Thursday, August 14, 2014

In Praise of Gingers

When people ask for something tropical in their garden, I often think to mention gingers straight off. Whether it's one of the popular Alpinia species such as A. Zerumbet or A. galanga or the many species in the Hedychium genus, gingers are a wonderful way to add tropical foliage and flowers to one's garden. I have four in my garden, the aforementioned Alpinia Zerumbet (see photo below) and three Hedychiums -- gardnerianum (Kahili ginger), greenei (Red ginger) and coronarium (Butterfly ginger). The latter three are in a tropical mini-garden I've created and the Zerumbet has carved out a home in a median strip. One little known fact, except to plant geeks, is that gingers and bananas belong to the same Order (Zingiberales). This order also contains Cannas and Birds of Paradise.
Here are more photos from my garden, now well into its summer garments. Summer vines such as Mandevillas and Passifloras are beginning to flower and lower to the ground summer color is being provided by Mimulus, Agastache, Dahlias, Arctotis and some colorful annuals.

Here's a new Coleus I just brought home called Wizard Pineapple (of course it is). A good way to brighten up a shady area and in our mild Oakland zone, it will do its thing well into December.

Speaking of shade, Browallia is a great way to add little heads of vivid purple. Sweet. They're pretty easy too, just plant 'em, give 'em a little water and they're happy as clams.

Okay, I resisted for the longest time but I've now become a 'fern fanatic.' This guy is commonly called Squirrel Foot fern but it's white, furry rhizomes look a great deal more like tarantulas to me. Well behaved tarantulas.

Add Leycesteria formosa to the list of plants that are mysteriously absent from most people's gardens. Called Himalayan honeysuckle because of where it hails from and the fact its flowers exude a subtle fragrance, this vigorous shrub will get 6-8' tall and wide. I have it contained so it doesn't get carried away. Mine is the Golden Lanterns variety, offering chartreuse foliage. I think the dangling panicles of flowers look like little pagodas.

Ruellia elegans. This little part shade charmer has the most vivid red flowers. If you look closely you can see fine white hairs covering the buds. A good way to add a splash of color.

As anyone who knows me knows, I'm a big Plectranthus fan. They're tough, shade-tolerant and interesting so what's not to like? Here's a little variegated P. caninus called Mike's Fuzzy Wuzzy. Hey, I had to add it to my garden just for the name alone. It's one of the stinky ones but that just adds to its oddball charm.

This Justicia nearly gave up the ghost but miraculously bounced back. 

The flower may not be familiar but look at the foliage. Yes, it's a Mallow member. Okay open the envelope and the answer is ... Pavonia missionum. Don't be hard on yourself. This plant is rarely cultivated (thanks to Susan Ashley) and hard to find. It hails from Argentina  and can get to five feet tall. Sometimes known as Red Mallow or Orange Hibiscus.

'Snaps' may be common but that doesn't mean they aren't beautiful. I love the orange and apricot tones on this guy.

Okay, I'll admit that I go gaga over Tweedia caerulea. It's baffling to me why this milkweed member isn't on everyone's XMas list. Again, very few people growing it (thanks for this specimen go to Barb Siegel). True blue flowers, long blooming, tough. I rest my case.

Another rare plant that many will not have heard of, Cunonia capensis is a tree native to South Africa. It comes across its common name, Butterknife tree, due to spoon-like stipules that open to new, coppery leaves. Odd but oh so beautiful.

Back to the common, here's a shot of my Penstemon 'Apple Blossom.' I have lots of hummers in my garden and I swear they fly in my house at night and whisper to me while I'm asleep "Plant more penstemons!"

Here's one of the flowers on the aforementioned Alpinia 'Zerumbet.' It gets its common name, Shell ginger, from these shell-shaped flowers. They're alabaster white on the outside, are ringed with yellow on the inside then feature patterned red nectaries. 

Filipendula ulmaria aurea. Another tough deciduous shrub that is curiously absent from most people's gardens. Known as Meadowsweet, this is a great choice where you want a compact shrub. And the 'Aurea' adds that fab chartreuse color to the simple white flowers.

