timing right with this pumpkin pie.

Third time’s the charm! I got the timing right with this pumpkin pie.

Sharing the great gift of hand turkeys!

Sharing the great gift of hand turkeys!

Since Thanksgiving was so late this year it really ran into the Christmas Season and further complicated the slight melding of time in my head. As we trot along into December and on to the 23rd, I packed up my entire life and headed off to Bury St. Edmunds (in Suffolk) to spend Christmas with Sir Kenneth Carlisle and his family and friends.

Wyken Hall looks wonderfully cozy, doesn't it?

Wyken Hall looks wonderfully cozy, doesn’t it?

The Carlisles live in a beautiful country house called Wyken Hall. They own a vineyard just beyond the woods in the back and there is a shop, a restaurant, a cafe, and a space for a farmer’s market at the front of the property.

The shop, restaurant, and cafe are housed in this lovely 400 year old barn.

The shop, restaurant, and cafe are housed in this lovely 400 year old barn.

The peacocks and turkeys loved roaming around in the orchard.

The peacocks and turkeys loved roaming around in the orchard.

I came up to Wyken Hall with Christopher from London, who is a family friend of the Carlisles. He is also a past scholar, which means he did what I am doing now 16 years ago! On Christmas Eve Kenneth, Christopher, and I went out for a walk to see the vineyards in the back. We made our way through the garden, past a man-made lake, through the meadow, into the woods, and finally out to the vineyards.

A lovely walk through the woods on Christmas Eve.

A lovely walk through the woods on Christmas Eve.

Kenneth took us on a detour to see some trees and to my delight they were Douglas Firs!

Kenneth planted this Douglas Fir when he was in his 20's.

Kenneth planted this Douglas Fir when he was in his 20’s.

After a large storm it fell over, but continued growing anyway.

After a large storm it fell over, but continued growing anyway.

The local deacon and her family was coming for lunch on Boxing Day, so Christopher was asked if he could make the arrangements for the table and he asked me if I would like to help him. We went out to cut some greens and flowers that were blooming at the time. For greens we collected Arum italicum leaves, Helleborus x hybridus leaves, and stems of Sarcococca humilis var. digyna and Brachyglottis greyi. We collected a handful of Viburnum x bodnantense stems with opened flowers that were looking quite good. (The flowers are delicate and can be damaged by extreme cold if Jack Frost decides to pay a visit.) We also cut some Helleborus foetidus buds, Jasminum nudiflorum, and Berberis thunbergii stems with its scarlet berries.

Things are all laid out and ready for action.

Things are all laid out and ready for action.

With most flower arrangements you start with the foundation of greens, so that when placing the flowers the greens will help hold their position. It also reduces the risk of damaging the flowers from nudging if the greens were added after.

Here Christopher is effortlessly placing greens into the vases.

Here Christopher is effortlessly placing greens into the vases.

Christopher was going for a light-hearted arrangement full of height and variation (though I am guilty of cutting some of the stems a little bit shorter…shhh…).

Christopher left me with the task to stick in the flowers.

Christopher left me with the task to stick in the flowers.

Once filled we carried the vases two by two to the dining room to be placed on the runner.

Christopher here placing the vases with care.

Christopher here placing the vases with care.

Here we made our final adjustments and additions before walking away. Here’s a nice close up:

We both agreed that the jasmine really brightened up the arrangements.

We both agreed that the jasmine really brightened up the arrangements.

I stayed at Wyken Hall until the 28th and once again packed up my life, and caught the train to Edinburgh. It was a little over a 5 hour journey from Bury St. Edmunds, but that is because I had a short layover when switching trains at Peterborough. Once I made it to Edinburgh, I caught a cab to the neighborhood of Stockbridge. I clambered by way out of the cab and up to the apartment building. Though it was about 6:30pm the sun had already set and was quite dark. I had to make it up two flights of spiraling stairs in the dim, stony stairwell. However, when the landlady called down to me and I looked up to say hello, this is what I saw:

Gasp! What is that I see up there?!

Gasp! What is that I see up there?!

Okay, these photos were taken the day after, but imagine instead of sunlight it was the warm glow of an incandescent lightbulb. It really was a wonderful sight for sore eyes!

Wouldn't you say that Begonia is perfectly placed?

Wouldn’t you say that Begonia is perfectly placed?

I was attracted like a grasshopper to grass!

Yes, I think I can live here for two months.

Yes, I think I can live here for two months.

As I made my ascent the view grew more and more wonderful. This is what I’ve always dreamt that my apartment would look like when I got a place of my own. The landlady’s daughter called it a ‘jungle’ and I love that. It’s an urban jungle.

I'm home...

