Thursday, February 27, 2014

Blue Sweet pea

I was very happy to discover this week that not one but two growers are growing one of my very favorite plants -- Lathyrus sativus, otherwise known as Grass pea or Blue sweet pea. The former common name owes to the grass like foliage of this plant, making it quite distinct from the common sweet pea varieties out there. And the blue color is exceptionally lovely. Keep an eye out for it and check back on this blog for photos of mine in bloom. In the meantime here is a photo off the web.

Meanwhile, in between periods of rain I wandered out in my garden and took some photos. Here they are, fresh off "the grill."

Though I couldn't quite get the lighting right on this shot of my Ribes sanguineum, it will nonetheless give an idea of how prolific it bloomed this late winter. It has survived periods of dryness but a couple of deep soaks really brought out the blooms.

Here's a closeup of the Ribes flower panicle. Hummingbirds are enticed by the sweet nectar so I see them over there all the time. And then there's that spicy fragrance.

Speaking of fragrance, the alba variety of Heliotropium is much more fragrant than the purple. Plus, the clusters of white flowers really pop against the green foliage. You get to vote on whether you think it smells like vanilla or talc powder, two of the most popular descriptions.

Another shot of my Lachenalia orchioides var. glaucina. Love those colors!Lachenalias are very easy to grow if you give them a dry summer. I've solved that problem by keeping mine in pots, then setting them aside in a 'dry' section for the off season.

Whoever named this Sedun 'Jelly Bean' must have had a sweettooth! Then again, they do kind of look like jelly beans ...

The first of my Babianas have opened, this one an orchid pink color. They range in color from nearly white, to lavender, purple and in the case of Rat's Tail babiana, a bright red.Baboon flowers, as they're known, are pretty easy to grow and over time will make a nice clump.

If Physocarpus doesn't ring a bell as a plant name then maybe 'Ninebark' does. The common name owes to the fact that mature specimens will go through multiple bark peelings, adding another layer of interest to this handsome shrub.This variety is P. 'Nugget' and as you can see, it has beautiful golden leaves. One of my faves.

Freesia. I swear, you almost need to wear sunglasses when gazing at some of these freesias, the colors are so electric.

Speaking of colorful, how about this fabulous Magnolia 'Black Tulip?'Along with Magnolia 'Vulcan,' two of the deepest pinks in the world of tulip trees.

If you look askance at this plant, it might well talk back "Who you calling Ugni?" Yes, that would be Ugni molinae, also known as Chilean guava. It doesn't produce fruit but it's certainly pretty.2013 was the year of variegated shrubs for me, only quelled by my running out of space.

Always the first of my Rhododendrons to bloom, this lovely yellow 'Donatella'could stand to be getting some sun, as it's in full shade right now.

Erysimum linifolium. It may be common but for toughness and beauty it's hard to beat wallflowers.And if 'wallflower' seems an odd common name it owes that moniker to the habit of certain Erysimums climbing castle walls in England.

Magnolia stellata. I love the pure white flowers and here one is handsomely shown off by the colorful Alpinia 'Zerumbet'(Shell ginger).

Oncidium 'Wildcat Yellow Butterfly.' Not yet open but to my eye, it's already lovely, stretching out at a curious horizontal level. This will be the first time it's rebloomed in four years.

Selaginella kraussiana. One of the loveliest of all club mosses.Needs moisture but since it's in the shade that's not too terribly much.

Omphalodes. One of the loveliest of blue flowering plants for shade.I have it under a Sappho rhododendron and next to hellebores and next to a Tradescantia.

Choisya ternata. About to burst into bloom, the buds are pregnant with expectations. One of the showiest and most fragrant of all shrubs and if you're lucky it reblooms in the fall. Mine is so vigorous that I have to keep pruning it back.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Carrying On

As those of us in the Bay Area face the prospect of a drought, it is understandable to become cautious about what -- and how much -- to plant. Where you fall on that curve is an individual matter. For myself, I'm still adding plants but taking every measure possible to save and preserve water. And of course, I'm not pulling out existing plants. That said, I will renew my efforts to get plants out of pots and into the ground, where they can make do with less water.
Like many Bay Area gardens, mine is beginning to burst with pre-spring color. That's aided by my surfeit of late winter/early spring bulbs. I love bulbs of all kinds, if only because they appear of their own making, offer dazzling color (and fragrance for some), bursting through the perennials above them like fun and friendly girls crashing the party.
So, here are some photos of my garden taken on this lovely mid-February day, as I somewhat guiltily rejoice in the unseasonably warm weather, trying my best to send some of it to people on the East coast.

