Karen Platt's Blog

  • The Book of Orchids by Mark Chase et al


    The Book of Orchids by Mark Chase et al, hardback published by Ivy Press. ISBN 9781782404033, price 30 gbp available from www.quartoknows.com

    Ask most gardeners and non-gardeners alike for their favourite flowers and orchids will usually be in the top ten. They get their fair share of oohs and aahs. This book is for the serious lover of orchids. It includes orchid evolution, pollination, symbiotic relationships, threats to wild orchids and orchidelirium (first time I have come across that but it aptly describes orchidmania). The orchids are then divided into Apostasioideae, Vanilloideae, Cypripedioideae, Orchidoideae and Epidendroideae taking up the bulk of the book with 162 pages dedicated to exploring these fascinating plants, plus appendices, which include a glossary, classification, resources, index of common and scientific names and acknowledgements. This book provides a stunning guide to no less than 600 incredible species out of the vast over 26,000 orchid species that exist, photographed in detail. Whilst the photographs are entertaining, there is enough scientific knowledge to interest the avid orchidophile, whilst remaining informative and readable by anyone who holds these remarkable plants in awe. Some of the smaller images could have done with the brightness turning up a notch. There are full-page plates at the beginning of each chapter. Orchid flowers are shown actual size, which is a bonus. The descriptions are fantastic, allowing the reader to become familiar with the plant in a uniform format giving all essential details. The information includes distribution, habitat, flowering time and size. I love the Dracula species, Dendrobium, Cypripedium, Paphiopedilum, Zygopetalum, Vanda and Brassia, they are all covered in this book with a few examples. The problem is that with such vast numbers of each available, so few have been covered and this just feels like the tip of the iceberg. I hope that in future, we can see more comprehensive books in this series, dealing with each type of orchid. For now, this is an excellent introduction to the world of orchids, no matter what your preferences for individual species. I am sure it will become a standard classic and deservedly so.

  • Ilam Park - Gardens to Visit

    Ilam Park features walks around incredible countryside as well as a small formal garden area. It does not add up to a must-see for the avid gardener, especially not for those looking for ideas, but for the lover of countryside and open green spaces, Ilam has it all.

    You can get here by bus from Ashbourne, but I was lucky enough to be driven by a friend. It is a stunning NT property with free entrance, set in the Manifold Valley in Dovedale. The tiny village of Ilam has beautiful houses and the surrounding countryside is the epitome of this 'green and pleasant land'. I'd swear those hills are made of green velvet.

    The house itself is now a hostel, so you can stay here. The Church of the Holy Cross also stands in the grounds and is worth a look. You'll spot the clumps of snowdrops and the massive giant redwood, Sequoiadendron giganteum in the grounds. It's not the only fine specimen tree, there is also a good example of Araucaria araucana, the monkey puzzle tree. Walk over to the riverside and on the house side, you'll find a row of trees with limb-like branches.

    The small formal garden is Italianate. The lavender was showing off its silver cloak, and there was a tiny Acaena 'Blue Haze' near the covered archways. The latter and the grand steps indicate the former glory of the house. Further round there were clumps of golden Eranthis hyemalis, winter aconite. My favourite feature was the stone 'urn' set into the wall with its leaf decoration, holding a heuchera, I would have planted it with Sedum Angelina to overflow its confines.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Sheffield Winter Garden

    When it is cold, it is tempting to seek out indoor gardens, at least for me, call me the fair weather gardener. Hence, I found myself two week ago strolling around The Winter Gardens in Sheffield once more. It's like a mini botanic garden with plants from around the world, but nothing that an avid gardener would not recognise. The structure still steals the show in many ways. I can almost think of it as an extension to my own place and if I had a glasshouse, this would be about the right size.

    Step into that other garden world, the world of plants from other continents, so coveted because we cannot usually grow them outdoors. There is a good selection of Australian plants and those from South America too, mainly represented by cacti and one or two South African succulents. Ferns, palms, wattles, orchids, exotic greenery with a splash of colour associated with subtropical paradises.

    The Kalanchoe looked too small to be at my feet, they deserve an eye-level viewing, with their perfect rose-like blossoms, around 1cm across. The Tradescantia was vying to be the plant that covered the most ground, and was accompanied by a sole Begonia, glowing like a little velvet beacon. Codiaeum (Croton) were dotted here and there, as well as Aechmea and Vriesia. A lone Gerbera was holding fort for the strongest colour. The Norfolk Pine, Araucaria cunninghamii was certainly the tallest. However, the bamboo stand and the fan of Strelitzia leaves were also heading for the roof. The orchids and Anthuriums were looking handsome too. Yet the Cycads and Dicksonia were looking on the dry side. The Platycerium stag's horn fern had grown on one side of a trunk, but on the other it was sporting just two 'horns', well-deserved of its name.