I’m home…

I stepped into the Georgian Era apartment and the doorway gave way to a soaring ceiling encrusted with crisp, crown moulding.  As I made my way through the apartment heavy with luggage – ungracefully, I might add – everything was so inviting and cozy. Then my bedroom was revealed to me and at that moment I though I had died and gone to heaven.

I still can't believe is in my bedroom.

I still can’t believe is in my bedroom.

Probably for others the room may be a bit small, but I think it’s perfect. I love the tall ceiling and equally tall window. This is the kind of space that would  be great to write a couple of books in and I think it will certainly help encourage me to write my mid-term report.

Again, it's become more clear to me that I can't live without plants.

Again, it’s become more clear to me that I can’t live without plants.

I start my next placement at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on the 20th of January. Until then I will be exploring the city and hopefully get out into the other parts of Scotland (like the Highlands). Have a Happy New Year and I will write you soon!

Rainy Sunday

13 Oct
I love how perky and optimistic the cosmos are and they make good cut flowers.

I love how perky and optimistic the cosmos are and they make good cut flowers.

Sorry! I know it’s been some time since I have updated. The weather has been cool today and rain has been steadily falling since the morning: it’s a perfect day to catch up on things. Other than doing household chores and updating my expenses, my roommate and I headed to the garden for a walk in the rain and a browse through the Plant Centre and Gift Shop.

Before I got here I told myself that since I am only staying at Wisley until Christmas break I wouldn’t buy any plants, instead I would live vicariously through the gardens. It went well for the first week, but by the second week I indulged in cut flowers. (I still wasn’t quite satisfied.) By the fourth week I found myself in the Plant Centre shopping for plants. My first instinct was to go with seeds because they were inexpensive and I can easily pack them away when I need to pick up and leave to my next placement. These seeds needed to be able to handle drafty (windowsill) conditions, lower light, and didn’t require involved treatment for germination. This led me to the annual section and I grabbed a packet of Tropaeolum (nasturtiums) and Calendula seeds. Both these plants are tough and will still grow even if conditions aren’t perfect.

It's hard to say no to hot colors when the weather is graying.

It’s hard to say no to hot colors when the weather is graying.

While browsing the Plant Centre I passed a display of pansies and I couldn’t resist their little grumpy faces, so I stopped to look. Pansies – or botanically speaking, Viola – naturally lend themselves as autumn and winter bedding annuals because they can survive (and even bloom) frost, wet, and low light levels. If you plant/seed out pansies in the autumn they will out grow and bloom the ones you plant out in spring. I tend to go for the yellow ones since they are usually sweetly scented, but since pansies are started from seeds that rule doesn’t always work. It turned out that the only one with the gene for fragrance was ‘Banana Cream’, so I sniffed out the one with the strongest scent and a six pack came home with me.

Pansies are really tough and it's unfair that word pansy has a negative connotation in pop culture.

Pansies are really tough and it’s unfair that word pansy has a negative connotation in pop culture.

Appearently the slugs and snails love them too.

Appearently the slugs and snails love them too.

One of my projects while I was working with the Trials Department this week was to take down a potted Begonia display. While we pulled the plants out of their pots and tossed them into a trailer to be composted, I took pity and saved some of the bright flowers for a bouquet. In the mix were a few hot colored Pelargoniums, so I collected the blooming stems and added them to the bouquet. (I think this Pelargonium is part of the Caliente Series, since it has the same intensity as the one I have back in Seattle.)

The hot coral color is quite spicy, which is perfect for brightening up a room.

The hot coral color is quite spicy, which is perfect for brightening up a room.

A few of the flowers have fallen off, but the Begonia flowers are equally as hot as the Pelargonium.

A few of the flowers have fallen off, but the Begonia flowers are equally as hot as the Pelargonium.

As some of the flowers faded, one thing led to another and I felt compelled to keep the clippings alive, so I decided I would propagate them. So today the Pelargonium stems got sliced up into bite size cuttings and I left both the Begonia clippings to see if they will do anything in the water. I hope the Pelargonium cuttings take root quickly, because that means flowers won’t be far behind and by the time I will have to move they will be suitable for travel.

They are quite snug, but if they all take they will make a very busy specimen.

They are quite snug, but if they all take they will make a very busy specimen.

I saved a couple tin cans the past week and planted the Tropaeolum seeds a few days ago in one and potted up a pansy from the pack in the other today. I picked the bushiest out of the pack since it’s bound to stretch in the lower light and an already straggly plant stretching for the light is not a comforting sight. I am hoping I will see (and smell) few flowers in about a week or two.

Lovely and lush with buds developing beneath the leaves.

Lovely and lush with buds developing beneath the leaves.

The Tropaeolum seeds have swelled up, but no sign of roots yet. The Calendula seeds on the other hand are germinating within a few days of being sown. It’s kind of amazing. I feel that I may have flowers within a month, but that may be wishful thinking for indoor conditions.

