Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Holidays

Happy holidays to everyone and we're certainly getting a taste of true winter this year with freezing or near freezing temps. Those getting a freeze might want to employ N'Sulate blankets or Wilt Stop (formerly Cloud Cover) spray to protect tender plants. It's a good time to add bark mulch or compost to the tops of planting beds for insulation. I have gotten in the habit of top dressing beds containing perennials with Fir Mulch, an excellent soil amendment.
In other winter news, yes the invasive, yellow flowering oxalis has returned. And no, there is no "cure." The best you can do is to decimate it by continually digging it up or carefully pulling out the entire plant. Keep it from flowering. Where possible, you can employ Weedblock to keep it from popping up.
Now is also the time to dig out and amend any "open" beds and to swap out any plants you simply don't want in your garden any longer. We're constantly reminding customers at Ace Garden Center that this is a natural part of gardening. Some plants are doing too poorly to rebound. Or you are instituting a new design scheme and certain plants no longer fit that scheme. It may also be simply that you've enjoyed a perennial for many years and now it's time to try something new. There's no reason to feel guilty.
Fall and winter are excellent times to plant, whether it's a perennial to get it established in the winter rains, shrubs or trees to likewise establish them before the heat or even "spring" annuals that you may want to get an early start on (sweet peas, poppies, California natives). There is much that can be planted this time of year. This includes finally getting some of those potted plants in the ground.
Of course this is the time of year for pre-spring clean-up. Trimming, pruning, weeding all can serve to get yourself outdoors and give you a visceral sense of accomplishment. And make a warm house seem all that more inviting when you return indoors!
Here's hoping everyone has a safe and hearty holiday season.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Winter Gardens

We are either blessed or cursed, depending upon one's POV, for being able to garden twelve months a year in the milder climates of the Bay Area. On the down side, we don't get to forget about our gardens during the winter experienced by much of the country. On the plus side, it's nice to walk out in the garden on a mild December day to see what may be changing, even if that is minimal compared to spring. Often there is a late show, plants hanging on into the late fall, and an early show, next year's bulbs poking up or buds on the trees. In the former category, my marmalade bush still has flowers, as do several salvias, including the lovely orange flowering S. Peru. My hebes are still producing flowers as is my lotus 'Amazon Sunset.' For the 'advent of spring' group, I have S. African bulbs such as freesia, sparaxis, lachenalia and babiana that have sprouted new growth. I also have my first Dutch iris up, as well as ipheion and snowdrops. I recently noticed new foliage on my Louisiana and ensata iris as well as on my sisyrinchium.
This is the time of the year for shrubs and I have several in bloom (camellias) as well as others about to bloom (leucospermums). My verticordia is coloring up nicely. To me this year round interest is the greatest reason for having a huge diversity of plants in my garden, even though I stray from the natives or drought tolerant planting that is so popular these days. Count me among those who gets great pleasure from enjoying his garden year round.

Monday, November 23, 2009

November Garden Photos

Here are a few early fall photos from my garden. At the top is the glistening porcelain berry vine, where the berries start green, then color up to pale blue, iridescent blue then royal purple. To its right is one of my remaining roses, my camera catching it at its peak. Below left is my Hebe ochroea 'James Stirling' with its gorgeous golden colors and beside it my Agave vilmoriniana, the one that had the 15' high flower spike and has now sprouted new leaves on the remaining stalk. Below that is the cool Euphorbia 'Sticks on Fire' and the subject of an upcoming column, Kalanchoe beharensis 'Fang.' Love its little "stalactites"underneath the velvety leaves. At the bottom is the lovely, subtle Australian shrub Correa and the "deadly" Datura 'Black Currant,' which is one of my favorite flowers ever.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fall into Fall

We are blessed here in the Bay Area with the most wonderful fall weather -- cool mornings and pleasant, mostly sunny days. Inviting weather for getting out in the garden. And while many gardeners are taking a well deserved rest from planting new plants, there's two areas of work that can be most rewarding right now. The first is winter prep, or more to the point spring prep. It's a good time to dig out a planting bed that you hadn't gotten around to amending. Add in compost or fir mulch to enrich and loosen the soil. Want something there until you plant it out in spring? Try a drought tolerant ground cover or a cover crop like fava beans or clover to fix nitrogen into the soil. Or add some seasonal color to these beds with primroses, cyclamen or pansies and violas. For already established beds, consider top dressing with fir mulch to add nutrients. This is also an excellent time to freshen up the bark mulch layer which may have been dissipated with traffic and the elements.
My other Fall tip? Try adding some South African bulbs to your collection of tulips, daffodils and crocus. Most S. African bulbs will bloom earlier than the classic spring bulbs, many of them in December and January. Many gardeners are familiar with sparaxis and babianas but may not have known they are native to South Africa. Add to this list lachenalias, commonly called Cape cowslip, the Iris family member moraea, the stunning and eerie ferraria and a number of gladiola species and winter gardeners have a whole palette to choose from. I have all of these in my garden and they've all poked their heads above ground. South African bulbs offer some of the most vivid colors and most interesting designs so are well worth the addition to your garden.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Happy Hallowe'en!

