Friday, September 12, 2014

An Inviting Garden

I talked a bit about the importance of diversity in my last entry but one aspect of this I didn't mention is that planting a garden with a wide selection of plants also attracts a diverse crew of pollinators and other beneficial insects. Although there are bees, butterflies and birds that target a certain plant (or group) as is the case with Monarch butterflies, it is more generally true that these birds and insects will sample of variety of natives and other plants commonly found in this state. Bumblebees go even further; they are generalists and will seek out many plants that provide nectar, native or not.That is true of hummingbirds as well, which favor plants with tubular flowers. Ideally you would add plants to your garden that bloom in all four seasons, so there's always something in bloom for these beneficial and attractive visitors.
That said, here are some photos taken today. As we head into fall, there is more of an emphasis on foliage and so there are a few shots here that focus on that feature.

This is one of my front yard color bowls, with annual Petunias and Torenias plus the unusual perennial mallow Pavonia (orange flowers).

Many will recognize the powder blue blooms of Plumbago auriculata. They are such tough shrubs that the city of Oakland has planted them beside freeway entrances. They are also said to be good at absorbing pollution. They do provide lovely hydrangea-like flower clusters and are a favorite destination for butterflies to sun themselves on.

Another shot of my un-Pittosporum like P. crassifolium. For me it's much prettier than any of the other Pitts and though mine has yet to bloom it's supposed to sport the prettiest red flowers.

War of the Aussie giants. Yes it's a match to the death of ... okay it's more like two friendly Aussie natives who simply have outgrown their allotted space. That's especially true of the Adenanthos sericea, better known as Wooly bush for its silky soft foliage, on the left. But the Melaleuca incana on the right is also way too happy (if you know what I mean and I think you do). I love them both so they'll just have to get along.

Clerodendrum ugandense. That's a mouthful so people just call them Blue Glory Bowers. Easy to see why with that color. It's another in a long line of plants with pea-like flowers. This guy can get big so you need the room.

Another shot of my Aloe striata, better known as Coral aloe. To the left is my favorite Oxalis (O. latifolia), which sports the prettiest lime-green foliage and then vivid pink flowers. To the right of the aloe is the weirdly named Plectranthus relative -- Hemizygia (variegated foliage).

Here's the first foliage shot. Can you guess what it is? It's a Beschorneria alba and up close you can see the lovely striations on the leaves.

There's red and then there's Bouvardia red. It's such a saturated red that the camera has a hard time delineating the detail of each small tubular flower. No lie, this thing blooms nearly year round.

Though the lighting is less than ideal, here's a closeup of one of my rain lilies. Now can anyone ID this little creature checking out something of interest in the center?

Most of you know Rehmannia. I just had a funny image of a police rap sheet on this plant. "Mr. Rehmannia, aka Chinese foxglove; aka profuse bloomer for shade; aka self-seeder."

Yes this is a Plectranthus but which one? If you were standing in front of it, the giveaway would be the lime-green foliage and its height. It's a P. Zuluensis and finally in its third year it's gotten around to some serious blooming.

Didn't think I'd have enough color on my Ampelopsis this year (thus my stealing an image from the web for a previous post) but here's mine with a few exquisite blue berries. 

This leaf should be a bit more recognizable. It's a red banana and we're mild enough here in Oakland that you can grow them outside. It does die back completely in the winter but comes back faithfully in late spring. Love the red center spine.

This super frilly thing is Begonia 'Calypso.' Of course the flower hasn't fully opened but I love the golds and apricots and its fully double form once open.

Today as I was looking at the most fragrant of the Plectranthus species, this one is known as Cuban Oregano though it's not edible, it suddenly looked like miniature water lettuce plants. Haven't seen this guy bloom but the fragrance is heavenly.

If my primroses are back I know that fall can't be far away. This is part of the Primula Primlet series. Very cute.

Another exuberant Aussie in the same bed as the Adenanthos and the Melaleuca, in front of them in fact, is this surprisingly little known Aussie native Swainsona. It has a long bloom season and pure white, pea-like blooms. With a little water it remains lush and quite floriferous.

It may look like a Calceolaria (Pocketbooks) but in fact it's a ... well ... Calceolaria. In this case a C. paralia. It has larger leaves than C. mexicana, is perennial and tends to stay upright not flop like the mexicanas.

I get asked about this plant all the time, especially when the sun isn't bringing out the true color of the flowers (deep purple). Without the sun the flowers look almost black. That and the lime-green calyxes make quite a striking combo. It's Salvia discolor (I imagine a man of Italian descent being asked "what color?" and him replying "Dis-color here." Okay, that was bad.

