Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Natural World

I've been watching a number of the series of famed British naturalist David Attenborough recently (highly recommended) and so I've had the wonders of the natural world on my mind. There is of course an intimate relationship between plants and animals -- in general and in many cases between a particular plant and a particular insect, bird or animal. It should come as no surprise then that there are many common names for plants that contain an animal or insect name. The use of these descriptive common names can be divided broadly into two categories -- those where the animal has a direct bearing on the plant's growth or pollination and those where the name is descriptive of the look of the plant. An example of the former would be Baboon flower, where baboons do actually eat Babianas in South Africa. An example of the latter would be Tiger lily. Tiger lilies are orange with black spots, thus invoking the look of that animal.
So, what follows is a new version of the Name Game, something I started last year in this blog. There are likely hundreds of such common names. I'll introduce a subset of those, part one here and part two next week. This time around I'm going to leave off the botanical names, as a kind of fun puzzle for those to see how many they know. So here are the common names, each with a short comment. Enjoy.

Not only is there the common Baboon flower, but there is a red flowering species called Rat's Tail. So, I guess that would make it a 'Rat's Tail Baboon flower.' Hmmm.
Bird of Paradise. Speaking of Attenborough, he did a program on this colorful South American bird. Or birds, as it turns out there are many species/varieties.
Bird's Eye flower. Here's a hint. This is a California native and has tiny fuchsia-colored flowers.
Bat flower. No? This flower is often sold with orchids and is sometimes called Cat's Whiskers.
Burro's Tail. This will be an easy one for many people, though I honestly don't see the resemblence between a burro and this plant.
Butterfly plant. There's two, maybe more, common plants that answer to this name. One of them famously is the host plant of Monarch butterflies.
Canary Creeper. One of my favorite common names and one that is actually quite descriptive (although we all know canaries don't creep).
Carrion flower. I doubt this succulent had a vote as to its common name. Carrion? Yuck. It is however aptly named.
Catchfly. I'm not sure if these plants were used to catch flies but it is said that the XHosa tribe of South Africa ground up the roots to make a preparation for ritual and to influence one's dreams.
Elk clover. Elks may not have eaten this CA and OR native, at least not in the last 5000 years, but it has another distinction, being related to the only ginseng native to our west coast.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The ABCs of Gardening

(Note: For those of you looking for The Wave Garden photos, see the entry following).
In this case, the ABCs of gardening refer to the Abutilons, Bulbs and Camellias that are one of the features of many people's gardens this time of year. Okay, the A reference is a bit of a stretch but I do have two varieties in bloom as I write this and they just seem to bloom nearly year round. No qualms about the B and the C as I have all manner of bulbs poking their heads up, with the first crop (snowdrops, Lachenalias) already in bloom. Freesias, daffodils and sparaxis will soon follow. C is for Camellias and they're real show this time of year. I've gotten fond of them, especially the Reticulatas. This species features flowers that are especially large, many with wavy petals. Two make an appearance in today's blog, the C. 'Frank Hauser' that now in year four is putting on a great show, and the new C. Winner's Circle,' so new to the trade that there are virtually no pictures of it online. Even the grower (Nuccio's) doesn't have a photo of it on that camellia's page. It's a lovely salmon-pink color, with especially large flowers. Now in year three, it's putting on its first real show.
So, here are photos from my A,B,Cs and a host of other winter season plants.


Here's the aforementioned Camellia 'Frank Hauser.' Full view is above and a closeup of the extravagantly fluted petals is below. The Reticulata species is aptly referred to as the Queen of the Camellias. Bold colors, wavy petals and especially large flowers all contribute to their reputation for showiness.



Camellia reticulata 'Winner's Circle.' A lovely coral-pink, with subtle fluting but very large blossoms. Incidentally, of the four main 'shade' shrubs -- Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Hydrangeas and Camellias -- Camellias are usually the hardiest, the longest blooming and the most drought tolerant.


Abutilon thompsonii. It may be in a bit too much sun, this species is one of the few that likes some shade, but it seems nonetheless to be thriving. I've mainly planted it for the foliage but the peachy-orange flowers are lovely too. 


Staghorn fern. I have two, one wedged in a tree branch not in soil and this one, which as you can see is in a pot. Staghorns are adaptable, as long as they get some regular moisture to the leaves but have the soil dry out between waterings.


Pansies + Lachenalia 'Francie.' A bit of winter color plus a new Lachenalia for my collection. Francie has yellow flowers with green tips. Here they are still only budded but will likely open in a week's time.


