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).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Beautiful Demise

As we take in some of the beautiful fall color, tree leaves turning reds, oranges and yellows, it bears reflecting that these colors come about because the leaves are dying. That's part of the cycle and the fact that many of these deciduous shrubs and trees are already setting buds for next year is a sign that plants are indeed very good at early prep. We humans should be so organized. But even as these plants head for a winter repose, there are others that are greeting us once more. This is especially true with the very first of the late winter/early spring blooming bulbs. Such South African bulbs as freesias are already up in my garden, along with some less common bulbs such as Lachenalias, Ferraria and Ixia. Though it will be months until they bloom, just seeing them reappear is a sign of treats to come.
After a hiatus, I'm back with another list of common or variety names that reflect a certain subject. For those who follow this blog, you'll remember I did several on rock n roll names, including ones devoted to the Beatles and to the Rolling Stones. My last entry pulled out food titles, names that are surprisingly common in the horticulture world. Today I venture far afield to look at names that invoke parties and sex. Though the latter entry's common names are more suggestive than graphic, there is one of the latter so just a head's up. I have found many gardeners to be ... umm ... earthy types. You can skip ahead to the photos following these lists if you'd like. Here are the lists.

Helenium 'Mardi Gras' Too obvious but so appropriate for this colorful sneezeweed.
Linaria 'Flamenco'  Everybody's favorite linaria, with its gold and fuchsia bi-colored flowers.
Marigold 'Disco'   Message to whoever named this plant "Just put down the late 70s and step away slowly.
Salvia 'Salsa'   What no Penstemon 'Rhumba'?
Begonia Cocktail series, ie. Cocktail Gin. Maybe the person who named the above marigold had too many of these Gins. I'm just saying ....

Mina Lobata - Exotic Love vine. I'm expecting Fernando Lamas to show up any moment ...
Echium 'Mr Happy'  Hey, you can blame Annie of Annuals for naming this echium with the tall flower spike.
Asclepius 'Family Jewels'  Not sure who named this plant but the common name derives from the round green seedpods that look like, well, you know.
Salvia 'Hot Lips'  Ay, carumba!
Salvia 'Jean's Purple Passion'   I see that "purple prose" is alive and well ...
Catananche 'Cupid's Dart'  Have no  idea how this lovely purple-flowering perennial came to get this common name.
Knifophia 'Red Hot Poker'  Anyone who's seen an orange or red flowering knifophia ... well, let's just say that it's kind of an obvious reference.
And finally the one risque entry. Dichelostemma 'Blue Dicks'  Have to believe the latter word is not, you know, though I have no idea what else it refers to.

I'm sure there are many more entries for each list but let's just say I've gotten the ball rolling. And now the photos.

Nasturtium variety. This flower only proves that common flowers can also be head turners.

Cyclamen 'Salmon'  I love this color and also how in this photo we see how the flowers first drape, before finally unfurling.

The focus of an upcoming column, Veronica 'Waterperry's delicate flowers belie its toughness.

Another shot of my Propeller plant (Crassula falcata). The red flowers explode like a fireball from the cool broad angles of the leaves.

Speaking of fall color, my Cotinus Royal Purple is putting on a grand show.

I thought the pristine whites of Swainsona looked nice next to the crimson beauty of Bouvardia.

A new addition to my succulent collection, Senecio crassissimus (say that ten times real fast) almost looks it could be related to the Propeller plant.

Camellia 'Winner's Circle'  This relatively new to the trade camellia gave me a couple blooms in its first year but seems ready to break out this winter.

Summersweet (Clethra). We might amend its name and call it "Summersweet - Fall blaze" for its golden show.

I got into variegated plants in 2013 and this Fuchsia 'Firecracker' is a charmer. Tough too.

I now keep my Christmas cactus outdoors year round and it seems to have settled in very nicely. This one is a salmon color and it's hard to find in the trade.

That begonia that made me wait forever is giving me a late season show. Speaking of party names, this one is called Calypso and I love its mix of pinks, peaches and golds.

Here's one of my prized camellias, Black Magic. One of the distinctive things about its flowers, apart from that dark, rich hue, is that the petals are shiny, almost waxy.

Finally, my Cobaea scandens which, after a very long wait (all of 2013), is finally deciding to bloom. Nothing quite like them, as the "saucer" starts out green then gradually acquires that rich burgundy color.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"A garden is a circle enclosed"

I'm not sure where I heard the title's quote but I know it refers to the garden as sanctuary. Exactly. Whether it is in times of joy or sorrow, the garden is a private place to lose oneself in, even as one shares it with birds, butterflies, bees, squirrels and the occasional curious animal visitor. I sometimes feel the garden offers me communion, in the sense of communing with deep, primal rhythms. It matters not whether I'm planting, weeding or fertilizing, it's all within "the circle."
After the loss of my beloved cat Jet, I've once again taken solace in my garden, finding much beauty there. Here are a few photos that remind me how blessed I am to have this ever faithful companion.

