Friday, December 12, 2014

Ahoy, mateys!

Yes, for all you friends outside of the weird and wonderful Bay Area, those really were people kayaking down city streets yesterday! Indeed it did come down in buckets. I had a few near casualties in my garden but it mostly survived intact. Speaking of survival, that brings me to today's spontaneous topic -- Great Garden Victories (known as GGVs). Veteren gardeners will know immediately what this refers to -- the wonderful experience of getting something struggling to finally do well or in some cases, bringing plants back from the dead. While we all love each and every plant in our garden (except maybe the weedy ones), there is a special satisfaction to plants that fall under the GGV category.
Example # 21 in my garden is represented in today's first photo -- Agapetes serpens. It's a long sad story but hey I've got the time here so ... Just kidding. It was doing fine in a large pot on a sunny porch; had to be moved so was put 'temporarily' in a shady corner; no preferable place opened up; thrips set in; it nearly died; sprayed for the thrips and saved it only to have thrips come back; finally I fed the heck out of it, a pruned brugmansia opened up more light, I got rid of the thrips for good and voila! So, don't let anyone tell you that this plant isn't tough. We could start a new saying "Tough as agapetes!"
A word about today's photos. Due to the rains and things being a bit beaten down, I make an exception and raid my archives for photos of plants that I would otherwise have photographed today.
With that caveat, here they are:

Hopefully you'll be spared the above plagues when growing Agapetes. And it's worth it, as not only are the individual urn-shaped flowers very pretty, but they develop in rows beneath the branches and have a papery feel. As the Orbit gum woman says in the commercials - "fabulous!"

From difficult to super easy, meet Anomatheca laxa. This genus is so closely related to Freesias that it was once classified as such. It however appreciates some shade and is a prolific self-seeder. There are subtle variations in color (and there is a white form) but the straight species offers charming coral-red flowers. 

This is a 'blue hibiscus.' No, you're not color blind and it's not really a "blue hibiscus" but its species mate, Alyogyne huegelii, is commonly referred to by that common name. This is the harder-to-come-by A. hakeafolia, which as you can see has yellow flowers. My specimen seems to bloom whenever it feels like it though in theory it's a summer and fall bloomer.

Who you calling a wallflower? Put up your dukes! Okay, wait, I am a wallflower, otherwise known as Erysimum. This is E. 'Winter Sorbet' with its delightful mix of purple and orange flowers. It is aptly named, as this variety seems to bloom later than most others.

My Shiny Bristle fern has filled in since this photo was taken (last year) but wanted to showcase one of the loveliest if not well known ferns that do well in our area. 

I'm making one exception in including this Dianthus 'Chomley Farran' photo. It normally blooms in the late summer/early fall but is late this year. Still hoping it makes it. There is some disagreement on whether this variety is one of the famous 'Bizarres' from the 1800s. They were especially showy, variegated types that fell out of favor. Hard to understand why when you see this madam's beauty.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Lutea.' One of the denizens in my dwarf conifer bed. It's a personal favorite of mine and I somehow imagine its twisting 'panels' as DNA strands. In any case, it's been one of the stars of this bed and has nary a brown leaf.

Salvia 'Vanhouttei.' Thought to be a S. splendens type, meaning it likely won't survive the winter, it's nonetheless very showy right now. What you see aren't the flowers but the rich, burgundy-red bracts.

Borage officinalis. This is the simple borage that self-seeds like crazy but I love its pure blue nodding flowers almost as much as the bees (note the bumblebee on the lower right).

Thursday, December 4, 2014

After the flood

To change that old saying -- "Rain, rain come again another day (like tomorrow)." It goes without saying that gardens are one of the most immediate beneficiaries of the rains. Where I notice that especially in my own garden is with bulbs. Just the last three days of rain has pushed so many to the surface. On the other side, the rains caused my top heavy Plectranthus zuluensis to become partly uprooted. The good with the bad. The rains are a reminder to make sure your beds have excellent drainage. Pooling water can cause roots to rot.
The rains combined with the warm daytimes have caused certain plants in my garden to think it's a sort of quasi-spring. Strangely, I saw my first snowdrops this morning, with their first flowers! The garden has its own mind and so we tend to it and enjoy!
A few words about the joys of conifers. I was slow to appreciate them, having grown up in B.C. surrounded by (literally) a million Douglas firs. Boring. And my garden doesn't lend itself to planting trees, with no single large area. I've introduced some Japanese maples but they're a manageable size. It wasn't until I visited the Oregon Botanical Garden and saw their collection of dwarf conifers, mostly from Japan and China, that the light bulb went off. And lo and behold there are quite a few dwarf conifers readily available in the trade, especially those in the Chamaecyparis and Cryptomeria genera. I finally took the plunge three years ago and planted my own little dwarf conifer bed. A part of me still feels like I'm 'cheating,' having created a little 'forest' in a 6' x 10' space. And because they grow exceedingly slowly, you can place the species pretty close together. I've included a photo here of one of my favorites in this area, the Chamaecyparis 'Barry's Silver.' So, for those of you who don't happen to own half an acre, there's still a way to enjoy the varied charms of conifers!
And now the photos ...

