Category Archives: Plants

The Time of the Brugs

This week in the garden has been all about the flowering of the Brugmansia. Grown from a pencil thin cutting in a pot and neglected on and off over three years of changing houses and living in rental places, it never sulked or worse, gave it up and died. Once in the ground at this house it proved that flowers will always find a way. Every three months it blooms like mad for about two weeks. Then it goes quiet and lets nature work under the surface. I wish we had evolved to perform as silently. Carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, trace elements and of course the sun – all work away, not once needing applause or validation. And then, when their part is done, you are rewarded with this!

brug-2

Cuttings have been taken and rooted in a glass of water on the window sill. Two of those clones now grow in other parts of the garden. In another year they should be giving their parent a bit of competition!

brug-1

Another garden goodie from the Cape of Good Hope

This little gem is Oscularia deltoides.
Oscularia, because the little tooth-like edges make each pair of leaves look like a little mouth or osculum (Latin) and deltoides or delta-shaped as each leaf is triangular. In its home in South Africa, this succulent is known as dassie (hyrax) vygie (small fig) or sandsteenvygie because it grows in the sandstone country. I guess the rock hyrax must either live in the same terrain or like munching on the plant.

It has been doing beautifully in our Adelaide garden, in pots in morning sun and all day exposure to whatever weather we are having as well as in the ground, like the one in the photograph. The startlingly pink flowers are said to be almond scented, but mine are too low near the ground for me to breathe the perfume.

A tough plant for the Mediterranean garden despite its spun sugar flowers and celadon green fleshy leaves.

oscularia-deltoides

Photo: my own

Bare roots and all! Tree planting season is upon us

It is that time of the year again when a gardener’s thoughts turn lightly to bare-rooted trees, as a future feast for both the senses and the body. The youngest was kind enough to indulge me with the first of the season’s garden gifts with nineteen trees, or was it twenty two? These include trios of flowering dogwood or Cornus and forest pansy or Cercis and a solitary Magnolia grandiflora or Southern bull bay. The others are trios of Chinese tallow, katsura, Japanese maple and some others I will need to go and check.

Why trios? Well, trees look good in odd numbers just like Ganesha statues or shirtless photos of Brad, Salman or Putin. Actually, scratch that last one. Trees generally look good in groups, being social things.

Of the new arrivals, I am especially looking forward to seeing autumn colour on the maples. But wait, there is more as the Sham wow guy says on television. The Katsura is famed for colour and a sweet perfume from its autumn leaves that is variously described as caramel, candy floss or brown sugar! Imagine, candy floss on the air and not on the hips.

The other one is the Chinese tallow, with its three lobed fruit enclosing nuts covered in pure white wax. The Chinese used to boil the covering away to make candles. After the wax has been removed the seeds are apparently used as purgatives in herbal medicine. I kid you not.

But the one I am looking forward to most is the M.grandiflora, the one with giant cup shaped white flowers and waxy leaves with brown felted undersides. These are the classic corsage flowers, loved by authors of Regency romances and couples walking in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens alike(there is a splendid tree there).They are the Scarletts of the plant world, showy, dramatic, delicate but strong.

Frankly my dears, as you may know by now, I give many a damn when it comes to plants. Now to find someone willing to keep a shirt on and dig some holes and heft a few sacks of compost and rock minerals about, while I sip on a refreshing minty julep or three.

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Photo: http://guildfordgardencentre.com.au/bare-rooted-trees/

Bel phool, Jasmine Sambac or Arabian Jasmine – what is in a name?

Bel phool
The label said jasmine sambac or Arabian jasmine, but this gardener knew what she had found. The bel phool that grew on the roof terrace in her ‘baaper bari’ or father’s home. Nothing can smell sweeter! As the proverb goes, even the crows sound better at the ‘baaper bari’. Two plants were promptly loaded on to the trolley and wheeled away, paid for and brought home.

For a thrifty person, the price was a bit of a sticking point but I turned the inner voice off. I imagined the perfume, flooding in through windows left open on summer nights. I imagined gajras a la the most florid Bollywood mummy role, although I am the last person to do anything that adventurous with my hair. I even sighed over the romance of wilted jasmine petals, forgotten on the pillow once night is gone. A Sastra (Indian scripture) endorsed sign of spent passion or unrequited love (depending on who you are) if there ever was one!

