Sunday, 20 January 2013

Bumper issue. Majorelle, Hoar Frost,Tulips and Barrows - push or pull?

Having been away for so long  I thought I better get out a  bumper issue to make up for lost posts.  Here it is.

 I’ve bin on me ‘olidays. Can you guess where? Here’s a clue which you will have to be of a certain age and of a certain musical bent for it to be any use to you.

 Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes
Travelling the train through clear xxxxxxxx  skies
Ducks and pigs and chickens call
Animal carpet wall to wall
American ladies five-foot tall in blue.

Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind
Had to get away to see what we could find
Hope the days that lie ahead
Bring us back to where they've led
Listen not to what's been said to you

Well, it was Marrakesh, (Marrakesh in the song Marrakesh Express by Crosby Stills and Nash 1969 but Marrakech in the country today.), the third largest city in Morocco and Wikipedia has just told me it attracts two million tourists a year.

One of the highlights of the holiday was the Majorelle garden in the north of the city. It was the most organised, clean, and unbroken down places we came across.

It was garden created by artist Jacques Majorelle on a plot of 1.6 hectares which he bought in 1923. He called the property Bou Saf Saf and his house  and workshop Villa Bou Saf Saf . By buying adjacent land he gradually expanded the garden to  4 hectares. He opened it to the public in 1947 to help offset the considerable costs of maintenance. Majorelle went through a divorce was remarried and suffered a serious car accident and then another and had to a leg amputated. Due to financial difficulties he had to give up his involvement  in the workshop, house and garden in 1961 and had to return to France where he died in 1962.

Yves Saint  Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge visited the garden in 1966 on a visit to Marrakech  and were taken by the  colours and shapes  of the  plants and garden  if not by the condition it was then in. On learning that it was to be sold and a hotel built on the land they decided to buy the property and did so in 1980. He renamed the house Villa Oasis and lived there working on the restoration of the garden. Irrigation was installed to provide for the individual requirements of the different species of plant. The number of species was increased from 135 in 1999 to some 300 today. Twenty gardeners now take care of the plants, garden ornaments and water  features and the    seventy five people in total are employed to run the property.

Yves Saint Laurent died in Paris in 2008 but his ashes are scattered in the garden in Marrakech.

If you get chance to  visit the garden (Get in there  either early or late in the day  to avoid the visitors  that arrive  in considerable numbers  on  coaches.)  and be sure to  pay the extra  for  a ticket into the Berber museum which was opened in December 2011  in what was the artists’ workshop. It is beautifully designed and the  Berber artefacts , clothing , jewellery are  wonderfully displayed and   comprehensively explained. The garden and museum are now run by the Fondation Majorelle and profits are used to support other projects in Morocco. 

Here are some holiday snaps.
Jacques Majorelle’s and later Yves Saint Laurent’s house.

If you like the blue colour check out Auro paint suppliers. It is one of their concentrated colours which are intended to be diluted with whites and pastels to  paler colours  but used neat gives this intense  colour. 

The garden is neatly raked and the soil dished around the plants to aid watering. Alongside all the exotic succulents it surprised me to see Acanthus mollis. It is in the foreground here. It is a robust,  semi- evergreen, shade tolerant, herbaceous  perennial  that grows well in the UK and  it turns out it has more right to be in the garden than all the other plants because it is native to North West Africa.

Cacti and succulents make up a large part of the planting and give drama to the garden through their shape and size.

As sometimes happens when you are on holiday and  feeling relaxed away from the    responsibilities  and constraints of everyday life, I had a holiday romance. There was no physical intimacy unfortunately because the sudden love of my life was kept ten yards inside the railings.  No, I had not fallen for a hippo at the local zoo. The object of my head over heels love was the gorgeous thing above.  The Bismarck Palm – such  an unfortunate name for one so lovely.

She  is a plant  from the highlands of central Madagascar. She is adorable. Coming from uplands with cooler winters she is able to tolerate  lower temperatures than might be expected, down as far  as freezing in fact  though not much below that. So if you have a  sheltered spot give her a try though be aware that if she likes you and does manage to grow happily she can make twenty five   metres high and each leaf can make three metres across - oh how heavenly that would be.    

Oh, how could you resist such a plant!
Bismarckia nobilis - pah! Let’s rename it with something more  elegant . How about Palmia gloriosa or Exaltat formosus, even  Madagascaria  gloriosa?   No? Okay.  I wonder what the Madagascans  call it in Malagasy, surely something beautiful?

