Wednesday, January 11, 2017

South African bulbs

Many of you know that the Cape region of South Africa is home to many of the world's most colorful bulbs. They are also in some cases - most notably for Gladiola, Ixia, Freesia and Sparaxis - the origins of hybrids that now are commonly found in garden centers and nurseries. South African (SAF) bulbs begin blooming in December with the early Lachenalia species and continue through May (the spring bloomers that is). Here are some select photos from my archives of various SAF bulbs, a little colorful preview of a spring show to come. I've posted them roughly in order of bloom time.

Lachenalia aloides 'Orange.' The very first SAF bulb in my garden to bloom (December).

This unknown Lachenalia species has a pretty light lavender bloom.

One of the most colorful of all Lachenalias, this L. tricolor is a real showboat!

My favorite SAF bulb, Ferraria crispa is so weird yet so lovely.

Here's the oh so chocolatey Ferraria crispa ssp crispa (dark form).

This peacock moraea is well named. M. villosa is simply one of the most gorgeous flowers in existence. 

Moraea atropunctata. Although this isn't that great a shot it's the best I have of my short-lived and now deceased moraea. They're rare and I haven't found it since I bought it back in 2011. Really a spectacular flower, with the beautiful chocolate spotting against an alabaster white background.

Gladiolus 'Lemon Moon.' Very lovely species glad that luckily is still being propagated and sold.

Sparaxis elegans. Has the distinctive center ring and the common pink 'eye.'

This Sparaxis grandiflora ssp grandiflora doesn't at first glance look like a Sparaxis at all (petals aren't round, no center ring or eye).  It's a beauty nonetheless.

Though this isn't a great shot, I wanted to include a shot of my not-rare-but-hard-to-find Melasphaerula ramosa. It's prolific and self seeds everywhere so is easy to share with friends. Sprays of these gladiola-like white flowers appear in March and April. Very sweet.

Another common-but-hard-to-find SAF bulb is this colorful Chasmanthe bicolor. It too is prolific (some would say invasive) and will self seed wherever it can (although my specimen has behaved itself).

Babiana variety. Not sure which one this is but it's a solid purple. Babianas are one of the easiest and most reliable SAF bulbs to grow.

Babiana stricta. This is the most common of the Babiana species and there are many hybrids.

Although there are plenty of weedy grasses here, this shot shows the sprays of Babianas as they reach for the sky. Babianas typically only get to a foot tall.

This lovely creature is an Ixia Buttercup. Ixias (Corn Lilies) are also very easy to grow. I lump Ixias, Freesias and Sparaxis together because they all come up in early to mid-spring, they're all reliable and easy to grow and they all naturalize in your garden.

Ixia monadelpha. This lesser known Ixia is a lovely splash of white in the spring garden.

There's subtle and then there's Ornithogalum dubium. Brilliant orange flowers stack one on another is an upwards little pyramid.

Last but not least is Anomatheca laxa, a Freesia relative that produces masses or coral-pink flowers in late spring. Liking shade and a prolific self-seeder, you plant a couple and just let them colonize an area.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Quiet Celebration

Even here in the balmy climes of the Bay Area, the end of the year is a time when many parts of the garden are at rest. I spend more time weeding, mulching and pruning/deadheading than actually planting. Spring is just a twinkle in our eyes but the garden still has beauty to offer us this team of year. There are winter blooming shrubs such as Camellias, all manner of succulents (many of which show their best leaf color in the colder months), early bulbs such as Dutch iris, Freesia, Sparaxis, Ixia and Lachenalia sending up shoots, whetting our appetite. And there is some winter color to be had in pansies, cyclamen, primroses, nemesias and snapdragons.
So here are a few photos of my late December garden. I'd take photos of all my bulbs that are up but, well, I'm afraid they would make for boring photos. That's why if you buy bulbs in packages you can haul them out, look at the glossy photos and kind of envision the real thing on its way. Sometimes anticipation is half the pleasure.