Camellia 'Buttermint.' It's very strange but this first flower opening on my sweet Buttermint camellia follows a first flower on my Camellia 'Black Magic' and my Rhododendron 'Sappho' being in bloom. Normally these are all spring bloomers. Perhaps the cold we've had lately followed by 70 degree days? Anyway, it's such a November treat, seeing these shrubs in bloom.

Also blooming out of season is my Azalea 'Mangetsu.' This pretty little guy is a "phoenix,' a plant I brought back from an almost certain thrips death. That gives me an additional appreciation for its efforts.

Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious.' The subject of a recent Pick of the Week column, my specimen was late getting going but is now beginning to flower. The crimson flowers really pop against the chartreuse foliage.

Here's an unusual shot of a dianthus flower, taken from the backside. It looks kind of cool, almost like a taffeta skirt or a pinwheel of some sort.

My Agastache 'Grapefruit Nectar' (these people coming up with variety names really need to eat lunch first before naming varieties) continues to bloom, offering up an endless mix of pastel blooms.

Pansies may be common but that doesn't make them any less pretty. This red and gold one has always been one of my faves.

Here's a small tree that many have not heard of -- Cunonia capensis, also known as Butterknife tree. That's in reference to the young stipules that resemble butter knives. It also features foot long, white bottlebrush-like flowers and along with reddish-copper new growth seen here it has a lot going for it! It seems to be flourishing, growing quickly from a 4" pot.

Here's the statuary piece I brought home for Jet's final resting spot. I really like it and there's somehow some of Jet's spirit in her pose.

A wider shot shows Jet's final resting spot being next to the ceramic bird bath. One of the little things that will stay with me was Jet's habit, when I was out watering in this plot, to stand on her hind legs and stick her head over the rim of the bird bath and get a drink. She had real personality and was always doing quirky little things.

Here's a closeup of the cat's face. Jet could be a little Buddha when she was sunning herself, her eyes half closed, even as she was alert to any goings on.

Crassula falcata flowers. I never fail to find it amusing when customers come in to Ace and say "The most amazing thing happened; my succulent has bloomed!" Ahh, yeah, they do that. In fact, succulents have some of the most colorful and dazzling flowers of any plant grouping.

Leucospermum 'Veldfire.' My favorite pincushion shrub is just now producing tiny little flowers, held deep in the cup of its leaves. The leaves are pretty cool too, having not only a lovely bluish cast but sporting red tips on the perimeter.

Edgeworthia chrysantha. Another spring blooming plant confused by the recent warm weather. As many of you know, these "paper bushes" set their bloom buds in the fall but then usually wait until late winter/early spring to open, releasing that intoxicating fragrance. I guess this couldn't wait, at least for a few of the flower clusters.

Another shot of my ever evolving Japanese bed. Everything here is a dwarf conifer, with the one exception being the Osmanthus 'Goshiki' in the right rear. I went for contrasting colors and textures and even sought out rocks from American Soils that had moss growing on them for that aged look.

Ever had a piece of important mail that you were waiting on. Each day that passes and it's not there just drives you crazy. Well, enter my Puya berteroniana, now 8 years old and yet to flower. It will and the wait will be worth it. The flowers are an other-worldly turquoise blue and on very mature plants the flower spikes can be huge.

How cool is this Euphorbia polyacantha? It's common name, Fishtail cactus, must owe to the delicate rows of spines on each spire. And eventually the tops of those branches will sport cheerful yellow flowers.

Doryopteris pedata. Dory what? Indeed, this fern is so rare in our region that it is just now being made available to the trade. One look makes its common name (Digit fern) immediately obvious. I decided to do a column on this fern the moment I laid eyes on it. Hailing from tropical regions of S. America, its modest size (15"), means you can tuck it in to a variety of shady places.

Leycesteria formosa. The aptly named Himalayan honeysuckle bush is one of my favorites, not only for the sweet fragrance of its flowers but also for the way the flower bracts resemble little pagodas that dangle one below the other.

Here's a shot of my "I don't care what the calendar says I feel like blooming" Rhododendron 'Sappho.' Sonoma Hort nursery has several mature specimens of this gorgeous rhodie and that's what inspired me to bring it home. It's survived being planted in too shallow a bed and a serious case of thrips and seems ready to flourish.

Davallia mariesii, better known as Squirrel's Foot fern. One of my faves, in no small part because its rhizomes are covered with fine white hairs. I've always thought these 'legs' look more like tarantulas, a remark that often brings a customer's "Yes, they do!"

Helenium 'Mardi Gras.' I recommend this plant to those seeking a fall blooming perennial for a sunny spot but the truth is, mine blooms from late spring continuously through till XMas. It's a favorite destination for bees and butterflies too.

Grevillea rosmarinifolia 'Dwarf form.' Sometimes you have to grow a plant to really know what it will do. The grower's label said this grevillea would get 4 feet tall but one look at it seemed to suggest it was more a low growing spreader. So I took one home, planted it and indeed, it has stayed low and spread. I love the way the buds dance like little flames along the length of the branches! So many grevilleas, so little time ...
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