Wednesday, 30 December 2009

A Review of 2009

The past year has been one of many firsts and writing a blog was no exception.  

It all started with a bang, quite literally, when I crashed my car.  This meant that I could no longer get out in to the garden and as a result of utter boredom and a desperate need to escape intolerable pain Ryan's Garden Blog was born.  You can read the full post here.  It was my first attempt at blogging and although the start was unconventional, and slightly rough, it's development has been organic and extremely enjoyable.

Following on from the initial post 2009 has heralded discoveries of garden treasure, when I successfully grew several species of terrestrial Orchids, and  it also saw the start of my first orchid experiment.  I have attempted to grow on laboratory grown seedlings of Cypripedium calceolus, which is extremely rare in the UK and can only be found on one remaining wild site.

I conducted my first interview, launched my first competition and wrote my first blog series about my visit to Sydney, Australia.

The year has also revealed that on the odd occasion I can be quite creative.  I've made Welsh cakes and compost bins.  I've planted the office, and most recently I've had a go at wreath making.

I have found inspiration from far off lands including the fashion world, in particular the house of Vivienne Westwood, I have found objects at car boot sales which I have later used in the garden and I have utilised the great properties of herbs with the invention of my Bath Bouquet.

All in all the year has been a pretty good one with a wide and varied selection of articles written, much exciting news aired and many more projects agreed and in development.  Now all that is left to do is prepare for the new year, archive the old years posts and wish all my readers a prosperous and happy 2010.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow,
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Taken from 'Ring Out, Wild Bells' by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850

The main picture is of my faithful weed eating tortoise Trevor who I rescued on Christmas Eve last year from a market.  You will be pleased to know that they no longer sell tropical animals.  He is now a picture of health and is looking forward to a more comfortable year after a touch and go start.  The picture was taken with my new D-SLR.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

I've Frozen my Goldfish

Britain is in the cold grasp of Winter.  This statement is particularly apt at present as many areas have seen quite a bit of snowfall, every area it seems except for West Wales, and temperatures have plummeted in to the minus numbers.  Here on the beautiful coast the snowfall, pictured above, can only be compared to a light dusting of sugar on a Welsh Cake.

Despite our pitiful snowfall it does remain very chilly.  We have taken steps to protect our tender plants and our much loved favourite specimens.  My trio of Tree Ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) have been tucked in for Winter with handfuls of straw protecting their crowns.  The sherbet lemon scented Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla), I couldn't have a bath without it, has been placed under cover as it is ever so delicate and worthy of molly coddling.  And the unidentified succulent which prompted much debate, Aeonium or Sedum?, has been brought in to the house.   

One result of the bitter cold is that the half barrel pond has frozen solid.  The layer of ice, which coats the surface of the pond, is probably around 2cm thick.  It's amazing then how the poor plants and goldfish survive this icy entombment.  The ever bomb proof Elodea crispa pops its head above the crystalised surface in an attempt to escape its claustrophobic catacomb but what about Carol and Geoff the goldfish?  Well, they're fine and of course they're not frozen they're just sleepy.

The secret to ensuring that your fishy friends get through the winter is quite simple really.  Firstly, in Autumn clear the pond of vegetation that is likely to rot down and affect water quality as it decays. Secondly, ensure you complete a partial water change at this time.  Thirdly, feed your fish appropriately.  A wheat-germ based food should be provided as water cools and be aware that fish stop feeding when water temperatures go below 7 degrees C.  Finally, and most importantly, it is essential that your pond does not freeze over completely as to allow natural gaseous exchange can go uninhibited.  

In my pond I always ensure that there is a ball floating on the surface of the pond, although there are many other ways of achieving the same goal.  This does two things.  The ball will bob about in the water stopping it from freezing by producing ripples.  In cooler periods it will also ensure that if the majority of the pond freezes a hole will remain in the ice.  If this does happen, or if you haven't taken such steps you can smash the ice and move, or add, the ball.  Then again you could add whatever item you want.  Many people use plastic ducks and this works just as well.

Winter is essential.  It provides many important functions and don't panic about plants and animals too much.  Most are programmed to survive the cold and many actually require it as dictated by their life cycles.  Winter is a month to observe, to plan and to see the bones of the garden.  Just remember that Spring is on the way and it will all begin again!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Pineapple Owl: Hot or Not?

