Monday, January 15, 2018


The date January 15th says we're in the middle of winter. Right? Except if you live in the milder zones of the Bay Area. There's already a hint of anticipation of a not-so-far-off spring in the air. Lots of bulbs are up. For those of us with bulbs such as Lachenalias, the first of these are already blooming. Not far off are freesias (I spotted the first unopened flower spikes yesterday) and snowdrops, which are already up. All of that helps us be a bit more patient, marking off the weeks on the calendar, waiting now for February and beyond.
Today's photos are a mix of my garden's winter clothes, with a few surprises just noticed yesterday. If it so suits you, I hope you find pleasure in living vicariously through this man's garden.

Choisya 'Sundance.' I love the varied gold and green patterning on this mock orange. It took awhile to really get established - much longer than the straight species - but it's become one of my favorite plants over time. 

Ribes aureum. This yellow flowering currant should be growing in the spring and summer but has decided to put out new growth in late December and January. It has yet to bloom but does have those lovely tri-lobed soft leaves.

Staghorn fern. This newer staghorn is off and running, with the larger fronds already leaning out over the walkway for more light. 

Here's one of my early blooming Lachenalias, L. viridiflora x quadricolor. The blue you see is from the viridiflora parent and the other colors from the quadricolor.

This handsome fellow is a Helleborus argutifolius 'Pacific Frost.' If you look more closely you'll see the pronounced speckling on the leaves, at times making the leaves more white than green. The smaller, lime-colored flowers seem a perfect complement.

Snapdragons in winter? Yes, believe it or not, snaps do quite well in the milder zones like those here in Oakland. Here's a A. 'Chantilly Bronze' displaying pink flowers that will age to bronze.

'Fuzzy green' should be the name of a cocktail (if it isn't already) but in any case it describes the leaves of this Salvia libanensis. It's supposed to be a winter bloomer but so far no flowers yet. That's okay; I'm digging the 'fuzzy green.'

Say the word 'senecio' and most gardeners don't think 'shrub' or yellow flowers' but in fact both those descriptions apply to the lovely Senecio barbertonicus. Throw in the bright green foliage and you have an appealing and oh-so-easy-to-grow succulent.

Gold stars to those who can ID this shrub. Hint: the leaves smell like peanut butter. It is indeed a Melianthus but not M. major but M. pectinatus. As you can see, the leaves are a lot smaller and more heavily dissected. And the flowers look nothing like the huge panicles on M. major. These ones are red in bud (front) opening to a bronzy-orange (rear).

My Deppea splendens shouldn't still be blooming and this cluster is certainly one of its last for the season. So pretty and they dangle on the slimmest of stems.

One should always have at least one deliciously fragrant shrub that blooms in winter. One of my favorites is this Viburnum x burkwoodii. Fragrant is an understatement. Intoxicating comes closer to its heady scent. This head of little flowers is only 2-3" across but packs quite the punch.

I've discovered that my Abelia species 'Chiapas' likes to bloom in the late fall and early winter. It's unusual for three reasons. It is a scrambler/cascader not a shrub; it features purple flowers unlike any other Abelia I know of; and the flowers are fragrant. Not just a hint but very sweetly fragrant. It's now very difficult to find; I got mine when Annie's Annuals was still selling it.

January is the month for Hellebores. Here's the first flowers on my H. 'Wayne Rodderick.' It boasts some of the deepest burgundy colors of any hybrid.

It's a bird, it's a plane, no it's an .... Osmanthus? This Sweet Olive is O. 'Goshiki' and you'll be forgiven for thinking it looks an awful lot like a Holly bush. That's its thing. Very slow to bloom - mine is 6 years old and has yet to bloom - it nonetheless makes a handsome addition to any garden.

Melaleuca incana. When I first grew this Australian native bush/tree, I was puzzled at what seemed to be developing seed cones. You can see them in this photo. They are in fact woody flower buds that the pale yellow petals open from. For me, this adds another layer of interest to a plant that already is lovely in all four seasons. The flowers resemble those of another Aussie native, the bottlebrush tree (Callistemon) but are shorter and in this case a lovely butter yellow.

It isn't until you begin taking a closer look at Hebes that you realize how many different kinds there are. This Hebe ochracea EC Stirling is one of the so called Whipcord hebes, whose leaves mimic many Cupressus species. The unique foliage, dazzling color and compact form all make this one of a kind hebe something worth lusting after.

Lachenalia aloides 'Orange.' The 'aloides' species of the popular cowslip is the most abundant and varied of all the Lachenalias. Also, one of the first to bloom. 