Well, Hallowe'en is about on us and people are making plans. Besides the usual costumes and decorations for those entertaining, why not consider adding some plants to your decor? I just wrote an article for the Bay Area Newspaper Group's papers (Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times, San Jose Mercury News) on how to use plants as living Hallowe'en decoratations called Garden of Earthly Frights. Follow this link and find the article link under the Bay Area Living heading. Joan Morris and the art department did a terrific job laying out the article and the cover photo was suitably spooky. The article not only offers up suitable orange and black plants but delves into the spooky, Tim Burton-ish world with plants such as corokia, corylus and solanum pyracantum, with its scary orange spikes on the branches and leaves. Homage is paid to the Mexican Day of the Dead as well as to the ghoulish worlds. Although not everyone will use these plants, or others like them, it's fun to think of plants that evoke this time of the year. So take a peek -- if you dare!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fall photos

As we tumble and stumble into Fall, in a season when our gardens aren't sure if it's spring, summer or fall, here's a few photos of recent or continuing flowerings. As I've mentioned, my garden features a diverse collection of plants -- some natives, many Bay Friendly plants but also some that push the envelope. A few of the latter are shown here: the tropical loveliness of Crossandra, with its creamy orange flowers and the weird, malodorous but fascinating flowers of aristolochia grandiflora. One nice surprise is the Ptilotus (or Joey) that has produced long lasting furry flowers and keeps on blooming. We're in the beginning of the vine season and one of my favorites is shown here, the simple but charming Asarina 'Sky Blue.' Also we have the fall Helenium 'Red Shades,' the fragrant Salvia clevelandii, a striking orange canna and one of my favorite fuchsias, F. 'Autumnale,' with its fiery red and gold foliage.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Plant of the Month

Perhaps we should rename the common phrase 'Indian Summer' -- "Bay Area Summer" as our heat doesn't reliably arrive until after Labor Day it seems. Much work to do in our gardens still and yet, we really can't be thinking of fall quite yet, despite the arrival this last week of the first of the fall annual plants: primulas, Iceland poppies, pansies & violas. I'm still enjoying late summer bloomers like heleniums, heliotropium, agastaches, gooseneck strife and dicentra scandens but already some fall favorites like porcelain berry vine, ginger species and passion flower vines are making themselves known.
Speaking of Dicentra scandens, this vining perennial member of the bleeding hearts genus is a spectacular addition to any garden. Most people are familiar with the pink & white species D. spectabilis and so visitors to my garden do a bit of a double take when they see the canary yellow flowers. More like schools of seahorses than hearts, and with the most fabulous pearl-shaped light green foliage, this plant makes a great woodland garden addition. I have mine in a large pot on the shady side of a fence. It's scrambling up and sideways, happy as a clam. D. scandens has to be one of the most cheerful plants in all of the plant world, one of the reasons I wanted it along my walkway. Delicate looking but very hardy!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fall/Not Fall

