Tag Archives: Brachyglottis greyi

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!

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