The  structures  are simple  and the shapes and colours very strong giving many of the views  the quality of a child’s painting.

It’s drama all the way.

The garden has the feel of a botanic garden in places with plants arranged as isolated specimens rather than as a part of a co-ordinated  ornamental design.     

Interest ranges from squat barrel cacti at ground level to towering palms heading to the skies.

 Bamboos flank the far paths. This is not the best of pictures because there is no reference of scale  but the new green shoot in the foreground is about two and a half metres tall and as thick as your forearm. The Swiss Cheese plants in the background give some idea of how big the bamboo shoots are.

What’s the marra with ya barra?
Any physicists  out  there? No need for  a particle or astro kind just a good old fashioned practical type who understands gradients, friction and can cope with factoring in a few variables.

My  challenge , which  is  a problem  that  has me in a quandary  whenever I work in  a  particular garden  of which a good part is on a  slope   and  the  compost bin is right at the top of the  garden up a steep and sometimes muddy slope, is this. Which is the most efficient way to get a barrow to the top of the hill? Is it pushing the barrow up before you or pulling it up behind you? My basic  understanding of physics tells me that the same amount of energy must be used  whichever way  you  do it, everything else being equal,   because   in both cases  you  are   moving the load  a  certain distance  and raising it a  certain  height in roughly the same time.   However it is the variables that are the spanners in the works and while they   do not affect the weight or distance moved they do affect the comfort, safety and endurance of the barrow pusher/puller.
Let’s consider the two different techniques.  First pushing the barrow. Here I always feel that I am pushing the barrow more into the ground than  along the  line of travel, particularly if the slope  is steep and the load heavy because you have to lift  the handles to give you weight  to help give  your feet some grip on the ground. If you don’t lift the handles  then you have to lean well forward which means the  weight is on your toes  and you have less contact ( and therefore  less grip)  with the ground and the danger then is that your feet will  slip and  shoot out behind you  and any slips at this stage means there is a chance the barrow will run back onto you. Of course all this depends on how slippery the surface is and also  what sort of  footwear you have  on; a good pair of well cleated boots will give you more security and confidence to shove than a pair of smooth soles more suited to a soft shoe shuffle. So as as you see Mr Physicist, it is not all as straightforward as you might think.

The other way is to pull the barrow up the hill but that brings its own problems. Here again the  task is made more difficult on slippery ground because you have to lean forward to  be able to pull  properly and then there is the risk of  your feet slipping   under the barrow and  skinning the back of  your heels This can also happen if the barrow is of poor design  and the handles  are too short. One advantage with pulling is that it is easier to keep the flat of your foot on the ground which gives you more grip. Something else that can catch you out is if the grips on the handles are loose and suddenly slip off when you are pulling your hardest and you go flying and so does the barrow. 

I can feel your yawns from here and hear you wondering why on earth is he telling us all this; who cares? I guess you are right, who cares? Perhaps rather than a serious consideration of the physics of the Barrow Dilemma this could well be a more worrying symptom of what happens when you work too long on your own. I love gardening, there is no doubt about that, but much of it is really quite boring  so when you are working  away on your own, particularly if the task is tedious and arduous, your mind tends to  latch on to distractions. These minor entertainments often set off a train of thought that runs on a course of its own and is sometimes unstoppable at least until the buffers of a more interesting job are hit. That is how the barrow thoughts started off. The job of lugging barrow loads of garden waste to the top of a slippery hill  made more demanding by fatigue and aching  joints desperately needed a distraction. Working out the advantages and disadvantages of each   style made it into an experiment which kept me so preoccupied  with the physics that, hey, before I knew  it the sun was setting and it was time to knock off.
P.S. Whichever way you choose, push or pull, make sure your tyres are blown up hard.


Hoar Frost.
As ever nature provides tons of free entertainment in the garden. A recent hoar frost brought a welcome bit of sparkle to a cold and overcast day. Here are some pictures of some of the intimate treats laid on by nature. (Hoar frost has nothing do with getting the cold shoulder down at your local brothel).

Viburnum flowers - brave souls.

Spider’s web and four very handsome fingers..

Cherry Laurel leaves trimmed with icy spikes.

There are advantages to not cutting your plants back too soon.  This is an Agapanthus head strung with tinsel-like frost and surprisingly green for December.

It’s curious how the frost only develops on one side of the branches in certain parts of the garden.
Caused by a very gentle breeze perhaps?

A very ordinary elderberry seedling becomes rather special. What is it doing still bearing  its leaves in December?

Good old Jack F.


