Thursday, October 31, 2013

In Memoriam

Today's posting is a special one. I have enjoyed the companionship of two wonderful cats for nearly 16 years. They came into my life at 14 weeks, sisters from the same litter. Isis has a gray coat with some brown in there and Jet is a "tuxedo" with white paws and a bit of white under her chin. They have been wonderful companions through thick and thin. Out of the blue on Monday, Jet was suddenly very listless. When I took her to the vet Tuesday morning, it was discovered that she had acute kidney disease. Though a great shock, given the prognosis it seemed the moment had arrived for me to say goodbye. I had her euthanized there at the vet's, brought her home and buried her that day in one of her favorite spots in the garden. Though the pain is still fresh, I wanted to share a bit about her in this blog, appropriate because among other things Jet was my "garden" cat.
Sometimes the names we give to our pets wind up being very appropriate. Nowhere was that more so than with Jet. I gave her that name in part because of her black coat (Jet black) but mainly because she had more energy than any cat I'd ever been around. She'd race around my apartment with a crazed kind of energy, sometimes ending with scaling the drapes. Even up to the end, she wouldn't simply push through the cat door like her sister but race through on her way to the food dish. Even as I lay in bed, lights out, I could recognize the sound of her galloping across the floor.
Her favorite place was the garden. She would wait by the door on my days off, look at me as if to say "Are you going out in the garden now? What about now?" She would watch me with detached curiosity as I worked in the garden, follow me around when I watered so she could lap up the excess water and keep an eye on proceedings on her street. When I brought home a ceramic bird bath and installed it in the front garden, she took a liking to it. Not because she was a birder, but because it held water. She'd stretch up her hind legs and get her nose just over the rim of the birdbath so she could have a drink. I always wanted to get a photo of that, just a black head resting on the red birdbath, but I never got around to it.
One comfort I have is that Jet lived her entire life free of injury or disease. She just seemed impermeable to anything, a kind of super cat where the normal laws didn't apply. I feel so lucky that her end came quickly and without much pain. And I'm equally thankful that I continue to have Isis' company.
Anyway, here are a few photos of Jet, both by herself and with her sister. Her spirit will be with me always.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Show Me the Green

Continuing on with my series on interesting plant names, grouped by subject, here's one that many might never think to reflect on -- money (thus the title of the post). Sneaking in food related plant names seems like a natural. Even choosing rock names, intentionally or subconsciously, still seems (and is) plausible. But variety or common names about money? Who knew? But your humble correspondent has done some digging and ... (the envelope please)

We'll start with a few obvious choices, the first being the houseplant Pachira, known as the Money Tree. Lore has it that a poor man prayed for money, found this "odd" plant, took it home as an omen, and made money selling plants grown from its seeds.
Curiously there's an outdoor plant also called Money Plant. It's Lunaria annua and its other common name, Silver Dollar plant, refers to its thin, round silvery seedpods.
Speaking of silver coin, how about Eucalyptus cordata, known as Silver dollar eucalyptus for its striking, round, silver leaves. And this tree self-seeds, meaning it's about as close to being a money machine as we gardeners are likely to see.
But wait, the silver coins don't end there. Helleborus x sternii is known as Silver Dollar lenten rose. Who can't use a bit of extra coin around the holidays?
But what about gold you say? Got you covered with Asteriscus 'Gold Coin.' This hardy ground cover produces masses of golden yellow flowers, enough to easily fill a pirate's chest.
Speaking of pirates, don't ye be forgettin' Bidens 'Pirates Treasure.' It produces such an abundance of gold 'coins' that it might make a pirate guard it with his life.
But don't ye be fighting over this plant because there's treasure aplenty in your local nursery. How about Gazania linearis, known as Treasure flower. It's from South Africa and rumor has it that pirates sailing around the Cape discovered it.
Or how about Hosta 'Little Treasure,' a striking steel blue and white variety that is worth coveting. And when it goes dormant, I guess that would qualify it as 'hidden treasure.'
Sometimes money is hard to come by and one has to take a few chances to acquire it. If you're willing to take a few risks, you might gamble on Coreopsis 'Roulette.' With a little luck, the wheel might just come your way.
Perhaps it's something more precious than money that you seek. You might travel far and wide to finally find the fabled and much coveted 'Jewels of Opar.' That would be Talinum paniculatum.
Don't have your passport in order? Don't worry, you can find something valuable closer at hand: Impatiens capensis, better known by treasure seekers as Jewelweed. One look at it's sun kissed golden-orange flowers and there's little doubt how it got his name.

