Winter sunshine

“The sun has got his hat on Hip – hip – hip – hoo – ray!” in the words of the Noel Gay song from Me and My Girl. After days of overcast gloominess where we were putting the lights on a 2.00 o’clock in the afternoon a sunny day raises the spirits. In my garden the first of the spring bulbs are beginning to show. At the local lakes the leafless trees look magnificent in the winter sunshine.

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WEEE Man at the Eden Project

One of the exhibits in the outside gardens of the Eden Project is a sculpture called WEEE Man. It is a robotic style monster made from everyday objects that we discard. Look carefully at the picture below and you will see washing machines, vacuum cleaners, televisions, computers and monitors embedded into his body. He is made up of 3.3 tonnes of waste material, representing the electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) an average UK citizen will throw away in a lifetime.

The sculpture was installed in 2005 and was recently given a makeover by his creator, contemporary artist Paul Bonomini, who added mobile phones and mp3 players to the body.

The good new is that recent UK Government legislation, making producers responsible for appliances at the end of their lives, has seen over 850,000 tonnes of WEEE collected for refurbishment and recycling.

Eden Project winter visit, the Mediterranean Biome

The entrance to the Mediterranean Biome is through an arch of pink bougainvillaea plants. It was cool compared to the Rainforest Biome (described in my previous post) and many people were returning to the cloakroom to collect their outdoor coats as soon as they realised.

The planting represents typical Mediterranean, South African and Californian gardens that have dry, thin soil. There were orange and grapefruit trees covered with ripe fruit. The Aloes were particularly impressive with their spiky succulent leaves and their tall red flowers. The Californian blossom tree was very pretty with its white flowers and orange stamens. Some man-made objects also caught my eye; a bright orange plant made from car exhaust pipes and some pigs made from driftwood. There were also some bronze figures representing Dionysus and other gods of the grape harvest.

Click on the pictures below to see a larger version.

Eden Project winter visit, the Rainforest Biome

Our visit to the Eden Project took place on 5 January 2011. We arrived by coach in a shower of rain. The gardens and Biomes are built in a disused clay pit. This was our second visit, the first being in 2001 soon after the gardens opened to the public. A short downhill walk took us from the coach park to the entrance. Thankfully much of this was under a covered walkway. We emerged from the entrance building at the top of the old clay pit and had a magnificent view of the spectacular Biomes.

A footpath winds down through the gardens towards the Biomes. Being the depths of winter there was little to see in the way of flowers in the outside gardens. However, once inside the Biomes there was plenty to look at.

We started with the Rainforest Biome. Since it was raining very hard outside there was a very realistic damp atmosphere. I am not sure if it was condensation dripping from the roof or if there were tiny leaks here and there in the roof but there was certainly dripping water in places. There was not enough to spoil our enjoyment but enough to add to the atmosphere of the place.

The plants inside the Rainforest Biome are wonderful. The path winds up through tropical plantings representing rainforests of various parts of the world including Malaysia, West Africa and South America. The temperature inside the dome during our visit was around 30 degrees centigrade. I understand that it can get much hotter in the summer, particularly as you get nearer the top of the dome.

There are banana plants, rubber plants pineapple plants and all manner or tropical flowers in bloom. As you go round notices explain the crops that are produced with the pros and cons of the effect on the environment. It is good that food can be produced; it is bad that the rainforests of the world are being destroyed to produce the crops. It is a difficult equation to solve.

If you are in the area of the Eden Project I would thoroughly recommend a winter visit as an escape from the cold climate for a few hours.

Click on the pictures below to see a larger version.


RHS Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers

Editor-in-chief Christopher Brickell.

If I want to identify a plant that I have seen somewhere this is the book I turn to. It has sat on my bookshelf for over twenty years and has been referred to on numerous occasions.
The book is in two main sections; the Plant Catalogue and the Plant Directory. There you will find photographs, descriptions and cultivation advice for thousands of plants.

Illustration from the RHS encyclopedia.

The Plant Catalogue has 4,000 plants divided into groups: Trees; Shrubs; Roses; Climbers; Perennials and many, many more. If you know a plant but cannot recall its name, have a specimen that you want to identify, or simply wish to choose plants for your garden based on their size or colouring, the plant catalogue is the place to start.

The headings on each page reflect the way in which each plant group is subdivided – usually by size and main season of interest. Colour photographs assist in the identification and selection of plants.

The Plant Directory contains entries on every genus in the Catalogue section and expands on the information contained there, such as the distinctive characteristics, hardiness, cultivation, propagation and so on. It gives the botanical names, synonyms and common names for the plants. If you know the name of a plant and want to find out what it looks like the Directory is the place to start. Look up the plant name and then associate it with a picture in the Catalogue section.

First published in 1989 and now in its fifth edition, it has sold over 3 million copies. I would say this was an essential for any gardeners’ bookshelf.

How to take good flower photographs, ten tips

The camera – most modern digital cameras will do a good job. The pictures on this website were taken with a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W300. I have had it for two years and am very pleased with it. The current equivalent, the W350B, is available from Amazon UK for under £120. The main things I look for in a camera are a good lens that will take close-ups and a compact design. This camera fits in a carry case that clips on my belt.

A sunny day – if you have a choice then wait for the sun to come out. It is easy to wait for the sun if you are taking pictures in your own garden. If you are planning some flower photography away from home then keep your fingers crossed for a sunny day.