Tulip Bulbs.
Can I draw your attention to this quarter’s issue of Hortus  and more particularly the cover? For me it illustrates the  great pleasure to be had from noticing the ordinary which when noticed transcends the ordinary which then becomes the very special.  It is a simple but beautifully executed ink and water colour picture by Simon Dorell   It shows  twelve bulbs  set out  in a regular pattern and the thrill of thrills for me is  that  they are my favourite bulbs and I am excited that someone else has been moved by their shape and texture and in this case moved  enough and with the skill enough to paint them. I am talking about the bulbs themselves here not the flower. The bulb is Tulipa batalinii ‘Bronze Charm’. The flower of this tulip is small and utterly charming but the pleasure starts way before the flower shows itself. It starts at planting time.Take a bulb in your hand  and you will see that it is much smaller than your usual bedding tulip; each bulb is loosely wrapped in  a papery, not fragile but usually split, skin of the warmest, softest  brown with a matt almost downy surface. At the base of each bulb where last year’s roots have withered away is a knobbly pig’s nose. At the other, top, end is a small, tight tuft of soft bristles. The whole is a masterpiece of tactile, textural and visual delight that it almost seems a sacrilege to bury it in the ground.

The lightly textured and matt finish of the paper that Hortus is printed on makes the perfect foundation for this picture. Do your best to get hold of a copy. (The Hortus website image does not do the picture any sort of justice)

P.S. Seen with Magoo vision the picture  can also look like twelve  snails on a ceremonial march- past but don’t let that  put you off.

 Not Tulipa ‘Bronze Charm’ but the very similar ‘Bright Gem’. It is a poor picture but none the less captures the heart melting charm of these oft over-looked but very easily grown small tulips.


 Ivor Field speaks to the nation.
As gardeners we are always encouraged to get as much organic matter into the soil as possible to improve its structure and water holding capacity.  I was wondering how farmers  keep their soil in good condition and was also wondering about potato crops  some of which I know of, not far from here, are still in the ground and  bearing in mind the amount of rain we have  suffered  how are farmers coping, so I asked Ivor for his views.  

‘’Hi Paul, Yes very wet still but the January outlook at least shows signs of drier weather – Locally only about 30% of winter wheat planted and lots of crops looking v.thin (slug damage and rotting of seed due to waterlogging). The potato situation is pretty dire- most of those crops will be lost now. Biggest problem is also those that have been lifted and in store – many will rot in storage due to poor conditions at lifting last autumn. You will notice many more blemishes on the tubers this year.  Let’s hope for a better spring but when you have nearly 40 inches of rain from mid-April onwards, the Organic Matter levels have limited impact – You are right, the more OM the better the soil can cope but once the land saturated and the water table as high as it is then the only thing is patience! OM are increasing with many more combinable crops returning the straw to the land rather than baling – particularly with the break crops of Rape and Beans – the cereal straw in our part of the world still of great feed value/bedding for the livestock farms, particularly further west(Wales) where arable crops are sparse. The burning ban has helped Organic Matter status but made grass weed control much more difficult. You will notice a lot more fields with black heaps of sludge in them over the last 3 years or so – this is human sewage sludge from the Sewage Treatment Plants from nearby and is being used to raise fertility and improve Organic Matter/soil structure. Only limited amounts can be applied every few years to avoid a build-up of heavy metals (cadmium etc. which are harmful to health) and helps solve the Water Companies problem of what to do with all the waste!! Controlling Tomato and Caraway plants that appear in the crops in late spring following the spreading of the human waste is also interesting – such are the challenges facing an agronomist, farmers and a nation of curry lovers! Happy New Year, Ivor.’’


The Girls head South.

I have received a letter from my old pals Grace an’ Perry. (Yes, she is the genuine champagne Perry but Grace is just Grace.). They have moved from their home in the Lake District and are now living right deep in the South West and learning Japanese. What on earth are you girls doing down there?  Is there another major garden project underway? Let’s hope so. Or are you chasing men?  What’s with the Japanese lingo, I can’t believe there’s a Japanese diaspora near St Ives. I don’t want to hear you are developing a Japanese garden; leave it to the Japanese. Is it that painterly light that lured you so far down south? It would surely suit your style. Anyway, that photo of a plant you sent me, ( Poor picture by the way.)I can’t believe you don’t know what it is. Is it growing at your new property? Was the picture taken recently because it often flowers through the winter in a sheltered spot though a cold snap will slow it up a bit? It grows in a tangled sort of way up to about a metre high and is evergreen.  It is quite a  gem. Its soft lemon yellow pea flowers complement perfectly the grey tinged leaves. The  variety  ‘Citrina’  is a pale flowered selection of the less exciting  bright yellow  flowered  Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca which is a blue grey leaved subspecies of the green leaved and more  brazen yellow flowered Coronilla valentina, complicated eh? But not to worry you have the choicest variety of them all there. Take a sniff. You will find the flowers carry a light, fresh scent. Cut a small posy for the house if your plant is large enough to stand the loss, and enjoy its scent indoors

Be sure to let me know  what you are up to – we have readers who want to know!


