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Archives for December 8, 2016

Holland’s colourful Keukenhof Gardens

For nature lovers like me, winter seems a bleak season, as autumn’s blaze of red and gold disappears to make way for the cold slumber ahead. But for the gardeners at the Keukenhof Gardens in Holland, this is the busy start of their gardening calendar, as they prepare this spectacular garden for its opening on March 23.

From early October, 35 gardeners have been on their knees, planting seven million bulbs that will explode into colour throughout Keukenhof’s eight-week opening. The process takes two months, and 9,500 man-hours.

Keukenhof is popular with Malaysians: more than 25,000 of us visit annually, and the number is rising fast. Located in Lisse, the bulb region of Holland, close to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and the delightful little medieval city of Haarlem, it is easy for independent travellers to get to.

From its humble start as the 15th century kitchen garden of Countess Jacoba van Beieren, Keukenhof expanded into this 32ha parkland in 1857. Landscape architect Jan David Zocher was entrusted with its creation, mimicking English country gardens to incorporate winding paths, slopes, lush green lawns, little streams, a lake and woodland into his design.

In 1949 a group of bulb exporters got permission to hold a permanent exhibition of spring bulbs on the grounds. Its success led the gardens to be opened to the public in 1950. Today, visitor numbers have spiralled to over a million each season. On a busy day 1,000 coaches and 4,500 cars are parked on the grounds.

The flower mosaic depicting a Mondriaan painting being prepared.  Photos: Nooraini Mydin

The flower mosaic depicting a Mondriaan painting being prepared. Photos: Nooraini Mydin

Ensuring continuous colour

What never fails to intrigue me is how the gardeners manage to plant seven million bulbs of different varieties and colours and never accidentally mix them up. I have scoured the grounds each time I visit to try to find an odd-coloured flower popping its head up among the row upon row of tulips, daffodils, hyacinth or crocuses. And how do they ensure there every flower bed is in colour throughout the season?

Head gardener Johan Braam took me through the process. Garden designer Martin Elling creates the designs based on the types of bulbs the 100 royal suppliers provide. Blueprints of each garden with codes of the type of bulb to be planted are given to the gardeners who then map out outlines of the planting areas with bamboo stakes.

From September the bulbs start trickling in, and Braam has to ensure the right bulbs are delivered in the right quantities.

From early October, the bulbs are laid out and the gardeners start the arduous task of planting them.

To ensure there is continuous colour throughout the season, Braam explained, the “lasagne” method of planting is employed, with three layers of bulbs planted: the late flowering at the bottom and earliest at the top. The earliest spring flowers are crocuses, followed by hyacinth, early flowering tulips, daffodils and late-flowering tulips.

The 'lasagne' planting method layers bulbs that bloom at different times so there is always something in bloom. Photos: Keukenhof Gardens
The ‘lasagne’ planting method layers bulbs that bloom at different times so there is always something in bloom. Photos: Keukenhof Gardens

The bulbs are all supplied free; to be selected display your bulbs in this international showcase for Holland’s floriculture is reward enough.

I have been visiting the gardens for the last three years and am always amazed at the new tulip cultivars or hybrids I keep seeing each year. I talk to Keukenhof’s guide, Patricia Jelgerhuis, who turns out to be a font of knowledge about everything from the history of the tulips to the botanical facts about the flower so closely associated with Holland.

“New cultivars are created by cross pollination,” explains Jelgerhuis. “It takes at least six years for the first flower to appear. The final colour and other features of the plant have to be just right, hence it can take 20 years for a new tulip to be ready for production.”

Apart from bringing together bulb growers, exporters and consumers, Keukenhof is also a place where you can get gardening tips as there are experts on hand in the pavilions during the flower shows. Keukenhof also hosts the bulb market in early October, when the public can meet growers, get advice about the different bulbs and buy them for their own gardens. At the launch of this event, the design for next year’s flower mosaic, which is the centrepiece of the gardens’ display, is revealed.

Head gardener Braam with newly-delivered bulbs.

Head gardener Johan Braam with newly-delivered bulbs.

