Thursday, March 22, 2012

Apricot Blossoms!

My mom - who is awesome - sent me a picture today of my baby apricot tree (Prunus armeniaca), which is currently in full bloom:

Makes me want to plant more fruit trees...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Quotidian Landscapes

From the website of German newspaper Die Zeit comes this photo series from a  book by architectural photographer Gisela Erlacher that chronicles both the stark monotony and often comic playfulness of suburban landscaping:

Kugelbuchs und Grasnarbe

Have a look... :)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring! And Happy Nowruz!

In honor of the vernal equinox, the official beginning of spring, and the Persian New Year or Nowruz (  نوروز ) celebrated today in Iran and in Persian-speaking or Persian-influenced cultures throughout Central Asia and in the diaspora, here is a pretty spring- and garden-themed couplet by the Urdu poet Mīr Taqī Mīr (1723-1810):

چلتے ہو تو چمن کو چلیے کہتے ہیں کہ بہاراں ہے
پات ہرے ہیں پھول کھلے ہیں کم کم باد و باراں ہے

 Chalte ho to chaman ko chaliye kehte hain keh bahaaran hai
Paat hare hain phool khile hain kam kam baad  -o- baaraan hai

Come on let us go to the garden, they say it is spring
The leaves are green, the flowers abloom, there is a light drizzle and breeze.

The translation is my  own, so I apologize if it sounds a bit clunky. Clearly, it does not reproduce the melodious rhyme of the original...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Garden Update

I just got back from a short visit to my parents' house in Michigan and since the weather there has been absolutely phenomenal for the past week - bright sunshine, temperatures in the low 70s Fahrenheit/20s Celsius - the garden was full of signs of spring. Here are just a few of the highlights:

White forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum)

Flower of Giant Japanese Butterbur (Petasites japonicus var. giganteus)

Daffodils (Narcissus cv.)

I also planted some new things for some added color, including some primroses (Primula cv.) and pansies (Viola x wittrockiana).

Freshly planted orange primrose...

... And some orange pansies

The buds on the little apricot tree (Prunus armeniaca) that I planted last year were also swelling rapidly but unfortunately none had opened yet by the time I had to leave...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Winter Travels - Part 7: National Orchid Garden, Singapore

Probably Singapore's most famous horticultural attraction, the National Orchid Garden is  truly a garden with wow factor. It may not be the most elegant, and there is definitely nothing tranquil or secluded  about this very public - and popular - floral showplace. However, for sheer extravagance and lushness any garden would be hard-pressed to compete with this one. Once past the the entrance pavilion and ticket counter, one first comes upon a large semi-circular water feature crowned by a sculpture of two sporting cranes, all framed by verdant foliage and myriad orchid blossoms in shades of yellow, orange, and red. A winding path leads deeper into the garden, flanked on both sides by beds filled with more orchids and foliage plants in a similar color scheme. Then come a series of arches covered in Oncidium orchids which send out clouds of delicate, bright yellow flowers. Beyond these the color scheme diversifies, with more pinks and purples, and the garden opens out to cover the hill side in veritable fields of orchids.

The water feature at the entrance

Oncidium-fringed path

Orchid arches

Rows and rows of yellow-flowered orchids of the Vanda alliance

A pink Vanda hybrid

Orchids and various foliage plants covering the hill side

Different cultivars of ground orchid (Spathoglottis plicata)

Eventually one reaches a stair case that leads to the top of the hill and which is lined with plantings - including lots of orchids, of course - which are kept in cool shades of white and green. To the right of this staircase are located the gardens specialty collections - the Orchidarium, which features tropical species orchids in a naturalistic forest setting, the Tan Hoon Siang Mist House, the Yuen-Peng McNeice Bromeliad House, and the Cool House, which houses vegetation of tropical mountain regions for which Singapore's climate is too hot. At the top of the stairs one finds Burkill Hall, a pretty colonia-era bungalow built in 1866 which used to be the residence of the director of the Botanic Gardens. Now its ground floor hosts an informational display chronicling the history of the Gardens' orchid breeding programs and particularly the line of orchid hybrids named after celebrities developed by them. The latter also constitute the main focus of the VIP Orchid Garden that immediately surrounds Burkill Hall. I personally liked this section best, since the intricate plantings, liberally accented with sculptures and additional orchids in decorative containers, make for a smaller, more intimate scale and a lot of interesting detail. As a result, this part of the garden feels a little less like a public park and a bit more like a private garden, and seems to offer more in the way of inspiration for the home gardener.

White Dendrobium phalaenopsis around the staircase

Burkill Hall as seen from the VIP Orchid Garden

Some classical statuary amidst the green

More classical sculpture and lots of orchids

Another border in the VIP Orchid Garden

The plantings in the Orchidarium are not as flashy since they are supposed to be reminiscent of a natural forest habitat, though of course there are plenty or orchids here as well.

Walk in the Orchidarium

An inflorescence of torch ginger (Etlingera elatior)

Brassavola nodosa flowering on a tree

The Tan Soon Hiang Mist House which is nestled into the hillside below the Orchidarium contrasts strikingly with the somber green shade of the latter, for it is filled to the brim with brilliantly colored orchid hybrids. While the flowers were stunning, their precisely staged arrangement was a bit too much artifice for my taste.

A view in the Mist House

A pink-and-purple hybrid of the Cattleya alliance

A blue-purple checkered Vanda

A Phalaenopsis cultivar

Green lady slippers (Paphiopedilum maudiae)

A little further down the hill lies the Yuen-Peng McNeice Bromeliad House, which, while similar in style and lay-out to the Mist House, is filled with a large variety of of Bromeliads.