The lanky Calendula seedlings are a sign that I don't get a lot of direct sunlight.

The lanky Calendula seedlings are a sign that I don’t get a lot of direct sunlight.

Aside from picking plants that can put up with my dim window conditions I also thought about packability. When it comes time for me to pack up and leave the Tropaeolum and Calendula can be restarted from left over seeds. The Pelargonium can be cut back to tuck away for easy transport and the empty containers stacked and packed. (I haven’t forgotten about the begonias, they can come too if they root.) I guess this what you may call a “suitcase garden”.

It's nice to have something living other than me in the room.

It’s nice to have something living other than me in the room.

It’s nice to wake up and come home to a windowsill full of greenery and flowers – I just hope the plants will do well despite their makeshift conditions. Anyway, I will write posts soon on my visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden and the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, and my time working with Informatics and the Trials Department. Anyway, I hope to see you soon and here’s to suitcase gardens!

Dog Days

20 Aug

It’s definitely late summer here in Seattle. August is filled with the warmest and driest days of the year and every plant has (or had) the reached peak of its growth. This is a bittersweet time of the year for me. The garden – if well watered – is at it’s height right now, and the days are warm and sunny. However, everyday the sun is slowly creeping lower in the sky and with this cooler temperatures and rain will make their grand reentrance once again. Though this year I will be experiencing autumn in a different country, but since their climate (the UK) is similar to ours I have a feeling I won’t be missing every element of home.

Nothings says summer like a gardenia and mine is still going! (There are even more buds on the way!) I wasn’t a big fan of gardenias before – they are really needy plants – but Gardenia ‘Frostproof’ has changed my mind about growing them.

Isn't it dreamy? The fragrance easily soothes shot nerves.

Isn’t it dreamy? The fragrance easily soothes shot nerves.

If you know me, I am a sucker for fragrant plants. Having fragrance in the garden is wonderful, but it isn’t enough for me. I try to keep a few fragrant houseplants to tide me over during long, cold winters. Another classic plant that is grown all over the world for it’s scent is jasmine. Jasminum sambac is a large tropical scandent shrub and its blossoms are used to scent teas, make leis, and extracted for perfumes. I prefer the scent of this jasmine species, because it is sweeter and lighter than the other ones available. It’s been blooming on and off for weeks now and all it really ask for is ample sun and water. (Feeding it also helps it bloom more vigorously.)

The scent of this single dime-sized flower effortlessly fills the room, but not in a suffocating way.

The scent of this single dime-sized flower effortlessly fills the room, but not in a suffocating way.

Another plant that is also super fragrant is Cestrum nocturnum. This plant is also a large tropical shrub, but it  is easy to keep in check by giving it a hard prune, which encourages it to produce more flowers. During the day you have to get very close to be able to smell the flowers, but once night falls is fragrance pours out. It smells very sweet, like children’s bubble gum, but with a touch of spice.

Here are the first few buds closing slightly in the morning light.

Here are the first few buds closing slightly in the morning light.

I’ve read of reports where the plant is too fragrant to the point of being noxious, but I’ve read that others love how the plant exudes sugar and spice. My shrub was very small last year, so I haven’t experienced the former, but I have a feeling I will be with the same line of thinking of the latter.

There are so many buds on the way!

There are so many buds on the way!

About a week ago, the second Agapanthus inapertus ‘Nigrescens’ started to bloom continuing the agapanthus party. I just love this species! The upright blueish leaves and the tall loose heads of nodding, dark flowers are such a delicious combination.

I love the downward facing deep bluey-purple flowers.

I love the downward facing deep bluey-purple flowers.

Next to the agapanthus, Anemone ‘Wild Swan’ is (still) in a a pot and it hasn’t stopped blooming. I was introduced to this plant by Riz when he came back from the Chelsea Flower Show in 2011. This cultivar finally made it to US shelves this spring and it was love at first sight.

I love the golden crown of anthers sitting in the center of the delicate white petals.

I love the golden crown of anthers sitting in the center of the delicate white petals.

Hardy, everblooming, white, and delicate are definitely some of it’s many good characteristics, but when you reverse the flower, there is a lovely surprise:

Beautiful contrast, isn't it?

Beautiful contrast, isn’t it?

The backside of some of the the petals have a beautiful silvery-lilac color. I believe where the petals show this wonderful change of color is where the sun was hitting as a bud during development, since with stronger sunlight the steely-lilac is much richer and dramatic. When the breeze tousles the flowers about the flashes of lilac and white is quite dynamic.

They're just so delicate and light.

They’re just so delicate and light.

Here is one of the California poppies I picked up off of the reject pile at work and it is starting to bloom again. Its name, Eschscholzia californica ‘Apricot Flambeau’, is quite a mouth full, but luckily it isn’t as difficult to make it happy.