'Pineapple Owl'

At the moment I am suffering with a bout of the dreaded lurgy, also known as 'Man Flu'.  The wood burner is lit, tea has been brewed and I will shortly be jumping in to a hot aromatic bath.  It's difficult to find a sense of humour when feeling ill but the creation above certainly made me giggle.

This wonder of cruise ship-esque sculpture was a buffet centrepiece and requires no further explanation.   In fact I cannot even fathom one.  I can only think that recent festivities have had some influence on the "artist".  Of course, I have used the word "festivities" in place of the word alcohol.  

In true Jane Perrone style, I want to ask you if the Pineapple Owl is Hot or Not?

Have you come across any food art?  Do you have any views on such creations? Or are you in fact a fruit artist?  I would love to hear from you.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Old Man's Beard found in my Christmas Centrepiece

You may have read about my recent trouble, not too dissimilar to self flagellation, when making a Holly Wreath and later the Arctic chill I endured when creating an Ivy Wreath for my Nan.   It appears that all of this frenzied and sometimes painful wreath making has turned me in to a crazed home decorator à la Kirsty Allsop.

When walking the dogs in a local park I came across another County Council masterpiece.   A different Council this time but one that operates the same policy on pruning it appears.  A large Yew had been felled and several other shrubs had also been heavily pruned.  In the style that you have become accustomed to I collected several sprigs of Yew, Holly, Skimmia, and a length of Old man's beard (Clematis vitalba).  These were bunched up and stuffed under my arm for the walk home.  I received some strange looks along the way, that's to be expected, but Christmas allows such scenes.  When I got home I arranged what I had collected, including some Pine cones, to create a rather nice table display (pictured above).  

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Return to Wreath Making: The Holly and (now) the Ivy.

Pictured above is my second attempt at wreath making.  It was a rushed and rough effort that saw me shaking in the Arctic cold of my Nan's (grandmother's) back garden, however, it was a much more pleasurable affair than the first attempt which resulted in my hands turning in to pin cushions.  On this occasion my hands only turned to ice.  For my first and highly painful attempt please click here.  

When out walking I came across masses of Ivy romping over a wall, as Ivy tends to enjoy, on a piece of unused land.  The area is a sad, derelict site which has not seen care for many a year.  I thought no one would object to me pruning a little vegetation from the messy and ugly landscape, actually I may have even improved it.

This Ivy wreath was made for my Nan, as promised, and she is going to add more decoration to it at a later time.  It appears that I am a purist when it comes to the art of crafting wreaths as I have used a single plant species again.   I love the two different coloured Ivies and the way the flowers sit like sparkling mini baubles.  I would be happy to leave the wreath as it is but I think a Poinsettia flower, or two, and some Holly will make an appearance if my Nan has anything to do with it. 

Again this wreath has been created for next to nothing and I urge you to give it a go if you haven't already.  A great craft project which can easily be given as gifts to friends and family who are sure to enjoy the sentiment and seasons greetings. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Wreath Making, Massacres and Electric Leaves

I have merely missed my deadline by one year.  That said I'm quite happy with the finished article.  I'm pleased with it not just because it looks good, but because it was practically cost free.  Around this time last year I decided that I would try to make my own wreaths.  I bought five wire frames from a floristry shop for under £2.00 ($3.25) and I intended to make a wreath for myself and another four as gifts for family members.  As with many great ideas this one was shelved.  Until now that is.

The desire to craft my own wreath was invoked once more when the Christmas period started to advance.  Images in glossy magazines, shops with wreath laden shelves and the ever nagging wire wreath frames above my kitchen cabinet all begged for me to find an ounce of motivation.  This appeared insufficient until I was forced to take action.  

Every day for the past year I have walked past a beautiful variegated Holly.   This specimen was at least eight foot high and stood out from its neighbours, all of whom had solid green leaves of various shades.  I write about these plants in the past tense as the County Council has decided to go ahead and massacre anything that stood above three foot in height.  Mighty shrubs have been brought down to ground level and the area now resembles a petrified forest as there are only stumps of what preceded the cull.  The resulting mass of unwanted foliage was piled in a corner, screened from public view, and left alone to compost.  Naturally I seized the opportunity to make good use of this material and my creative juices flowed once again.  Aided by two friends, and armed with my jute bag, I collected an ample quantity of the electric vegetation.

