Tag Archives: Eucalyptus

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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A Walk, to Remember

29 Sep

Hearing the name RHS Garden Wisley may conger up images of formal beds and luscious borders, but they are more than just a pretty face. Though the label “ornamental garden” has a bit of a stigma attached to it, gardens like Wisley have a place in the botanical world. Hidden away are common and rare species plants of unique genetics that could one day hold the key to bringing a species back from near extinction or help create a stronger growing selection for gardens and parks. This week I walked the Wisley garden grounds to find and document these unique individuals that have been overlooked or forgotten.

The Arboretum at Wisley covers are large area of the gardens.

The Arboretum at Wisley covers are large area of the gardens.

Botany is in the Science Department and for weeks they have been busy – and still are – working hard at completing the next addition of the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs. This manual grows more massive every year. There is just so much information that the botanists have even been working on their weekends to meet the fast approaching deadline. I can only imagine the stress! Despite all this, the senior botanist kindly took time to create a list of plants of wild collected origins for me to inventory out in the garden. My job was to take photos and assess whether they are alive, dead, or existing. (A few times ‘existing’, turned into ‘mysteriously non-existing’.)

Working out my plan of attack.

Working out my plan of attack.

Every morning after gathering up the list of plants, maps, camera, and snacks – hey, you can get lost out there – I headed out to the gardens to find these “wild” plants. For the first half of the week I was looking for trees of wild origins in the Arboretum. These plants are wild in the sense that someone collected seed or cuttings from the original plant out in the woodlands of Chile or the mountain tops of China, and brought them home to be grown in a garden. The plants that grew from the seed or cuttings would be an example of direct wild origin.  However, some of the plants on my list were the offspring of the original collected individuals, so they are of indirect wild origins.

It was a very quiet morning already, the mist made everything ever more still.

It was a very quiet morning already, the mist made everything ever more still.

When I encountered the tree, shrub, or plant that was on my list, I took at least three photographs: one of the label, one detail photo, and one of the entire plant. For example here is the label photograph of an Eucalyptus on my list:

I have to make sure it's clear, since some of the tags are tucked away in deep shade.

I have to make sure it’s clear, since some of the tags are tucked away in deep shade.

Taking a photo of the label really just helps me keep track of what plants I had found and to verify that I have the right plant with the same accession number on my list. Next I would take photos of anything interesting, such as the leaves, flowers, seedpods, bark, etc.

I love the bark on Eucalyptus tress.

I love the bark on Eucalyptus tress.

The icy, blue-green, sickle leaves is common in the genus Eucalyptus.

The icy, blue-green, sickle leaves is common in the genus Eucalyptus.

Once I am done with the close-up photos, I take one or two of the entire plant. This is to help give the viewer an idea of the habit of the plant: weeping, upright, bushy, etc.

Sometimes the habit shot is difficult to take since some of the trees are so massive.

Sometimes the habit shot is difficult to take since some of the trees are so massive.

For the second half of the week I was looking for a mixture of trees, shrubs, and perennials on Battleston Hill. Battleston Hill is a large woodland style garden with a labyrinth of paths and beds planted with little secrets. This area of the Wisley is lushly planted and everything really weaves into each other. In this garden there is a large collection of Magnolias. Hopefully, I can make it back in time to see them and the woodland bulbs in bloom.

Looking down one of the paths in search for rhododendrons of wild origins.

Looking down one of the paths in search for rhododendrons of wild origins.

Quite a few species Rhododendron were on my list and many of them were the large leaved varieties from China, such as this Rhododendron rex:

Just look at those thick, glossy, leathery leaves and creamy indumentum (hair, fur) on the new stems and undersides of leaves. Mm!

Just look at those thick, glossy, leathery leaves and creamy indumentum (hair, fur) on the new stems and undersides of leaves. Mm!

On my list were a few cultivars as well. Many people think cultivars are hybrids of species plants: removed from nature and man-made. Though the majority of the time this maybe true, but there are many cultivars that are of wild origins, since ‘cultivar’ essentially means ‘a form of’. Take, for example, this beech tree:

Yes, this is a pure species -just an odd one pick out of bunch in the wild.

Yes, this is a pure species -just an odd one pick out of bunch in the wild.

Typically beech trees (Fagus sylvatica) are tall, upright, and spreading, but this particular cultivar, Fagus sylvatica ‘Miltonensis’, is lower and weeping. Out of the entire population of beech trees there are definitely a few individuals that are bound to be different: shorter, thinner, droopier, redder leaves, etc – kind of like people. In this example, someone happened upon a weeping one in the woods and thought, “Hey, I like its elegant forlorn look. Hm, I’ll collect a piece of it and grow it in Milton Park”. Over time, maybe the park-goers started to ask about this tree and wanted one for themselves. Once popularity grew, the plant had to be differentiated from the rest of the Fagus sylvatica population, so it was named ‘Miltonensis’ (meaning ‘of/from Milton’). Tah-dah, a cultivar is born! (Well, I am glazing over the whole name registration process a little…) So still the same species, but just unique from the usual pack.

