Saturday, February 26, 2011

South African Bulbs Article


South African bulbs are some of the most colorful, and in many cases the easiest to grow, of all spring blooming bulbs. We are already familiar with hybrids of the more popular species, such as gladiolas, freesias and sparaxis but there are many more now available to Bay Area gardeners. For a good introduction, check out my recent article on these wonderful South African bulbs that appeared in the 2/23/11 SF Chronicle. As well as being a useful summary of the many exciting Cape bulbs now available from local growers, there are a dozen colorful photos. The two photos posted here are a sparaxis hybrid on the left and the startlingly beautiful Moraea villosa on the right, both from my garden.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Australia Here We Come

Many of you are familiar with the term Bay Friendly plants. These are plants that are drought tolerant, non-invasive and like our Mediterranean climate. One group of plants that fits this description are shrubs from Australia. Here are a few of my Aussie favorites.

Boronia -- This flowering shrub is grown for its intensely sweet golden or brown flowers, produced in great numbers in the spring. Ranks up there with daphnes for sweetness of scent.
Brachysema -- This shrub is not well known but it should be. With lovely silvery-gray foliage and intense red, pea-shaped flowers produced in abundance from late winter to early summer, this semi-scandent shrub is a real standout.
Chamelauchium -- These charming shrubs, commonly called waxflower, also has finely textured silvery foliage and produces 1" white, pink or red 5 petaled flowers with dark centers. It can get big (to 12') but is a great way to add texture and subtle colors to your garden. As with many Australian shrubs, this one is popular with bees and hummers.
Grevillea -- Grevilleas are one of Oz land's best known exports. Gardeners have discovered this tough, evergreen shrub. The variety of its foliage and unusual flowers -- the elongated styles give the appearance of miniature fireworks -- make these shrubs highly sought after.
Hebes -- Hebes aren't only found in Australia but a number are and their variety is truly amazing. Nearly every kind of leaf, and it seems color, is found in this tough genus and due to their modest size (most are 1-3'), they are versatile sub-shrubs.
Kennedia nigrans -- Nicknamed 'Black coral pea' for its dramatic black & gold pea-shaped flowers that appear in great numbers in early spring, this tough fast growing vine would be perfect to grow on a sunny fence. Invariably draws a "Wow!" from passersby in my garden.
Leptospermum -- The common name for this colorful tree -- Australian Tea Tree -- is a giveaway to its native land. These are spectacular trees when in full bloom, with white, pink or red flowers blanketing the fine, aromatic foliage. I have the pleasure of looking down on my neighbor's red-flowering tree, which is in nearly full bloom at this moment.
Melaleuca -- This large shrub/small tree, commonly known as Paperbark, is appealing for its bottlebrush-like flowers, which can be pink or red or in the case of M. incana, a lovely cream color. Also attractive for its silvery, needle-like foliage and in some cases peeling bark. A good smaller alternative to bottlebrush trees.
Swainsonia -- The foliage on this small shrub, known as Darling pea for its pea-like flowers, may remind some of clianthus but in any case its pinnate leaves provide a nice backdrop to the red, pink or white flowers. Distinctive and charming.
Verticordia plumosa -- This sub-shrub features delicate, grayish-green foliage and an abundance of tiny pink flowers that run the length of each branch. Since it tops out at 3' this is a great shrub for fitting into a tight space. One of my favorite plants, I've accorded it a valuable space in a sunny part of my garden.
 
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