View over a section of the Bromeliad House

Colorful Neoregelias

Vriesea gigantea among other Bromeliads

Finally, there is the Cool House which features tropical mountain flora for which Singapore's climate is too hot. Coming from a decidedly non-tropical place, the concept of a greenhouse that is artificially cooled first struck me as rather odd, though I guess it is not much weirder than the heated greenhouses for tropical plants in colder regions.

White-and-yellow Dendrobium densiflorum in the Cool House - this is one of my favorite orchid species

A delicate Paphiopedilum

A tropical Rhododendron

Th sheer abundance of flowers and intensity of colors meant that with this garden I went even more overboard on the pictures than usual... If you want more information on Singapore's National Orchid Garden, including hours and ticket pricing and the like, you can find its official website here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Winter Travels - Part 6: Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore

It has been two months since I have returned from my winter break travels and I have yet to write posts about a number of gardens I had the good fortune of visiting during the trip. However, since I am at home on spring break this week I will hopefully be able to catch up. Next up - and I am just going in the order in which I visited these places - are the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Founded in 1859, in colonial times this garden played a pivotal role in the introduction of Brazilian rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis) to Southeast Asia which led to the region becoming the global center of the rubber growing industry. Apart from their ongoing scientific mission, the gardens today also features much in the way of ornamental horticulture. Probably the most famous attraction contained within the site is the National Orchid Garden, which is big and beautiful enough to warrant its own separate post. However, aside from that particular theme garden there are many other spaces and plant collections worth exploring in this huge park. These include a rainforest area, Palm Valley, Heliconia, ginger, bamboo, and succulent collections,  numerous water features and waterlily-covered ponds, and many other lovely plantings ranging from the common to the rare and extraordinary.

A pebble-paved walk among bamboos

One of many imaginative water features

Walk in the Heliconia collection

One of the many Heliconia cultivars in the gardens

Palms in the Palm Valley

Concert shell in the waterlily-filled Symphony Lake

A white waterlily (Nymphaea sp.)

Plantings on another water feature

Lush vegetation in the Ginger Garden

A banana cultivar (Musa sp.) with an unusually long and dense cluster of fruits

A look into the succulent collection

The bandstand

With the exception of the National Orchid Gardens, the Singapore Botanic Gardens are accessible free of charge. To read more about them, you can visit their official here.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Happy Holi!

Today is Holi, the Indian festival perhaps most famous for the throwing of colored powder and spraying of dyed water that form an important of the celebrations in most places where Holi is celebrated. Since I did not have any relevant pictures, here is a compilation video of some Holi-themed song-and-dance sequences from Hindi cinema:

Last year's Holi post can be found here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Places to Visit: The Lyman Estate Greenhouses, Waltham, Massachusetts

Last Saturday, while the weather outside was the most wintery and inhospitable it had been in two months, my mom - she is visiting from Michigan at the moment, along with the family dog - and I visited the Lyman Estate Greenhouses in the town of Waltham just outside of Boston. The estate, named The Vale, was begun in 1793 by a wealthy Boston merchant named  Theodore Lyman. Beginning in 1804, a complex of lean-to greenhouses was added, beginning with three grape houses to which were then added a camellia house in 1820 and an orchid house in 1840. Apparently among the oldest greenhouses still standing and in use in the United States, they are today operated Historic New England. Not only are they open to visitors free of charge, but a range of plants, including some propagated from stock in the greenhouses, are available for sale at relatively reasonable prices. The main sales area is a fifth greenhouse, originally a cut flower house that was added to the back of the complex in 1930. Visitors enter the greenhouses at one end of the sequence of grape houses, so that is where we shall begin our tour.

View of the inside of Grape House A; the bare branches of the massive 'Black Hamburg grape' vine are visible along the ceiling

The space under the grape vines in Grape House A is currently filled mostly with Cymbidium cultivars

A white Cymbidium orchid

Apparently the old grape vines in the grape houses were grown from cuttings taken in the royal greenhouses at Hampton Court Palace in the UK, the current specimens having been in place since the 1880s.

View of the interior of Grape House B

Carolina jessamine (Gelseminum sempervirens) flowering in Grape House B

Orange blossoms (Citrus sinensis)

Grape House B also has grapes, but it is dominated by a massive pink Bougainvillea vine and filled with the typical denizens of Mediterranean gardens, such as Citrus species and succulents like century plants (Agave sp.) and various cacti.

Inside Grape House B

Various potted plants in Grape House C

More potted plant displays

Grape House C has a 'Green Muscat of Alexandria' grape vine instead of 'Black Hamburg' and lots of potted flowering and foliage plants, ranging from Pelargonium cultivars and Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) to tree ferns and Leptospermum cultivars.

View along the orchid house

A lovely orange-and-cream orchid - maybe a Dendrobium of some kind?

A white lady slipper orchid (Paphiopedilum cv.)

While there are orchids throughout the greenhouse complex, the large orchid house is entirely devoted to them. Originally used to grow roses, it now houses innumerable orchids displayed on stepped benches on both sides of the central pathway.

View into the Camellia House

A red-flowered camellia (Camellia japonica cv.)

A pink semi-double camellia

The Camellia House contains a collection of camellias with some specimens being over a hundred years old, as well as various plants with similar cultural needs, such as azaleas, cool-house orchids, and Clivias.

A glimpse of the Sales Greenhouse

After enjoying the greenhouses I ended up buying a crown-of-thorns (Euphorbia milii), a Anthurium scandens, and a Begonia 'Art Hodes' but there were many other plants that would have been tempting if my apartment were a bit cooler and brighter. For more information on the Lyman Estate Greenhouses you can find their page on the Historic New England website here.