A little winter color, with a pot of Nemesia, some colorful pansies and the golden ground cover - Veronica repens.

My Calluna 'Firefly' just keeps getting a darker and more striking red as the winter progresses. This heather is one tough plant but is finally ready to go in a larger pot.

Though Phlomis lanata is usually a summer and fall bloomer, it's in full bloom right now. As I've mentioned, a lot of my garden denizens are either early or late in their flowering. 

"The Wooly bush that ate Oakland!" Not an actual newspaper headline but my Adenanthos sericeus is now about 20' tall. It's only supposed to get 6-8' in height but, well, happy, happy, happy.

Another shot of my suddenly happy Melianthus pectinatus. This dwarf African honey bush only gets 4-6' tall and wide and the flowers are much smaller. The smaller size made it a good choice for a median strip. And it still possesses that wonderful peanut butter fragrance.

 Is it a bird ... a plane ... no, it's Crassula muscosa, otherwise known as the Watch chain plant. This vigorous succulent scrambles and then scrambles some more. 

Euphorbia 'Glacier Blue.' I love the variegated Euphorbias and especially this grayish-blue and white one. 

Speaking of less common Euphorbias, this E. atropurpurea isn't always easy to find. I love its brick red flowers and the glaucous leaves.

One last shot of my Dicentra scandens. This yellow-flowering Bleeding Heart is a vigorous climber and after being hacked back to the ground in late June has already rebounded, grown six feet tall and is blooming again.

I was after a bit of drama here, showing this Camellia reticulata 'Bill Woodruff' flower against the darkened background. One of the showier reticulata flowers.

What is this you might ask? It's a Haemanthus albiflos seed fruit. Haemanthus, better known as Blood lily, produces these seed capsules at the tips of flowering branches, after the flowers are done of course.

Pelargonium crispum 'Variegated Golden Lemon.' In this shot it almost looks as if the branches are golden columns of flames, reaching up to the sky. One of the most intensely fragrant plants you'll ever grow.

Finally, a shot of my Magnolia 'Butterflies.' I know, it's bare, but the flower buds are already getting fatter and this coming February promises to be its best blooming season ever.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Full Moon Fever

It's another crazy full moon in these parts, with things going at breakneck speed and many lingering things coming to a head. Not many of us are out in our gardens I know but actually the peacefulness of that experience is a nice counterbalance to the hectic XMas shopping and socializing. Of course that's going to happen in between the series of storms, making gardening at best a part time endeavor this month.
So it's a time to rest on one's laurels and if you have bulbs in your garden, to watch as they poke their heads up one by one.
Here's a few photos from my winter garden. In some small way, these photos -- shared by a few local friends with friends of theirs living in much colder climates -- are a way to remind those gardeners that there is life happening, that spring will eventually arrive and they can resume their gardening ways.

I'm getting some of the best color on my Cotinus 'Royal Purple.'  Smoke bushes can offer reds, burgundy, but if your lucky you get these fantastic golden-oranges. Everything about this bush/small tree is great but fall may be the best show.

This variety of Teucrium fruticans - 'Gwen' - is proving to be a hearty and healthy variety. I'm not sure if its fall/early winter blooming will prove to be typical or this is just it maturing at this late stage in its first year or whether this will prove to be normal for it.

Echeveria species. I've noticed that it's getting a deeper blue hue as the temps have gotten cooler but I like the change. Echeverias are good succulents for colonizing a sunny bed.

Euphorbia atropurpurea. This spurge has gotten big and seems to be one of the 'octopus' types - developing twisting branches, with lotus-like leaf clusters at the tips. 

As someone once said about a hyperactive child ("I think she took too many of the pills that make a kid a kid"), this Helleborus 'Amethyst Gem' is blooming as if its life depended on it. It's still in its gallon pot, yet to find a home in the ground, but it does look elegant against the gray stucco backdrop.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fans will remember the line about the Deep Thought computer - "they built a stupendous super computer which was so amazingly intelligent that even before the data banks had been connected up it had started from 'I think therefore I am' and got as far as the existence of rice pudding and income tax before anyone managed to turn it off...".  This Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious' is kind of like that. Very enthusiastic and more or less indestructible.

