Friday, December 27, 2013

Happy New Garden

I was going to wish all a Happy New Year (which I do) but equally I wish everyone a happy new gardening experience in 2014. Our gardens are always in motion (which we can't see with our limited human eyes, needing time-lapse photography to appreciate how things do indeed change). Things obviously slow down in winter but we are lucky enough to be able to garden year round (if we choose). Chances are that calls to our family and relatives in Chicago or Oklahoma don't involve asking them how their garden is doing. The garden's repose means less to photograph and yet, when I took my camera out into the garden today to shoot my Ponytail palm for the next column, I wound up taking one more photo. Then another, and another. Somehow I wound up with over a dozen photos! Here they are, for your perusal. Personally, late December and January are fun months.The days are getting longer (slowly) and bulb shoots keep popping up, a green reminder that spring is really not that far off. The first bulbs to bloom are represented here: two colorful Lachenalias that shrug off the cold and cheer up everyone who gets a look. The other reason I love this period is that for birders this is the "high" season. The goldfinches have returned, as have northern flickers, cedar waxwings, robins, downy woodpeckers and a host of other feathered friends.

A little winter color, with purple and white pansies, a multi-colored calendula, a variegated flower pelargonium, some dianthus and a fragrant stock. 

Here's the aforementioned Lachenalia tricolor. Just so colorful plus the stems are spotted. Lachenalias are one of the easiest S. African bulbs to grow, assuming you can give them a dry summer.

Primula 'Primlet Sunrise'  Love the color and the way the young flowers are nestled within the protection of the leaves.

Here's my nyjer sock with goldfinches feeding. They'll stay there the better part of the day. Talk about chowing down!

Camellia 'Buttermint'  Here's my early blooming Buttermint camellia. It's so much happier now that it's out of the pot and in the ground. Heavy blooming even at a modest size.

Couldn't resist posting this new photo of my Camellia reticulata 'Frank Hauser' It almost seems to be glowing with some kind of radioactive energy. I don't think I've ever seen a flower that exhibits such a rich hue. Our camellia book at work dubs reticulatas "Queens of the Camellia world" and it's hard to argue with that.

Lachenalia viridiflora. There's nothing quite like the milky blue of L. viridiflora! Ethereal yet vivid!

Quick, what plant do these leaves belong to? Nasturtium? No. They belong to a most unusual Passiflora, P. membranacea. The flowers are unlike any other passion flower vine, with burgundy bracts sprouting tubular chartreuse flowers! Alas, mine has yet to bloom! It's now year six and counting but I've been told that my patience will eventually be rewarded.

This shot of a Viburnum x burkwoodii flowerhead, as seen through a Magnolia stellata branch, offers pink buds and a couple early blooms. I suspect the warm weather has made it think it's spring, when it normally blooms. No matter, its heavenly fragrance is welcome anytime!

I was advised not to plant Lychnis coronaria in late fall as it wasn't suppose to like the winter. Mine has thrived, even sailing through that week of near freezing weather. I love the color and texture of its leaves, even before the vivid cerise flowers on this Rose campion appear.

Practice makes perfect! After repeated attempts I finally got a fabulous photo of a Salvia discolor flower. My favorite salvia (and that's saying something).

Not confused about the weather is this winter Edgeworthia chrysantha. It forms its flowerheads in late fall then slowly pops open its intensely fragrant white flowers in late winter. Though people grow it for this one of a kind fragrance, its common name (Paper bush) gives away the fact that on mature plants, the bark can be peeled and used to make a kind of papyrus-like parchment.

Okay, now, how many fingers am I holding up? In this case, I'm holding up (for your viewing) a five finger fern. A gift from my friend Sylvia, it has rooted down through the pot into the ground and established itself very nicely. 

One of many bromeliads that have found my way into the garden, this colorful guy has made itself at home, offering some nice color in my 'shady lane.'

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Solstice!