Once home I set about wiring the the stems to the frame.  This was done with little trouble, except for the damage inflicted as prickly Holly fought to turn my hands in to pin cushions, and for a first attempt I am extremely pleased with the outcome.  I chose to keep the wreath simple as I feel variegated leaves provide enough of a statement to warrant restraint on my behalf.  Also, as the wreath is to be placed on my black high gloss front door I felt there was enough contrast there.

I urge you to create your own wreath.  My wreath cost next to nothing and I'm sure you can do the same too.  Demonstrate your individuality, let those creative juices flow and take pride in your craft.  Next year I will be sure to replicate the process and only pray that the County Council take an equally harsh line on its annual pruning regime.

Have you made your own wreath?  Do you have any tips?  Or has this post inspired you?  Either way I'd love to hear your thoughts, stories and comments.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Borders, Books and Bargains

After a hard day at work I thought it only right to indulge in some hardcore shopping to relieve stress.  I'm not really all that stressed if truth be told but it was the only excuse I could create in my mind which would enable me to justify spending even more cash.  I managed to buy a great gift for my mother, some smaller stocking fillers and then my mind turned to wrapping paper.  This need led me to Borders bookstore and a rather sorry site.  As many of us already know Borders book shop has gone in to administration, another victim of the bitter chill that is the recession.  Borders has always been a favourite shop of mine. It also houses a Paperchase concession, a Starbucks and a Game store. 

On entering it became immediately obvious that everything had to go.  In the same vain as Woolworths, which recently sold its last pick'n'mix, prices have been slashed by an initial 20% and I assume this percentage is set to increase leading to incredible savings as we get closer to Christmas.  However, there was one discrepancy.  For no obvious reason certain genres had larger reductions, hence the reason I'm writing about this now,  and it's just our luck that the whole gardening section has a 50% off sale.  Most books had been taken from the shelves and none of my Christmas wish list could be seen.  I did however, manage to pick up a copy of Amy Stewart's 'Gilding the Lily' and Gabrielle Hatfield's 'Hatfield's Herbal: The Curious Stories of Britain's Wild Plants' (Both pictured above under my Christmas tree).  

On a recent trip to Australia I read Amy's latest book 'Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities' which I thoroughly enjoyed. The book is divided in to small chunks which makes it very accessible and easy to read when you have other things going on around you.  It is also jam packed with information that I have attempted to crystalise in the old memory bank.   The other book purchased, 'Hatfield's Herbal: The Curious Stories of Britain's Wild Plants', intrigued me and I could only find one small comment on Amazon from 'The Guardian': 'a wonderful celebration of the nation's flora ... the perfect companion for a walk in the country'.  Well that will do nicely. 

The plight of Borders is bittersweet.  It reminds us that the recession continues to loom and pluck victims from the commercial Savannah leaving us devoid of much loved stores.  It also opens up the opportunity for us to take advantage in a time of year when cash is strapped and gifts are bought in readiness for the holiday's.

Have you read either book?  Have you any particular views on Borders bookstore going in to administration? Or will you be taking advantage of it's plight?

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Ryan's Garden Christmas Competition: Did you win?

Thanks to all who entered the Christmas Competition.  It was interesting to see what trees topped your favourites list.  There was a lot of call for the ever so flashy and large artificial snowtime baltic spruce with led lights.  I think one Gardener in particular was getting a bit too excited at the prospect of winning one.  Of course I'm referring to the garden fashionista Martyn Cox who tells me that moustaches are in for the festive season.  You heard it first here!  Martyn's amazing moustache was photographed by the beautiful VP of Veg Plotting, recently nominated for 'Best Blog' at the GMGA's, who won a pair of Felco secateurs/snips in my last competition.   Reassuringly the demand for real trees (my preference) was well represented too.  I'm actually off out today to buy my tree and I think I will be going for the Noble Fir (Abies procera).  

