Getting Way, Way Out of Town to See Nature Blooming

Culinary tourism, historical pilgrimages and even traveling to disaster zones to help out have all become popular ways to holiday. If you are interested in botany and flowers in particular, you might have considered going to see Japan’s cherry trees blossom in spring, or perhaps visit the tulip farms of Holland. If you’re willing to go a little off the beaten track, though, there are places you can take holiday snaps that may rival anything you can find in National Geographic.

Triple Canopy Rainforest

For the more adventurous, there are a number of totally unique flowers that can be found only in the Amazon. The bad news is that seeing them typically requires you to sweat a little.

You will certainly require a local guide: bugs, spiders and snakes, oh my! It’s ridiculously easy to lose your bearings in the jungle unless you stay on waterways: the “horizon” is rarely more than twenty metres away and you will not be able to tell where the sun is coming from. Also, in Colombia at least, exploring botanists have actually wandered right into drug cartels’ hideouts…so really, pay a few dollars to someone who knows the area. One with a certification from the local tourist board will often know volumes about the rainforest’s ecology and be able to locate species you’d otherwise walk right past.

Perhaps the most exciting part of visiting the Amazon is not the hint of danger or its uniqueness, but the fact that you can actually experience three ecosystems at the same time. These take the form of horizontal layers, from the gloomy yet still beautiful world of the undergrowth, which receives little sunlight, to the still-mysterious canopy layer, where completely different kinds of flowering plants can be found.

In the past, studying the canopy was a somewhat risky process. An arrow trailing a fishing line was shot upwards, hopefully looping over a sturdy branch, after which a climbing rope was pulled up. With the canopy easily being 40 metres off the ground (i.e. the height of a 13 story building) and medical attention days away, this type of fieldwork was not for the faint of heart or frail of bone.

Today, though, remotely piloted drones make taking pictures of the upper layer much easier. These aircraft are available in a variety of price ranges. At the lower end, you can choose the Holy Stone F181, which can be charged from a power bank, but it doesn’t have a FPV (drone’s eye view) or obstacle avoidance capability. If you’re willing to spend $3,000 plus on a jaunt to South America, though, you can certainly afford something better, such as the 3D Robotics Solo.

Namaqualand

Climatically as different from the Amazon as you can get, Namaqualand in Namibia and South Africa consists of arid plains interspersed with low hills. Desolate scrubland for most of the time, the landscape explodes in a riot of color for a few weeks every year somewhere between August and October.

Several hundred species of flowers take advantage of the seasonal rains to propagate, making this biome unique. It also boasts the highest concentration of succulents of any desert locale – over a thousand local plant species aren’t found anywhere else. Photographs cannot do justice to the beauty of varicolored blooms literally carpeting the landscape; it is something that simply has to be experienced in person. The incongruity of seeing dryland animal species such as gemsbok, ostrich and springbok grazing among what might as well be a miles-wide flowerbed is by itself worth the trip. For best results, keep in mind that the flowers follow the sun, so the best viewing times are between noon and 3 o’clock, facing east.

Well-traveled by tourists, it’s possible to cycle or drive offroad through Namaqualand. Alternatively, guided bus tours are also available, usually taking routes that allow you to spend a few hours in the various charming towns scattered around. If flying into Cape Town, make sure to also include the fynbos region on the Cape Peninsula in your itinerary, as this ecology and the species it’s comprised of are also found only in this small area.

There’s Nothing More Powerful Than Flower Power!

Before I settled down to write this article, I had one question: Where do flowers come from? Well, the answer is I can’t tell you! In fact, Darwin (who was a massive lover of flowers) couldn’t answer this question either. Instead, he just left it as a mystery and respected how powerful they are in the world as we know it.

If you think about it, they’re everywhere. From forests to fields, flowers dominate our world’s ecosystems. They’re responsible for the majority of calories humans eat. Foods like wheat, rice and fruit are all born due to flowers.

After Darwin Research Goes On

Not only are flowers massively diverse, they’re also one of the most successful species on our planet, and yes, after Darwin died their “roots” still left scientists baffled. However, fossils have been found that date these lovely plants anything from 66 to 100 million years ago!