The position of the sun – the direction of the light can make a big difference to the look of your picture. I like to have the sun to the left of my shoulder. This gives a good shape to the petals. I also like to take pictures with the sun in front of the camera. Not so much in front that it is shining down the lens, but forward enough to give good rim lighting.

Focus – it is important to have the main subject in sharp focus. My camera has automatic focus and it puts up a grid showing what area it has picked. The problem with automatic focus is that it may pick a point nearer or further that the main subject. The trick is to move the camera from side to side until you get the point you want and then lock it on by gently squeezing the shutter release button half way. Then frame your subject as you want it. Once the focus is locked keep the distance to the main subject exactly the same.

Composition – with flower photography it is usually best to get the main subject in the middle of the frame. Having said this other factors come into play. Pay attention to what is happening behind the main subject. Is there anything distracting in view? Moving around the subject may improve the background. It is often a matter of trial and error to find a pleasing composition.

Light and shade – strong sunlight creates strong shadows. You may be able to use this to your advantage by framing your main subject that is in bright light against a dark shadow. This will make it stand out more.

Viewpoint – if you have low growing flowers then it is a good technique to crouch down so that you are taking the picture on their level. On the other hand, with a wide open flower it is interesting to get above it and look into it. The key is experimentation with different viewpoints.

Distance – the distance from the camera to the subject depends on what you want to achieve. You may want a record of the whole plant or you may want a close up. I usually take several photographs at various distances. I like to get in really close wherever possible as this can give dramatic results.

Insects – if you can photograph the flower with a butterfly or a bee on it this can add drama. It takes luck and patience to get the insect in the right place since they tend to flit around. The delay between pressing the shutter release button and the picture being exposed does not help. If you can hold the shutter button at the half-way point so that it is focused and ready to go this helps.

Take more than one picture – the beauty of digital photography is that you can take additional pictures at no extra expense. Photograph your subject from different angles and distances. When you view them on your computer screen you can then pick the best.

The Manrique cactus garden on Lanzarote

This is the most unusual public garden I have visited. It is built on the site of a former volcano which became a quarry. On the island of Lanzarote they use the black volcanic ash particles in agriculture and also in the gardens. It spread over the ground to retain moisture, as shown in these pictures. The ash has the property of condensing water from the air as it cools during the night. The water runs into the soil below and the ash stops it evaporating during the day. Can you believe that so much volcanic ash was excavated from one volcano that it became a hole in the ground?

A Lanzarote artist and visionary called César Manrique created this cactus garden in what had become a dumping ground for rubbish. It houses a magnificent collection of cactuses from all around the world. Many of the cacti have grown to an enormous size, some as tall as a house.

Click on the small images below to see a larger version.

Bougainvillea on Fuerteventura

While we were holidaying in Lanzarote in November when we took a ferry across to the island of Fuerteventura. Although is only a 30 minute boat ride from Lanzarote the scenery is quite different. We were on a coach trip that took us up into the mountains, where the villages had beautiful bougainvillea plants overflowing the walled gardens. In some places the bougainvillea was using trees for support and was growing amazingly high.

Click on the small images below to see a larger version.

Small Garden by John Brookes book review

Hundreds of brilliant ideas for small spaces.

Photo copyright Small Garden by John Brookes.

If you have a outside space, however small, in town, suburb or country, design and style can transform it for your use and delight, writes this books author John Brookes.

In a chapter called ‘Living Rooms’ the book suggests that planting is just one of the design elements of a garden. It might contain sculpture, some water and a minimum of planting. On the other hand there can be an enormous attraction in creating a dense jungle in a tiny urban space.

The key to realizing the potential of your small space, in both visual and practical terms, is design. This involves planning and styling your space so that it suits your way of life, as well as the character of your home and its surroundings. This book is packed with pictures of attractive patio and garden areas from which to get ideas.

John Brookes tells us to “Think of your space as an extension to your home”. An outside room where you can eat, read, admire a view, or watch your children play. The key is to ask yourself how you want to use your ‘room’ and then set about making it a pleasant place to be.

This is a must have book for a small garden or a small designed area. There are detailed photographs to inspire the reader with styles and designs for most types of outdoor space, whether you love partying, cooking, drinking, playing or relaxing.

Right Plant, Right Place by Nicola Ferguson book review

Over 1400 Selected Plants for Every Situation in the Garden.

This book has been my plant bible for over 20 years. I use it to suggest plants for those places where regular plants do not do well. For example, part of my front garden only gets a glimpse of the morning sun and then spends the rest of the day in the shadow of the house. When we moved here our back garden was heavy clay with all the top soil scraped away by the builders. Years of plant growing and composting has improved the soil but at the beginning I was glad of some suggestions as to what would do well.

Illustration from Right Plant Right Place.

The book is divided into sections such as ‘Plants suitable for heavy clay soils’, ‘Plants suitable for dry soils in hot, sunny sites’, ‘Plants tolerant of dense shade’, and so on.

Each plant suggestion has a photograph and information about its flowering season, colour and height. This is followed by a paragraph describing the plants particular features and where it is best grown.

The large pages generally have six plants to a page. The way I have used the book is to go to the section that best describes the area I want to plant, such as damp shade, and then choose some plants from the suggestions. I can then go to my local Garden Centre and select the plants from of position of knowledge.

My version of the book was published in 1986. It was re-published in hardcover in 2005. I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is planting out a new garden or to someone who is going to make major changes to their planting scheme.