I hope this cheerful poppy reseeds and escapes the hungry hoards of slugs next spring.

I hope this cheerful poppy reseeds and escapes the hungry hoards of slugs next spring.

Also reblooming again is my Alstroemeria ‘Sweet Laura’. This hybrid is the first scented alstroemeria in existent, but that might have changed since its introduction.

The red stamens against the clear yellow petals stands out well in the bright sunlight.

The red stamens against the clear yellow petals stands out well in the bright sunlight.

Speaking of Alstroemeria, I have a beautiful and uncommon vining cousin in bloom right now: Bomarea edulis. It has been blooming for about a week now and I couldn’t be more excited! I bought this as a 4″ potted plant from Annie’s Annuals last autumn and grew it like a houseplant during the winter. It was about to bloom in February, but some how thrips got into my house and started wreaking havoc. (The thrips have been done away with since then…) The bomarea was so stressed it aborted the flowers and kind of stopped doing anything. Once it was warm enough, I moved it outside hoping it would rejuvenate itself.

Here the buds are just beginning to open.

Here the buds are just beginning to open about a week ago.

At first it was slow to do anything, but finally the plant started to send up shoots when things got warmer and drier. It’s still sending up new shoots, but the pervious ones are starting to mature now and more buds should be on the way!

I love the details of the speckling on the lime-green petal.

I love the details of the speckling on the lime-green petal.

Here they are fully open. What a candy-colored, tropical dream!

Here they are fully open. What a candy-colored, tropical dream!

Another first time bloomer? Here is Crocosmia ‘Burnt Umber’. The combination of hot, searing orange-red, black stems, and deep olive leaves is really stunning. Though I wish the thrips didn’t warp the flowers so much.

It's quite a smoldering and livid plant.

It’s quite a smoldering and livid plant.

And here is Fuchsia magellanica ‘Riccartonii’ blooming for the first time for me as well. In every way, this fuchsia is half the size of the usual form of the species. The only thing that isn’t reduced is it’s bright colors.

These pint-sized flowers really shout from a distance.

These pint-sized flowers really shout from a distance.

I have to run off to an appointment, so that’s all I got time for now. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to write a little bit later this week. Though my visa for the UK did arrived a few weeks ago – which I feel was the biggest hurdle – I thought I would feel more at ease getting everything together. Who knew preparing to live abroad would be such an effort? (That was a joke.) I can’t believe I am leaving in two weeks for the UK, it always felt so far away…just like how autumn felt so far away.

Schizosylis coccinea 'Major' is an autumnal bloomer that does beautifully in my heavy soil.

Schizosylis coccinea ‘Major’ is an autumnal bloomer that does beautifully in my heavy soil.

Apparently nature, on the other hand, doesn’t think so.

Envisioning the Tropics

30 Jul

Seattle is definitely far from the tropics, but the end of July and the beginning of August marks when gardens in the Northwest take a tropical turn. With a steady increase of warmth, the tropical perennials that we treat as annuals take on a whole new life: with a new reinvigorated faith that there is in fact a plant god – they have stopped sulking and are doubling/tripling, in size. Temperate plants from climates that are supposed to experience a ‘real’ summer are also putting out most of their growth now too. If the gardener remembers to provide a steady stream of water, August through September is the garden’s second crescendo here in Seattle (the first being spring). The greens of the garden are full and lush, fuchsias are dripping with blossoms, dahlias are beginning to put on a show, reblooming roses are at it again, chrysanthemums will be in bud and bloom in a few more weeks, on and on the list goes. As usual garden life doesn’t always go according to plan, so at this time of year my garden begins to grow a bit weary from the dryness of summer.

One plant that is handling my inconsistent watering well is Solanum marginatum that I bought from Far Reaches Farm last autumn. It only drops one or two lower leaves if I’ve forgotten to water it for about a week, which when I think of it, is rather polite. Unfortunately, this tender shrub is only hardy in Zones 9 and up, so I had to overwinter it.

I love the contrast between its soft white fuzz and sharp spines, which are all over - really.

I love the contrast between its soft white fuzz and sharp spines, which are all over – really.

Also, some bee action has caused one flower to produce a fruit! Hopefully it ripens before I leave, so I can harvest and share the seeds.

What a juicy looking fruit with interesting green marbling/veining!

What a juicy looking fruit with interesting green marbling/veining!

Another plant that I overwintered as a houseplant (by the way also gets mite-y like the traditional ones) is Gardenia jasminoides ‘Frostproof’. Within the last week it decided it was time to bloom. I bought this mini-shrub for half the price at work, since it was declining and looking sad. It still isn’t looking quite like the ones at work, but it is covered with buds and I couldn’t be happier! Everyday a single bud will unfurl completely by night fall. I strategically placed the gardenia in our entryway where the slightest breeze will greet us with the rich, buttery perfume.

