Tag Archives: Sarcococca

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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Sun Kissed

15 Feb

SaffronI know I’ve said it before, but winter can be oppressive here in the Pacific Northwest. Days and days of gray, cold weather all run together into long stretches without a glimmer of sunlight. In the deepest part of winter I sometimes forget that the sun exists. When the heavens do part for a day drenching everything with that warm winter sunlight, I am stunned and almost feel undeserving of such a lavish gift. I know I sound crazy, but everyone in the Northwest is a little bit bonkers.

A second furry, silvery bud is opening on Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Akabana' revealing a soft coral and apricot flower.

A second furry, silvery bud has opened on Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Akabana’ revealing a soft coral and apricot flower.

I know my plants appreciate these rare days and no ray of precious sunlight goes to waste. The Edgeworthia has a few more buds beginning to swell but the original inflorescence from earlier posts now has two buds open revealing a more pastel color I wasn’t expecting, however still lovely! Hopefully the flowers will eventually fade to a nice orangey-red. Though the flowers just opened, I still haven’t detected a fragrance – I’ll check a few days later. I love how the light gently dances on it’s silvery hairs, a lovely contrast to the pastel tones inside the flowers. Just delicious!

Crocus sativus, or Saffron, soaking in the winter sun.

Crocus sativus, or Saffron, soaking in the winter sun.

No, the “grass” under my potted Japanese Maple are not weeds. They are Crocus sativus, or better known as Saffron. (Though there are some weeds mixed in under there, mainly bittercress and willow-herb, which I need to pull out.)

A single Saffron flower from late October with the stigmas plucked out from within the blossom.

A single Saffron flower from late October with the pistils plucked out from within the blossom.

In it’s native range, the Mediterranean, Crocus sativus goes dormant during the summer when it’s hot and dry. The leaves and flowers appear once autumn rains return. The flowers have silky, soft lavender petals with deep violet veining within and tend to open on non-raining days. Each chalice-shaped blossom will have three rich golden threads poking out. These “threads” are actually the pistils (female part of the flower), which is collected and dried to make Saffron. One flower only offers up three threads and still to this day all Saffron has to be picked my hand. That’s the reason why Saffron is still the most expensive spice.

The coral twigs of Cornus alba 'Elegantissima' glowing in the sunlight.

The coral twigs of Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ glowing in the sunlight.

Since we don’t get much sun here in the winter, I’m sure the saffron is gobbling up this rare treat. More sun means more food, more food means more flowers, and more flowers means more saffron to harvest! I’ve heard a hot, baking summer helps Saffron Crocuses to bloom. (Think Crete.) August through October was quite dry and hot, and that probably played a factor in flowering last year.

Off in the shady part of the back garden Sarcococca confusa is in full bloom. It’s a tough medium sized shrub that has the miraculous ability to thrive in deep, dry shade. The leaves are glossy green, rather much like a boxwood. (Actually, it is a member of the boxwood family.)

Don't let the little Sarcococca blooms fool you, the fragrance has a strong presence.

Don’t let the little Sarcococca blooms fool you, the fragrance has a strong presence.

Though it is blooming now, the flowers are just reduced to anthers and pistils – aka not very conspicuous – but it’s the coy fragrance that reaches out and lures you over. The sweet and spicy fragrance can be too much for some people, but I quite like the lovely scent drifting through the garden –  it’s much appreciated, especially at this time of year.

Strolling through the back garden I was delighted by come nice surprises. The Viola odorata that I’ve bought the past three years at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show are beginning to bud now. I’ve been a bit more religious with the Sluggo this year, so I hopefully none will be eaten and I will be able to pick them and smell their rich perfume.

The beds are beginning to swell on the Viola odorata and the petals are maturing into a deep purple.

The buds are beginning to swell on the Viola odorata and the petals are maturing into a deep purple.

The French Tarragon I planted in the autumn is starting to wake up now. I’m glad to see the voles have left it alone and the slugs haven’t been interested lately either.

The real French Tarragon just waking up.

Can the real French Tarragon please stand up?

Another thing that’s waking up is my Impatiens omeiana. This cool perennial Impatiens is native to China and it has overwintered well in a quart -sized pot.

Impatiens omeiana throwing up a few shoots.

Impatiens omeiana throwing up a few shoots.

I wasn’t expecting my Lobelia tupa to survive the winter, since it’s only in a 4″ pot. I’m excited to see it’s quite alive!

Lobelia tupa emerging! Oh, ignore the gray fuzz, that's lint from the dryer vent.

Lobelia tupa emerging! Oh pleaseignore the gray fuzz, that’s lint from the dryer vent.

Here is another winter grower from Eurasia, Papaver orientale ‘Miss Piggy’. Like the Saffron, she goes completely dormant by summer, but it doesn’t head off to bed before a fleeting showstopping display in spring. She should have HUGE really fluffy, light pink flowers with these crazy, fringed, crepe paper petals – I can’t wait!

Papaver orientale 'Miss Piggy' throwing out more growth. I made that wicker fence to stop hungry wild rabbits from nibbling.

Papaver orientale ‘Miss Piggy’ throwing out more growth after I made the wicker fence. Previously it was ravaged by hungry wild rabbits.

Install for the Northwest Flower & Garden Show 2013 starts tomorrow and I still need to finish the plant labels. Okay, gotta run and finish up the name tags! Oh before I forget, here is the illustration  I did for Riz’s display garden: “The Lost Gardener” that will go on his plant list brochures.

"The Lost Gardener" - done in ink and watercolor.

“The Lost Gardener” – done with ink and watercolor.

Okay, running now for real!

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