Our long distance garden visit this year was to Menton to visit Val Rahmeh in the morning and Clos du Peyronnet in the afternoon. We were lucky with the weather, especially in the morning.
Justicia brandegeeana (Shrimp plant)
Strelitzia reginae (Bird of Paradise) with its striking orange flowers with on the far left the elegant palm fronds of Syagrus romanzoffiana (Queen Palm)
In the late 19th, early 20th century there was an enormous interest, in particular among wealthy British people, to establish gardens along the Mediterranean coast from Genoa to Toulon.
Upon retirement in 1905, Sir Percy Radcliffe, a general in the British Army, and his wife Rahmeh Theodora Swinbourne bought a parcel of land in Menton. His wife died in 1924. He remarried and it was his second wife who named the garden 'Val Rahmeh'. The name 'Rahmeh' means tranquility. Sir Percy Radcliffe died in 1934. After his death the garden had several owners till in 1957 May Campbell bought the property and named it 'Casa Rosa'. In 1966 she sold the garden to the French State who renamed the garden as it was originally called 'Val Rahmeh'.
It is a botanical garden with more than 1700 species from all over the world. The micro-climate of Menton is ideally suited to sub-tropical and some tropical plants. The dense vegetation, the colourful plants and the species from all over the world makes you feel you are in the tropics.
The terrace in front of the house with Cordyline australis (looks like a palm but is not) in the foreground, several palms and various other plants
Sabal palmetto (Cabbage Palm) with blue/black seeds:
Livistona chinensis (Chinese Fan Palm):
Livistona chinensis (Chinese Fan Palm) on the far right
Dicksonia (Tree Fern):
Brugmansia spp. - Brugmansias differs from Datura by being a shrub, up to 11 m, with pendant flowers:
Papaya carica - normally a tropical fruit:
and climbing along the walls Beaumontia grandiflora:
close up of a Beaumontia flower
and a wonderful fragrant rose, native to Southern China and Taiwan - Rosa laevigata:
There were a few ground covering plants: Liriope muscari, it was in leaf when we saw it:
Tradescantia sillamontana - a green variety of 'Wandering Jew':
between the flag stones Anigozanthos flavidus (Red Kangaroo paw):
The strangest plant in this section of the garden was Chorizia speciosa - Silk Floss Tree. The first thing you notice is the bark of the tree, covered with sharp spines. When we looked at the canopy, green fruits, the size of avocado's were hanging from the tree. Although they look like avocado's, they are in fact filled with a fluffy matter which resembles kapok. When in flower, the flowers are pink or white.
Continuing our guided walk we passed very mature citrus trees. As citrus trees have been cultivated from 1000 BC, it is hard to be exact about their origins. It is thought to be between the south-east edge of the Himalayas, Assam and the north of Burma. From there the trees have spread to India, China (Yunnan), Japan and the Malaysian archipelago, then to the rest of the world. The first citrus fruit that came to Mediterranean region was the Citrus medica (Cedratier), the fruit looks very much like a nobbly, large lemon:
There are many varieties of Citrus medica, Buddha's hand is one of them:
Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis
The second name 'medica' suggest it must have come from Medea to our region. Medea was a large country which spanned part of Turkey and Iran.
A very large Fortunella (Kumquat) tree:
Another Chorizia in the garden is Chorizia insignia - similar to C. speciosa except that with age the trunk becomes bottle-shaped:
The well-known houseplant Monstera deliciosa is a climber. Also know as the Fruit Salad Plant, the ripe fruit tastes like a combination of banana, pineapple and mango. It takes more than a year to ripen:
Tillandsia of many varieties, aerial roots provides all their needs:
Tillandsia usneoides to the left, Tillandsia fasciculata to the right
Several magnificent Echiums are scattered around the garden. When you look carefully at the individual flower, you can see the similarities with the Echium vulgare which flowers in our area in the wild:
Tropaeolum pentaphyllum from South America a true rambler, it winds itself through large area of plants:
Lantana montevidensis (or L. sellowiana) - weeping Lantana:
An undulating hedge has been sculpted from Cupressus sempervirens:
The orange succulent on the right is Bulbine frutescens
Our guide standing in the medicinal plant section, the orange flower next to him is Leonotis leonurus
Some interesting medicinal plants growing in the garden from all over the world:
Erythroxylum coca a bush between 2-3 m, from the Amazonian region from which cocaine is processed:
Catha edulis (Khat) - a plant that is chewed a lot in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula, it causes excitement, loss of appetite and euphoria:
Ricinus communis (Caster Oil Plant) - the seeds produce castor oil. Caster oil was widely used as motor oil, now mostly replaced by synthetic oils. The plant is considered to be one of the most poisonous plants in the world, 4-8 seeds is enough to kill an adult with painful and unpleasant symptoms:
Ruta graveolens, once used to cause abortion:
Elettaria cardamomum - Cardamon - ginger like in appearance. The guide gave us a leaf to smell, not quite like the seed but very aromatic:
Sophora toromiro or for short Toromiro is a plant that originally grew on Easter Island. Easter Island was discovered in 1722 by the Dutch navigator 'Roggeveen'. The discovery was made on Easter Sunday, hence he named the island 'Easter Island'. The island was covered in a sort of shrubland, the Toromiro was one of shrubs with a height of around 2 m, with a twisted trunk the width of a man's arm. The Polynesian settlers sculpted all their famous red wood statues from Toromiro wood. Through overgrazing this shrub has disappeared from the island. In 1956 Thor Heyerdahl's team took a branch with seed pods to the Botanic Garden in Gothenburg. When he returned to the island in 1962 there were no more Toromiro's. The plant was reproduced from seeds and 'in vitro' culture. A specimen from Gothenburg was planted in Val Rahmeh at Easter 1993. It is the only Toromiro growing in the open air in Europe:
A tree that was noticeable in many parts of the garden was the Erythrina caffra - African Coral Tree with bright orange flowers. The seeds are orange-red, in Africa they are used to make jewellery:
A climbing hydrangea with a powerful smell:
A most unusual climber:
We were told by the guide that the tallest bamboo in the world, Dendrocalamus giganteus, grows 1 m per day for 32 days. The story goes that when one of these bamboos flowers, all the other Dendrocalamus giganteus bamboos that exist in the world, flower at the same time. True or Untrue?
The last part of the garden we visited was the waterlily pond:
on the far side is the Mexican Weeping Bamboo - Otatea acuminata
Clarisse and June having a bit of a rest
Photos: Lilianne Feldman, Jacqueline Hodkinson, Tineke Stoffels and Gabrielle Wellesley