gone exotic!

June 30, 2010

A rather ordinary image of a flowering phormium, but for me, this is quite extraordinary. I’ve had this plant for 15 years (it was large then and maybe about 5 years old)  and it came from a show garden at Hampton Court Flower Show. It’s  just travelled around with me and been planted in 4 different gardens – different environments –  during that time. The original plant was split quite few times so that friends could have pieces or, just simply, because  it was too large for the space. This bit has been in the current position, one block away from the sea, for 3 years and has grown into a humongous phormium, 4 metres to the top of the stems, but has never flowered, probably because of all the moves. This reticence didn’t worry me and I sort of forgot about the possible flowers as, after all, it’s an architectural plant.  So I was more than surprised to see these stems rising up out of the foliage about 10 days ago.  The green fingered neighbours in Nos 7 + 8 have phormiums that flower every year which made me do a little research into phormium masting which I conclude is behind this great event. Certainly the amount and variety of birdlife has developed dramatically this year – thank goodness that the feline activity has dropped off but, I don’t really know whether the seeds will be gathered and spread by birds but certainly the sparrows love sitting in the seed cups and are presumably snacking.  This bit of drama has made me aware of the change in the style of the planting from the late spring/early summer prettiness to full frontal prima donnas and exoticism  – nothing deliberate, it just happens like this . . .

. . the cordylines have been flowering for at least a month – magnificent powerfully scented flowers – sometimes the perfume doesn’t please . . .’What’s that stench?’ is to be heard as people pass by  . . I admit it is quite singular! Common name is the Cabbage Tree . . anyone know why? Brilliant companion plant is Euphorbia mellifera . . .

 . . and Louise’s red rose makes a great partner  . . .

 . . echiums abound around here too . . . this is Echium pinnianum subsp. ‘Wen’

. . the bumble bees love them but the honey bees are less interested – they go for something else ( to follow) . .

 . . the bumbles also love the Californian poppies. I love the shadows on the rendered wall – like the poppies too, especially the cream flowered ones, but they don’t like being photographed! The Lampranthus (the pink thing) is very happy as the soil is so poor . . .

. . this little beauty has performed brilliantly for months now – Echeveria ‘Lilacina’ like dancing flamingoes – quite wonderful stems that seem to be perfectly counter balanced . . . and the dark moody rosette behind is Dahlia ‘Karma Chocolate’ with bronze fennel in the background . . . .

. . arcotis always make a vibrant splash planted up in pots – looking down into the foliage is good too . . .

. . exquisitely exotic is a Diplarrena moreae supplied by Louisa Arbuthnott of Stone House Cottage Nursery. Louisa also sent this . . .

 . . Nicotiana mutabilis. Great Dixter sell this too.  Anything ‘mutabilis’ is a sheer joy. Hope to take some seed and multiply for next year but it’s a difficult being as all the more interesting things are . . . to finish this forray into exotica is Lilium pumilium – ‘wow’ factor, scent and delight . . . and the honey bees can’t get enough. So from enormous down to fragile and delicate, the exotic has arrived.

A visitor appeared on the roof opposite as I was getting this post together, a love bird, lost I guess, or escaped into a wild and strange environment – hope he’s safe somewhere.

Brazil, January 1, 1502

… embroidered nature… tapestried landscape.
– Landscape into Art, by Sir Kenneth Clark

Januaries, Nature greets our eyes
exactly as she must have greeted theirs:
every square inch filling in with foliage—
big leaves, little leaves, and fiant leaves,
blue, blue-green, and olive,
with occasional lighter veins and edges,
or a stain under leaf turned over;
monster ferns
in sliver-gray relief,
and flowers, too, like giant water lilies
up in the air—up, rather, in the leaves—
purple, yellow, two yellows, pink,
rust red and greenish white;
solid but airy; fresh as if just finished
and taken off the frame.

A blue-white sky, a simple web,
backing for feathery detail:
brief arcs, a pale-green broken wheel,
a few palms, swarthy, squat, but delicate;
and perching there in profile, beaks agape,
the big symbolic birds keep quiet,
each showing only half his puffed and padded,
pure-colored or spotted breast.
Still in the foreground there is Sin:
five sooty dragons near some massy rocks.
The rocks are worked with lichens, gray moonbursts
splattered and overlapping,
threatened from underneath by moss
in lovely hell-green flames,
attacked above
by scaling-ladder vines, oblique and neat,
“one leaf yes and on leaf no” (in Portuguese).
The lizards scarcely breathe; all eyes
are on the smaller, female one, back-to,
her wicked tail straight up and over,
red as red-hot wire.

Just so the Christians, hard as nails,
tiny as nails, and glinting,
in creaking armor, came and found it all,
not unfamiliar:
no lovers’ walks, no bowers,
no cherries to be picked, no lute music,
but corresponding, nevertheless,
to an old dream of wealth and luxury
already out of style when they left home—
wealth, plus a brand-new pleasure.
Directly after Mass, humming perhaps
L’ Homme arme or some such tune,
they ripped away into the hanging fabric,
each out to catch an Indian for himself—
those maddening little women who kept calling,
calling to each other (or had the birds waked up?)
and retreating, always retreating, behind it.

  Elizabeth Bishop.

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