Dec. 7: Floral advent calendar: Salpinglosis sinuata

It’s not very sophisticated, nor subtle, but I love it. This is Salpinglosis sinuata, growing in the glasshouse at Parham House. It’s a bit like a cooler, more exotic-looking petunia, to which it is related. It’s common name is “painted tongues,” and I get the sense it is an bit of an old-fashioned glasshouse/bedding plant that used to be more popular than it is today. Regardless, it is fantastic in the glasshouse, and it is a plant I’d love to try. I don’t know the cultivar of this one, but many are available to grow from seed.

Glasgow Botanic Gardens carnivorous collection

While we're on the subject of carnivorous plants, I'd like to share some photos of the stunning carnivorous collection at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. In August I'd gone through on the train for a fun day filled with museums and good food. I was delighted by the Hunterian Collection, at what will in June be my second collegiate alma mater, the University of Glasgow. I was also surprisingly moved by the nearby Charles Renee Mackintosh House.

Just a few minutes before it closed, my companion and I ducked out of a rain shower into the Glasgow Botanics glasshouse.

The entire glasshouse structure is incredibly beautiful, but I was stunned by this carnivorous display. It felt more like a fine art exhibit than a plant collection. The dark and stormy weather outside made a soft light in which the plants just glowed. It was one of the most beautiful horticultural displays I've ever seen, and a highlight of the many beautiful gardens I've visited this year.

There were Sarracenia (pitcher plants) of all species and colors, as well as Drosera (sundews) and Pinguicula (butterworts), all boggily bedded amongst ferns and mosses. 

Here are a few shots captured before a staff horticulturist ushered us out for closing time. I'd love to go back with a proper camera and get lost in these beautiful plants. 

My big debut: Filming in the glasshouses

This week a crew from ARTE, a French film company, was at the Botanics shooting a documentary on the garden. In preparation Pat and I cleaned up the Victoria lilies (Victoria amazonica, Victoria cruziana, and the hybrid created by combining the two, Victoria 'Longwood Hybrid') in the Plants and People glasshouse, removing spent buds and tattered leaves. We also took out a bunch of Eichhornia crassipes (water hyacinth) that was overcrowding the pond.

The Victorias are always a crowd favorite. At midsummer, when the day length is longest, the lily leaves grow to a whopping 2-3 meters. We're in the pond several times a week to remove the oldest leaves to give the young ones room to grow.

On Thursday the crew arrived. The charismatic presenter and Fiona, an indoor supervisor, got in the pond in waders for the shoot. Pat and I worked in the background of the shoot--my big film debut is me walking into the scene with the fishing net we use to collect removed plant material!

Fiona and the presenter fed the Victoria lilies with fertilizer balls Pat and I had made earlier in the week by mixing rubbish soil with blood, fish, bone, general-purpose granular fertilizer, and sodium nitrate, which provides the high dose of nitrogen needed to produce the largest possible leaves. It's basically like making mudpies--we mix everything in a wheelbarrow with water and then shape the muck into tennis ball shapes that are left to dry for several days. To feed the lilies one plunges a ball underwater, deep into the pot next to the root ball. It sounds simple, but every part of the plant is covered with incredibly sharp spines that create puncture wounds that are sore for days. I've already got scars up the back of my wrist from accidental contact whilst removing leaves.

The shoot was challenging as the crew spoke only French, but everyone got through and the pond looked great. I was particularly impressed that the whole thing was shot on a hand-held DSLR, with two extra crew members doing sound.

I'm not sure when the film is due out, but I look forward to seeing the glasshouse I've helped to care for this summer on film. The film is supposed to be released in several countries, including Australia and Canada, so I might even get to see it in English! And finally, one of my photos went out to the world today on the RBGE Press Twitter account:

Palm House panoramas

One of the best things about working at the Botanics is getting to spend time in all the places that are off limits to visitors. On Friday I climbed with a coworker to the top of the Temperate Palm House, Britain's tallest glasshouse. The long view stretched from the extinct volcano of Arthur's Seat, to the Craigs, on up the Royal Mile all the way to Edinburgh Castle and beyond, with the garden and glasshouses laid out at my feet.

The extent of the display and non-public back-up glasshouses was pretty impressive when viewed from this height. The Victorian Tropical Palm House is in the foreground. It was built in 1834 and is not only the oldest glasshouse at the Botanics, it's the oldest in Edinburgh.

Below, a closer view of Arthur's Seat, the big land form on the left horizon, all the way up to Edinburgh Castle at the very right edge of the frame. Two public glasshouses, built in the 1960s, are in the foreground.

Edinburgh Castle with a bit of the blue Pentland Hills further to its right, with the Azalea lawn in the middle distance.