THE BEE ORCHIDS

The bee orchid




The bee orchids - Ophrys species, are one of natures most amazing mimics. First mentioned in the book "Natural History" by Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), Ophrys species are a large group of ground orchids which inhabit a huge range that stretches from the central to South Europe, North Africa, and Asia Minor, up to the Caucasus Mountains. Although they clearly at home around the Mediterranean, for those of us who live in the colder climates of the United Kingdom there is at least one species - Ophrys apifera that can be found inhabiting dry, chalk and limestone grasslands throughout the southern and central regions.

Bee orchid
The Bee Orchid gets its name from its main pollinator, the bee, which is thought to have driven the evolution of its flowers. It also turns out that every Ophrys orchid has its own pollinator insect and is completely dependent on this species for its survival. This is all of them except for the British Ophrys apifera as its species specific bee does not occur in the UK. Here, the Bee Orchids are self-pollinating.

Incredibly, it is not just the shape of the Bee Orchid flower that is used to attract its pollinator bee, these highly complex plants also use sexual deception! This is achieved by producing the sex pheromone of virgin female pollinators. This stimulate mating behaviour in the male pollinators, which then attempt to mate with the flower, as process known as 'pseudocopulation'.

During pseudocopulation, pollen from the flower becomes attached to part of the bee, usually the head or abdomen. The bee then inadvertently carries and transfers this pollen to other flowers where once again they are enticed into pseudocopulation. It is at this stage that pollination is successfully completed.

Bee orchids
All Ophrys orchids are dormant over the summer, surviving underground as bulbous tubers.

In late summer/autumn a rosette of leaves will emerge above ground and serves to allow the plant to grow a new tuber. This will matures until the following spring, and take the place of the old tuber which will slowly die back and disappear. Come the following spring the flowering stem will be produced.

As a point of interest, the botanical name Ophrys come from the Greek word for "eyebrow". This refers to the furry edges of the lips of several species.

 All orchids are protected under CITES II and should not be removed or disturbed in habitat.

For related articles click onto the following links:
CHARLES DARWIN'S FAVOURITE ORCHID - Catasetum species
How to Grow Monkey face Orchids from Seed - A Warning!
HOW TO GROW THE HYACINTH ORCHID - Bletilla striata
HOW TO FEED ORCHIDS
HOW TO REPOT AN ORCHID
HOW TO WATER ORCHIDS
MONKEY FACE ORCHIDS
SCHOMBURGKIA EXALTATA
THE ANGEL ORCHID
THE BEE ORCHIDS
THE BUTTERFLY ORCHID - Psychopsis papilio
THE FLYING DUCK ORCHID
THE VAMPIRE ORCHID - Catasetum macrocarpum
WHAT IS AN ORCHID?

HOW TO GROW THE BLEEDING HEART - Lamprocapnos spectabilis (syn. Dicentra spectabilis)

The 'Bleeding Heart' - Dicentra spectabilis





The 'Bleeding Heart' - Dicentra spectabilis is one of the most popular of all the early flowering herbaceous perennials, and why wouldn't it be. The emerging foliage is so fresh and succulent that it looks good enough to eat (don't eat the foliage) and the beautifully heart-shaped flowers produced on arching stems are truly exquisite.

The 'Bleeding Heart' - Dicentra spectabilis
It is a native to Siberia, northern China, Korea and Japan, and it is from Japan that a legend behind the 'Bleeding Heart' name originates.

'...It begins with a young man who is trying to win the heart of the one he loves.

As a gift he gave her a pair of rabbits which represents the first two petals of the flower. Sadly for the young man she was unimpressed, but he wasn't to be disheartened and so gave her a second gift of a pair of slippers which are portrayed by the next two petals of the flower.

 Again she rejected his advances and as one last attempt to win her affection gave a final gift of a pair of earrings which are shown as the last two petals of the flower. She refused to show interest, and completely heart-broken, the young man pierced his heart with his sword which caused the bleeding heart (depicted by the middle structure of the flower). A sad tale indeed..!'

The 'White Bleeding Heart' - Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba'
Luckily for us, despite its delicate demeanour Dicentra spectabilis is surprisingly tough and more than capable of surviving in a northern European climate. They will perform best planted in a moist and cool climate, planted into any well-drained soil enriched with moss-peat or leaf mold. Keep them sheltered from late spring frosts, strong winds and the midday sun.  It can be grow in full sun, but in warmer and drier climates it will require some shade.The heart-shaped flowers will appear in May and June.

Dicentra spectabilis can be propagated by division from October and March. Divide and replant the roots during suitable weather. It can also be grown from seed but only that which has been freshly collected. Sow in seed trays using a good quality compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting' and keep at a germination temperature of 15 degrees Celsius.

Prick out the seedlings into 3 inch pots and harden them off in a cold frame for a few weeks before planting them out into their final position outside.

For related articles click onto the following links:
DICENTRA CUCULLARIA - Dutchman's Breeches
HOW TO GROW DICENTRA SPECTABILIS
HOW TO GROW THE BLEEDING HEART - Dicentra spectabilis
THE LADY IN THE BATH FLOWER

THE LADY IN THE BATH FLOWER

Dicentra spectabilis - 'The lady in the Bath'




It is a flowering plant that you may well be familiar with, but the obscure common name for Dicentra spectabilis - 'The lady in the Bath' - couldn't be more perfect!

Reminiscent of a Victorian, roll-top bath, the pink outer petals open up to reveal an elongated protective structure within. With a little imagination this white structure appears to be a willowy figure sitting up in the bath.

