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Archives for December 1, 2016

Barbados in bloom: inside the Caribbean’s most beautiful gardens

It’s hard not to be impressed by the flora of the Caribbean – a botanical pandemonium with greenery that creeps, crawls and scrambles over itself, furring up fences and exploding out of hedgerows. Whole trees come out in bloom here and there is a tale behind every plant.

A gardening retreat adds an intriguing spin to a Caribbean holiday. In October, I joined “Love your Garden” in Barbados, a series of workshops given by Katie Rushworth, one of the presenters of the ITV programme of the same name. The retreat was hosted at the Sugar Cane Club, one of the island’s smaller hotels inland from the west coast.

The “Love your Garden” retreat was hosted by ITV presenter Katie Rushworth

There is no better island than Barbados to look at Caribbean flora. It has the finest gardens in the region, from the simplest yard with its mango tree and a line of yellow and green crotons or a spray of purple bougainvillea, through to the manicured gardens of the villas and plantation houses. There are several public gardens to visit and an active horticultural society.

As we assembled on the first morning on a covered terrace with a view to the Caribbean, a question gnawed.  It’s one thing to learn about tropical plants, but how does this help in our colder climate?

“I’ll be showing people how to create an exotic garden when they get back home,” said Rushworth. “It’s quite possible. Some plants can be brought inside during the cold weather. Others have equivalents that can be grown in their place.”

“With an exotic garden you can afford to be playful… the bigger the better”

So it’s all about the inspiration of the surroundings, and applying the colour and shape of Caribbean gardens to create a tropical effect.

The first workshop covered garden design, with Rushworth chatting over a series of slides, occasionally throwing questions to the audience.

“So, what makes an exotic garden?” she asked.  “Palms? Big bright blooms?” we ventured. I looked at the greenery all around. “Jungle?”

“Ooh, yes,” said Rushworth, “there’s nothing I like more than moving a huge leaf aside as I explore a garden.”

The Sugar Cane Club

We chatted about creating a sense of mystery with big plants, about layers and leading the eye, entertaining space and quiet zones. And then we sat drawing, with Rushworth giving hints.

The schedule over the five days was leisurely, with workshops for two hours in the morning ranging across design, plant selection, container planting and exotic kitchen gardens.

Rushworth offered suggestions for plant alternatives that look like their tropical counterparts but grow well in the UK. Here we entered a thicket of Latin names: Hemerocallis, with its many-coloured, trumpet-shaped blooms similar to hibiscus; tall and grassy giant Miscanthus x giganteus, which imitates sugar cane.

“Rushworth offered suggestions for plant alternatives that look like their tropical counterparts but grow well in the UK”

Workshops were followed by a practical element, which  involved potting and getting our fingers dirty. After lunch, for those who weren’t intent on the beach, there were excursions to other gardens.

Lost inland, Hunte’s Gardens sit in a limestone sinkhole 200ft across. They are unbelievably fertile, with foliage practically throttling the brick-lined pathways. “Where most gardens are about scale and balance,” said Rushworth, “with an exotic garden you can afford to be playful … and the bigger the better.”

Classical sculptures peeked from among the rampant greenery and classical music emerged from invisible speakers. The flowers were endlessly surprising. Some looked like plastic toys, others like medieval clubs but purple. One tree dangled blooms like scarlet dreadlocks.

“We walked around the garden of the Sugar Cane Club, led by Rodney Phillips – the hotel gardener”

The island’s 50 years of independence, celebrated on November 30, brought a certain self-reflection among the islanders. Like other Caribbean countries, Barbados suffered from the global recession and is gradually picking up.  

Barbados was a linchpin of the British imperial presence in the Caribbean, and it affected even early horticulture, as the island became a collecting point for plant-hunters, who shipped their finds to Europe for classification, often at Kew. Some plants that aren’t from Barbados at all were nevertheless tagged “barbadensis”. Aloe, the cactus-like, miniature tank-trap whose juice is used to soothe sunburn, is officially named Aloe barbadensis.