Whether as a gardener you believe in the "old ways" or just follow the natural rhythms, the seasons, the winter solstice is a time to celebrate. It is the season of the holly and of many festivals celebrated all over the world. For those of us who spend as much time outdoors as possible, the solstice is also the turning point, when the days now starting getting longer. Hooray!
Though our gardens are in a certain repose, some of us have planted enough diversity to be able to enjoy a "winter tale." So, here are a few photos taken on the eve of the solstice.

My latest treasure, this Aechmea 'Little Harv' isn't all that little, reaching two feet. It's the colors of the flowers, sort of an orangy-apricot, that are the real show, though the silvery leaves provide a nice bed that the spear kind of explodes from.

Speaking of orange, there's nothing quite like Ranunculus Mache Orange to celebrate that color. I know, I know. Ranunculus in December? Hey, it was there! (in the nursery)

Here's my vigorous Arctotis Sunspot along my Felicia amelloides. Blue & gold go together and they're Cal colors (Go Bears).

I keep expecting my Phylica plumosa to just keel over. It's supposed to be extremely difficult to grow but mine keeps flourishing in its pot. There's nothing quite like the downy foliage on this S. African plant.

My dwarf conifer bed, now taking on the identity of a Japanese garden, is settling in rather nicely. I'm watching to see which plants will grow more quickly than others, which is really like watching snails race each other.

I finally got my Hemizygia in the ground and it looks good next to the Echeveria species.

Speaking of winter survivors, this one flower on my Justicia has been hanging in there and bathed in sunlight, I couldn't resist capturing it on film.

Believe it or not I didn't place this spent Camellia Winner's Circle bloom in the pot. It fell off the plant and landed neatly on the rim. I took that as a sign to photograph it.

Proving that Mother Nature can sometimes be a showoff, I give you Exhibit A, my Camellia reticulata 'Frank Hauser.' If these flamboyantly ruffled blooms didn't exist, someone would have to invent them.

No one told this little blue lobelia that it's winter. So, it decided to start blooming. Which is nice, because one can never have too much blue in winter.

Holding down the front of my walkway is my Grevillea rosmarinifolia and a gold ice plant. They have somehow made themselves at home in a pretty tight space.

Though there wasn't a big turnout for this recent Pick of the Week entry, Pittosporum crassifolium is to me an exceptionally lovely plant. Love the silver backsides and the delicate silver rim to the leaves. And it's supposed to have the showiest flowers of all pittosporums.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Amazing insect photos

I take a break from my usual posts to share something pretty fabulous. A nature photographer named Miroslaw Swietek has done a series of photos that are nothing short of spectacular. They were taken in the early morning, using a flash, of dew gathering on insects such as dragonflies, beetles, caterpillars etc. I thought I'd share a few of them here. To find more of his work, simply google his name. That said, here are a few of my favorites.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Chicago Blues

Nope, not talking about Muddy Waters or any number of great Chicago bluesmen but just how freakin' cold it's been here in the Bay Area the last few days. Colder than Chicago in fact. That and the howling winds last week were quite a one-two punch. Our Ace nursery ran out of paper green trimmings bags after the windstorm and Wednesday we ran out of insulated blankets and Cloud Cover. What's next, hail? Locusts? These extreme weather events are a reminder that Mother Nature can be unpredictable. That said, I'll take our climate over Chicago's any day.
These weather events have perhaps taken our eye off the ball as far as our gardens are concerned. They may have had to brave inclement weather but they soldier on. And that is a reminder that plants are driven beings. Forget the Post Office, our sturdy plants plod forward through rain and snow and floods (okay, maybe not floods). Plants are on a mission to complete their appointed rounds -- in this case flowering, being pollinated, setting seed. They simply won't take the suggestion to cool their heels for a couple of months and then resume. We humans should all be so tough.
The new arrival in my garden is a young Ponytail Palm, well actually three of them in one bowl. Beaucarnea recurvata isn't a palm at all and surprisingly is a member of the Asparagus family. Whatever the case, they're cool plants and I've included a copy of mine below. I've also added a few other photos taken today. Hope you're discovering little treasures in your own garden these days.

Beaucarnea recurvata. Here's the aforementioned Ponytail Palm. Apart from the cool foliage, people like them because of the gnarly caudex. Now I have to find a place for it!

