Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Walk Around Town

Tuesday brought the first sunshine after several days of dreary rain and I could not resist taking a break from my research at the British Library to wander about under blue skies. I started out at Green Park and continued on through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens to Holland Park, enjoying the bright light and the first little signs of spring, despite the frosty temperatures.

A Patrick Blanc vertical garden in Mayfair

Delicate camellias in bloom in Hyde Park

A fancy double hellebore

Tree fern lushness provided by Dicksonia antarctica

 Royal formality in Kensington Gardens

View towards what remains of Holland House in Holland Park

Surprising walls of tiles

More camellias

A particularly floriferous Viburnum x bodnantense

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) golden in the sunshine

In the Kyoto Garden

Higan cherry (Prunus x subhirtella 'Autumnalis')

Apart from the greenery and precocious blooms, I was also quite taken with the animals throughout these parks. From waterfowl like swans and geese to wood pigeons, peacocks, and ringneck parakeets, these parks are teeming with birds, most of them decidedly tamer and less wary of people than usual because of how frequently feed them. The same is true of the squirrels, which, while adorable, appear to all be American Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), an invasive species here that displaces the native European red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Around London: The Barbican Conservatory

Last Sunday was a very grey and rainy day here in London; I chose to visit the conservatory at the Barbican Centre, the performing arts center opened in 1982 within the Brutalist Barbican Estate. The Conservatory is open to the public only on Sundays from 12:00 to 5:00, though entrance is free. London's second largest conservatory, the space is filled mostly with foliage plants arranged around several water features, clambering up walls and support beams, and spilling from balconies and ledges. Innumerable potted plants line a ledge on one side of the large greenhouse, including a whole collection of scented geraniums, loads of ferns and examples of many tropical crops. A separate, smaller house, reached via a set of stairs and a little bridge, is filled entirely with succulents.

Brutalist balconies amongst the green

An ethereal spray of begonia blossoms

Palm trees and Ficus foliage

In the succulent house

A bird-of-paradise (Strelitzia reginae), one of the flowers providing splashes of color among the green and concrete grey here and there

Contrary to what the pictures might suggest, the place was actually very busy. It appears to be particularly popular with the hip(ster) crowd - I have never seen so many black beanies and large, angular, minimalist Scandinavian designer coats in one place, let alone in a conservatory! - and the succulent house in particular was packed. The space is impressive and a lovely green oasis in an otherwise concrete-, steel- and glass-heavy part of the city. However, the state of cultivation of some of the plantings could have been a bit better, and it also would have been nice if supplies, like plastic pots and bags of soil and such, had been less conspicuous. On the way out, I stopped by the Barbican Centre gift shop, where I came across The Plant, an uber-artsy magazine on plants and gardening that was entirely new to me. Of course I had to pick up the current issue.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Heirloom Rice and More

Just a quick post from The Better India about various initiatives preserving rice landraces and other cool local heirloom plant varieties in various parts of India:

Thanks to These 5 Rural Communities, Traditional Indian Plant Varieties Are Making a Comeback!

Many of these sound delicious...

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Holiday Excursions 2016-2017 - Part II: Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg, Munich, Germany

After our family visit to Kassel we headed back south and after a day's stop in Esslingen near Stuttgart headed to Munich for the last few days of 2016 and to celebrate the New Year. We did a day trip to Neuschwanstein because the husband had never been and had long wanted to see it, though after trudging up the hill in the freezing cold and touring Ludwig II's gloomy faux-medieval Wagner-themed interiors he came to agree with my parents and me that the 19th-century fantasy recreation of a medieval fortress on which the Disney castles are based is rather overrated as a tourist attraction. Afterwards we visited Murnau am Staffelsee and had a lovely dinner in Starnberg. The rest of the time we stuck to Munich proper, and on New Year morning, before heading back home, we spend some time at the Botanical Garden just down the street from us in the district of Nymphenburg. After a cold and very foggy night, the garden was thickly covered in hoarfrost and glistening in the morning sun. We took a quick meander around the core part of the outdoor part of the gardens before heading into the large greenhouse complex. The latter has several houses dedicated to myriad cacti and other succulents, a large central palm house, a mangrove house that currently also houses tropical butterflies, a fernery, a house dedicated solely to cycads, a house dedicated to tropical plants of economic importance, the "Victoria House" filled with tropical waterlilies and other aquatic plants in summer and Mediterranean-climate container plants in winter, a house filled with camellias and azaleas, and even a small one devoted almost entirely to staghorn ferns.

