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The Scent of Grasse

24 Aug

Oh gosh, has it almost been two months since I last wrote?! In my defense, I haven’t had a moment of down time until today. (But you may have noticed a pattern of forgetfulness emerging…) During my last post I was on Tresco Island on my last leg of my fellowship working in Tresco Abbey Garden. On July 11th, I finished my final day of the fellowship and savoured my last weekend in the Isles of Scilly before packing up and heading back up to Wisley. Since then I traveled back up to Edinburgh and made my way back down to London while stopping by York, Sheffield, and Wyken Hall.

On my final day on Tresco I went on a long walk around the island with a friend that lived in the same accommodation block.

On my final day on Tresco I went on a long walk around the island with a friend that lived in the same accommodation block.

I can’t find the right words to describe how amazing my year in the UK has been. I learned so much and still can’t believe all the places I’ve been. I have to thank the Garden Club of America for selecting me as the 2013-14 Royal Horticultural Society/Garden Club of America Interchange Fellow, who sent me on the most wonderful adventure in the UK, and the the RHS for arranging such a spectacular program and for supporting me during my travels from garden to garden. But of course my time in the UK would not have been the same if it wasn’t for all the new friends and great people that I met – thanks for such an amazing year! You’ve made many dreams come true and opened doors to places were beyond my wildest dreams. It’s a bit bittersweet now that it is all over, but there is a part of me that feels this isn’t goodbye for good.

This is around the same time when I first saw the Herbaceous Boarder at Wisley.

This is around the same time when I first saw the Herbaceous Boarder at Wisley last year.

So what am I doing now? Well…through the fellowship I met a lady who turned me onto this garden internship in Grasse – a small town the south of France. The garden is called La Mouissone – which is the name of a fig variety – and I’ve arrived a little over two weeks ago right upon the heels of my UK Visa expiring. The six month internship provides hands on experience gardening in a Mediterranean climate and with it the joys and challenges. Along with the usual upkeep and maintenance, the internship also involves collaborative development of new areas in garden.

This is looking down the main lawn with the beautiful olive trees at La Mouissone.

This is looking down the main lawn with the beautiful olive trees at La Mouissone.

Grasse is perched on the side of a large hill near Cannes and Nice. Though considered to be the perfume capital of the world, Grasse is the center of the French perfume industry. Due to it’s sheltered location many flowers – such as jasmine, roses, lavender, and violets – were grown and harvested here for their essences, but due to chemical synthesis advancements and outsourcing abroad, it’s a fraction of what it used to be. Though I haven’t been to the flower plantains, wonderful scents abound. Fig trees and cypresses loom over the road into town, so lately I’ve been greeted  by the mingled perfumes of ripening figs and piney cypresses on my way to the grocery store. In the garden wild rosemary lives up in the semi-wooded cliffs, but the wild thyme has seeded itself down in the garden, so I get kissed by its scent whenever I am weeding in the Garrigue garden.

I love the surprise fragrance when I accidentally brush past a wild thyme plant in the garden.

I love the surprise fragrance when I accidentally brush past a wild thyme plant in the garden.

I know that was a short post, but I’ll be back with more soon. Also, when I get the chance on down days I’ll revisit the UK and write a few posts. Anyway, have a great day and I will see you soon!

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Island Life

29 Jun

This is my first week at Tresco Abbey done and I am really liking this island life (especially when it is sunny). Between working in the garden, I’ve been strolling along beaches and biking to the far corners of the island (it’s only 2.2 miles long so a perfect size for exploring and still making it back home in time for dinner).

When I biked down this path Sunday morning I had to stop and admire the large Brugmansia sanguinea freely blossoming overhead (upper left).

When I biked down this path Sunday morning I had to stop and admire the large Brugmansia sanguinea freely blossoming overhead (upper left).

The flowers maybe smaller than the more common hybrids, but the rich colors really pack a punch and it likes cooler conditions - perfect for temperate regions!

The flowers maybe smaller than the more common hybrids, but the rich colors really pack a punch and it likes cooler conditions – perfect for temperate regions!

The island vegetation ranges from woodland, to grassland, sand dunes, and heathland. Within minutes I can bike from one environment to the next peppered within these areas escapees from the garden, such as Agapanthus and Echium, have self sown themselves around.

Here's one of the grassy areas with the escaped Agapanthus beginning to bloom.

Here’s one of the grassy areas with the escaped Agapanthus beginning to bloom.

Isn't that amazing? That's all Bracken Fern as far as the eye can see!

Isn’t that amazing? That’s all Bracken Fern as far as the eye can see!

Here is a closeup of the heathland. Everything is low to the ground and full of heathers.

Here is a closeup of the heathland. Everything is low to the ground and full of heathers.

The island was leased to Augustus Smith from the Duchy of Cornwall in 1834. Augustus built his home along side the ruins of the old abbey (1200’s) and started building his ‘exotic’ garden. The waters around the island is warmed by the Gulf Stream and this is why many of the tender plants (USDA Zone 9 and even 10) thrive here. Successive generations have added many more plants from the far corners of the world, as specimens from expeditions and passing voyages, and as the spoils of war and imperialism. Today the Dorrien-Smith Family – decedents of Augustus – still own the island and live in the large estate by the ruins of the old Abbey.

Gosh, what a home and a view.

Gosh, what a home and a view.

Aside from the Dorrien-Smith Family, the majority of the inhabitants are temporary workers under contract and a few permanent staff that live on the island. Since the student housing was all booked up I live on the other side of the island with the seasonal staff. It’s not too far away and it’s lovely biking to work in the morning when few people are awake. Plus my neighbors are quite friendly and everyone is rich with life stories.

Two of the cleaners were so kind and shared their homemade pizza with me. The store on the island didn't have the right ingredients for dough so they improvised with slices of bread and a few beaten eggs. I'm calling it 'Romanian Pizza'. (And it was good!)