Dicentra spectabilis - 'The lady in the Bath'
Of course, the above image has been inverted to prove the aptness of the 'Lady in the Bath' common name, but in nature the flower hangs downwards on arching flower stems. Viewing each flower the correct way up, and not quite so 'blown', they strikingly resemble the conventional heart shape, with a droplet beneath - hence the more popular common name - Bleeding Heart.

Native to Siberia, northern China, Korea and Japan, Dicentra spectabilis (now correctly named as Lamprocapnos spectabilis), the 'Lady in the Bath' was introduced into England in the 1840's from Japan by the Scottish botanist and plant hunter Robert Fortune.

It requires a moist and cool climate which makes it ideal for growing in a northern European climate. Dicentra spectabilis will happily grow in full sun, but in warmer and drier climates it will requires some shade to prevent scorching.

These images are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

For related articles click onto the following links:
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HOW TO GROW DICENTRA SPECTABILIS
HOW TO GROW THE BLEEDING HEART - Dicentra spectabilis
THE LADY IN THE BATH FLOWER

PASSIFLORA ALATA

PASSIFLORA ALATA




Passiflora alata is arguably the most exotic and impressive of all the passion flower species. Like other species from the passiflora family, Passiflora alata is an evergreen vine, growing to 20 ft or more. It is well known in folk medicine throughout South America because of its sedative and tranquilizer activities. However, the exact pharmacological composition of the plant is little understood

PASSIFLORA ALATA
It is native to the Amazon, from Peru to eastern Brazil, and bears an egg-shaped, yellow to bright orange, edible fruit which is prized by local people.

Its subtropical to tropical origins mean that it is not suitable for growing outside in a northern European garden as it does not cope well with temperatures below 4 degrees Celsius. Even so,it may survive outside in warmer areas if the wood has been well-ripened in summer.

In cooler areas, Passiflora alata is better off grow in a greenhouse border or a large container filled with a loam-based potting compost. Place in full light, but with some shade to protect it from scorching from hot sun. Ventilate freely when temperatures exceed 21 degrees Celsius, and keep the atmosphere humid by damping down the floor. Syringe the flowers to encourage the fruits to set.

No feeding is required but a light annual mulch in March of well-rotted compost or farm-manure. In winter keep the plants just on the moist side, but you can water freely during the spring and summer.

Passiflora alata has been given an Award of Garden Merit (AGM), by the Royal Horticultural Society which is given to plants of outstanding excellence.

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THE ANGEL ORCHID

Angel orchid - sumukha 13@gmail.com





Native to the open high altitude grasslands of southern India, the Angel orchid - Habenaria Grandifloriformis is one of the gems of the orchid world. First described in 1932 by the scientists Blatt and McCann, it is a small terrestrial herb, growing to about 5 inches high. During the growing season it usually produces just a single, heart shaped and rounded leaf which lies flat on the ground.

Angel orchid blooms
The exquisite flowers are white in 1-5 bundles with bilobed petals and if you look closely enough bare a striking resemblance to a cloaked angel! The flowers, which are mildly fragrant, are produced June to July and is one of the first orchids to flower at the the onset of monsoons.

The Angel orchid is rarely seen in cultivation, but as a rule they are best grown in deep pots in a well drained medium consisting of 50% river sand, 40% leaf mulch and 10% vermiculite. Plant the tubers at about 4 inches deep and keep in a temperate environment with 50-70% shading and excellent ventilation.

Water the Angel orchid regularly during the growing season, from spring to autumn. As soon as autumn cooling sets in reduce watering to once every two weeks. During cold winter months you will need to stop watering altogether. The compost needs to be dry but not so dry that the compost dehydrates completely. To prevent this, occasionally drench the pot and allow once more to dry. Only after new shoots emerge at the end of winter should you commence watering, but only then once every two weeks for the spring and then once or twice a week as required during the summer. A slow release fertilizer can be applied during spring.

The Angel flower can be prone to infestation from aphids.

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THE WORLD'S BIGGEST SPIDER




Up until recently, the title holder for the World's Largest Spider was well and truly established. It was held by the Goliath birdeater, a massive spider from the upland rainforest regions of northern South America and a member of the tarantula family. While it is still considered to be the world's biggest spider according to its mass, there is a new kid on the block which easily trumps it in sheer size - the Giant Huntsman spider!

The Giant Huntsman Spider recent discovery was in 2001 in a Cave in Laos. It is the largest member of the Sparassidae family, boasting an impressive 1.8 inches body-length and an incredible 12 inch leg-span which makes it about the size of a dinner plate!

These Giant Huntsman spiders are often mistaken for tarantulas because of their size, however you can easily tell them apart because of their unique crab-like legs which allow them to move side to side with incredible speed and agility.

Although they can produce silk these spiders don't usually build webs. As their name suggests, the Giant Huntsman tends to stalk and hunt down their prey. When they attack they inject venom into their prey, but because spiders are unable to 'eat' their victims as they have a narrow gut that can only cope with liquid food. They pump digestive enzymes from the midgut into the prey and then suck the liquefied tissues of the prey into the gut, eventually leaving behind the empty husk of the prey.

The Giant Huntsman mainly feeds on insects and small lizard, but sometimes bigger predators such as birds or geckos can themselves become prey.

Luckily, their venom is not fatal to humans though their bite is very painful. Symptoms can include some swelling of the skin, nausea, vomiting and headaches.

These spiders only live about 2 years and amazingly they're able to regenerate lost limbs.

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THE ORCHID MANTIS

THE ORCHID MANTIS



When it comes plant mimicry, the Orchid Mantis - Hymenopus coronatus is undeniably one of the very best. It is a native to the rainforests of southeast Asia (including Malaysia and Indonesia), and is just one of several species known as flower mantises, so called because of their resemblance and behaviour to the local flora.

