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!



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

Descanso in April

More technical issues this month, but I did manage to make one successful trip…

I fell in love with some new trees. This (I think) is the redbud I photographed before, now in full leaf.

P1020365What a beauty!

A strawberry tree in the entrance courtyard.


This is a magnolia, I think. Just beautiful.


A huge bottle-brush tree by the Bird Observation Station.


And I was captivated by the tulip tree outside the Boddy House.

P1020370 - Version 2



March at Descanso

March is a colorful – and busy! – month at Descanso Gardens. While the camellias are still giving their best, joined now by the clivias planted beneath them,


other trees and shrubs are getting in on the act. The cherry blossom in the Japanese Garden warrants a festival all to itself, well-deserved when you see how beautifully they combine with the azaleas and acers with which they share space.




is holly. I’ve never seen it blossom before.

And horse-chestnut


– a real reminder of English springs!

The dogwoods (though not strictly a blossom) deserve an honorable mention.


And a relatively new plant to me – the redbud.


And don’t get me started on the bulbs…!

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.


Descanso Gardens is more organised and the results are spectacular!




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.


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…


…my own little patch of England!