Haworthia species. There are many haworthias, taking a multitude of forms, but the so called "stained glass" haworthias, featuring translucent leaves, are one of the prettiest.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Back in the Flow

After a hectic and disjointing last three weeks, I have been able to reconnect with my garden and get back in the flow. And that's a reminder that gardening is very much like any other relationship. There are going to be ups and downs, periods of closeness and some of distance. This isn't me waxing poetic but simply acknowledging the reality of this sustaining relationship in our lives. Unlike those in colder climates who have a winter break forced on them, gardening in Northern California means the opportunity is always there and sometimes that isn't always good. One can easily expect to be out in the garden, both because you want to and because the garden always is calling, needing some attention. Which is all to say it's perfectly fine to go in stops and spurts.
Here are more photos and comments from my garden on this first week of August.

Roscoea purpurea. Not many know this charming bulb hailing from China. I picked it up at a UCBG sale many years ago and it flowers faithfully every July.

Crassula alba v. parvisepala. I love this little guy, which features green leaves heavily spotted red and in summer large corymbs of white star-shaped flowers. A real powerhouse.

Major kudos to anyone who guesses what this is. It's a new Portulaca called Fairytales Cinderella. Pretty fab little flower.

Calling Darwin. This blue wonder is Evolvulus pilosus, a nifty little sun-loving ground cover. Darwin? Well, yes, Evolve-ulus. 

Sometimes keeping it simple is best. This front yard pot is filled with a purple Torenia and a dwarf red dahlia.

Love is sweeter the second time around? I managed to kill my first Felicia amelloides variegata so its success the second time around is that much sweeter.

These flowers are clearly a delphinium but if the form and foliage throw you that's because it's a D. chinensis variety, with its lack of a central flowering stem and more delicate foliage. I like the "spread" look of this species.

Two plants that not everyone is familiar with. In the foreground is Ozothamnus
rosmarinifolius ‘Silver Jubilee’(aptly named). Behind it, the plant with furry looking foliage is Phylica pubescens. Its common name is Cape Myrtle, referring to the Cape region of South Africa from which it hails.

Sometimes it's not the flower but the seedpod that provides interest. Many will recognize this seedpod as belonging to a member of the milkweed family, in this case an Asclepius curassavica.

Lilies are one of my favorite bulbs and this beauty, L. Scheherazade, is one of the showiest.

Sometimes unopened flowers can be just as pretty. These Mirabilis jalapa flowers hold tight to their intense fuchsia-colored hues, set against a lush green backdrop.

I caught this honey bee foraging for nectar on my Scabiosa ochroleuca. When you look close you'll see he's been very industrious indeed.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


The title of this post doesn't refer to the sweet days of summer -- although it could -- but rather to Clethra alnifolia, otherwise known as Summersweet. This sweet smelling summer blooming deciduous shrub is surprisingly not well known. It offers more than olfactory delights, with bright pink flower buds opening up to pretty pale pink flowers. It doesn't mind a little shade, though it's more of a sun lover in general. For many people heavenly scents in the garden come from roses, lavender, butterfly bush, jasmine, wisteria or certain bulbs (like freesia). There are however a great many less common shrubs whose fragrance is worth exploring. In one area of our main walkway, I have planted a series of fragrant plants -- Daphne odora, followed by an Edgeworthia (paperbush), Mirabilis longiflora and then a Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans). I planted them for the delight of anyone using the walkway.
Here are more photos of my ever evolving garden, taken on this day of July. Don't forget to click on the thumbnails to bring up the larger images. Leading off is a photo of my Summersweet bush.

Clethra alnifolia. Not only does each panicle of flowers offer a heady aroma but these lovely shrubs tend to bloom profusely. Summersweet indeed!

Another shrub not as popular as it should be is Lysimachia clethroides. You may look at it and think "Wait, that doesn't look like the ground cover lysimachia in my garden"  and you'd be right. This L. clethroides is one of the taller so-called Loosestrifes, as opposed to the low growing Creeping Jenny types. Due to its pure white flowers and curving flower panicles, it's commonly called Gooseneck loosestrife. Hey, you know somebody likes you when you acquire the common name 'Gooseneck.' It makes a shrub about 3' tall and likes regular water. Very show when there's many a goose honking.

