Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Hibiscus hunting - WOW!!

Well, it's time for me to leave Florida now and return home to the UK, but I got up really early this morning and decided to go hibiscus hunting. I couldn't believe how many of these magnificent flowers I found and they come in every shape and colour!

Glorious white in the morning light

Mellow yellow, with a bright red heart

Gorgeous pale pink....

Darker pink with a blood red veins....

Blood red - the colour of your heart

I'm sorry to say that I know nothing about hibiscus at all except that they are incredibly lovely flowers and I've really enjoyed looking at them during my time here, so I thought it might be helpful to give you some addresses, if you'd like to know more about them.

The American Hibiscus Society is based right here in Florida; there's also an International Hibiscus Society and in Australia, there's the Hibiscus Society of Queensland. I'm sorry if I've missed out on other major societies, but I'm sure you'll let me know and in the meantime ... happy hibiscus hunting for all of those who are interested and I'll be posting again once I get home to England.

Monday, 28 September 2009

DO check opening times before you visit!!!

Today I tried to visit a garden that's been on my list for a while - Historic Spanish Point - on the Tamiami Trail, near Osprey and south of Sarasota. But I hadn't checked the website and if I had, I would have discovered that Monday is the one day of the week it's closed. Now I know why I always provide links for my readers, so you can check the opening days and times before you go to any of the gardens I write about. Shame I didn't do that myself!

But I found another beautiful garden in the making and can't wait to tell you about it, because once it's open, it's definitely going to be worth a visit - this is the former Burrows-Matson home (above), adjacent to Spanish Point, which sits in beautiful grounds overlooking Little Sarasota Bay, and which is currently being restored by the Sarasota Conservation Foundation. They will open the property later this year as a public community park, and work is already well underway.
Other plans for the site include a museum in the former mansion; an artist-in-residence programme (with artists staying on site in one of the restored properties); walking trail; and a cayak and canoe launching area. It's a truly wonderful location for all these activities and visitors will also be able to visit Spanish Point - on the days it's open! And of course, I was in heaven here, just as I am elsewhere in Florida, because you've got all the birds in the bay, including pelicans (like the one diving below), ospreys, and herons. I will certainly be keeping a close eye on this beautiful property and perhaps when I return later this year, I'll also get to see Spanish Point.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Blown away by Bok Tower!



Bok Tower Gardens in Florida has got to be one of the most special gardens that I've visited this year - it's spectacular, unusual, slightly haunting - especially when you hear the Carillon bells ring! And we chose quite a difficult day to visit - the temperature outside on the way there was 94F; the air-conditioning in my car chose to stop working; and then we encountered massive Florida thunderstorms later in the day (you can see the torrential rain for yourself later in this post!), which made both garden visiting and driving conditions challenging. But none of this made me think any less of this fabulous garden.


This is an extraordinary place - the brainchild of Edward Bok - a Dutch immigrant who made his fortune in publishing at the beginning of the 20th century as editor of "Ladies Home Journal" - one of the most successful publications of its era. He went on to become a Pulitzer Prize author. He was also a philanthropist and on 1st February 1929, the completed gardens and tower were donated by President Calvin Coolidge as a gift from Edward Bok to the American people. They now attract some 200,000 visitors a year (although you wouldn't have known that when I visited - a potentially rainy day in September is obviously a good time to dodge the crowds).

The Bok Tower has been described as "America's Taj Mahal" and sits on the highest point in Florida - formerly known as Iron Mountain. It has an outer facing of pink and gray Georgia marble and Florida coquina (a limestone of shell and coral fragments); a wonderful brass door that depicts the story of the creation; a magnificent sundial; and the famous bronze carillon bells - 60 in total - that sing out every day. It is an amazing sound, so if you are visiting, make sure you are there when the tower "sings".

The grounds cover 130 acres and you approach Bok up a long driveway through citrus groves - suddenly you see the tower ahead of you emerging through the trees. The gardens have been laid out around the tower and you find many different areas here, but the overwhelming feeling is one of peace.