    Right in the middle of the city centre, it's a good place to come and sit for lunch and admire the greenery. Sip your coffee and dream of paradise islands in the Pacific whilst you gaze at that Norfolk island Pine. Bliss.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Just a stroll

    When I stroll, I notice all the plants along my journey, no mater how 'insignificant' they seem, they contribute to my day. Today, I had my camera with me and captured some joy. A humble berry, a little green shoot or the full-blown silhouette against the sky, they all contribute to life. Plants inform us about our seasons, early or late, they tell us about the changes that are taking place.

    Today I noted there are few berries left on one Cotoneaster, yet a Sorbus was still berry-laden and there were still quite a few berries on the small, red-berried tree where the waxwings go. I loved the way the Cotoneaster had been trained around a corner, a veritable sweep of twiggy branches in its dormant state, offering structure to the garden. We all need a rest a times.

    The twigs of the Cotoneaster might be bare, yet the conifers were grabbing attention with their gold and blue foliage, enhanced by the cold temperatures. So too the red tips of the Hebe. Mahonia leaves were sparkling like Merlot wine, having also taken on the red cloak of winter. Holly was shining like a coat of nail gloss. Two days later I noticed the yellow flowers appearing.The Hellebores are the Queen of the winter flower garden. Yet, let's not overlook the small Iris that are like jewels at this time of year.

    Further along on my stroll, beech leaves were still clinging to twiggy branches, shivering in the breeze. Magpies were cawing in the bare branches of tall trees. There are at least 6 that live here. I am always attracted to bark, and none looks as good as Betula, birch bark, especially in winter. Nearer my destination, Buddleja were bursting into tiny silvered leaves. The variegated Euonymus was also touched with a pinkish red glow.

    We have not thrown off winter's cloak quite yet, but the signs of renewal are emerging.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Sheffield - EU funded gardens

    I have written about the EU funded gardens before, but being unable to make it up the hill to the Botanic Gardens, I photographed these again in their winter cloaks. There is a newer area that is still unfinished, which appears to be using recycled materials and is quite interesting, but not yet planted up. In fact work seems to have stopped, and I hope this has not been abandoned owing to loss of EU funds.

    In the rest of the planting, the grasses are shining. Yucca filamentosa was looking strong too, the greenest plant in the garden. The tree trunks, still extremely slender, are showing interesting colour. The Artemisia should come with a warning sign and I fear it might take over the garden, some of the plants planted in April 2016, are already 60cm (2ft) or more across. Its feathery foliage is, however, to be admired. Buds are beginning to appear and although it is still cold, there are signs that spring is on its way.  The spring Primula are doing their thing. I still cannot believe that flower on the Phlomis, it has been there at least two weeks now. We can always depend upon the garden to give us something unexpected.

    The EU funded gardens are outside the Magistrates Court in Sheffield.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Walking Round London - gardens

    I had to go to London for work and it is always nice to fit in a garden or too. There was not time to get to the major gardens and January isn't exactly garden visiting time in much of England. However walking between A and Z, I took in a few incidental garden spaces. Not places you would go out of your way to see, but if you work in London, or are a weary tourist, it's nice to know the green spots.

    St. Paul's - when you've done gazing at the amazing mosaics and magnificence of the building, take a little walk around the garden. Even at this time of year, there are Liquidambar leaves clinging for dear life whilst an ornamental cherry bursts into bloom. The red and yellow dogwoods are still speaking of fire and brimstone. Berries too were a reminder that winter is here. I loved the fountain with its lion's heads. The wet London plane tree trunk was outside Westminster Abbey.

    I had caught sight of the Gherkin and in pursuit for a photo, I passed Cleary Gardens, a spot to rest aching feet and legs, with a view of the Shard in the distance. I am not fond of filling wheelbarrows and such with plants, but if you must, I thought this pair looked attractive filled as they were with pretty standard garden plants - heuchera, cyclamen and euonymus.

    Reaching the modern architecture towering above old churches and buildings was a bit like stepping into a Hollywood vision of the future. I love both types of architecture. I liked the trees against the glass and yellow columns. The landscape designer in me wanted to plant striking yellow dogwood, yellow bamboo and the most fabulous yellow leaved tree of them all - Acer 'Princeton Gold' or the to die for Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira'. I liked viewing the trees through the modern architecture.

    I walked on in pursuit of a better view of the Shard, and passed the Sky Garden. Free tickets have to be booked online, I would have done that if I had known. I was content to see the garden wall at ground floor level. I don't know if it was planted by Patrick Blanc, but he is the man who started doing vertical gardens first.

    Perhaps the loveliest of all plants on this incidental plants walk was created in a concrete bench facing the Shard on the Thames path! Plants that never die. What a gorgeous place to sit and contemplate the Thames.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Seasons - Winter

    Poor winter. It always comes too early and leaves too late. What it is about winter that we cannot get over it too quickly? Winter has only just begun (officially 21st December) yet we start immediately looking for signs of spring.