Stock may be common but I loved the color of this one. I've added it to my collection of winter fragrance plants along the main walkway. It joins a Daphne and an Edgeworthia plus a Cuban Oregano plectranthus, a lemon verbena and a Yerba Buena. They will soon be joined by fragrant freesias and hyacinths.

My Staghorn fern survived being unceremoniously dumped on the ground by the wind and is back in the Brugmansia tree, spreading its "antlers."

With a bit of protection my Begonia Irene Nuss survived the frost. I love the brilliant coppery-red new growth, shown here. Next to B. Escargot, my favorite begonia.

Camellia Black Magic. Okay, the breeder got carried away with the name but this unique camellia with the waxy, dark red flowers is a knockout.

The only thing left standing from the garden I inherited, this rose isn't just pretty but one of the most intensely fragrant roses I've ever smelled. Wish I knew which variety it is.

My Lepechinia hastata waited longer to bloom this year, not starting until end of October but it's still going strong. A real knockout.

Though I didn't manage to quite get this shot in perfect focus, I wanted to capture the short-lived blooming on my Mahonia lomariifolia. It's now stuffed in the back of my driveway but somehow it's adapted to the move and is blooming its heart out. Plus now I'm safe from its sharp spiny leaves.

You know your luck is holding when even the grower of a plant is surprised at how well your specimen is doing. That's the case with the lovely Eriophyllum lanatum. Though it has pretty yellow flowers, I planted it for the soft silvery foliage. It's not supposed to like cold weather but mine seems happy.

Well, there's a story behind my Felicia amelloides variegata. The pot it was in (the one pictured here) didn't provide adequate drainage and the felicia toughed it out before giving up the ghost. So I brought home a new one, gave it tons of drainage and a different blue pot and it's happy (and flowering).

Is it spring and nobody informed us? Most of my camellias are in bloom, way ahead of schedule. Here's the first flower on my curiously named C. Little Babe variegated. Due to the variegation, each flower is slightly different. Which I like.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanks Given

On a day when we celebrate family and friendship and give thanks for all the things we have, I'd like to offer a thanks for the joys and lessons that our gardens bring us. For those of us with vegetable gardens, there is immediate gratitude for the bounty they provide. Be that leafy vegetables, herbs, fruit from bushes or from trees, root vegetables or fruit from vines, Mother Earth provides a plenitude of life nourishing food.
For those of us with primarily flower gardens, the rewards are no less real or varied. Living in the Bay Area we are spoiled without thinking about it on a daily basis. Walking around our cities, we can spot a great multitude of ornamental trees, be they evergreen or deciduous. It seems there is always something in bloom, even in the winter time. Unlike many parts of the country where winter arrives in November and spring doesn't show its colors until May, we have the perfect climate for a year round show. Whether we choose to reflect that year round bounty in our gardens, we need but take a stroll through our neighborhood to appreciate such diverse beauties.
I choose to garden year round and to populate my garden with a great variety of plants, meaning there is always something interesting to check on when I stroll out into the garden on my weekend. With your own garden you get to enjoy three essential elements. First and foremost, the garden is my sanctuary. Even though the front yard opens directly onto the street, it still provides a place to lose myself in. The side and back yards offer more privacy, lending those spaces a unique and intimate experience. Secondly, the garden is a place to work in, to put my hands in the soil, to tackle projects that ultimately will yield a soul-enriching satisfaction upon completion. In that way, the garden and I have formed a symbiotic relationship, each benefiting the other. This is gardening in motion, gardening as a languid push-pull and the garden as teacher. Stick with it long enough, pay attention and the garden allows for a multitude of teachable moments. That's not just some grand theory. The garden does indeed teach us about patience, perseverance, the need to pay attention to little signs lest something unfortunate happen; the lesson that one has to occasionally accept loss and start over; that the hard fought victories (such as bringing a plant back from the dead) can be the sweetest; that we can't despite our headstrong efforts control everything in our environment and, to me, the garden's most surprising lesson -- that gardens are a great deal more like humans than seems possible. We are both living organisms, needing nourishment and care, are more resilient than we think and we both respond to love.
Finally, a garden is a place to enjoy. That simple fact is often forgotten. One should not forget to enjoy everything about our gardens -- the visual beauty, the feel of the soil between our fingers, the wonderful fragrances both subtle and strong and the way the garden sings to us.
So, I leave you with these musings on this day of giving thanks, hoping that your garden gives you as much pleasure as mine does to me.

