Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Botanics: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The Palm House at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Some gardens include such a wonderful array of horticultural delights that I can't help but envy those who are fortunate enough to live close by and able to visit often. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is one of these places. 

Feathery beauty

My first attempt to visit the Botanics, as the gardens are called, was in 2008 during my first trip to Edinburgh. It was late August and, due to the Festival, accommodations in Edinburgh were nearly impossible to come by. I found lodging at the University's Pollock Halls on the opposite side of the city. In the center of the city, work on the tram line had disrupted normal bus routes. Although employees at the Tourist Information Centre on Princes Street did their best to help me determine where to wait for a bus that would take me to the Botanics, somehow I ended up standing on the wrong side of the square and missed the designated bus. 

A dreary wet day such as that August Sunday morning does not portray a city at its best. I would not have guessed then that I would, in time, come to admire Scotland's capital. Nonetheless, as I waited for the next bus, I enjoyed looking at flowers cultivated in beds along the square. 

I did not make it to the Royal Botanic Gardens that day. A bus heading toward Roslyn Chapel (think of The DaVinci Code) stopped to pick up passengers and I hopped aboard.  The next day I took the train from Waverly Station to Inverness, having missed an opportunity to visit the Botanics.

White-berried rowan, a native of China

Close up of white-berried rowan

In September of 2010 while volunteering at the Inverewe Gardens Thistle Camp in the Highlands, a fellow volunteer, who lives near the Botanics in Edinburgh encouraged me to visit the gardens during my one day in the city. She assured me that a walk there from my hotel on Princes Street would be doable. I decided to go. There were other things I wanted to see that day as well as the gardens. By the time I arrived at the entrance to the Botanics, it was mid afternoon. I saw less of the gardens than I would have preferred and enough to know I wanted to return. 

I especially loved the herbaceous borders and kitchen garden areas situated between dense hedges, beyond a tall hedge that is more than twenty-three feet high and more than one hundred years old. 

Some of the notable trees growing on the grounds made me wish I had more space to nurture trees at home. One I admired: the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucaria).

Visitors wander through the gardens on a cold Sunday in late April
I didn't return to Edinburgh again until April of this year.  Rain threatened on my first day in the city, a Friday. I was staying in a small hotel located in the house that Kenneth Grahame, author of Wind in the Willows, lived during a brief period of his childhood. I spent all of Friday walking around Edinburgh, stopping in at places, such as the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Poetry Library, I'd not been to before. By late afternoon the sun had emerged from behind the clouds, but I was on the wrong side of the city and I needed to freshen up before meeting a friend for dinner. The next day I was heading into the Highlands for the weeklong Balmacara Thistle Camp. The visit to the Botanics would have to wait until I returned to Edinburgh at the end of the week.   

In a bed beyond the tall hedge
Also, beyond the hedge
Based on the frequently pleasant weather we had that week in the west of Scotland, I imagined this late April Sunday would be a lovely day in Edinburgh. It was not. Clouds pressed down. Temperatures dropped. In the morning I dawdled while shopping in House of Fraser department store and then, in order to explore parts of the city I'd not seen before, I took a longer than necessary walking route to the Botanics. 

In cold weather batteries exhaust quickly. Before I reached the Botanics, the batteries inside my camera had weakened to the point of uselessness. Inside the Botanics gift shop, as I inquired about the availability of batteries, the shopping bag I carried  slipped from my hand and landed on the hard floor. Crack! Fortunately only one of the eggcups I'd bought in House of Fraser broke. A gift shop employee offered to wrap the seven survivors more securely and I accepted her kindness. 

Before venturing back out into the cold, I ate a lunch of warm and delicious butternut squash and spinach gnocchi at the John Hope Gateway Restaurant. Sitting there, I watched people strolling through the gardens, stopping here and there to inspect a flower or read from an information panel.

Crocuses and other potted plants

After loading the fresh batteries into my camera, I headed outside where I spent at most twenty minutes browsing before the cold got to me and I returned to the warmth of my hotel room.

Perhaps on my next trip to Edinburgh I'll allow myself the luxury of an entire day at the Botanics so that I'll have plenty of time to see the interiors of the various glass houses and the Queen Mother's Memorial Garden and to revisit favorite areas and take the guided tour and.... 