Although it hasn't bloomed yet, my Begonia luxuriens specimen has grown quickly and hasn't been bothered by all the rain or the cold.

One plant that has LOVED the recent rains is my Iochroma coccinea. I'm appointing it as my Christmas tree, the cascading orange-pink flowers being either the ornaments or icicles depending on your POV.

This orange Nemesia is prospering, liking the rain and sun (when it appears).

Leucospermum 'Veldfire.' It hasn't begun flowering yet but the leaves are awfully pretty I think, both the color and the pink tips.

Salvia 'Love & Wishes.' This Wendy's Wish hybrid is a lovely new addition to the world of sages. 

The bright green leaves in the upper left belong to one of the 'shamrock' oxalis. It appears every fall and will soon sport masses of orchid pink flowers.

Primroses are a great way to add winter color to a part shade area. And remember that they are actually perennials, though in the summer they can go semi-deciduous. 

Cyclamen 'Salmon.' Though the bright colors of the flowers are a major draw, the leaves are just as beautiful to me.

Beauty and the beast? Well, not quite but the orange nodding flower is from my Canarina canariensis and the speckled leaves are from a Helleborus argutifolius 'Pacific Frost.' They make a nice combo, don't you think?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Best of Nature photos 2017

I recently came across a fabulous year end collection of nature photographs from the BBC ( and thought I'd share a few of them with you. The explanation underneath each photo is taken verbatim from the site. Make sure to click on each photo so you can see the larger versions (where they are much more impressive).

Cold temperatures on Shodoshima Island, Japan, sometimes lead to monkey balls, where a group of five or more snow monkeys huddle together to keep warm. Thomas Kokta climbed a tree to get this image.

These snow geese almost seemed like ghosts in the pink early morning light as they landed among Sandhill cranes in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico, US.  (Gordon Illg)

Stephen Belcher spent a week photographing golden snub-nosed monkeys in a valley in the Zhouzhi Nature Reserve in the Qinling Mountains, China. The monkeys have very thick fur, which they need to withstand the freezing nights in winter. This image shows two males about to fight, one already up on a rock, the other bounding in with a young male.

 Andrea Marshall was snorkeling off the coast of Mozambique when she came across hundreds of large jelly-fish. Many were covered with brittle stars - opportunistic riders, taking advantage of this transport system to disperse along the coast. Delicate lighting makes the jelly glow, so the viewer can focus on the subtle colours and textures.

Sabella spallanzanii is a species of marine polychaete, also known as a bristle worm. The worm secretes mucus that hardens to form a stiff, sandy tube that protrudes from the sand. It has two layers of feeding tentacles that can be retracted into the tube, and one of the layers forms a distinct spiral. (Marco Gargiulo)

The bird's wing acts as a diffraction grating - a surface structure with a repeating pattern of ridges or slits. The structure causes the incoming light rays to spread out, bend and split into spectral colours, producing this shimmering rainbow effect. (Victor Tyakht)

It was a crisp, clear day in January when Annie Katz saw this Colorado red fox hunting in her neighbour's field in Aspen, Colorado, US. The light was perfect, and she took the photo as the fox approached her, looking right into the lens of her camera.

Reinhold Schrank was at Lake Kerkini, Greece, taking pictures of birds, but the conditions were not ideal, so he looked for other options. He saw this caterpillar on a flower and encouraged it on to a piece of rolled dry straw. He had to work fast because the caterpillar was constantly moving.

The kingfisher frequented this natural pond every day, and Mario Cea used a high shutter speed with artificial light to photograph it. He used several units of flash for the kingfisher and a continuous light to capture the wake as the bird dived down towards the water.

David Maitland photographed the crystallized chemical salicin, which comes from willow tree bark. Salicin forms the basis of the analgesic Aspirin - no doubt this is why some animals seek out willow bark to chew on.
01 09 10