Saturday, 30 January 2010

Ryan's Rare Plants

As some of you will be aware I've just started writing a new monthly feature on rare and unusual plants over at 'Fennel and Fern' titled 'Ryan's rare plants'.  If you haven't already visited you can view my first post by clicking on the link or the screenshot above.  I'm really excited about this new feature as I get to indulge in my love for plants and a little bit of fantasy also.  

In other news I've achieved two self imposed goals which I made at the start of the New Year which is quite pleasing as it's still January.   This year I set out to collabortate more with other bloggers, see above image.  I'm still hoping to accept guest blogs here so if you're interested get in touch.  I also intended to become more organised with blogging by scheduling posts and writing in advance.   Up until now I have always been quite impulsive and disorganised with posting.  This is one of those beautifully scheduled posts.

So enough rambling, if you like your plants rare please check out my new feature and if you have any suggestions for those articles or my plant wish-list please leave a comment.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Garden Visit, Hamamelis and the Robin

I was attempting to photograph a flowering Witch Hazel when a friendly Robin decided to steal the show.  This photograph was taken last weekend at the National Botanic Garden of Wales which is offering free admission throughout January. 

I had only visited the garden once before, around eight years ago to be precise, when the garden was in its infancy.  I was sixteen or seventeen at the time and distinctly remember being unimpressed with the garden.  New planting, underdeveloped areas and the over bearing "under construction" feel that the garden oozed all contributed.  On the second visit it was a relief that the garden has matured somewhat and although there is not a great amount to see at this time of year it is possible to imagine how the garden would look in leaf.  

When I originally visited the garden one of my favourite features in the garden was the natural art installation which depicted a living room arrangement of furniture under an old Oak tree which, left to the elements, was slowly going back to nature with plants and animals moving in.  This included Ivy which was slowly winding its way up an old wodden floor lamp.  This outdoor space has since been removed unlike other more permanent attractions.  

The Great Glasshouse, which dominates the garden, was the main draw when the garden opened as not only was it a great piece of architecture but it offered the public an opportunity to view plants from temperate regions of the world.  Aside from some beautiful plants I strongly remember hating a large algae covered wall which is part of the main water feature within the dome.  To this day the same feature irritates me and although surrounding plants now help to distract the eye it has been made worse with the addition of goldfish to the shallow pool below. 

The garden continues to develop and improve with age.   The double walled garden is complete and a tropical house added, which were not there eight years ago.  Both look very promising although I did not have the time to explore them fully.  I intend to visit again in the Summer to spend more time in the garden and see it in its full blazing glory.

Have you visited the garden?  What was your experience like?

Friday, 22 January 2010

The Wish List

Spring is nearly here and the season of garden shows is fast approaching.  Many of us, and I include myself here, see such shows as an opportunity to purchase a new plant or two.  Whether they are sought after or impulsive buys is another matter entirely.

If you're anything like me you would have already experienced the "child in a sweet shop" moment when in a plant induced stupor you completely lose sight of what it is that you set out to buy.   The vast array of plants, colours, smells, and people have often all contributed to me leaving such a place with much more than intended and a lot of things I didn't really want or need, although in the moment this was not apparent.

This year I'm approaching it from a different angle.  I'm going to create a wish-list of plants and then seek them out while at shows and nurseries.  Anyone who spots me buying something that's not on the list will get a prize and believe me there's every chance this will happen.

The "live" list below shows some of the plants I'm hoping to find.  

Adonis amurensis 'Fukujukai'
Anemone leveillei
Arisaema sikokianum
Asarum splendens
Begonia rex 'Escargot'
Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost'
Bulbine frutescens
Camellia sinensis
Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Heronswood Globe'
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Gnome'
Cornus canadense
Dichpogon fimbriatus (Chocolate Lily)
Equisetum camtschatcense
Gladiolus tristis
Iris foetidissima 'Citrina'
Iris rosenbachiana
Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm)
Mentha x piperita f. citrata (Eau de Cologne)
Mentha x piperita f. citrata 'Chocolate' (Chocolate Mint)
Narcissus bulbocodium 'Pallidus'
Narcissus cantabricus
Nomocharis aperta
Oxalis tuberosa (Oca)
Podophyllum 'Kaleidoscope'
Ranunculus calandrinoides
Rosmarinus officinalis 'Boule' (Rosemary, prostrate form)
Salvia Elegans (Tangerine Sage)
Sarcococca confusa (Christmas Box)
Ugni molinae (Chilean Guava)

Sunday, 17 January 2010

The Snowdrop: A cure for disease?

The Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is the archetypal stalwart of the Winter/Spring Garden.  A small and delicate looking plant, with its fine foliage and nodding snow white heads tipped with green, which is truly deceptive in terms of its hardiness and sheer resilience against the elements.  This plant is always one of the first to emerge in my garden; a true sign that things are set to change.  I love the way that, unlike many other plants, a thick layer of snow does nothing to damage emerging shoots and flowers of the Snowdrop and as soon as snow has thawed the Snowdrop remains completely unaffected.  Totally unaware of the chaos and hardship the snow created.
Snowdrops are best planted in the green.  This means planting them after flowering when only the leaves are visible.  I have always read that this is the preferred technique, however, I planted mine as bulbs and they've taken off quite nicely.  I tend to prefer to plant these in drifts and let them to naturalise. The outcome of this is a blanket of white that can brighten up the darkest of gardens.

