Thursday, April 10, 2008

Portugal and England

Two weeks ago I visited my daughter, who is on her semester abroad in Denmark. I didn’t want to go somewhere cold and dark when it’s been cold and dark here all winter, so we compromised and went to Portugal. We spent a week in Faro, which is in the very southern part of Portugal, about three hours south of Lisbon.

Portugal has a much more temperate climate than ours so they are way ahead of us in bloom time. Orange and lemon trees were in bloom and everywhere we went you could smell fragrance. Things that we can only grow as annuals are perennials there. For example, Michael likes to use lantana in some of his containers because they attract butterflies and they are pretty heat tolerant. In our climate they never get very big and are only an annual. In Portugal (and other temperate climates), they are used as hedges!

Another plant we saw used extensively in public flowerbeds was cineraria. This is a cool season plant that we only sell in our retail greenhouse as a house plant, but with its colorful, large daisy-like flowers it makes a stunning bedding plant.
This is the solana plant in tree form. It is in the nightshade family and thus toxic (but so are tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant!) In the states it can be found in California and Arizona and most varieties I found in my on-line research were only 1-2 feet tall. This tree had to be a good 6' tall!

One day we took the train to Tavira, a small town east of Faro. It is home to a Moorish castle complete with gardens. This bed is edged with santolina, a fragrant herb used for medicinal purposes only. It is hardy to zone 6 and makes a great clipped hedge. Inside the border yellow gazania are blooming. Down in the town center was a small park. It was odd to see both pine trees and palm trees growing together. Here they used the traditional pansy as the bedding plantas well as snapdragons, but there are also hibiscus already in bloom. We also saw poinsettias the size of small trees!

On my way home I had to overnight in London and I spent Sunday afternoon wandering through Hyde Park. To the south, Hyde Park is bordered by the toney Kensington and Knightsbridge neighborhoods of London and on the northeast corner is Speakers Corner, where anyone with a soapbox and an opinion can get up a speak. It was the first day of Europe’s daylight savings and lots of people were out enjoying a long and relatively sunny Sunday afternoon. I wandered through the rose garden to see what was in bloom. Unfortunately, I accidently shot most of my London pictures into the "black hole" when transferring them from my camera but I do remember a lot of what was there.

Of course, London, too, is weeks ahead of us in their bloom time and a lot of the early bulbs had already finished. There were a few daffodils left and some tulips were still blooming. I saw fritillary, which is a great bulb to use here since deer and rabbits don’t like it much. Also blooming were the hellebores, another early spring blooming plant, often called the Lenton rose. It is also deer resistant! Another perennial plant I saw used as ground cover was Pulmonaria, or lungwort. This plant has a long, slender fuzzy green leaf with white speckles. It has a blue or sometimes pink flower in early spring and the unique foliage gives it a year round interest. The annual beds I saw were edged with primrose with many cold tolerant annuals intermixed with bulbs in the center.

It is fun to visit other countries and see their gardening traditions. Of course, England is famous as being a country of gardeners, but other countries have their traditions also. Even how we refer to our gardens is very telling about how we feel about gardening. We in America refer to our entire outside area as the "yard" and an individual bed as a "garden," in England a "yard" is a utility area where the garden shed and the compost pile are located and the garden is the lawn and all of the beds combined. My great aunt, also a big traveler, once visited a friend in England and asked to see her garden and the friend replied, "My dear, it is all the garden." Sometimes seeing how other people do things gets us to think outside the box and use plants in ways we hadn’t thought before, like using the pulmonaria as a ground cover instead of a specimen plant, or adding shrubs to our perennial beds, as they do in England with their mixed borders or even adding edibles to our perennial and annual beds, a big favorite of mine.

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