Two of the cleaners were so kind and shared their homemade pizza with me. The store on the island didn’t have the right ingredients for dough so they improvised with slices of bread and a few beaten eggs. I’m calling it ‘Romanian Pizza’. (And it was good!)

Back in the garden, the task of the moment is – surprise – weeding, weeding, weeding! We’ve been tackling the problem areas that have been left for a while and it’s need to ‘free’ the beds a little and let them breathe. Aside from weeding, it’s the usual of watering potted plants and clearing up the leaves on the garden paths. Usually it’s raking oak and beech leaves, but here on Tresco we are clearing up leaves of palm fronds, Metrosideros, and Cordyline. Every Monday morning and after a storm, we go along the paths collecting Cordyline leaves and tie them into bundles. Apparently, they are slow to decay and they clog up the mowers, so they are collected and burned.

To some this task maybe tedious, but I find quietly walking the garden picking up leaves is meditative and a gentle way to start the working week.

To some this task maybe tedious, but I find quietly walking the garden picking up leaves is meditative and a gentle way to start the working week.

The lovely red pompom flowers of Metrosideros excelsa was swarming with  bumblebees. You can hear their low 'Ooomm' down the garden path.

The lovely red pompom flowers of Metrosideros excelsa was swarming with bumblebees. You can hear their low ‘Ooomm’ down the garden path.

We finished the week working up in the Upper Terrace. The hot, dry, and poor soils are the ideal conditions for all sorts of plants in the Protaeceae family. Here Leucospermum and Protea cynaroides are blooming away.

We finished the week working up in the Upper Terrace. The hot, dry, and poor soils are the ideal conditions for all sorts of plants in the Protaeceae family. Here Leucospermum and Protea cynaroides are blooming away.

Here's a close up of <em>Protea cynaroides</em>. Isn't it mesmerizing?

Here’s a close up of Protea cynaroides. Isn’t it mesmerizing?

Today the Tresco hosted a triathlon to benefit Cancer Research UK. I wish I didn’t go to bed so late, because I missed actress Dame Judi Dench opening the event. (However she is still on the island, so maybe I can catch a glimpse of this rare bird?) Though I did manage to walk past, British comedian, James Corden while I was out today.

Yup, definitely woke up too late.

Yup, definitely woke up too late.

The triathlon started with swim in the sea, a bike ride through the hilly (and bumpy) grass and woodland, and – in good British fashion – the run around the island finished at the pub. There was music and a barbecue in honor of the athletes and it looked like everyone was having a good time.

Here's the finish line alive with cheering and clapping. (PS, the pub is behind me.)

Here’s the finish line alive with cheering and clapping. (PS, the pub is behind me.)

Even this old hen was enjoying herself!

Even this old hen was enjoying herself!

Anyway, I am going to run out and enjoy the sun before it slips away for the day. I can’t believe I have only two more weeks left, but I’ll be visiting the other islands in the next two weeks. Check back for those posts. Talk to you soon!

A mini-quiz bouquet from one of the days. From left to right: Digitalis canariensis, Anthropodium cirratum, Tagetes lemmonii, Hymenolepis parviflora, and Wingandia caracasana.

A mini-quiz bouquet from one of the days. From left to right: Digitalis canariensis, Anthropodium cirratum, Tagetes lemmonii, Hymenolepis parviflora, and Wingandia caracasana.

Nothing Silly about Scilly

22 Jun

Once again I packed up my entire life again to move to  my next placement, but this time this will be the final garden I will get the opportunity to work in. Early Saturday morning I caught the train down to Penzance to catch the only ferry of the day. I made my way down the narrow street to the ferry station and boarded the Scillonian III. I’ve had many people tell me horror stories of choppy waves, spilt food, and vomit, but lucky that day the sea was quite calm and we had a beautiful passage to the Isles of Scilly. About two hours later we docked in the harbor of the Island of St. Mary and there I was to catch a smaller commuter ferry to the Island of Tresco.

The large ship on the right is the ferry: Scillonian III. Though I'm sure there was a good reason, but I do worry if the first two Scillonians had some issues...

The large ship on the right is the ferry: Scillonian III. Though I’m sure there was a good reason, but I do worry if the first two Scillonians had some issues…

Once I made it to Tresco I was picked up by the curator Mike Nelhams and off we went to my accommodations and to the garden. I could not believe my eyes. Plants such as Sparmannia africana, PuyaEchium, and Osteospermum freely seed around. For the past day and a half I’ve just been muttering ‘Wow’.

Through out the island the rock walls were smothered with plants like Aeoniums, Mesembryanthemums, Echiums, and Gazanias.

Through out the island the rock walls were smothered with plants like Aeoniums, Mesembryanthemums, Echiums, and Gazanias.

This is the back garden of the apartment I am staying in.

This is the back garden of the apartment I am staying in.

After lazy start to the morning I got on my bike and road over to the famous Abbey Garden. I could not believe my eyes. Walking through the garden was like making my way through a botanical wonderland. Most of the plants were ones that back on mainland UK (and in Seattle) would need to brought in or protected during winter.

The view on my way to the garden. The blue of the sea and sky are such a rich blue!

The view on my way to the garden. The blue of the sea and sky are such a rich blue!

Garden of Eden? More like Garden of Envy! I was writhing at every turn!

Garden of Eden? More like Garden of Envy! I was writhing at every turn!

The plants here are just ginormous! I'm (carefully) standing next to an Agave and a few in the garden were blooming with 40ft flower stalks!

The plants here are just ginormous! I’m (carefully) standing next to an Agave and a few in the garden were blooming with 40ft flower stalks!

I have three weeks here in paradise and tomorrow will be day one of working. I can’t believe I am almost to the end of my fellowship. I love where it has taken me and all the great people I have met – leaving will definitely be a little bittersweet. Since I don’t have internet in my apartment I’ve been borrowing internet from the pub for the past three hours, so I gotta run now. Have a nice day and I will post soon!

