2019, Gardens of the World, Uncategorized

Armchair Travelers’ Gardens: Costa Rica

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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A sloth watches us go by.
2019, Gardens of the World, Uncategorized

Armchair Travellers’ Gardens: Alnwick Garden, UK

A modern take on the traditional garden

   

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The formal garden at the top of the Grand Cascade

     About 35 miles from the Scottish border lies the town of Alnwick (pronounced “AN-ik”), a picturesque little market town on the River Aln with a population of approximately 9,000. It is also the site of Alnwick Castle and Gardens, which has been the home of the Percy family, (eventually given the title of Northumberland), for over 700 years. The current Duke attained the title upon the premature death of his elder brother, and thus suddenly and unexpectedly found himself in charge of 125,000 acres, comprising some 500 farms and 700 houses. The garden had once (200+ years ago) been glorious, but was now a shadow of its former glory, and as the Duke was busy learning about the running of the Estate, he asked his wife if she would like to do over one of the gardens. Although he thought she would plant a couple of roses and call it a day, the Duchess (who is quite young; 59 now, 38 when she started) embarked on an ambitious and visionary plan to turn the land into a garden that would be classic and yet use all that modern technology had to offer. It was not to be a private garden, either, but to be open for everyone to enjoy. She interviewed designers and began to raise money, and now, about 8 years and millions of £ later, the garden is being called one of the most important gardens of modern times. 

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     Often, when in beautiful gardens, I find myself wishing that the other visitors would all disappear so that I can fully enjoy what is around me. Quite unexpectedly, during my visit to Alnwick, I found the opposite to be true, as it is designed for people, and people are part of it. There are fountain gardens, some of which encourage children and those who are children at heart to play in them, and there are formal rose gardens, and walled gardens bursting with perennials of all colors, shapes and sizes. There is even a Poison Garden (more about that in another writing), enclosed in a high wall and accessible only with a guide through iron gates marked “These Plants Can Kill”. The Grand Cascade is worth the trip alone. Framed by Hornbeam pergolas that form tunnels that you can walk through, the water in the cascade tumbles down 21 weirs, as fountains jet water in intricate patterns, sometimes soaking the spectators! The garden is open year round, and even the Grand Cascade plays a part in the winter, as it is carefully monitored so that there is only just a skin of ice on it, which, when lit, creates a magical effect.

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Did I mention that there’s a huge tree house, complete with restaurant?
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And a bamboo maze!

     I was so impressed by the garden, and its accessibility to all, that I wrote to the Duchess of Northumberland, and was pleasantly surprised to get a long, thoughtful letter in return. “So much has changed in garden design over the past 16 years since I began the project.”, she wrote, “In those days children weren’t welcome in gardens and what I was planning was unusual. Nowadays most newly designed gardens consider not only children but also families and local communities, which is as it should be!”

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The Grand Cascade
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Inside the Hornbeam walk along the side of the Grand Cascade
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A July border
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Alnwick Castle, in its Capability Brown setting. (Some of Harry Potter was filmed here!)
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The Gardeners Cottage
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Inside the vegetable garden

    The Alnwick Garden is an inspirational place, and I highly recommend a visit. Another time I will tell you about the Alnwick Poison Garden, which is certainly very interesting, although hopefully not inspirational!

2019, Gardens of the World, Uncategorized

Armchair Travellers’ Gardens: Eze- an exotic garden town on the French Riviera

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I am lucky enough to have seen some interesting gardens in my travels, and in 2019 am going to share one of them with you each month. So without further ado, let’s go to France!

Less than 6 miles  from Monaco, along the Middle Corniche, lies the town of Eze, one of the diamonds in the extravagantly bejeweled crown that is the French Riviera. Built on a cliff about 1400 feet above sea level around the ruins of an ancient château, Eze has a medieval section which  is comprised of tiny streets which are at most about 12 feet wide, and therefore, there are no cars. These streets rise steeply uphill and curve and split off from each other like a maze, with surprises around every corner: a café, a shop; a wall completely covered in blossoms, or a quiet, shady corner with a seat.  The slope of the streets makes for an unhurried climb, with time to notice these things and enjoy them at leisure (Unless, of course, you are a UPS man or a valet bringing luggage up to the luxury hotel at the top, both of whom I saw and felt rather sorry for!)

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Eze itself is like a well built garden, complete with patios, walls, and pergolas, and planted with trees and vines that we, here in New England, can only dream about growing. Bougainvillea and Plumbago foam from every opening, tropical vines scramble up walls, and olive trees have been trained against the walls so as not to impede the flow of foot traffic. Although it is now a town, you can see how it was once private property, and there is a distinctly home-like feeling to it. As a visitor, one feels quite at leisure to explore, discover, rest, and enjoy it all.

