Friday, April 11, 2014

In Praise of Small Vines

Well, blogspot is having a little fun at my expense and put these photos above the text (see that at the end of the photos). Here's the first flower on my Clematis niobe, which offers perhaps the richest hue of any clematis. Velvety.

A top down view of my Epipactis Serpentine Night. Otherwise known as CA Stream orchid, this dark-leaved variety will eventually produce little green and pink flowers. Tough and liking some regular water (thus the stream in its common name). Known to self seed and pop up elsewhere (right, Elena?).

Here's the last of my Lachenalias to bloom. Unspecified and though it looks to be all white, a closer inspection reveals green and bronze on its tips. My first cowslip flowered in December so that gives you an idea of their blooming range.

Isn't this little columbine just the sweetest thing you ever saw? It's an A. chrysantha 'Flora Pleno.' I'd forgotten all about it till it popped up a few weeks ago. It's along my main walkway, so a good place to enjoy its pint-sized charms!

My Clematis 'Belle of Woking' has found its sea legs and is producing its best crop of flowers ever. It's in a pot though and it won't really be happy till I get it in the ground.

I can't seem to get a really good photo of this Salvia 'Lemon Light.' It's either in the shade when I shoot it (like now) with too much of a dark background or it's in the sun and that bleaches out the delicate butter-colored flowers. This will have to do for now.

Not many plants combine wow with durability and nearly nonstop blooming but this Helenium 'Mardi Gras' does exactly that. I guess its namer was inspired by the nonstop party that is Mardi Gras.

I'm taking shots of my Physocarpus 'Nugget' to show it in different stages. It progresses about as fast as any plant I've seen from first leafing out, to flowering, to producing its seedpods. You can see both in this shot. The white flowers give way to red seedpods which for many, myself included, are even showier than the flowers.

The words 'pineapple' and 'lily' may not seem like they belong together but they do as the common name for Eucomis. This is the 'Sparkling Burgundy' variety and you have to love that intense hue. It will lighten as it grows and have a good amount of green in it by the time it sends up its thick stem of tiny waxy flowers.

Here's a shot of a fron yard bed, containing phacelias, golden Dutch iris and Sunspot arctotis among other things.

Gold stars for anyone who can ID this plant. It's a Teucrium! In this case a T. 'Summer Sunshine.' Very aptly named, don't you think? It stays low and keeps its chartreuse color all summer.

Most of you will recognize this Ladybird poppy. It's the advance guard, with dozens more to arrive in short order. I have it in a pot with Blue gilia, a colorful combo.

Speaking of Blue gilia, here it is (Gilia capitata). Okay here's a fun little fantasy. If you imagine that the red poppy in this same pot is the Alice in Wonderland Red Queen, what would she say to the Gilia? "Off with its head!" You see, Gilia capitata ... de-capitate ... No? "Off with your head, then!

It looks like a Buddleja (Butterfly bush) but ... that color! It's B. 'CranRazz,' a new variety on the market that's between a full size buddleja and one of the dwarf varieties, this one getting six feet tall.

Another (better) shot of my Iris pseudacorus 'Holden Clough.' The creators describe the color as 'toffee,' not something you hear every day but damn if it doesn't look ... toffee-ish.

Azalea Exbury hybrid. Those that have discovered the wonderful reds, oranges, peaches and golds of deciduous azaleas just love them. These flowers are just a hair past their prime but still glorious.

Echeveria species. Now that I have it in the ground it is slowly colonizing the area. And I swear it's gotten more blue tones in its new location.

Tweedia caerulea. Doesn't the name 'tweedia' sound like something out of Monty Python? Discuss among yourselves.

My robust Caryopteris 'Hint of Gold' is back and looks great spreading up through the cascading Phacelia campanularia.

Sambucus 'Madonna.' Shouldn't a variety with that name be 'pink?'  Just wondering ...

Maianthemum. This vigorous deciduous ground cover has returned. I love the striations on the leaves and its verdent green color. 