THE ORCHID MANTIS
Most orchid mantises are white, but there is a pink to purplish colour morph that is very popular with collectors.

They are also characterized by an exoskeleton that has been highly adapted for camouflage. This combination is used to great effect, mimicking parts of the orchid flower.

The four walking legs have specialised lobes which resemble flower petals, while these lobes are not present on the toothed front pair of legs they are still camouflaged in colour and used for grasping prey as seen in other mantises.

Amazingly, the orchid mantis can change its colour between pink and brown, depending on the colour of the background.

Its natural habitat consists of white and pink flowers in bushes and small trees. In this way the mantis can remain unseen for predators such as birds and at the same time can catch pollinating insects that are attracted to the flowers.

THE ORCHID MANTIS
But while these impressive insects have evolved over millions of years to look like flowers, it is only to the human eye that this similarity to orchids exists as they do not in fact have a relationship with, or live on orchid plants.

When hunting, the orchid mantis climbs up and down the twigs of close plants until it finds one that has flowers.

It holds on to these with the claws of its two rearmost pairs of legs, then gently sways its body from side to side.

Various small flies will land on and around it. This is because they are attracted by a small black spot on the end of its abdomen which resembles a fly.

small flies are generally ignored, but when a larger fly approaches the mantis will seize it as soon as it is within in range of its front toothed legs. It is then immediately eaten.

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IMPATIENS NIAMNIAMENSIS - THE CONGO COCKATOO

Impatiens niamniamensis - the 'Congo Cockatoo'






Impatiens niamniamensis is truly a marvel as far as exotic plants go. Commonly known as the 'Congo Cockatoo' it is an evergreen, perennial species that grows 2 to 3 feet tall, but give it the right environmental conditions and it can potentially reach a height of up to 4 feet!

Impatiens niamniamensis - the 'Congo Cockatoo'
It is a native to tropical Africa and as such makes it unsuitable for growing in northern Europe, unless you can provide protection of the winter months.

While it will need growing temperatures above 45°F (7°C), it is surprisingly tough and can survive down to about 35°F (2°C). However that is a little close to the bone as it is easily damaged by the lightest of frosts.

What truly sells this plant are its incredibly bright and colourful, shrimp-shaped flowers. Each large, 1½ inch blooms is painted scarlet red and yellow, with a lime green hood.  Surprisingly, these exotic blooms emerge all over the plant in an explosion of blooms, even on the old wood!.

Once established, the frame of the plant develops into a stocky, open habit reminiscent of a bonsai tree.

Impatiens niamniamensis - the 'Congo Cockatoo'
This is enhanced as the green, new growth matures to a more acceptable brown. Like other large specimen impatiens the stems are actually succulent and flexible.

As tropical plants go Impatiens niamniamensis requires little maintenance so long as you can provide high humidity and plant it into a really well-drained soil. It will need to be kept out of direct sunlight to prevent scorching, but bright shade or filtered sunlight is fine. Water as much as you like over the summer but when it is lifted and potted on for moving under protection over winter, allow the soil surface to dry out before watering again. Fortunately it grows well indoors in a pot so it is worth considering growing it as a houseplant.

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DICENTRA CUCULLARIA - Dutchman's Breeches

Dicentra cucullaria







Dicentra cucullaria is one of only 20 species of hardy herbaceous perennials from within the Dicentra genus. It is a graceful plant which produces arching sprays of pendulous, pure white, yellow tipped flowers in May and June.

It is a native to the woods of eastern North America, with isolated populations in the Columbia River Basin. These western populations have sometimes been separated under the different name of Dicentra occidentalis, because they display coarser growth.

Dicentra cucullaria - http://www.edpostphotography.com/
It grows to a height of around 6 inches but produces its 1 inch long flowers on flower stalks up to 14 inches long.

Its has a couple of common names, notably 'Dutchman's Breeches', but the most appropriate is the 'Falling Angel' which reflects the bi-lobed, wing shaped flower. With a little imagination they really do look like upside-down angels falling to earth.

Interestingly, the 'Falling Angel' has an unusual and 'less than angelic' way of propagation by seed. The seeds are spread by ants, in a process called known as myrmecochory. Each seed is contained within a fleshy organ, known as an elaiosome, which is attractive to ants. The ants collect the seeds and taken to their nest. They eat the elaiosomes, and afterwards remove the seeds which are taken and deposited in their nest debris. Here they are protected from being eaten until they germinate. They also get a head start by growing in a convenient 'compost medium' made rich by the nest debris.

For related articles click onto the following links:
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THE LADY IN THE BATH FLOWER

THE BRIGHT FUTURE OF GARDEN BUILDINGS

Garden buildings
Garden buildings are often seen as the preserve of wealthy landowners but the reality is somewhat different. Even the humble shed can be considered as a garden building, but while that may not set most people’s imagination on fire there are plenty more substantial offerings that will.
Quality and construction have both come a long way in recent years. This has meant that garden buildings are no longer just suitable for keeping the weather off of your tools and furniture, they are built to an extremely high quality making them robust, long lasting and adaptable. This is leading to something of a mini revolution in construction, design and the use of modern materials.

Garden buildings
We have seen the emergence of children's playhouses progress from simple modified sheds to large scale purpose built miniature houses. Whilst the prices of such luxurious toys may be out of reach to many of us, the cost of a full-sized, full-blown summerhouse or log cabin can be surprisingly inexpensive by comparison. In fact, with the added investment of electric, plumbing and drainage you can create a spacious office or a 'home from home' for the fraction of the cost of a mobile office or brick built extension!