The gardens’ people

The theme for 2017 is “Dutch Design”, and it incorporates the styles initiated by renowned Dutch artists and designers like Mondriaan and Rietveld. The 250sq m mosaic made up of 80,000 tulips, muscaris and crocuses depict a Mondriaan painting with the signature red, yellow and blue, combined with designer chairs. The flower shows in the Oranje Nassau Pavilion and two of the inspirational gardens are also dedicated to this theme.

Apart from the spectacular displays in the gardens, visitors can enjoy 30 alternating flower and plant shows in the pavilions. These give 500 growers an opportunity to exhibit their plants and floral displays. The orchid show in the Beatrix pavilion is the best in Europe. Some 15,000 lilies in 300 varieties will steal the show at the Willem-Alexander pavilion, together with roses, tulips, carnation, alstroemeria, freesia and lots more.

After 30 years Beijk still loves his job: It gives me pleasure when people enjoy the gardens.

After 30 years Andre Beijk still loves his job: ‘It gives me pleasure when people enjoy the gardens.’

Every time I visit Keukenhof, I look at the gardeners with envy: could there be a more satisfying occupation than this? Perhaps this is why 62-year-old Andre Beijk is still working there after 30 years.

“It gives me pleasure when people enjoy the gardens. If people smile and are happy, it gives me a good feeling.”

All the gardeners speak at least two languages and are encouraged to engage with the visitors, many of whom are keen to learn about planting and maintaining the flowers.

But there is a downside to this wonderful job and it is not even the prospect of working throughout the winter months when the gardens are just barren ground under cold grey skies.

“The worst time is in the summer, after closing, when we have to dig out the bulbs,” says Beijk.

Bulb planting at Keukenhof. Photo: Keukenhof Gardens

Bulb planting at Keukenhof. Photo: Keukenhof Gardens

Zoher’s beautiful landscaping means much of the park, like the undulating areas and the woodland, cannot be accessed by heavy machinery. It might seem like a fun Easter egg hunt, digging out these bulbs by hand – but not when there are seven million of them. The bulbs are then pulped and composted as required by the suppliers.

Esther Kelder, 33, the only female gardener whom Beijk fondly calls “our Esther”, shares his sentiments about the bulb digging, particularly the daffodils.

One would think to be in this privileged job you would need pukka horticultural qualifications but Kelder, now in her 10th year at Keukenhof, worked her way up from the role of parking attendant after being roped in to help out in the inspiration gardens.

Tulip mania

For these gardeners, the tulip has come a long way, from the plain orange and yellow specimen that came into the hands of Flemish doctor and botanist Carolus Clusius in the 16th century. Almost 2,000 different cultivars are produced commercially now with 100 new cultivars added to the variety annually.

Beautifully coordinated mixed bulbs.
Beautifully coordinated mixed bulbs.
New cultivars get a showing.
New cultivars get a showing.
Stunning colour of the hyacinth.
Stunning colour of the hyacinth.

A visit to Haarlem is worthwhile to fully understand the history of the tulip in Holland. Clusius was living in Vienna when he was given tulip bulbs obtained in Turkey by an ambassador to the court of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. When he was appointed director of Hortus Botanicus, the botanical gardens of the University of Leiden in Holland in 1593, Clusius took his collection of tulips with him and a whole industry was born.

Haarlem was a prosperous city during the Dutch Golden Age, in the 17th century. The aristocracy and new middle classes, enriched by the lucrative trade with the East, found a status symbol in the exotic tulip. With bulb production being slow, supply soon exceeded demand, leading to much speculation.

By 1630, tulip mania had gripped the country. The Semper Augustus, a red flower with white streaks, was particularly sought after. At the peak of the fad, in 1637, one bulb fetched 1,000 guilders – 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. This is the equivalent of the price of a Porsche today!

Sculptures complement the colourful blooms in some areas.

Sculptures complement the colourful blooms in some areas.

People jumped on the bandwagon, some selling their possessions, others mortgaging their homes to deal in tulips. But it turned out that the white stripes were caused by a virus. As a result, in February 1637, the bubble burst when nobody turned up at the auction in Haarlem leading to what Jelgerhuis described as “the first stock market crash in the world”, sending many to debtor’s prison.

