Helping out to make a greener earth

Monday, November 8, 2010

In Bloom - October

 I have just created another blog entitled "Green Spell Farm."  Since this new blog will focus on my farm exclusively, where the orchid and ornamental greenhouses are located, I have decided to broaden the scope of this ("In Bloom") regular feature.  It will not only showcase those in bloom mostly in the farm but anything in bloom during the month regardless of where they were found.  However, the pictures will be arranged in a chronological order, according to the dates when they were photographed.

So, last month these were all abloom -

October 11

The first week of October was spent preparing for the Taipei trip.  In that trip, thousands of flowering plants were observed, with special emphasis on orchids for which Taiwan is famous all over the world. As a result, I have posted several articles on Taiwanese phalaenopsis to showcase some of these wonderful orchids being grown in Taiwan.

However, not all that fascinated me in Taipei were orchids. One of these was a flowering tree.

On my third day, I decided to take another street from the hotel to the exhibit site. Arbitrarily selected, this decision led me to a wonderful discovery.

Midway during this brisk walk, my attention was caught by a line of flowering trees that I initially thought were bauhinias.

As I approached, I realized that these could not be hongkong bauhinias because their flowers were much bigger.

And then a realization struck me.

Could this be flowering specimens of a tree species whose seeds I ordered from a foreign catalog years back?  I have since grown a number of those seeds and now they are almost 15 ft tall growing well in the farm.

The leaves were the same, the thorny bark was identical and keenly recalling the catalog description, I could not be wrong.

These were indeed silk floss trees, chorisia speciosa or pink kapok.  A native of South America, this flowering tree is considered as one of the most beautiful in the world.  The flowers were almost saucer-sized and looked like tiger lilies.  Now I have more reason to take care of the ones I have at the farm.

October 17

It was now Indonesia, in a place just south of Surabaya where the doberman competition is being held.

 While waiting for my turn to judge the dogs, I took the short free time to appreciate the resort-like atmosphere of the area where the show was being held.

This particular flowering orchid caught my attention.

Perched on the branch of a small tree, just about three feet from the ground was this very healthy orchid calling attention to its caramel brown flowers that looked like plastic as they were so shiny.

 I could not help but associate it with our local vanda lamellata. The plant looked like a healthy lamellata.  The flowers have almost the same shape though a bit fuller and much larger in size.  On the other hand, I could not recall if there was any scent.  Those who are familiar with Philippine orchids would know that our local orchid exudes a most pleasing aroma.

This could have been a hybrid, I will never know.  But this little plant sure made Surabaya memorable for me.

October 20

I was in Chatuchak very early and had only less than two hours to spare.  The convention that I need to attend will start before lunchtime and I need to go back to the hotel to change into something formal before going the convention center which might take almost an hour of travel time.  Not much time to go around and appreciate the plants.  Normally this would take me almost a day, with a return trip the following day.  This trip, I had to be satisfied with a measly two hours.

So many beauties, so VERY LITTLE time....

First thing that attracted me was a red adenium with multi-layered petals.

The typical varieties would have only one layer but fanciers have been at work with adeniums or bangkok calachuchi as these are popularly called in the Philippines.  Not only did they broaden the range of color of the flowers, they also developed different flower types, in terms of size as well as the number and shapes of petals.

Adeniums are rather finicky plants based on my experience.  However, the newer introductions always demand my attention and a desire to see whether the vigor of the plant has improved and whether the tolerance for cultural variation has been widened just like what was done to the flower characteristics.

The plumerias or calachuchi as filipinos call them were being sold with flowers.  I have collected so many varieties through the years but these varieties I do not seem to have yet.

Quite big flowers, basically white with a blush of pink at the edges and bright yellow at the center.

This is also quite floriferous as may be seen from the buds that are yet to open.  I can imagine walking under this huge plumeria tree with all this sweet looking flowers at my feet.  In six to seven years time.....

Plumerias have not enjoyed the public acceptance that they should in the Philippines.   Being very hardy plants, requiring very little care to produce so many flowers, they have been used extensively as shade/ornamental trees in cemeteries and as such have been associated with the dead.

This variety really got me excited.  The colors are so vivid - the contrast of pink with the yellow jumps at you even from a distance.  Medium size flowers and extremely floriferous.  I would have wanted to bring this home though I can't this time.  Better luck next trip then.

Bangkok like Taipei is also orchid country.  This orchid though, caught my attention -

There was no tag to identify the plant.  The flowers were huge, almost the size of medium-sized cattleyas, immaculately white with deep yellow on the lip.  It could have been a hybrid of one of the formosa type dendrobiums.

And how could I possibly leave the plant market without checking on my other favorite, the water lily.  

I found this beauty displayed in one of the prominent water lily vendors. The subtlety of the changing petal color from dark red to baby pink with the yellow at the center is something that I have not seen so far in water lilies. 

The plant is still small.  This must be first or second flower for the plant still.  I can imagine how pretty it would be when the plant matures and the flowers would be 6" to 8" wide.

I wish I can bring this home too!!!!

October 30

Towards the end of a very hectic month I was thankful to find myself with a few free days to go to my farm and to check the progress of my plants there.  

These two plants were in bloom - 

The very reliable and no frills dendrobium dearei.  Small pure white flowers with  a blush of green at the center, it flowers twice a year, most years in the farm.  Very relaxing to look at.