Is your garden confused? That may sound like an ad line for a garden therapist but in our Bay Area, many gardens aren't quite sure what month it is. Cool months from May through August for those on the coast side of the hills has meant a delay for plants loving the warmth. Sunflowers? Growing inch by inch rather than a foot a week. Dahlias? Late coming up. I'll still have lilies in bloom in September! Then again, my mind-of-its-own lycoris just sent up a solitary bloom spike, which yielded 5 beautiful golden flowers. My lotus is loving the sun, spilling over its container and ablaze with red "parrot's beaks." The fall leaning heleniums are in bloom, a Red Shades and a multi-colored Mardi Gras. One nice surprise: the biennial ipomopsis is blooming, offering tiny brilliant red trumpet-shaped flowers. Right beside it are two success stories -- a salpiglossis still blooming its heart out with both purple and yellow flowers off the same plant. And a yellow & purple flowering torenia, also blooming like crazy. I've tried several times in the past to grow these plants with very little to show for it.
Another sign of confusion? I have aquilegia still in bloom. In August. Plus, my Leprechaun's Gold columbine has new yellow & green foliage, so pretty! Another just-water-me-and-I'll-keep-blooming delight are the two agastache foeniculum (Anise hyssop). The bees love them and it keeps pumping out fuzzy purple flowers, no signs of letting up. One plant that has the season right is crocosmia, which is popping up all over the place. The hummers love them and having been converted to the joys of orange blossoms, the burnt orange crocosmias are a welcome sight. Speaking of orange, my marmalade bush is still blooming like crazy, attracting a steady stream of bees and hummers. I can stand two feet away and the Anna's hummingbirds will still come right up beside me to grab nectar from the bush.
I'm not sure if this would qualify as "plant of the month" but my Leycesteria bush is beginning to pop out flowers. They have interesting pink bracts and white flowers. Vertical panicles of this beautiful combo dangle from the branches, looking all the world to me like miniature pagodas. Plus the flowers are sweet smelling. One of my all time favorite shrubs and it's tough too.
I'm anxiously waiting on the three varieties of toad lily (tricyrtis) that have foliage and in one case tiny buds. I love their showy, "painted" flowers.
In the Ace nursery where I work we still have a great selection of plants. You'd almost think it was still spring. And so the temptation continues to bring more plants home, to add to Norm's Nursery. And work has begun on renovating my morning sun back yard, so shady treats are on my radar. Much of the work to begin the gardening year is behind us but now we head towards fall and soon it will be time for pre-winter projects. But for now, we can enjoy the not-spring/not-summer season in our garden, luxuriating in whichever plants decide to reward our attentions with colorful displays.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More July Photos

Here are more photos from my garden. From top to bottom, left to right:
Top: Impatiens glandulifera. A real showy species impatiens with large red flowers!
Degarmoara 'White Fairy' orchid. Prolific and a reliable yearly bloomer.
Line 2 Jade sunflower. Who doesn't like green flowers?
Salvia sclarea. The bracts on this unusual are so lovely and here so ephemeral.
Line 3 Aptenia Red Apple variegata. One of the most beautiful ground covers.
Cosmos sulfureus. Love how the lighting shows off the rich oranges.
Line 4 Cestrum aurantiacum. Blooming its heart out with gold, star-shaped flowers.
Lilium regale. One of the largest of all lilies, one of the prettiest plus it's fragrant.
Line 5 Yellow 'Tiger' lily. Everyone knows the orange tigers; the yellow one is just as pretty.
'Black Dragon' oriental lily. Very fragrant and quite elegant.
Line 6 Agastache foeniculum with local bumble bee. Bees of all kinds love this agastache.
Alstromeria. You can never have too many varieties of the Peruvian lily in your garden.
Line 7 Clarkia amoena. This clarkia went crazy, just bursting with salmon-colored blooms.
Cichory. Not many people realize this herb has the most beautiful robin's egg blue blooms.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

New Garden Photos!

Here are some recent photos from my garden. More to follow. There are stories with many of these but like vacation photos one has to be careful not to indulge readers with the proverbial "Here we are on the island of ..." I will say that my new dslr camera has meant I get to first enjoy the flowers live in my garden then a second time displayed on the computer, where in some cases there's a kind of hyper-realism to the images. You almost think "Wow, is that even the same flower?" Okay, here are the flowers, listed left to right.
Top: Wahlenbergia -- a very pretty, campanula-like flower, long blooming
Stokesia -- I did a column on this showy blue perennial, an old cottage garden favorite
2nd line: Double Azalea Apricot snap -- a wonderful, large and prolific Annie's Annual variety
Fuchsia boliviana alba -- Just a gorgeous flower on this tall fuchsia. Wow!
Torenia -- this new purple and gold torenia is just so captivating, and prolific
3rd line: Fanfare gaillardia -- this is the variety with the little trumpet-shaped florets. Love it!
Agastache foeniculum -- this anise-scented annual is a bee magnet. They swarm it.
Rudbeckia Green Wizard -- An unusual variety with an especially large chocolate cone
4th line: Double petunia -- Proving that even common plants can really pack a visual punch!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Summer Here