I love how the narrow, slightly twisted petals, gives the flowers a waterlily like form.

I love how the narrow, slightly twisted petals, gives the flowers a waterlily like form.

Also by our entry way, Grevillea victoriae ‘Marshall Olbricht’ has begun setting buds for autumn. I am impressed with this Australian shrub: all it asks for is a little bit of water in the summer and in return it blooms from autumn into winter. Plus it has survived two winters out in the open in a terracotta pot. Definitely a keeper!

I won't get to see these buds in bloom, but hopefully my family will appreciate them.

I won’t get to see these buds in bloom, but hopefully my family will appreciate them.

Another plant that has done well for me in its container (actually, it has done better in the container than in the garden) is Tricyrtis formosana var. glandosa ‘Blu-Shing Toad’ from Edelweiss Perennials. When I planted two in the garden two summers ago they were constantly being mowed down by slugs and shredded into a million pieces by tunneling chipmunks.  I threw in the towel and decided to try one in a large container. I’m glad I did, because it really has exceeded my expectations. The growth it put on is quite miraculous and almost no slug bites to speak of either!

Wouldn't you say this is a happy toad lily?

Wouldn’t you say this is a happy toad lily?

Look at all those buds ready to pop!

Look at all those buds ready to pop!

Here is Agapanthus inapertus ‘Nigrescens’ just beginning to bloom. With its upright leaves and dark, brooding, introspective flowers, I would have to say that this is my favorite agapanthus.

The flowers are a deeper, purple-black in person.

The flowers are a deeper, purple-black in person.

Oh here is another plant that I adore: Dryopteris sieboldii. My coworker turned me onto this fern and I can’t get enough of it! (Thank you, Vivian!) Though this species is mainly tropical, it is hardy here in the Puget Sound. However, I am 700 feet up, so just to be safe I’ll keep it as a houseplant come winter.

I love its saber shaped fronds!

I love its saber shaped fronds!

Oh, and another thing I can’t get enough of? The new growth on my Schefflera brevipedunculata. Is it truly hardy in zone 8? No one really knows. (Dan Hinkley thinks so.) It’ll be brought in with the houseplants and tender things alike for the winter.

Nothing like fuzzy, white new growth to set my heart-a-flutter.

Nothing like fuzzy, white new growth to set my heart aflutter.

In the Front Garden, I’m trying Agastache foeniculum ‘Golden Jubilee’ for the second time. I got my first plant from Annie’s Annuals last September when I was visiting family in San Francisco. (Clay tolerant and anise scented – how could I say no?) I planted it late and it didn’t really get a chance to establish fully, but it was still a great grower. When spring rolled around, it started to sprout, but every day half of it would disappear. At first I thought it was slugs, then cutworms, even evil magic, but my antidotes weren’t working. Then it came to me: root weevils. By the time I figure it out, it was too late. It was so tired (and jaded) from regrowing over and over again that it gave up the ghost. This spring I bought a new one and planted it in a different section of the bed. It’s growing and blooming quite happily right now! Hopefully, it will be established enough to outgrow any problems next year.

The soft lavender flowers against the bright chartreuse leaves is electric!

The soft lavender flowers against the bright chartreuse leaves is electric!

Remember ‘Karmijn de Sonnaville’ just developing in spring? Look at her fruit now!

I've been waiting to taste this for years! Hopefully they will ripen in time...

I’ve been waiting to taste this for years! Hopefully they will ripen in time…

The newly planted Veronica gentianoides ‘Pallida’ in the Long Plot is reblooming for me. This low groundcover has fleshy lance shaped leaves that are arranged in a pleasingly tidy rosette. During summer tall wands of fragile, porcelain flowers sway in the softest breeze, lifting the whole garden from its heavy cloak of green. Ah, to have a nice swath of it fluttering in the warm summer air would be soothing.

Isn't this charming? I love the faint, delicate blue veining on the petals.

Isn’t this charming? I love the faint, delicate blue veining on the petals.

My ‘Julia Child’ rose is blooming again. There are already globs of blossoms here and there, but  there are more buds on the way! She is such an easy and care free rose with a tough constitution. More importantly, who could resist those anise scented, butter yellow flowers? What more could you ask for?

This might be my favorite rose...EVER.

This might be my favorite rose…EVER.

Down a bit from ‘Julia Child’ is a bright combination of plants that worked out better than I imagined! I love how the fading flowers of Astrantia ‘Abbey Road’ is really setting the gold flowers of the Crocosmia Gerbe d’Or’ aflame. On the other side, the hot-blooded flowers of Fuchsia magellanica ‘Aurea’ really meets the intensity of the crocosmia, and the bronze leaves of the crocosmia snuggling up to the chartreuse leaves of the fuchsia is a wonderful contrast.