A pineapple atop a gazebo welcoming visitors in a sunny, frosty garden

Approaching the greenhouses

The first large hall of the greenhouse complex, one of two dedicated largely to succulents

An ancient Seville orange tree (Citrus aurantium) by the entrance: "Brought to the Münsterland region from America by General von Steuben in 1790. Left as a gift to the Munich Botanical Garden in 1951"

Pods of the cocoa tree (Theobroma cacau) in the house for tropical plants of economic importance - note the different color of this variety compared to the one at the United States Botanic Garden in DC a few weeks ago!

Beehive ginger (Zingiber spectabile)

Acacia dealbata in the Victoria House

Canary Island Bellflower (Canarina canariensis)

A Leucadendron of some sort

Giant bamboo in the central Palm House

Some of the tropical butterflies that are temporarily populating the Mangrove House

One of the many aloes in bloom in the second succulent house

In the Fernery

One of countless camellias already in bloom in a cool house mostly given over to this genus

Toromiro (Sophora toromiro) from Easter Island among the camellias

In the little house full of staghorn ferns

This was another garden that I had not visited in well over a decade and was happy to explore anew. More than most botanic gardens I have visited this one really feels a bit like a museum of plants, with as many species as possible assembled and everything neatly labeled. Even so, aesthetic appeal has not given short shrift in the arrangement of the plantings either; the most old-fashioned sections, such as the fernery, in particular, are just beautiful.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Holiday Excursions 2016-2017 - Part I: Gewächshaus im Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, Kassel, Germany

Between Christmas and New Year we went on a quick trip north to Kassel to see my grandma and aunt, but the husband and I also managed to squeeze in a visit to the historic greenhouse in Wilhelmshöhe, the enormous combination of baroque giardino all'italiana and English landscape park that sits on a hillside above the city. The greenhouse was originally built in 1822-1823 and between 1886 and 1888 a tall central palm house was added. It is only open to the public from December to May, when the two barely heated outer wings are filled predominantly with plants that were already attested in the garden during the 19th century. These include mainly Mediterranean species and broadleaf evergreens, with camellias being the stars of the show - largely plants, that is, which here in the southwest of Germany are commonly grown outdoors. The warm, humid central hall meanwhile is filled with a riot of orchids and bromeliads set against tropical foliage.

 A few along the front façade of the greenhouse

Camellias and other evergreens in the first wing of the greenhouse, underplanted with florist's cyclamen

 A lovely princess flower (Tibouchina urvilleana)

One of the first of the Camellia japonica hybrids to bloom

In the warm central section, seasonally stocked with poinsettias

A Cattleya-type orchid, one of many that were in full bloom

The chinoiserie bird cage in the center of the tropical section, which houses canaries that fill the space with their chirping

A section of the second cool wing

The central water feature

Seasonal bedding display of Primula obconica

I had not been able to explore the interior of this greenhouse complex since I was a kid, and I was taken by the high standard of cultivation and attention to detail. The impeccable old-fashioned seasonal displays of tender primroses, cyclamens, and the like in particular were really lovely and not necessarily something I had expected. Also a delightful surprise to me, used as I am to the often hefty ticket prices at American museums, gardens, and other attractions, was the modest entrance fee of €3.00 for adults and €2.00 for students. One really has to appreciate the support public horticulture gets here.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happ New Year!

A celebratory Dendrobium

Wishing you all the very best for 2017!