Although it's not completely open, I was thrilled to find that my Ladyslipper orchid (Paphiopedilum) has put forward a new bloom. As everyone knows, getting orchids to re-bloom outside of a greenhouse is tricky. The rain beading on top gives an element of freshness to the flower.

I have better shots of my Lachenalia viridiflora in my files but this is a "live" shot of the first few flowers to emerge. There's nothing quite like this aquamarine blue. 

Cooler weather and the rains have done the trick for my Oxalis penduncularis. It has the unique habit of making these large 'balls' of leaves, with flowers springing out from these globes. Ain't Nature grand?

 Lachenalia aloides 'Orange.' Though these are again the very first flowers and somewhat obscured, I still decided to give readers a peek at its lovely colors. BTW, Lachenalias are one of the easiest South African bulbs to grow, as long as you can give them a dry summer period. Ironically, they make good dry garden denizens, our natural dry summers and winter rains being ideal for them.

Furry flower buds on my Magnolia 'Butterflies.' Not colorful or traditionally showy but to me they're beautiful, being a "promise" of spring flowers to come.

But if it's color you want, how about the vivid red flowers of Monardella micrantha, set against the rich blues of the ceramic pot in back. This is a type of Coyote mint, also a CA native, but a low growing spreading type. The flowers are unusually large given how small the plant is.And of course the tubular flowers are a favorite of local hummingbirds.

Here's my world famous Luculia pinceana. Okay, not world famous, but those of you that have this shrub in your garden raise your hand. Nobody? There you go. It's a mystery to me why this pretty, tough and intensely fragrant shrub isn't widely available. One of the sweetest smelling flowers you'll ever smell.

My Cotinus 'Royal Purple' has done something odd this fall. First the leaves turned red, as is commonly the case. But now many of them have followed that up by turning a golden-orange. Odd but lovely.

Here's my latest succulent, the rubbery Kalanchoe bryophyllum. I wanted to keep it simple with this bowl so just surrounded it with a lovely, purple viola.

This Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is making one last push to flower. They have some of the most dramatic gold anthered red stamens.

Although the light somewhat bleached out this shot, I wanted to share a shot of my Camellia reticulata 'Frank Hauser.' One of the showiest of all retics, which is saying something since reticulatas are the queens of the camellia world.The flowers are often quite large, with some featuring wavy, fluted petals (like this variety).

Here's a curving swoop of one of my Salvia discolor branches. Note the silvery-lime bracts and the dark as midnight flowers. That, the white undersides to the leaves and the white sticky stems make this possibly the most unique salvia around. And it's vigorous.


Just simple leaves on my Euphorbia atropurpurea but I liked the way the beaded water glistened on the bluish leaves. 

Another shot of my ever evolving Kalanchoe sexangularis. It's now a rich coppery color, nicely offset by the bluish Echeveria.

Here's the aforementioned Chamaecyparis lawsonii 'Barry's Silver.' This 'false cypress' has kept its silvery caste and is holding court in the very center of my dwarf conifer bed. One nice option with a bed such as this is the ability to vary textures, colors and forms of the various conifers, all within a very limited space.

Another guy that seemingly can't wait for spring is my Chamelaucium 'Purple Pride.' It's not only already budding up well in advance of its usual spring blooming but if you look closely one flower has already opened. It's one of the stars of my Australian natives bed.

Just a common Pelargonium but 'Raspberry Twizzle' is such a cool name (and accurate description) that I had to include a photo.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Floral Thanksgiving

While most people have food on their mind, there is another cornucopia close at hand -- our gardens. Though there aren't as many plants in bloom in most people's garden as there is in spring, there is always seasonal interest. We have the vibrant reds and oranges of dogwood and maple trees, colorful berries on many shrubs, the year round pleasure of ornamental grasses, the enjoyment of conifers (which includes the wide variety of Chamaecyparis and Cryptomeria species), an astonishing spectrum of succulents, many of which are at their best in the cooler winter months, and of course 'winter' color from a host of cheerful annuals. Simply put, there is no end to the 'winter wonderland.'
Here are a few such treats from my late fall garden. 

Here's a photo of my Camellia 'Silver Waves,' before the flower has completely opened to reveal its wealth of yellow stamens. At this stage it is an astonishing pure-as-the-driven-snow white, so much so that you can barely make out the layers of petals.