Here's another example: Fagus sylvatica 'Rohan Obelisk'. Still the same species, just uptight.

Here’s another example: Fagus sylvatica ‘Rohan Obelisk’. Still the same species, just uptight.

While completing this project for Botany, this gave me a good chance to wander and look at other plants in the gardens as well. On my way to my target beds sometimes I had to walk through the Orchard. It’s massive and filled with ripening apples and pears right now – so hard to resist munching on them. (They get picked and sent to the garden kitchens, or to the Plant Centre for sale.)

Looking down one of the many paths through the apple section of the Orchard.

Looking down one of the many paths through the apple section of the Orchard.

On a really misty morning, I took a “shortcut” though the Glasshouse Borders. It really gives the garden a whole different feel. There is no doubt that autumn is here to stay.

Quite enchanting to walk through the Glasshouse Borders in the mist.

Quite enchanting to walk through the Glasshouse Borders in the mist.

The Calamagrostis heavy with dew from the morning mist.

The Calamagrostis heavy with dew from the morning mist.

Another day, I encountered the chandelier of seeds on Acer cissifolium – a maple – swaying in the warm breeze and sunlight. Just beautiful in that low, autumn light.

I love the little safety line of seeds on Acer cissifolium in the arboretum.

I love the little safety line of seeds on Acer cissifolium in the arboretum.

Recently, mushrooms have been popping up all over the arboretum. It’s fun seeing the tight associations between species of mushrooms and trees. For example, Boletus and Amanita are commonly found under/near birches, while some of the shaggy mushroom species hang around conifers. Some fungi are bad for trees, but generally when you see mushrooms in the grass around trees it is a sign of healthy soil.

After the warm rains earlier in the week, there are many mushrooms abound in the arboretum.

After the warm rains earlier in the week, there are many mushrooms abound in the arboretum.

A close up of Amanita muscaria under a grove of paper birches.

A close up of Amanita muscaria under a grove of paper birches.

On Tuesday evening, a co-trainee and I went on a mushroom walk after work.

On Tuesday evening, a co-trainee and I went on a mushroom walk after work.

While rummaging through the bushes on Battleston Hill, I felt that I was being watched. I was! By the many little beady eyes of Actea pachypoda. This is a woodland wildflower from New England and in the US it has the common name of ‘doll’s eyes’.

Beautiful, but a bit eerie.

Beautiful, but a bit eerie.

At the top of Battleston Hill you can see the Trial Fields to the south. I will be working with the Trials team here in a week’s time.

The Trials Field is where many new cultivars of flowers, fruits, and vegetables are planted and evaluated.

The Trials Field is where many new cultivars of flowers, fruits, and vegetables are planted and evaluated.

Looking north from the base of Battleston Hill you can see the Mixed Borders from a different perspective.

I love seeing all the visitors and workers milling about.

I love seeing all the visitors and workers milling about.

I live in a cluster of houses with trainees who are working towards a 2-year diploma. One of the many things they have to do is learn the names and to recognize 40 plants every two weeks, on which they get tested: family, genus, species, and cultivar. On Thursday, my house volunteered to collect plants for the first identification test of the year and I happily joined in. This time all of the plants were growing in the mixed beds, but in the future they can be anywhere in the gardens. After 30 minutes of collecting with my housemates and few other trainees, we returned home and placed the little specimens in their own bottles of water. This brough back memories the plant identification classes that I took and TA’ed at UW and I was in heaven. (Okay that is a bit of an exaggeration, but hey, I think taxonomy is fun!)

Here are all forty plants recut and neatly organized.

Here are all forty plants recut and neatly organized.

Clippings of plants in glass bottles are one of my favorite things.

Clippings of plants in glass bottles are one of my favorite things.

To end on a bittersweet note, during that same mushroom walk on Tuesday evening, I visited a tree that one of the botanists said that would be blooming now. This is an US native tree that is extinct in the wild and named after our very own Benjamin Franklin: Franklinia alatamaha. Franklinia hasn’t been seen/found in the wild since the 19th century and it only survives in cultivation. Bittersweet isn’t it?

Beautiful glossy leaves with honey-scented, soft-boiled-egg-like flowers.

Beautiful glossy leaves with honey-scented, soft-boiled-egg-like flowers.

I love that crown of gold stamens.

I love that crown of gold stamens.

Well that was my week with Botany in a nutshell. I had a great time exploring the gardens outside in the (rare) sunshine. This week I go upstairs to the attic to work with Informatics. I’ll keep you updated, so see you on the next post!

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