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The other side of the fence is always greener, even if it is the old ‘iron curtain’

Rockeries are notoriously difficult to keep weed free in damp climates but in dry ones its amazing what can be done.

 

Its funny travelling around looking at other people’s gardens in different climate zones, as I so often end up wishing for something I haven’t got. A trip to Cornwall and I think how marvellous it would be to live somewhere where you could grow all those decadently juicy big rhododendrons , use brilliantly colourful Mexican Salvias in borders and be reasonably confident that they survive the winter, and dot the landscape with tree ferns. Such is the fantasy of many gardeners.

There are always downsides. Living in a relatively maritime climate myself, I rarely have to worry about water, or about it getting too cold or too hot, but there are real disadvantages to living somewhere where things just grow so well. Weeds. Unwanted weedy species grow huge and lush. As a result my gardening efforts are dominated by weed control, and to some extent also by curtailing all that lush growth – cutting back geraniums and astrantias before they have had too much of a chance to self-seed for example, or dealing with the vast mountains of debris at the end of the gardening year.

So, interesting a few weeks ago to visit Professor Wolfram Kircher in Saxony, in what was the old East Germany (aka. the GDR). Long cold winters, often quite hot, dry summers, and only 400mm of rain (we get 1500mm minimum). Wolfram and his wife Angela describe themselves as plant nerds. They have no idea how many thousand species inhabit their half acre garden. Everywhere you look there are micro-communities of plants. A rockery (partly composed of old kerbstones – the old communist ones weren’t good enough for the new look new Germany) bursts with plants, the paving on the drive seems to be being infiltrated by a miniature botanic garden, a strip of peat bog studded with orchids acts as a filter for a natural swimming pool (Prof. Kircher is a leading authority on this now very popular form of pool). We would have to be permanently on our hands and knees weeding this place, or arbitrating in disputes between rampantly spreading plants. In a dryish continental climate the weeds just don’t grow so well – in fact the Kirchers don’t describe weeds as a problem at all.

A wonderfully productive garden. The raised beds are supported by the box hedging - yes really!

No point throwing out old boots if you can plant in them

A natural swimming pool feels like the centrepiece of the garden. Water is cleaned by the action of plants and bacteria.

Part of the garden is a quite English looking area of box-bound raised beds with vegetables, fruit bushes and herbs; there are roses and a clematis-draped pergola. Self-sufficiency in fruit n’veg clearly no problem. But how are those raised beds built?…. poke around a bit…. hmmm, the ‘sides’ are actually the box hedges, so that on one side of the 40cms high hedges the soil (very loose and full of compost material)is actually supported by the box. We were astonished, at home the box would surely rot – maybe not, maybe we should give it a go?

Gaps in paving can make a good habitat for low-level, don't mind being stepped on occasionally, plants, such as this thyme.

Being here reminded me a little of Lauren Spring and Scott Ogden’s garden in Colorado – similar ‘cold – dry’ continental climate I suppose. And yes, The Kirchers can grow cacti out of doors too, even through last winter’s minus 25C.
Would I live here, simply in order to grow more plants and not spend so much time weeding? Probably not, as I love our West Country lushness, but it is nice to know that if for some reason I ever got exiled to the bleak plains of the old GDR I could create a great garden.

 

Several Turkish species of dianthus form incredibly tight hummocks of painfully spiky foliage.

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I am now publishing e-books  through Amazon, for Kindle, smartphones, iPads etc. There are currently two of collections of writings for Hortus magazine from the early 2000s, plus a transcription of an hour long interview with Beth Chatto, one of the most influential gardeners of modern times. Click here to take a look.

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Public Gardens and Spaces in Tel Aviv

The city of Tel Aviv is 102 years old. It gave birth when immigrants from Europe came pouring into Israel. Due to the overcrowded conditions in the ancient Mediterranean city of Jaffa, in April 1909, a few dozen families decided to build a suburb. At the time, there were only a couple of streets in Tel Aviv, along with piles of deep sand and some citrus groves. The Tel Aviv population grew quickly; Meir Dizengoff, the head of the local council, realized that he needed to design a well thought out plan for the expansion of Tel Aviv.

