Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Iceman Cometh

Wherever you live in the Bay Area, it was pretty damn cold the last few nights. My plants survived the near freeze, hope yours did as well. We're rewarded today, Thursday, with blue skies and pleasant if still nippy weather. This is a good time to be reworking your beds, weeding, pruning and amending. For those of us with primarily perennial beds, it's time to add nutrition from the top down. I'll be adding a fertile soil conditioner on top of certain beds and letting it seep in with the upcoming rains.
Though December and January are the slowest months in my garden, as far as flowers go, there were a few things worth photographing. Here they are, top to bottom:

Edgeworthia buds. As you may know, this intensely fragrant deciduous shrub produces early clusters of flower buds that then pop open in late winter to offer tiny yellow flowers with the sweetest fragrance.
Viola. Couldn't resist capturing the beauty of this little viola.
Alpinia Zerumbet. Backlit, this ginger's leaves offer a distinctive beauty.
Arctotis. Like red? This guy's got it in spades. This African daisy loves the winter sun.
Echeveria flowers. Who doesn't love Echeverias? This one has unusually dark flowers.
Helleborus Wayne Rodderick. I sometimes think that Lenten Roses look even prettier in bud form.
Juniperus 'Blue Star.' I'm about to plant a dwarf conifer bed and this small, spreading juniper will be one of the featured attractions.
Banksia ericifolia. Just the lovely new growth so far but I'm looking forward to the eventual orange flower cones. My journey 'Down Under' continues ...
Aloe rupestris. A rescue that has flourished. Hasn't acquired its winter red tones but lovely nonetheless.
Mother fern. Shot at work but I couldn't resist adding the lacy green foliage to this entry.
Pieris. Likewise shot at work, this P. 'Flaming Silver' has to be the loveliest of all the pieris varieties. The flowers have yet to open but it still has an undeniable charm.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Spring December

Only in California, on the coast that is, can we have the beautiful mild & sunny day we were treated with today. Following the 4" of rain we received it sent local gardens into a frenzy (alas, also the weeds). Winter shrubs such as camellias suddenly began to burst and annual winter color flourished. It's easy to take this all in stride, until you look at the weather in the Midwest and elsewhere. The sunny day inspired me to get out my camera and take photos. This week I'll start with the photos then put their IDs and descriptions afterwards.

Top to bottom the photos are:
Camellia Silver Waves. Huge pure white petals with prominent stamen. The oldest of my group of camellias and thus quite the show each winter.
Camellia Buttermint. The flowers are small but this dwarf camellia blooms its heart out and it has a creamy yellow center.
Japanese maple + birdhouse. A nice late fall scene. The birdhouse is yet to be occupied but I'm hoping someone will use it this spring.
Impatiens congolense. Still one of the oddest plants in my garden (and I have a few). They're said to resemble macaw beaks but I think they look like little red & yellow candies.
Succulent bowl. I've really done nothing in the year since I planted this bowl. It's taken care of itself and keeps looking better and better.
Echinacea. I keep photographing them cause the colors keep changing - this one more orange than pink - and because this is my first time of having any real luck with them.
Eryngium planum 'Jade Frost.' Fabulous foliage and very soon spiky purple flowers. My plant of the month!
Phylica plumosa. Hardly anyone grows this fabulous S. African shrub anymore and that's a mystery to me.It has the downiest foliage, which captured here in the sun, is luminescent.
Phylica plumosa, close up. I love digital cameras. I was able to focus so close that you can see the tiny beads of water on the hairs of the leaves.
King protea. I've posted photos of this guy before but it's so strange to see it blooming in December!
Leucospermum 'Veldfire.' To me the showiest of all pincushion varieties. Here it is just starting to bud up. The red-edged leaves are also a wonderful feature of this S. African shrub.
Babiana foliage. Here's a thick stand of the distinctively ribbed foliage of the baboon flower as it's called. And yes, in Africa baboons do eat these plants!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