Well, I am happy to say no gajras have been inflicted on anyone yet. A few buds, picked as they turned fat and white from pale jade green, have found their way to various tiny vases, offerings to the many Buddha and Ganesh figurines around the house. Pick them any earlier and they will never open. Wait till the next day and you are greeted with dead flowers, dry and purple. The perfume is yet to flood through any windows, but only because my parents close their window at night all year long. I should probably place one outside the front window which is left open in all but the most freezing weather.

But the two bushes have doubled in size, filled out in every direction and blossomed their hearts out. They have filled my heart and made me sing snatches of songs. They have not needed much more than a splash of water every other day and a feed every fortnight. But they have repaid me a hundredfold.

Bel, Mallika, Kundumalligai or Sambac – whatever you want to call it – this is how happiness smells.

Succulents are the new black

One of the joys of gardening in a temperate climate like Adelaide’s is the ability to grow a range of plants that were sadly missing all through my days in Calcutta, Brisbane and Darwin. These are the succulents, a group of plants that have generally adapted to living and flourishing in the parts of the world with high temperatures and low precipitation or rain. Cacti are succulents, as are some xerophytes or plants that have adapted to less moisture. Try as you might, unless you are Debra Lee Baldwin, it is quite difficult to keep succulents alive for a great length of time in the three cities named above. At least that was the way it was for me.

But Adelaide has given me a chance to grow and love succulents. To the point of now being mildly obsessed by them. The geometric shapes, the muted greys, blues and greens, the magical flowers – all these are but some of the reasons I now know my echeverias from my sempervivums and my jovibarbas from my aeoniums. They fit into my preferred palette of colours, grow slowly and are well suited to the climate we have.

So, without further ado, here are a few of my favourite succulents; some are growing in our garden, and a couple are from gardens I have visited. I hope you enjoy them!

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The succulent wreath in the slideshow is a display from Hillside Herbs and the succulent wall art is from Sophie Thompson’s open garden in Mount Barker that I visited last weekend.

I know, that was too short! But there is more. There will be more, but in the next post. Till then, happy gardening.

Henry’s Lily discovered circa 19th century, flowers in an Adelaide garden in 2016

Lilium Henryi

(The first flower on Lilium Henryi or Henry’s Lily)

By flowering in Adelaide on January 17th it helps connect me in 2016 to a man who could not be further removed from me even if he tried. This man was the Irish plantsman and China expert Augustine Henry. He worked from 1881 as a doctor in Shanghai, China. In 1882 he was sent to the interior to study plants used by Chinese herbalists. By the end of his Chinese sojourn, he had collected over 15000 specimens for Kew Gardens. 5000 new plants were among these. Among them was an orange lily that he discovered in the limestone gorge country of Hubei, home to the massive Three Gorges Dam. My lily is descended in a sense from that distant plant, both in terms of years as well as physical miles. As I look at the flower, I wish I had met Henry, who was a man of science who also knew Yeats and Shaw and retired from China as a Mandarin. In England he helped to set up departments of forestry at a number of universities.

Even though this lily can grow up to eleven feet tall, it hasn’t done badly in a pot in half shade here. Perhaps it will feel at home and reach full potential if I plant it in the limestone soils of Adelaide after it finishes flowering for this season.

Curl up and die? By gibberelin, no!

Aeonium flower heads
Aeonium

This plant should not look this happy, not at all! I separated it from its parent plant, a clump which was undisturbed for nearly four years. The place was like a wall of green fractals, even the hose had a hard time wetting the soil underneath. Then for two weeks, this stayed in a bucket crowded together with others, no water, no soil – waiting for something to happen. While I, the one who was meant to make things happen got busy potting up exotic things like dragon fruit and tree dahlias. A week into the wait, this plant got a message from one of the many hormones still at work inside it that perhaps this was it. Perhaps, there was no watering in its future, no putting down roots and building another wall of fractals. Perhaps it was curtains.

So what has this plant been doing for the last week? Not getting ready for cell death and system shutdown. Not by a long shot, no. It has been having its last hurrah, a party to celebrate life! It has been covering itself in literally tens of these flowering tips. If I hadn’t noticed they would have gone on to flower, perhaps even set seed thanks to the efficiency of passing bees and ants, even the breeze. And then, and only then would it finally call it a day. But only then, after exhausting all resources in building a future. Not in withering away and dying without putting up a fight first.

There may be a lesson in this for us all; there certainly is one for me.