City Streets to Country Lanes

14 Jun

Oh gosh, has another month passed again?! I can’t believe it is already June! If there are any regular readers out there, I am sorry I haven’t been updating more regularly! I’ve had a bit of horticultural whiplash lately, and though I know I made it sound really unpleasant, in actuality I’ve been having a fun time zooming from one garden to the next.

The last time I updated I was in the Tropical Nursery at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Since then I’ve been in the Arboretum Nursery potting up nursery stock and all sorts of shenanigans in the Princess of Wales Conservatory.

Don't mind me, just admiring the world's smallest waterlily species (Nymphaea thermarum) that's also extinct in the wild...

Don’t mind me, just admiring the world’s smallest waterlily species (Nymphaea thermarum) that also happens to be extinct in the wild…

Since the Jade Vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys)  was in bloom, a soon-to-be diploma student and I pollinated every flower in hopes of getting some seed.

Since the Jade Vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) was in bloom, a soon-to-be diploma student and I pollinated every flower in hopes of getting some seed.

I was at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew until the second week of May and the next week I scooted off to Winfield House, which is the US Ambassador’s home in Regents Park. (No, unfortunately I wasn’t staying there, just helping out in the garden.) Though I have a few photos of Winfield House, I’m not allowed to post any of them in a public space. However, during my week there the Head Gardener – Stephen Crisp – arranged some gardens for me to visit: Great Dixter, Sissinghurst Castle, The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, Lambeth Palace, The Royal College of Physicians, and Buckingham Palace. I know, isn’t that quite the line up?

This was my second time visiting Great Dixter, but it was great to see the garden in a different season and I got to meet head gardener (Fergus Garrett), some of the staff, and students. It is amazing how full and lush everything was, I did not find a single gap in any of the gardens there!

Great Dixter is much softer in the spring, but with the same free spirit!

Great Dixter is much softer in the spring, but with the same free spirit!

After visiting Great Dixter Sissinghurst Castle was a little bit of a let down. (Not that it wasn’t beautiful, it just wasn’t as full compared to Great Dixter.) Though in their defense, they just brought in a new head gardener in the autumn and it was a week or two before the garden was at its height. Still lovely nonetheless.

The hot colors in these beds at Sissinghurst Castle made it feel warmer that day.

The hot colors in these beds at Sissinghurst Castle made it feel warmer that day.

The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple is in the heart of London and you wouldn’t know it just by visiting it. Just walking through it there are many little passages, courtyards, and gardens, and with all the buildings arranged like a village they seem to cancel out the noise from the busy streets. (Oh by the way, The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple is where most of all the high-profile barristers work in London.)

A wonderful spring display in the herbaceous border. Does it remind you of Great Dixter? Well it turns out the head gardener used to be a student there.

A wonderful spring display in the herbaceous border. Does it remind you of Great Dixter? Well it turns out the head gardener used to be a student there.

Lambeth Palace is also in the heart of London with the Garden History Museum located off to its side. This is where the Archbishop of Canterbury’s lives in London. The gardens are English in style, but each one has it’s own signature and feel, ranging from formal to naturalistic. The idea is to create a tranquil space for everyone – from the visitors to the bishops – to unwind and reflect. (Just by change I met the Archbishop of Canterbury that day!)

This herb garden was one of my favorite sections and though the chefs may come out to pick some for cooking, but it's really there for people to enjoy the fragrance when wandering by or finding a sunny place to sit.

This herb garden was one of my favorite sections and though the chefs may come out to pick some for cooking, it’s really there for people to enjoy the fragrance when wandering by or finding a sunny place to sit.

Being on the outer edge of Regents Park, the Royal College of Physicians are tighter on space. Though the gardens are smaller they are quite wonderful and packed full of plants familiar and new. Generally, the plantings are inspired by plants that have or were once used for medicinal purposes by doctors and apothecaries. Though the plant palette it may suggest a very botanical garden style design, the plants are combined and used in a free manner. The gardens softened the buildings and created a fresh atmosphere.

This block of buildings has one long garden in the front where an 18th Century list of approved plants for apothecaries to sell/use are brought to life. I love it!

This block of buildings has one long garden in the front where an 18th Century list of approved plants for apothecaries to sell/use are brought to life. I love it!

My final visit was the gardens around Buckingham Palace and it was quite a treat! When I was there a small crew of people were setting up marques for her summer garden parties, but luckily the Queen was staying at another palace that day and I was able to see her massive long herbaceous border. (Her window overlooks that section of the grounds and if she were home we wouldn’t be allowed to be on that side.) Also like the Winfield House, I wasn’t allowed to take photos. Sorry to disappoint!

This was the final day of build-up in front of the to-be Best of Show garden. The garden designer/builders' stress levels were through the roof!

This was the final day of build-up in front of the to-be Best of Show garden. The garden designer/builders’ stress levels were through the roof!

Next phase of the horticultural whiplash: a week at the Chelsea Flower Show! It was truly astonishing, since I have never seen anything like it. It was like London through a giant garden party and everyone from the rich and famous to the average gardener could attend – that is if they can get their hands on a ticket fast enough. My position was the Volunteer Support support. All joking aside, I was there to help both the volunteer coordinators and the volunteers, so if they needed anything I was their go-for.

The Great Pavilion was filled with all sorts of flowers at peak perfection.

The Great Pavilion was filled with all sorts of flowers at peak perfection.

It was also amazing to witness the ‘Chelsea Sell Off’ at the end of the show. At 4:30pm on the final day of the show, a bell is rung then everyone – even the most genteel of people – get worked up into a frenzy and descend upon the gardens and flower stands and buys up anything with chlorophyll in sight. It was amazing what people were trying to take home on the Tube. Though I can’t lie it was wonderful to see giant plants and flowers bobbing up and down through the crowds, decorating the London streets for an evening.