Now for the pretty pictures ...

Begonia 'Escargot.' Bad joke alert. Don't read further if unwilling to groan. What did the Frenchman say to the motorist whose car had broken down by the side of the road? "Es car go?"

Here's the backside of the same Begonia Escargot. Really, it's almost as pretty from the reverse side and a bit of surprise as there's no suggestion of the red markings when viewed from the front.

Begonia 'Calypso.' Here's a shot of my much delayed newest begonia. Worth the wait, wouldn't you say?

Also delayed, my Fuchsia denticulata is finally beginning to put on a show. And for those not in the know (as I wasn't), fuchsia berries are edible. The ones on my F. boliviana taste like kiwi fruit.

Speaking of late, here's the counterbalance. My "I'll do whatever I please" Rhododendron 'Sappho' has decided to bloom in October, rather than wait for spring. This shot is sort of interesting given that the leaves are geometrically arranged  behind the flower.

And then there's my Agastache 'Grapefruit Nectar' which solves the problem of whether to bloom early or late by blooming all the friggin' time. Love its colors and of course its fruity scent.

I know that Arctotis are supposed to be the easiest thing to grow but I've had a little trouble lately. So I'm happy as a clam to have this A. 'Sunspot' doing so well.

This Luculia pinceana photo is a bit washed out, making it hard to appreciate the delicate pink-blushed white flowers. I include it mainly to say a few words about this amazing plant. It has to be the most intensely fragrant plant on earth! Really, almost overpowering. But wonderful. Native to southern Asia, it can be grown here in our milder zones. Mine began blooming a month after I brought it home, despite it still being a small specimen.

Aviation fans take note. My Crassula falcata is getting ready to bloom for the first time. Known as Propeller plant for its uniquely-shaped leaves, it's about to put on a colorful show!

Speaking of plants with odd names, say hello to Congo Cockatoo (Impatiens niamniamensis). It gets its common name from the waxy tri-colored flowers that resemble parrot beaks.It has a neat trick, producing its flowers directly off the stems, not at the tips of leafy branches as is usually the case.

Unexpected surprise of 2013 in my garden goes to this Gomphrena 'Fireworks.'  I was warned it was slow to develop which turned out not to be the case. It keeps pumping out fuchsia-colored flowers, each with a gold stamen, making for a fun addition to my central walkway.

Everyone needs a little wow in their garden and one of my main contributors is this Echinacea 'Hot Papaya.' Talk about red! And bursting with overlapping florets. It was very spindly in the beginning, almost died, but it now is getting its sea legs. As they say about real life vs fiction, if E. 'Hot Papaya' didn't exist someone would have to make it up.

Fall isn't only about flowers and nowhere is that more true than in these next two photos. Here, I've caught a milkweed (Asclepius curassavica) ready to disperse its seed. Fabulous.

Though our West coast can't rival the Northeast for fall color, we do have dogwoods. This Cornus florida is showing some great color these days and I had to catch it at its showiest.

Finally, a new addition this week. Setaria palmifolia, otherwise known as Palm grass for its lovely striated leaves. Mine is the dwarf form called 'Little Geno.' Now it just needs to survive our winter ...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cooking in the Garden

For those following this blog, you know I've been doing a series called Rocking the Garden, about the connection between plant names and rock songs/artists. There's been no shortage of choices but as rich a mine as this has been, there is one other variation that's even more in evidence. That would be food names. These names are legion in the nursery/horticulture business. One need only look at Heucheras to see this partnership, where there is about ten food names and counting for Heuchera varieties. We won't of course limit ourselves to Coral bells and in this spirit here are a few of the more common food-related names, be that a specific variety or a common name. I'm pretty sure some readers will think "Why didn't he include 'so and so' in his list and that just proves how pervasive this interdependent relationship is.

