Balancing Red

Shortly after seeing my evergreen wreath in the sidebar on the right hand side of this blog, I had an urge to 'balance' it with something red and immediately started looking for some relevant images. Why I wonder? Years of cultural conditioning during the christmas season of balancing out evergreen pines with red holly berries or red bows? Why red with green in the first place?

In the medieval roots of winter solstice celebrations red and green were commonly associated with dichotomies - from old to new, the pairs of fire and water, male and female. So there is a history of this combination. Situated at opposite sides of the color wheel, the combination is often considered jarring as a design choice but at Christmas perhaps when the bleakness of a monochromatic landscape craves something more vibrant, this combination has endured and remained popular.

I've never previously been a great fan of red in the garden except when the reds are dark or unusual or combined with something else in a striking way, but not here in the tropics. Here I've been craving more reds. Is it because of the huge amount of green foliage that dominates, so no matter how many red flowered plants you have, they are but tiny splashes on this green canvas? Is it because of the blinding sun that washes colors out making more subtle color combinations that I used to prefer downright dull? Probably both.

In the photos, the red Passiflora Coccinea is a delight regularly producing red stars of color overhead on the arbour. In the mornings, I often see sunbirds swinging on their trailing vines, while sippping on nectar from the flowers. The Costus Woodsonii sends out  3 foot spikes with red cigar shaped flowers smouldering at the end. Its a terrifically common plant here though used exhaustively in public planting schemes probably because of its dependability and low maintenance requirements.

There are a few more red items I'll update on, including some Ixoras that aren't sizeable enough to make much impact but the search continues for more red, my pinterest wish list is piling up with red flower desires and I scan the markets and nurseries for not just red floweres but foliage too. 

Garden Disasters

I've had a few but these two were spectacular. A neighbour's tree fell over the fence and crashed into my arbour in the Potager. That was the first one. It required three of us to deal with and dispose of the tree, Then we had to ensure the passionflower sprawled over the arbor was intact enough to  raise up again. My friend who had a truck and  who was my source for transporting bamboo supplies from the hardware store no longer had a working truck, so my wheels spun while I tracked down a store that would deliver. A busy schedule delayed this even longer and then it became avoidance - I didn't want to to even look back there let alone start the huge effort of fixing it.

Eventually, months later, it got fixed although a section of one of the borders died off from being smothered. Now that the arbor is back up, I'm back out there again on a regular basis which has spurred yet more activity as I notice things and start moving things around. So in a way the destruction has triggered a new phase of regeneration.

Not quite the same outcome on the other side of the house where I had the bright idea to move my large water pot a few inches. And it moved much more easily than I thought it would, so I decided to move it a little more, which is when the hairline crack, the one that made it such a bargain in the first place, cracked until I was left holding a piece in my hand while the content of the pot flooded onto my sneakers. Oh wow there's a small family of frogs living in there.

Not much you can do with a broken pot, so I have it in the border with its broken part turned to face the fence. Now to find a solution on how to fill a broken container with no drainage but is missing half its back and can't really contain water.

And then there was the attempted break in this past weekend where the perpetrators used all kinds of things from the garden, like fence panels and mosquito screens to ward of my dogs and somehow barricade them on one side of the house while they tried unsuccessfully to enter on the other side. Not technically a disaster in the garden, but I now have to rethink everything about whats safe to leave outside while I'm not there. Garden tools, spades etc now have to be locked away.

To ease the pain, the weather has very kindly been raining almost every day so the garden looks healthy and after all the turbulence of carpentry and painting and moving and shifting we are back to cruising speed.

Flowerless Color

In this front section of a border in the tropical potager, I've tried getting color accents with a few different kinds of flowering plants: Portulacas, Marigolds and Zinnias but with little success. My lassez faire gardening style just isn't up to their watering or feeding needs apparently and I continue to lose them time and time again. So, in its current permutation I'm trying a flower free color palette.

What has been a constant is the base combination of a lacy, mainly yellow (with green and pink) Coleus mixed with a pink and bronze Alternanthera ficoidea. They have woven together into a warm colored carpet of sorts and have indicated that they are content to be here.