One of the most popular shrubs for winter fragrance, Daphnes are also an enduring plant when happy. Here the telltale pink buds will soon open to heavenly-scented starry white flowers. Luckily for us, the flowers remain open for a considerable amount of time.

Cupheas are another surprisingly varied genus. Here's my C. oreophila and no, the flowers don't smell like Oreos. But now that you mention it, breeder guys, can you get right on that job and propagate a plant that smells like our favorite cookie? In this species, the 'bat's ears' are tiny little green appendages.

For some reason my Barry's Silver Chamaecyparis has taken on more a bluish tinge this winter. In summer it really does have a lovely silver caste. No worries, I love this color almost as much.

Although the five minutes of sun that appeared today came right as I took this photo, thus bleaching out the lower flowers, you can still see how vivid the yellow flowers are on my Mahonia lomariifolia. Tough, drought tolerant, easy to grow, a winter bloomer, eventually berries for birds, well, Mahonias are just about the perfect plant.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Season for Birding

It's no secret that many gardeners love birds, even if they aren't 'rise at dawn' birders. We are blessed with a great variety of birds visiting our Bay Area gardens. Besides the year round sparrows, finches, chickadees, titmice, oaktits, juncos, hummingbirds and others, winter is the prime time for seasonal birds. Most notably it's raptor season, with hawks prominent. But it's also time for goldfinches to arrive, seeking both thistle seed and often drinks from our hummingbird feeders. That holds true for several warblers. Yellow-rumped warblers especially are very common this time of year.
So don't forget to put out seed and suet and if possible have a supply of water for them, be that in a birdbath, small pond or even just a large container.
Today's garden photos are a mix of seasonal interest. For many of us, December and January are the slow months for what's in bloom. Especially in the milder zones, by mid-February we already have the earliest bulbs (Freesia, Daffodils, Dutch iris, Ipheion) starting to bloom.
I would say to gardeners, but really for everyone, take heart - the days now start getting longer.

Salvia subrotunda. This large sage hailing from Brazil grows quickly and though the flowers are small, they are a brilliant reddish-orange. Plants can reach 8-10' in their homeland but more likely 6' here. It is a bit frost sensitive.

Not cold sensitive at all is Chaenomeles (Flowering quince). Here is my C. 'Koji.' They bloom in mid-winter to mid-spring and are tough as nails. Incidentally, they do produce some fruit, though I'm not sure how edible it is.

Another winter returner is Osteospermum, hailing from South Africa originally. This variety is 'Blue-eyed Beauty,' though I'm not sure where the blue is supposed to be. Recessed gene perhaps? (just a little dna humor).

Make sure you take a look at this photo full size, in order to appreciate the glowing whites and shimmering pinks of the buds. It's a Viburnum x burkwoodii, one of the most fragrant of all the viburnums. Heck, one of the sweetest smelling flowers of any genera.

I liked the way my fan aloe (Aloe plicatilis) looked in part sun/part shadow. Sort of mysterious.

I love the colors and fine texture of my Plum cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides Ericoides). This is a dwarf species that will slowly reach 3-5' in ten years so best to appreciate it as a kind of natural bonzai. And that's in fact where I found it - in a bonzai section at Grand Lake Ace.

This Pinus thunbergii (Iapanese black pine) is NOT a dwarf and mature specimens can reach 80-100' over time. I plan to dwarf my specimen by keeping it in a pot. I love the way the sun makes the needles glow here.

Speaking of 'large or small,' here's a dwarf form of the usually very tall bottlebrush tree. This is a Callistemon viminalis and it only gets 4-6'. I'm growing mine in a large pot and now, finally in year three, it's really beginning to bloom. Hummers and bees seem to like it.

I finally have a 200mm zoom lens for my camera so began by taking a shot of my neighbor's camellia. So far so good with the resolution and focusing on the Auto setting.

Camellia reticulata 'Frank Hauser.' No relative to Doogie one presumes. I love the rich color, the fluted petals and the sturdiness of the flowers. I've not seen any camellia rot on this variety or in general with reticulatas.

Example A of the fact that our plants sometimes aren't listening to us. Or anyone. Or the weather. My Sappho rhododendron blooms whenever it feels like it. In theory it's a mid-spring bloomer but well it already has its first flowers.

Iochroma coccinea. Add to the 'anytime I please' list the genus Iochroma. I've given up predicting when they will bloom, although my I. coccinea does seem to favor the late fall and winter period.