We'll get the Heucheras out of the way first, with variety names such as Creme Brulee, Caramel and the new Crisp series (Peach Crisp, Apple Crisp).
When in a "jam" one can always go with marmalade. Plants invoking this traditional British jam include Streptosolen (Marmalade bush), Crossandra 'Orange Marmalade' and Alstromeria 'Marmalade.' Who knew that yummy confection was so popular stateside?
Cerinthe Major 'Blue Honeywort.' Not sure why this lovely blue flowering cerinthe should invoke honey but there it is.
Veering into common names, everyone knows about the yummy Cosmos atrosanguineus, right? No? How about Chocolate cosmos then? No liberties taken here; this plant's flowers really do smell like cocoa.
Arctotis (African daisy) has become a home for delectable variety names. Start with A. 'Pumpkin Pie.' Or if you prefer, A. 'Peachy Mango,' where I guess those that named it just couldn't decide on their favorite fruit, so used both!
Geraniums weigh in with the ferny foliage species G. incanum 'Sugar Plum.' This vigorous species will it seems grow anywhere under any conditions.
Stachys albotomentosa may seem like a mouthful and an unlikely candidate for this column's "pantry" until you see its apt common name -- 7-Up plant. Yep, it really does smell like the drink. So much so that I wonder whether some mad scientist came up with the formula for the soft drink after coming across this plant.
Sometimes the name is the thing. Claytonia perfoliata, a west coast understory plant, is better known as Miner's Lettuce, because gold miners ate it while out in the wild.
And let's not forget drinks. How about Callirhoe involucrata, better known as 'Wine Cups.'
Staying with the wine theme, there's also Oxalis 'Charmed Wine,' a pretty little oxalis with burgundy foliage. Not sure where the 'charmed' part comes in. Perhaps the person naming it was bewitched by this plant's quixotic color.
Prefer cocktails over wine? We've got just the plant for you. There is a begonia series that invokes classic cocktail spirits, such as Begonia Cocktail Vodka and B. Cocktail Gin.
Back to food, how about the sweetly named Camellia 'Buttermint?' I have this alabaster-colored variety in my garden and though the flowers are small, it is a profuse and early bloomer.
For something sunny and tough, try the popular Gaillardia 'Oranges & Lemons.' One look at the orangy-golden round flowers and it's easy to see where they got the name. And like those citrus trees, this gaillardia puts out flowers nearly year round.
But what about snack foods you say? Well, I haven't heard of a plant named after Doritos but there is a Cassia tree variety named 'Buttered Popcorn.' Darned if the foliage doesn't smell like, you know ...
The colorful perennial Nemesia has also been abducted by foodies. Witness the ever expanding list of food-related names. It started with N. 'Berries and Cream,' a purple and white variety. Now we have the Juicy Fruits series, with entries including 'Watermelon' and 'Papaya.'
Speaking of fruit, we also have the U.S. native tree Arbutus unedo, better known as the 'Strawberry tree' because of its small, strawberry-like fruits.
Also making the list is a plant many have not heard of -- Belamcanda. This charming member of the Iris family is nonetheless known as 'Blackberry lily' for its clusters of small, black seeds that really do look like blackberries.
And since there has to be dessert, I give you Jelly Bean Sedum, a cool little sedum with multi-colored little jelly bean shaped foliage.

Okay, I think that's enough to keep us busy for awhile and besides, I'm suddenly hungry! And now the photos ...

Begonia 'Calypso.' I bought and planted this variety as a bulb back in the spring. Waited. Waited some more. Finally in July leaves emerged. Then nothing. Still nothing. Finally this week it bloomed. This first flower hasn't fully opened but it gives you an idea of the rich colors.