Anyway, I digress.  All who entered in to the running were placed in to a vase, well their names were.  Physically placing all who entered the competition in to a vase would be a logistical nightmare, not too dissimilar to the nightmare female National Trust staff had in 'pee-gate' which I blogged about here.  I've gone off the boil again haven't I?  Back to the competition.  All entries were placed in to a vase, again it was too cold and wet to find a plant pot and this time a new and grumpy half asleep assistant was enlisted to select the winner.  The lucky 'Chosen One' is an anonymous entry, who later came forward in an email to tell me her name was Sarah, and she left this message:

"Hey Ryan, I was musing over the snowtime Himalayan before I decided it scarily resembled Wizbit and I'd be worried that I'd come downstairs one morning and find Paul Daniels making himself a cuppa... with that in mind, though I'd love a real tree (and plant it out after but I don't know where) I thought I'd save on digging one up and go artificial again. and so a 6ft snowtime Glenshee for me please. x"

Congratulations to Sarah.  Please can you email me your desired postal address and we can arrange delivery in time for Christmas!

Wait a minute!  Could this anonymous individual be of the Raven clan?  I doubt it very much but could you imagine my delight if Sarah Raven did indeed decorate an artificial tree that she won in a competition?  I would like to think that this would be possible.

And that concludes my 2009 competitions.  Yes, there were only two, however, the New Year will bring much cheer as there are many more exciting competitions in the pipeline.  So that you don't miss out on those please subscribe to posts by adding your email address in the 'Updates in your Inbox' box on the top right of this page.

Merry Christmas everyone and please keep reading for my festive blog series!

Dobbies - Inspiring Gardeners since 1865
For over 140 years, the Dobbies name has stood for quality horticulture.  During this time we've been proud to provide the very best products and expert advice to gardeners throughout the UK.  Today Dobbies is one of the the UK's largest Garden Centre Retailers - we have 25 Stores across Scotland and England.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Awards: Blog of the week and best blog

Just a quick post today.  As you can see from the screenshot above the very kind people at have added me as gardening blog of the week for which I am very grateful.  If you haven't already visited Dobbies here's your chance and don't forget that there is still time to enter my competition in association with Dobbies here.  Thanks again to all at Dobbies.

In another strange twist of fate (I don't take compliments very well) I have received a best blog award from three fellow bloggers.  Thank you to Jo at The Good Life, Rothschild Orchid at Wisteria and Cow Parsley, and Tatyana at My Secret Garden.

Remember there is still time to win yourself a Luxury Christmas Tree.  You get to choose from the whole Dobbies range and still get it delivered to your home in time for Christmas. The competition closes Friday 4th December. Sign up for email alerts on the right hand side of this page to find out if you're a winner.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Christmas competition: Win a luxury Christmas tree of your choice!

Following the great success of my last competition to win a pair of Felco secateurs the amazing people at are now offering you the opportunity to win a luxury Christmas tree.  You can choose any tree that you desire from their amazing Christmas range and have it delivered direct to your door all absolutely free and in time for Christmas!  Even if you already have a tree it is an opportunity not to be missed!  And what's wrong with having a second tree anyway? 

If artificial trees are your thing click here to browse the range.  On the other hand if you prefer the more traditional Christmas tree you can choose from their real Christmas tree selection here.  I have also been informed that there is 20% off the price of  all artificial trees across the whole range so if you can't wait to find out if you have won the prize then this may prove useful.

To enter the competition simply enter a comment in the comment's box below with your choice of tree.  What could be easier?  The winner will then be selected at random (possibly by my glamorous assistant as in the last competition) and the competition will close on Friday 4th December 2009. deliver their tress within 3-5 days as standard.  

The winner will be announced here on the blog so make sure you sign up to email alerts via the subscription box on the right hand side of the main page under the 'About Me' section.

Good Luck all and an early Merry Christmas from Ryan's Garden.

Dobbies - Inspiring Gardeners since 1865
For over 140 years, the Dobbies name has stood for quality horticulture.  During this time we've been proud to provide the very best products and expert advice to gardeners throughout the UK.  Today Dobbies is one of the the UK's largest Garden Centre Retailers - we have 25 Stores across Scotland and England. 