There are benches everywhere for you to sit and enjoy the views; magnificent stepped borders reminiscent of England (until you look closer and realise that these are tropical plants, not English perennials); the Reflecting Pool, filled at this time of year with magnificent Victoria lilies - with their four-foot leaves (right) and an array of needle and cabbage palms (Florida's state tree). Everywhere you look there are stately oak trees with Spanish moss and also wonderful butterflies. This really is an extraordinary place and when the tower sings, the music will send shivers down your spine!

Eighty years on, Bok Tower Gardens have stood still in time and they will continue to do so following their designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1993. This is a really special place. Located near Florida's most famous tourist attraction - Disney World - this is a far cry from Mickey Mouse, and you will see and feel something really different here. But try and go on a sunny day - otherwise you will get soaked!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

A big thank-you to all my fellow Blotanists

I've only been here at Blotanical for a few months, but I do want to say a BIG thank-you to all of you who've helped me find my way around; made really nice comments on my posts; and sent me messages. But a specially big thank-you goes to Stuart, who spends so many hours sorting us all out; ironing out the problems on the site; and most importantly, for starting Blotanical, and creating a network that allows all us garden bloggers to communicate not just with one another, but with the world at large.

I'm really honoured to have been nominated in this year's awards, both in the Best Blog Name section and the Best UK Blog. I have to say that the name was easy to choose because I do indeed, GALLOP around the gardens I visit, and the blog just started somehow. I still make a lot of mistakes because my knowledge of computers really isn't up to scratch, and I can't tell you how many times I've started writing an entry and then lost it in the ether! Same seems to happen when I try and comment on other people's blogs, but I am learning. In fact, I'd love to put a link here to direct you all to the voting page, but I simply don't know how to.

Best of luck to all my fellow bloggers in this year's awards and I know I should be posting a plant photo today, but as I'm in the US, I still can't resist the evenings on the beach, watching the birds ... hence the photo with this post.

Just off to visit gardens now, so more later.

Charlotte AKA The Galloping Gardener

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Orchids and epiphytes galore ... a re-visit

For those of you who regularly read my blog, you will know that I have fallen in love with Botanical Gardens. My recent forays in the UK took me to both Oxford and Wales, but now I'm in the US, it would be a sin to miss out of The Marie Selby Botanical Garden, right here on my doorstep.

I did visit earlier this year when I was here and wrote: "This is such a wonderful place to visit to see specimens that you won't see growing in ordinary gardens in Sarasota. It's location is perfect, overlooking the bay, and for anyone interested in orchids, this is a must. The garden covers some nine acres and is a fine showcase for bromeliads and epiphytes (plants that live on other plants). And with the latter, you have to make sure that you keep looking up!"

The plants in the Tropical Display House (some shown here) are fantastic! I have to confess that I don't know a lot about orchids so to me they are just extraordinary plants that make wonderful pictures, but judging from the exclamations coming from visitors all around me, this collection is impressive. All I know is that I spent so long looking at them that I nearly got locked in at the end of the day!"

One of the features of this garden that I love best is that it's not just a feast for the eyes, but there are so many plants here that you just want to touch, because they're so incredibly tactile and attractive, particularly the leaves (below), the bark on the trees and the flowers themselves.


The gardens outside are fantastic - there are bamboo, palm and banyan groves; hibiscus, "succulent" and wildflower gardens; a Koi pond; magnificent displays of bromeliads and of course - the epiphytes - which made me walk into a bench because I was so busy looking up!

The gardens were established by William and Marie Selby - low-key millionaires who settled in Sarasota in 1909. The lived first on a houseboat and then moved into the house which is at the heart of the gardens. This is a wonderful place to spend a peaceful half-day and well worth taking a detour for if you're a gardener. It doesn't come cheap at $17.00 a head, but should be on every gardener's "Must See" list. And for those who decide that they are going to grow their own orchids, the shop has one of the best selections I've ever seen, but of course, as a UK resident, I can't take them home!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Oh to be in England now that autumn's there!