Hotel gardens are a readily available source of interest for visitors, and our last morning was spent walking through a nearby gully and around the garden at the Sugar Cane Club, led by Rodney Phillips, the hotel gardener. Under the watchful eye of a green monkey in a bauhinia (poor man’s orchid) tree, he told us the local names and medicinal uses of the plants and stories from his childhood.

Sycamore-like propeller seeds lay scattered by a mahogany pod, which itself was used in a form of conkers. Grated sea almond was baked in bread. And there are the names to go with them, too – bread ’n cheese, hog plum, and mother-in-law tongue (a rather threatening, snakelike leaf).

Andromeda Botanic Gardens

“And this one?” A bush exploding with superb red and yellow blooms like miniature Christmas trees. “That’s pride of Barbados.” It’s the national flower of Barbados, but oddly, despite the name, it is not actually from Barbados at all.

Katie Rushworth’s “Love your Garden” retreat, October 21-26 2017. Kuoni (01306 747008, offers a seven-night all-inclusive stay at the Sugar Cane Club Hotel Spa (, in a garden-view, one-bedroom suite, including return economy flights on Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick and transfers in resort from £1,607.50 per person, based on two sharing. Includes on-site retreat activities; excursions are extra.

The essentials

The best gardens in Barbados

Besides Hunte’s Gardens, several other gardens in Barbados are worth visiting. Andromeda has a dramatic setting above the Atlantic coast in Bathsheba, with “rooms” devoted to varieties of plants – heliconia (such as bird of paradise and torch ginger), amaryllis, bougainvillea, succulents and medicinal plants.

Orchid World displays a range of tropical flowers in addition to orchids in myriad colours in its several green houses. The Flower Forest offers a leisurely walk around a hillside with excellent heliconia and mature trees such as cocoa and sandbox with its thorny trunk.

Hotel garden tours

It’s always worth asking your hotel gardener about plants and trees under their care and most are delighted to chat and take you on an informal tour, including the Sugar Cane Club. Other hotels offering tours include Cobbler’s Cove (on Thursdays) and Coral Reef (on Wednesdays). They are happy to admit outside guests if you ring a couple of days in advance.

A photo posted by Cobblers Cove Hotel (@cobblerscovehotel) on Nov 28, 2016 at 3:03am PST

Open gardens programme

The Barbados Horticultural Society opens several private gardens on Sundays early in the year, when the dry season and flowering season coincide with the high tourism season.

The 2017 programme runs from January 15 till mid-March. The BHS also exhibits each year at the Chelsea Flower Show and has won a gold medal for the past several years.  

WAFA 2017

The World Association of Floral Artists is being hosted by Barbados in 2017. Its main exhibition, the World Flower Show, will be held from June 18-25 2017 in Bridgetown.

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The best gardening books of 2016

Garden design usually breaks out of its confines to become part of the general consciousness only in Chelsea Flower Show week, but this year there have been so many events to mark the tercentenary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown — the most prolific and talented designer of the 18th-century landscape garden — that even the general public has noticed. Most events have occurred under the umbrella of the Capability Brown Partnership, the brainchild of a landscape historian called John Phibbs, who has spent several decades studying Brown’s 170-odd landscapes and advising some of the owners on their recovery, care and conservation.

Capability Brown: Designing the English Landscape (Rizzoli, £45) describes 15 Brown ‘landskips’ in chronological progression. Some, like Blenheim and Chatsworth, are extremely well known; others, such as Himley Hall and Moccas Court, were certainly new to me. This book contains superb photographs by Joe Cornish and can be warmly recommended with only one small caveat: the author assumes that the reader understands topography as he does. Some modern plans would have helped.