What you may not know about the Snowdrop is that it contains many compounds that may prove useful to science and medicine.  In a recent study a team of researchers from the Univeristy of Barcelona discovered that Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis and Galanthus elwesii, contain seventeen bioactive compounds including three alkaloids that are brand new to science.  The new discoveries may prove useful in treating Malaria and Alzheimer's.  You can read the full news report here.

The delicate Snowdrop appears to be not only beautiful but also potentially important in creating breakthroughs in the treatment of hard to treat medical conditions and a whole raft of other things.  After all, the most inconspicuous of new discoveries can produce groundbreaking outcomes.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

New collaborations, new blooms and no more snow!

At this  time of year there is little to celebrate in the garden unless of course you happen to find that snow is a welcome substitute for bare stems, evergreen foliage and the last remaining berry.  Winter can be a bleak and uninspiring time for any gardener and I find relief knowing that indoors plants are still thriving.  At present I have several Phalenopsis, Dendrobium, Aeonium, Schlumbergera and numerous forced bulbs in bloom.  Something to tide me through the Winter.  Although signs of Spring are emerging.

In a similar ilk another bloom is about to open.  I have joined the 'Fennel and Fern' team writing a monthly feature on rare, unusual and often unseen plants.  Each month I will add a new plant profile which will provide an in depth overview of the plant, necessary growing instructions and ways of sourcing it if what you see gets your gardening juices flowing.  Perfect for a cold uninspiring Winter day and a great way to find new plants to add to your plant  wish list!  I hope you will come visit me over there?

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The 'Food 2030' Report: What does it mean for Horticulture?

The government's new food strategy entitled 'Food 2030' has received a great deal of press coverage and some criticism for what it has set out in the final report.  There have been rumblings of contradictory proposals and questions around  how we can reduce our consumption without it having a detrimental effect on the economy, as well as other important areas.  Questions that most definitely need attention and a great deal of ironing out.  After all it wouldn't be politics without controversy and questions.  When we put these issues aside, and without trying to minimise such downsides, we have a document with aims that provide some encouragement for the future.

The main aims of the strategy relate to sustainable food production, public education, reduction of greenhouse gasses resulting from meat production, food waste and its management, scientific advancement and health promotion.  I have attempted to pull out some issues that bear influence over the future of horticulture and other areas of horticultural interest.

Some of these issues may be slightly contentious and none more so than the issues contained under the banner of sustainable food production.  This heading harbors questions about how we increase crop yield without negatively affecting the environment (increasing the need for resources such as water and soil).  This is not an old issue but ultimately it leads us on to GM crops which are not the most appealing of alternative options for many.  

On the other hand, when we look at the positives there are two particularly encouraging outcomes.  Firstly, there is a call for the 'Growing Schools Programme' to expand and offer a further 65,000 pupils, their families and staff members a package of education and hands on experience in growing their own food.  This grass roots approach is a positive step in equipping future generations with the tools to grow their own food and when looking towards food security this seems like a logical step forward.  It will also mean more jobs for professionals in the field.

Secondly, the government has committed to freeing up much needed growing space for communities with local authorities developing, what the document calls, 'meanwhile leases'.  This will utilise otherwise unused pieces of land and give them purpose.  And we all know what this could mean.  If communities and individuals work on growing their own produce this will ultimately reduce demand on the large scale food producers. 

There is a lot more to this document than I have pointed out here and I would urge you to read it in full to get the full picture.  What do you think of the report?

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Year, Old Leaves, Wizards and Absolutely No Resolutions!

The New Year started with a beautifully bright and frosty morning.  The kind of morning that makes you think that Spring is just that little bit closer.  Although the Winter still holds us firmly in its grip it is important to acknowledge how it has the magnificent ability to clean and clear the landscape, helping to recycle unwanted leftovers and complete life cycles, in readiness for the coming seasons and new beginnings.  In that respect it has an essential role that we cannot ignore or disqualify.  In a similar and equally necessary way closing in the old year and looking forward to the next is exactly what I am doing at present.

I try to avoid making New Year's resolutions as most often such resolutions are unrealistic, unachievable, or as we most often encounter, purely built by tradition rather than genuine motivation.  I do know, however, that this year is set to bring many positive and exciting changes to Ryan's Garden.  Some are already underway.  The blog started off spontaneously with no real forethought and since that day I have come to like it just a little bit too much.  Now I feel the need to dedicate more time and effort to it.  Of course certain features will remain the same.  There will be regular competitions, strange ramblings and my usual observations of news, garden shows and anything remotely plant related.  Rest assured there will also be many new additions and changes.  First on my list is to focus on better photography.  Up until now I have used my mobile 'phone which has been great but is now surplus to requirements.  This is going to be a learning process as I get to grips with my new camera, however, it is something I'm quite looking forward to.  Secondly, I will attempt to be more organised with posting and scheduling articles.  Working to self imposed deadlines can't be an impossible task I'm sure.  Thirdly, I have a few technical wizards who have kindly offered their services to help with the layout and optimization of the blog to whom I am eternally grateful.  And finally, I will be broadening my horizons by writing for other bloggers and publications.  If you are interested in providing a guest blog or feature here at Ryan's Garden do feel free to get in touch with me.

So here's to 2010.  Let's make it a good one!

*The main photograph is of a frost covered Quercus rubra leaf.  Feel free to correct me on that one.

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