I bought both the Aglaonema and the pink edge Cordyline from the plant section in the supermarket, not usually the most inspiring of places but both had this interesting color combination of pinks and greens. They both ended up filling in some spaces in other parts of the garden until I had this idea that they should instead play more leading roles here. The effect is more subtle than flowers but there's an interesting enough play on the colors being from a similar palette and a contrast of foliage forms.

The Cordyline in particular is a plant I need to look a little deeper into. Its reliability as a native of this region is a prime asset but the range of colors and leaf forms are yet another. The drawback is that there is not a lot of choice at the nurseries and supermarkets so I'll have to look a little further afield.

The Aglaonema, I'll confess says office plant to me - you see them everywhere in corporate lobbies and I presume for similar reasons, easy maintenance and they offer some color variations.  Lets see if they do well enough here to get me a little more excited about them.

Right at the middle bottom of the picture is Rivina humilis, which has only just started to provide the true reason its chosen to be there - its red berries. Currently its delicate foliage and floppy habit with small white flowers provides some delicate contrast but I wait for it to get a little more established and for it berries to provide some sharp color here.

On the right Persicaria capitata has been somewhat of a thug, in fact it owned  pretty much all of this space at one time before I started hacking away at it to make room for other plants. It does however have some redeeming features: interesting marking on the leaves, the stem color has a reddish tone but best of all, when it gets a little stressed or aged it takes on burnt autumnal hues -which is when I like to cut it back, using the foliage indoors in a vase.

It does however need regular controlling as it imposes itself well beyond the space its been alloted. It has some medicinal qualities and is edible so I do occasionally add a few leaves into a salad - it has a sharp sour taste and is a little fibrous so needs slicing up.

One last color element - green moss. For some reason the brick here is thick with moss which adds yet another color value between the yellows and greens that really works. And when it all really 'works' is in the morning when the sun is behind, backlighting this section.

Thriving in Adversity

Its the dry season here and on cue the drained peatlands of Indonesia have become tinderboxes culminating in the annual event of Haze that chokes this region. The first time I experienced this was shocking, to actually 'suffer' an oppressive climatic issue that you have no control over. This time, while it is still ongoing, it has not been quite as severe although much time has been spent indoors with windows and doors shut. One reason might be that we have continued to have some rain on and off to soften the blow.

Despite this, plants in the Gravel Garden continue to thrive. Just today I took this image of the Sanseveria Cylindrica's impressive flower stalk. The Natal Plum, Carissa Macrocarpa to the far right, continues to get bushier, spilling over the wall with flowers at the end of its trail. Further along the border, the variegated Agave Americana has sent up a huge flower spike through the variegated Pandanus Tectorius which is perhaps not so good news as it does indicate the approach of its own demise. On the other hand, not a bad thing perhaps as the Pandanus has begun to oppress it  by putting it in substantial shadow. Top right, the white edged Agave Angustifolia Marginata keeps on keeping on, I've harvested two suckers from it, so now it is three. In the middle of the picture, in case you're wondering, there is a bleached driftwood next to the gray thorny trunk of a lime tree.

None of theses plants are native to this region, apart from the Pandanus, but are doing extraordinarily well here in this garden with little to no fuss. I don't have to worry unless it doesn't rain for more than a week. Its unusual if it doesn't rain after four or five days here - but there have been instances where its been dry for over a week and last year there was an unusual drought that lasted almost 2 months. This is actually very, very different from the climate I experienced as a child living here where, the normal occurrence would be for the equatorial convectional heat to reliably produce a short shower almost every day with the occasional day without rain.

I attended an interesting symposium in Singapore about Biophilia the other day where there was a conversation about natives and it was remarked how much better non natives performed in the much drier climate that we are experiencing. Not forgetting also that urban environments in the tropics are also quite different in the amount of raw exposure we have to overhead sun as well as heat energy bouncing off  acres of concrete. Its a reality to take into account when climate change, adverse climate events and the built environment create radically different circumstances for you when you are tending a garden. In contrast- the Dark Verandah on the other side of the house with its largely native plants continues to require a lot of fussing, and daily watering.