I really like the bruised purple astrantia against the shining gold of the crocosmia.

I really like the bruised purple astrantia against the shining gold of the crocosmia.

I hope that the fuchsia grows tall enough next year, so that it’s flowers can mingle and dangle with the crocosmia flowers.

Look at those hot, burning colors together!

Look at those hot, burning colors together!

Further down the Long Plot is where it starts to take on a tropical look. About a little over a month ago, I planted Woodwardia unigemmata in an empty section at the base of the helwingia. It’s happily growing and throwing up new beautiful fronds! The fiddle heads were a redder color earlier in the season when it was cooler, but I still love that elegant, almost metal-like, new growth.

Isn't that bronze-y red just delicious?

Isn’t that bronze-y red just delicious?

To the right of the fern Helwingia chinensis and Fuchsia magellanica ‘Riccartonii’ fit right in weaving through our native Indian plum, lady ferns, and woodland strawberries. I love how this leafy corner looks! The different shapes, textures, and colors of the leaves really play off of one another quite well. I wish photographs didn’t have the tendency to flatten gardens, because this section is really layered and wonderfully light in person.

This is my little lush and jungly bit of the Long Plot.

This is my little lush and jungly bit of the Long Plot.

Further down is a new plant I got in early July at Justin’s garden festival of Growing Steady. Rubus lineatus is a slightly tender, suckering shrub from China with beautifully pleated leaves and a shimmering white undersides. I hope this one makes it through the winter and ultimately grows into a nice large shrub, because it needs to hold its own growing behind a native goat’s beard.

The silvery pleated underside of the leave is pleasantly soft and lustrous.

The silvery pleated underside of the leave is pleasantly soft and lustrous.

I’ve also been doing a lot of repotting. Like for instance, on the left I potted up a small rhizome of ginger that decided it was not going to be chopped up and cooked. I’ve learned that ginger makes a great houseplant. It might be because it is naturally found growing in warm, bright shade in the understory of the tropics – which is some what like a sunny windowsill. It’s also nice to have a ginger plant around because the leaves and flowers release a sweet ginger fragrance if brushed. Fun, right? And the plant on the right is a cutting of a scented geranium my friend gave me before heading off to study monkey vocalizations in China. I know it looks a bit tired from transport, but it is quite alive and very springy. This one smells of citronella.

Just freshly potted up.

Just freshly potted up.

Sorry it took almost a month to write again, but since this is my last week of work I (hopefully) will have more time to write about what’s happening in the garden. Here is a photo of the Long Plot now. Talk to you soon!

Here is the Long Plot in mid-summer.

Here is the Long Plot in mid-summer.

P.S. I’ve submitted the first portion of my visa application and bought my ticket to the UK – I can’t believe I am leaving in 5 weeks!

Bloominocity – Part I

9 Apr

GeumSorry for the mini hiatus! I always forget how everything garden erupts all at once in spring leaving not enough time to tend to everyone. Pruning, weeding, transplanting, seeding is on my mind and the precious free days I have are spent doing all of those things. For plants however, growing, blooming, and setting seed are on the top of their list. The mixture of cool rainy days and warm sunny ones has been a recipe for a rambunctious garden. So what’s been blooming? Let’s see!

The Oemleria cerasiformis in my garden is a male plant.

I love the chains of flowers on Oemleria cerasiformis in the early spring.

The Oemleria cerasiformis started out as a little sucker I dug up on the side of a road and in one year it shot up to 3 feet. It bloomed in early spring this year revealing male flowers. Though I was hoping for a female plant for the fruit, it’s a part of rolling the diecious plant dice. Some people find that the flowers smell like cat pee, but I don’t find its green fragrance deterring. (Its scent reminds me of hiking trails in early spring through the understory of the Pacific Northwest.)

Epimedium fargesii in early March.

Epimedium fargesii in early March.

On a gray day in early March, I spied this Epimedium fargesii at work. Its pale pink stellar flowers glowed in the gloom, and the airy inflorescence gave each flower enough room to hang and stretch out. It’s been about a month and it’s still blooming! There are even new inflorescences emerging along with the new leaves. The triangular leaves start of small, supple, and deep burgundy. As they mature and expand the leaves fade to a rosy bronze, then to a fresh apple green. Swoon! I am not usually one for Epimediums, but the effervescent flowers and delicate stems lighten the heavy evergreen leaves unlike some of its heftier cousins.

Epimedium fargesii about a month later. Look at those new leaves! Mmm!

Epimedium fargesii about a month later. Look at those new leaves! Mmm!

Bergenia ‘Bressingham White’ is reaching the end of its show, but not before putting on a pale blush.