Speaking of biding its time, my Fuchsia denticulata has been taking its time. It's just now starting to really bloom. Mind you, it's worth the wait. I'm waiting on another of my favorite fuchsias, the newly planted F. Nettala, to get going in this same raised bed. 

Sedum moranense ssp grandiflorum. My newest (and fave) sedum, in part for the charming forest of flowers. This one I'll plant in the ground so it can spread.

Haemanthus albiflos. This species is sometimes called the Shaving Brush plant and you can see why from this photo (at least those of you old enough to remember the shaving brush our fathers used). One of my coolest plants.

Couldn't quite get this cluster of Eriogonum'Shasta Sulphur' flowers in perfect focus but it makes a cool photo nonetheless. CA buckwheats are one of the most valuable plants to have in your garden, as their flowers and seeds are especially nutritious for local birds, bees and butterflies.

Speaking of food names, I could have chosen this new Senecio. It's S. anteuphorbium, also known as Swizzle Sticks.' Delightful and vigorous (two words that go nicely together).

Lepechinia hastata. This salvia relative is super hardy but I was beginning to wonder why it had yet to flower and then upon my return, I discovered its first crop of burgundy flowers. I'd do a Pick column on this sturdy guy if it was more commonly available. It'll probably bloom until Christmas.

Sometimes it isn't the flowers, or even the foliage, that can be the most interesting part of a plant. Here is the seedpod of Datura 'Blackcurrant Swirl.' It looks all the world like one of those Medieval weapons that's at the end of a big chain.

Chaenomeles Kurokoji fruit. Though this species is considered an 'ornamental' quince, it still produces golden fruit for me. 

One last shot of the berries on my Amorphophallus kiusianus. So far they haven't tempted any birds but then again this guy is from China and Japan.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Rocking the Garden part 4

After a bit of a hiatus, I'm back with a new list of plants with musical references. In some cases the plant's variety name is identical to the song title (or album) and in other cases I've indulged in some artistic license. Okay, without further adieu, here are the nominees (you get to vote on your favorites):

Pansy 'Sangria.' Sangria Wine by Jerry Jeff Walker. If you haven't heard of this Texas singer/songwriter, check him out. He's a one of a kind talent, part folk, part rock but 100% storyteller. He's most well known for his song Mr Bojangles but that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Jolly Joker Pansy. I'm a Steve Miller fan so I'm going with his later persona 'The Joker.' That was after he was the Space Cowboy and the Gangster of Love.
1st Kiss Blueberry vinca. Could go anywhere with the Blueberry reference but I'll jump in the way back machine, all the way back to the 50s for Fats Domino's 'Blueberry Hill.'
Asarina 'Snow White.' Going to go with one of my favorite blues-rock guitarists, Snowy White. A Brit who got his start playing with Pink Floyd, Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac) and Thin Lizzy, White went solo and fashioned a superb body of work. For a good intro, check out Live Flames, a live album with his backing group, The White Flames.
Papaver 'Summer Breeze.' No stretch required for linking this yellow poppy with an artist. That would be Seals & Crofts and one of their biggest hits, Summer Breeze.
Leek 'King Richard.' First off, why the heck would you name a leek after a king? Silly. So, I'll extend the silliness and throw in Little Richard who, next to Elvis, was the king of 1950s rock.
Stevia (the plant from which the natural sweetener is extracted). I'll let fans of Little Stevie Wonder and Stevie Nicks (of Fleetwood Mac) duke it out for honors.
Hibiscus 'Haight Ashbury.' This is not a typo; there really is an Hibiscus variety named after the most famous hippie cross-street in America. So this is a musical reference not of an artist or a song but of the whole of psychedelic music symbolized by this location.
Dianthus 'Witch Doctor.' Could certainly have gone with the voodoo of Dr. John but instead going to show my early white blues roots by going with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers (featuring Eric Clapton) and their "I'm Your Witch Doctor."
Yarrow 'Moonshine.' Got to go with Van the Man (Morrison, natch) and his classic "Moonshine Whiskey." Damn, now that makes me want to pop that CD in the stereo.
Geranium 'Sugar Plum.' I think you know where this is going and that's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker. Think Duke Ellington's version.
Salvia 'Hot Lips.' This well known salvia (white flowers with red 'lips') brings to mind Hot Lips Hoolihan from MASH but our musical link goes to the Django Reinhardt song.
Penstemon 'Thorn.' Since we're starting to stray a bit from the Rocking in the title, let's bring it back with the hard rocking "Thorn in my Side" by the Eurythmics, featuring Annie Lennox (who has one of the greatest voices in the history of rock).
Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue.' Here's where we sort out your allegiances as this name is either a famous Louis Armstrong song, a Rolling Stones album or a Black Sabbath album.
Salvia mexicana 'Limelight.' Staying with the hard rock stuff, we veer north into Canada to grab the power trio Rush. Though they have a devoted following in the U.S., still sell out arenas after 30 years and just got voted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, they are superstars in their home land. The song Limelight is from their most famous and million selling album Moving Pictures, which contained the hit Tom Sawyer.
Juncus effusus spiralis. This Corkscrew rush reminds me of the song Corkscrew by the famous band Yes.
Echinacea 'Harvest Moon.' Speaking of Canada, no question who this song goes to -- Neil Young. Perhaps his finest album, past his first solo record.
Speaking of Echinaceas, another one in my garden is the lovely E. 'Sunrise.' And that makes me think of the pop chanteuse Norah Jones. Here's a pop quiz. What do Ms. Jones and ex Beatle George Harrison have in common? Ravi Shankar of course, he being Norah's father and one of Harrison's greatest musical and spiritual influences.
Finally, Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snow Queen.' Many may not know but the incomparable Carole King recorded a song of the same name on her "Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King" album.