Many of these dry loving plants though have had a long history here, usually inhabiting pots on the porch most probably because of their tolerance for neglect. Some like the Carissa have been adopted by the Chinese community as symbolic 'money plants' their evergreen resilient waxy leaves manifesting 'ong' which loosely translates to 'luck'. Agaves are often found in gardens decorated with eggshells on the end of its points. Its probably just a decorative thing although from a Feng Shui perspectives these eggshells serve to blunt the pointy 'poison arrow' effects. My Gravel Garden however looks different to local friends and visitors, even though many of the plants are known to them, because I've curated them in this stony dry landscape more reminiscent of California gardens than the lush tropical aesthetics they are used to.

Thriving in adversity may well become the future expectancy of our garden plants with the onset of more climatic and urban change. The 'foreign ness' of non natives may be less significant than their ability to adapt into local cultures and environments. This was an interesting point that the academics at the symposium were riffing on - as we inevitably create new urban landscapes, that have merit for being more densely efficient, we need to develop new strategies to not only cope but to innovate and create new regenerative landscapes that thrive.

Scent of Orchids

I occasionally sit out here in the mornings with a cup of coffee. This chair is just round the corner from my front door. Early in the morning with the sounds of birds and sometimes even a light mist, its quite magical. A little later and the sun will have already have taken on a force only known here in the equatorial tropics, but this spot remains an oasis throughout the day.

The nearest durian tree has already sent a branch overhead, then a bamboo fence and lush border wraps the entire area. Overhead I've fashioned a bamboo arbour from which I hang branches covered in epiphytic ferns and orchids. I've also started lifting the pots onto a  base of cinderblocks - I want whatever's at the bottom growing upwards to start weaving into whatever's on top growing downwards. The sum effect is that of a thick but loosely woven botanic shawl that creates shade and even seems to chill the air a degree or two on this dark verandah- something you can feel the minute you step into it.

A few mornings ago, besides the cool dappled shade there was something else, a fragrance, powerful like something in a bottle. A quick search yielded a broken raceme of the Aerides Odorata pictured left. Broken, perhaps because I had picked it up off the floor recently - it happens, the wood rots and when I move things round, tragedies happen - and moved it to another spot. Perhaps, a spot it likes a lot more hence persuading it to flower.

A flowering orchid is no mean feat here as I continue to fine tune this area to create more of a microclimate that can withstand my often neglectful care of these delicate creatures, not to mention a knowledge gap of orchid needs. I have just about turned a corner on keeping them mainly alive, some are starting to look quite healthy and now this, the holy grail, flowering. Often I buy them in flower and once done, never see it again. This particular orchid was a gift, which was not flowering at the time of receipt so this is a particularly momentous event.

Its name, Aerides Odorata is one of precise botanical accuracy describing both its 'airy' epihytic nature and its odorous personality. Its found widely through south east asia, the flowers are waxy and almost translucent looking.  Often with wild orchids, you have to go up close to catch the delicate fragrance but the scent of this orchid is really quite something. Scent of course is already somewhat unusual as most orchids in gardens here are varieties appreciated more their colorful appearance and devoid of scent.

Oddly enough when I first moved in here, there were a lot of things in boxes in the store room since the sixties or seventies and one of those boxes was full of a soap that was popular here with an 'orchid' scent and a picture of an orchid on its wrapper. Too perfumey for me so I gave them away - but that heavy floral scent, is what this orchid does smell like.

With all the tragedies I've had with orchids, I've had somewhat of a moratorium on their purchase since they are somewhat more expensive but I might have to lift that going forward with this little breakthrough. I'm drawn to wild orchids because of all the fascinating variations of  their leaf and root forms and sometimes the added possibility of the flowers being in that palette I love- greens and dark colors but this scent thing has added yet another intriguing dimension.

Guernsey Garden

I've been remiss in not writing about the first garden that I helped design for someone other than myself and that's my aunt's garden in Guernsey. She had an offer from a neighbour to take a little off the side of her garden in return for more space at the back. In the photo the side is the wall straight ahead, and to the left the arch of roses leads to the additional rear space.

