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

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Homage to Peter Beals

With deep sadness I have read the news that Peter Beals has quited us on January 26th...

A big tribute and heartfelt thank you for the magnificent roses he gave us!  His work will ever guide rosarians all over the world.

 Adam Rose
Highgrove Rose
Queen's Jubilee Rose


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Plant profiles: The Grass Tree

Call me weird, but I have never fancied garden sculptures... I mean anything besides really antique ones in historical gardens. I love old fountains and really withered urns, but this is it.
In change I really like plants with a very sculptural, plastic shape. A huge blue agave can make a real statement and so do giant cactus - provided you can afford and grow them!

Another such a sculptural thing is the Australian native Xanthorrhoea australis or Grass Tree.
The origin of the name is Greek - xanthos meaning yellow and rheo  flow, a reference to the resin that is obtained from these plants.

Particularly sculptural and perfectly trimmed Grass Tree - Australia

Grass Trees are related to the lilies, but are placed in the separate family of Xanthorrhoeaceae ( now that is a spelling challenge!). They are close relatives with the sagg (Lomandra longifolia). 

They are very slow growing, with some elderly specimens being amongst the oldest living plants on a worldwide scale, surviving for many hundreds of years.
In their natural, wild habitat old examples are survivors of wild fires and develop into architectural masterpieces. Wild fire can cause their blackened trunk (1 to 2 metres) to branch into two or even more heads. These consist of thick, rough corky bark, surrounded by long, wiry leaves of green silvery colour - especially the Xanthorrhoea glauca spp angustifolia . The leaves form a round "crown" or mop which is very decorative.

 Grass Trees at the Botanical Garden, Barcelona

Being an Australian native, the Grass Tree is extremely drought tolerant and hence a real value for a dry garden in hot climates. It can survive occasional minus temperatures but should be protected from frost and yes,it stays a plant for warm climates. Apart that it is a tough boy which does not require any care or treatment.
The individual flowers are white or cream and very small. They are clustered together in a spear-like spike which can tower 2 metres or more above the top of the trunk.  Flowering occurs in spring but it may not occur annually.The flowers are followed by fruits containing a few hard, black seeds.

 Grass Trees in their natural habitat

The Grass Tree, like the Cycas has a reputation of being a real slow grower, but although I have never grown a Grass Tree I did grow Cycas and can tell you that given a minimum of care, mine produced to splendid rows of leaves per year! So everything is relative in the garden too!
If there is something negative about the Grass Tree is the fact that you can only seldom find it for sale and if you do find it, you might be scared of the price!

Yet if you are a patient and experimental gardener you might try to grow it from seed. It germinates reasonably well without pretreatment, although growth is slow and seedlings take many years to develop into large specimens. They do, however, form attractive small garden plants in 3-4 years.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My New Year's Resolutions - I will use only natural fertilizers

Well, dear friends, any new year comes with a good load of very wise and virtuous resolutions which are meant to radically improve our life.
On my personal long list ( which I will not confess entirely even under torture) there is one which says : I will try to eliminate all vile, chemical pesticides and harsh fertilizers and try (a conditional is due) to use only nature friendly stuff - mostly home concocted remedies, which should harm only the bad bugs and be friendly to all the rest...

 You might agree, that this is quite a challenge, since I live in the very heart of a town - and there are quite few ladybugs and Co. willing to cross the asphalt jungle in order to install themselves on my terrace and dine on my personal aphids... I have tried, believe me! I developed a special, super friendly attitude towards ladybugs and sand bees and other helpful insects, but their presence is really very thin...
You might remember that I had quite some nuisances with sawflies last year and one can do very unwise things when really desperate, so I hope that this year I will be less visited by them.

But pesticides aside, I will also try to feed all my plants as naturally as possible. Since I do not own horses or other manure manufacturing animals (cats do not count even if they are just too willing to help out ;-)  ), I introduced broiled horn and dried blood - I know it sounds quite scarry but it does wonders! I use ocassionaly coffe grounds and this year's big entry are ground eggshells.

This is a novelty for me - I have never used them before, but a combination of massive use of Pintrest (where this recipe apears in almost every gardening board) and a large egg consumtion during the past festivities, brought me to try this fertilizer.

The procedure is child easy - you let your eggshells dry out a couple of days and then you throw them in a blender and mix them as finely as you can. I tried to crush them by hand but the results were not aesthetically pleasing, since you have to disperse a handfull of the shells on the soil in your containers or arround the plant you want to feed.
So trust me, the finer the granulation the more discreet the effect,  afterall you do not wish to transform your garden into a compost pile! 

Before starting this new fertilizing method, I looked up for the chemical benefits of eggshells just to know what I was giving my plants:
“In addition to the calcium, the eggshells contain about 1% nitrogen, about a half-percent phosphoric acid, and other trace elements that make them a practical fertilizer. Calcium is an essential plant nutrient which plays a fundamental part in cell manufacture and growth. Most roots must have some calcium at the growing tips. Plant growth removes large quantities of calcium from the soil, and calcium must be replenished, so this is an ideal way to recycle your eggshells.” – Back Woods Home Magazine

You can use both cooked and raw eggshells, but make sure you do not give them to acid soil loving plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas, hostas, hydrangeas and camelias. For all the rest it is supposed to do a fairly good job, it is easy and clean and on top of everything it is a natural way of eliminating organic rubbish for those who cannot or will not get into serious composting! 

This is it and I will keep you informed about the results! 
I would love to get feedback from you if you have tried this before.

PS. Eggshells are supposed to work as a slug reppellent too!
PPS. I tried eggshell tea (shells macerated in water) but I find the foul egg smell not really appealing so I will stick with the method above.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Happy New Year to you all!

A wonderfull 2013 from Garden at Heart! May all your plants be always bug free and in full bloom ...