An Upside to Rain

Those of us in the Bay Area are looking out our windows right now and seeing the wind and rain. Only the hard core "ducks" as I call those who come out in this weather, are shopping for plants or tending to their gardens in this weather. I'm not one of those. If it's raining or has just rained, I'm staying inside and pining for clear skies. That said, have you noticed that after a rain our gardens seem to positively glow? More so than if we watered the garden by hand. The rain doesn't just "clean" the air, a good thing in itself. No I believe that rain is a much healthier way for our gardens to receive moisture. Call it prana if you will or the fact that Mother Nature just does everything better. Of course when we get a lot of rain, like in these series of storms, the rain is soaking deeper into the ground than is usually the case when we hand water the garden. That means it gets to plants with deeper root systems.
So, that's my "silver lining," even for a sun lover like myself. And of course it means I don't have to water my large garden for awhile, a task that in the after work darkness is no fun.
So, let's raise a glass to the rain. Then let's all do our sun dance to bring the sun back into our winter days.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fall beauty

We Bay Area gardeners may not have the stands of maples and other Eastern trees turning bright golds and reds in the Northeast but our extended Indian summer is providing a glorious end to the calendar year. Like the proverbial snake circling round to bite its tail, many of us have summer plants still putting on a show even as certain late winter plants such as camellias bud up or even open their first flowers. Here, the changing of the seasons is more of a continuum rather than a sharp delineation as experienced in more northern climes.
One way we mark the changing of the seasons here is by the arrival of winter birds. Robins have arrived, as have the first of the warblers. It won't be long before woodpeckers and flickers arrive and if we're lucky phoebes and juncos. The goldfinches have returned in numbers, remembering where the nyjer seed feeder is. Here are a few more photos of my late fall garden, top to bottom:

Little Babe variegated camellia. I love its marbling of soft pinks and creamy whites.
Cornus florida. Beautiful flowers in spring and brilliant fall color. What's not to love about dogwoods.
Elegia capensis. One of the S. African restios. I love its textures and I have yet to experience it in its mature form.
Justicia. This tropical plant has managed to survive our winters, offering vibrant red bracts and lavender flowers.
Christmas cactus. An unusual, lovely peach colored specimen that I now leave outdoors year round.
Faucaria. Known as Tiger Jaws, I love its 'toothy' leaves. It's also one of the most reliable, and quickest, blooming succulents.
Magnolia stellata. This 'finger' magnolia is budding up and I couldn't resist photographing it in this stage.
Oxalis species. Lovely patterning of light on this rich, mint green foliage. One of my favorite oxalis species.
Aeonium escobarii. One of the largest of the aeoniums, this one is finally coming into its own.
Eryngium planum 'Jade Frost.' So pretty, even before it sends up the stem of pale purple spiky flowers.
Echinacea purpurea. One look at the central disks on this coneflower and you know why its a popular destinacea for bees and other nectar seeking pollinators.
Pansy 'Blueberry Thrill.' In a word, Wow!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Kindest Cut

As we head into winter and our planting winds down, it's appropriate that our garden efforts turn to cleanup and pruning. Many consider pruning a last resort, when a particular shrub or tree is in real trouble but in fact regular pruning can be a most beneficial treatment. This "kindest cut" is an important aspect of plant health. As deciduous trees, especially fruiting trees, go dormant that is the time to clear out any tangled or crossing branches to create more interior space. This holds true for trees such as dogwoods and maples. Deciduous shrubs such as hydrangeas benefit from being pruned back after they lose their leaves. Hydrangeas can easily become overgrown or leggy so a hard pruning can benefit their overall health. Other shrubs such as sambucus (elderberry) benefit from a winter pruning in much the same way.
Sometimes pruning is simply cleaning up. For certain clematis that sprout on new wood, once they lose their leaves you can cut them back to the ground. Make sure they aren't varieties that sprout on old wood, like Clematis tangutica. Even evergreen shrubs benefit from yearly pruning. Large shrubs like camellias can become too dense and need thinning out from time to time. Without proper circulation and access to light, some of these evergreen shrubs may be more prone to thrips. Anyone that's dealt with thrips knows how destructive they can ne.
It isn't just trees and shrubs that benefit from a haircut. Certain perennials also like regular pruning. Larger perennials or sub-shrubs like lavender, rosemary, salvia, caryopteris and heliotrope benefit from pruning. They can easily get woody; the pruning stimulates healthier new growth. Always try to prune when the plant is not flowering. Certain grasses also benefit from a winter haircut, most notably pennisetums. Cut them right down to the base. Come spring they'll flush out new growth and look like you expect them to do.
If you have any questions at all about pruning, consult your nearest nursery professional.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Slo-mo hibernation

