Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Perfumed Garden

We all love fragrant plants, be that roses, lavender, gardenias or wisteria. These popular plants are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sweet smelling plants. Imagine now if you will a tour through a special garden that contains a series of little oases, each containing its own distinctive aromatic collection. Start with an open sunny bed. You first notice a tall tree with rich green foliage and clusters of canary yellow flowers. It's a laburnum, known as Golden Chain tree and it gives off a heavenly aroma. Beside it is a purple flowering Buddleja, commonly known as Butterfly bush. Also sweetly fragrant it attracts frequent visits from hummingbirds and butterflies. Over there, an Aussie import called boronia is giving off a heady scent, its clusters of tiny brown flowers smothering the bush. And what is that fruity smell? It's Salvia dorisiana. Rub your fingers on its leaves and inhale its intoxicating fragrance. Lastly, the bright yellow and pink flowers of Mirabilis disguise a subtly sweet smell.
Now as the path continues forward we enter a woodland garden. The sun peeks through taller trees and it's here we find a couple of orange bushes. Well, not real orange trees but two mock oranges, Philadelphus 'Belle Etoile' and the golden Choisya ternata 'Sundance.' The former's large white flowers and the latter's clusters of small, equally white blooms exude a lovely citrus smell and are popular with bees. Also here are the heady scent of a Daphne odora shrub and the equally fragrant white clusters of Heliotropium arborescens 'Alba.' Some say this heliotrope smells like vanilla. The plant with the white star-shaped flowers is flowering tobacco, in this case Nicotiana grandiflora. This is one tobacco you do want to inhale!
Now follow the path around the corner, ducking under a weeping maple, and you emerge into the 'food' garden. But this isn't plants you eat; rather it hosts a variety of plants that curiously invoke one kind or another food aroma. There, that's an agastache that smells like grapefruit! And another hyssop as they're known that smells like anise. The patch of yellow and green striped iris at your feet have lovely purple flowers. Take a whiff of Iris pallida. Yes, there's the unmistakeable scent of grape soda! Everyone loves chocolate so our host has obligingly planted a stand of chocolate cosmos. Makes you want to eat them. Speaking of candy, that perennial over there is zaluzianskya. The name may be hard to pronounce but it's common name, Midnight candy, gives a clue as to its sweet fragrance. The last two plants here are especially puzzling. Stachys albotomentosa, a member of the lambs ear genus, gives off the unmistakeable smell of ... 7-Up! And Helichrysum italicum smells eerily of curry. This is one oasis that's hard to leave without immediately heading to a restaurant.

Up ahead here is the herb garden, filled with a panoply of savory scents. There's rosemary, salvias and oreganos here of course. That lush light green bush to your right is Aloysia triphylla, better known as lemon verbena.Now that's lemon! There's mint here but a closer examination reveals that there's no such thing as one mint. How about ginger mint? Grapefruit mint? Apple mint, pineapple mint, lime mint, even mojito mint are all here! And our host hasn't forgotten his two calico cats. There's cat mint and catnip for them to roll around in.

Finally, we come to the final oasis, a shady retreat fanned by cool breezes. The first thing that grabs the senses, in this case our eyesight, is a towering brugmansia tree. It's populated with so many nodding golden flowers you can hardly see the leaves. Taking a whiff, you are rewarded with the delicate but oh so heavenly fragrance of these angel's trumpets. Underneath it is a collection of lovely yellow primroses. They reward a closer inspection with a sweet aroma. To the right is a vigorous late winter blooming ribes, known as flowering current. Even a stroll by its multitude of pink wisteria-like clusters fills your olfactory senses with a spicy fragrance. Beside it, showing off glossy green leaves, is a Sarcococca ruscifolia. It may take a moment to spot its clusters of tiny white flowers but a closer examination will flood the senses with a surprisingly heady scent. Some say it smells like gardenias. Off to the left, that tall, full shrub with the dark red tubular flowers is a cestrum. It offers its own distinctive aroma, a kind of smoky scent.
We may not find this scented garden on any garden tour but that doesn't mean we can't bring a little bit of its perfume into our own corner of paradise.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Glorious spring