Can there be anywhere more glorious than England in the autumn? And the answer will undoubtedly be yes from readers all over the world. I notice that many of my fellow garden bloggers have been talking about autumn and featuring wonderful pictures on their sites recently and I just wanted to alert you all to one of the most beautiful British gardens so that you can plan a visit to view the spectacular autumn colours.

Sheffield Park in East Sussex is one of the most glorious gardens in the world to visit when the leaves change. It is a veritable riot of colour and will make your spirits soar high.

Designed by Capability Brown and mentioned in the Doomsday Book, this garden is an absolute must - it has the most amazing collection of trees, and the acers are at their finest in autumn.

That said, I'm hoping to get glimpses of the autumn colour here in the US later this week. I'm driving up to the Carolinas to stay with friends and am sure I'll see some fantastic changing colours en route, so do visit later in the week.

Sheffield Park is a National Trust property and if you check the website for opening times, you'll see that they are open seven days a week during the spectacular autumn leaf season (10.30 - 5.30 daily from 6th October) - not surprising, since this must rank among the top sites in the world to view the changing colours!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

The best things in life are free!

Today I visited the most charming garden and it was free. So too are the birds and the beaches that I am enjoying here in Florida. The Joan M. Durante Park is just off Gulf of Mexico Drive on Longboat Key and it is a charming 32-acre site which was taken over by the town in the 1980's after the donor, James Durante offered to restore the property in memory of his wife Joan. They have done a wonderful job and today the park includes a large mangrove forest, created wetlands, a salt marsh and a small botanical garden, which includes a selection of roses currently in bloom.
Located in the heart of one of Florida's most exclusive property zipcodes, it's a joy to find this haven with wonderful views over Sarasota Bay - completely deserted on each occasion that I've visited and another great spot to watch the birds that I so enjoy here, because of the park's created wetland system. On my recent visits I have seen herons, egrets, cormorants, ospreys, pelicans and smaller shore birds.

I had never thought about mangroves before coming here, but was fascinated to read in the small, but beautifully produced brochure that you find at the park: "It is the red mangroves found closest to water. They have arching prop roots and their seeds look something like green cigars. Their leaves are large and bright green. Black mangroves will usually be found growing landward of red mangroves ... they 'sweat' salt from their leaves and send up twiggy projections from their roots called pheumataphores (above right), which provide oxygen to their roots. Their leaves are dull green with silver undersides. White mangroves (below right) usually grow landward or are interspersed with black mangroves ... their leaves are usually more rounded than other species." So thanks to the Joan M. Durante Park, I now know a little more about mangroves!

Osprey seen at the park flying away with dinner!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Rousham - a treat not to be missed!


Monty Don described Rousham as "one of the greatest experiences on this earth" in his book, "Around the World in 80 Gardens", and having visited yesterday, I have to agree with him - it is an outstanding property! Originally designed by William Kent in the first half of the 18th century, little has changed in the last 250 years, and every corner you turn gives another amazing vista. Combine this with perfectly mown lawns, the impressive statues and the views over the Oxfordshire countryside and the River Cherwell and you've got a garden that's unique.

Rousham has stood still in time. You approach the property up a long driveway bounded by fields filled with grazing cattle. There is no gift shop or tea room here, but just a ticket machine where you pay your entrance fee, and then you can wander at leisure through the grounds. First view of the house is impressive (above) but when you wander round the side, you realise that this garden is really different.

The views are breathtaking and at every turn there is another statue or feature that makes you stop in your tracks. More striking still is the total absence of flowers around the house - the vista is green, green, green - just lawns, trees, and a series of water pools, which reflect the green around them. You can spend hours just wandering through this verdant landscape and you begin to feel as though you have been transported back in time - the pressures of the 21st century seem far removed when you come face to face with a statue of Apollo, or the Dying Gladiator. This is a genuine landscape garden.