The chaos!

The chaos!

And the brave! (Or crazed?)

And the brave! (Or crazed?)

Next a caught the train and made my way down to RHS Garden Rosemoor for a week. It is a beautiful garden, very peaceful and intimate.  I think it may be my favorite out of the RHS gardens. (Shh…don’t tell Wisley.)

The lake water was so sill that day it was like a giant mirror reflecting everything so beautifully.

The lake water was so sill that day it was like a giant mirror reflecting everything so beautifully.

After my short stint at RHS Garden Rosemoor I slipped down to the Eden Project and I’ve been here for two weeks now. So far I have worked in the Mediterranean Biome, the Tropical Biome, the Outdoor Biome, and the Nursery. Next week I will be with the ‘Narrators’ (kind of like docents), Pathology, and Plant Records. It’s an amazing place and a different take on botanic/ornamental garden. When I will write a more detailed post when I next have access to more reliable internet access. This is my last week at the Eden Project and on Saturday I am off to Tresco Abbey out in the Scilly Isles! Gosh time flies!

Here is one of the paths curving through the olive grove in the Mediterranean Biome.

Here is one of the paths curving through the olive grove in the Mediterranean Biome.

Though many would find it too hot, I actually enjoyed the heat and humidity in the Tropical Biome.

Though many would find it too hot, I actually enjoyed the heat and humidity in the Tropical Biome.

I’ve headed out for the day to enjoy the the glorious warm and sunny weather in St. Ives. Anyway, that’s just a quick update for now. (I’ve been sitting in the Tate Gallery Cafe using their wifi for the past two hours and I think they are ready for me to leave.) See you all soon!

I haven't seen the sea in months and I couldn't have asked for better weather!

I haven’t seen the sea in months and I couldn’t have asked for better weather!

Curiouser and Curiouser

22 Apr

Has it really been almost a month since I last wrote? My goodness! Well, since my last post I’ve been working in the Tropical Nursery for three weeks. Each week was with a different section starting with Arid, then Temperate, and my final week with the Orchids. (There is also Moist and Bromeliads, but I was unable to work in those zone.)

The mist that shrouded RBG, Kew this morning was particularly ominous.

The mist that shrouded RBG, Kew this morning was particularly ominous.

Each section is further divided up into zones where the whole range of zones can accommodate plant species from cooler regions all the way to the most tropical. Working in the Tropical Nursery was like slipping through the looking glass and into Wonderland – everything from the rarest plants on earth to the wackiest ones that only nature could have dreamt lived in these glasshouses.

This is one part of the aloe collection.

This is one part of the aloe collection.

My tasks mainly included repotting, grooming, and watering the collections, but whenever I had the chance I relished exploring the different zones and finding gems from the sublime to the ridiculous.

This is the most tropical zone in the Tropical Nursery and sometimes when I poke around in here I forget I am in England.

This is the most tropical zone in the Tropical Nursery and sometimes when I poke around in here I almost forget I am in England.

Though I wish I could share all the wonderful plants here, there is really too many to be able to include in one single post. So there will be a smattering of botanically delectable morsels.

These young Passiflora cuttings are putting on lush growth and soon will be moved to their more permanent places.

These young Passiflora cuttings are putting on lush growth and soon will be moved to their more permanent places.

First let’s start with Pelargonium appendiculatum. I spied this little cutie on the heated bench amongst the aloe collection. I love the pale yellow flowers, fuzzy, carrot-leaves, and tuberous rootstock. Who said pelargoiums are only for grandmas?

I wouldn't mind having this one on a sunny windowsill.

I wouldn’t mind having this one on a sunny windowsill.

Let’s head to the temperate section next. When I first walked into this zone I first noticed the blindly bright orange flowers of Gerbera jamesonii from South Africa. This is what a wild gerber daisy looks like and this one is one of the grandparents that gave rise to the many hybrid you see in florist shops today.

Wow, good morning to you too!

Wow, good morning to you too!

After admiring the Gerbera I immediately gravitated towards the Trochetiopsis ebenus plants. This species is endemic to the island of Saint Helena (the same island Parma-violet-crazed Napoleon was exiled to) and from the introduction of goats the entire population was reduced to just two plants clinging on a steep sea cliff. Though it nearly went completely extinct like its cousin Trochetiopsis melanoxylon, luckily conservation efforts are being made a RBG, Kew to protect and replant this species on the island.

In addition to the most amazingly crisp white flowers, the rusty-felt lining the stems and veins on the undersides of the leaves are very appealing.

Living just two rows down is Impatiens teitensis. The delicate petals fluttered in the breeze from the glass house and giving the illusion of a swarm of white moths.

From a distance the flowers looked like a swarm of white moths.

The red markings on the white flowers remind me a little of Impatiens tinctoria.

One day as I made my way down the benches picking up fallen leaves in the temperate zone I saw this weeping plant. The somber, but beautiful blue-gray flowers hung delicately amongst the narrow leaves. I didn’t think much of it as first, but then I accidentally brushed on the flowers something dripped onto my hand.

Quite innocent and demure...

Quite innocent and demure…

At first I thought I was bleeding, but the odd orange color helped me realize it was the nectar from the flower. This is Nesocodon mauritianus, the first ever plant to be discovered to produce red colored nectar. To make things odder it grows on the cliff edges of a waterfall in Mauritius and, though is said to be bird pollinated, it is now thought that it may be gecko pollinated. I guess never judge a book – or in this case a flower – by its cover!

Despite the Dayquil-color, the nectar was pleasantly sweet.

Despite the Dayquil-color, the nectar was pleasantly sweet.

On a different afternoon, but still in the temperate zone, I was chatting with Carlos Magdalena and we wandered around as we showed a few of his plants. We stopped upon his young Puya raimondii plantsa wicked plant that is endemic to the high Andean regions of Peru and Bolivia.