That said, it appears the DNA is where all the answers are coming from. So, instead of looking to fossils the world of science has decided to strip back the DNA codes in order to understand why different flowers are formed.

Whilst doing this, they’ve discovered not when these plants first appeared but that their diversity is due to the recycling of genes. Much the same way in which limbs or eyes were formed (that’s a different story for a different article though)!

Enough With the Science!

I hear you. I’m not going to bang on about how flowers first appeared, or why. I want you to think about what a huge part they play in everyone’s lives. Sure, I’ve met people who have told me they won’t have cut flowers in the house because they think it’s like watching something die.

Each to their own, but I’ll bet that very same person has bought them in the past. Whether it be for a birthday, or funeral flowers will be part of their life. So much so they probably don’t even notice how much.

The Power of Flowers

For me it’s truly amazing just what power flowers have. They can make you feel uplifted or comforted, they can even bring a tear to your eye. You’ll often, see them at weddings, funerals, birthday parties and they’re sent to people as get-well gifts. The list is endless.

To understand the true power of flowers, you only need look at how much the industry is worth. In the 1950’s it was worth less than $3 Billion, in 2003 it was worth a little under $102 Billion globally! This works out at an annual growth of 6% year on year.

What Flowers Mean

I could go into why certain flowers have their meanings, but that would involve going all “science” on you again, so I’m just going to pick a few of my favorites so the next time you’re looking for a way to send a message you’ll know which one to “pick”. First on my list is the Bird of Paradise and not surprisingly this flower represents paradise itself, or joyfulness. Oh, and it’s also the 9th wedding anniversary flower.

Carnations are next. As you probably know, they come in all sorts of colors, but the one I would always choose is pink. This is because some believe they were created from the Virgin Mary’s tears. For that reason, they symbolize a mother’s undying love.

Finally, I have the lily, and these have various meanings depending on the type. However, if you know someone with a birthday in May, feel free to choose whoever sort you like. So, the next time you’re sending flowers spare a thought for what they truly mean.

Are Your Flowers Dancing in the Rain? Let Your Garden Grow!

As we all know water is precious and we’re constantly told how we can make sure we use it sensibly in our homes. White goods such as washing machines are designed to get clothes clean whilst not using too much water. We’re advised to take showers rather than bathe etc. But, what about the garden?

People who love gardening can come under some criticism, mainly because of their so-called “misuse” of water. That said, I have friends who use water sensibly and still manage to have a lush garden. For those of you who are worried about the amount of water you use to help your garden grow, I’ve decided to pass on some of the tips I’ve picked up over the years.

When the Heavens Open

There are certain parts of the US that don’t receive as much rain as they used to, and there are even some parts where it’s a joy to see rainfall. This may seem like a very basic (and pretty obvious) tip to give you but get yourself a rain bucket or some other large vessel so you can collect the rain when it arrives.

You don’t have to just rely on the water coming directly from the sky either. It’s possible to set-up systems so water that lands in gutters is re-directed to your barrel. If you’re concerned about the water becoming stagnant, there are a couple of things you should do. Keep the barrel dark in color, and keep it covered.

Dark colored rain barrels will stop algae from forming, and by keeping it covered you’ll stop bugs like mosquitoes from setting up home in the rain water.

Sprinkle, Sprinkle Everywhere

If you’re already conscious of the fact that sprinkler systems can be a little wasteful with water, you might want to think again. If you have a system like this it won’t know when it’s raining so if you happen to have a downpour before you get up in the morning and the system is set to come on, your garden gets a double dose it doesn’t really need.

If you already have (or are considering a sprinkler system), think about making use of a wireless sprinkler controller. These things are a great idea and personally, I think everyone should have one.

They can be as basic or sophisticated as your budget allows, and there are some models that can even detect when it’s raining and won’t turn your system on. Some will even hook up to the local weather station, making them even more efficient!

Do it the old-Fashioned way

Of course, not everyone has the spare cash to spend on a system like the one above (although they don’t have to be expensive), and there are people who have small outdoor spaces that simply don’t warrant a sprinkler system. So, for those of you who fall into this bracket, think about recycling the water you use around the home.