Autumn Colour.
Here is a picture of a slow growing shrub in my garden. It has been there four years and has not yet been pruned. It went in at  about two feet high  and though I don’t know exactly how big it is now  you can see by the heads of the Echinacea  and Eryngium in the foreground it is still not very big,  a yard  and a half max. Snag is I can’t remember what it is. I think it is a Rhamnus but can’t be sure. It gives  you a fuzzy ,soft effect during the summer with its narrow foliage and then in the autumn explodes into this starburst of fierce yellow. Great value and minimal maintenance – BUT WHAT  IS IT?   M’AIDEZ!

Half an hour later  ………. It’s funny how things come to mind when you stop thinking about them. Rhamnus frangula ‘Asplenifolia’

A compact and slow growing shrub that holds onto its autumn colour for a long time.

Very narrow leaves hang like firework bursts frozen in time.


Know your onions.
Take a look at the label from a pack of Senshu WINTER onion sets for planting in August to September to grow through the WINTER. Read the line just above the diagrams.

There are a surprising number of anomalies on plant labels. Send me any you come across via the comments section.

Too twee or not too twee?

Being of a cynical nature I don't usually do twee but I was working in a garden recently and I could not help but feel for this poor little mite. I was tempted to take her home and warm her chilled ceramic heart. 


Pruning Surprises.
Things you know you know can still take you by surprise.

I was pruning a Berberis and an Elaeagnus recently and I know they have lighter undersides to the leaves but was taken aback by quite how white they are on the undersides of the leaves. Having silvery upper surfaces I can understand because it can offer some protection against  a scorching sun but a silvery underneath is a bit of a mystery. Any ideas anyone?                                                                                                                                                                         

Here are a couple of pictures showing the  brilliant undersides.


                                                           …….and bottom. Dazzling!

An evergreen Berberis ,( sorry I don’t which one but it is not a rare one,) with an upturned pruned branch laid against it. In real life it was more startling than this picture makes it.


 Seen and Heard, Odds and Sods.

What gets worshipped where? -  Synagogue, Welligogue, Guzgogue.

‘…….people who bought this also bought War and Peace by Tolstoy, T.S.Eliot, Collected Poems, Crime and Punishment by  Dostoevsky and a subscription to Playboy magazine.’     What?
‘…… there were a lot of  children off school  today; they said it was something to do with an insect day….. ‘

Horses for courses.    Main Course - Burger with chips. 
‘Mixed Race’………..  Sack, three  legged,  and egg and spoon  100 yards medley.

A.BC -- WXY.Z ( That’s Zee to make it rhyme.)
It’s curious the things that come to mind when you’re lying awake up at 3 in the morning. In my mind I was picturing the (I was completely sober and I have never done drugs in my life) alphabet  written out in capitols, sorry, capitals, and as is the way in dreams I could not see  the whole of each letter just the tops.  I noticed that after A they all had flat or roundish  tops, BCDEFG,  until you came  to H which had two pointy tops  and then there were a series of letters with pointy  tops I J K L M N then back to  flat tops OPQRST then pointy again UVWXY  and a flat  top Z to finish.  So, a single pointy to start and a single flatty to finish. Curious how the shapes of the tops   are all grouped together rather than mixed up. I did wonder if there was not some code to the meaning of  life  hidden in the grouping  but that is the sort of thing you think at 3.15 am when you are only half awake.  Still, it is an odd arrangement.  Alien intervention?  Da Vinci code conspiracy? Quick, under the duvet, here come the men in white coats.
Is it true that someone has invented a cheap device that you strap to your wrist and it vibrates your hand to simulate the action of an electric toothbrush so that you can use your favourite  manual toothbrush  but get the advantages of an electric toothbrush? 

If it is true it won’t be long before you can get a  toothbrush app which uses the vibrating   facility  on your  phone  and a clip-on  toothbrush head  to give you the perfect travel toothbrush- you wait and see!