Terms and conditions: Entrants must be UK residents aged 18 years or older to enter.  The winner will be chosen at random and you agree that by entering your name may be published.  Prizes will be delivered by courier within 28 days.  The competition is not open to employees or affiliates of Dobbies Garden Centres plc or Ryans Garden.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Orchids: The Best Kept Secret

Unknown Phalenopsis in flower.
I've already covered the topic of terrestrial orchids for the garden and now I move in to the home.  Orchids are grown solely for their flowers.  We all know that the foliage is the boring part, unless of course the particular species has great leaf colouration, and an orchid which is not flowering is rather uninspiring.  How can we prolong the flowering period and the interest orchids provide?
My tip, and a relatively hidden one at that, is to selectively prune the flower spike in such a way as to promote a second flush of blooms.  This technique is comparable to the practice of "dead heading", which is common practice in general gardening, and to me it makes perfect sense to apply such a practice to our orchids.

Newly developing flower bud on old flower spike.
The usual advise given to all Phalenopsis is to prune the stalk back to the base or leave the flower spike intact.  I have found that if you wait until all blooms have faded it is possible to identify a bud lower down on the flower spike that is easily identified as being slightly swollen in comparison to others.  If you prune the stem just above this bud there is a good possibility that a new flower spike will develop.  And we all know what that means . . . more flowers.
Pictured right is an example of this practice.  This bud is developing quite nicely from the old flower spike and although it is unlikely to produce a show as grand as the last it is welcomed nonetheless.
In the growing season it is also advisable to feed your orchid with a specific orchid fertiliser which will ensure your plant isn't weakened.  This is especially important if you are asking your plant to bloom for a second time.

Large Phalenopsis with two flower spikes.
This practice does not seem to have any adverse effects on this particular specimen.  I have owned this Phalenopsis orchid for over four years now and it has never failed to produce the most wonderful white flowers.  As you can see in the picture not only has it developed a bud on the old flower spike but it has thrown up a new, much larger, spike too.
I think that this is proof enough that this plant is actually quite happy in its growing position, on my kitchen windowsill, which is East facing and perfect for this orchid.
We wont talk about the need for repotting just yet.  That will be discussed in a future article I'm sure.
Have you found this article useful?  Have you tried this yourself?  What advice would you give to orchid growers?

Friday, 13 November 2009

Composting, Caddies, Clear out’s and Copious Amounts of Urine?

Winter is definitely on the way.  There is a distinct chill in the air and the sub-tropical’s are anxious for the first frost is looming.  Many garden bloggers have gone in to hibernation and in fact the same can be said for many gardeners as much of the focus throughout the land has now deviated from flowers and the typically aesthetic parts of gardening to Winter preparation.  I don’t like to be beaten by the seasons and inclement weather.  So what else is there for us to do?

At present I am looking towards more practical aspects that help us in our quest for garden greatness.  In my last post I discussed Tree O’Clock, a great tree planting drive from the BBC.  If you haven't heard about this click the link and muck in!  

In this article I will look at composting and its associated joys.  In an attempt to become the next Alys Raven (a combination of Alys Fowler’s thriftiness and Sarah Raven’s fabulousness) I have pictured my compost caddy which has sat in my kitchen for about two years now.  I imagine that if it were to appear in some garden magazine it would be pitched in the following way:  'A stylish must have for any bachelor pad.  This compost caddy is functional, versatile and perfect for the eco-minded among us'.  Then again, it is just a recycled ice bucket.  At the end of the day it does the job.  All of my uncooked food waste is placed into the caddy and this is then added to the compost bins along with garden waste, shredded paper, waste from the vacuum cleaner, dog hair, litter from the Rabbit cage, and some ash from the wood burner.  Some of the first batch of compost from the new bins has been utilised this Autumn and the rest will become Spring mulch and mixed in to a great potting medium.

Last weekend I cleared the garden in preparation for Winter and I have filled another compost bin with what was left from this years growth, a lot of foliage from herbaceous perennials, fallen leaves, and clippings from the hedge.   

When browsing the BBC news website this morning I stumbled upon an article discussing how gardeners at a National Trust Property in Cambridgeshire are utilising the power of urine.  The male gardeners have been asked to relieve themselves on a massive straw bale in an attempt to collect a great deal of compost activator.  I especially liked the line where women have been denied this joy for "logistical reasons".   You can read the full article here.  Of course, the reason I write about this is because it has got me thinking.  