Friday, November 22, 2013

After the Storm

For those of you living in the Bay Area, the last couple of days have brought us quite a one-two punch. First the downpour on Wednesday then the gale force winds Thursday night and Friday morning. I walked out to find quite a bit of damage to my garden, though none fatal. It's a reminder that Nature has many guises, including Kali the Destroyer. So this morning was spent clearing up the mess and taking an unwelcome inventory.
On another note, what makes gardening interesting is the unforeseen surprises one comes across. Working in a retail nursery gives me access to a great variety of plants (sometimes too many, making it hard to resist temptation). I recently came across a plant I'd never heard of. It's Hemizygia and no I'm not making that name up. Research online proved to be a bit of a puzzle, with one source attributing it to Australia and another to South African. But when we sourced its family name, Lamiaceae, we saw the resemblance to members of the Plectranthus genus. And then we discovered that it's also identified botanically as Syncolostemon, and its various species are known in South Africa as sagebrushes.
Of course one need not follow these botanical breadcrumbs to enjoy this hardy plant. The one I brought home, photograph below, is a variegated leaf variety called 'Candy Kisses.' Kind of a silly name so I'm just referring to mine as Hemizygia. It's not like someone will ask "Oh, which Hemizygia is that? I've got four at home."
So, consider this an edition of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. And today's word is Hemizygia.
Now some photos.

Here's a fab new Calendula called Zeolights. Really now, what kind of drugs are these people on, coming up with names like that? Pretty though.

Here's the aforementioned Hemizygia. It does resemble the variegated leaf Plectranthus known as Sapphire Dream. It's supposed to top out at 24" so it can find a home almost anywhere. Pretty purplish-red flowers too.

Anyone that knows her succulents will recognize this guy. It's affectionately known as Tiger Jaws, though the "teeth" are actually soft and rubbery (all bark and no bite?) They are one of the quickest succulents to bloom, with pretty yellow flowers.

Not sure why but many of my camellias are early this year. This charming little Buttermint is usually the first to flower, with small, butter-centered white flowers. 

Sometimes it isn't just about the flowers. I love the ribbed, textured blades of Babianas. This S. African bulb sends up its leaves early then makes you wait for 3 months before flowering.

And sometimes it's not even about the foliage. Here's a flower bud on my Magnolia 'Butterflies.' I love the soft, furry outer covering, which will stay on the plant until flowers pop out in the spring.

Another shot of my favorite Grevillea, G. Moonlight. Here you get to see both the closed buds on the upper portion of the flower spike and some opened flowers below. The color is unlike any other Grevillea I know of.

Speaking of hard-to-find plants, here's my Phylica plumosa. It's supposed to be ultra-finicky but I nursed this specimen from a 4" pot. They love the sun. There's nothing quite like the inflorescences, which look like downy geysers to me.

My Camellia 'Silver Waves' has also begun blooming. Tough as nails, I keep hacking it back so it doesn't overrun the walkway leading to the back yard.

Echeveria subrigida. One of my favorite Echeverias, with the milky bluish-green new growth and the red edging, which is more pronounced in the colder months. 

Calluna vulgaris 'Firefly.' If the genus name doesn't ring a bell then the common name Heather certainly will. Not just native to northern England (think Scottish highlands), it's also found on the continent. This variety showcases wonderful reds and oranges.

Pittosporum crassifolium 'Compactum.' The subject of tomorrow's Pick of the Week column, this dwarf form of Karo, as it's known in New Zealand,has to this eye the loveliest of leaves. It's also said to be the most floriferous.

Under the category of "a beautiful death," the leaves of my Cotinus coggygria (and who the heck came up with that weird species name?) are putting on an interesting show as they die off. I guess where there's "smoke" there's fire (a little flame on the leaves).
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