I had been to her quaint stone cottage, a step back in time on an ancient village lane, a couple of times before but the job of redesigning the space was done remotely while I was home in London. It was actually a tricky thing as the back area was sloped and the entire space was asymmetrical. Measurements were exchanged over the phone and my pencil sketch faxed over.

The solution I came up with was to put the main part into a circular quadrant which you entered from the side of the house and the back part was stepped into a higher level with a somewhat secret seating area. Tucked round the hedge on the right side is the kitchen door, where you get the full effect of the view - circular raised bed and a glimpse of what is beyond the rose arch.

Apart from a few suggestions that were more architectural like planting Ceanothus on the side wall the planting scheme was decided on by my aunt and another gardener friend with a general guideline that it should be 'cottagey'. Sadly I've never seen the finished result in person having moved to the US shortly after, but a couple of years ago she sent me some photos of the now fully mature garden and I have to say it looks pretty good. I did envision something a little taller in the raised bed at the entrance so it would be more of a surprise when you stepped into the space, but I can also see how a clearer view might also be more inviting.

Coincidentally the other garden I've been commissioned to design, the one in Mamaroneck is similarly a raised bed cottage type stone wall design. Although these cottage gardens feel like a hazy memory here in the sunny tropics, thanks to facebook, every time my cousin visits Guernsey and posts photos I'm right back there - like this one on the left of tulips in spring. 

Shady Meadow

The only kind of gardening that goes on in the orchard is a mowing about once a month, sometimes stretching to six weeks if the weather is dry and slows the growth down. I've experimented with leaving parts of it wild but I get concerned that my dogs who do like to go down there on occasion, might end up with ticks which they are miraculously free from now without any chemical help.  Touchwood. So it is allowed to get a little bit wild but not too much and thats what it was like today when I went down there to take some photos.

I was surprised to see last week when I went down there, quite a lot Chinese Violet, Asystasia gangetica. Not a huge surprise as its a pretty invasive weed  here - just that it looked more meadow like with its pretty flowers mixed in with  the lanky Alternatha Sessilis pictured here. Both are actually edible so I picked a nice bunch of the Asystasia which ended up in a frittata. There's an interesting video recipe for a dish combining alternatha sessilis leaves with lentils that I must try out.

There are a few different grasses down here, Kyllinga nemoralis, which is a big problem wherever I have lawn because it grows so quickly. Here it's polka dot white flowers look quite pretty and its an interesting plant in its own right with some interesting medicinal qualities, its leaves having antimicrobial properties.

There's also Nut Grass or Java Grass or Cyperus rotundus, whose roots are supposed to have protected cavemen's teeth from decay. Otherwise not a particularly interesting looking plant. There are a couple of patches of fountain grass which I will not see unless my gardener has machine issues and delays his visit for a couple more weeks, taking it up to a couple of months between mowing. Bamboo grass Pogonatherum crinitum keeps a low profile here whereas I see it becoming quite tall in places that have been left to grow wild.

This shady meadow has changed somewhat since I first got here. There were quite few garden escapees down here- Caladiums, Cococasias and quite a bit of Syngonium Podophyllum. I've moved them all into other parts of the garden. There was a medium sized weed tree, Clausena excavata, that got blown over in a storm that has since been removed as have quite a few rocks and pieces of concrete. This has changed sun exposure and competition and for the better - there's definitely a softer, meadow like feel and what seems like slightly different patches of diversity.

Blooming Stress

"Your cactus is flowering, it must be under stress" a friend said. I looked up at the tall blue green column and holy moly there were about 20 buds on it. There were a couple of buds on the other column last week but I was dissapointed not to have seen it become a flower. Maybe it blooms at night, it suddenly registered, and there it was a huge white bloom when I rushed outside to check.

Do cacti flower under stress? Its certainly a stressful situation, hot dry sunny slope and the plant has become huge and quite crowded, I recently cut out a few of the less attractive parts. The other plant pictured, not a cactus, but Euphorbia Antiquorum quite certainly blooms under stress. It is so prolific that I've sliced huge 4 foot chunks and potted them in tiny pots - just because that's all I had at the time and a few weeks later its covered in bloom.