The spines on this pineapple relative is quick vicious - once snagged, it is a tender process freeing yourself.

The spines on this pineapple relative is quite vicious – once snagged, it is a rather tender ordeal trying to free yourself.

Being the largest Bromeliad in the world it grows to 6 feet tall and when it is mature (about 40 years) it sends up a flower stalk 3o feet tall covered with thousands of white flowers. Once it blooms and sets millions of seeds, the whole monolithic plant withers away and dies. Crazy – I know.

I find it amazing that this tiny baby Puya raimondii may one day be 36 feet tall.

I find it amazing that this tiny baby Puya raimondii may one day be 36 feet tall.

During another afternoon, Carlos called me over and presented me this plant. Once look and I could hardly believe my eyes, it was Amborella trichopoda! I agree that these are flowers a only a botanist would love, but this is the great, great, great, great, great…great, great, great grandmother of all flowers – the oldest flowering plant that exists on earth today! That is, this plant is one of the surviving relics of the first flowers millions and millions of year ago.

Those tiny things are flowers and they are female.

Those tiny things are flowers and they are female.

Amborella is a bit of a unassuming sprawling shrub, but they can only be found in New Caledonia. New Caledonia was far enough from the ravaging poles during the Ice Age that Amborella was untouched by frost and could continue growing. Though this plant is dioecious, oddly they can switch sexes – a ‘male’ plant can produce female flowers and visa versa. Odd, but wonderful!

Like a school dance, the boys and girls are paired off.

Like a school dance, the boys and girls are paired off.

In the warmer temperate zone Pavonia bahamensis is blooming. Though the color might not suggest it, but the tubular and nectar rich flowers are made for bird pollinators.

Not as showy as its hibiscus cousins, but it's pack full of nectar.

Not as showy as its hibiscus cousins, but it’s packed full of nectar.

Just a few benches over this wonderfully quirky flower belongs to Turraea sericea. The little petaloid ring carrying the anthers reminds me of an Elizabethan neck ruff.

The flower looks very Dr. Seussian.

The flower looks very Dr. Seussian.

Just down the corridor in the one of the zones containing Nepenthes lives this almost unbelievable carnivorous plant. Utricularia are carnivorous plants that usually live in ponds and waterways trapping small aquatic arthropods with their bladder-like traps. However this one – Utricularia nelumbifolia – lives in the tanks of bromeliads high up in the jungle canopy of Brazil! I can’t begin to imagine how it evolved this adaptation – just amazing!

If there is a niche, it will be filled.

If there is a niche, it will be filled.

Passing through the hallway it was hard not to be drawn in by these flashy Pinguicula laueana in flower. This Mexican species of butterwort is pollinated by hummingbirds, hence the bright red flowers.

In person the flowers ranged from shocking red to nearly ultra-violet purple-red.

In person the flowers ranged from shocking red to nearly ultra-violet carmine.

Across the from the temperate carnivorous room is the truly moist tropical zone. This room is quite pleasant with the sultry warmth and humidity enveloping everything. I caught a little glimpse of this Passiflora jussieui beginning to bloom. Though many passion flowers have a nice fragrance, when I bend down for a sniff this one turned out to be quite musky kind of wild-animal-like.

Brown is an unusual color for a passion flower, but I really like it.

Brown is an unusual color for a passion flower, but I really like it.

In this same room lives the another famous plant: café marron. Ramosmania rodriguesi is a coffee relative native to the island of Rodrigues. This plant was thought to be long extinct, but in 1980 a schoolboy stumbled upon the only plant in existence and cuttings were sent to RBG, Kew.

Here they are enjoying the mist and the early morning sun.

Here they are enjoying the mist and the early morning sun.

The cuttings were slow to root, but soon they began to grow and eventually reached flowering size. Despite this success the staff ran into one problem: this species was not self-compatible, that is it needed another genetically different individual for successful pollination and all they had were clones.

Though the flowers look like they would be scented, but disappointingly no fragrance to be had.

Though the flowers look like they would be scented, but disappointingly no fragrance to be had.

Long trials of many different methods were tired, but it was finally discovered that hotter temperatures encouraged some female flowers and even though the plants were identical this somehow allowed a loophole for pollination. Though this technique worked it wasn’t a run away success, since the plants were still shy to produce many fruits. Over time the staff kept at pollinating and now they have quite a few plants even enough for the beginnings of reintroductions on the island.

Here's a female flower - notice the style protruding out of the flower.

Here’s a female flower – notice the style protruding out of the flower.

Here's a male flower.

Here’s a male flower.

Ramosmania rodriguesi also has a curious adaptation of looking like a completely different plant during its juvenile stage. The leaves start out long and glossy with a pretty pinkish-white midrib that runs down the entire leaf.

Yes, that is still  Ramosmania rodriguesi.

Yes, that is still Ramosmania rodriguesi.

Once the plant as reached flowering age it switches from the long, glossy leaves to branches with small oval leaves. If you catch the plant in mid transition, it looks as if to plants were spliced into one.

This juvenile has just reached flowering size and the growth has switched to smaller round leaves.

This juvenile has just reached flowering size and the growth has switched to smaller round leaves.

My final week was a day shorter due to the Easter holiday, but it was packed full of luscious orchids. Are you ready? Here we go!

Labeled as Phalaenopsis schilleriana - which I don't think it is - isn't your typical moth orchid.

Labeled as Phalaenopsis schilleriana – which I don’t think it is – isn’t your typical moth orchid.

For some reason the flowers of Renanthera monachica remind me of 80's parachute pants.

For some reason the flowers of Renanthera monachica remind me of 80’s parachute pants.

This Chysis bractescens looks like it can bite back. On a side note it faintly smells of jasmine and mothballs.