Chaenomeles 'Fuji.' What to say about flowering quince that hasn't been said a million times before? They're incredibly easy to grow and ideal for a sunny hillside that will get little water or attention. Despite its 'flowering' designation, my plants do produce a few small fruits.


Eriogonum crocatum. Now my favorite CA Buckwheat, this beauty keeps its silvery foliage year round in mild zones. In summer it produces sulphur yellow flowers that are favorite destinations for butterflies and bees.


"I'm ready for my closeup Mr. DeMille!" It almost seems as if this Salvia discolor is posing. It's taken advantage of the dramatic lighting and backdrop to show off its shiny green leaves and white undersides and stems. Of course it's better known for its nearly black flowers (and for some its sticky stems).


Everyone knows the distinctive bordered leaves and pinkish-white flowers of Daphne odora marginata. We grow it of course for its heavenly fragrance but that aside, I think it's a handsome shrub. 


This Ribes aureum is my 'Confounding plant of 2015.' It nearly died off, didn't grow at all for most of the last year and a half but has in the last two months decided to put on a bit of a growth spurt and is leafing out. I'm very happy and hope to see the distinctive yellow flowers this summer. 


Sometimes 'bare' is beautiful. Case in point, Coral Bark maples. They feature reddish stems that provide winter interest, before it begins leafing out in early March. Here the gray stucco provides a nice contrasting backdrop.


Begonia 'Irene Nuss.' One of the cane type begonias, mine is finally getting a foothold in a morning sun bed. Note the dramatically red new leaf, which will age to green but retain some dark red coloration on the undersides.


Under the heading of 'If it looks like a Choisya then it must be a Choisya,' this is the variegated C. Sundance. I love plants that offer an ever shifting palette of variegation on their leaves. This one has yet to bloom as vigorously as the straight species but the foliage provides year round appeal.


Sedum 'Lemon Coral.' One of my favorite sedums and a bit more tolerant of regular water now that the rains have returned.


Euphorbia atropurpurea. This handsome Euphorbia features red flowers, making it a bit more uncommon than most other species. You can see the start of flowers in the upper left.


Clematis armandii 'Snowdrift.' This evergreen clematis has come as advertised -- vigorous and oh so sweet smelling. It's in the process of covering an east-facing wall and it soon will be sprouting those heavenly smelling white flowers.


Speaking of Clematis, my deciduous C. 'Belle of Woking' simply can't wait for spring to begin blooming. Flowers will often start out this demure green and white color then gradually fill in to be a pale lilac.


New to the market, this cross between a Lachenalia viridiflora (the blue) and a Lachenalia quadricolor has yielded this beauty. It has proven to be even more vigorous in year two.


A friend has shared that his Lotus jacobaeus has proven to be an effective colonizer and I'll admit I was skeptical at first. It looked too delicate and it doesn't share the dense foliage of its more common species mates. But lo and behold, it bloomed its heart out last year, paused for a couple of months and is back to flowering. Okay, okay, damned if he wasn't right.


My lovely Coral aloe looks like its swimming in a sea of clover and in a way it is. The green on the top side is Oxalis latifolia and it's gradually colonizing the area.


"It's a bird, it's a plane ..." No, it's a Mini-cattleya. I'm a sucker for orange orchids and this minicat is purrfect. Okay, moving right along ...


Phaelenopsis. I just loved the wine colors on this Phaelenopsis so had to take it home. It's a darker burgundy color than this photo makes it seem, a color I rarely see on this genus.


Salvia spathacea. This guy is either late or early in its blooming. Early, je pense. This native hummingbird sage is aptly named, being a favorite destination for hummers one and all. I not only love the burgundy flowers but the rough, textured leaves.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Doing 'The Wave'

Yesterday a friend and I made a trip out to The Wave Garden in Point Richmond CA, a 20 minute drive north of Oakland. I'd heard about this unique garden for years but had never made the trek. The garden is the vision and handiwork of Jeanne and Vern Doellstedt. Acquiring the property adjacent to their home, they imagined a stunningly organic design then fashioned it into one of the Bay Area's most unique public gardens. As you will see in the photos that follow, they combined Gaudi-like curving concrete walls and paths, twisting metalwork gates and fences, then added visually striking plantings of Protea family shrubs and colorful succulents to create this one of a kind artistic vision. Due to the sculpture and artwork and the mostly evergreen plantings, the garden maintains year round interest.
But first you have to find it and that proved to be quite the challenge. I had directions off the web and I needed every left and right turn to find the address. But even that wasn't enough, as the actual entrance is off another little side street in back of the stated address. Fortunately a previous visitor had alerted those wanting to check out the garden of this little clue and that finally took us to the entrance. We were lucky to have the place to ourselves for most of our hour plus visit so got to enjoy it in peace and on a sunny, clear day that provided spectacular views of the Bay. The difficulty in finding the place, the private setting and the lack of other visitors made the experience seem like we'd stumbled onto the most amazing secret garden.
So, here are photos courtesy of the Succulents and More blog. Enjoy!