As a creative, the idea of stress having a positive outcome is of course statistically proven, countless projects and endeavours have 'bloomed' after a harsh gestation. The phrase 'the harshest soils often yield the best wines' not sure where I read that has always struck home. So I went searching the internet and Plants, compared to animals, insects, and humans, have to be a lot more sophisticated with their response to stress since they are stuck wherever they grow and cannot run from whatever stress they encounter," from here was a sobering perspective. Indeed stress is a trigger for all kinds of complex responses and certainly a cue for flowering.

Although there may be  some nutrient depletion going on here, its hard to equate the word stress with these two plants as they have largely been doing the opposite which is thriving. The cactus started out as a gift from one of the part time hands that first helped with the digging and preparation of the garden. Once he saw the few plants I had selected to put into that location - aloes, agaves, euphorbias, he arrived the next time with a 2 foot length of this blue cactus. Four years later it has multiplied ten fold with a couple of the columns reaching about 5 foot tall, which on higher ground towers above as you walk by. Which was why I didn't even notice the buds until friend pointed them out.

The euphorbia was about 3 foot tall in a pot and here on the property when I took it over. It is now four ungainly monsters over 6 foot tall that require regular propping and trimming or they would fall over. There's smaller ones in pots and I've just planted an army of them along a wall in the orchard to help keep out trespassers during durian season. Once identified, it was interesting to discover its a regional species also know as Malayan Spurge hence its ubiquity in most gardens in this city.

The cactus, I've yet to properly identify although the white, night flowering clue has helped narrow it down to perhaps Cereus Validus or Cereus peruvianus. In either case I can expect a fruit to follow, hence their other name apple cactus. Curiously the subject of fruit is when I first heard of stress and plants. On a visit to an organic fruit farm, I was told that plants are scarred or pruned, to trigger a fruiting response.

Room to Grow

The arbor in the tropical potager is now fully covered with the Passiflora Coccinea. What a great job its doing of that. Very nice even cover over the bamboo trellis  trailing over the edge with a string of red flowers. I was recently offered a rattan coffee table that made me rethink things and bring the table over from the verandah, which I don't know why I didn't do earlier, its slatted and matches the slatted bench I already have here. Then I found a bamboo gate that concertinas, allowing me to gate off entry into this area, see left pic, from my dogs who love to dig in the beds here. Add a couple of solar laterns from Ikea and I have a garden room with a roof, a gate, lighting and a table to entertain or have a cup of coffee at in the mornings.

So I've entered a new phase in this part of the garden, spending more time here, enjoying the sunbirds swinging on the Passiflora and surprised by the amount of butterflies, lizards and squirrels it attracts. With this time spent,  I've also started to notice all the problems and empty spots which means when I'm at the farmers market, I'm more likely to think about buying plants to fill those spots.

I've wanted this garden to be more flowery and a more colorful but have had a terrible time making that happen. One issue is just getting to terms with what happens here in the tropics- things happen very quickly. Things get huge then sickly fast. Within days what were perfectly good and flowering have burnt to a crisp. Things in pots send roots out of that little hole in the bottom and before you know it there a monster of a plant in a tiny pot. There's a different pace here and I find myself discovering, too late, that something doesn't fit.

Another standout issue- perhaps because I want more flowers is how quickly nutrients leach out of the soil. I 'm only just beginning to grasp how much more compost and manure ( I use sheep manure from a guy at the market and chicken manure from the supermarket) to add.  When the miniature roses and the thai basil start to look a little lacklustre - I know its time to feed them again.

I'm also beginning to move away from just flowers and cheat with more colored foliage like lime green Osmoxylon lineare or red leaved Coleus and Cordyline that are much easier to please. Both the Coleus and the Portulacea also need regular pinching and replanting or they get lanky and start to fade.

There are banana trees here that cut out the very strong sun but I've been wrong in thinking that the shady spots at certain times of day, stay that way throughout the day. My worst mistakes have been to underestimate how dry it can get here. Its easy to forget that the long spells of rainy weather sometimes turn into long dry ones and I've paid the heavy price of checking in a week later to find carnage.