Haarlem’s Frans Hals Museum has several satirical paintings depicting the futility of tulip mania. My favourite is Jan Brueghel’s Satire On Tulip Mania, in which tulip speculators are depicted as monkeys engaged in various stages of the tulip bubble until it finally burst. Monkeys from the flamboyantly affluent to the common and unclothed are portrayed in various activities, selling and buying tulips, enjoying their wealth, being hauled off to court and, finally, ending up in the cemetery, having succumbed to the shock of losing their fortunes. My favourite is the frustrated monkey urinating on his worthless tulips!

Today, the Netherlands is the world’s largest producer of tulip bulbs, with 4.2 billion bulbs planted annually. Holland supplies 70% of the world’s flowers.

The Keukenhof Gardens will be open to the public from March 23 to May 21. For more information, go to or e-mail

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Xeriscaping can be great water-smart landscaping – Times





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WinSun, Jiayuan to implement 3D printing in landscaping, gardening projects

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Fun with 3D Printing 



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Price Comparison

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One stop home for gardening solutions

When Cyclone Hudhud flattened 350 plants at Ravipati Kumuda’s residence two years ago, she felt helpless that she could save only one of them.

Though it took quite a while for her to come to terms with the loss, she breathed life into her entrepreneurial skills by launching ‘Green Twigs’.

With an initial capital investment of just Rs. 5,000, she gave wings to her plant retail venture that provides a one-stop solution to gardening and landscaping needs. Today, her home-cum-green world is a place where over 2,000 ornamental, medicinal and flowering plants have been housed.

Kumuda decided to be a full-time entrepreneur, bidding adieu to her tutorial centre wherein she used to teach communication skills and provide campus recruitment training to students. “The green canopy that the city once boasted disappeared after the cyclone. My primary focus is not just to do my bit to bring back the lost green cover but to provide a range of gardening solutions and offer tips to maintain the greens healthy,” says Ms. Kumuda who completed M. Pharmacy in Andhra University.

Her love for plants started pretty early in her life and being a pharmacy student fuelled her passion. With her mother Uma Devi supporting her endeavour, Kumuda expanded her reach. “Besides landscaping, I provide an array of services to those who want to create a green corner in their kitchen, terrace, balcony or backyard. The venture is quite lucrative and I earn approximately Rs.3 lakh a month,” shares Ms. Kumuda, explaining that people are keen on creating a green corner that involves less maintenance. She says there has been a growing interest among people to invest in medicinal plants and air purifiers. “There is a major shift in the requirement of plants these days. Areca palm, mother-in-law’s tongue, peppermint, spearmint, aloe vera and lemongrass are in great demand these days,” she said. From garden tools to miniature garden accessories, ceramic pots to glass pots, organic manure, flowering cacti to succulent varieties and plants that have therapeutic values, her residence-cum-outlet is a destination that caters to diverse gardening needs and much beyond.

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Gardening tips for the winter months

Gardening tips for the winter months

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December tips and gardener gifts | Lifestyles |

Christmas is right around the corner and I hope that each of you is enjoying your break from gardening. Make the most of this holiday season by using these tips to keep your plants in good shape.

• The potted plants you receive during the holiday season are not meant to be kept as permanent house plants. They were raised in a greenhouse and don’t always adapt well to the conditions in your home. Treat them like long-lasting cut flowers — enjoy them as long as possible, but discard when they become unattractive.

• The Christmas cactus will be coming into bloom. Reduce watering to prolong the blooming period. Keep in full sun at 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

• Take hardwood cuttings of forsythia, spirea, Japanese quince, wisteria, mock-orange, trumpet-vine, viburnum and other deciduous shrubs to root for spring planting.

• When cutting evergreens for Christmas decorations, use care to prevent harming plants — distribute pruning over the entire plant so you leave no holes or gaps. Limit cutting to mild shaping and thinning. Do not trim boxwoods if the temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

As the Christmas season gets closer, the surge to get our shopping done can be a constant worry. The hardest part is deciding what to get someone as a gift. If they have any amount of green blood in them at all and enjoy gardening, the following suggestions may help:

• A subscription to a garden magazine such as Garden Gate, Birds Blooms, Country Gardens or others can be an affordable gift that keeps giving month after month.

