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… 🙂

 

Ocotillo

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.

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:
IMG_0342
A wonderful combo of silver and pinks:
IMG_0343
Love these rustic obelisks!
IMG_5530
 
And these arches:
IMG_0344
This beautiful magnolia was flowering in amongst the oaks.
IMG_0345
And aren’t these seeds heads adorable?
IMG_5575

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.

IMG_4623

This is a magnolia, I think. Just beautiful.

IMG_0279

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

P1020357

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

P1020370 - Version 2

 

 

Friday I’m in Love: Pool-friendly plants

I’m planning a planter to go alongside our new hot-tub (on which more next week). From a practical point of view the plants need to be hardy, drought tolerant and evergreen. Ideally they should be tall or visually interesting, to disguise the boring wooden sides of the spa.

I’m leaning towards succulents. Nothing spiny or sharp, but there are some beauties out there that would make a striking display. Here are some inspirations from Pinterest…what do you think?

IMG_0229

 

 

 

Terrace Garden

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

IMG_0200

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

IMG_2084

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

IMG_0201

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!

IMG_0199

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

IMG_2432

IMG_1741

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.

IMG_0182

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

IMG_3868

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.

IMG_3864

IMG_3860

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.

IMG_3867

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!

IMG_3866

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

IMG_3451

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.

IMG_3829

And suddenly I’m a child again…

Signs of Spring

After the first major rainfall of the year I’m hoping the seasons will return to a bit more like normal. It has been an unusually warm winter and many things in the garden are more advanced than I expected.

Orange blossom.

IMG_3821

Leaf shoots on the apple, aprium, grape and kiwi.

IMG_0192

Mulberry catkins.

IMG_3834

My first figs.

IMG_3838

And the first shoots on the globe artichokes.IMG_3819

Friday I’m in Love: Mystery Plant

About this time of year the most delicious scent perfumes our whole street…somewhere between jasmine and orange blossom. My neighbours ask me every time what it is, as it seems to emanate from our garden. And every year I am stumped. It’s not from the camellias or azaleas, and there was apparently nothing else in flower in enough profusion to produce that much fragrance. I even wondered if the smell was coming from our eucalyptus trees or from the live oak next door.

It turns out that it’s neither, but an internet search of what live oak blossoms smell like produced this hint:

“Ray Charles Live Oak: A garden to smell and touch…These tiny blossoms emit such a fragrant scent that it can easily be smelled dozens of feet away…”

which sounded like what I was looking for so I followed the link and was led to the fragrant olive or osmanthus fragrans. There is no picture on the Facebook page so I did a bit more googling…et voila! It’s easy to see how I missed it as the flowers are pretty insignificant:

IMG_3818

but the plant itself is very handsome

IMG_3820

and the seeds are pretty too.

IMG_3817

Definitely a keeper!