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Archive for the ‘Plants’ Category

p1010748Its not just size that matters – Space matters in Japan .Finding that luxury of an inch  is precious, so making that every inch count in gardening terms is crucial. And so it is with squeezing your green spaces into an urban environment.

p1000632Looking for a leaf- squeeze it in a brick-thick slither of ground next to your front door.But it has to compete with all the other paraphernalia of life at the same time.

p1000690Looking for that green gasp of texture – shoehorn it into a pot or container artfully cramped on the threshold.There is rare beauty captured in a second.

p1020166Collections of pots seems to work as well to build up a range of textures and variations on a theme – very much a theme of -green.

p1000651And there is of course the very essence of the thing which is all about control and discipline.An ikebana of a paring down to what is essential and what can be taken away until all you can see is the chosen plant or planting. The bare essentials of a garden.

p1010298I admit I feel like I am in a bit of a strait jacket here in this place.Straining against the constraint .Japan – This place of extreme control.I long for our wide open space of Sussex Prairies. I yearn for that voluptuous exuberance of planting again .. oh for that luxury of space.

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IMG_0067This time of year – January  and February is the time of year when Paul and I start to burn down our Sussex Prairie garden and people are shocked and stunned and always ask us why . So it is time to tell the story.

IMG_5740Why do we Burn our Prairie ?

Big spaces require big solutions and our garden is no exception to this . We have probably now over eight acres of garden requiring to be razed to the ground at some point over the winter months. More traditional methods in your average garden would include cutting down with secateurs, scythe or strimmer. But we have a different solution because of the size of the task.

Burning is a quick , clean and dramatic way of clearing away all the dead last years growth and solves the problem of what to do with the mountain of material created in such a clearance.

IMG_1260Because it is Fun and a little bit dangerous !

Burning the garden on a big scale is a whole load of fun too and is one of the tasks our volunteers love to lend us a hand with . Everyone loves a good blaze after all .

IMG_5854How do you do it ?

In ideal weather and ground conditions we prefer to be able to leave the garden standing all winter and allow the winter frosts and winds dry the stems,stalks and leaves to a crisp.This would mean that on a windy and dry day we could burn the garden in situ without further ado. A dramatic and scary solution !

This year has been a bit of an exception with major wet  and warm weather leaving many plants green in many parts and this means that they  will not burn fully whilst standing in place. So we have created the bonfire burn this year . This involves building mini bonfires throughout the bed on the pathways and  we have had to cut and burn as we go.

However the big clumps of grasses have been burnt in their place and what a roar of flame and crackle of fire ensued!

IMG_5847But what about the plants ?

people ask do the plants get damaged ..?. well they don’t because we do this at a time of year when the plants themselves are dormant . Their roots  and buds are safely underground and are not damaged by the fire which moves quickly overhead (thats why we need a windy day to carry the fire quickly and ferociously over the top of the plants) A good Wind and Dry weather is the key !

 

 

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DSC05092(ok so its not a slug but a snail ! a slug proved too horrendous to photograph !!)

In the past two days I have been offered much sagely advice on how to deal with that stickiest of characters, the loathsome slug.

Both sets of advice were imparted to me with a kind of reverence and double  dip of the head as though these were trade secrets indeed. Let’s be honest there is not that much to endear slugs to you. That ghastly tutu frilled undulating skirt is not winsome and a reminder of a ballerina , no -more the reminder of a grotesque puppet show mannequin. And that attractive  leopard skin look is not visions of Africa but more visions of a ghastly drag queen soiree  in Belgrade.

The first recipe  involved copious bulbs of garlic , hot water and a judicious decanting and mixing of the liquor with water . The idea was to then water this mixture over the beleaguered plants and voila !  but questions arise from this already .. how many times do you water this in ? ratios of mixture to water..? another drawback mentioned by the partner of the sorcerer was the fact that you have to put up with your house stinking of garlic for days , whilst and during the miracle product is created.

The second recipe went for the completely chemical approach. The lady suggesting this anti slug remedy advocated the use of WD40 sprayed all over the upper and under side of hosta leaves . The Wd40 spray apparently works a treat and deters all slugs. Mention was not made about the long term effect on the plant !

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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 !

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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 !!

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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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