Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

More narcissi from Trader Joe's  - I thought them very fitting for today

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

San Francisco Spring - Part III

An exquisite evergreen magnolia - quite common here but completely new to me, so I am not sure which species this might be

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Winter Travels 2013 - Part 6: The Garden and Terraces of Hotel Ganges View, Varanasi, India

My trip this January did not stop in Malaysia; instead I traveled on to India, where I joined a group from my university for a short research trip of sorts. We spent our first week there in Varanasi, also known as Benares or Kashi, a city on the bank of the river Ganges that is one of the most important and famous Hindu pilgrimage sites. Our accommodations were wonderful, for we stayed at a lovely little place right by a section of the riverfront known as Assi Ghat that goes by the rather appropriate name Hotel Ganges View. The prime location, fantastic home cooking, and kind and attentive staff certainly endeared the place to us, but I was perhaps most taken with the building itself and the gardening taking place in and around it. A converted traditional residence in an extremely densely built-up urban area, it nonetheless has a sliver of a front yard facing the street and a whole series of lovingly detailed rooftop terraces.

A little water feature in the tiny front yard at the entrance to the hotel

A view along the front garden...

... and another view from a slightly different angle

The heart of the complex - apart from the plush dining room with its rows of peacock arches - is probably the large second-floor roof terrace, which features a charming little pavilion, all kinds of traditional artwork, and innumerable potted plants, constantly rearranged by the gardener that appears for a few hours most mornings so that they are all shown off to their best advantage. At the time of our arrival large-flowered chrysanthemums and dahlias were taking center stage, with a supporting cast of cosmos, pot marigolds, and lots of foliage plants.

The little pavilion - even its roof is home to yet more plants!

Chrysanthemums...

... and more chrysanthemums..

... and dahlias galore!

An early morning view from another terrace towards the temple next door

Lovely cosmos, much at risk because the neighborhood monkeys loved to nibble on these

There is even a miniature lawn of sorts!

Further up are more terraces, all accessible to the guests and even more filled with plants. On the very top of the building the gardener has his work and nursery area, with a shed and shade house of sorts, where he keeps a huge number of plants not currently at their prime or for which there simply is no proper place elsewhere.

On one of the smaller terraces, this one roofed

One of several special stand for tulsi or holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), this one featuring the god Ganesha

The rooftop shade house and potting shed with many more dahlias

A close-up from the nursery...

... and a more panoramic view of a different section

Plants occupying almost any space where they will fit...

... wherever one looks!

Even the interiors abound in flowers. Between paintings and figurines of gods and goddesses and all sorts of decorative handicrafts, there are bowls of fragrant deep pink damask roses, bouquets of long-stemmed red hybrid teas, and luxuriously scented sprays of tuberoses.

Some single tuberoses and red hybrid teas amongst many gods

If by any chance you are planning a stay in Varanasi, the website of the Hotel Ganges View can be found here. For atmosphere it would be hard to beat.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

More Floral Cheer

I bought some new flowers today to replace the roses and daffodils from last week. After some deliberation, I came away with a bunch of pink Inca lilies (Alstroemeria cv.) and some white chrysanthemums. Nothing special, but definitely the most bang for the buck.

In the living room...

... and in the hall

A handful of the roses had not fully faded yet and I could not get myself to throw them out, so I placed them in a porcelain bowl and put them on the table where they can be pretty for a while longer.

Flowers for my table

Also, since the roses really very exceptionally lovely and because I like experiment - and because I still had some rooting hormone - I made cuttings of the rose stems that seemed healthiest and will give rooting them a try.

Winter Travels - Part 5: Revisiting the Orchid Garden, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I first blogged about the Kuala Lumpur Orchid Garden here a little over a year ago. Somehow I did not make it there even for a quick visit during my next stay in the city last summer, but I did go back on this most recent trip. A team of gardeners was in the process of replanting part of the central portion of the garden, dedicated mostly to large beds of hybrids of the Vanda alliance. It was interesting to watch them go about this. The new plants were rooted specimens in full bloom but they would actually trim off the lowest portion of the stems with most of the roots before sticking the plants in the prepared beds, tying them to a support, and mulching thickly with shredded wood. I cringed at the heavy root trimming but the flourishing beds throughout the garden suggest that the gardeners know what they are doing. Also, I guess that while to me tropical orchids, and particularly those of the Vanda group, are delicate treasures that are difficult to maintain and coax into bloom as well as pricey, in Malaysia they are not only relatively cheap but also probably among the more easy-going and reliable garden flowers, judging by the beautiful specimens to be seen in gardens and on balconies everywhere.

