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We have been forging new frontiers – Thursday was  a Lock,Stock and two smoking Trowels day !

Some of our  pioneer plants that have a bit a chip on their shoulder rode into town and rode out again into our New Frontier Border next to the house. These are the thugs and the reprobates of our garden . The ones with a swagger and a bad case of droopy jeans and gringo moustaches. You know ,the no-good  guys in the westerns, the ones with the bad ass attitude and a tendency to cause just a little bit of trouble.

Well we decided that these bad guys should have their day and fight it out at the high noon under the poplar trees, in the driest most inhospitable wasteland badlands. It is a dry , stony , arid strip and the tumble weed will blow through in the dry summers. Inattentive groups from coach parties may well trample them as they descend from their buses and a multitude of dogs may poo and pee on them .Can these plants survive , fight each other for supremacy and establish their mighty kingdoms ?  We have taken the worst of their kind -the big seeders , thugs, ne’er- do- wells , cads and colonisers and put them in a border together to fight it out . Who will win , who will get the upper hand ?

Who is on the Outlaw Roll call ?

These are the awesome eight plants that we have chosen for this stage  of the experiment –

Verbena Bonariensis ,Thalictrum Lucidum,Lythrum salicaria,Erigeron Annuus ,Knautia macedonica,Cephalaria dipsacoides, Foeniculum vulgare purpureum,and Echinops exaltatus.

Is this what they call a Matrix Planting ?

well matrix is as matrix does ! certainly the plants are in a random interlaced pattern of sorts. But the theory is ,and this is the exciting bit which should come to pass in time ,they will make their own pattern and hierarchy as they fight it out for supremacy.The strongest will no doubt survive and the weakest shall fall ! Let the fun commence !

bn5frontcover 1A garden wardrobe revealed here on the front cover of our local BN5 magazine, Paul , Pauline and our WRAGS student Denise.

I have just read a wonderful piece about gardeners workwear in the Telegraph… and it is extraordinary the lengths some people seem to be going to create that perfect tousled, seemingly unkempt  gardeners look. Not the fancy  Australian workbooks for us , not the fanciful dubarry boots or wild west chaps and stetsons. No catwalk fantasy , fancy pants or Ferragamo frills on the prairies . We are wearing real stuff, :clothes from the ghetto of the second hand shops, the reject buckets, the down and out rails of the high street. Clothes in which  you can wrestle with sheep , clothes that pigs can ravage, clothes that brambles tear and terrify. Clothes that can be discarded and left for days out in all weathers and can then be put back on again. Clothes that have no name , no home and no family.. wilderness wear !

so let’s see what the best prairie gardeners are wearing today….

Today Pauline is modelling the layered look… a vibrant green ralph lauren cashmere jumper (Ralph Lauren factory shop reject .. no one wanted that virulent green at any price) layered masterfully with another red cashmere cardigan M & S .. riven with moth/fire /puppy claw holes and missing odd buttons.. splattered in mud.. topped off by truly authentic romanian shepherds jerkin… (sporting stains- various) …trousers , Levis ,are courtesy of Paco , a crazy, lovely and eccentric spanish student … hems tattered  and free form, tears in knees and elsewhere ,undeliberate and adding character and ventilation…. and red wellingtons ….

Paul prefers that  farmer preppy combo of cord trousers (sporting another Ralph Lauren classic pointer dog motif if you look closely ) and barbour jacket , deputy dawg ear flap hat and fluffy fur lined wellies….a winner in every way !

Wild West it isn’t ,although we now have some gorgeous secateur holsters courtesy of some mystery gift giver… try us on the quick draw at your peril !

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DSC01407or rather, Pocket sized propagation of plants in Bhutan .

This post is all about the ingenious ways we saw plants being grown on a small scale in Bhutan . It was not so much about formal fancy gardens , but more about  reusing what you could find as a container , thus reducing waste and promoting recycling and creating your mini garden around your house or appartment.

DSC01480Gardening for decorativeness is not high on the agenda  of many Bhutanese who let it be said ,are more concerned with the greater importance  of living day to day and eking out a living from either their small shops , businesses , plots and fields clinging to vertiginous slopes and  the ever so demanding landscape.

DSC01947So it was with a strange fascination that I started to photograph the many ingenious and curious ways in which flowering plants were nurtured and obviously enjoyed by the Bhutanese around their homes.

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A popular vessel was the ever rubbery car tyre .. A staple and popular plant pot around prayer wheels.. often cunningly embellished with a painted design but tin cans ,oil containers,plastic bottles also proved useful  and were all stripped down and made into pots for plants. Geraniums did feature highly on the list of favoured house plants with many still flowering gamely at incredible altitudes and in all sorts of dusty corners.DSC01962

DSC01693There was obviously always someone with a soft spot somewhere keen to prettify their space or home with flowers and foliage. I rather liked their reckless and fanciful combinations too and a spare corner or space could prove useful for that prize cobbled together collection .Here is a group of plants at the village prayer wheel . This plant hoarder even risks having his collection  being knocked off by  an over exuberant prayer wheel turner !