The latest and greatest in the Salvia world, this S. splendens 'Sao Borja' is actually a shade lover. It grows quickly, getting to its full 6 feet in a matter of months. Hailing from Brazil, this burgundy beauty is frost tender. Those of us in mild zones can mulch it; those in USDA zones 9 and lower will have to either bring it indoors, under the protection of a greenhouse or grow it as an annual.

Here's another shot of my Christmas cactus. I have yet to see another one of this color, sort of a translucent peach. I leave mine outdoors year round and it is fine. If pieces break off, put them in soil. They'll root pretty easily.

Here's my Camellia reticulata 'Frank Hauser.' Retics as they are known are often the showiest of all camellias, possessing some of the biggest flowers, with many like this FH sporting extravagantly  wavy petals. Plus that color!

Another shot of my not-so-deadly Dyckia, this one a D. marnier-lapostle. It's still spiny but given that you could hold off an army of huns with your typical dyckia, this one's a real softie.

My newest addition, this Kalanchoe bryophyllum is a real softie, with thick fleshy leaves and rows of nubby teeth. It has the curious common name of Good Luck plant. Its other common names are even more colorful -- Mother of Thousands, which refers to it being prolific at producing babies, Alligator Plant (maybe the teeth?) and Mexican Hat plant (you got me on that one). It's lovely color and form are more than enough for me.

Pelargoniums are more often purchased for their flowers but they sport a wide variety of interesting leaves as well. Here, this P. Luis West has a simple but lovely variegated leaf. To me, it's a kind of Rorschach test. What do you see -- a butterfly, a blood stain or a ...?

Everybody's (okay my) favorite Bidens, B. Hawaiian Flare Drop Orange. If there were a charm meter set to ten, this variety would be (warning, Spinal Tap reference) an eleven.

Gaillardias may be almost ubiquitous but that doesn't mean they aren't beautiful, and especially cheery in the winter months.

Just simple violas but they're one of my favorite sources for winter color. Did you know that the Viola genus contains between 500 and 600 species!

Leucospermum 'Veldfire.' Possibly the showiest of all Pincushion shrubs. Here it is just forming the very beginning of its flowers but the glaucous leaves are also a delight. Note the red tips on on the tops of each leaf.

A reject brought home and thrown in the ground, this pansy has somehow managed to survive and is beginning to bloom. I love its royal colors -- and its name (Panola Sunburst). 

Sometimes it's the foliage. This variegated Nicandra is pretty even when not in bloom. A vigorous self-seeder, it routinely sends up new plants in the most unlikely of places.

I bought this Senecio anteuphorbium for its form (its common name is Swizzle Sticks) but it does bloom and the flowers are quite curious. It almost looks more like a sea creature more than a landlocked plant's flower.

Asclepius 'Apollo Orange.' Impossible not to like (I would put all milkweeds in that category), this guy just keeps on flowering, ignorant of what the calendar says.

Another shot of my very, very determined (or is that happy?) Datura Blackcurrant Swirl. It's pretty much bloomed nonstop for the whole year.

One of my favorite Echeverias, this E. subrigida is looking particularly lovely these days.

Not the best shot but I wanted to share my lovely Salmon cyclamen. It hasn't found a permanent home yet but who knows, maybe it'll stay here.

Lots of color on my Japanese maple, now going on year eleven. It's a great anchor tree for the back yard.

Many people will recognize this ponytail palm, with this pot being distinctive for holding three plants. Would that make this a pot of 'triplets?'

Friday, November 21, 2014


Not wintersweet as in Chimonanthus but an allusion to the fragrant shrubs that show themselves in the late fall to late winter period. Start with the Witch hazels (Hamamelis mollis or H. x intermedia hybrids). They sport delicate finger-like blooms in a variety of golds, oranges and reds in the December to February period. My H. mollis is in bloom now, though it has yet to drop all of its leaves. Another shrub that flowers before its new leaves appear is the intensely fragrant Edgeworthia chrysantha, also known as Paperbush as its peeling, parchment-like bark was used to write on. It and the subtly fragrant Pieris japonica both have a neat trick. They form unopened flower clusters in the late fall then in late winter/early spring the tiny hard flowers open to release their scent. In the case of Edgeworthia, the pale, creamy buds open to vibrant yellow flowers.
No need to wait for Sarcococcas to bloom. The plant known as Sweet or Christmas box can flower as early as December, releasing a heady perfume out of proportion to its tiny white flowers. Two Viburnum species offer a very pleasing fragrance in late winter. P. farreri (fragrans) has a subtle tangy fragrance, while the sometimes temperamental V. x burkwoodii seems to bloom when it feels like, including in early spring. It offers a pleasingly sweet, woodsy aroma. And don't forget Pittosporum tobira, known as Mock orange for its citrusy fragrance.
It isn't just shrubs that can spice up the winter period. The native Ribes sanguineum offers panicles of pink, red or white flowers in mid-winter, a heavenly treat for hummingbirds and humans alike. And here in the Bay Area the flowering cherries sprout flowers in mid-February, offering millions of subtle flowers with a delicate aroma. Not so delicate are the Angel's trumpets of Brugmansias. In milder zones, they can easily be blooming during the winter and varieties like the peachy Charles Grimaldi offer a heady perfume. And though we take them for granted, a multitude of citrus trees offer sweetly fragrant flowers during the winter period. It almost seems like cheating that we should be treated to such heavenly fragrances when they will soon also give us an abundance of fruit.
And of course I have to mention Daphnes, everybody's favorite fragrant shrub. As the saying goes, so many daphnes, so little space.
So, no need to sigh looking out the living room window. Get out and enjoy some of the winter fragrance that Mother Nature has to offer.
Here are a few pre-Thanksgiving photos from the garden. I didn't have the advantage of recent raindrops on the plants for this photo session but many came out very nicely nonetheless.