Thursday, September 4, 2014


Diversity is a word you hear a lot about when talking about preserving the flora and fauna of our world, a topic of immense importance. But the term even applies to home gardens and thus to the nursery business. If places like Home Depot and Lowe's had their way they'd sell only 50 plants but ten million of each of them. Their business model is build on volume. Similarly, the vendors that supply them are streamlining their selection of plants to meet this business model. In another related vein, businesses such as Proven Winners seek to establish market dominance by trademarking varieties of plants that they produce in "super" greenhouses, huge, automated growing factories that maintain near ideal growing conditions to maximize performance and thus salable product. In fact, their goal is to grow thousands of one plant where one specimen looks exactly like the other. In ads in the major magazines, Proven Winners advertises these plants by trademarked descriptive names, hiding or avoiding their true botanical names. The reason for this is obvious -- PW wants to sell the plant by its visual appeal and to sell their "brand." Again, the goal is to produce fewer species and/or cultivars and thus minimize costs.
The effect these business models have in common is to gradually shrink the diversity of what is grown and sold to the trade. That means certain species or varieties are not planted in people's gardens and gradually are no longer grown, leading to them largely disappearing. That's why I feel that supporting growers who propagate and sell less common plants is almost a spiritual calling. And gardens like mine in some way continue the beneficial aspects of plant diversity.
Of course, a special place should be reserved for maintaining the diversity of local flora, so critical to the ecosystems here. Fortunately there are many growers in the ecosystem conscious Bay Area that continue to grow and keep alive local flora -- and share them with the rest of us.
On that note, here are more photos from my early September garden. The first hints of fall are showing themselves, as vines and fall perennials like salvias begin to shine.

Chamaecyparis 'Barry's Silver.' I may have mentioned that I have begun to take more notice of conifers when I visit public and private gardens. That increasing interest led me to create a Japanese style dwarf conifer bed. Here is one of my favorite denizens there -- Chamaecyparis 'Barry's Silver.' Love the color and the fine textured foliage.

Zinnia "State Fair' mix.These flowers continue to amaze me, finally answering the question "What the heck is the big deal about zinnias anyway?" At least for the large State Fairs, you're looking at the answer.

Caryopteris 'Hint of Gold.'One of my favorite plants, just now coming into its own. The flower clusters are not as big, or as deep a purple hue, as some Bluebeards, but that crinkly gold foliage is just so fab.

Hedychium greenii. This 'Fire ginger' is probably my favorite ginger, not only for the lovely coral-red flowers but for its red stems. Doesn't take over, doesn't get too tall or wide, blooms faithfully every year. What else do you want?

People coming into our nursery and spotting this Begonia sutherlandii are always charmed by its petite, cream soda orange blooms. Plus it has red stems and a very thin red rim to the leaves. Despite its delicate appearance it's pretty vigorous.

Another shot of my third Succulent bowl. The tall one, an aeonium, is from a 4" pot but the others were all bought in 2" containers. A little water, a lot of sun and voila ...

This isn't the greatest shot of my favorite Oxalis (species uncertain) but if gives you an idea. Lime green clover-like leaves and those vivid rose-colored flowers make a great combo.

Many will recognize the petite burst of color that is Schizanthus grahamii. A sweet sun-loving annual, it puts on quite a show all summer and it's super easy to grow. 

Though the focus isn't absolutely perfect, I like this shot of my Dicentra scandens' canary-yellow flowers in front of the wooden fence backdrop. I cut my plant to the ground in late June but it's already back up and blooming again. It's one of the most delightfully unstoppable plants I've ever grown.

Hedychium gardnerianum. So many wonderful gingers out there but this is certainly one of them. There's something about gingers that really appeals to me. They're colorful while in bloom but the foliage is often fresh and sort of tropical, so holding nearly year long appeal here in our mild zones.

Speaking of tropical, here's another member of my Tropical Corner, Canna Australia. Love its vibrant burgundy foliage and it provides a nice contrast to the gingers and bamboos around it.

Tricyrtis formosana. Toad lilies are fun and easy to grow, though they can kind of take over. Still, the flowers are just so cool and the spotting looks as much as if a painter flicked his paintbrush soaked in purple paint at a white flower.

The closeup on the flower may make this plant a bit hard to ID but it's a Zauschneria canum, now classified as Epilobium canum. This one is E.canum ssp. garrettii 'Orange Carpet.' There's definitely a bit more orange to the flower than on the straight species. Here the flower seems propelled away from the foliage, almost like a shooting star.

Here's the plant of the month and if you're a chocolate lover then the plant of the year! Let me introduce you to (drum roll) ... Scorzonera hispanica. If you've never heard of it, well, either had I. But it has been cultivated for a very long time, in part because it produces an edible carrot-like root that is said to taste a bit like oysters crossed with asparagus! You're not likely to grow it for that but for the fact that the flowers exude an intense chocolate fragrance. Plants like chocolate cosmos barely register next to the heady chocolate fragrance of this perennial.