A lovely place to sit for an hour

To learn more about the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, visit their website:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Of Moonflowers and Morning Glories

Moonflower on the Verge of Unfolding

This photograph I took in October of 2009 inspired me to write the poem "Moonflower" which can be found on the website of the Poetry Society of South Carolina

The Moonflower Saga

2009 was the first year that I had success growing moonflowers. Two or three years earlier I had purchased a packet of seeds at a country hardware store and planted them where I wanted them to grow, beside the trellises that support my carport. Those few that germinated failed to thrive, but that didn't stop me from trying again and again. Did I know then to soak the seed in water overnight and/or to score them? I'm not sure. It must have been in 2008 that I plopped a couple of leftover seeds in a Tuscan planter that sits against the workshop wall at the back of the carport. Much to my surprise the seeds germinated and the resulting plants produced one or two blossoms each. 

Ipomoea alba
In 2009 I planted only moonflower seeds in the Tuscan planter and had (for me) great success. I added a trellis to the planter so that the vines had somewhere to climb. Night after night in July I enjoyed the treat of a single blossom. I photographed the buds before they opened. I photographed newly opened flowers in late afternoon or just before dusk. I rose after midnight and used my camera's flash to take more photographs. In the morning I photographed the blossoms at various stages as they crumpled and drew into themselves. 

Later that summer and autumn I sometimes had the treat of two blossoms in a single night. Returning home late one evening, I saw a hummingbird moth dart away as the beams of my headlights illuminated the moonflowers. I thought I had seen a hummingbird, but a friend, who lives an hour further south and has great success with moonflowers, explained to me that I'd actually seen a giant moth.


Why do I love moonflowers? It's the combination of the heavenly fragrance, the beauty of the large flowers, and the rare opportunity to watch them unfurl.

You see, my 2009 moonflowers opened suddenly. Often I missed the unfurling, but when I witnessed a flower spring open, it was like magic. 

Now I harvest the seeds each year to plant the next, but I also buy new packets of seeds to increase the likelihood of thriving plants. In spite of these precautions, in 2010 and 2011 there were many nights when flowers opened, but they didn't always open completely and I saw none unfold suddenly. The openings I witnessed were gradual. Last summer a few of the buds didn't open at all. Some insect pest sealed the buds shut.

Moonflower Seedpods
This year in my ongoing attempt to cultivate moonflowers in varying locations I finally had a small - very small - triumph. One of the seeds I planted under a huge live oak germinated and the vines climbed up the arms of a small tree and produced two flowers. 

Dried Moonflower Seedpods and Seeds
This summer I have had less success than usual growing moonflowers in the planter under the carport. The reason? Last year it seemed like a good idea to grow moonflowers and morning glories together. The only morning glory that sprouted remained puny. This year the morning glories claimed victory. Although I spotted several moonflower seedlings early on, most seem not to have survived being without water during the three weeks I was away in June. Morning glories took over and thrived. One moonflower vine has managed to stay alive and has produced three or four blossoms over the course of the summer - in fact, two this week.

The Morning After

Morning Glories

For years I had only moderate success in growing morning glories. At best the vines would grow a couple of feet and I'd see a handful of blooms. Then two years ago I purchased a packet that contained a variety of morning glory seeds. I love blue flowers of all kinds and so hoped the blue morning glories shown on the package would proliferate. A single plant with blue blossoms did grow, but what really took off is one with flowers that, in appearance, remind me of petunia blossoms. I harvested what seemed like a bazillion seeds, but with this variety being so invasive, I've planted them sparingly. In the area where the first ones grew, volunteers flourish. The only reason I don't uproot these is that twice I've seen a hummingbird feed from them in late morning. 

Invasive Morning Glories
All the pictures included in this post are photographs I've taken of my own plants. Occasionally I spot someone else's prolific blue morning glories climbing a wall or porch railing. One of those sightings on the Charleston peninsula was what inspired me to plant morning glory seeds in the first place.

Please Post Your Comments
Some of you have tremendous success with moonflowers, achieving thirty or forty blossoms per night during the growing season. Will you kindly share your growing secrets in the comment area below?