April is a rainy month here and things are going well. New plantings are adjusting, there is fruit on four of the banana trees and I'm loving the warm acid tones of lime, yellow and orange reds in one of the beds- you can see a bit of it in the right hand side pic.

Green Flowers

I don't often see green flowered orchids at the farmers market but I did today and two spectacular ones at that. Dendrobium Callophyllum on the right is a native of Java, Lesser Sunda Islands and the Moluccas. Hallelujah it likes  sun and I have just the spot for it. I will be moving it out of its pot (growing on charcoal) to attach to a branch to hang on the Dark Verandah. Most of the epiphytes I have, similarly set up are clustered around the shady bits so its great to have this filling one of the sunnier gaps. And fill nicely it will as it has 5 or 6 fairly lanky arched leaf stems.

Dendrobium Ionopus on the left requires medium light so will join the crowd huddled under the shadier spot, perhaps further up front. It will stand out though with its unusual pendulum blooms and spidery foliage. The flowers hang off rigid stem like lanterns on a stick. Where the Callophylum is a fairly bright green, this one is pale , tending to yellow. This orchid is endemic to Phillippines.

I have other green orchids, one is a Coelogyne (a gift) and the other is an unidentified one that I bought. Both were blooming when I acquired them but haven't done so since which is an admission of a huge problem that I have with orchids - I haven't really got the hang of them yet. In a sense they are somewhat high maintenance with their watering needs and their fairly specific sunlight requirements. These sunlight requirements include a nuanced understanding about the difference between bright light and light sun and early morning or late evening sun. Lets just say I'm still learning. It helps when the vendor can give me some directions or at least a name for me to look up its needs. and this is just to keep them alive, I've yet to master whatever feeding or other requirements they need to reflower.

For this reason, these two were priced just right. I see many gorgeous orchids at the market and they are not inexpensive. I've murdered enough of them to resist the temptation to splurge. These were affordable to buy both but also costly enough for me to pay attention to them as I have lost many an orchid, in that early stage when its situation hasn't really been fully understood yet. Additionally, there are a few other factors like storms and squirrels that lead to  discovery of a dead, dried out, or rotted that has fallen in between the pots underneath it.

Ultimately, it will be about finding a balance between getting the conditions and situation right and enough care without it being a burden. Its certainly worth pursuing though as even this narrower range that interests me - wild orchids of this region, has beautiful specimens of extraordinary shapes colors and scents that send out their siren call everytime I go to the market.

False Rue

As I often complain, I'm in ownership of a quite a few plants that remain unidentified as that's how plants are sold here- without any kind of label. Occasionally the seller might be knowledgeable enough to identify the plant- sometimes it even helps just to know the local name. Otherwise its a google search that might take a while to track down. Let me just say though, it is astonishing what google can do with a few keywords.

I now also have about three textbooks written by local authors and make it a morning habit to flip through them, cup of coffee in hand. This is the other method that occasionally yields a good result when I make the connection between a photo in the book and something I just bought. Its amazing what slips through though as I discover something only on the 20th reading.

And then there's the more random situation where you are looking for something else on the internet and you identify something quite different altogether. That's how I discovered False Rue, Baeckea frutescens. I was looking for information about 'tropical pines' and there it was - an image of its slender branches of pine like needles that droop in downward elegant curves. All the vendor could tell me when I bought it is that it is very slow growing.

Its not a Pine but in the Myrtle family, and while 70 of the 75 species are endemic to Australia, this one is native to South East Asia. Turns out, it also has a host of medicinal qualities and I write this while enjoying a very pleasant scented herbal tea made from it. I can't help thinking of it as the kind of 'comforting beverage doubling as medicine' that those Septagenarians on the Greek Island of Ikaria are nourishing themselves with. In fact its whole vibe is mediterranean both woody and herbal not unlike something growing wild in Greece or Spain you might run into on a hike. It enjoys similar conditions here, the poor soils of rocky hill slopes and sandy coasts.

The branches' arched lines and interesting shades of color - quite limey when the growth is new, make it a regular choice of foliage for a friend who practises Ikebana and has a larger more mature specimen growing in her garden in full sun. So thats where I put mine, in the White Corner where its hot and sunny, and its doing just fine.

