Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Interesting Article from Germany

For those who can read German, here is an interesting article about a new invention by a Dutch horticulturist and inventor which is supposed to help reforest even very arid terrain in an effort to combat climate change:

http://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/waterbox100.html

I am, to be honest, a tad bit sceptical as to how well this will work in practice but it seems like a smart approach at least in principle. In addition, the fact that Pieter Hoff, the guy who invented the gadget in question and is advocating its wide-scale use, apparently worked very successfully in the Dutch floriculture industry makes me think that he does indeed know his plants very well.

Lots of Pictures of of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is a common enough plant, both as an outdoor shrub in the tropics and subtropics and as a potted plant in temperate zones. Nevertheless, I never tire of its beautiful flowers and going through pictures I took this summer I realized that I have been photographing different varieties of this plant all over the place. Since Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is also the national flower of Malaysia and today is Malaysia's Independence Day, I decided this would be as good an occasion as any to put those pictures to use.

The classic form with single, bright red flowers, photographed in this case in the grounds of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman

A pinkish-orange variety in the Hibiscus Garden in Chandigarh, India

A double pink cultivar in Chandigarh's Hibiscus Garden

A variety with delicate, pale pink flowers that appear in particularly large numbers, photographed in the Hibiscus Garden in Chandigarh

A variety with a single, reddish-pink flowers, also from Chandigarh's Hibiscus Garden

A pure white variety; this picture was taken in Chandigarh's Leisure Valley Park but this cultivar appears to be relatively common throughout the Chandigarh area as well as various other parts of northern India

A mid-pink variety with a prominent basal blotch, photographed in the town of Lenox in western Massachusetts

On a more personal note, I remember that Hibiscus rosa-sinensis was  represented among my parents' collection of house plants when I was very little by two somewhat straggly specimens with red blossoms. My maternal grandmother also usually kept a young plant on the windowsill and her sister, my grandaunt Gertrud,  keeps some big old specimens that she overwinters in her little glassed-in front porch and puts on her terrace during the summer. In any case, I wish everyone in Malaysia a very happy Independence Day, and I hope you enjoy these pictures!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Summer Travels 2010 - Part 11: Shanti Kunj in Chandigarh, India

I realize that yesterday's post about the Zakir Hussain Rose Garden did not offer much in terms of colorful pictures but this post should more than make up for that. Shanti Kunj or शांति कुंज, the "grove of peace", is another one of Chandigarh's major parks and while large parts of it are indeed taken up by beautiful groves of trees, this garden also boasts lots of colorful annuals and meticulously maintained arrangements of clipped foliage plants of the sort that appears to be popular throughout much of northern India.

The view into the park from the northern entrance

A somewhat curious decorative feature planted with various ground covers and Agave species with contrasting foliage colors

A lush expanse of lawn edged with large blocks of flowering annuals

Impatiens balsamina, one of my favorite annuals

A big bed of red and yellow blanket flowers (Gaillardia pulchella)

A block of Zinnia elegans

 A bed of red cockscomb (Celosia cristata) with many enormous flower heads

Like the rose garden, Shanti Kunj is a popular with Chandigarh residents for strolling and socializing and like all of Chandigarh's lovely public parks it is open free of charge.

Summer Travels 2010 - Part 10: The Zakir Hussain Rose Garden in Chandigarh, India

The city of Chandigarh was created in the 1950s as a capital for the Indian state of Punjab after the region's historic metropolis Lahore became part of Pakistan. Designed under the guidance of Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, Chandigarh is an affluent, leafy city with wide boulevards, quiet residential neighborhoods, and a plethora of  beautiful parks. Each neighborhood or "sector" has its own array of public green spaces but there are also several larger parks which figure among the city's more important attractions. One of these is the enormous Zakir Hussain Rose Garden, named for the third president of India. It is reportedly Asia's largest rose garden and apart from roses also contains a large variety of other flowering shrubs and ornamental trees.

The sign at the entrance to the garden

 View along one of the paths in the garden

Some of the rose beds, rather disheveled-looking in the summer heat

Another vista

A zigzag bridge across the little creek that runs through the garden - I found it very beautiful in its clean-cut simplicity

The rose garden is supposedly at its peak in February and March and the summer heat does indeed take a heavy toll on the appearance of the rose bushes. Nevertheless, the park was still a green and serene place perfect for an afternoon stroll even at the time of my visit in mid-July, with plenty of trees and flowering shrubs in addition to bedraggled-looking rose blossoms. Local couples, families, and gaggles of friends appear to agree since they flock to the garden in considerable numbers to stroll, picnic, or even just doze under a tree.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Question...