A few miles from Stowe, where Brown laid out the ‘Grecian valley’ for the 18th-century Whig politician Viscount Cobham, is Thenford House, owned by a 20th-century politician of a different stripe. Thenford: The Creation of an English Garden (Head of Zeus, £40) is a handsomely-produced book, in which Michael Heseltine and his wife, Anne, describe their garden’s development over 40 years. Lord Heseltine announces straightaway that he is very rich, which has the signal virtue of being honest. As gardeners know, £50 notes make the best manure and the Heseltines — driven by the true collector’s love of plants, especially trees and shrubs — have committed masses of cash and all their limited leisure to creating an enormous and spectacular garden. They have not done it alone. Since 1977, they have consulted a variety of experts — Lanning Roper, Harold Hillier, George Carter, Robert Adams and Quinlan Terry among them — to help do the vision thing.


Through all the changing scenes of political life, in trouble and in joy, Thenford garden has plainly been a very important and private retreat for the Heseltines. Now they want to tell the world what they’ve made. There are precedents for faux self-deprecating gardening memoirs (and political ones, come to that), but you give the game away if you chronicle your mistakes and disasters, then slip in, from time to time, ‘when I was deputy prime minister’ or mention that the lawn made ‘a perfect helipad for a minister of aerospace and subsequently defence secretary’. This book might have been better written by someone else.

Thenford inevitably shows the marks of a number of professional hands, and the same is true of Highgrove, part of which formed an early commission for Isabel and Julian Bannerman, the talented and agreeably wacky garden architects, much beloved of the rich-but-arty crowd. Landscape of Dreams (Pimpernel Press, £50), describes their eclectic designs both for large gardens and the stage-set garden buildings in them. Amongst their demonstrable successes are Houghton Hall in Norfolk, Asthall Manor in Oxfordshire and their own old house, Hanham Court near Bristol. The Bannermans are artists but they can also write; I particularly enjoyed Isabel’s account of their extraordinary childhoods. Although I can’t be doing with all those signature antlers, rusticated wooden columns, mock Gothic ruins and tree roots, the layouts the Bannermans devise are imaginative, coherent and, perhaps surprisingly, commonsensical. The photographs in the book are generously scattered, helpful but variable in quality.

Informed criticism of what contemporary designers are up to is hard to find, but you can depend on Tim Richardson — the best, indeed almost the only, garden polemicist we’ve got. His anthology of journalism in a variety of publications, including the Daily Telegraph and the trade magazine, Garden Design Journal, is entitled You Should Have Been Here Last Week (Pimpernel Press, £16.99). In these articles, he examines, probes, even sticks the stiletto into, current practices and preoccupations. A man who admits he turned to gardens as a result of his love of 18th-century poetry has something of the Joseph Addison about him. I particularly recommend his essays on why the design of most small gardens is dreadful, and the pleasures and pitfalls of viewing gardens at night.

Finally, a book that reinforces my belief that anyone who writes well can write something worthwhile about gardening. Rhapsody in Green by Charlotte Mendelson (Kyle, £16.99) contains short chapters, essays really, by a novelist known for her witty, observant, uncomfortable anatomisations of contemporary life (such as Daughters of Jerusalem and When We Were Bad). In this book she simply describes her impressively fruitful engagement with six square metres of north London soil. I learned nothing about gardening but much about why we do it. And it made me cry with laughter.

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Treasure Valley gardening events includes terrarium class

Saturday, Dec. 3

Terrarium Building Workshop: 12:30 p.m. Nov. 26 and 11 a.m. Dec. 3 at Madeline George Garden Design Nursery, 10550 W. Hill Road Parkway, Boise. Craft a mini eco-system with foliage, succulents, cactus and more. Feel free to bring your vessel. Free. RSVP to 995-2815 or

Saturday, Dec. 10

Indoor Kitchen Gardening in Winter: 12:30 p.m. at Madeline George Garden Design Nursery, 10550 W. Hill Road Parkway, Boise. Workshop on growing all types of edible greens in your home through the winter. Free. RSVP to 995-2815 or

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Michael Dukes: Water solutions spring from IFAS science

Protecting the water we’ll need for the 15 million additional residents projected to live here in 50 years calls for us to start right now by getting today’s 20 million Floridians on board with a conservation ethic.