Unlike other parts of the country where the cold and snow can appear unannounced within a week's time, the Bay Area experiences a slow motion slide into a period of hibernation for many denizens of our gardens. 80 degree days are followed by 55 degree days and I can almost hear my plants saying "Make up your friggin' mind!" That said, my own garden is sliding into a late, late fall, with the summer blooming plants now having given up the ghost finally and the true fall bloomers still wearing their fancy threads (soon to be packed away). I came back a week up in Canada to discover many of my South African bulbs having sprouted, much to my delight. I have so many that it now occupies in my mind it's own season. It's especially wonderful as this December to April season presages (and overlaps) the other spring bulb bloomers. It's almost like going on vacation to somewhere warmer, indulging in a natural beauty before our own spring rolls around.
That said, here are a few more photos of things in bloom or just showing off, taken on this 6th day of November. Call it a little sanity before the election mess arrives tonight. Photos are:

Isoplexis. For some reason I just love this plant and its hooded rusty flowers.
Lampranthus. Ice plants may be common but that doesn't mean they aren't showy & fabulous.
Commelina coelestis. This vivid blue flower may be small but it gets many votes for the prettiest blue of any flower out there. Vigorous and spreading, it's managed to get a toehold under my fir tree.
King protea. For some reason this plant has been so late it's almost circled around to next year. I'm still hopeful this flower bud will open. Till then I get to enjoy its glorious geometry.
Salvia canariensis. Lately I've been into fuzzy foliage and this salvia is one of the best.
Grevillea rosmarinifolia dwarf. This spreading grevillea is beginning to bloom and well, what can I say, I'm a sucker for grevilleas.
Agastache Grapefruit Nectar. I know I've posted a photo before but I simply adore the rainbow of colors on this super fragrant agastache.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Not so Scary Gardens

At least here in the milder zones of the Bay Area, where many of our Hallowe'en gardens are still showing wonderful Autumn colors. I continue to be amazed at how much is still in bloom in my little "nursery," as I like to call my collection. Walking my neighborhood and driving around N. Oakland I see many other wonderful gardens showing their fall color. Two plants still in pots in my front yard continue to be delights -- the unstoppable Lepechinia with its salvia-like wine-colored flowers and the unusual yellow flowering Alyogyne hakeafolia (photo below). Meanwhile Tahoe has had its first snow, something the ski resorts are only too happy to welcome. Here are a few more photos of my late October garden. From top to bottom:

Moraea iridoides. Though common, this flower is still exceptionally pretty.
Bessera elegans. The most beautiful bulb few have ever heard of. It even has a lovely common name - Coral Drops. They look like little parasols to me.
Scabiosa ochroleuca with ladybug. This week's Pick column, I couldn't resist shooting a photo of an industrious little ladybug foraging.
Agastache species. The plant of the summer at our Ace nursery. We sold a bundle of these fragrant charmers.
Swainsona. Hands down, the star of my Australian shrubs bed this year. Keeps on blooming, much to the delight of local bees.
Justicia species. This plant has survived all manner of abuse, including being outside year round, and has begun flowering again.
Fuchsia. A simple one but huge flowers and a great color combo.
Buddha in the tropics. I've situated this Buddha statue in my tropical corner. He seems quite at home.
Adenanthos. Known as Wooly bush for its ultra soft foliage, this plant brings to mind that 60s song Wooly Bully.
Dahlia Seattle. Each succeeding flower gets pinker, which offers lovely tones to the base yellow.
Alyogyne hakeafolia. Backlit by the sun, it's just the loveliest soft yellow.
Phylica plumosa. Speaking of sunlit, check out the sparkling hairs on this wonderful little shrub. It's been one of the success stories in my garden.
Pink oxalis. The large lime green foliage is as much the attraction as the vibrant pink flowers.
Cyrtanthus species. This little guy, a gift from a local S. African plant collector, seems to be in bloom for more than half the year. Love its coral-orange blooms.
Mina lobata. Love this guy and the way the flowers progress in color from bright red to almost white.

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