The garden is showing subtle signs that autumn is in the air. The seeds of the great Ginkgo tree in the Italian Terrace Garden are beginning to drop, its foliage slowly turning a deep saffron yellow. Despite the dry, hot summer, the garden continues to thrive, thanks in large part to the hard work of our gardeners. They have been tirelessly weeding and mulching, among other things, to maximize water efficiency during the drought and extreme hot weather. We installed a water savings drip irrigation system in the Italian Terrace Garden on the Neptune, Citrus and Lion Terraces, and along the front wall on Elden Way. I am grateful for the Friends’ extraordinary dedication and hard work to fund projects such as this, enabling this historic living collection to flourish.
Walking through the Palm Forest takes us back in time to what it must have been like as Mrs. Robinson did her daily walks in the gardens. The majestic Morton Bay Fig, with its massive trunk and thick buttressing roots supporting the weight of its crown, greets visitors as they begin to descend into the forest. Standing next to it, its unwavering, enduring presence offers a space of tranquility. The garden provides so many places of sanctuary where guests can enjoy the quiet and beauty that surrounds them. Visitors can sit at the base of the waterfall along the path or enjoy the view from the Palm Terrace, listening to the soothing sound of the fountains.
There is a variety of plant species in the Palm Forest to discover. You are probably familiar with the two cycads on the Great Lawn, the male and female Eastern Cape Giant (Encephalartos altensteinii). The Palm Forest has numerous other species of cycads. Cycads are some of the most primitive living plants in the world, dating as far back as 280 million years ago. The next time you are on the Palm Terrace or Cutting Rose Garden, as you ascend the steps to the driveway, you’ll see other cycad species including the Eastern Cape Blue Cycad (Encephalartos horridus). The species name horridus is Latin for 'bristly,' after the plant's stiff, sharp, and spiny leaves. What’s notable about this plant is its large bright orange cones that stand out next to the blue-grey leaves. This cycad was designated as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2003 (it was previously listed as vulnerable in 1997).
Walking up past the driveway to the upper part of the Palm Forest, past the Blue Gum Eucalyptus tree, guests are greeted by more tropical plants. One of my favorites is the Spicy Jatropha (Jatropha integerrima). This evergreen shrub still has vibrant pink coral flowers which blooms in the summer. Surrounded by the different colors, shapes and textures of the various plants with the birds in the aviary singing in the background, this area truly is an oasis for visitors.
Post by Diane Sipos
Superintendent of the Virginia Robinson Gardens