I recently hosted a garden party and in a few quiet moments amid the frantic preparations I stopped to appreciate the garden in its spring clothes. And that made me realize that gardening is a continuum. There is no one day, no one moment when it's spring. Whatever the calendar may say, spring is a succession of days, a bit of a lovely blur and it's only when one stops to really appreciate the beauty of a moment in time that the ever turning wheel pauses for a minute. I have many, many plants in my garden and it's easy to always be looking forward to the next flowers about to bloom. I caught myself the other day thinking "I can't wait for the lilies going to bloom!" The party forced me to share the garden in one of those moments in time. One reason I take regular photos of my garden is that it allows me to capture some of these moments. So, as we prepare for the Memorial Day long weekend, here's hoping you can appreciate your own labors and realize that while gardens are indeed a work in progress, there is something beautiful to be found in every moment.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Garden photos 5/21/12

 Here's the info on the photos:
Top line left -- The newly planted tropical corner in my back yard
Top line right -- Sweet pea close-up, showing off its rich maroon
2nd line left -- Back yard path with frog stepping stone
2nd line right -- Close-up of an airy thalictrum flower
3rd line left -- one of the new 3D osteospermum flowers
3rd line right - my lone rose, kept because it's sensationally fragrant
4th line left -- Nigella African Bride. I love the burgandy and white contrast
4th line right -- A rare nigella (ciliaris) known as Pinwheel nigella
5th line left -- Lysimachia atropurpurea, Fabulous
5th line right -- Centaurea gymnocarpa. Wild thang!
6th line left -- Exuberant marmalade bush
6th line right -- Lovely mounding Sphaeralcea munroana
7th line left -- Swainsona blossom, the light showing a subtle ribbing
7th line right -- Gaillardia Oranges & Lemons. My favorite gaillardia
8th line left -- Larkspur Chorus Violet. Flower bud about to open.
9th line left -- Petunia planted in a large teacup
9th line center -- California stream orchid (Epipactis) Serpentine Night. Love its dark tones
9th line right -- Campanula punctata. Vigorous nodding bells with speckled throats
Bottom line -- Berries on my Mahonia lomariifolia

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ornamental Grasses article

I recently wrote a feature article on Ornamental Grasses for the Bay Area News Group papers (Oakland Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, Marin papers). It covers a wide range of grasses and grass like plants. As author Neil Lucas says "Grasses can add a feeling of relaxed naturalness that is sometimes missing in our gardens. They have a unique way of breathing life and excitement into our designs and planting schemes." Check it out.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Keeping Up

In the winter, we gardeners long for spring. Spring renewal, getting our hands in the dirt once again, rediscovering perennials popping up again, going to our local nursery to buy new "friends." But we forget that spring rains and warmer weather bring weeds back with a vengeance. Using bark mulch and planting densely helps but there's no getting away from weedy grasses. It's another reminder that nature is pretty sneaky -- and persistent.
Then again, as the old saying goes, a weed is only a plant you don't want in your garden. I have nigella (Love-in-a-Mist) reseeding in my front yard and the charming bulb anomatheca popping up all over a shady raised bed. Alstromerias are up even though I was sure that I'd dug out every last tuber in my newly converted Australian shrubs bed. The pesky but charming Impatiens balfourii is up in the back yard, even self-seeding in various larger pots.I didn't have a lot of breadseed poppy seedlings this year but they are infamous for popping up from last year's crop. In a way, self seeding plants provide a window onto a major aspect of gardening: which plants do you want to keep in your garden and which ones will you pull out? It's all part of managing your garden, including re-imagining certain beds as the inspiration or need strikes.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Garden photos

Here are some recent photos from my garden. Blogger has a new format I'm still trying to decipher so for now the photos are one per line instead of two as before. From top to bottom they are:
Papaver Danebrog. One of the showiest of the breadseed poppies!
Phacelia viscida. I love phacelias and this certainly is one of the prettiest.
Papaver Flemish Antique. What can you say? Wild. Unique. Dazzling.
Verticordia plumosa. One of my favorite Australian shrubs. Delicate yet showy.
Drosanthemum Pele. Not only do you get dazzling colors but the flowers are downy soft!
Gilia achilleifolia. One of the lesser known gilias but oh so lovely. Bees love them.
Allium schubertii. An onion? Yes! I think of this species and A. christophii as the 'fireworks' alliums.
Thalictrum species. So airy, like ethereal pink clouds.
Calceolaria Kentish Hero. If you've only seen yellow 'pocketbooks,' this fiery orange variety is an eye-opener!
Maianthemum. A little known native ground cover, it features lovely, ribbed, heart-shaped leaves and sprays of delicate white flowers.
Alonsoa species. An orange alonsoa? Yes and just as vigorous as the red and apricot varieties. A creamy orange that's just too delicious.
Rhododendron 'Sappho.' Thrips almost got my specimen but it managed to flower this spring and with that wonderful splash of maroon against pure white petals it's one of my faves.
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