However for some ordering a cabin from a catalogue does not have the exclusivity they seek. But that doesn't mean there is no other choice.

Given the space, planning permission and appropriate budget and you can go as far as building a fully stocked gym with changing rooms, conference halls or even a small scale education facility! Just make sure you get permission from your husband or wife first before you start signing the cheques.

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HOW TO GROW POMEGRANATE FROM CUTTINGS

Pomegranate tree - Kris Peterson




Puncia is a small genus containing only two species. Of these two, Punica granatum, commonly known as the Pomegranate, is the only one in general cultivation.

The pomegranate is a slow-growing, small tree which is native to Afghanistan, however is is cultivated and naturalised through the Mediterranean and the warmer regions of temperate Europe.

Taking cuttings from pomegranates is a relatively easy affair. There are two techniques employed, one for direct striking for warm Mediterranean climates and one for use under protection in northern European countries.

Propagation for Mediterranean climates

Pomegranate blooms
Cuttings are taken over winter from mature, one year old wood. Using a sharp, sterilised blade take as many 12-20 inches long cuttings as you require. All the leaves should be removed and the cuttings should be treated at the base with rooting hormone powder. Tap off an excess powder and insert the cuttings about two-thirds their length into well-drained soil either in a prepared bed or at their permanent position. Whichever you choose make sure that the cutting material is in a sunny position.

Those in the prepared bed can be lifted in 18-24 months once they have become dormant in preparation for winter. Once lifted they can be potted on into 10 litre pots using a good quality, well-drained potting compost or planted on into their final position.

Propagation for northern European climates

Pomegranate cuttings - http://westernfarmpress.com/orchard-crops/
Using a sharp, sterilised blade take 6 inch long cuttings of half-ripened lateral shoots with a heel in late July. Insert the cuttings in equal parts (by volume) moss peat and sand into a propagating frame at 16-18 degrees Celsius.

Once they have rooted, pot them into 3 inch pots containing a well-drained, good quality compost such as John Innes 'No 2', and over-winter them under protection such as a frost-free greenhouse.

Come the spring, repot into 4-5 inch pots and grow them on for a year. They will be ready for planting out or potting on in April or May of the following year.

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THE POMEGRANATE  -  Punica granatum

CLEMATIS CIRRHOSA species and cultivars

Clematis cirrhosa




Clematis cirrhosa is an exquisite, evergreen climber that is native to the the sun-kissed lands of the Mediterranean. It was originally introduced to England from the Balearic Islands (found off the southern coast of Spain) in 1783.

Clematis cirrhosa
There is a specific variety of Clematis cirrhosa that is indigenous to the Balearic islands - Clematis cirrhosa var. balearica. Commonly called the Fern-leaved Clematis, this attractive and valuable species can be found on Majorca, Minorca, Corsica and Sardinia, growing along roadsides and in scrub. This particular variety produces pale yellow, spotted reddish-purple flowers throughout the winter.

Clematis cirrhosa has a habit of throwing out different colour variations in its flowers that can range from pure white or cream to those which are lightly speckled with red inside and occasionally some which are so heavily painted in red that the stain shows through to the backs of the petals.

These variations are clear in the named forms of 'Jingle Bells' (pure white with no spots); 'Wisley Cream' (creamy white, sometimes tinted green); 'Ourika Valley' (a prolific pale yellow); 'Freckles' (cream with bold red markings); 'Lansdowne Gem' (almost completely red); as well as var. balearica (creamy white, with a scattering of dainty reddish-brown speckles).

Clematis cirrhosa
Like all early-flowering clematis, it requires little pruning other than the removal of any dead or damaged growth after flowering. If you are growing it in a northern European climate then you will need to provide a warm, sheltered position to encourage it to flower well. It prefers full sun and will thrive in any fertile, well-drained soil.

When planting pot grown plants, plant with the crown 2–3 inches deeper than the soil surface to encourage shoots to grow from below ground level. In colder, more northern regions you may need to grow Clematis cirrhosa in a container and overwinter in a greenhouse or conservatory

But this isn't just a plant to be appreciated by gardeners, the local wildlife will benefit too! Finches will feed on the seeds themselves, while other birds will use the fluffy seed heads as nesting material in the spring. Perhaps more importantly the flowers provide early season nectar for foraging insects

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THE STARFISH FLOWER - Stapelia flavopurpurea

THE STARFISH FLOWER - Stapelia flavopurpurea






The Starfish flower - Stapelia flavopurpurea is one of the plant kingdoms great oddities. Native to the regions of Namibia, Botswana and the Northern Cape of South Africa, it is a species of plant from the Apocynaceae family.

The most interesting feature of this species is it striking, starfish shaped flowers which are produced by the plant in summer or autumn, depending on the seasonal temperatures. They range from a bright yellow to greenish colour and have a fragrance reminiscent of liquorice. However, others believe it is more like beeswax!

THE STARFISH FLOWER - Stapelia flavopurpurea
The genus name 'Stapelia' was named after Johannes van Stapel, who published drawings and descriptions of the first Stapelia discovered - Orbea variegata. The species name 'flavopurpurea' derives from the Latin words 'flavus' meaning 'yellow' and 'purpureus' meaning 'purple.

The Starfish flower is not hardy and so if you are growing it in northern Europe then you will need to keep under protection as you would a typical house plant. While it may look like a cactus it is in fact a perennial succulent. It can be grown in a standard cactus compost, in bright, filtered light, with low humidity. During the growing season it can be watered moderately and fed every two or three weeks with a balanced liquid feed. Keep almost dry in the winter but water sparingly occasionally to prevent the stems from wrinkling.