This Chysis bractescens looks like it can bite back. On a side note it faintly smells of jasmine and mothballs.

This Polystachya galeata smelt exactly like a Calvin Klein perfume that a friend always wore during high school.

This Polystachya galeata smelt exactly like a Calvin Klein perfume that a friend always wore during high school.

Lycaste aromatica smells amazingly like the fiery cinnamon candy Red Hots.

Lycaste aromatica smells amazingly like the fiery cinnamon candy Red Hots.

I love the little head of light green flowers on Dendrobium capituliflorum.

I love the little head of light green flowers on Dendrobium capituliflorum.

The flowers on Trichoglottis smithii looked like exotic sea stars and it gave off a strong sweet and spicy fragrance.

The flowers on Trichoglottis smithii looked like exotic sea stars and it gave off a strong sweet and spicy fragrance.

Here is another Polystachya, specifically Polystachya pubescens. It's orangey yellow flowers smelt softly of hyacinth and narcissus.

Here is another Polystachya, specifically Polystachya pubescens. It’s orangey yellow flowers smelt softly of hyacinth and narcissus.

This Oncidium baueri had three flowers spikes that were at least 6 feet long!

This Oncidium baueri had three flowers spikes that were at least 6 feet long!

The goofy technicolor flowers on Epidendrum pseudepidendrum just screams 80's.

The goofy technicolor flowers on Epidendrum pseudepidendrum just screams 80’s.

The flowers on this Epidendrum criniferum reminds me of a giraffe.

The flowers on this Epidendrum criniferum reminds me of a giraffe.

These regal purple flowers belong to Dendrobium victoriae-reginae named after Queen Victoria.

These regal purple flowers belong to Dendrobium victoriae-reginae named after Queen Victoria.

An unknown Dendrobium, but the color of a good fried egg.

An unknown Dendrobium, but the color of a good fried egg.

This little cutie is a Phalaenopsis! Phalaenopsis parishii to be exact.

This little cutie is a Phalaenopsis! Phalaenopsis parishii to be exact.

The springy colors of Dendrobium amabile was perfect for Easter.

The springy colors of Dendrobium amabile was perfect for Easter.

The fragrance of Caularthron bicornutum was wonderfully soft and floral, kind of like baby powder with a touch of musk.

The fragrance of Caularthron bicornutum was wonderfully soft and floral, kind of like baby powder with a touch of musk.

This is the wonderfully strange flowers of giant Vandopsis gigantea. I love how the purply-brown buds open to a lovely butter yellow speckled with toffee.

This is the wonderfully strange flowers of giant Vandopsis gigantea. I love how the purply-brown buds open to a lovely butter yellow speckled with toffee.

The scent of bumblebee-colored flowers of Dendrobium fimbriatum ranged from just honey with cinnamon to honey with cinnamon and plastic.

The scent of bumblebee-colored flowers of Dendrobium fimbriatum ranged from just honey with cinnamon to honey with cinnamon and plastic.

I love the earthy spotting on the Ansellia africana flowers.

I love the earthy spotting on the Ansellia africana flowers.

I love the contrast between the black hairy stem/ovary and the blonde flowers on Paphiopedilum philippinense.

I love the contrast between the black hairy stem/ovary and the blonde flowers on Paphiopedilum philippinense.

This impressive sight is a bench full of Dendrobium kingianum all blooming together.

This impressive sight is a bench full of Dendrobium kingianum all blooming together.

This unknown Dendrobium that was confiscated at the boarder masquerading under the label 'hybrid'. being actually a species and extremely rare it was whisked away by one of the botanists for more study.

This unknown Dendrobium was confiscated at the boarder, masqueraded under the label ‘hybrid’. It’s actually a species and extremely rare and immediately whisked away by one of the botanists for more study.

This Vanda tricolor is apparently the original one from which the species was first described and brought into cultivation - amazing!

This Vanda tricolor is apparently the original one from which the species was first described and brought into cultivation – amazing!

On my final day with the Tropical Nursery, I helped the Orchid Department with their display in the Princess of Wales Conservatory. The best orchids in bloom were rounded up and gently carted off to the the glasshouse on the other side of the garden for an Easter display.

Here are the first batch of orchids waiting to be placed behind glass and out in the beds.

Here are the first batch of orchids waiting to be placed behind glass and out in the beds.

However there was one very special orchid that was to take center stage in the glass cases: Angraeum sesquipedale or Darwin’s Orchid.

It was a special occasion so a photographer came out to take photos for publicity.

It was a special occasion so a photographer came out to take photos for publicity.

A slow growing orchid from Madagascar, this individual decided to throw out four flowering spikes. It was a sight to behold – literally!

Not gonna lie - I wanted to run out the door with it...

Not gonna lie, I wanted to run out the door with it…

Angraecum sesquipedale was discovered in Madagascar in the late 1700’s by a French botanist. Later a flower was sent to Darwin to look at. The white color, fragrance at night, and long nectar rich spur on the back of each flower, Darwin surmised that a moth with a proboscis exactly the length of the spur would be its pollinator. Unfortunately he would not live to see his prediction verified, but 21 years after his death a moth with a proboscis exactly the length of the spur was seen pollinating the orchid.

Being a brittle plant, I was able to exhale once it was placed securely in the glass case.

Being a brittle plant, I was able to exhale once it was placed securely in the glass case.

After the star of the show was safe behind glass, I helped arranged the glass case display in the cool orchid zone.

It was a tight squeeze back there, so I was balancing on my knees most of the time.

It was a tight squeeze back there, so I was balancing on my knees most of the time.

Phew! What a long post this time! I started at the Princess of Wales Conservatory today and I will write a post on that towards the end of the week. Until then here are a few photos of the waterlilies in the aquatics zone.

This egg-like blossom was so small and precious.

This egg-like blossom was so small and precious.

My camera couldn't capture the color quite right, but this one was a glowing pink.