For some reason when I took a photo of this unopened columbine flower, it reminded me of a little rocket! Or perhaps a lavender squid? 

Rhodie 'CA Blue.' This is a success story. Ravaged by thrips and not terribly strong even before that happened, it has somehow survived to produce its first flowers. I'm now looking forward to future years where it can put on a real show.

Speaking of slow to establish, it took awhile for my Snowball viburnum to really get a toehold and bloom in earnest. One of my favorite shrubs ever!

Kudos to those who can guess this plant. It's a Stachys 'Bello Grigio.' More upright and much more silvery than the regular lambs ears, it looks for all the world like it dropped down from some alien world. And finally, below, another success story. This is my Dianthus 'Lady Granville.' It's been kind of weak from the get go but with an extra year under its belt and a little fertilizer it has finally come into its own. I call it my 'Raspberry Swirl' carnation.

When we consider adding a vine to our garden, we normally are thinking big. As in covering a wall or fence or perhaps blanketing an arbor. But there are times when one wants something to climb a trellis or some other smaller area, without going wild. That's when a smaller vine can be the perfect fit. Spring bloomers like Asarina, with its purple, pink or white flowers, or Eccremocarpus, showcasing exceptionally pretty gold or red flowers, make for great floral climbers.. And there are less common vines like Scyphanthus, with its pretty, golden cup-shaped flowers, that also do the job very nicely. In summer there is Mina lobata, with its neat trick of "changing" flowers, finger-like blooms that start bright red then age to orange, gold then finally white.
Meanwhile, happening in a garden near you -- Spring! Some years it roars in; others it seems to slide in gradually. This year it seemed more of the latter, coming in fits and starts. But a peek at the clock reveals it's mid-April so its official. Here are a few more photos from my nursery ... er, garden. Not only do I enjoy sharing these photos but I hope to pass on a little bit of my experience with them.

Friday, April 4, 2014

April showers bring ...

The couple inches of rain that the Bay Area got this last week are certainly welcome news and nowhere is that more evident than in our gardens. And now with at least ten days of clear weather to come, I expect our garden denizens will be bursting forth. If you haven't already planted your spring natives, now is an excellent time to do so. For blues, consider gilias, phacelias and Baby Blue Eyes, as well as Echium Blue Bedder, a charming, low growing annual echium. It's just as popular with the bees as its perennial cousins. For pink shades, there is a collection of floriferous clarkias. I have Amoena and the lovely Salmon Princess already started. For yellows, there's the exuberant Tidy Tips (Layia) and Cream Cups (Platystemon), which will run wild in a pleasing sort of way.
For perennials, nothing is better than CA buckwheats (Eriogonums), with the E. grande rubescens being a favorite selection. It's a good time to get native penstemons and salvias going as well.  Perennials don't have to involve major space allotments. There are plenty of smaller, native perennials for a variety of spots.
Here are a few photos from my garden, shots taken on an unexpectedly clear day yesterday.

If this plant looks familiar yet strange, you may be right. It's the variegated leaf form of Nicandra (Shoo-fly). They're in the Solanum family, a classification given away by the purple flowers and distinctive seedpods. Very easy to grow and self-seeds.

Iris Eye of the Tiger. So many Dutch iris, so little time ...

Justicia brandegeeana. Or Shrimp plant to the non plant geeks out there. As soon as I moved this into more sun, it immediately began to flower. There's something about the flowers that is so appealing. To paraphrase that modeling expression "The camera just loves them."

Another plant geek explained to me that Cornus florida dogwoods can be finicky and maybe that explains why mine has taken its time flowering. This is the first year I've gotten more than a handful. But I'm a glass half full kind of guy so am expecting a much better show next year.

This Lonicera japonica is beginning to bloom and that means bees of all kinds will be visiting. Here it's a bumblebee of some sort.

A new Dutch iris this year. The gold petals are just so vivid!