The Starfish flower is easily propagated by taking cuttings of stem sections after the plant has flowered, but allow cut surface to callous over before planting.

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The Starfish Flower - Stapelia flavopurpurea

THE FLYING DUCK ORCHID

 Flying duck orchid flower




If you have never come across the Flying Duck orchid before then you can be forgiven for thinking that it is a photoshopped fake. But I kid you not, the Flying duck orchid - Caleana major is a genuine species of small orchid, however because of the small size, it is very difficult to spot in the wild. The Flying duck orchid is native to eastern and southern Australia, and even then it is only found in eucalyptus woodland, in swampy shrub and heath land by the coast.

 Flying duck orchid blooms
Each reddish-brown flower is 15 to 20 mm long, although in rare cases, the flowers can be greenish with dark spots. They are produced from September to January.

As you can see in the main image this terrestrial plant features a remarkably complex flower, which resembles a duck in flight. The peculiar flower shape as evolved to attract insects, such as male sawflies. From the side, as humans we see the flower as a duck, but the male sawfly perceives the flower as a female sawfly and tries to mate with it.

The beak-shaped labellum is in effect a sensitive trap is attached to the main body of the flower. It is triggered by the vibration caused by the insect landing on it. This trap springs down on to it, trapping the insect in place, and the only way out is backward over the pollen.

Once it breaks free, the beak-shaped labellum returns to its normal position and in doing so the male sawfly unwittingly pollinates the flower. This as a process known as pseudocopulation. Put simply, pseudocopulation is the name given to a reproductive function for one or both participants but which does not involve actual sexual union between the individuals.

Unfortunately it isn't yet possible to propagate the Flying Duck orchid, and this is because its roots have a symbiotic relationship with a specialist fungus only found in its native habitat.

For related articles click onto the following links:
CEROPEGIA AMPLIATA - The Bushman's Pipe
CHARLES DARWIN'S FAVOURITE ORCHID - Catasetum species
HOW TO GROW THE HYACINTH ORCHID - Bletilla striata
How to Grow Monkey face Orchids from Seed - A Warning!
HOW TO FEED ORCHIDS
HOW TO REPOT AN ORCHID
HOW TO WATER ORCHIDS
MONKEY FACE ORCHIDS
SCHOMBURGKIA EXALTATA
THE ANGEL ORCHID
THE BEE ORCHIDS
THE BUTTERFLY ORCHID - Psychopsis papilio
THE FIREWHEEL TREE - Stenocarpus sinuatus
THE FLYING DUCK ORCHID
THE VAMPIRE ORCHID - Catasetum macrocarpum
WHAT IS AN ORCHID?

THE SECRET TO HARD LANDSCAPING

resin wood effect decking
The secret to hard landscaping








If you are planning on designing a garden then hard landscaping is always going to be a key factor. In fact, without hard landscaping you would have no paths, walls, raised beds, fences nor almost any other feature.

Hard landscaping is essential to a garden as it gives you privacy, structure and functionality. It can make a small garden appear bigger whilst in a larger garden it can break up and define the space. Put simply, hard landscaping is the very bones of a gardens design. Get it right and you can create a paradise!

stone patio with fossil effect
The secret to hard landscaping
Sometimes hard landscaping is required out of necessity rather than for aesthetic reasons. These can include the building of a retaining wall to prevent soil movement, or to create a hard standing surface for car parking. Paths both protect lawns and lead you to areas of interest, whilst sloping gardens can be tamed with terracing.

Garden structures can add depth and interest to a garden, so design your garden to include space for outbuildings and seating.  Ponds and fountains can become a focal point, whilst pergolas and covered walkways can provide welcome shade. Driveways and slopes can often be difficult to get right and rather than tarmac (don't even consider concrete!), block paving can be laid to the exact dimensions giving a bespoke look and a very smart first impression.

You can improve the flow of a garden if you use similar materials throughout it. You can experiment with different patterns of brickwork which can be used in buildings, pathways or even raised planters.  Repeating small details can add your personality to your garden, and make it stand out from others. Paving materials such as cobbles, brick, railway sleepers, block paving and gravel can be used to define smaller areas within your garden. Experiment with colours and patterns to achieve a unique look.

greek patterned patio
The secret to hard landscaping
But there is no need to settle for solely utilitarian materials because with a little thought you can add flair to these more mundane works. You can choose from the traditional such a brick, gravel, rock or stone, concrete, and timber, to the more modern such as heavy duty plastics and rubbers, bitumen, glass, and metals.

In fact if you can imagine it, then you can probably build it, just so long as your budget is a large as you imagination. Do your research, and not only can you enhance the look of your property, you can be adding thousands to its value. However if you are landscaping the front of your property then it is always best to try and fit in with the rest of the properties on your street otherwise you can risk losing value.

For related articles click onto the following links:
THE SECRET TO HARD LANDSCAPING

HOW TO GROW SALVIA PATENS FROM SEED

Salvia patens




Salvia patens is undoubtedly one of the very best blue flowering plants. A native to the temperate and subtropical zones of Mexico, when you consider their late summer/early autumn flowering period there is little else that can compete with the richness of its colour. So good is it that both the species and its cultivar 'Cambridge blue' have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

Unfortunately, Salvia patens is frost tender and can only be grown outside in the very warmest regions of northern Europe. This means that it can be a difficult plant to source. However the seed from this gorgeous species is relatively easy to obtain, and as far as I am concerned well worth cultivating.