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For those with a sense of adventure and a head for heights, the climb up to the very top of the town to the Jardin Exotique d’Eze is a must. The view from the top, looking out over Monaco to the east, and Nice and the Côte d’Azur to the west, is stunning. The garden, created in the 1950’s by the designers of the Jardin Exotique de Monaco, is full of Cacti and Succulents from all over the world. There are collections of Agave, Aloe,Yucca, and Euphorbia, to name a few, and Cacti of every shape that you can imagine, including ones that look like they could be rather comfortable to sit on, until you get close enough to see their two inch spines.

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The Jardin d’Eze is a definite must if you are ever in that area of the world; bring your curiosity and comfortable shoes!

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Design ideas, January 2018

Winter Interest

Here in Northern New England, winter interest in the garden is a must.  Just because three of our seasons are “almost winter, winter, and still winter” (the fourth being “road construction”), it doesn’t mean that we have to stare out the window at nothingness much of the year. Creating winter interest is a more subtle art than designing riotous garden beds, but it is absolutely attainable, and the good news is that it can co-exist with the summertime plants without lessening any of their splendor.

Plant choices are important, but structure is even more so, so I will start with that.

STRUCTURE: The “bones” of the garden are made up of things like walls, pathways, trellises, large trees, and the patterns created by the flowerbeds. They are the framework against which we place the plants, rather like a cake before it has been decorated. Good bones give the garden visual balance and make it interesting to look at. The picture below has good bones. Although it’s not a garden, per se, but a field covered in snow, it’s far from boring to look at. The trees in the middle ground and in the background have an interesting shape, and the low hedgerow dividing the fields breaks up what could otherwise have been a rather dull expanse of snow. And the curly iron gatepost and frosty weeds add a lot of interest to the foreground. In the summer that same gatepost would probably be almost invisible, and we would be walking right by it, only registering a rather weeds patch by the side of the path.

In winter, the bones really get a chance to come into their own!DSCN2749 (1)

Here is another picture, but of a real garden this time. However, the principles are the same: Trees placed in the foreground, middle ground, and background, with the space divided up into sections by low hedges. The wall adds interest, too.

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If you are wondering how to achieve this in your own garden, or if you aren’t quite sure how it will look in the winter, try this trick: Take a photo of your garden and change it to black and white on your phone, or make a black and white copy of a printed photo. Without the distraction of the color, you will be able to see the shapes much more clearly, and imagine what the garden will look like when the flowers have gone away. Then you can adjust, if necessary.

COLOR: Once you have structure in the garden, you can start adding some of the cake decorations- the plants. Plants with brightly colored stems, like Cornus sericea, (Red-twig Dogwood) or Salix alba var. vittellina (A shrubby willow), make a stunning display. Ilex verticillata, or Winterberry Holly, is covered in bright red berries. Neither is all that exciting in the summer, but they make a nice backdrop for other perennials, preferring to  pull their weight in the winter.

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Salix alba var. vitellina, I think, at the Eden Project in Cornwall, UK.

winterberryWinterberry Holly. You’ll need a male as well as females to get a lot of berries. Ask at your garden center.

TEXTURE: Interesting textures that catch the frost or fine snowflakes can also add a lot to the garden. Leave the seed heads of perennials like Echinacea, or the tall Sedums for their unusual shapes. The birds will thank you, too. Just yesterday I had at least a dozen Juncos eating the seeds of the Liatris that I never got around to deadheading. Who knew? And now I get to feel righteous instead of lazy!

Grasses of all shapes and sizes can look splendid in the winter. Tall, plumy ones like Miscanthus add great structure (!!), Medium Pennisetums like ‘Hameln’ add a fountain of foliage to the landscape, and a waterfall of Hakonechloa (see picture below) is hard to beat after a frost.

Grasses in snow

Play around with these elements and you will find that your winter garden is far from boring. Now, if we could just figure out what to do about road construction…

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Uncategorized

A Blog is Born

I started my first blog, the garden-travel blog Garden Room Inked, because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I wasn’t sure that blogging would be anything that would excite me, as I felt that my life, in general, was much too busy and interesting to be stuck at a computer writing things for strangers to read. I have found that it is, instead, one of the most fascinating things that I have dabbled in lately. Watching it spread throughout the world has been quite mind blowing, as it has been read, now, in more than 47 countries located on nearly every continent on Earth. (Anyone reading this from Antarctica, please check it out; your continent is the only hold out!) Anyway, I find that I now want a place in which to write things that, although still plant related in some way, deviate from the “travellog” format of Garden Room Inked. I’d also like to be able to share other articles/blogs that I think are interesting.

And so, The Sunny Side has been born, and is now in its infancy. What would you like to hear about? In the mean time, stay tuned… I expect the future will include some useful gardening advice, design tips, and perhaps a story about a small frog who went on an adventure…

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