But if it's flowers you want, you can head for the magnificent walled garden adjacent to the house and this is where you will find the 17th century kitchen garden, an ancient church (above) and a box parterre of roses, overlooked by a dovecot (below).
Even in September, the flower borders are magnificent (below) and it was here in the flower garden that I found one of the gardeners who is lucky enough to work at this beautiful property, who told me that the garden is rarely crowded, even though it has been in the limelight recently. I spent several hours here and saw no other visitors at all, but that is probably because the day had started out as a rainy Monday, and then turned into a beautiful day, as you can see from the sky in the photographs.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Secret gardens and castles - Wales Part III


I saw many wonderful gardens during my brief sojourn in Wales and have already featured two of the large, well-known properties that are extremely well publicised and much visited, so for my final post on Wales, I am going to focus on three gardens not so much in the public eye and all currently being restored, re-planted and improved - so expect to see changes if you visit.

Time and distance would not allow you to visit them all in a day, but you might want to make a special visit to my first entry - Cae Hir - because it is a truly charming garden! You won't find huge glasshouses, extraordinary specimens or restored cloisters, but you will find a garden planted with love by a Dutchman, Wil Akkermans, who has passed his extensive love and knowledge of plants to his two children. This is a garden to wander slowly round, and sit on one of the many benches, looking at the plants and the trees - it is extraordinarily peaceful.

Covering just six acres, the main garden is behind the house and on a hill - this part has reached maturity and is filled with beautiful trees and plants, but still retains an informal air. You wander from room to room and each vista brings new plants, but it still feels like a secret garden and you constantly emerge from trees to see another view. There is also another large area, under development (above), with ponds and streams and this has the potential to be another Beth Chatto garden - so watch this space!

Another garden that I visited briefly was Upton Castle - way over in the West of Wales, and you'd have to make another trip unless you combined it with Picton Castle or Colby Woodland garden. This is a haven for walkers and is approached by a winding pathway through a magnificent wood. Very much under development at the moment, but the rose garden is lovely and I know that this will be a real gem in years to come and I shall visit again.

The third garden that really surprised me was St Fagans Castle in Cardiff. Hidden away behind the National Museum of Wales, this garden is unusual because it's free! You walk through a charming hilly wooded area to access the castle grounds and suddenly see the most magnificent vista before you - stepped terraces with statues and water pools in the valley below.
Walk up the steps the other side of the valley (right) and you arrive in a different world! This is not the domain of coach parties, observing vignettes of Welsh life, this is a garden, which feels as though it's been overlooked. But it's charming and uncrowded and is like a secret garden, hidden from the crowds visiting the museum.

This is an historic garden under restoration with terraces; a Victorian rose garden that has has recently been replanted; an avenue of bleached limes, a tunnel of hornbeam and a box parterre. This is another property under development and will, I'm sure become top-rated in years to come. At the moment, it has an air of being forgotten, and this is part of its charm. The castle - which is actually a gabled 16th century house - looks slightly run down, but forms a good backdrop to the formal gardens (below).
Don't be put off by the crowds when you arrive at the Museum here - it really is worth walking through to St Fagan's Castle to see the gardens - they are delightful!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

National Botanic Garden of Wales - you'll be amazed by what grows here!


Where in the world do you find plants in so many shapes, sizes and textures that you think you might be on Mars? Take the one above - this is surely a work of art, not a plant? But this is the kind of unusual sight you can expect to see at the National Botanic Garden of Wales.

Opened in 2000, it stands on the site of a former Regency estate and extends to some 500 acres. It was not without its critics when it opened, but now, just under a decade later, it has some of the finest and most unusual plants in the world; enjoys a spectacular setting; draws hundreds of thousands of visitors a year; and has become a favourite with families, plant enthusiasts, and tourists, who come variously to marvel at the giant glass house, the planting and the scale and grandeur of the sights on offer.

