" To plant trees is to give body and life to one's dreams of a better world " Russell Page

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Plant Profile: Fremontodendron Californicus

Apart from the very passionate and serious gardeners among us who spend good deal of their time searching for rare pearls in the vast kingdom of Botany, most amateur gardeners relay on the plant offers most next door nurseries propose. 

Let's be frank - most of the time, the choice is pretty dull and restraint to arch-known plants ( a couple of badly labelled modern roses, fire engine red geraniums, some pinks and petunias and some more herbs) as if the average gardener would be deadly scared of venturing himself on new grounds.
Deadly sin (in the botanical sense of course) since the plant world is literally full of great plants which deserve to be better known and of course planted in our gardens.
More to the point, little known does not rime with difficult to grow or delicate - quite a lot of them are sturdy and healthy growing types which will fill you with satisfaction if you allow them into your vegetal kingdom.

Today I would like to talk about the Fremontodentrum Californicum.

The fremontowhat? most of you (Californian among you are obviously excluded) will be likely to ask...
Well call it Flannelbush or Fremontia if this makes you more comfortable.
We are talking about a small tree from California, which is a real treasure! And now I will tell you why.

A moderate grower, the Flannelbush reaches 6 m on average, which makes it suitable even for small plots, and planting next to walls or fences. As you can see it litterally covers itself with 5-6 cm big waxy flowers of the purest gold yellow during the summer. The blooming period is reasonably long and attracts bees.
The leaves are tiny and somewhat coarse, medium shiny and dark green on the upper side and covered by a brownish hair on the backside. In mild climates it is almost an evergreen. The flower buds and seed pods, which are produced in abundance, are as well hairy. Though the plant is not toxic, it is recommended to wear gloves if manipulating it, since the hairs can result skin irritating.

The Fremontodendron is supposed to be hardy  up to -10 Cº but I would rather give it a sheltered place and assure some winter protection especially during the first years in areas which are not mild.
And now comes the real bonus: the Flannelbush requires virtually no cares once you plant it in a sunny spot. It loves poor, stony soils and does not care for being fertilised, watered or sprayed or whatsoever. It just grows by its own, as any wild tree would do! Isn't that good news? A plant that flowers so lavishly and which is not supposed to be delicate!

What makes it even more interesting especially in the Mediterranean zone is its low water requirements and the fact that it is quite fire resistant! Actually it makes a really interesting plant for the urban areas since it is so little demanding and of moderate size. The first time I saw it actually was in a tiny park in the South of France and it made quite a show!

Finding the Flannelbush in local nurseries can reveal a bit tricky, but no determined gardener will desist from scanning tons of catalogues in order to get his hands on, once he fell under the spell, right? Otherwise you can try growing it from seed ( not quite simple, since you have to refrigerate the seeds, and then drench them in hot water before seeding... or otherwise try to root some cuttings). So keep your eyes open if you see it while you're on vacation.*

PS. * this is not meant as an invitation to devastate public parcs, but as the great landscape designer Gilles Clement said, a man should behave like a bird and spread plants by taking seeds... after all this is the reason plants do produce seeds!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Street art II (suitable for a rainy day)

Today it rains! Finally after endless month of impecable blue sky we rejoyce of a nice little shower to clean the spirits and infuse strength to dursty plants.

Happy spring time to you all!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Street art

Actually I am not a serial poster, but a couple of days ago, I stumbled upon this lovely picture and found it quite an amusing idea worth of developing: foamy white daisies spilling out of a milk can.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The truly beautiful Portuguese

I must confess you my love for giant roses! Now that my gardening grounds are reduced to next to nothing I realised that among all roses in the vast rose world, I truly have a passion for the ramblers and climbers that romp up to more than 10 meters...
The Banksias in all their forms, R. Filipes Kiftsgate, R. Cooperii they all make me weak.
Not that I despise the rest, I still love a lot of other roses, but nothing moves me like the vision of a whole tree or barn clothed in a cloud of blooms.

Giant rambler roses give you the real idea of how incredibly strong and resistant roses are! There is nothing frail and in need of pampering about them! In a couple of years they can literally swallow a garage (and I can only dream of them covering all hideous barns around), bury it under masses of petals and all this without the slightest care from the gardener. No pruning and tying needed there, the canes shoot up in the air and harpoon anything that crosses their way.