Salvia patens
Sow Salvia patens seed from February to March in pots, or trays containing a good quality compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting'.

You will need to provide heat in order to help initiate germination so place the pots or trays into a heated propagator at approximately 18 degrees Celsius.

Do not exclude light as this helps germination, and keep the surface of the compost moist but not waterlogged. The newly germinated seedling should emerge from 14 to 30 days.

Prick out the seedlings once they are large enough to handle and pot on into individual 3 inch pots.

Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10-15 days before planting out after all risk of frost had gone. If you are planting in groups, space 18 inches apart.

Cultivation

In the colder areas of northern Europe Salvia patens can only be considered as a half hardy annual, but in the warmer, southern regions it can be grown as a short lived perennial so long as they are planted in sheltered conditions.

It require a warm, sunny position, and to be on the safe side, plant out Salvia patens at the end of May, in ordinary, well-drained garden soil.

Pinch out the growing tips of young plants, once they reach 2-3 inches high, as this will encourage branching.

For related articles click onto:
HOW TO GROW THE GOLDEN SHRIMP PLANT - Pachystachys lutea
HOW TO GROW SALVIA DISCOLOR
HOW TO GROW SALVIA PATENS FROM SEED
HOW TO GROW THE SHRIMP PLANT
SALVIA DISCOLOR
SALVIA PATENS

THE WHITE EGRET FLOWER - Pecteilis radiata







The White Egret flower - Pecteilis radiata (previously known as Habenaria radiata), is one of Japan’s best known flowering plants. And why wouldn't it be as its flower does indeed look like a snowy egret with its plumage puffed out.

It is a delicate terrestrial species of orchid, and despite being a popular, well known species it is becoming endangered in the wild.

A genuine snowy Egret
Native to China, Japan, Korea and Russia the White Egret flower is usually found in marshy but well-drained soil that dries out in the autumn.

Purchased as small, pea sized tubers, the White Egret flower can be planted directly into the garden as long as you water it well throughout the growing season.

It prefers, cool, damp conditions in a sunny spot. It will even take a certain amount of light shade!

Fertilize lightly with 10-20% of the recommended dosage of an all-purpose plant food once or twice as the flower shoots emerge. The exquisite white flowers are then produced on flower spikes that are between 5-9 inches long, occasionally longer.

They will not survive the cold winters of northern Europe but they are easily saved by digging up the tubers, before freezing temperatures arrive.

Once lifted, dry them out and plant into either sphagnum moss or moss-peat. Store in a cool, frost-free environment and dampened down the peat once a month to prevent the corms from drying out entirely.

Alternatively, you can plant the White Egret Flower into containers, but make sure that there is plenty of drainage by placing a layer of pot shards or clay pellets in the bottom.

You will need to improve the drainage of the potting soil too, but this is easily achieved by mixing in 30% by volume horticultural grit, perlite or vermiculite. Plant the tubers on the surface of the pot and 10 cm apart. Give it a light covering of soil and press firmly down. Water generously immediately after planting, and continue to do so throughout the growing season.

Click onto the following links for related articles:
How to Grow Monkey face Orchids from Seed - A Warning!
HOW TO GROW THE HYACINTH ORCHID - Bletilla striata
HOW TO FEED ORCHIDS
HOW TO REPOT AN ORCHID
HOW TO WATER ORCHIDS
SCHOMBURGKIA EXALTATA
THE ANGEL ORCHID
THE FLYING DUCK ORCHID
THE VAMPIRE ORCHID - Catasetum macrocarpum
THE WHITE EGRET FLOWER - Pecteilis radiata
WHAT IS AN ORCHID?

DEVIL'S FINGERS - Clathrus archeri

DEVIL'S FINGERS - Clathrus archeri





When it come to creepy looking plants, Clathrus archeri has creeps to spare. Commonly known as Devil's Fingers (or the rather less scary name of Octopus Stinkhorn), it is a native to Australia and Tasmania, although it has become an introduced species in Europe, North America and Asia.

DEVIL'S FINGERS - Clathrus archeri
The above image is a particular favourite as it shows the fungus just before the fingers open up. In this instance it looks so much like a disembodied hand that it beggars belief. It even as the remnants of its tattered sleeves attached to the wrist!

Of course you can see from the accompanying images that it is misleading to call it a plant. It is in fact an edible fungus, and I say edible in so far as it should only be eaten in a wilderness survival circumstance when no other food is available.

The young fungus erupts from a partly buried white ball known as a sub-erumpent egg by forming into four to seven elongated slender arms initially erect and attached at the top.

The arms then unfold to reveal a pinkish-red interior covered with a dark-olive spore-containing gleba. In maturity it smells of putrid flesh and thereby attract flies which unwittingly spread the spores and therefore proliferate the species.

For related articles click onto the following links:
DEVIL'S FINGERS - Clathrus archeri


JAPANESE BLOOD GRASS - Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron'

JAPANESE BLOOD GRASS - Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron'






Ornamental grasses have both structure and grace, and there are a huge number to choose from. However, they do have one major drawback, and that is they do lack the colour of more traditional foliage plants. At least that is true save for one example, the stunning Imperata cylindrica 'Red baron'- the Japanese Bloodgrass.

JAPANESE BLOOD GRASS
This unique perennial grass is a native to east and southeast Asia, India, Micronesia, Melanesia, Australia, and eastern and southern Africa. As exotic as it is, the Japanese Blood grass is hardy enough to be grown in the warmer regions of northern Europe. And while it is solely grown in the west for ornamental purposes, the less colourful species is used for paper-making, thatching, weaving into mats and bags, thatching the roofs of traditional homes throughout south-east Asia. It is also used in traditional Chinese medicine.