Here's a wide angle view, taken from the bottom of the garden. It gives you an idea of the piggyback paths, how they curve to and fro, winding up the slope.


Main entrance. Or I guess more accurately, the western, side entrance. All of the metalwork looks to be wrought iron. Nearly all of the pieces feature undulating curves reminiscent of, if not actually inspired by Antonio Gaudi, the Spanish architect who has populated Barcelona with his revolutionary curved designs.


Looking east towards the houses that border the garden on the east side. That's a mature Ceanothus in front and a huge patch of Cotyledon behind.


Looking NE. You can see a bit of the Bay in the upper right corner. Everything about the steps and walls is curved, soft, inviting. That's a Leucadendron 'Jester' in the front left and straight ahead. As was mentioned in the opening, many of the plants in this garden are from South Africa.


The view looking northwest. Though the garden is not at the top of the Pt. Richmond hill, it's high enough for lovely views. 


Here's a good shot showcasing the curving lines and undulations of the hardscape. That's an expanding crop of Echeveria elegans inside the front bed. The bluish color contrasts nicely with the adobe clay looking cement walls.


There are three areas where one can sit and enjoy the scenery. This one is the most private and is situated on the west side of the garden. My friend was saying he could sit out here all day, every day, and while that may be true I think the pleasure of the view is enhanced by a less occasional viewing.


Besides a fabulous collection of Leucospermums, Leucadendrons, Banksias and Proteas, the garden features an assortment of colorful succulents. Here, a few different Aeoniums spill over the edge. Below, a Leucadendron salignum shows off its colorful bracts, while behind it several Smoke trees (Cotinus) offer only bare branches. They will leaf out with striking eggplant-colored foliage in spring.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

After the Flood

For certain parts of the Bay Area, this subject line is almost literal. A four year drought? Seems like ancient history now. The dry weather today and tomorrow is a welcome relief. Still, no one's complaining about the rain -- or the snow up in the Sierras. The birds certainly love it, especially the worm eaters, as the rains flush them to the surface for hungry robins and Flickers.
Today's photos are a mix of different things - a couple of early blooming bulbs, winter shrubs, lots of succulents and two hellebores. It's a bit of a myth that our gardens 'go to sleep' in the winter. They just change. Of course it helps to plant one's garden with four seasons in mind. And I continue to advocate 'vertical' planting -- bulbs below the ground, ground covers or low growing plants over them on the surface and taller plants above that. A little space planning yields even more abundance.
For many of us, early spring is not far off. Two good things to plant now are sweet peas and breadseed poppies. They're starting to show up at your local nursery about now. And now the photos ...


Sedum x adolphii. Or Golden Sedum as it's sometimes known. This is one sturdy succulent and it holds its color in all seasons. Seems to love the sun.


Veteran gardeners will recognize the foliage on this Hellebore. It's H. argutifolius but in this case it's the 'Pacific Frost' variety. The new foliage comes out not only speckled but a whitish-yellow color. My specimen is doing exactly that and it won't be long before it's in bloom.


I'm calling this hanging basket of mixed succulents my 'Grab bag.' Everything seems happy and they are busy spilling over the front.


Lachenalia aloides 'Orange.' This relatively new Lachenalia is happy as a clam and is smothered in pinky-orange flowers. So many Lachenalias, so little time ...


Though something was shading my Echeveria peacockii a bit I still thought it was worth sharing its milky-blue petals. The rain has not bothered it, even in a relatively tall pot.


Chaenomeles 'Fuji.' This reddish-orange flowering Quince has adjusted to its new home and is off to the races in the flowering dept. I love this genus and currently have the blood-red Kurikoji and the coral-colored Cameo as well.


The spiny leaves (and color) are a bit of a giveaway that this is a Mahonia, in this case a M. lomariifolia. It has more than a dozen young flowering stems waiting to grow and then open bright yellow flowers. It's going to be a spectacular show this year.


The big news of the day was spotting these nestled flower buds in the center of my oh-so-happy Aloe striata (Coral aloe). Can't wait for them to grow and bloom!


Another shot of my exuberant Senecio barbertonicus, as it continues to open bright yellow flowers. As noted before, this is a shrub type Senecio and could easily get to four feet.