Echeveria runyonii 'Topsy Turvy.' My favorite new succulent. Look at that color. Regardez those wavy petals. Ahh, mon dieu, c'est fantastique!

Here's the aforementioned Edgeworthia chrysantha. It's held onto its leaves quite late in the year but you can already see the small white flower clusters. This plant can be susceptible to thrips but I've beaten that back and it's looking very healthy right now. It bodes well for some February fragrance!

Abelia 'Kaleidoscope.'  This tough shrub hasn't grown as quickly as I'd hoped, nor bloomed as much, but I planted it more for its foliage so I'm happy with its present state. It's part of an east facing bed next to the house and sits in the middle of the Edgeworthia and the Daphne odora 'Marginata.'

I've grown to love this Pelargonium crispum 'Variegated Golden Lemon.' It's finally put on a mini-growth spurt and if you look closely you can see the scalloped leaves that explain its species name. It's another fragrant addition to the same walkway that has the Edgeworthia and Daphne.

Just a simple viola but I loved the colors, the royal red paired with the canary yellow and of course the whiskers. 

Context is everything in photography and nowhere is that more evident than in photographing plants. This odd-looking, spoon-shaped item is the stipule of the curious Cunonia capensis. Known as the Butterknife tree for their stipules, this 'spoon' will open to sprout coppery new leaves. 

Who says aloes are slow growing? This Aloe striata was planted as a tiny plant and a year later it's already a pretty good size. The so-called Coral aloe (for its flowers) offers a bluish cast to the rigid leaves and a pink edge to set the color off nicely. 

Fans of Magnolia grandiflora will recognize this photo, being the golden-brown backside of its upper green leaf. It's an odd juxtaposition, the shiny, dark green on the top side and the fuzzy brown of the underside.

I find the bud form of certain flowers to be quite interesting. Here's one of my Camellia reticulata 'Frank Hauser' flowers, starting to unfurl. Reticulatas are the queens of the camellia court, being the largest, sometimes waviest and in general the showiest of all camellias. Frank Hauser is no exception; it sports large rosy-pink flowers that are extravagantly fluted.

Camellia japonica 'Black Magic.' There's a funny story behind this fantastic camellia. It was still relatively new to the market when I did a column on it. I happened to mention the grower so as to help retail nurseries know where to find it. Evidently there was a strong interest and the grower was flooded with requests. Normally that's a good thing -- sales! -- but of course they didn't anticipate such interest and didn't have near the stock needed to cover all the orders. The rep told my manager "Some %#*& said people could order this variety from us and now we're screwed." And my manager said "Umm, that %#*& works here." Pause. More pausing. Pretty funny!

Haworthias are such an interesting genus that, well, there isn't the space. Here's one of the translucent varieties. They are just so cool, almost looking like a 'jello' plant. In nature, the bottom of the plant is under the soil, leaving only the translucent part above ground.

Here's another Haworthia, this one a zebra type. Okay, come up with your own "What happened when the haworthia crossed the road" joke. This one has a rough texture, the white 'bands' being superimposed on the green background.

Laying down with the enemy! Here a cute little viola is being momentarily overrun by the weedy oxalis. For now, they look quite cute together. But you know very soon the viola is going to say "Hey, I need my own space!"

Another shot of my Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious.' It really does stay golden and the scarlet flowers really pop against that backdrop. Plus, it has that subtle 'pineapple' fragrance.

Just a common yellow tuberous begonia but still, as we slide into winter, it's awfully pretty and lights up a shady area.

A new arrival, this unnamed Azalea from one of our houseplant growers offers up rosy-red flowers. We'll see if it can get established.
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