Should I join in?  Has anyone tried this?  Or more specifically, is anyone game enough to admit it?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Tree O' Clock: Be a part of it and muck in!

Typical!  As soon as I plant three tree's a campaign comes along urging us to plant more.

But seriously, a great campaign, 'Tree O' Clock', has been launched by BBC Breathing Spaces asking you to plant a tree on the 5th December 2009 between 11:00am and 12:00 noon in an effort to achieve a new world record.  A great idea to unite communities and add a touch of greenery to our suuroundings, let alone increase our green credentials.

I have been meaning to help a friend plant a few trees in her wood and 'Tree O' Clock' should be perfect!  Prepare to plant everyone!

Will you be joining in? Do you have any events planned?

Friday, 6 November 2009

Blazing Red Berries and Fuchsia Pink Fireworks.

When we think of Autumn in the garden we think foliage, we think evergreen and we think berries.  This plant has all of this and much, much more.

Often overlooked the Cotoneaster is somewhat of a garden stalwart.   It provides everything you want in an evergreen shrub.  It has form, provides structure, year round interest and it is also very versatile.  The species pictured here in my garden, which I believe is Cotoneaster salicifolius, is particularly great. 

An example of it's versatility is apparent in my garden where it has been grown as a hedge and layered above a brick wall.  I inherited the hedge in a rather sorry state.  It was incredibly overgrown and had not received any love or attention for many years.  Branches from the shrub, dangling over the wall, had started to consume much of the precious space left within my small garden and I couldn't afford to lose any space at all.  After the discovery that there was a lovely * red brick wall under all that foliage I set about pruning the hedge back to a more manageable state.  It was only when I finished pruning that I discovered I had managed to free up a further two foot of garden.

The ability of the Cotoneaster to be used as a hedge, stand alone shrub, or ground-cover is not, however, why I value this plant so much.  I love the fact that it has something for all seasons.  It is evergreen, providing colour all year round, it has oodles of white flowers throughout Summer which provides plenty of food for insects and it has masses of beautiful berries in the Autumn/Winter which provide an abundance of food for birds, insects and small mammals.  It also acts as a place for animals to over-winter.  At present I have noticed many Ladybirds, British species not Harleqin's, beginning to set up camp here.  Other insects, too many to mention here, also use this shrub as a retreat.

I always recommend this plant, not only because of the fantastic qualities discussed earlier, but because the plant itself is so tolerant.  It is fantastically drought tolerant, able to grow in sandy soils and it will also thrive in full sun.  On the other hand it can also be grown in heavy clay soil, exposed coastal situations or moderate shade.

I don't however appreciate the company it sometimes keeps.  As we can see in the picture above it associates itself with the garish and brash Fuchsia, the plant equivalent of Vicky Pollard's shell suit.  The only problem I have is that however hard I prune it it keeps coming back and of course it does belongs to next door.

So, along the same lines of the Cadbury's Cream Egg slogan, how do you grow yours?  Have you grown Cotoneaster?  Do you have an inherent distaste for the plant?  I would love to read your comments.

* I am  aware  that the pointing on this wall is horrendous however I did not do it and I don't have the time or inclination to change it.  I like informality and will say that this is intentional or arts and crafts style!

Friday, 30 October 2009

My Australian Adventure: The Final Installment

Yes, you can breathe a sigh of relief as this is the final post in my Australian series.  It's been great to blog about some of the sights I have seen and the garden's I have visited.  Saying that it has been incredibly difficult leaving pictures out and deciding what to blog on as most pictures could become a blog in their own right.

This installment, The Final Installment, continues on from the post entitled: My Australian Adventure: Sydney Botanical Gardens.  The above image was taken in a formal area within the gardens which was to the side of the Rose garden.  I find Rose garden's to be quite dull as they don't really capture my imagination, or display any originality.  However, I do find the formality of this section quite pleasing and appreciate the modern elements within a space originating from a by gone era.

Within the Botanical garden's I came across a man carving aboriginal images in to the trunk of a recently felled  tree.

The images were painted on the trunk and the artist was chipping away around them at an incredible pace.  It appeared as though this feature, not too far from the water front, was to become a very interesting feature of the garden's, albeit a transitory one as the wood is sure to rot over time.