The great glasshouse (above) - the largest single-span structure of its type in the world - is reminiscent of a giant flying saucer. You can see it from everywhere in the garden and it houses some spectacular floral sights! Inside it is divided into the five Mediterranean climate regions -California, Western and South Australia, Central Chile, the Western Cape of South Africa and the Mediterranean basin (including The Canaries). You won't be disappointed by what you see here - the range of plants is extraordinary - as is the carefully designed landscape, that includes white sandstone cliffs, gravelled slopes, rocky terraces, stepped walkways and bridges, waterfalls and ponds! I honestly forgot that I was in Wales as I explored the glasshouse!


Everywhere you look in this glass-topped garden, there is something different and more spectacular to see - Africa is represented with Proteas, Leucadendrons and bromeliads; there are Berberis and Escallonias from Chile; a full range of Ceonathus and oak species from California. These are just a few of the unusual plants on offer, but what will strike you is the extraordinary range of shapes, colours and textures under one roof.

But I have spent too long extolling the virtues of the glasshouse, when there is so much else to see in this marvellous garden. There is as much to see outside as inside, and if the weather is kind, you can spend hours
strolling through the many different areas including the Japanese and Bog gardens; the amazing double-walled garden, with fine floral displays and its tropical house, where the orchids rival those found at the Marie Selby Garden in Florida; walk by the lakes; or just admire the Welsh rolling hills.

There is something for everyone here at the Botanic Garden and even though the critics were quick to say that it was spartan and underplanted at the outset, you couldn't argue that today! I'd be happy to spend a week here, just photographing the extraordinary plants, and marvelling at the glasshouse, both outside and in! And the best news is that this really is a garden you can visit in all weathers, because you can shelter from the rain inside and still enjoy the plants.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Wonderful Welsh gardens - Aberglasney - recently saved from ruin


Aberglasney, known as "a garden lost in time"
It's raining again and I'm in Wales - well known for its verdant landscapes because of the high rainfall levels!  First stop was Aberglasney, near Carmarthen - known as "A Garden Lost in Time" - thanks to its inclusion in the popular TV series of the same name. Its origins are "shrouded in obscurity" according to the brochure, although there are records dating back to the 15th century on both house and grounds. But just wait until you see the gardens today and history pales into insignificance!
The large upper walled garden at Aberglasney, designed by Penelope Hobhouse
What matters today is that Aberglasney was saved from complete ruin in the 1990's by a group of historic house enthusiasts and an American benefactor, and they have worked tirelessly to turn the property into what it is now. The result is an absolute "must see" property with a series of unique and stunning gardens set against the backdrop of an uninhabited, but attractive house.
The cloister garden at Aberglasney, opened in 2001 after years of careful restoration
There's a cloister garden, upper and lower walled gardens, alpinum, sunken garden... and, perhaps most impressive of all... the Ninfarium - named after the original Ninfa garden near Rome. Here at Aberglasney the Ninfarium is part of the house - an enclosed garden. The large upper walled garden was designed by well-known historian and garden designer, Penelope Hobhouse. This leads into the lower garden which is used for growing vegetables, herbs and flowers for cutting. It's the cloister garden that seems to draw most gasps from visitors - this was opened in 2001 after a long restoration process and is based on a design found in a painting. Part of its beauty is its symmetry and simplicity, but equally important is its setting below the main house. Enjoy it from above, by walking along the walls.
Aberglasney is set in the heart of glorious Welsh countryside
The most recent addition to the landscape at Aberglasney is the sunken garden, with its central water sculpture by William Pye. I was amused to see the reference to Monty Python in the brochure: "And now for something completely different - a garden that is more appealing to the senses, rather than the intellect".
The sunken water garden at Aberglasney, with sculpture by William Pye
This is a wonderful garden and a great tribute to those who have restored it - there has been plenty about Aberglasney in the press over the years, with comments about where it's going - but the result is impressive. If you're in Wales, don't miss it and make sure you buy a copy of the marvellous book - "The Flowering of Aberglasney" - written by plantsman Graham Rankin - it features some of the best botanical photographs I've seen and is a worthwhile memory of a spectacular garden.
The sun came out just as I was leaving and I shall always remember the glimpse of the lower walled garden (above) from the restaurant - there is nothing so stunning as a garden glinting in the sunshine after a heavy shower!