My camera couldn’t capture the color quite right, but this one was a glowing pink.

There is something so magical about waterlilies rising from the murky depths.

There is something so magical about waterlilies rising from the murky depths.

I love how it looks as if each petal was lovingly steeped in blue ink.

I love how it looks as if each petal was lovingly steeped in blue ink.

This waterlily just took my breath away. I revisited this one many times.

This waterlily just took my breath away. I revisited this one many times.

Oh wait! I almost forgot to add earlier that I had the good fortune to meet the world’s smallest waterlily that Carlos famously saved from extinction: Nymphaea thermarum. This waterlily was endemic only to the outflow of a single hot spring in Rwanda, but because the spring was diverted for municipal use it is now extinct in the wild. (The waterlily now only exists at RBG, Kew, except for one that was stolen in January.)

Absolutely adorable!

Absolutely adorable!

Okay, that’s it for now. I’ll post post soon!

Nice to Meet Kew

2 Apr

Has it really been a month since I last updated?! (No, I know – I’m such a bad blogger.) Time is really starting to fly by, so much as happened since then! This will be another short post, but I will be trying to make an effort to post more frequently. Okay let’s recap from my last post about moving back down to London from Edinburgh.

Here is the scene from the morning the day I left.

Here is the scene from the morning the day I left.

Once again, I packed up my entire life and headed out to Waverley Station and caught the next train to London. After a five and a half hour ride through the British countryside and an hour commute across London, I made it to my accommodation in Isleworth where I will be living for the next two months while I do my placement at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

With my first day at Kew I was greeted by huge swatches of fresh daffodils cheerfully popping up in the lawns.

With my first day at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew I was greeted by huge swatches of fresh daffodils cheerfully popping up in the lawns.

When I made it to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew on my first day the flowers were at least two weeks of Edinburgh: the snowdrops were basically finished and daffodils and camellias were beginning to put on a show. While life was starting to stir again outside, I slipped into the the Princess of Wales Conservatory was transported into a lush tropical paradise. I just made it for the the tail end of the Orchids 2014 show and the main tropical room was awash with vibrant colors and alluring scents.

A part of the displays at the Orchids show at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

A part of the displays at the Orchids 2014 show at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The Alpine House also had many bulbs coming into bloom as well, so I just had to pop in for a quick look. Much like the Princess of Wales Conservatory the Alpine House was also popping with color and delicious fragrances abound.

The Alpine House may look a bit odd, but its modern design helps provide the alpine plants with the right temperatures and light levels.

The Alpine House may look a bit odd, but its modern design helps provide the alpine plants with the right temperatures and light levels.

I love delicate and wonderfully scented Narcissus jonquilla and luckily there were dotted about and in full bloom.

I love delicate and wonderfully scented Narcissus jonquilla, and luckily they were dotted about and in full bloom.

This froth of pale-blue stars belongs to Scilla messeniana.

This froth of pale-blue stars belongs to Scilla messeniana.

For the entire month of March I was placed with the Arboretum Department where I was helping with preparing the different sections of the Arboretum for spring and summer. Unfortunately I forgot to take photos, but I will include some later. Currently I am working in Tropical Nursery and for the final week in April I will have a week in the Princess of Wales Conservatory.

The magnolias were at there prime for the past couple of weeks, but unluckily there was a light frost and the blossoms on many trees got singed.

The magnolias were at there prime for the past couple of weeks, but unluckily there was a light frost and the blossoms on many trees got singed.

A friend from Seattle visited me in mid-March and on one of our days out we stopped by the Columbia Road Flower Market to see what it was all about. The flower market is only opened on Sundays and little did we know how packed it would be. It’s amazing to see a flower market crammed with so many people! (Plus I think the sunny weather also played a big hand in that.) It was amazing surrounded by so many plants and cut flowers, and all around the voices of flower merchants shouting out hourly deals filled the already humming atmosphere.

I've never seen a flower market so packed!

I’ve never seen a flower market so packed!

I know that wasn’t very substantial, I will be back with a post on the Tropical Nursery. Happy Spring and talk to you all soon!

 

 

Over Due

2 Mar

Hello everyone! I know I’ve been neglecting this poor blog, but I’m here to say I am still alive and well! I just left Edinburgh this morning and now I am settling into London and I start my first day at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew tomorrow. It has always been a childhood dream of mine to live in London and work at Kew, and now it is finally happening!

I really should be getting ready for tomorrow, so this won’t be a substantial post in the way of words. It hope a parade of pretty pictures will satisfy most of you. These photos are all from around Scotland (RBGE = Royal Botanic Garden Edinbrugh, GBG = Glasgow Botanic Gardens).

The pleasingly prehistoric Ferns & Fossils House. RBGE

The pleasingly prehistoric Ferns & Fossils House. RBGE

Another view of the Fern & Fossils House. RBGE

Another view of the Fern & Fossils House. RBGE

There is desert fern Notholaena standleyi in the Arid Lands House. RBGE

There is desert fern Notholaena standleyi in the Arid Lands House. RBGE

Here is tropical rhododendron (Vireya) Rhododendron christi in the Montane Tropical House. RBGE

Here is tropical Rhododendron (Vireya) Rhododendron christi in the Montane Tropical House. RBGE

Here is Primulina tamiana in the Montane Tropical House. RBGE

Here is Primulina tamiana in the Montane Tropical House. RBGE

Here is another Rhododendron christi, but this time growing out of a bed of feathery Selaginella. RBGE

Here is another Rhododendron christi, but this time growing out of a bed of feathery Selaginella. RBGE

The frothy flowers of Begonia angularis in the Temperate Lands House. RBGE

The frothy flowers of Begonia angularis in the Temperate Lands House. RBGE

The icy-white flowers of Vinca difformis glow in the soft light by the John Hope Gateway. RBGE

The icy-white flowers of Vinca difformis glow in the soft light by the John Hope Gateway. RBGE

Here is Helleborus cyclophyllus braving the biting cold in the Woodland Garden. RBGE

Here is Helleborus cyclophyllus braving the biting cold in the Woodland Garden. RBGE

Also braving the cold is Primula sibthorpii. RBGE

Also braving the cold is Primula sibthorpii. RBGE

There is a bench full of Begonia socotrana grown from wild collected seed from a collecting trip during the 1990's. RBGE

There is a bench full of Begonia socotrana grown from wild collected seed from a collecting trip during the 1990’s. RBGE

Here is the extremely rare Pelargonium insularis from the island of Socotra. RBGE

Here is the extremely rare Pelargonium insularis from the island of Socotra. RBGE

An aroid blooming in one of the backup glasshouses.