Lightning Orchids

My dad called these Lightning Orchids, which I've discovered is not correct, the plant is Dendrobium Crumanatum and the common name for them is Pigeon Orchids. He said that they flowered after a lightning storm and he's not completely wrong about that. This orchid forms buds after there is a temperature drop, usually due to a thunderstorm. Nine days later long necklaces of white flowers with a yellow throat bloom gregariously with members of this species in its vicinity. The blooms are fragrant, particularly in the morning and last only a day.

This ephemeral quality perfectly suits where these orchids reside, on the branches of the durian trees in the orchard. Its an area that is not 'gardened' I cut the grass once a month but otherwise leave it mostly alone and enjoy the occasional surprise of these orchids which literally lights up the trees with these strings of white flowers. Apart from the durian flowers, these are the only other flowers here.

They are a relatively common wild orchid, you see them in a lot of trees but due to this ephemeral, weather specific behavior, unless you are actually in regular contact with them- you might miss these little shows that they put on. They also really want to stay wild - I've tried having them on wooden branches hung in the porch and they never flower and generally look ill at ease. So their ideal situation is what exists in the orchard a colony growing on the branches of a small grove of untended trees, protected but with a lot of light.

Its been an extraordinarily cool and wet monsoon this year which is unusual to even say as we really live far south of the monsoon belt and shouldn't really be experiencing such a clear seasonal pattern. But we are and there's been serious flooding throughout the country, particularly on the east coast, a consequence of climate change and deforestation. I have to admit, I've loved the cool mornings and the garden has also loved the daily soak that it gets. We're now back into hot dry weather and it must have been that one heavy shower we had over a week ago that cooled things down and triggered these orchids to put on a show.

The Color Orange

The decision to go for a color palette with warm sunset accents in the Gravel Garden developed along a few lines. One was how well those colors look with the many succulents I have here. Another is how it pairs with all the concrete and gravel mulch and terracota that dominates the hardscape. It also makes sense that it is in the same spectrum as the berries of the Ficus Deltoides and also the ripe Citrus when it fruits. Finally, this garden's best moment is at the end of the day when the sun is just about to set providing a lovely glow to the space which reminded me of how the cottage garden at Sissinghurst full of coppery sunset colors comes alive at that time. The challenge has been to find the tropical version of this.

I've had little success though getting this color scheme in flower form in the dry slope bed as the intense sun exposure has literally fried everything I tried there. Moss Roses, Portulacea when I had them there looked gorgeous and seemed to be the perfect way to get chunks of these warm colors but they were too short lived and required too much attention in a space that's hard to access and full of spiky thorny plants. So the color is to be found only in the berries and citrus fruit and the occasional flower spike from the Aloes.

My success in getting these colors into this space has been in the potted plants on the other side which gets a little respite from the hot sun. It's still somewhat dry and hot there and potted plants need to fulfil the condition of being pretty drought tolerant as I don't want to have to water them unless its particularly dry. As things have matured though some of the taller potted plants are providing oasis conditions for others and this is where Chrysothemis Pulchella pictured left fits in. This is one of those plants I purchased and put in to the dry slope bed that came to a sorry end. Recently though I pinched a cutting from a friend's garden and stuck it in a pot enjoying a shady nook in the shadow of a large planter. It sprang to life and is now two pots. The flowers are not only orange but include shades between yellow and red which look spectacular set against its dark bronze leaves.

Against the back wall of the space that has a short concrete wall and then bamboo fencing behind it is another semi protected enclave where my potted Golden Gardenia is thriving. This is a plant that I'm not at all certain about identifying having first made its acquaintence as Gardenia Carinata but then subsequently discovered there are other similar ones called Gardenia Tubifera and perhaps Gardenia Lamingtonia or Gardenia Ghellerupii. I'll update this once I get a proper handle on it. In any case it produces a spectacular show of blooms on a regular basis with a knockout fragrance. The blooms start out pale yellow, which is when they are most fragrant and then darken to an orange that has a gorgeous burnt quality.


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