It develops its brightest blood-red colouring when grown in full sun and is best seen where the sun is behind it. It will remains attractive until late autumn until it goes dormant in the winter. While the young flowering shoots are edible, the Japanese Blood grass will rarely flower in the cooler climates of northern Europe.

The Japanese Blood grass is best grown in damp and very humus rich soil that will remain moist throughout in summer. If it is grown in soil that is kept too dry then it has a habit of slowly fading away.

The clumps spread slowly by underground by means of runners. Cut back to ground in early spring to expose more of the new seasons foliage.

For related articles click onto the following links:
FESTUCA GLAUCA - The Blue Fescue
JAPANESE BLOOD GRASS - Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron'
WHAT IS ELEPHANT GRASS?


ARISTOLOCHIA SALVADOR PLATENSIS




You are going to have to go a long way to find a flower more sinister than the amazing Aristolochia salvador platensis. Looking like a Halloween death mask, or even Darth Vader's full-face helmet, this species is so rare that hardly anything is known about it. These particular images are all that most will come across and were taken at the Jardin botanique de Lyon, France.


It is a member of the Aristolochiaceae family which includes over 500 species. Its members are commonly known as birthworts, pipevines or Dutchman's pipes and are widespread and occur in the most of the world's diverse climates.

Native to Brazil, this large woody climber can be found in open flood plains. In fact its descriptive name 'platensis' means wet sedgy meadows.

It has a smooth bark and its distinctive mask shaped flowers are produced from April until June. Each flower has distinctive cream-coloured 'eye sockets'  fringed with succulent purple hairs.

There is good reason behind the conspicuous shape and  purple patterning of the flowers. This because they are intended to both look and smell like rotting flesh, something they achieve with nauseating excellence. This mimicry has evolved in order to attract its insect pollinators.

The membrane at the back of the 'eye sockets' is extremely thin and allows light through. These act like a tiny windows and attracts pollinating insects which fly towards this creamy light.

This area houses the sexual parts of the flower, and once inside the insect is imprisoned by specialist downward facing hairs.

When the insect has been trapped for long enough it will become covered in pollen. The imprisoning hairs wither and the insect is free to go and pollinate another flower.

For related articles click onto the following link:

WHEN DO YOU HARVEST BUTTERNUT SQUASH

Butternut squash





The butternut squash is a bit of a new-kid-on-the-block when it comes to the allotments of northern European, however it is easy to grow and definitely worth the effort in both flavour, texture and productivity. It will also store well and actually improves in taste the longer you leave it in the field. Like many crops though, leave it too long and it can be damaged by frosts or eaten by mice. So the question is this, when is the best time to harvest butternut squash?

To start with it’s best to leave the majority of your crop on the vine until late September or October to make sure that the skins have thickened up enough for winter storage, but keep an eye on the overnight temperatures to make sure you pick your butternut squash crop before the first frost.

Butternut squash - www.grosvenorgardencentre.co.uk/
You will know that they are ready when the butternut squash have turned a deep, solid tan colour and the rind has hardened up. To make sure, you can test it by gently pushing your thumbnail into the skin. If you can leave a dent without it puncturing then it is ready for harvest.

When picking butternut squash, cut it from the vine with a sharp knife, leaving about two inches of stem still attached to the squash. This will dry off and prevent bacteria entering the squash through the temporary soft spot where the stem once was. If you don't leave a length of stem the you are at risk of your squash rotting off. Any bruised squash should be eaten as soon as possible as they will not store well.

After harvesting butternut squash, they will need to be cured for storage. Let the squash sit at room temperature for a week or two to fully harden the skin, but please them outdoors as they will be vulnerable do damage from insects and small mammals.

Once cured, the fruit can be stored in a cool, frost free environment such as a basement or garage. Properly stored, your butternut squash harvest should last from three to six months.

For related articles click onto the following links:
HOW TO COLLECT AND PREPARE BUTTERNUT SQUASH SEEDS FOR PROPAGATION
HOW TO GROW BUTTERNUT SQUASH FROM SEED
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WHEN DO YOU HARVEST BUTTERNUT SQUASH
WHEN DO YOU HARVEST PARSNIPS

THE PLANT HUNTERS

The plant hunters







Our gardens are not just a piece of land used for growing flowers or vegetables; they are a genuine reflection of our cultural history.

Arguably our taste for the exotic was first ignited by the Romans when they arrived on (invaded) our shores in AD 43. Like many soldiers they brought with them the comforts of home. It was after tasting the rare delights of plums, walnuts, roses and parsley, to name just a few, that the British brought into the pioneering spirit and began searching the planet for plants that can be put to good use back home.

Sir Francis Drake
Sir Francis Drake
Global expeditions are of course an expensive business. With the rise of British fortunes during the reign of Elizabeth I finances became available.

To defend against the threat of a Spanish invasion Sir Francis Drake was sent to the Pacific coast of the Americas. In between terrorizing and hijacking ships of the Spanish fleet, he found time to return to England with the potato and tobacco.

So economically important were theses two plants that they subsequently fuelled the rise of the British Empire.

Fifty years later and the pumpkin, pineapple, runner beans, sweet corn, and the tomato (considered to be a highly suspicious crop at them time) had been introduced to England. Furthermore, over 100 newly discovered North American species of tree were being grown in the grand estates of Great Britain.

The problem is that searching the globe for economically viable plants can come with considerable risk!