Helleborus orientalis 'Wayne Rodderick.' One of the burgundy hellebores, this vigorous selection blooms faithfully for me every year. 


Eeek! Mouse! Well, not quite but this interesting Arum family member (Arisarum proboscideum) is commonly called 'Mousetail arum.' That's because it makes these sweet little brown and white flowers that have a long curling 'tail.' Before they appear, one is treated to these shiny, arrow-shaped leaves in great numbers.


Had to share a photo of my glass bird. I love garden art and have an assortment of garden animals and insects in all manner of forms.


Fuchsia 'Firecracker.' This variegated form of F. gartenmeister has proved tough and vigorous.


After a few fits and starts, my Begonia 'Irene Nuss' seems to have finally got a foothold. It's been leafing out this last two weeks, no doubt encouraged by the rain.


Though the lighting was a bit murky for this shot, it almost works to create a kind of foggy, winter setting for my Ribes sanguineum 'Claremont.' It's almost finished shedding its 2015 leaves and a closer look will reveal that it's budding up for its early 2016 flowering.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Winter charms

Okay, it's true that those of us that live in the immediate Bay Area don't get a real winter (ie. snow) but there's a different kind of wonderland that certain flower gardeners can enjoy -- the winter garden. Mind you, no one's going to confuse the more subtle charms of winter with those bright colors and explosion of growth in spring but that doesn't mean we shouldn't seek out and enjoy winter's clothing.
For me that is winter blooming shrubs such as camellias, correas, daphnes and late salvias. It's also a time to enjoy winter blooming bulbs such as Lachenalias, Freesias, Bulbinellas, Ferrarias and Moraeas. And the reason this is their season of course is that they hail from South Africa.
So, to honor the season here are a few photos taken from my archives from this month in years past.


Bulbinella latifolia. One of the showiest bulbs this time of year, this faithful returner puts up a sturdy bloom spike and soon buds covering the entire length of the upper shaft. Gradually, from the bottom upwards, little nectar rich, star-shaped bright orange flowers open, providing a winter treat.


Soon to open, Ornithogalum umbellatum's pure white flowers produce a vivid contrast to the brown soil and green leaves. The genus is referred to as Star of Bethlehem and this species is a low growing, ground cover type.


Melianthus pectinatus. The genus will be familiar to many (African Honey bush) but not the species. It's a dwarf with much smaller leaves and sprays of tiny flowers that seem to bear no resemblance to the huge panicles of M. major. It recently put on a growth spurt and is starting to flower. The leaves still bear that distinctive aroma of peanut butter so one gets to enjoy that scent without a bush (M. major) that will take over your entire garden.


This is the time of the year for Hellebores and here's one of the most vivid varieties -- Wayne Rodderick. A great companion planting to a variety of winter shrubs.


Camellia 'Silver Waves.' One of the earliest blooming varieties, Silver Waves also sports one of the largest collection of stamens. That inner patch of yellow contrasts nicely with the pure white petals.


From the simple purity of the Camellia 'Silver Waves' here is its opposite -- the extravagant showiness of Passiflora actinia.With this species, it's all filaments and barely noticeable white petals.


Speaking of 'showiest of its kind,' this Lachenalia viridiflora might well be the most amazing of all Cowslips. It certainly sports the most otherworldly color. 


Hardly ever out of bloom, my Campanula 'Blue Waterfall' is one of the great overachievers in the flower world. Simple, star-shaped purple flowers dangle on the tips of cascading branches, thus its variety name. One of my favorite plants.


Agapetes serpens. There's nothing quite like the brilliant red, dangling, papery flowers of this versatile shrub. It prefers a good amount of sun in milder zones and some shade in hotter climes. The bloom season is a long one, from the moment that the first flowers appear till the last ones are done.


Choisya ternata. Many are familiar with the Mexican Mock orange and why not. It's nearly the perfect plant. Easy to grow, pest and disease resistant, shiny green leaves, grows in sun or light shade, blooms not only in spring but often a second time in fall and then there's that heavenly fragrance. 


Once you've been introduced to Aloe plicatilis it's hard to forget it. First off, there's that lovely steel blue color. Then the distinctive candelabrum form. They can get big over time, forming a 2' x 3' mound. One of the loveliest of the large succulents. This photo is from the web as I didn't have a good shot of mine. Ditto for the Correa below.


Correa 'Wyn's Wonder.' One of the most striking of the Australian Fuchsias, this variegated form with the vivid pink flowers is near the top of many people's list for a showy winter shrub.
 
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