• Quality gardening books are always welcomed on any gardener’s shelf. Another popular trend is plant information and landscape design software that can be found in software sections at most local stores.

• Garden tools are a handy idea, too. A quality trenching shovel makes a fine addition to the tool shed. Trenching shovels have a long, slender blade and are great for digging under plants for transplanting. They are also easier to insert into the heavy clay soils found in our area. A new pair of hand pruners is always a welcome gift as they usually receive lots of use throughout the year. Look for hand pruners that have replaceable blades. The newer ratchet-style pruners may be easier for use on large limbs.

A pole pruner would be a unique gift for someone who has lots of trees. The only drawback is that they can be difficult to wrap. If you are willing to spend a little more money, a mini-tiller makes a great gift. A few even come with multiple attachments that can be used to till, edge and weed eat. A gas-powered blower is also nice to own for blowing off sidewalks, patios and even cleaning gutters. I have even seen folks use them in place of raking leaves, a chore I absolutely detest.

• If all else fails, a gift certificate to a local garden center or hardware store will give the recipient the flexibility to choose exactly what they need.

Giving gardening gifts is always a good idea and if chosen carefully will last for years to come.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Brenda Jackson at Murray County Extension at (706) 695-3031 or

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Your garden at Christmas: Sean Murray’s tips for North East gardeners

Little noticed during the summer months, conifers really come into their own in winter time, not only in the garden but as we bring them indoors to celebrate the festive season.

I’ve just redesigned an established garden previously planted with conifers by creating areas resembling a dry river bed. It’s all very Japanese and the planting plan includes ornamental grasses, ferns, hostas and Iris sibirica, to breathe some new life during the summer into an already beautiful space.

I noticed a couple of real stars as I worked in the garden; Picea Abies Gregoryana is a slow-growing gem, it’s exquisite and is one of those plants you just have to touch. Its minature peaked form reminded me of flying over the Alps and seeing densely-planted forests below.

Squeezed in a corner I spotted Abies Koreana, the Korean Fir, its conical shape at a maximum of one metre in height, along with its violet blue cones and dark green needles, makes it worth making a space for. To do it justice I am moving it to centre stage in the new design. Now is a great time to move all evergreens, including conifers.

Conifers have been unfairly out of vogue for sometime. Let’s face it, unless you’re a real enthusiast, they can be a bit dull throughout the blousy months of summer. But wow, from October to March they really come into their own. During the winter months when there is often little to see in the garden, conifers, with their diverse forms, colours and textures, can bring your garden to life.

Berried holly always catches the eye at this time of year also. If you want berries then go for Ilex aquifolium ‘J C van Tol’ or Pyramidalis, as they both produce berries without having to have male and female plants. Plant breeders have confused us all with names. Ilex Golden King is female and Golden Queen is male, but having both wouldn’t be a mistake with their fantastic variegated leaves.

A large conifer with berries

A large conifer with berries

In the garden it’s conifer time, but indoors it’s almost decision time again; do we get one of the artificial Christmas trees out of the loft, buy a freshly cut tree, or a potted-up one? Ultimately though, nothing beats filling the house with the smell of a freshly cut tree.

Someone asked me this week which fresh tree they should buy and how to care for it. I suggested a Nordmann fir for low needle drop, and keeping it outside for as long as possible before bringing it indoors to decorate. Once indoors I recommended recutting the base and placing it in a container (which needs to be kept topped up with water) and keeping it away from direct heat such as radiators. Remember to keep any lower branches you cut off to make an over mantle arrangement – it’s a thrifty way to maximise the cost of your tree, as they aren’t cheap.

Speaking of thrift, I’ve decided to dig up and pot our tree from three years ago, its taken it that long to recover. Potted on trees are tricky to re-establish as they are brutally dug up and their roots hacked and shoe horned into a tiny pot, but with care they can be used again.

If you’re feeling as thrifty as Tom and Barbara Good from the Goodlife, or don’t have room for a tree, then why not make a Kokedama? A Japanese moss ball, a centuries-old art closely related to Bonsai. ‘Koke’ meaning moss and ‘Dama’ meaning ball, they are easy to make. Take a couple of handfuls of heavy clay soil, wrap it round the roots of your chosen sapling, such as pine, larch or holly, and then cover it with moss from the garden.