Or is it Spring, I'm not sure? Yes, the weather continues to play havoc with our gardens, no question. I keep a garden journal and noted that my billbergia (bromeliad) was blooming at the end of June! Normally it blooms in March. Then again it was 90 degrees the last two days and my late planted sunflowers are shooting up, with the lovely pale green Jade variety already with its first flower. Some plants are clearly confused. My Mexican Hat (Ratibida) started blooming in February and hasn't stopped. Lilies are one of the shows this time of year and mine have not disappointed. My Asiatic lilies were so fragrant and I'm waiting on a new lily called (appropriately for this golf fan) Tiger Woods to open. Speaking of tigers, my yellow tiger lilies have already opened with the orange ones soon to come. The garden is really exploding with color now, with several varieties of alstromeria in bloom, my Marmalade bush going crazy, my lotus sending out a waterfall of ferny foliage and new masses of those red parrot's beaks. And the vines, not messed up by the cool spring that's before their time, are starting to bloom. Star and pink jasmines, passion flower vines (especially my charming and very prolific yellow citrina), an orange and multi-colored thunbergia, the latter having taken over a west-facing wall and the unique snail vine, with its lovely lavender snail-shaped flowers. Even the ampelopsis has put out clusters of tiny white flowers, with the real payoff, those electric blue berries, still to come.
I have been on a bit of a fuchsia kick lately, with my favorite still being the unique Rose Quartet variety. Only pictures will do it justice so will post one shortly.
I find that summer is one of those rare times of rest for garden work. I've planted all the main spring stuff; I've then yanked out the spring annuals and replaced them with either summer annuals (petunias, phlox, snaps etc) or planted a few more perennials. I've done the majority of the weeding that winter and early spring produced; it's not yet time for fall projects. It's mostly the week to week upkeep and enjoying everything that's blooming. Which in my diverse, nursery-like garden, is quite a lot. Hope everyone else is in such a similarly enjoyable phase of rest. Then again, I always feel that whenever I have the impulse to tackle an area of my garden that needs work, I best do it while I have that inclination.
So stay tuned for a healthy posting of photos from the late spring/early summer blooming!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Plant of the Month

As hard as it is to choose just one plant per month to talk about on this blog, that's all that time allows. With over 500 species/varieties of plants in my garden it's rather like drawing a name out of a hat. So I'm going with a plant that's in bloom now, Sanguisorbia menziesii, better known to some as Burnet. This species of the N. American rhizomatous perennial (native to Alaska) is highly prized for its distinctive flowers, ovoid spikes that appear as solid, maroon-red 'batons' then gradually open to create intriguing, fuzzy blooms that almost resemble miniature bottlebrush flowers. It complements those blooms with round, finely toothed bluish-green leaves. The flower stalks rise above the foliage and to some look like little red fox tails held high. Charming and easy to grow!
There is so much in bloom in the garden these days, especially now that the sun has finally decided to shine. Lots of lilies blooming, with more to come. Alstromerias are all over my garden, attempting a colorful takeover. Anise hyssop is in full bloom, its wonderful fragrance only a fingers rub away. A late planted Clarkia amoena is offering its first beautiful salmon-colored flowers. A newly planted Lotus 'Amazon Sunset' is already in bloom and sending its ferny foliage spilling over the planter. My camera is getting a good workout, trying to keep up!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Photos and Article preview

Photos, top to bottom, left to right:
Canary Creeper nasturtium
Lilies and sweet peas; Exbury azalea
Agave spike flowers; front yard bed

Keep an eye out for my feature article in the SF Chronicle on the plight of pollinators, to appear in the Sunday 6/14 issue. It has valuable information on how you can help local pollinators and the Bay Area ecosystems. Nice photos and illustrations too! Due to its coverage, there won't be my usual Pick of the Week column this week.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Wherefore summer?

It's been an odd year for weather and I'm sure your garden has been a little confused, as has mine. I've had an unintended absence from this site due to a long cold and then my computer crashing but hope to resume with regular posts. It feels like the same holds true for my garden, where I've only been able to manage the minimum. We're in that passage now between spring and summer. Time to take out the last of the sweet peas and poppies. I've let certain patches of pansies hang around as they've been continuing to perform in our cooler than usual weather but they're nearly done. So, now summer flowers are beginning to announce themselves. A few of my dahlias are up, with an early one getting ready to bloom. Day lilies are kicking into gear and the lilies are about ready to burst into color. My native agastache has tiny tufts of reddish-purple flowers nestled in the crowns of leaves and my exquisite hymenocallis sulphurea has shown its first green striped gold lily-shaped bloom.
I'll be back with more photos and a featured flower in the next few days. And of course you can catch my regular Pick of the Week column in the S.F. Chronicle Sunday H&G section.

Monday, May 18, 2009

New garden photos

New photos from my garden. From top to bottom, left to right:
Rhododendron 'Roman Pottery'; Gorteria (Beetle Daisy)
Verbascum 'Artic Summer'; Echium 'Blue Bedder'; Cotinus (Smoke Tree)
Fremontodendron; Verbascum 'Southern Charm'
Drosanthemum bicolor; Parahebe perfoliata; Sisyrinchium 'Devon Skies'
Douglas iris; Papaver 'Flemish Antique (Breadseed Poppy)
Arisaema nepenthoides (below). Click on photos for larger (more striking) images.

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