Though not an exciting shot, this was another experiment with my zoom lens. That said, I can recommend these Chinese blue and white balls. They're great for a variety of locations. Here I have them in my birdbath.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

What's up doc?

A happy Solstice to everyone! Though it's the shortest day of the year - and for us gardeners shorter days means possibly less time in the garden - at least we have the knowledge that the days slowly begin getting longer.
I'm taking a break from my usual format today and doing another entry in the Thematic Plant Names collection. Today, I'm invoking a bit of medical science or at least anatomy in the plants I include here. It's a reminder that Latin is Latin is Latin. By that I mean that Latin is the source for many medical terms as it is equally the source for most horticulture terms. There's bound to be overlap and as it turns out there is. I've taken substantial liberties (a lot of rope as they say), so keep that in mind. And this is all tongue-in-cheek.
Here goes.
Adenium obesum. This caudiciform (fat trunk) is aptly named, referring of course to obese.
Chamaecyparis thyoides. Add in an 'r' and you've got thyroid.
Corokia. Umm, isn't this awfully close to 'croak?'
Heliophila longifolia. The genus name of this pretty blue-flowering annual conjures up 'hemophilia.'
Fallopia japonica. This is easy, being directly connected to 'fallopian tubes.'
Some botanical names just sound like they should be medical terms. For example, the species name of Porcelain berry vine (Ampelopsis brevipedlunculata), certainly sounds like a fatal disease. Or how about Dicliptera suberecta? "I'm sorry sir. We're going to have to remove your dicliptera suberecta."
Asplenium. This fern genus is easy, sounding very much like spleen.
Speaking of ferns, a number of ferns have very medical sounding names. How about the fern genus Coniogramme? Doesn't that sound like some sort of X-ray? A version of a sonogram?
Or how about Phyllitis. You'd swear that was a disease. Perhaps related to a certain STD? Even the rather common sword fern Nephrolepsis sounds a bit too close to sepsis for comfort.
One medical sounding name that seems to confuse certain of our nursery customers is the shade ground cover Glechoma. You see the puzzled look on their face and I suspect they heard 'glaucoma' instead.
Then there's the hard to find Lobostemon. Any guess what it made me think of? Perhaps your mind can't quite pull it up. Perhaps because you recently had a lobotomy? The prefix 'lobo' of course refers to a lobe or rounded portion affixed to the main body.
Regular gym members will get the anatomical connection with the South African shrub Melianthus pectinatus. How's work going on your 'pecs?'
Speaking of botanical names that have an ominous sounding name, how about Roscoea purpurea? "I'm afraid Ms. that you have Purple Roscoe disease. Fortunately, there is a cure. Eat lots of chocolate." If only that were the go-to cure-all ...
Sometimes it's the variety name that suggests a medical connection, like Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue.' Black and blue indeed.
Scrophularia. Umm, I think you can guess this one ... No? Certain private parts?
Stachys albotomentosa. It's the species name here that sounds vaguely clinical.
Streptosolen. This exceptionally colorful flowering shrub nonetheless suggests 'strep throat' (streptococcal infection). Curiously, 'Strepto' translates as 'twisted.'
Trachelospermum. Our common star or bush jasmine contains the root 'trach' as in trachea.
And lastly, I give you the word 'schizo.' Our first association is of course schizoid and there's a reason for the use of this word for certain botanical terms. 'Schizo' means "to split" and that has a bearing on plants as diverse as Hydrangea schizophragma, Hibiscus schizopetalus and the genus Schizostylis.

Okay, there you have it. A little fun with names on this chilly solstice day.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Watering in Winter?

Remember last year? Specifically last winter and spring when it seemed like it rained every single day for five months? So far it's not that winter. Good for us sun lovers but it does mean one uncommon thing - having to water our gardens in winter. I know, I know, that seems wrong but all plants that haven't gone dormant are going to need some water. For me they fall into four groups.
1. Shrubs and trees. If established, these plants will need little or no winter watering but if it does indeed stay dry for most of the winter they'll need some.
2. Evergreen perennials. These will need some regular water. How much depends on the leaf mass of the plant, how much sun it's in, how drought tolerant it is and how established it is. Annuals are going to need a bit more water on average because they don't have as large a root system as perennials (on average).
3. Plants in pots. How often you water plants in pots depends on the size of the plant and the size of the pot. The larger the pot, the more soil it contains, the longer that soil holds onto moisture, the less you water. See you knew that calculus class would come in handy, right? Generally you'll need to water plants in pots more often than plants in the ground.
4. Bulbs. There's a reason that most our common bulbs bloom in the spring. That's when the rains arrive, spurring growth and then the sun helps with blooming. No late winter/early spring rain = no moisture getting to the bulbs = poor growth and performance. If their normal growth season rolls around and it's still dry, you're going to need to water that area, be it ground or pot. Amazing how quickly bulbs will respond to water (assuming the temperatures correspond to what they're used to). Incidentally, that's why you don't want to plant certain bulbs too early in the fall. If they're getting water and it's still warm out, it may confuse them into thinking it's spring and they may sprout. Only to discover cold temperatures soon upon them.