And to cap my very hectic month, the coelegynye rochussennii were all abloom.  Here is a shot of the flowering clump and a close up of the spike as well.

These native orchids from Mindanao were bought many years ago in a regional garden show without flowers.

The seller practically twisted my arm to buy them as I was then in no mood to buy.  He said that they are called "rosary orchids" since the flower spikes are long and a clump can send plenty of spikes.

I was glad I allowed myself to be "convinced" as these plants adapted very well to life in the farm.  It helped that my farm is a bit cool too which I found out to be one of the requirements for this orchid to flower.

Grown under a single net with coconut husk for growing medium, the plants receive nothing extra but for the twice monthly fertilization.  They were also watered when the growing media started to become dry.

For many years now, without fail, these plants would send out this long yellow flower spikes at this time of the year.

Whew,  what a full October it has been!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Green Buildings and Vertical Gardens

One of the more visible trends in gardening that seem to have been gaining ground is the green building and its component part, the vertical garden.

It is not surprising that this trend will find more acceptance in more economically advanced nations as the push of continuous industrialization and expansion of commercial and residential construction in these countries will mean less and less space for people to use for plants and for gardening.

There is also greater appreciation in such countries of the role that plants can play in the need to urgently reduce global warming compared to the less developed ones where subsistence remains the main issue.

A stereotype building is made up of two basic exterior parts, the roof and the walls.  The green building, which in its entirety is all covered up with living plants (except for the windows and the doors), is likewise made up of a planted roof and walls cladded with living plants.

While the completely green building is still a rarity in the Philippines, a partially green one is easier to come by:  either small scale vertical gardens or planted roofs.

Various plants that may be hanged
One of the oldest concept of the vertical garden is the use of the vertical component of space for growing plants.

While gardening is mostly carried out horizontally as planting is land-based, the vertical element gets to be forgotten or not at all utilized.  This is the case of concrete walls and fences that have been left bare though the base have been planted adequately.

With the use of trellises installed on walls, vines or creeping plants potted and hanged on beams, or the use of epiphytic plants that are attached to walls, more and more vertical spaces get to be  filled up with greens.

Then of course there are plants that are grown on the ground and can literally attach themselves to walls as in the case of the creeping fig.

Such initial approaches have been expanded to the point that now, whole walls, even whole buildings have been enveloped with living plants.

While we have yet to see such examples in the Philippines, in other more advanced countries, these green buildings are becoming quite common.

A planted roof is a class altogether separate from the vertical garden.  However, the development of vertical gardens, is so closely intertwined with that of roof plantings.  In a lot of situations, it is first the roof and then afterwards the walls that are planted.

Of course, in a building, the roof would be considered the easiest to install with plants, especially if it flat or has little slope.  The only consideration will be the capability of the structure to carry the additional weight of the plant materials and the growing media or soil.

A modern home with a lawn installed on its roof.  Note the roofs of neighboring homes
Modern buildings with its generally flat concrete roofs are ideal candidates for such applications.  For as long as the building can bear the additional load, the planting scheme can be quite straightforward and is made up mainly of grass.

The major issue for such an installation in addition to the additional weight is the difficulty of correcting leak problems should this eventually crop up.

In very tall buildings, the logistics of bringing up the materials will also have to be planned real well.
From the roofs, the development has progressed to the walls.  These days,
covering the walls with living plants has been made easier with the use of technology.

There are systems that are now available that will allow the installation of a vertical garden ranging in size from a few square feet in area to several thousand square feet.

These come with planters, frames as well as watering systems.  They can even be fixed or portable as in the case of planted dividers which have rollers already installed at the base of each unit for ease of mobility.

These developments have made it possible to conveniently grow plants  that will cover a vertical wall like the one on the right.

These could entail a major investment in terms of the non-plant materials that will have to be used.  It would require considerable expertise on the part of the planner and the installer.

On the other hand, not only do such systems help the environment by lowering temperature, reducing noise and removing pollutants from the air, they also improve the quality of life of people as they can transform an otherwise drab area into a living work of art.

A fully planted wall instead of a plain concrete fence

Setting up walls such as the one shown above is made possible by putting together a series of planters and holders that interlock with each other.

These ingenious contraptions come in several forms but all provide enough planting media and drainage for plants to have a solid base for their roots and from which these roots can derive the plants' nutrient and water requirements.

In a sense, such walls are made up of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of small pots strung together to cover a vertical expanse and which when planted with selected plants that are suitable for the given environment would transform the space from dull to green.

Still another form of vertical garden is achieved not through the use of small pots or planters but through the use of a fabric-like material that may be planted and draped over a surface like a carpet of green.

This approach is used when a wall of grass is desired as shown in the background of the picture below.  On the more extreme side, it can be used to drape a three-dimensional figure with living plants as the dolphin in the foreground illustrates.  With this method, topiaries which could take a long time to develop become redundant as the same effect may be obtained at a fraction of the time.  To top it all, different plants may be combined to create a figure with different colors and texture, something that will be extremely difficult to do with a traditional topiary.

The "fabric" is made up of at least two sheets of heavy-duty synthetic cloth that sandwich a medium that can hold the roots of the plants as well as retain substantial amounts of water. The composite fabric is then stretched over a frame or a framework. As shown below, this fabric is slit at the areas where plants will be inserted.

Regardless of the approach, the finished "garden" is always a sight to behold!  Beautiful and at the same time earth-friendly.

Green building completely planted except for the glass windows and doors.