Dendrobium phalaenopsis hybrids near the entrance

Orchids are not all the garden has to offer

A tiger-striped Phalaenopsis

I can never really get enough of plumerias

A freshly planted section

There is also a tiny orchid shop on the premises which sells beautiful plants and has almost a wider variety than what one sees planted out in the garden. The prices are extremely low to my mind - I always regret that I cannot buy anything to take home, but then again I feel like that about plants constantly pretty much wherever I travel - but I do not know how they would compare to other those of other sellers in the area.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

More Harbingers of Spring

Yesterday afternoon, when it was only drizzling and not yet once again snowing and storming, I came across this little clump of snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) while running an errand. They were the first I had seen so far this year.


Now this current bout of meteorological misery just has to pass...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Winter Travels - Part 4: Malacca/Melaka, Malaysia

Malacca, in Malay spelled Melaka, is the capital of the Malaysian state of the same name. Located about a two hour's drive south of Kuala Lumpur on the west coast of the peninsula, the town was an extremely important port in the past, especially due to its strategic location on the Malacca Straits. It was the center of a Malay kingdom known as the Malacca Sultanate before being conquered by the Portuguese and then the Dutch before finally being ceded to the British. The city is also a historical center of the Peranakan, Straits Chinese, or Baba-Nyonya, a community that arose from the intermarriage of Chinese immigrants with local Malays. Their cuisine in particular is famous throughout the region, and is one of Malacca's tourist attractions. Its other draws include the historic buildings of the town center, including Dutch colonial buildings, historic churches, mosques in a distinctive local style with pointed, sloping roofs and pagoda-like minarets, and remnants of the Portuguese and Dutch fortifications, but most of all several streets full of ornate town houses and Chinese temples. These are now filled mainly with restaurants, antique shops, and boutiques catering to tourists, but they are beautiful nonetheless. Moreover, there is plenty of lovely greenery here and there.

Flower-ringed fountain in front of Christ Church and the Stadthuys

A potted lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)

 A close-up of that lotus blossom

An assortment of potted plants in a side street

A bowl full of water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)

An apricot Ixora cultivar

The lush front yard of a home decor store

At the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, the oldest functioning Chinese temple in Malaysia

A bicolor cultivar of desert rose (Adenium obesum) at the temple

Further container plants at the temple - does anyone know what the shrub with those reddish bracts is?

There is also a botanical connection in the name of the city itself. It is thought to be named for the melaka tree, which is either the Indian gooseberry or amla tree (Phyllanthus emblica), originally native to South Asia but spread through much of Southeast Asia with Indian cultural influence in ancient times due to its culinary and medicinal uses, or the closely related and local species Phyllanthus pectinatus, also called melaka in Malay.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The First Flowers

All over campus the witch hazels (Hamamelis cvs.) have finally started flowering.


Just as wonderful as their bright colors is their sweet, wafting fragrance... Spring is finally getting underway!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Spring Needs

I went to Trader Joe's this morning to do my weekly grocery shopping and upon entering the store found myself unable to walk past the plant and cut flower section and on to the produce. Many others seemed to feel the same and I wonder if the fact that the weather finally appears to be warming up a bit - this is the third day in a row with temperatures solidly above freezing and no pouring, icy rain! - has people craving signs of spring even more than usual. I for my part was really tempted by some forced peach branches with plump buds just beginning to reveal their pale pink petals as well as a fragrant bouquet of ruffly purple stocks, but I eventually opted for a more cost-effective mix of pale pink and apricot roses and a small bunch of daffodils.

I love the color combination!

 The daffodils brightening up the entrance hallway

The tag that came attached to the daffodils

I was also a bit surprised to find that the daffodils came with a tag telling me that they were flown in from England. While perhaps no other country looms so large in the world of gardening, I had never reckoned with the UK as an exporter of cut flowers; mostly cut flowers around here seem to come either from East Africa or from South America. All the more wonderful then that at $1.49 a bunch they were a total steal!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

German Report on the Gardens of the Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential Palace) in New Delhi, India

The official residence of the President of India, called the Rashtrapati Bhavan, was built by the British as the vice-regal palace of their new colonial capital New Delhi between 1912 and 1929. Designed by Edwin Lutyens, the monumental palace as well as its sprawling gardens are a curious blend of European and Indian - that is Mughal and Rajput - motifs. For a few weeks each year in early spring, the gardens are opened to the public:

Dilli Dilli: Zu Gast im Garten des Präsidenten

Unfortunately the video is entirely in German and not subtitled but the images might make it worthwhile anyway. This is one of the gardens I really hope to visit one day, if ever I am in Delhi at the right time.