So, there you have it. Long stretches of winter sunshine are great for the soul, as long as you don't forget about your garden's needs. And now this week's photos. It's a grab bag of winter flowering shrubs, a few succulents and a few late blooming perennials.

Platycerium veitchii. This species of Staghorn fern is a little less common but its silvery foliage was reason enough to add it to my collection. This species is also different in that it is a semi-desert species hailing from Queensland Australia. It wants full sun, very unlike most staghorns, which are typically understory plants.

Couldn't resist sharing one more photo of my exuberant Helenium Mardi Gras. This prolific bloomer is a bee magnet and one of those very low maintenance plants.

I keep trying to capture the pale pink colors in my Luculia pinceana but the photos always come out looking more white. Guess I need to learn Photoshop! No matter, I love any excuse to write about this plant as it is truly one of the most intensely fragrant plants on Earth. It is found in the Himalayas south to China but is easily grown here (if you can find it!)

Chrysocephalum apiculatum is a mouthful so it's a good thing it has an easier-to-remember common name (Common Everlasting). This Aussie native is a low spreader that blooms easily, with a parade of bright yellow buttons. Like many Aussie natives, it's drought tolerant and a tough customer. I'd want it in my garden for the silvery foliage even if it didn't bloom.

Okay this photo may not send your heart aflutter but remember this photo in two months when it will be ablaze with color provided by Sparaxis, Ixia, Dutch Iris and Daffodils. And that's before the Tiger lilies arrive. This is a newly constructed bed, using the back retaining wall, two large square pots already in place as the ends and a simple 12" tall board in front. Fill it with soil, plant a million bulbs, put some winter annuals on top and voila! This whole project only took 2 hours.

Speaking of a plant whose botanical name is a mouthful, here's my Chamaecyparis pisifera Filifera Aurea. Jr. Okay, just kidding about the Jr part. Chamaecyparis are literally False Cypress and this genus has a fabulous array of species and cultivars. If you look closely enough you'll see that this is a weeping type.

I was a bit disappointed with the color on my first Grevillea Superb flower. Then I googled the plant, looked at Images and discovered that the plant can exhibit a wide range of colors. In each case, the forming flowers start out a cream color and then as they open and mature they acquire more of a peach/rose/red color. I guess we'll see what happens with mine (many more flower cones are on the way). 

Cotyledon orbiculata var. orbiculata. I love the milky blue leaves, the hint of a red limn and the way it grows as a kind of a colony that keeps adding houses.  

Though my Jacaranda Bonzai Blue is done blooming, I think its foliage is pretty enough to warrant a photo. This is the dwarf shrub form of the familiar tree. Some foliage, same flowers, all in a pint size.

Chaenomeles Fuji. Flowering Quince are a great way to add color to a winter garden. Hardy, disease free, drought tolerant, tolerant of any soils, it's as about a perfect plant as it gets.

Calluna Bradford. Though the flowers are beginning to fade, this exceptionally pretty heather is another tough customer that needs little water or attention.

My Cotinus Royal Purple usually offers up oranges and reds for fall color but this year it's decided to mix it up and turn a peachy-golden color. Since I love those colors I'm delighted.

Speaking of tough and long blooming, thumb's up to Lotus jacobeus, otherwise known as Black Lotus for its nearly black pea-shaped flowers. Mine is hardly ever out of bloom now. Sweet and tough (hmm, sounds like a former girlfriend).

Crassula falcata, commonly known as Propeller or Airplane plant, doesn't always spill so dramatically as mine has taken to doing but I love its form here. I know what you're saying "That's a Crassula?" Okay, you weren't saying that perhaps but this species is quite different than almost any other common Crassula, with its broad planar leaves. So pretty!

I finish with two of my favorite Camellias. Here it's the dramatic C. reticulata Frank Hauser. I love it's wavy petals, its semi-double form and that gorgeous color.

And here's my rare C. Winner's Circle. It hasn't fully opened, here showing off its clustered inner petals. Though this photo makes it look quite pink it's actually more of a coral/salmon color. Lovely!
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