I watched the artist for a while, mesmerised by the skill and precision he displayed, only to be dragged away to watch a middle aged woman acting as a perch for over six Cockatoo's.  How I regret not taking that picture!

Moving on from the Botanical Garden's  I was surprised, when out walking, to come across a flock of Ibis.

My experience of Ibis is contained to Zoo's and other captive environments where they are considered important and rare.  It was interesting, however, to discover that these birds, although once considered rare in urban settings, are now verging on being classed as pests.

Lizards also featured highly on my trip.  

Lizards could be seen everywhere and I even encountered one straddling a wall.  Very strange indeed.

These Lizards were pictured, having a chat, in the Chinese Garden of Friendship.    Although I was pleased to find some of the native species I was very disappointed not to stumble upon any native Spider species.  From the abundance of Lizard species I would imagine they are having an Arachnid appetiser every now and again.

Green roofs were spotted regularly throughout the city.  This was one of my favourite buildings.  

A little quirky and completely dwarfed by it's surroundings the roof top garden appeared to house a series of trees.  How did they get there? And, what are they planted in?  I would have loved to visit the roof top to find out the answers to these questions  and to find out exactly what else the garden contained, if in fact it did contain other plants.

In general Sydney appeared to be an extremely green city, by green I mean leafy not environmentally friendly, although I'm sure they are that too.  Sydney houses many parks, gardens; both public and private, and municipal planting schemes which out do anything in my local area.

When out and about in Chinatown I came across a dead tree that had been utilised in spectacular fashion.

The tree had been transformed in to a beautiful piece of art, rather than reduced to firewood as would be the inclination of our local council.

The tree, painted with gold paint, is named 'Golden Water Mouth' and is thought to signify good luck within the Chinese community.

I absolutely loved this piece of art and the fantastic use made of the dead tree.

While we're on the subject of art I thought I would share with you this water feature situated within the notorious Kings Cross area of Sydney.  

The El Alamein Fountain was commisioned as a memorial to soldiers who died in 1942 during  WWII, more specifically in two battles at El Alamein, Egypt.

The sculpture was designed in 1961 by a New Zealander, Robert Woodward.

I think I liked it due to it's botanical influence.  Although Dandelion's are not a favourite of mine their seed heads are undeniably beautiful.

My Australian Adventure has been one I will remember for many years to come.  I have visited so many amazing places in Sydney, not all detailed here as I have tried to keep this blog as garden related as possible, and I will treasure each memory.

Most people ask me if I would make the mammoth journey again and I always answer 'Yes'.  Come to think of it I would visit in a flash.

To appreciate the amazing continent, and do it justice, you have to spend a great deal of time there and absorb it.  I would love to have the time, and lets not forget the money, to visit a larger proportion of Australia to experience the vast array of life, degree of contrast and culture of this beautiful and captivating continent.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Breaking news: The invasion

Okay, so maybe I'm being just a little bit over dramatic but I rarely get the opportunity.

When I got to the office today I found this little creature, beautiful as it is, attached to my leg.  I removed it and then it occurred to me.  Could this be a Harlequin Ladybird, Hamonia axyridis?  It was most definitely an unusual specimen.  The number of spots were more numerous than others I've come across.

With a little research I had eliminated our native ladybirds and had convinced myself that it is in fact a Harlequin.  So, what do you think?

For more information on Harlequin Ladybirds click here.  I have reported my sighting to the U.K. Ladybird Survey and urge you to do the same so that we can monitor the spread of such invasive species and also populations of our native species.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

My Australian Adventure: Sydney Botanical Gardens

Prior to visiting Sydney I had one special place in mind to visit.  It wasn't, as you may think, the Opera House or the Harbour Bridge, which are extremely popular tourist attractions in their own right.  

The predicted, and later confirmed, highlight of my visit was to be Sydney Botanical Gardens!

The gardens were founded in 1816 by Governor Macquarie and positioned in what I can only describe as the most glorious location imaginable.  Entering the gardens on the city side I was truly unaware of where the gardens would take me.  I will admit outright that I am  a poor map reader.  I also try not to research a garden prior to visiting it as I like to learn as I go and enjoy my surroundings.  On this occasion I was very happy that I let the garden do the talking and fill my trip with pleasant and sometimes breathtaking surprises.