He hired Sir Patrick Geddes, a Scottish urban planner, biologist, and philosopher, along with a plethora of other talents.

“This is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent on the leaves. By leaves we live. Some people have strange ideas that they live by money. They think energy is generated by the circulation of coins. Whereas the world is mainly a vast leaf colony, growing on and forming a leafy soil, not a mere mineral mass: and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests.”
- Patrick Geddes

Gedde’s plan was to make Tel Aviv a garden city with tree lined pedestrian boulevards and a separation between main and residential streets. His design included shared public spaces; squares and parks on major boulevards and in residential areas.

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A shaded, eucalyptus allee that leads from one end of Gan Meir Park to the other

 

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Pathways In The Garden….at Chanticleer

Pathways are the unsung heroes of the garden; they lead us through a unique, sensory experience. They can set the mood for what lays ahead; adding a sense of mystery or opening up a landscape. When designed poorly, the garden feels disconnected and jerky.  But when executed well, one garden area flows seamlessly into the other, allowing the focus to be on the gardens, not on navigating through the landscape.

Chanticleer’s paths are an excellent example of being both utilitarian and beautifully designed; with the use of materials chosen with great care. On my latest visit a few weeks ago, I photographed paths in only a few garden areas as shown below.

To read a previous article that I wrote, “Pathways In My Backyard”, click here.

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View of entrance where the pot is placed….seen from the courtyard
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View of courtyard leading to house with paths on either side (not visible)

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Singapore – The Garden City State

A Licuala palm, probably L. grandis

How to describe the city state of Singapore? Downtown is like an American downtown (with even more malls – yes really!), the suburbs like Continue Reading →

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Under The Midnight Sun And Northern Lights

Written by Susanna Rosen

Susanna Rosen_72[1]  I had the pleasure of meeting Susanna last April on the International Bulb Centre’s journalists trip to Holland. When I learned about her background and the work she’s presently doing, I thought that she would be a perfect match for Gardening Gone Wild.  And how right I was! Susanna is a prolific author, an excellent photographer and on top of that, a kind, gentle and unassuming person. We’re lucky to have her as a Guest Contributor.

A brief bio on Susanna: She is a Swedish biologist, journalist, writer and photographer. Before Susanna became a freelancer, she held a position at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. She is a zoologist who once did her doctoral research on Australian frogs but her interests eventually turned towards botany. Today she is the author of 13 books on gardening and house plants and two books on cats. She specializes in natural gardening, working according to nature, not against it. Learn more about Susanna and see more of her photos on her website.  Fran Sorin

Swedish Lapland is a place of contrast with vivid colours and vast areas of wilderness. In summer you have the midnight sun with sunshine 24 hours a day, and in winter the northern lights. Most people believe that gardening at the Arctic Circle is more than a challenge, that it’s impossible. The fact is that many perennials grow higher and get brighter colours than in the South, and you don’t have the same problems with pests.

Of course you can’t grow every plant you see in garden magazines. But why copy when you can make something different? If you make some adjustment when it comes to the soil and the choice of plants, you can create the most beautiful gardens at this latitude. There is always a “look alike” for every cultivated plant, so you can still create that same general feeling but not with the same plants.

Most of Europe is densely populated with shrinking areas of wild nature but Lapland still has extensive areas of wild forests. While many gardens in England and Holland create woodlands and prairie like borders, the gardens in Lapland do the opposite. They are more controlled to point out the contrast between the garden and the deep forest. The gardens are open with no fences or hedges. The well trimmed lawn clearly points out where the garden begins and nature starts. I believe it’s a way to control nature, to keep it at a distance, rather than bringing it in to your back yard.

Lapland_1 A dormant large flowering bird cherry (Prunus padus ‘Laila’) outside my kitchen window in February. When you choose hardy trees and bushes the its place of origin is important. A tree from Northern Sweden starts preparing itself for the winter earlier than the same species from the South. If you choose a tree of a Southern provenance, it will still have green leaves when the first snow falls in Autumn.

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