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DSC01501Last year we were heading to Bhutan in November and December  and at the back of our minds was the very haphazard and unformed intention that we may have the opportunity to collect some seeds on the  way . It was the best time of year for seed collecting too .. the dryest time and the clearest time weather wise. Travelling in a group of four with a car, we knew  that we would be able to call the shots a bit and collect en route  as we sped onwards from East to West across the whole country. Well we weren’t very prepared from the start . Suddenly confronted with a plethora of seeds at our first stop we were scouring our pockets for any packets in which to put them.. oh my goodness where are the envelopes..?  the seed collecting envelopes we had looked out for the trip were now ,of course ,sitting smugly at home . DSC01506So stage one was finding a shop to try and buy some envelopes . Bhutanese is not our first language so trying to explain to our guide what we were looking for, and thence conveying that to a wrinkled darling  of a shopkeeper deep in the shady and dark recesses of the first shop we came to, was the first job to do. She delved into a black hole of wares and came up with a large pack of envelopes. Sorted. DSC01773Then it was matter of finding the seeds … never on a lovely flat safe roadside .. no… always on a vertiginous , scarily plummeting  escarpment. We had to lean dizzily over the edge as we reached for the tantalising seed heads .. ever so just out of reach.It was a matter of trying to fashion grabbing and hooking tools to pull stems towards us . It was a question of Paul leaning out over the abyss and being held by his shirttails by a scared and fearsome wife. Underfoot a scree of peril could plunge you to your doom at any moment . The best specimens always seductively out of reach… wagging their rare and special seedheads in torment.. just a step beyond the outstretched hand. DSC02001Do the professional plant hunters have this sort of trouble ? in their multi pocketed jerkins looking the part they always seem to portray that smug satisfaction of another specimen under their belt with very little trouble. They do not bear the scratches and strained tendons from yet another death defying scramble up or down a rocky heartbeat of death cliff face. Armed with their trusty encyclopaedia of plant books they are naming names and taking notes… we are a little less prepared … as you might expect . Arriving in Bhutan without any plant books we are lucky enough to find the equivalent of a Spot the Plant Peter and Jane plant identifier .. it is somewhat  basic and is not the  type of erudite and scholarly tome one would have asked for but it will do ! Not surprisingly the whole genus of grasses was absent . And surprisingly it is pretty good after all and we managed to name and identify a good portion of all we managed to collect … but there are some unknowns …. And so the stack of envelopes grows and we pore over our haul every day like some fiendish hoarders of rare and exotic treasures . Which of course to us they are ! DSC02129Now we are home again we unpack our smuggled seeds and take stock. Real plant hunters will turn in their graves.Our lacksadaisical approach to gathering and collecting is interspersed of course with a good deal of  relaxing and gin and tonics en route ! Here is Paul doing just that after a heavy morning of seed collecting and Dzong visiting ! DSC01523 Not for us the carefully and studiously annotated descriptions … more like some undecipherable scrawl in a leaking biro, spidery and at a strange angle on each envelope.. you are lucky if it can be read . We were swerving wildly up and down the gradients of death and shaken to bits by the rocky road surface and writing , even reading, anything on those roads was impossible. And as for a pristine and uncontaminated milieu for the seeds  … Now I am not at all surprised to find  stray yak hairs stuck on the envelope gum or have to peel off Druk beer labels or find crumbs of cheese from the swiss cheese factory caught up in the envelope store.This is plant hunting Sussex Prairie style . We cannot wait to see what we can grow this spring from all that we have collected ! Just wait and see !!

DSC01387Holidays are meant to revive , revitalise and rejuvenate .. but I come back and I’m tired , so very tired… tired of hearing dogs bark night by night .. their terrible cries serenading another night of wakefulness and disruption.

Those dogs that you see meandering about during the day, desultory , and napping on the road become fearful baying hounds of horror at night… packs proliferate and create storms of protest , yelping,war cries of canine careering.

And of course in a tent (we are in Nilgiri, a tented camp,Assam ) they sound so much nearer, so much more feral and fearful, especially ,when after another night of teeth and claw ,we wake to find the actual ringleader happily ensconced in our tent itself giving it it’s all with a surprising range between terrier tenor and airedale alto.

It’s a dog’s life this travelling lark….bark ….

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Small front gardens in Assam , northeast India :This is colourful bungalow land.. A low rise legacy of  low level living.

DSC01290We very much enjoy this road side feast of colour and pretty pastels. Imagine turquoise,pink and green painted bungalows and many front gardens reaching beyond just the necessity of vegetable production and seemingly gardening in colour with plants for beauty’s sake.We even see some topiary !

DSC01322Or maybe it is just the exuberant growth of the Assam climate that  gives us this voluptuous array of flowers.Certainly it seemed very out of the ordinary for the typical Indian garden  which has more to do with vegetable and fruit production, animal husbandry – pigs, chickens , cows roaming in happy abandon and still the washing gets hung out to dry …..

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for practicality’s sake tin roofs of course are still the norm DSC01327but that rusty patina has  a certain charm….and are of course the perfect drying place for those oh so hot chillis.

It is a step beyond the normal indian garden for sure .. where has all the rubbish gone ? Assam is pristine and glorious and quite the little eden to revisit in the future….DSC01724

 

 

 

DSC01876Bottom barers beware there are plants out there who are out to get you ..big time in Bhutan!

In this case we are Talking about Girardiana diversifolia – the Bhutanese equivalent of our common stinging nettle only this one is giant sized with a lethal  sting which both Paul and I encountered on a bush loo stop on the switchback road from Samdrup Jongkar to Trashiyangtse.

DSC01989You see there is little choice in a pee stop perfect place…either brave the positively virtiginous slopes plummeting down the impenetrable wooded seventy degree pitches or skulk into the roadside under the crumbling cliff faces (rockfalls very much an added option)…sites which often bear the imprint of human use previously…with papery abandon…DSC01964

 

And of course then there are the thundering trucks blustering by from time to time with a squeal of brakes and leering truck drivers …..

DSC01770 Whilst scrabbling in for a roadside relief we both brushed our face and hands against our deadly foe ..a bristly monster of a nettle bearing pale yellow flowers and looking in all innocence alike another roadside rambler but indeed it was more cunning in its sting and came out all guns blazing..no Bhutan Dock plants nearby to assuage its sting either.(although we were to find this plant at a later date)

 

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