If you’re worried about using water that’s had say, dish washing detergent in it, try using products that are plant friendly. Or, just use the water on the hardier flowers you grow. Bath water (should you have one) can also be used. This may seem like a real pain to do, but its really important we all do our bit to save water.

It’s all About the Soil

This might make me sound like a novice, but I’ve discovered that the type of soil you use to plant your flowers can have an impact on the amount of water they need. There are plenty of composts on the market that contain water retaining gels or granules. These hold on to moisture, so you don’t have to water as often.

Mulching is also a great idea because it helps keep the moisture in the ground, and this can be used not just in flowerbeds but hanging baskets as well. Basically, just keep your eyes peeled at your local garden center for anything that helps retain water especially if you live in a dry climate.

Give it a go

There you have it, a few tips on how to use water sensibly in your garden, and still have an abundance of healthy flowers to show off. Some ways may seem like hard work, but it’s satisfying to know you’ve done your bit to conserve this precious resource.

Tending to Your Flowers Doesn’t Have to be Back Breaking

There are all sorts of reasons to have flowers in the garden. For a start, we should all be aware of the plight of the honey bee population and having bee friendly flowers can only be a good thing. They also have a certain serenity about them as well. I love watching them sway about in the breeze, and I also love to see a wash of color in my garden.

The problem for a lot of people is that whilst it’s great to have some well-tended flora and fauna in your outside space, it can have its toil on your body. The aches and pains at the end of a day’s gardening used to be solved with a good old soak in the bath, but these days, it’s not so effective.

put up and Shut up!

If you have a slightly stubborn streak (like me), the chances are you’ll choose to ignore those aches and pains because, let’s face it, they’re not so bad after a few days. However, you can cause yourself more harm by constantly putting your muscles and joints through this sort of exercise, especially when you reach a certain age.

I’m not here to give you any medical advice after all, I’m not a doctor. What I will say though is you don’t have to put up with the pain just by making a few changes to the way you look after your flowers. The best part is you don’t have to give-up keeping these lovely plants all together.

Lifting, Bending and Stretching

What many of us overlook is the fact that looking after flowers, or your garden in general is manual labor. So, if you intend to get some fresh air and do some dead-heading or weeding, make sure you limber up first. This doesn’t mean go on a four-mile run! What it does mean is that if you do some simple stretching exercises, it will help to warm your muscles up.

If you have any lifting to do, make sure you do it correctly by bending the knees and keeping your back straight. On the other hand, get someone-else to do it for you! If you can’t, make sure to use tools to help you such as a wheelbarrow. Speaking of tools, wherever possible use those with long handles so you’re not bending as much.

Have a Re-Jig!

One thing you can do is think about redesigning your garden. If you have wide flowerbeds, consider making them narrower so you don’t have to stretch over them in order to keep the ground free of weeds. You can also have the beds raised so there is less in the way of bending needed when you’re planting or tending.

It’s also an idea to cover any bare ground with mulch. This helps to smother the weeds before they get the chance to poke their heads above ground. Of course, you can also have an abundance of flowers so there isn’t room for those pesky weeds to grow. Although the last idea might create more work until your plants are established.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a day

One thing I’ve always been guilty of is taking on my garden for the whole day, so I can get it all finished. This, I’ve realized isn’t the best way to go about it if you don’t want to find it hard to get out of bed the next day! Instead, it’s best to take each job at a time and take a few days to complete the whole project.

The other thing I’ve started to do is to take plenty of breaks, and not to keep doing the same job for long periods of time. For instance, if I have a lot of flowers to dead-head and weeding to do, I mix it up so I’m not moving my body in the same way for hours on end. Taking your time over tending the flowers isn’t something that has to be done in a day. After all, your garden isn’t going anywhere!

Don’t Forget Your Relaxation Tools

There are lots of ways to relax after a few hours in the garden. As I’ve mentioned, you can take a long soak in the bath, or go for a massage. In respect of a massage, I’ve just found something that’s really helping, and I can use it in the comfort of my own home.

If you’re thinking massage chairs, think again! I’ve found something that costs way less but will still deliver a great massage. There are gadgets called massage pads, and all you do is place the cushion on your seat. The results are amazing, and I can enjoy a glass of wine at the same-time!