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has a special responsibility as the state’s leading public institution providing the science to make this happen. After decades of work and significant accomplishments, we can see that so much still needs to be done.

That’s why we believe the gifted nature photographer and defender of springs John Moran performs an important public service in highlighting the importance of water in Florida (column, Nov. 27).

We need people with his passion and his talent for communicating, whether through his images or his contributions to The Sun. Although UF/IFAS leads the way on water science in Florida, we do not have a monopoly on the topic.

UF/IFAS is on the cutting edge of water-saving science with technologies such as phone apps and high tech irrigation controllers that tap into soil moisture data and weather forecasts to tell people when to water and, equally importantly, when not to. They can cut your water usage by 20 percent without browning your lawn.

We have UF/IFAS Extension agents in every county to familiarize homeowners and growers with these kinds of tools. These agents also work with builders and developers, a number of whom are building these technologies into their new communities. And they work with homeowners’ associations to educate them about water-conserving practices and to encourage them to adopt new ideas. If all new homes followed suit, we estimate that we’d save 1.8 billion gallons a year — enough to provide 30,000 homes in Florida with water for a year of indoor consumption.

The UF/IFAS Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology, which I lead, provides easy-to-understand information on wise water use through its Florida-Friendly Landscaping program that serves all Floridians. Some, like Moran, choose no water or fertilizer for their landscapes. Others are obligated to maintain their landscapes by the rules of homeowners’ associations.

We’re not in the business of telling people to have a lawn or not. Instead, using the best available science, we inform all kinds of property owners who want to know how much to water and to fertilize. It’s powerful information because it can demonstrate how natural resource protection and financial savings often go hand in hand.

UF/IFAS has recently invested in making further progress in Florida by hiring five regional specialized water extension agents, each based in one of the five state water management districts. These agents will communicate science to water users of all kinds. In addition, UF/IFAS is hiring four faculty to join a team in what we call environmentally resilient, resource-efficient land use. This team will focus on further understanding patterns of water use and water quality threats from development and seek ways to address those threats.

The public hungers — dare I say “thirsts?” — for such information. A recent UF/IFAS survey indicated that residents would like more information on how to conserve water and that they would respond to incentives such as rebates to adopt new technologies such as smart irrigation controllers.

Getting this information out will be critical to protecting the natural resources that make Florida such a special place.

Moran’s opinion is that “we’d do just fine without lawn sprinklers and fertilizer. And Florida would be a better place.” Yet many others enjoy gardening that requires irrigated landscapes. Much of the development in recent decades has occurred through subdivisions with homeowners’ associations where landscaping is required.

UF/IFAS does not make public policy. We believe an educated public is the most direct path to positive change. We appreciate the efforts of Moran and other activists who seek to influence public policy, because their efforts can give our science a boost by raising awareness about a resource that can go unnoticed until a crisis such as an algae bloom.

We at UF/IFAS are proud of our work on water quality and conservation. For example, UF/IFAS work on developing guidelines for agricultural practices has contributed to a 79 percent reduction in the amount of phosphorus — a main element in fertilizer — in farm water flowing into the Everglades.

But we must do more — a lot more — together. UF/IFAS and its Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology will continue to provide the unbiased science that has made us the first place that Floridians — whether they’re homeowners, farmers, water district managers, or legislators – look for solutions to our water challenges.

— Michael Dukes is a professor in the UF/IFAS Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and the director of the Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology.

