Tag Archives: Sempervivum

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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Winter Dreaming

3 Feb

WinterIt’s been quite the warm winter day today – a high of 50°F! Lately, it has just been gray and rainy, but since the sun decided to peek out of the clouds for half an hour today I thought it was a good time to check on progress. I slipped on my coat, grabbed my camera, and went out to the garden.

Melianthus major tired, but alive and well.

Melianthus is looking tired, but alive and well.

The first thing I see when I step out of my front door is a Melianthus major that I’m overwintering. I scored this free beauty when the containers at work were getting refreshed for the winter season and I asked the designer what he was going to do with it. He shrugged and said that he wasn’t sure, so I didn’t give it much thought afterwards. When I went back to the break room to eat my lunch I nearly squealed: there it was sitting in a plastic pot next to my box! When I took the massive baby on the bus that night I got quite a few stares, comments, and questions. Yes it’s looking a bit tired now, but once spring rolls around I will give it a nice haircut and  plant it out in a sunny spot.

If you live in Puget Sound you know you take no chances when the sun is out anytime of the year, so I wasted no time and headed through the garden gate to the back garden. The first section is a long, narrow bed that runs beyond the length of the house. This bed is characterized by heavy clay (I try to amend), which receives full sun on the east end and brief morning sun then high shade  for the rest of the day on the west end.

Just poking out of the soil and rosy pink tipped from the cold.

The young rosy pink leaves poking out of the soil.

Poking around the fallen leaves and mulch I found Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ surfacing out of the black earth. This year will be it’s second year in the ground and I hope it explodes into an elegant mass of shocking yellow and hot pink. (It also as a twin at the end of this bed, but I have yet to see any signs of life yet.)

My baby Darmera peltata, so jolly and green!

My baby Darmera peltata still tight in bud, but so jolly and green!

Up from the Dicentra I moved some pine needles to find my young Darmera peltata plump and very alive. I got it as a “weed” seedling two years ago and it has established and gotten bigger. I just love the the knobby rhizome and waxy green bud scales on the growing end – it looks kind of like a green thumb. It probably won’t bloom this year, but it would be so cool to have a stand of naked stems with heads of pink lollipop flowers in early spring and huge lotus leaves through summer.

These is the double wine colored one in bud. So far it looks like the Sluggo is working...

These is the double wine colored one in bud. So far it looks like the Sluggo is working…

I headed towards the giant pine on the north side of the garden and saw that the Helleborus orientalis hybrids were starting to stir and wake up. The double wine colored hellebore is the second earliest to raise this year and the  plain white one being the third. The earliest one this year is the Golden Lotus strain, which is surprising since it has been in the ground the shortest amount of time.

Helleborus niger are always first to bloom before the orientalis hybrids and mine are still going strong! They are a very clean white, like fresh linens, if you can keep the slugs off of them. I planned ahead this year and scattered Sluggo throughout the warmer parts of late autumn and winter to keep the hoards of slugs (and now snails) from marring my winter flowering jewels.

Helleborus niger as white as the driven snow.

Helleborus niger as white as the driven snow.

You can never have enough hellebores I say! Every year there are so many different colors and forms  that are introduced that it is hard not to collect them all, and to make matters worse there are loads of species to choose from as well! I hope to add a lacy, soft Helleborus foetidus and a hunky, silvery Helleborus argutifolius to my garden this year. Both are very different from your traditional hellebores. Anyway, enough about hellebores for now…expect for a few more photos…HelleboreHere is the white Helleborus orientalis hybrid waking up is my first hellebore ever and I brought it from the Northwest Flower & Garden Show four years ago.HelleboreRemember Golden Lotus a couple posts back? Here is that iced flower in full bloom! HelleboreThis my best Helleborus niger this year – just look at all those blossoms!

Magnolia ashei survived a couple of weeks of freezing beautifully.

Magnolia ashei survived a couple of weeks of freezing beautifully.

I wandered towards the west side of the house to a small circular bed, that has been over taken by grass, mint, and Schizostylis coccinea, to check on my Magnolia ashei. Magnolia ashei is a rare US native magnolia only found in small populations along the Floria panhandle. Though it is of sub-tropical origins, it’s apparently quite hardy in our climate. The plant itself will grow to become a tall shrub/small tree, but the leaves can grow to 2 feet long! How’s that for tropical drama! The bowl-shaped flowers are also large, white with a red blotch at the base of the petals, and have a citrusy fragrance. I bought my rooted cutting from Joy Greek Nursery during the autumn and planted it right away. It’s so young and unestablished, I worried if it would disintegrate after a hard freeze, but so far it’s weathered nippy temperatures without a scratch.

The leaves of Primula denticulata slowly releasing this clutch around the infloresence.

The leaves of Primula denticulata slowly releasing this clutch around the infloresence.

I do not need to fret over my Primula denticulata, however. Hailing from the alpine regions of the Himalayas this plants is well acquainted with cold a and ice. As long as it receives constant moisture and tucked away from the burning sun in the summer, it is a long-lived and carefree perennial. I can’t wait to see the drumstick inflorescence in spring! (If you haven’t noticed I kind of have a thing for primulas…all I have to say is prepare yourself for lots of primula related posts during spring and summer…)

The charming Primula veris starting to bud.

The charming Primula veris starting to bud.

Speaking of primula, all the Primula veris plants I started from seed last February are starting to bud and even a few are showing signs of petals! I believe that the straight species of this English wildflower is under appreciated and hard to find. Though the flowers maybe be small, the rich buttery yellow color,  sweet powdery fragrance, lush lettuce leaves, and its tolerance of clay soil more than makes up for any shortcomings (if there were any).

Sempervivum rubikon showing a deeper red blush from the cold.

Sempervivum ‘Rubikon’ with  deeper red blush from the cold.

Colder temperatures should be returning again and that means I should probably be returning back to working on plant labels. What’s waking up in your garden?

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