    So let me say a few words in praise of winter. The white landscape blessed with snow or kissed by frost that is necessary to kill off bugs and to give plants a rest. The tracery of bare branches against the sky. Frosted leaves that look so pretty. Berries clinging to shrubs to provide much-needed food for birds. Those bright cold days with clear skies and low sunshine that seems to glow.

    If you do have deep snow, knock it off the branches of shrubs and trees to alleviate the weight, but leave it elsewhere as insulation. Make sure plants like Artemisia and Achillea are dry at the crown to prevent rot. Often we dislike winter because we have not planted for the season. Try to make space for a few handsome winter shrubs such as Hamamelis, Chimonanthus or Parrotia. Hellelbores will provide colour, cut back the leaves to reveal those blooms and I always find Ranunculus provide a welcome winter drift with their small yet interestingly coloured leaves. With the right winter plants, you will not wish winter away so quickly.

    Each season has its purpose. Appreciate the winter artistry of nature. Embrace the rest from digging, cutting back and deadheading. Yes it is cold, and it is my least favourite season. I am a hibernator. Yet if spring comes too soon, frosts will only kill off the plants with their tender buds. So enjoy the season, for what it is. Rest for the plants, a time to plan and re-adjust. It rarely pays to sow seed early either, these too just take longer to grow and later sowing often catch up with earlier ones. Sow something different, there is so much to try.

    Enjoy the silhouettes, the sunrises, the photo opportunities. Relax and plan what to sow and how to sow it. There's never been a better time than now.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • 2017 Colour of the Year - Green

    When it comes to the garden, green is so ubiquitous, it is the colour we do not even think about. It is relegated to backdrop, ever present but hardly registering on the visual scale as eyes fix on highlights of colour as if they are popping around a pinball machine. The backdrop fades into nothing but a blur, necessary but not the main feature. Yet the wizard of the garden is green - especially when it comes to flowers. For green flowers in the garden are used as rarely as those sought after blacks and blues and can provide stunning colour.

    My research led me to find over a 1,000 green flowers for the garden from exotic orchids to common garden annuals you can grow so easily from seed. Whilst I love Paphiopedilums, I realise that not everyone would want to grow one, but even the kids can sprinkle a few Nicotiana seeds and enjoy lime green flowers.

    I have a preference for lime green or chartreuse and many of the flowers are in this colour range. If there is one plant I must mention outside this colour range it is the jade green Strongylodon, the plant that sent me off on my research. One I would gladly buy a heated greenhouse for if I had the space and money. Be bold and plant it with purple and a dash of orange or go all out for green and red. Whatever you plant, make 2017 colourful and include a few greens in the garden, even if it is just adding a few lettuce, potager-style to the border.

    Discover a whole new world of green flowers for your garden and some choice variegated plants, there's 25% off now until stocks last


    Words, images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • When Autumn Leaves Turn To Gold

    I dillied and dallied and autumn turned to winter too fast. One moment the leaves were turning to glorious colours and I was thinking, wow I must do an autumn post. However I was wrapped up in my new book Woven Textiles of Tunisia, and suddenly it seemed that autumn had vanished.

    To be fair we have still only had one night of frost (although I might have escaped a couple of nights at the beginning of November as I was in sunny Greece), but one night last week changed the landscape of the garden from dazzling colours to silvered and nipped with frost, plants limp and reeling from the cold. Those blazing fiery hues of autumn leaves fell to the ground and became brown and wizened and often wet and soggy. I had been astonished to see asters, cornflowers, red hot pokers, verbena bonariensis and rudbeckia still going strong to the end of November.

    One is reminded of the eternal cycle, the return to earth, the renewal that follows. But for a while it will be frosty photos. So I recall the beautiful colours of autumn. I particularly love the rusty colours of Taxodium.

    You can enjoy year-round colour with my gardening books

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • The Greening of Cities

    Coming from Sheffield, one of the greenest cities in England and having just spent a week in Athens, Greece, I was struck by the lack of greenery in the city. Once you get out of Athens itself, there is beautiful scenery and I know the Pelopennese bursts into flower each spring, but Athens would be a much nicer place if those rows upon rows of concrete apartment blocks greened up their balconies let alone the roofs.

    Occasionally you will pass the wondrous waft of jasmine scent, occasionally a few orange trees, or a splash of bougainvillea. I have no idea how many apartment blocks there are in Athens, but they are endless and far too few have any greenery at all. I know there are restrictions in the U.K. on having plants on balconies in some apartments - check your lease - but such restrictions are rare overseas.

    I passed two parks regularly, both with a forlorn, almost uncared for look about them, not welcoming with nary a flower in sight. One redeeming feature in the city is the National Gardens, around the Parliament building. Visit in daytime only.

    By the Acropolis Museum is a beautiful garden space, but the only one I saw. There are trees growing up the side of Lycabettus Hill too. However, I want to make a gentle plea to Athenians to green up their city. Be proud, be happy, love green.

    Words and image Karen Platt 2016

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