As you can see there are lots of ways to reduce the aches and pains from tending your flowers, so don’t think about giving up just yet.

Add a Splash of Color and Create a Winter Wonderland

Gardening has long been a passion of mine, and I especially love flowers. I don’t consider myself an expert rather, I treat this pastime as a hobby. So, when I recently moved to another State that has a climate I’m not used to, it posed a bit of a problem in the garden department.

Summers are much hotter, and winters are colder where I am now. In fact, snow in my part of the world isn’t uncommon for several months at a time. What is great however, is that my own little piece of green space is pretty much a blank canvas. This means I’ve been able to start from scratch and decided to pass on some of the information I’ve come across to you.

Hedge or Edge – What Will it Be?

One of the best plants I’ve discovered if you’re looking for some ground or border cover is the flowering quince. There does seem to be a bit of conflict on when this shrub actually flowers, so it can be any time from late winter to early spring. However, when it does, boy it certainly packs a punch! It has bright orange to reddish blooms, and as the plant matures the color deepens and becomes even more spectacular.

I’ve been told the Quince makes a great edge for your borders or will even grow into a natural hedge. It’s also a fantastic starter plant for those of you who have anything but green fingers. It’s hardy and will withstand being neglected as well as cold weather.

If you Want a Real Feel for Winter

Evergreens don’t give you much color in winter, except for green of course! So, if you’re someone who doesn’t mind seeing leaves fall to the ground during the fall, think about adding some Winterberry to your garden. The best way to describe this bush is it’s like a deciduous version of a holly bush.

Once the leaves have left this plant to add some much-needed nutrients to the soil, you’ll be left with bright red berries which are quite stunning when the snow starts to fall. Although, it’s worth remembering to plant both male and female types or you won’t get those berries. Oh, and you get the choice of spring or fall to plant them.

Not all Witches are Evil

Witch hazel is another favorite of mine, for two reasons. In summer the fragrance you get from this plant is something to die for, and in winter you’re treated to some of the most stunning looking flowers I’ve come across. They can be described as little blasts of red, orange and yellow rays of sunshine. Something that will definitely add a splash of color on those cold, grey days.

Beware though, this plant will need some planning when you’re deciding where to put it. It can grow to about 15 feet in height and almost the same in width, so it will need some space. That said, once it’s mature witch hazel is a true beauty when it’s in full bloom.

Christmas and Beyond

Ok, so there’s plenty of sparkle around during the festive season, but it doesn’t always reach your garden (unless you’re someone who doesn’t mind massive electric bills)! If you want to give guests something natural to marvel at, try a Christmas rose. These make excellent additions along pathways but do need spots that don’t get a lot of sun.

Plan to pop these in the soil during spring and you’ll be treated to lovely blooms from late December all the way through to early spring. The showy flowers will appear on stout stems that will always peek above snowfall (as long as it’s not 10 feet high)!

Closer to the Ground

January isn’t my favorite month of the year. Not only are all the festivities done with, the weather can be really difficult to take. Plus, I’m not rich enough to jet off somewhere warm. So, if you want something that reminds you spring will eventually arrive, scatter some snowdrop bulbs under larger shrubs and in rock gardens.

Blooming in late winter they make a lovely addition to any garden, and really help if you have ground to cover. Although, do make sure you have a machine that easily gets rid of excess snow or you might miss them. Another late winter bloomer is the sweet box. This also has little white blossoms that will compliment your snowdrops, plus it smells divine!

Have fun With Your Winter Wonderland

I haven’t included much in the way of evergreens such as conifers or boxwood hedges, it won’t do any harm to add some. They’ll add some much-needed green foliage, and depth to your little piece of plant heaven.

As you may have noticed, when planting the above flowers for the first time you don’t have to put your thermals on. Most of them can be added to the garden either in spring or the fall which means you won’t be out digging soil over in sub-zero temperatures!

As long as you make sure young shrubs and flowers are well looked after before the really poor weather hits, you’ll be treated to a rainbow of colors during winter. Even when the snow falls and you’re feeling down because it doesn’t seem like there’s anything to look forward to, all you need do is peek out of your window into the garden.

I can’t think of anything better at this time of year!