Bind the whole ball with garden twine and you’re done. Spray it often with water whilst it’s indoors and plant it out after Christmas. They make great personalised gifts for the gardener who has everything. Merry Christmas!

Sean Murray with a Japanese moss ball, or 'kokedama'

Sean Murray with a Japanese moss ball, or ‘kokedama’

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Don Davis: Some cold weather lawn and garden tips

December begins with lawns and gardens finally getting some of the rain they needed a month or two ago. The moisture may encourage you to continue working in your yard and wrap up any late season chores.

Lawns do not look as good as they usually do at this time of year, thanks to the extreme heat last summer and extended drought this fall. They have bare spots where grass was killed outright by the unfavorable environment, not to mention dense patches of chickweed and henbit.

Now that colder weather is setting in, you are not going to see much new grass spreading into the areas of drought-damaged turf. However, you may realize the need for over seeding your lawn next spring or fall to fill in the bare spots and improve your lawn’s quality.

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The last of the leaves will fall from trees this month. Jobs like raking and blowing are going to come to an end, except in yards with certain oak and beech trees that usually keep their dead leaves until spring.

December is not a major pruning season due to the strong possibility of extremely cold weather coming along in winter that could result in freeze injury. Nevertheless, it is one of the best times to prune shrubs such as abelia, arborvitae, boxwood, euonymus, juniper, photinia, privet and yew.

Gathering clippings of evergreens for holiday décor is easy to do. Our yards have plenty of hollies, boxwoods, magnolias, pines, aucubas and nandinas with colorful foliage and berries useful for wreaths, garlands and centerpieces.

For best results, spread out your clippings over the whole plant. Cut a little bit here and there to maintain the plant’s attractive appearance.

It is not too late to plant the bulbs you bought last October and left on the shelf in your garage. Tulips, daffodils and all of the other popular spring blooming bulbs perform quite well when planted toward the end of bulb season in December.

This is also an excellent time to plant trees and shrubbery. Their roots will get established over the winter, and no watering will be required to get the plants established if we receive normal rainfall.

Watering is the main concern for houseplants. They use more water in warm rooms than in cool rooms, and plants in clay pots dry out before those growing in plastic ones.

Some houseplants need regularly scheduled watering through the winter while others do not. Peace lily looks terrible after three months of no watering at all, while Chinese evergreens and snake plants seem to do just fine.

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Garden chores for the week of Dec. 11

We know you’d rather be sipping hot cider and listening to holiday music, but before you get too comfortable, tend to these chores in the garden.

  • Raking leaves is so last century. Let them stay where they fall and feed the soil.
  • If you don’t like the look of a leaf-strewn garden, dig a shallow trench alongside unused vegetable beds, rake the leaves inside and cover them with the soil. By spring, the leaves will have decomposed and will help feed your summer veggies.
  • Control peach twig borer, San Jose scale, mites or aphids on apricots with a dormant oil spray. Dormant oil sprays can be applied to dormant ornamentals as well as fruit trees.

  • Halloween is long over, but you may have some mummies hanging around. Those would be dead fruit that remains on the tree or has fallen. Remove them to reduce the spread diseases.
  • Prune Feijoa sellowiana shrubs after fruit is harvested, as well as winter-flowering shrubs just after bloom. Hardy deciduous and evergreen trees also can be safely pruned now.
  • If you have a live Christmas tree in the house, don’t forget to water it regularly to keep it from drying out and shedding needles all over your wrapped presents.
  • If you’re in the mood for planting, you can plant all ornamental trees and shrubs except subtropicals.
  • Frost tolerant perennials such as Ajuga, English ivy, heuchera, hosta, lamium, lysimachia, ornamental sages, and Tiarella can be planted this month as well as frost tolerant annuals including calendulas, cinerarias, cyclamen, pansies, English primroses, fairy primroses, Primula obconica, and snapdragons.
  • Mulch bulb beds to protect from freezing and to conserve moisture.

— Joan Morris, Staff

The Contra Costa Master Gardeners contributed to this report.

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