 But I would like to talk about quite a special rose today.

The first time I saw it was at the Villa Hanbury on the Ligurian coast in Italy. The villa in itself is worth the trip, since it is a marvellous place perched on the Mortola promontory above the sea  and its botanical garden is charming.
The rose in question is called "Belle Portugaise" and is a climbing Hybrid Tea obtained by Henry Cayeux at the beginning of the XXth century.
Cayeux gives its parentage in Rosa Gigantea x R. Madame Léonie Vienot, though in many catalogues it is R. Gigantea x Reine Marie Henriette.
Now the Belle in question at La Mortola covers a pergola of 10 to 15 meters with a single plant! The blooms are rather big, loose with shell pink silky petals. The center is darker in colour and opens to  silvery pink.

As you can see, the flowers are born on unusually long and thin stems which nod graciously as the blooms unfold and become heavier. The buds are particularly long and pointed matching the shape of the light green leaves. The whole plant appears graciously slender in spite of the impressive size.

Now Belle Portugaise was born at the Botanical Garden in Lisbon under the warm sun of Portugal. A daughter of the Rosa Gigantea and with Tea ancestors it is rather tender and not loving of cold climates. Maybe this is the reason it is virtually non existent in most rose catalogues of our days, apart from the most specialised ones. ( Peter Beals of course has it!!!) It is a pity since a Belle Portugaise in full bloom is a vision of absolute elegance.

pergola at Villa Hanbury in early March

Villa Hanbury, La Mortola

 stairs covered bu pergola at Villa Hanbury
Villa Hanbury, view of the gardens


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Laissez moi cultiver mon jardin"

                                                        Maze at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire

With these words of Voltaire, Franco Maria Ricci announced 2004 that he quitted his life long oeuvre as an editor of the supremely exquisite FRM magazine and publishing house in order to build the largest maze in the world! Yes, a maze as an coronation of a dream.
Ricci played with the  idea of creating a maze ever since he met the philosopher Luis Borges and he published the lavish book called "the Garden of Polifilo". The philosophical and psychological aspects of creating a labyrinth fascinated him, but it was not until 2004 that he started to give his idea a true body. Hence, the project started to grow with the aid of the architects Davide Dutto and Pier Carlo Bontempi in charge of the buildings which will host Franco Maria Ricci's art collection.
The garden is due to open in 2013 year of the bicentenary of Gianbattista Bodoni - the typographer and inventor of the well known typefaces, who influenced Ricci, at Fontanellato near Parma in Italy.

                                                            Villard de Honcourt, XIII, Ed. Imperiale Paris 1858
                                           (at Biblioteca Escola Tecnica Superior d'Arquitectura, Barcelona, Spain)

                                                                                       Roman Mosaique

A refined aesthete, Ricci has drawn his inspiration from two Roman mosaiques in the Museo del Bardo at Tunis and at the Kunsthistorishes Museum in Viena. The shape is a superposition of two squares of 300 metres each  remembering the plans of the ideal cities of the Renaissance and summs 3 kilometres of alleys.

View of the Maze before the constructions were completed

 Plan of the Maze

                                                                View of the maze with the completed buildings

The planting scheme however is quite surprising for a classical maze. The box and yews typical for all topiaries and plant constructions, have been replaced by fast growing bamboos. 
Before starting this project, Ricci fell under the spell of the Asian grasses and started to grow them on his property near Parma, in order to learn the differences between the various species. The Bambouseraie de Prafrance at Anduze in France (http://www.bambouseraie.com) supplied most of the plants but some were imported directly from China.
After testing several varieties, the P. Bossetii was chosen to form the dense walls of greenery which now romp up to 5 m hight! The effect is beautiful indeed and the oriental note of the delicate leaves is most pleasing.

Rests to know how they will keep the vigour of the bamboo at stake without letting it overgrow and invade the alleys?

And what better tribute could one of the most refined publishers ever bring to Bodoni who inspired his entire career? 
Now Mr Franco Maria Ricci has planted his garden indeed and by doing so, has given "body and life to a dream of a better world" as Russel Page used to say.

                                                                              Phyllostachys Bossetii

                                                                              View of the bamboo alleys

In conclusion we can only salute the creation of such an ambitious and poetic landscape project and look forward to its opening next year!