Dahlia 'Coupe de Soleil.' A very pretty formal double dahlia that this year surprised me by also producing a few white flowers and combinations in between. 

My favorite Agastache, A. Grapefruit Nectar, doesn't smell like that fruit but has a very pleasing sweet smell. And it is floriferous, not just in volume and duration but it has this neat trick of producing both pink and yellow flowers on the same plant.

Sometimes simple is best. The flowers on Salvia azurea are just one color (though it has a paler blue 'throat') but when that color is a robin's egg blue then all is good. This guy didn't bloom its first year, went deciduous, then sort of hid among another agastache's leaves. I didn't realize it had survived until the first flowers appeared yesterday.

Who doesn't like Justicias? Sometimes collectively called Plume flower or Shrimp plant, these South and Central American natives have that tropical look to them that is most pleasing. The flashy red parts are of course the bracts, with the pretty two lipped lavender portions being the flowers themselves. I thought our week-long freeze last winter killed it but it has returned good as new!

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck ... These sweet little double, mini calibrachoas throw some people at first, being half the size but having the inner petals. This particular one, MiniFamous Double Peach calibrachoa, is an especially lovely one and has proved tougher than it looks, now back for year three.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

You succ - why thank you!

For succulent lovers, there is no such thing as an uninteresting succulent and as we head into the heat of our summer/fall season, may cacti and succulents are at their best. Find a few photos in the collection below of my favorite succulents. The downturn in the economy has driven more people to growing their own vegetables -- a good thing -- while the drought has opened more people's eyes to the charms of succulents.
On another note, an unusual plant that I've been anxiously waiting to flower, Scorzonera hispanica, did finally produce its first yellow, dandelion-like flower yesterday. Why the big deal? It's the scent. It has the most intense chocolate smell of any flower I've come across. Amazing. It seems to be a tough plant too so it all seems good.
Here are more photos from my almost-September garden. Lots of photos of succulents, including a couple of the always interesting Propeller plant in bloom.

Begonia 'Angelwings.' This spotted begonia has been doing well in its container, getting morning sun. I learned not to cut it back completely, as that slowed its re-sprouting last year.

Here's another shot of my intense fuchsia-colored Ipomoea 'Sunrise Serenade.' Hard to believe this is a morning glory at first glance. Photographed against the lush foliage of Asarina erubescens.

Hydrangea 'Nikko Blue' -- the old and the new. I thought this made an interesting contrast -- the clean blues of the new flower alongside an aging, spotted one.

Hedychium gardnerianum. This is the spike that first appears, from which the yellow flowers will soon unfurl. It sports an interesting architectural look at this stage.

Two shots of my Crassula falcata, better known to some as the Propeller plant. Those are the blue "blades" in back of the flowers.

Another shot, this time of the whole plant, of my weird little Portulaca 'Fairytales Cinderella.' Fab flowers.Oh, the tales they could tell ...

Keeping with the succulents theme of this post, here's my Crassula alba var. parvisepala. One of its attractive features is the red spotting on the leaves.

My mostly succulents table. It's sort of a holding area before they find homes in the ground or in another mixed succulent bowl.

Look up "white" in the Gardener's Dictionary and you may see a picture of Mandevilla laxa. It really is blindingly white, though of course its main calling card is the heavenly fragrance.

Though this Lampranthus 'Fire Spinner' flower is pretty, and I would include it anyway, it represents a kind of triumph. I've been waiting for this Ice plant to bloom for two years and it's just now yielding its first flowers.

I'm crazy mad about my new Pavonia missionum and, well, here's visual proof why. Love that color!

Back to succulents for a second, here's my Aloe striata, better known as Coral aloe. I love the opposing leaves and the red rims. Its common name owes to the color of its flowers.

My amazing Grevillea Moonlight just keeps on blooming. There's nothing quite like the flowers on this variety, being both large (8-10" long) and sporting that otherworldly color.

Potentilla 'Melton Fire.' Tough, beautiful and long blooming. Next ...

Staghorn fern. It seems to like its move to the crevice of a fir tree, which seems fitting for an epiphyte.

People are usually puzzled at first in seeing a flower that seems vaguely familiar. It's a Passion flower vine called Passiflora citrina and it's a bit of a mystery to me why it's not more widely available.

One of my favorite plants of 2013: Gomphrena 'Fireworks.'  It's supposed to be an annual but it's back and already beginning to bloom again.

Sphaeralcea munroana. One of my favorite plants, this prostrate globe mallow has THE prettiest rose-colored flowers.And its spilling over a low rock wall right next to the sidewalk, so passersby get to enjoy its charms.

Caryopteris 'Hint of Gold.' More than a 'hint' actually, this showy variety showcases rich golden textured leaves and then at the leaf axils soft lavender flowers. So lovely.
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