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… 🙂



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:
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 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



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?





Terrace Garden

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


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


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


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!


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



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.


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


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.



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.


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!


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


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