Does anyone gardening in the northern United States - or another part of the world with a similar climate - know when spring-flowering bulbs usually begin arriving in the garden centers and home improvement stores? I was always under the impression that they were around by late August but living at home with my parents I was never under any pressure to go bulb shopping until well into September and even after I went away to college our old yard was still well-stocked with what I had planted during the preceding years. Now, however, my parents have a new garden sadly devoid of daffodils, crocuses, and the like, and I would love to get some tulips and narcissi - and perhaps a few other things - into the ground before I go back to college at the end of next week but I cannot find bulbs anywhere!

Update:  I finally found a decent selection of tulips at a local garden center - and bought a couple of dozen bulbs of four different varieties - and now bulbs are also appearing at the local big box outlets.

Plant Care Profile: Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

When my family was still living in Germany and I was in elementary school, someone in our street, whose garden I passed twice everyday on my way to and from school, acquired a specimen of swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) with enormous, deep red flowers. I, of course, was utterly fascinated. Not only were the flowers stunningly large and colorful but the plant producing them was actually a hardy perennial! For years I tried to get a hold of a specimen of this amazing plant but none of the local nurseries and garden centers ever seemed to stock it. Imagine my delight when we moved to Michigan and I found that here in the US, Hibiscus moscheutos is widely available in a number of different varieties!

A cultivar of swamp rose mallow in my family's previous Zone 6a garden in southeastern Michigan

Origin: Hibiscus moscheutos is native to wetlands throughout the eastern United States and even occurs as far north as southern Ontario.
USDA Hardiness Zone: This plant is reported to be hardy at least to Zone 5a.

A variety of Hibiscus moscheutos with solid red flowers and finely divided leaves in my family's former Zone 6a garden

Size: Depending on the variety, Hibiscus moscheutos specimens can range in height from 2 1/2' (ca. 75cm) to 6' (ca. 1.8m) and old plants can reach a width of up to 3' (ca. 90cm).
Flowering Time: Depending on local climate conditions, an established swamp rose mallow will usually begin flowering in mid or late summer and will continue to be in bloom for several weeks.
Light Requirements: Hibiscus moscheutos may tolerate light shade for part of the day but it really prefers full sun.

A large specimen of swamp rose mallow in the Katz'sche Garten in Gernsbach, Germany (Zone 8a)

Soil Requirements: Despite its lush and rapid growth and massive flowers, Hibiscus moscheutos can make do with average garden soil. That being said, the plants do benefit from a fertile soil with lots of organic matter and respond positively to yearly top dressings of compost as well as an organic mulch.
Siting in the Garden: Swamp rose mallow should be planted in a sunny spot with moderately moist to wet soil. While it grows mainly in swampy areas in the wild and sometimes even occurs in standing water, it can nevertheless put up with a bit of drought and does not necessarily need more water than most other garden flowers - in my family's first Michigan garden I had a beautiful specimen that flourished in a spot with sandy soil and full sun with minimal irrigation. Now about eight years old, it was still there and covered in blooms when I drove by our old house a few days ago. Apart from sun and soil requirements, it is also important to keep in mind that Hibiscus moscheutos can get quite large and to plant it in a spot where it will have sufficient space to develop without crowding other plants. Finally, since this species begins growth rather late in spring, it is a good idea to site it away from plants that leaf out or spread rapidly in spring or early summer since these might easily overgrow it.
Care: Hibiscus moscheutos should be planted between late spring and early summer so that the plant has enough time to get properly established before the winter. Bought plants might be further along than they would normally be if planted outside, so if you buy a flowering plant in June be aware that it might not flower until July or even August in subsequent years. Add plenty of organic material such as compost into the soil at the time of planting, as well as a dose of organic fertilizer such as bone or blood meal. Apply a good layer of mulch around the plant and keep it well watered throughout its first season. Remove spent flowers regularly to keep the plant from wasting its energy on the production of seeds. In later years this is not really necessary and if you want to propagate the plant you can let the seed pods ripen and collect them when they have turned brown and papery and begin to split open. In the fall, wait until the stems and foliage have turned brown - in most of the plant's range this will be after the first couple of frosts - before cutting the plant down to abut 6" (ca. 15cm). Hibiscus moscheutos resprouts each spring from the lower portions of the old stems rather than from the roots proper, so cutting the old canes too close to the ground might be detrimental to next year's growth. In addition, the stiff stumps of the old canes somewhat protect the young shoots as they emerge in late spring and help to prevent them from being overlooked or damaged. After cutting down the canes, it is a good idea - though be no means necessary - to protect the crown of the plant with some leaf mulch and a few pine boughs. These ought to be removed in mid-spring and once new growth begins to emerge the plant should be given a new top dressing of compost and some new mulch, all the while taking care not to cover the crown of the plant itself. While the plant is growing, one or two doses of liquid fertilizer might be advisable, especially if the plant is not growing in particularly fertile soil. The only pest that I have encountered as a problem with this plant is the Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica), which likes to snack on the flowers and sometimes also the leaves. Collecting the beetles daily - or several times a day if the infestation is particularly bad - is the most effective way of dealing with the problem in my experience, even if it is a bit tedious.