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How to keep slugs and snails away from your hostas

Question: I noticed that my bluebonnets are sprouting and some are about 1 1/2 inches tall. Is this a good thing or a bad thing for next year’s crop? — R.M., Decatur

Answer: No problem. They germinate in the fall and stay in the rosette form through the winter before starting to grow again in the early spring. They are bigger than normal because of the warm weather lasting so long. Some plants may be damaged if abrupt harsh weather hits hard, but most of the plants will be fine.

Question: Do you use winter cover crops on front lawns containing St. Augustine? — A.S., Denton

Answer: I don’t like to over-seed. I just let my turf go dormant. It’s a personal call and either way is OK. If you do over-seed, use perennial rye. The ideal planting time would normally have been September, but with this mild weather cool season grasses can still be planted. It’s also still OK to plant more cool-season veggies.

Question: I had planned to do my landscape in the front yard with rocks of all sizes, but then I learned how expensive that is, so I’m looking for ideas for my front lawn. I had St. Augustine but grubs took care of that. I’ve got a little shade but the evening sun overwhelms the yard. Do you know where I can get some ideas for landscaping? I’d love to hire a pro landscaper, but my budget doesn’t allow. I’ve looked online at some sites but they seem to only suggest ideas for houses and neighborhoods that are far more expensive than mine. I live in the Casa View area in Dallas (75228). Thank you! — K.A., Dallas

Answer: My book, Landscape Design: Texas Style, might be a good aid for you. It’s out of print but is usually available in Half Priced Books. Rohde’s Nursery and Nature Store in Garland can also help you with design, install, plants, healthy growing and more.

Question: When I opened a dried molasses bag, I found hundreds of worms! What are they? If I should get rid of the whole bag, how should I dispose of it? Thank you. — K.A., Dallas

Answer: The worms won’t hurt anything. They just add a little protein.

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Designs by RGA Landscape Architects Earns Ironwood Community Association an Award

From RGA Landscape Architects: RGA Landscape Architects, Inc., a leading landscape architectural firm on the forefront of water efficient design and planning, provided design services to address water conservation for Ironwood Community Association, now recognized by Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD). CVWD presented the Outstanding Commercial Water Saver award to the association for the extraordinary water reduction resulting from the new landscaping completed earlier this year by RGA.

As an expert in working with Home Owners Associations (HOA’s) to convert country club landscaping for conservation and sustainability, the firm is well-versed in communicating with landscape committees, Boards and HOA members to present ideas and cost estimates so that clients can make informed and fiscally-prudent decisions. For Ironwood Community Association the firm replaced almost 50,000 square feet of grass with desert-friendly landscaping on a curbside, parkway and a median on Portola Avenue. The new landscaping is estimated to save approximately 2.8 million gallons of water per year.
“RGA planners and designers are working closely with the HOA management teams to ensure that style, expectations, and demands of the surrounding community are being addressed in the process of such conversions,” said Ron Gregory, president of RGA Landscape Architects. “Not only does new water efficient landscaping incorporate efficient irrigation and drought resistant foliage, it also provides the opportunity for an updated and modern landscape design.”

CVWD’s conservation contests are aimed at recognizing and celebrating extraordinary water savers in the community. The contests are divided into two categories to recognize homeowners who have transformed their yards into water-friendly landscapes and commercial properties that have implemented effective water conservation practices. Both winners also received rebates through CVWD’s turf buyback program.
Established in 1977 in Palm Desert, RGA offers a variety of solutions for environmentally compatible landscapes through careful site planning, plant selection and irrigation efficiency to address the needs of communities, governmental agencies, country clubs and home owner associations, businesses and residents. While water efficiency is the catalyst for much of their work, RGA’s landscape designs are beautiful and easily maintained. RGA has acquired almost 40 years of experience in providing landscape architectural services not only to the Coachella Valley, but to Southern California as a whole and, in recent years, to the provinces of Liaoning, Guangdong and Sichuan in China. The firm has been notably recognized with 100+ industry awards for various project designs.

Photo Courtesy of RGA Landscape Architects

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