Mutiny on the Bounty - 1789

Mutiny on the Bounty - 1789
Mutiny on the Bounty - 1789
Perhaps the notorious botanical mission was Captain Bligh's ill-fated voyage aboard HMS Bounty in 1787. In order to win a premium offered by the Royal Society he sailed to Tahiti to obtain breadfruit trees. These were to be collected as viable potted specimens and taken to the Caribbean where they were needed for food research.

However the HMS Bounty never reached the Caribbean as the infamous mutiny broke out on board shortly after the ship left Tahiti.

Plant hunting continued throughout the centuries but it became an obsession during the reign of Queen Victoria. If it wasn't for those early Victorian plant hunters many of the plants that we see in our gardens today may never have been discovered.

David Douglas 1799 – 1834

David Douglas 1799 – 1834
David Douglas 1799 – 1834
David Douglas was a Scottish botanist who made three separate trips from England to North America, although the second expedition starting in 1824 was his most successful.

The Royal Horticultural Society sent him back on a plant-hunting expedition in the Pacific Northwest and this ranks among the great botanical explorations of a heroic generation. In the Spring of 1826 David Douglas was compelled to climb a peak near Athabasca Pass to take in the view and in so doing he became the first mountaineer in North America.

His success was well beyond society's expectations.  He introduced over 240 species of plants to Britain but most famously the Douglas-fir in 1827. Other notable introductions include Sitka Spruce, Sugar Pine, Western White Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Monterey Pine, Grand Fir, Noble Fir and several other conifers that transformed the British landscape and timber industry. In addition he discovered numerous garden shrubs and herbs such as the Ribes sanguineum, Salal, Lupin, Penstemon and California poppy. Douglas paid for his discoveries with his life at the age of 35. He was killed under suspicious circumstances in Hawaii after 'falling' into a pit dug to trap wild bullocks.

Robert Fortune 1812 – 1880

Robert Fortune 1812 – 1880
Robert Fortune 1812 – 1880
Robert Fortune was a Scottish botanist, plant hunter and traveller who introduced many new and exotic flowers and plants to Europe.

He was employed in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and later in the Horticultural Society of London's garden at Chiswick.

Following the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, Fortune was sent out by the Horticultural Society to collect plants in China.

His most famous accomplishment was the introduction of tea plants from politically volatile China to British-controlled Assam in 1848. As a result of his mission success, the British gained a large, highly profitable industry and they were able to manufacture tea throughout the world.

He stayed in China for about two and a half years, from 1848 to 1851, often disguised as a Chinese merchant during his journeys.

Not only was Fortune's purchase of tea plants forbidden by the Chinese government of the time, but his travels were also beyond the allowable day's journey from the European treaty ports.

Fortune travelled to some areas of China that had seldom been visited by Europeans, including remote areas of Fujian, Guangdong, and Jiangsu provinces.

Ernest "Chinese" Wilson 1876 – 1930

Ernest "Chinese" Wilson 1876 – 1930
Ernest "Chinese" Wilson 1876 – 1930
Ernest "Chinese" Wilson introduced a large range of about 2000 of Asian plant species to the West. Some sixty species still bear his name, and over 100 have received the First-Class Certificate or Awards of Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society of London.

He discovered the majority of his new species growing in the Min Valley in southwest China. in 1903 and 1908.

In 1910 he again returned to the Min valley, but this time his leg was crushed during an avalanche of boulders as he was carried along the trail in his sedan chair. The injury left him with a limp for the rest of his life.

In recognition of his service to horticulture he received many awards such as the Victoria Medal of Honour of the Royal Horticultural Society of London in 1912, the Veitch Memorial Medal, and the George Robert White Memorial Medal of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

Reginald Farrer 1880 – 1920

Reginald Farrer 1880 – 1920
Reginald Farrer 1880 – 1920
Reginald Farrer was a traveller and plant collector. He travelled to Asia in search of a variety of plants, many of which he brought back to England and planted near his home village of Clapham, North Yorkshire.

He liked to paint plants in situ, and often perched on a mountain ledge. Some of his watercolours show a village in the distance or a waterfall; partly to give some idea of the plant's favoured habitat and partly, one suspects, to record the emotional moment of discovery. He also published a number of books, although is best known for 'My Rock Garden'.

Unfortunately Farrer was a prickly, arrogant character who was cast off by his own family after he converted to Buddhism in 1907. He also had a great sense of his own worth.

Despite his character faults he was perhaps the bravest of all the plant hunters. Travelling through northern China with William Purdom in 1914, the party was knowingly travelling just a few days ahead of a notorious bandit army. Six years later, Farrer died there at the age of 40, supposedly of diphtheria (though some said it was alcohol poisoning).

George Forrest 1873–1932

 George Forrest 1873–1932

George Forrest 1873–1932
The greatest collector of all was arguably George Forrest, the foremost collector of Yunnan flora. He amassed hundreds of species of rhododendron and other shrubs and perennials. He brought back approximately 31,000 plant specimens and the name forrestii still adorns more than thirty plant genus.

In 1924 George Forrest also discovered Camellia saluenensis, which formed the basis of the hardy Williams hybrid camellias which we grow in gardens all over the UK. He died of a heart attack in Yunnan in 1932 after a plant hunting career that included fighting off xenophobic Tibetan "lamas" and succumbing to malaria.

What motivated the plant hunters was not personal gain, as very few became rich. They were not even motivated by fame as their names are only really familiar to keen gardeners through the plants they bequeathed to us. Their driving force was a passion for their subject and a spirit of adventure. It is easy to see when we look round at our great gardens that we owe them a great debt of gratitude.

For related articles click onto the following links:
Camellia japonica 'Desire'
THE PLANT HUNTERS
WHAT IS HORTICULTURE?