Flower of a white, pink-flushed variety of Hibiscus moscheutos which I planted this spring in my parents' new front yard in suburban Michigan (Zone 6a)

Propagation: Hibiscus moscheutos may be propagated fairly easily from seed, though plants might take two or three seasons until they first flowers and might differ in characteristics from the parent plant. The seeds can be started indoors in spring and the young plants set out in the garden after all danger of frost has passed or they can be sown directly in the garden once temperatures have warmed up sufficiently. In either case, the young plants should receive a good layer of leaf mulch for winter protection during their first year. Stem cuttings are supposedly possible as well, though presumably a bit trickier than propagation through seeds. Finally, division is also reportedly a possible means of propagation. However, since the plant quickly develops a woody base I would imagine it to be difficult to do without considerable damage to the plant.
Use in the Garden: Swamp rose mallow, available in shades ranging from white over various hues of pink to dark red, makes an excellent addition to perennial borders and adds color in mid to late summer when many other perennials and flowering shrubs are past their prime. Most varieties get rather tall and should therefore be planted in the middle or the back of the border but there are also some dwarf cultivars that work well in the front of flower beds. Due to their tidy habit and massive flowers, the larger varieties also make stunning solitary clumps surrounded by lawn as well as great center pieces for island beds.
Sources: http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/982/

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Summer Travels - Part 9: The Bagh-i Hayat Bakhsh of the Red Fort in Delhi, India

People usually visit Delhi's Red Fort for its historical significance and the traces of Mughal splendor that may be glimpsed in what survives of the complex. I was not expecting much in the way of gardens and while there indeed was not much in the way of botanical rarities or extensive floral displays, I was surprised to find the remnants of an elaborate Persianate chahar bagh or quadripartite garden.

Some of the remaining palace buildings, known as the Diwan-i Khas and the Nahr-i Bihisht

 Pietra dura inlay work in one of the palace buildings

Water courses running through the palace buildings

Elaborate interior decorations

The water channel as it runs through yet another palace building

This garden, known as the Bagh-i Hayat Bakhsh or "life-giving garden", stretches  along the row white marble pavilions that make up most of what is left of the Mughal palaces in the fort. Broad, shallow water channels set in the red sandstone that gives the whole fort its name traverse large expenses of lawn , intersecting at a central pool with a pavilion at its center. Unfortunately all the water channels and pools are dry today but the lay-out and architectural details are still clearly visible and charming in their formality and intricacy.

 View down one of the water channels towards the pavilion at its end

The playful shape of one of the flower beds arranged along the sides of the water channels

The ruin of the central pavilion at the intersection of the water courses

Apart from lacking the abundant running water that must once have been a big part of its charm, the garden also retains only a rather skeletal planting. There are some rose bushes, rather disheveled-looking in the July heat at the time of my visit, and cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) and similar conifers as well as Polyalthia longifolia lining the edges of the water channels. The flowerbeds may be planted with annuals at other times of the year but at the time of my visit most were simply overgrown with weeds and grass. In a few, however, pink rain lilies (Zephyranthes grandiflora) were putting on quite a lovely show.

Pink rain lilies (Zephyranthes grandiflora) around the base of a cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)

On the whole, the gardens of the Red Fort in general and the Bagh-i Hayat Bakhsh in particular are hardly impressive from a horticultural perspective. Nevertheless, they provide an interesting glimpse of Mughal garden design in a palace setting and allow one to imagine how the various  buildings may have once been tied into a larger garden landscape that ingeniously blurred the lines between interior and exterior living spaces.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Picture from the Garden

Much of my family's Michigan garden is not really at its best right now due to summer heat and drought and a bit of a slump as many summer-blooming perennials are winding down and fall-bloomers like asters, chrysanthemums, and sedums are not yet ready to step up and fill the void. Nevertheless, there are a few things that look quite nice, among them some apricot Agastache rupestris and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm').

Agastache rupestris in the front yard; Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm', Miscanthus sinensis 'Strictus', and Sedum spectabile can be seen in the background

I am going to try to add more late summer-flowering plants in the future and seeing as this garden is still very much in its infancy there is still a lot of empty space waiting to be planted anyway. In the meantime, I am very happy that this little specimen of Agastache rupestris has established itself here. In the old yard I had several large stands of this species which I had grown from seed six or seven years ago and which would flower for months every summer. When we moved last summer I could not transplant any of has established itself here. In the old yard I had several large stands of this species which I had grown from seed six or seven years ago and which would flower for months every summer. When we moved last summer I could not transplant any of the original plants since they were too big, woody, and firmly rooted, so I only took a few young seedlings. Only this one appears to have made but at least it seems to be happy and healthy.