The Mad Plants of Madeira

I recently spent some time with my parents on Madeira. It is seriously a plant-lover’s paradise! Here are some of the crazy-looking plants I saw…

This wonderful creature Mickey-Mouse bushis called the Mickey-Mouse bush. The yellow flowers fall off to reveal these cute red sepals, and eventually produce black fruits which give the plant its common name. Isn’t it lovely?

And this kapok treeis the kapok tree. Earlier in the year it has striking red five-lobed flowers which are apparently very attractive to bats, but its main importance is the fruit: a light fibre which is used as an alternative to down as stuffing for soft toys and upholstery. I’m told that the fibres kapok fibresloosen and float off, to the great annoyance to residents…but to me they are just cool!




Another crazy plant! Ocotillo (fouquieria splendens) is a spiny, drought-tolerant shrub native to southwestern America and Mexico. For much of the year it looks like a bunch of dry sticks, ocotillo in courtyardbut after Spring rains it sprouts green leaves and, at the end of each stem, a hummingbird-attracting flower. They are also supposedly edible (I haven’t tried them!) and can be dried for use in a tisane…ocotillo flowerIt pairs well with crown of thorns, as seen here ocotillo & crown of thornsin my newly planted drought-tolerant front garden.

June Gloom

Yes, I’m aware it’s July…

The phenomenon known as June Gloom is a marine layer that covers the coast of California, and a little way inland, in spring and early summer. As the name suggests, this happens most commonly in June, but can also occur in May and July.  We are about 50 miles from the ocean and at an elevation of 1700 feet, and the cloud usually burns off by mid morning. But mornings can be magical! 





Weekend Getaway: Central Coast and Wine Country

My Lovely Man and I recently did a quick trip to Morro Bay and Paso Robles. I forget now how we first discovered the area, but it has become our default destination (accommodation permitting) whenever we need to recharge our batteries…and our wine cellar!
Morro Bay is a coastal town about 200 miles north of Los Angeles. It’s named after a distinctive crown-shaped rock in the bay.
IMG_2295 The rock and its environs it are marine protected areas due to the wildlife (specifically peregrine falcons) that live there. The bay has a lovely beach with spectacular views,
IMG_0391 and the lagoon is a great place to watch birds and other creatures.
IMG_0390 It’s also only 30 minutes from Paso Robles, which makes it a great place from which to explore this wonderful wine region. Each time we visit we swear we won’t buy much wine, but each time, we do. Here are some of the wineries we love:
Adelaida Cellars
Alta Colina
Halter Ranch
Tablas Creek Vineyard
Terry Hoage Vineyards
And this time we made a new discovery…Re:Find, IMG_0389a distillery that uses saignėe (the juice removed before fermentation) to make some amazing grape-based spirits. Oh, dear…

Descanso in May: continued

There was a lot to see in Descanso besides roses last month. The tulips have been replaced with a colorful combination of daisies…zinnias, osteospermums and marguerites:
A wonderful combo of silver and pinks:
Love these rustic obelisks!
And these arches:
This beautiful magnolia was flowering in amongst the oaks.
And aren’t these seeds heads adorable?

Descanso in May: Roses

Roses!IMG_0340 What I love about Descanso’s rose garden is that it’s not over-manicured as so many seem to be. Some of the more vigorous types are allowed to get nice and big,
IMG_5466 and there is an abundance of climbing roses, as well as a good mix of other plants
IMG_5477which make it feel more garden-like and less of a specimen collection.
Some of the arches are more industrial than romantic
IMG_5487but when covered in roses
IMG_5473I can forgive the need for low-maintenance structures!

For once I arrived early enough to be able to photograph the beautiful fountain without interruption.
IMG_5476 It reminds me of fountains I’ve seen in some of the California Missions we’ve visited – which makes sense now that I’ve seen this plaque: IMG_5481 I love the mix of practical plants such as olives, citrus and pomegranates with drought-tolerant yet decorative plants. IMG_0341


Bowood House, near Calne in Wiltshire, is a fine example of an English Country House. The gardens and part of the house are open April-November and are well worth a visit. Every spring the owners open their justly famous Rhododendron Walk to the public, and this year I was able to go. But though the rhododendrons are spectacular, my interest was elsewhere…IMG_0339