I got two spathes on my Arisaema speciosum this year and after I yanked out an invasive Impatiens irvingii from the same pot I could finally get a good photo of it. That rich burgundy color is to die for.

Speaking of color, there is simply no flower that gives you more of your true blue fixation than Ipomoea 'Heavenly Blue.' First, that color and then the flowers are easily five inches across. 

Speaking of vigorous, my Gloriosa lily has just gone bonkers this year. I have no idea why I've had so much trouble with them in the past but it looks like it will yield twenty! flowers this year.

Give and you shall receive. I accidentally killed my front house neighbor's hibiscus so I gave her my two. They'd been languishing in the driveway so I repotted them into larger pots and now that they're on the front porch and getting way more sun they're going great guns. I love a happy ending. (Sniff)

Mimulus sp. This was a rescue from work and it didn't look to survive but I kept at it and now it's ablaze with color. It does need regular water but it's worth it for the show.

Geranium 'Mrs. Kendell Clark.' This white-streaked geranium is a real charmer. It almost died out after planting but does finally seem to be getting a toehold.

Not sure why this photo came out slightly dark but I couldn't resist adding a photo of the one dahlia that's survived the years with me. Dahlia 'Seattle' has that lovely butterscotch and white combo that's so pretty.

Tithonia. Though this photo doesn't capture the beauty of the commonly named Mexican sunflower, here it is anyway. What Tithonia lacks in the size of its flowers, it makes up for in the quantity it produces on one plant.

I'm ending on an unplanned orange trifecta. First the Tithonia, now Calceolaria 'Kentish Hero.' This orange pocketbooks not only differs in flower color from the more common C. mexicana but unlike that plant, KH is a true perennial. It seems to like a bit more sun than C. mexicana too.

And finally Lilium tigrinums spemdens or, to you, Tiger lily. They are among the favorite of my extensive lily collection. Not just the color and the spots but the expertly recurved petals. Plus it's very vigorous.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Do you speak 'Gardening?'

The other day when someone at work asked me if I spoke a second language I said no, unless you count a little French I learned in school. Then I stopped myself and said "No, actually I speak Latin." Then I explained that the horticultural names that are the stock and trade of every nurseryman (or person who uses the botanical names of plants) really do qualify as as a second language, though the terminology is a small and specialized form of Latin. Still, it's a lot of Latin names (and terminology) that piles up in your brain and that you extract at a moment's notice. I converse in this language all day with customers and co-workers and use it when I'm writing about plants. And of course it's a useful language and used more often than most people would ever use their school Latin.
So if you speak "horticulture" give yourself a little pat on the back. Who says you can't learn a second language as an adult?
I've just returned from a week's vacation and the absence from my garden is a mixed affair. I really do miss it while I'm away. But on my return I find so much that is new or has changed and that's a sweet pleasure. Though mid-summer offers fewer changes than spring, my extensive collection of plants always means new things are bursting with color. Here are a few photos taken today, with added descriptions and comments. I do encourage everyone to photograph their garden throughout the seasons, even if that is using your phone. You get a unique perspective looking at plants online and of course if you save them you can revisit them whenever you're in the mood.

Five-finger fern. This CA native maidenhair fern is tougher than it looks. A gift from a friend, mine nearly died in the transplant, then nearly died again adjusting to getting some sun, looked spotty last winter but in the end has thrived. It provides a fertile welcome to the beginning of my Shady Lane bed.

Tricyrtis formosa. This toad lily has begun blooming early. I guess it couldn't wait till late summer, its usual flowering season. Toad lilies are one of the easiest plants to grow, coming back faithfully each year.

Plectranthus 'Sapphire Dream' plus Campanula muralis. I like this variegated plectranthus in part because it stays lower and neater. The flowers seem to have the most blue of all plectranthus, another plus. The colors are complementary with the purple blooming campanula. Two more Shady Lane denizens.
The photo below is of my gorgeous Lonicera sempervirens. This East coast native honeysuckle isn't fragrant but the colors are just too fab. Although it's also in the Shady Lane, it has climbed an arch and is getting lots of sun.

Clethra alnifolia. If the botanical name doesn't ring a bell, perhaps its common name (Summersweet) does. These fuchsia colored buds will open to small rosy flowers that exude an oh so heavenly sweet fragrance. Something to look forward to every summer.