Speaking of Phacelias, here's P. campanularia, often called Desert Bluebells. This is a low growing, spreading species, with distinctively patterned foliage. Another favorite destination for bees.

If you look up the word orange in the gardener's compendium, I'm pretty sure you'd find a picture of Papaver 'Orange Chiffon.' To paraphrase the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "this flower is SO orange, light just kind of disappears into it." It's so orange you have to show your I love Orange membership card to even buy the plant.

Gaillardias are a member in good standing of the Happy plant club. This G. Arizona Apricot was a salvage plant (scraggly, half-dead) and look at it now. H-A-P-P-Y. 

For some reason I've had a hard time getting a good photo of my Felicia amelloides variegata. This shot isn't perfect but it's at least presentable. Blue daisies as they're called thrive on benign neglect. Tough, drought tolerant and long blooming!

Iris Holden Clough. This showy Louisiana-type iris is hard to find in the trade these days and that's a shame. With its toffee colors and pronounced veining, it's one of the prettiest members of this group.

Here's another shot of my Tillandsia in bloom. It's easy to forget that air plants are actually bromeliads. Seeing them in bloom reinforces the connection.

Sedum x adolphii. This golden sedum is a colorful addition to any succulent bowl, unbothered by light conditions, rain or bugs.

Aeonium Kiwi. This soft focus shot, catching the plant in dappled light, creates a nice mood.

This O.R. (original rhodie) has survived poor soil, a somewhat restricted area, thrips and inconsistent watering but has hung tough. It's starting a new bloom cycle.

To my delight, my Arisaema ringens has returned after not appearing at all last year. One of the sturdiest of all the arisaemas, it showcases huge, verdant green foliage and a sturdy spathe.

Scyphanthus may be the prettiest flower that few have ever heard of. Its delicate but exceptionally pretty cup-shaped flowers appear in spring. It's a scrambler/short vine, perfect for when you don't have a large area to cover. 

Acer Beni Maiko. I just brought home this vividly colored Japanese maple. Though this photo is from the web, I wanted to share how beautiful the tree will look at full maturity.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Bulb Heaven

Among the many pleasures of Spring gardens is the advent of colorful bulbs popping up to display their cheerful charms. My garden is filled with them, covering a wide range of types. Outside of tulips, crocus and hyacinths, which need more of a winter than those of us living in a mild zone can provide, most other bulbs return faithfully each year. I've utilized every bit of my gardening space for perennials, leaving the bulbs to push up through them in spring. This multi-level planting isn't just an efficient use of space; it creates a bit of a natural or wild look to those beds (which I like). It's also fun to first spot their appearance in the garden, not always recognizable at first until they clear the plants around them. Right now it's freesias, sparaxis, daffodils and iris in bloom. And the first of my lilies have already pushed their heads up. One little tip about bulbs. They really benefit from regular water as they're first growing, then blooming (there's a reason they are spurred by spring rains). During dry spring seasons make sure to water them. I also fertilize mine with a bloom fertilizer once they get ready to flower.
Here are more photos from the bounty of my spring garden, starting with a second photo of my clivia. For reasons I don't understand, this year the flowers were especially vivid, and with more red than in years past.

Speaking of bulbs, Bearded iris rank right up there with people's favorite bulbs. Not just the large, extravagant flowers but many are fragrant (as is the case with this I. Joyce Terry).

Clematis 'Belle of Woking.' Double form clematis aren't common but they certainly are showy. This variety has one other nice attribute -- it begins a greenish-white then colors in, becoming a soft lavender color.

There's a lobelia called 'Waterfall' and even though this is a Magadi Blue, it does rather resemble a blue waterfall.

Physocarpus 'Nugget.' I'm always amazed that certain shrubs (Physocarpus, Viburnums, Spireas to name a few) can progress from bare to leafing out to flowering in such a condensed period of time. This 'Ninebark' is in full bloom, smothered in corymbs of pure white flowers.

Scabiosa lavender. Pincushion flowers, as they're sometimes known, may be common but that doesn't make them less pretty. And they're a favorite destination for butterflies and bees in my garden.