Bergenia 'Bressingham White' aging quite gracefully for a white flower.

She’saging quite gracefully for a white flower.

Yet another plant I am surprised by: Erythronium oregonum. I received two from work as dormant bulbs and I planted them under my blue spruce without any expectations. The bulbs were tiny non-blooming size. I figured the voles would get the bulbs first and if they happened to dodge that bullet, the slugs would enjoy marring the leaves and taking bites out of the immature buds. Boy was I proven wrong! Every year the two have returned and flowered for the past few years. This year they are exceptionally lovely, though I wonder it the Sluggo had a hand in this…

I love the patterned leaves on Erythronium oregonum.

I love the patterned leaves on Erythronium oregonum.

I love the reddish bands on the base of each petal.

I love the reddish bands on the base of each petal.

Remember the Dodecatheon pulchellum on my past post? Well they are definitely up now! This is just the beginning, there are more buds on the way. It amazes that that all of these clumps came from three 4″ pots three years ago.

There are a few more blooming clumps to the left of this drift.

There are a few more blooming clumps to the left of this drift.

Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ is fully awake and beginning to flower. I hope one day to have a billowing mass of lacy gold foliage, but starting life as rescues in 4″ pots they are growing quite quickly and nicely.

Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart' with her graceful habit and beautifully contrasting pink and chartreuse colors.

Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ with her graceful habit and beautiful bright colors.

Our native Dicentra is also in bud. Yes, much more humble than his larger cousin, but it’s a (tough) friendly spreading ground cover.

Dicentra formosa is a few days away from blooming!

Dicentra formosa is a few days away from blooming!

Oh! Remember Darmera peltata? It’s sending up its first inflorescence! It won’t be long until the large lotus leaves are up and unfolding.

The inflorescence is a mere 4" tall, but I am still excited!

The inflorescence is a mere 4″ tall, but I am still excited!

The first Fritillaria meleagris is now in full bloom. I love their nodding flowers and that checkered snakeskin pattern. One of the few Fritillaria I can successfully grow in my clayey soil.

Looking so mournful, but beautifully so.

Looking so mournful, but beautifully so.

I could get lost in that mesmerizing pattern!

I could get lost in that mesmerizing pattern!

Alright, and now for the Primulas, are you ready?

Primula veris with some grass.

Primula veris with some grass…

Some more Primula veris amongst wild strawberries.

Some more Primula veris amongst wild strawberries…

And some more Primula veris still in their pots.

And some more Primula veris still in their pots.

Yes another Primula veris, but this time it's Primula veris 'Katy Mcsparron', a double form!

Yes another Primula veris, but this time it’s Primula veris ‘Katy Mcsparron’ – a double form!

 Detail of a single flower of Primula veris ‘Katy Mcsparron’.

Detail of a single flower of Primula veris ‘Katy Mcsparron’.

A bisected flower of Primula veris ‘Katy Mcsparron’. Someone's got junk in in their trunk - she's stuffed!

A bisected flower of Primula veris ‘Katy Mcsparron’. Someone’s got junk in in their trunk – she’s stuffed!

Primula 'Belarina Cream' doing her thing. Plus she is super fragrant!

Primula ‘Belarina Cream’ doing her thing. Plus she is super fragrant!

Here's a fragrant Primula acaulis hybrid blooming in my front door.

Here’s a fragrant Primula acaulis hybrid blooming in my front door.

Here is another Primula acaulis hybrid blooming in the back garden (this one is about 4-5 years old).

Here is another fragrant Primula acaulis hybrid blooming in the back garden (this one is about 4-5 years old).

Primula polyanthus 'Gold Lace' the dainty stature and bright yellow really highlights the moody, deep maroon.

Primula polyanthus ‘Gold Lace’ the dainty stature and bright yellow eye really highlights the moody deep maroon.

Primula denticulata such soft blossoms like lilac cotton candy.

Primula denticulata such soft blossoms like lilac cotton candy.

Primula bulleyana stretching out with tiered kumquat-colored flowers to follow in June.

Primula bulleyana stretching out and with tiered kumquat-colored flowers to follow in June.

Primula sieboldii 'Snowflake' will also bloom a little later. The flowers will look like paper cutouts of snow!

Primula sieboldii ‘Snowflake’ will also bloom a little later. The flowers will look like paper cutouts of snow!

Just waking up is Primula florindae, which is the latest blooming and of them all. The nutmeg-scented flowers may appear as early as June and continue through August.

Just waking up is Primula florindae. The latest blooming and biggest of them all primulas. The nutmeg-scented flowers may appear as early as June and continue through August.

Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you. I know I look like a Primula Nut, but I assure you this is just the beginning of a possible obsession (which I am trying to pull the reins on). Anyway after all that I’ll leave you with a house plant to cleanse the palette with: behold, Clivia ‘Golden Dragon’!

