2019, Gardens of the World, Uncategorized

Armchair Travelers’ Gardens: Costa Rica

dscn0743

In the strict sense, I realize, a rainforest is not a garden. However, in the sense that it is a collection of plants coexisting in one space, it comes close enough that I don’t feel that I am straying too far from the “gardens of the world” theme of this article. In fact, it is quite wonderful to observe what Nature does when left to do her own designing.

I was able to see the Costa Rican rainforest from both the land and the water, beginning with a thrilling ride in a pontoon boat on the Tortuguero canals. These natural canals run all the way to Nicaragua, and they and the surrounding rainforest are the home to an amazing amount of flora and fauna. Given where Costa Rica is, in the center of the “bridge” between North and South America, there is a dense concentration and mixing of
species. Costa Rica has more plant species per square mile than the Amazon jungle, and more animal species than the US and Canada combined. 

The rainforest was dense and lush, with not a spot of bare ground showing. Growing in abundance by the bank were Ylang-ylang flowers, the source of fragrance for a number of perfumes and even bug spray. The scent is very sweet, and “loud”, if a smell can be thought of as loud. Reaching to the sky were Costa Rican Nightshade vines, their proliferation of blue flowers contrasting wonderfully with the bright yellow blossoms of the 100+ foot Tabebuia trees. There is so much plant life per square yard that it is hard to visually tweeze out the individual plants for identification unless they are covered in blossoms.

dscn0710

About half way through the ride we went under a bridge that caused one passenger to exclaim “Oh, my God!”, and so the Oh-my-God-bridge it became. It didn’t look like it could support one human, let alone the banana train which crossed it twice a day. As the next part of our journey involved a ride on the banana train, we all eyed it with considerable trepidation.

dscn0709
The “Oh, My God” bridge

We made it across the Oh-my-God bridge without incident, I am pleased to say, and the train lurched and rattled and clattered and groaned through small towns, (“populated areas” is perhaps more correct) through more jungle, and past row upon row of banana trees which reminded me of cornfields. The people living along the tracks were out in their gardens, machetes in hand, taking care of their lawns and small flower beds. They seemed to have a lot of pride in their little pieces of land, and they grinned and waved as we went past.

dscn0725

Although not technically a garden, the Rainforest is definitely worth a visit. Mother Nature certainly had a lot of fun when designing it!

dscn0681
A sloth watches us go by.
2018, Design ideas, October 2018, Plant-of-the-month

Montauk Daisy

IMG_1030

The Montauk Daisy is a plant with the rather regal mouthful of a botanical name, Nipponanthemum nipponicum. As botanical the name suggests, it is native to Japan, but it has done so well in places like Long Island, NY, that its common name is a lot more close to home.

The first time I saw a Montauk Daisy, I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at. First of all, it was October, when most of the plants like Shasta Daisies are about finished flowering. Secondly, the plant was huge, almost 4 feet tall and wide, and the flowers were bigger than your typical Shasta. On closer inspection, I could see that the leaves were  leathery and glossy, nothing like any other daisy that I knew. What was this thing?

Eventually someone told me what it was, and I was able to learn more about it. Although it looks like a daisy, it actually isn’t, and is in a genus (Nipponanthemum) all to itself. It doesn’t really act like a daisy, either, since it is more shrub-like than anything else, given its size and shape. If you have the room, though, it’s well worth having in the garden, as it is deer and rabbit resistant as well as being drought and salt tolerant. So if you live on the water or like a beach-themed garden and, like many of us, have deer around, this plant is for you. Provide it with well drained soil, and full sun, and prune it in summer (see blog post from July 12 on how to best do this) and you will get a really pleasant surprise come fall!

February 2018, Garden ramblings

Nature’s thermometer

IMG_9045

Do you have Rhododendrons at home? If so, you have a remarkably reliable thermometer right there in your back yard that you may not have ever noticed. The ubiquitous Rhody is not just a pretty face- in the winter, its leaves can tell you a lot about the temperature outside.

At the first sign of freezing temperatures, the leaves will start to droop. On an ordinary, above-freezing day, the leaves will be almost horizontal to the ground, but as temperatures drop below freezing, they will start to point downwards,  resembling shuttlecocks. As temperatures continue to fall, they will start to curl, until they are eventually rolled up tight, just as we all would like to be on a bitterly cold day.

The horticultural reason for this “thermotropic” movement is that when broad-leaved evergreens, like the Rhodendron, are exposed to cold, they protect themselves by rolling up. In this way, the underside of the leaf, where most moisture loss occurs, is out of the drying wind. Imagine that you are outside on a cold windy day – what do you do? You wrap your arms around yourself and huddle up to keep sensitive parts from being exposed to the cold. It’s not exactly the same thing as the Rhody, but the goal of self preservation is the same.

Regardless of the reason, looking at the leaves of a Rhododendron an excellent tool for us to gauge the temperature before we go out (or don’t.) So delete your thermometer app and plant a Rhododendron! Not only will it tell you when to bundle up, but it will bring you flowers in the spring. Is there an app that can say the same? (Don’t answer that.)

 

Rhody
A Rhododendron in the spring. See how the leaves are up and open to the sun?

 

 

IMG_9047
This picture was taken when the temperature was 2 degrees F. The leaves have dropped and curled up on themselves.