An aroid blooming in one of the backup glasshouses. RBGE

What looks like a mass of little aliens is a Gymnospermium albertii waking up for the year.

What looks like a mass of little aliens is a Gymnospermium albertii waking up for the year. RBGE

Primula allionii beginning to flower in the backup alpine houses.

Primula allionii beginning to flower in the backup alpine houses. RBGE

This Dionysia afghanica is only 1.5" wide and 11 years ago it was as big as a pinky fingernail - cute!

This Dionysia afghanica is only 1.5″ wide and 11 years ago it was as big as a pinky fingernail – cute! RBGE

Here is another Primula allionii. It's so tiny!

Here is another Primula allionii. It’s so tiny! RBGE

This is Agapetes variegata var macrantha and I've never seen such big flowers on this genus before!

This is Agapetes variegata var macrantha and I’ve never seen such big flowers on this genus before! RBGE

Now this little lovely is Rhododendron himantodes - a tropical Rhododendron that was once in the genus Vireya.

Now this little lovely is another tropical Rhododendron:  Rhododendron himantodes. RBGE

This Pterostylis hybrid, 'Nodding Grace', reminds me of a thirsty goblin.

This is hybrid Pterostylis ‘Nodding Grace’. The flowers remind me of a thirsty goblin. RBGE

A tiny Narcissus, possibly Narcissus assoanus.

A tiny Narcissus, possibly Narcissus assoanus. RBGE

This teeny weeny orchid might be an Appendicula sp. (Thanks Marc for the partial ID.)

This teeny weeny orchid might be an Appendicula sp. (Thanks Marc for the partial ID.) RBGE

I found his beautiful arrangement of orchids in the back up greenhouses. The large orchid with the black throat is a Dendrobium nobile type, while I can't remember the name of the lovely white one.

I found his beautiful arrangement of orchids in the back up greenhouses. The large orchid with the black throat is a Dendrobium nobile type, while I can’t remember the name of the lovely white one. RBGE

This tranquil scene is a moss sanctuary at RBGE Benmore.

This tranquil scene is a moss sanctuary at RBGE Benmore.

This recently refurbished Victorian fern house is also at RBGE.

This recently refurbished Victorian fern house is also at RBGE Benmore.

Here are some young Araucaria trees in the Chilean Garden at RBGE Benmore.

Here are some young Araucaria trees in the Chilean Garden at RBGE Benmore.

Here is a shot of one of the gardens at RBGE Logan.

Here is a shot of one of the gardens at RBGE Logan.

This quaint bed of snowdrops had my swooning all day. RBGE Logan.

This quaint bed of snowdrops had my swooning all day. RBGE Logan

This is Sparmannia africana and when my mentor for the week flicked the flower I watched with amazement as the anthers in the flower quickly spread out.

This is Sparmannia africana and when my mentor for the week flicked the flower I watched with amazement as the anthers in the flower quickly spread out. RBGE Logan

The flowers of Calliandra haematocephala are wonderfully soft and I like the very cheery red. GBG

The flowers of Calliandra haematocephala are wonderfully soft and I like the very cheery red. GBG

Not a flower, but a seed pod of Glottiphyllum angustum. GBG

Not a flower, but a seed pod of Glottiphyllum angustum. GBG

This lovely thing is hybrid orchid Coelogyne 'Unchained Melody'. GBG

This lovely thing is hybrid orchid Coelogyne ‘Unchained Melody’. GBG

This beardy orchid is Coelogyne barbata. GBG

This beardy orchid is Coelogyne barbata. GBG

These Primulas are tender Malacoidea- type hybrids. GBG

These are tender Primula malacoidea – type hybrids. GBG

I love the orange bell flowers of this Kalanchoe. Looks like a species, but it may be a hybrid. GBG

I love the orange bell flowers of this Kalanchoe. Looks like a species, but it may be a hybrid. GBG

These trusses of tiny flowers belong to Dendrochilum tenellum. Fragrant too!

These trusses of tiny flowers belong to Dendrochilum tenellum. Fragrant too! GBG

I think this is Blechnum orientale, but whatever it is the new fronds are glorious!

I think this is Blechnum orientale, but whatever it is the new fronds are glorious! GBG

This little orchid is Scaphosepalum verrucosum. The flowers look like little vipers to me.

This little orchid is Scaphosepalum verrucosum. The flowers look like little vipers to me. GBG

This amazing room is the Filmy Fern Room at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.

This amazing room is the Filmy Fern Room at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.

The Clivias in the living room continue to bloom and bloom!

The Clivias in the living room continue to bloom and bloom!

Something you wouldn't find in the US - a castle in the middle of town!

Something you wouldn’t find in the US – a castle in the middle of town!

Is it just me or is there a skull in this Eucalyptus tree? RBGE

Is it just me or is there a skull in this Eucalyptus tree? RBGE

I had such a wonderful time in Edinburgh that leaving was a little bittersweet. However, I have a feeling that this isn’t goodbye for good. I know that was really short, but I’ll be back with more posts soon – I promise. Talk to you all soon!

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