I've had this Clivia 'Golden Dragon' for two years, and this is his second time blooming for me.

I’ve had this Clivia ‘Golden Dragon’ for two years, and this is his second time blooming for me.

Yellow flowering Clivias are still highly sought after and comment a high-price, but they are more available than they have been in the past. I’m just happy to have one that blooms consistently (so far). Time to go, but do look for Part II tomorrow! Spring is certainly here!

What’s in a Name?

18 Jan
Linnaea borealis ssp. longiflora in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, USA (photo from Wikipedia)

Linnaea borealis ssp. longiflora in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, USA (photo taken from Wikipedia)

Linnaea borealis is one of my favorite wildflowers that can be found sprawling along mountain trails here in the Pacific Northwest, where it’s lightly fragrant flowers and small delicate airiness gives the forest an ethereal quality. Like the name states in Latin, this little evergreen perennial can be found growing throughout the boreal forests (coniferous forests) of the Northern Hemisphere. Since borealis means ‘of or pertaining to the north’, what does Linnaea mean? Linnaea borealis was name after Linnæus, a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist,  who was very fond of this flower and encountered them quite a lot on his expeditions in the Lapland of Northern Sweden.

Carl Linnæus was born May 23rd, 1707 in Småland, Sweden and had an interest in flowers at an early age. (Now, Wikipedia isn’t always right, but this time I really hope this is a true fact: “[As a child] whenever he was upset, he was given a flower, which immediately calmed him”.) This would eventually lead him to create a new system of classification called binomial nomenclature, which is the foundation of all modern day taxonomy. Like having a first and last name, scientific or Latin names always come in a pair: the ‘first name’ refers to the genus and the ‘last name’ refers to the species.

My mentor created this plant label for me when I was interning that the Smithsonian Gardens in DC last summer.

Since I enjoyed engraving labels during my internship at Smithsonian Gardens last summer, my mentor thought it would be fitting to make one for me.

I have a thing for taxonomy. It’s so much fun to see how organisms are organized, how they relate on the tree of life, and what traits do they have in common and what sets them apart. Maybe my slight OCD tendencies for organizing has to do with it too. Hmm. Probably not.

My friend Riz submitted a proposal for a display garden for this year’s Northwest Flower & Garden Show and it was accepted! As he is busy getting people and plants together for the infamous construction and install, I am helping him create plant labels (kind of like the one above) for the stunning specimens that will be showcased in the display garden. Since I’ll also be helping throughout the whole process of install, judging, and break down, I get to wear this little guy:

So official!

Eeee!

Check out Riz’s blog, The Next Generation Gardener, for more details on his design and plans for this year’s show and more – he blogs about all sorts of fun plant stuff!

My little Osmanthus fragrans has been blooming since November and it's fragrances is so delectable.

I know it is not much to look at, but oh the fragrance!

It’s still pretty cold outside, but the houseplants inside are happily soaking up this rare stretch of winter sunlight. One houseplant I’ll be looking forward to blooming every winter is my little Osmanthus fragrans (on the left). My little Osmanthus is a late bloomer, literally. It started out life as a cutting and it took FOREVER to root. Even after rooting it took FOREVER before it started to establish itself. To say the least, it definitely is a slow grower, but my patience was awarded (a little more than a year later), it started blooming in November and it’s still going!

This olive relative has small, pale yellow flowers that emit a soft sweet scent reminiscent of a sun-ripened apricot. Mmm mm! The delectable fragrance is good enough to eat! That’s not too far off, since many Chinese teas are blended with the  dried flowers of this species to impart a luscious floral and fruity flavor and the good blends can fetch a high price.

Fresh sunlight, what a treat!

Finally, home sweet home.

As the sun moves quickly from east to west, the rest of my houseplants get a brief burst of the sun’s cosmic rays, but my little Tillandsia (on the right) really deserves it.

I got it from work during the holiday season and it’s been drifting from place to place looking for a permanent spot in the house to live. First, it was forgotten in a paper bag for a few days and when I remembered I took it out, gave it a brief drink, and left it on a windowsill. After forgetting about it for another week I gave it another quick drink, but this time I left on the soil in one of my potted Clivias momentarily, while looking for a glass container for the Tillandsia. Sadly, it would lay there and be forgotten for two more weeks. Yesterday the sunlight slipped over my coffee table and it glinted on a soft lavender glass – it was the nice bulb vase I found on the ‘free table’ at my friend’s apartment complex in October. At that moment I realized it was the perfect shape and size for my Tillandsia! Now it’s settled in on a windowsill reaching its little “tentacles” out into the warm sunshine. I hope all is forgiven with the Tillandsia…we’ll see.

Well I think I should get started on those plant labels. Come back soon for more updates!

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