Azolla. Sometimes improperly referred to as Duckweed, this is actually a tiny fern. It has earned the nickname Mosquito fern. In any case it multiplies quickly and here it is covering a small pond in my back yard. Among other things, it is good for controlling the algae in your pond, as it will suck up the nitrogen in the water.

Small is beautiful. This dwarf canna only gets two feet tall but still manages large, saturated red flowers. Behind it, a Fire ginger (Hedychium greenii) has sent up shoots and will soon add more color to my Tropical Corner bed.

This Heliotropium 'Alba' is a survivor. The pot it was originally in was smashed by a delivery person and the plant sat out on its own for a couple of weeks while I searched for just the right replacement pot. As luck would have it, our nursery got in the same ginger-colored pot and so the original look is back. It took awhile but the specimen is now healthy and blooming. One of the most interesting fragrances in the plant world, to some it smells like vanilla, to others talc powder!

Abutilon lovers may think this is a Nabob but in fact it's a new, lighter red variety called Lucky Lantern Red. I haven't had an abutilon in many years so it's nice to have it back. It's a hummingbird magnet so am hoping some hummers will stray from their favorite marmalade bush and venture down the main walkway to find this guy.

Though not a great shot, I couldn't resist adding a second shot of my Viola 'Brush Strokes.' Just the most amazing colors and patterns.

Mecardonia. My favorite new addition to the garden. I love the contrast of the verdant green foliage and the canary yellow flowers. It's a spiller so I'm looking forward to a great mass of it in the near future.

Here's an interesting shot of a Heavenly Blue morning glory. Sometimes the stage after the flower is at its best can provide its own unique visual treat. The five dark pink sections are the ribs of the morning glory, not noticeable when this very large, fully blue flower is at its peak.

Gloriosa lily. I love these spectacular lilies and now, in their third year, I'm getting quite the show. They start out a pale yellow then color in to that rich red, bordered in yellow.

Count me guilty as charged for going gaga over my Agastache 'Grapefruit Nectar.' It's partly the range of colors on a single plant -- yellows, pinks and apricots -- that add to its childlike charm.

Wahlenbergia 'Blue Cloud.' This campanula relative is aptly named, offering up masses of true blue flowers in the summer and fall. Your biggest worry in growing it is simply containing it as it is indeed a 'happy wanderer.'

Eriogonum giganteum. Here's another photo of my St. Catherine's Lace. The clouds of tiny white flowers are fully open now and that means regular visits from a variety of pollinators.

I'm a fan of the simple but interesting Campanula primulifolia. Unlike a lot of upright campanulas that tend to flop or stray, this species sends up sturdy upright spikes that produce flowers all along the stems.Textured leaves provide another reason to add this architectural campanula to your garden.

Seedpod lovers unite! I'm getting to be a fan of seedpods, as they take an astonishing variety of forms. Here's one from my vigorous Datura metel 'Blackcurrant Swirl.' Below is another photo of this plant's flower about to open. It's a double variety, thus the fluted edges.

This is my Wooly bush (Adenanthos sericeus), showing almost lime green new growth. This Aussie native gets its common name from the silky softness of its leaves. A tactile treat!

I'm continuing my photographic charting of this 'new' succulent bowl. It's making good progress, helped by a little regular water. The center plant is an Aeonium lancerottense. I'll need to eventually move it to the ground as it will get too big.

Above and below are two shots of my Tecoma x smithii. The peach-colored version of the so-called Trumpet bush is less invasive and vining than its better known cousin Tecoma (Tecomaria) capensis, the latter having much smaller orange flowers. I love the colors on this species and the way the trumpets flare completely at the tips, almost recurving. The bush puts on a spectacular show in summer and autumn.

Common but beautiful, this strawflower plant (Bracteantha bracteata) provides blasts of color all through the summer. It's perhaps better described as a 'paper flower' as the flowers feel like they have already been dried and are ready for a vase arrangement.

Eucomis species. I love Pineapple lilies and here's a simple green-leaved one I bought at Trader Joe's! There's nothing quite like the waxy flowers on this reliable bulb hailing from South Africa.
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