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!

 

Pink Roses

I love almost every colour of rose, but I think pink roses are my favourite. And even though it goes against my California-native/drought-tolerant principals here in California, I couldn’t resist a few David Austin roses in my new planting schemes. This

Gertrude Jekyll rose with deer sageis one of my all-time favorites, Gertrude Jekyll, planted last year and finally hitting her stride. Doesn’t she look great against the grey of the deer sage?

And this

Charles Rennie MackIntosh budsis a new friend, Charles Rennie Mackitosh, planted in February and about to reward me for my faith. You can take the girl out of England… 🙂

 

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:
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A wonderful combo of silver and pinks:
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Love these rustic obelisks!
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And these arches:
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This beautiful magnolia was flowering in amongst the oaks.
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And aren’t these seeds heads adorable?
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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
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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

Friday I’m in Love: The English Hedgerow

The perfect English hedgerow is an ephemeral thing and this year I was lucky to be on the spot at the right time. The ingredients are:
Hedges (of course!)
IMG_0329 Key trees are oak, ash, blackthorn or sloe, beech, hazel and the occasional horse chestnut, but absolutely vital to a spring hedgerow is hawthorn, or as it’s known when in flower, “May”.
IMG_0330 Occasionally the “hedge” is a wall…
IMG_0331 …and there should be the odd gate or gap to allow a view of the fields beyond.
IMG_4657 Wild flowers peeping out from the grass;
IMG_0332 And last but by no means least: cow parsley. Not that spectacular seen singly,
IMG_4659 but in drifts…beautiful!
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Friday I’m in Love: Tulips

If bluebells are the shy beauties of spring, tulips are the chorus girls. They are typically colourful and wildly effective en masse. Attractive enough to have caused arguably the world’s first speculative bubble and to have inspired some of the world’s most best artists.

I was late planting mine and so I’m only just seeing flowers.

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Descanso Gardens is more organised and the results are spectacular!

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Friday I’m in Love: Bluebells

Bluebells are one of my top ten favourite flowers. There is nothing more evocative of an English spring than a woodland carpeted with these fragile beauties.

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When we first moved here I planted several hundred bulbs under the liquidambar trees and azaleas as a taste of home. Despite suffering a trampling when we redid the irrigation earlier this year they are beginning to put on a show…

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…my own little patch of England!

Terrace Garden

When we bought our house, one of the main attractions was the view. It’s beautiful, day or night.

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But the main garden – a terrace that wraps the house to the south and west – was uninspiring. Serviceable, but fractured and a bit boring.

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And in remodelling the new kitchen and porch, much of it got trashed.

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So once the main building work had quietened down we started landscaping. We wanted a space for entertaining which was water-conscious and wildlife-friendly, in a Mediterranean style to match the house. Pinterest was a great source of inspiration!

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The old spa bit the dust when we extended the porch so we began by getting rid of the old pink concrete.

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Luckily a friend of Contractor John needed exactly that to build a wall, so it went to a good home! Then we marked out the beds, put in a drip system for irrigation, and edged them with salvaged roof tiles, an idea I’d seen at the Old Mill in Pasadena.

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The main part of the terrace is a boules piste (bocce ball court to Americans).

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John had never made one before but I found instructions here. Since we didn’t have oyster shells we used the tiny loose stones from erosion control bags. I can see it getting a lot of use once we start entertaining properly this summer!

The planting is a mixture of drought-tolerant aloes, euphorbias and succulents, California natives and Mediterranean plants. They’ve been in about six weeks now and are filling out nicely.

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The seating area is positioned for the best views. It’s high desert flag, a greeny-grey stone already in use elsewhere in the garden, interspersed with gravel. I’ve planted Corsican mint in some of the gaps, which gives off a wonderful smell when stepped on. The seat can accommodate eight when separated, or pushed together becomes a massive lounger for when we feel like lying around.

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Beyond that, at the back of the house, is the spot of the – future – pool or spa. Currently overflow storage for garden equipment and building detritus!

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And at the other end of the piste is my kitchen garden.

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Have you designed a garden for yourself? What are your inspirations?

Friday I’m in Love: Pussy Willow

“Pussy willow is a name given to many of the smaller species of the genus Salix (willows and sallows) when their furry catkins are young in early spring. Before the male catkins of these species come into full flower they are covered in fine, grayish fur, leading to a fancied likeness to tiny cats…” Wikipedia

Pussy willow is the perfect floral decoration for early spring. The leafless stems hark back to winter while the little furry buds remind me of baby rabbits or lamb’s tails. Growing up in the country we’d cut stalk from the hedgerows each spring to take home. As an adult I’d buy the cut flower version to remind myself that there are still seasons in the city. I haven’t seen them here before, though – until now.

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And suddenly I’m a child again…