Iris 'Eye of the Tiger.' I'm particularly fond of the colors on this Dutch iris. And with a few drops of rain from the previous night still clinging to its petals it looks especially lovely.

Leucospermum 'Veldfire.' Whenever I'm telling a nursery customer about this fabulous Leuco and I show them the closeup photo in our Proteas book (Leucospermum is part of the Protea family), I know what they're thinking ("Mine will never look like that"). Au contraire. Here's living proof that this species does have the most outrageously beautiful flowers. I actually like this stage, before the flower has fully opened, the best. Love that 'fur.'

One of the prettiest Aussie shrubs that nobody has heard of, this Verticordia plumosa is in full bloom right now. Tough, drought tolerant, floriferous. End of discussion.

This Aeonium species is getting ready to open a 'shooting star' head of flowers and I thought a top-down photo offered an interesting view.

Grevillea 'Moonlight.' I took this shot to illustrate the four stages of flowering on this showy variety. Center-right is the budded panicle; to the far right is the open flower in all its glory; center-left is the flower as it's fading and far left is the final seed-pod. One of the most distinctive and spectacular of all grevilleas, Moonlight is my favorite.

New succulent bowl. An empty bowl is a dangerous thing for me and it led to me doing a third succulent bowl. I'm taking a different approach here. The larger item is an Aeonium escobarii, which in time will take over the entire bowl. In the meantime, the bowl is acting as a "nursery" to grow the other little guys, to be moved at a later stage.

Here's an example of a bulb bursting up through a perennial bed. This is a top down shot of a Lilium regale, making its way skyward through a surrounding plectranthus and low growing abelia.

Though in front of my neighbor's house, this median strip is a joint effort of my planting, their planting and Mother Nature. It has a pleasingly wild look, with self-seeded CA poppies already in bloom, plus a red arctotis and a red euphorbia.

Berberis 'Orange Rocket.' A soon-to-be addition to my little Japanese Garden plot, this lovely barberry is about to burst into bloom. Can't wait!

This peach-colored Heuchera almost died out, at one point smothered by daylilies in the same bed, not to mention weedy grasses. After a good weeding, the sunshine has spurred new growth. It's part of a 'sunshine' bed, featuring golden colors.

Sedum 'Jelly Beans.' Okay, I'll admit to just loving this sedum. Great color and great name. I'm at work right now on an article for Pacific Horticulture Magazine on sedums. Stay tuned for that.

Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender.' I have to laugh at myself sometimes. When I've run out of ideas in recommending shade-loving plants to a customer I often fall back on suggesting plectranthus. There's a reason for that. The lot of them are tough, drought tolerant, easy to grow, plus they have pretty salvia-like  lavender flowers.  

My unidentified fern has sent up a new 'fiddlestick.' Kind of cool and very prehistoric (ferns were already here during the time of the dinosaurs).

Geranium phaeum. I call this tough little species the Monet of  geranium world. It has soft, expressive forest-green leaves, distinguished by purple markings on the new leaves. The flowers are a soft purple, the look more "matte" than glossy (thus the Monet reference). Lovely.

Scrophularia auriculata variegata. Quite a mouthful for a simple plant that has been known for centuries as Figwort (or Water figwort owing to it liking moist environments). The flowers are small but it does lighten up a dappled shade location.

Rhododendron 'Sappho.' Back from the dead, this rhodie is now making itself at home in the back yard, where it gets a decent amount of morning sun. The flowers remind me of Raspberry Swirl ice cream!

I love viburnums -- I have four different species in my garden -- and this V. plicatum might still be my favorite. Love the pleated leaves and their fresh green look and then the white flowers really pop. I'm keeping it well trimmed to keep the walkway clear, giving it a kind of large bonzai look.

I was very excited to see brink bracts emerge on this tillandsia a few weeks ago and lo and behold here are its first purple flowers. Lesson? Don't give up on them flowering and do fertilize them!