And now that we've dispensed with the words, let's proceed to the pictures.

One last shot of my Mimulus Jelly Bean Orange. Mine has exceeded my expectations. After blooming, I deadheaded it and two weeks later it burst into bloom again. 

A final shot of my King protea, seen in its open phase. I just love the geometry of the red bracts and white flowers. A magnet for bees and butterflies.

Speaking of butterflies, here's what I think is a Fritillary, sunning itself on a dogwood leaf, though my Passiflora is close by and that might provide more interest.

Always lots of bees in my garden. Here a honeybee is busy collecting nectar from my Caryopteris incana. His gold body makes for such a nice complement to the purple flowers.

Here's an experiment, shooting the lovely Begonia 'Irene Nuss,' already with panicles of flowers resting on the ground. I call this Still Life with Apples, showing how decomposing apples feed the soil.

In the same bed, my Fuchsia denticulata is producing a late crop of flowers. Here they are, still unopened 'tubes.'

Speaking of begonias, my Angelwings begonia has a nice crop of pink blooms, offset by the spotted leaves.

Tricyrtis species. I'm starting to warm to the charms of this "milky" toad lily flower. It's been prolific this year, producing stem after stem filled with these wondrous little flowers (worthy of a Monet brush).

Here's my new rave, the hard to find Bouvardia ternifolia. Native to Texas and Mexico, this shrub features one-of-a-kind scarlet tubular flowers. The fact that they appear in dense clusters only magnifies the wow factor.

Bouvardia ternifolia. Here's a closeup of the flowers, such a saturated red that the cluster kind of overwhelmed my camera's pixels.

Caryopteris 'Hint of Gold.' This has been a terrific year for plants with that wow factor, including this guy. Here's a closeup of the sunny, textured gold foliage. 

Here's an "art" shot of honeysuckle vines,creating interesting shadow patterns against the gray stucco wall.

One more shot of my silver Dyckia. It has three things I love: an interesting architectural shape (opposing recurved petals), curious toothed margins and a beautiful silvery color. Plus, it's not as thorny as some dyckias, which are notorious for giving barbed wire a run for its money.
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