The first thing I definitely did not expect was to walk under an amazing number of very sleepy Grey Headed Flying Fox, Pteropus poliocephalus.

I walked through a beautiful wooded area, under-planted with several species of Tree Ferns, this completely held my attention.  That was of course until I noticed a vast quantity of guano undefoot!  I then made the horrifying discovery that I was directly underneath a giant fruit bat roost.  I swiftly moved out of the "firing line" and observed a sight that was truly magnificent.  There were hundreds of bats in several trees directly above me!

The bats were not original residents in the gardens and are very quickly becoming a pest.  Initially the bats stopped over on migration, feasting on the fruits and flowers the garden offers, but nowadays the bats have set up home in several large trees on the site.  The bats, a great tourist attraction in their own right, are also extremely damaging to the larger tree specimens that they choose to roost in.  A particular worry is that the bat's carry several diseases communicable to humans and this could prove problematic to the gardens attraction.  The local authority has obtained a license to control the population in a last ditch attempt to protect the gardens well loved treasues.  

One night, when walking to a fantastic Italian restaurant, I was part of an extremely eerie moment.  Picture a grey sky as dusk approached.  You look up to view the night sky, expecting to see stars, and watch several hundred bats in flight, each with its 1m (3.2ft) wingspan.  It was like a scene from a horror movie.  I'm not usually influenced by such things but this was a moment that did concern me slightly.

                    Anigozanthos                                                                                                                                              Xanthorrhoea                                                                                                                                             Tibouchina 

Personally, I found walking around the gardens far too exciting.  Like an old computer trying to run several applications or Stacey Soloman trying to sing whilst remembering to breathe (apologies for the X-Factor reference and to Stacey who is great) I found myself overwhelmed.

As I ventured around the beds and borders I became ever more increasingly excited, very much like a child fuelled on E-numbers at a birthday party (The types of party I was used to as a child, not like Martyn's recent experiences).  I took over 300 photographs in all, too many to feauture here, and now that I'm at home checking what I did manage to get a snap of I realise I missed so many important plants.

One special plant I did not miss, although I did walk past it at one point to get to the toilet, was the Wollemi Pine, Wollemia nobilis.  

This tree, once lost to nature and most definitely not a Pine species, is now making a comeback.  It was discovered by a park officer by the name of David Noble in 1994.  David found the tree in the Blue Mountains, where he worked, and leaning on his botanical knowledge he had a sneaking suspicion that this tree was something quite different.  This initial suspicion proved to be correct. 

Since 1996, following a vast propagation programme, the tree has been made available to gardener's all over the world.

Calliandra haematocephala                                                                                                       Clivia miniata                                                                                                                                                 Brugmansia sp.     

Nestled between the beds and borders I stumbled upon a great vegetable garden.

It's currently Spring in Australia and the vegetable garden was most certainly looking very promising.  It was reassuring to see many school groups moving through the gardens, from both Primary School to High School age.

The tours put particular emphasis on vegetable gardens and from what I observed the children particularly appreciated the effort put in to creating such a wonderful scarecrow.

The succulent garden was looking great.  It housed many weird and wonderful specimens including some rather large Agave's.  

I tried to demonstrate the scale of one Agave but instead ended up looking foolish and slightly out of focus.  I'm 6ft in height so I think the photo manages to show the scale of the Agave to a degree.

This part of the succulent garden really impressed me.

The rusty metal landscaping helped to add height to a relatively flat area.  It was also planted and designed to exaggerate the colour contrasts you can achieve with succulents.

I was reminded just how varied the succulent world is in terms of colour, shape and habit.  Colours ranged from the  blue of Sencio serpens to deep bronze of Aeonium 'Zwartkop'.

When I started this entry I discussed the fantastic location of the gardens.  It wasn't until I walked right through the garden's that I discovered where they lead.  

The views were magnificent and showed of the true splendor of the magical place that is the Sydney Botanical Gardens.

I will add another post on the gardens shortly as I couldn't fit everything I wanted in to this post.  I hope you've enjoyed reading and continue to follow me in my Australian Adventure.
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