Arisaema nepenthoides. This is one of the most vigorous, and earliest blooming, of the Jack-in-the-Pulpits. Two of my five species aren't even up and the other two are just nubs. Arisaemas have that 'it' factor for me.

Speaking of the 'it' factor, the weird flowers of Asarum maximum are, well, really weird. It's common name is Panda Face ginger (imagination required to see that). The flowers are stiff and sort of rubbery. I have the best crop of them ever this year.

Here's a shot of my Japanese painted fern and the Plectranthus Sapphire Dream kind of sticking his nose into the photo. These ferns may look delicate but they're tough as nails.

Despite being only 15" tall, this Hardenbergia is full of flowers. I had a hard time getting it in perfect focus, as I had to brush aside a camellia branch obstructing the view. It will have a tall and wide wall on which to climb. I can't wait.

Another of my Lachenalias, this one L. orchioides var. glaucina. Love the colors on this one!

Another shot of my Echeveria 'Black Prince' and the silver Tillandsia. I love the contrast in color and texture.

Speaking of bulbs, here's my favorite sparaxis, S. elegans. Vivid colors and like other Harlequin flowers, it's reliable. 

Remember the old days, when Hellebores were considered a utility plant for shade. Something tough that kept its foliage nearly year round, something to plant in that tough spot where you couldn't get much to grow? Now, the hellebore world is filled with fabulous colors and petal designs. Here's a new burgundy one called Penny's Pink. Very lovely. 

Freesias are very common but that doesn't mean they're not pretty. You can buy them in nearly every color imaginable these days. I've taken an unofficial poll and freesias ranked #1 on people's lists. One sniff and that seals the deal ...

Here's another one. They're so colorful and fragrant you sometimes overlook that they are actually very pretty, many with unique markings.

I can't believe I ever had trouble growing Lotus but after seeing it used as a ground cover in my neighbor's garden and how vigorous it was I planted one for the same purpose. Lo and behold, it's gone wild and just in the last week has burst into bloom. Is there a more cheerful ground cover out there?

Magnolia 'Butterflies.' Speaking of cheerful, are the flowers on this tulip tree lovely or what? There's something about yellow (and white) magnolias that is magical.

Speaking of magical, there's something magical about the flowers of Papaver atlanticum. Described as 'taffeta' and possessing a one of a kind orange hue, it's hard to believe this perennial poppy is tough, long blooming and nearly impossible to kill. This is the subject of an upcoming column and there's always a big response to the plants I jokingly call 'black thumb' plants.

Back to the department of odd and unique flowers,one near the top of the list is the South African bulb, Ferraria crispa. This is the "chocolate" ferraria (F. crispa ssp nortieri) and the colors and crinkled edges are just wondrous to contemplate!

If you wondering why I've included a picture of lily shoots, well ... let me check my calendar ... oh, yeah it's FEBRUARY! These are Lilium trebbiano and I guess they just couldn't, you know, wait!

This flower may look sort of familiar to some. Cistus maybe? Nope. Oh, maybe that recently popular Halimiocistus? Nope. It's the first half of that cross, Halimium lasianthum. Very pretty and a small shrub that couldn't wait to get a jump start on spring.

Snapdragons may be common but this inexpensive 6 pack has recently burst into glorious bloom. Behind it is a Sunspot arctotis and to the right a variegated Felicia amelloides.

They don't call them King proteas for nothing. This closeup shows the amazing collection of white styles. The outer 'petals' are of course the bracts.

My Melaleuca incana is bursting with flowerheads and open flowers this month. The little cream-colored flowers resemble miniature bottle brushes. Native to Australia, it is tough and drought tolerant.

Though this plant doesn't look a jasmine, it is indeed a tri-colored species of bush or star jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaiticum). There's no pink as yet but it seems to have gotten its sea legs. 

You can be forgiven for looking at the leaves of this plant and thinking "It looks like a Euphorbia but it has red flowers so it can't be." Let me introduce you to Euphorbia atropurpurea. I nursed this plant from a tiny, weak 4" plant through thick and thin and I'm thrilled it is about to open a cluster of red flowers. Stay tuned!

Friday, February 14, 2014

In Praise of South African bulbs

It is widely believed that the cape district of South Africa contains the world's greatest diversity of flowering bulbs. The sheer breadth, not to mention the colors, of these species has long been celebrated. It is always puzzling to me then that some are not familiar with many of these genera/species. I touched upon the subject briefly in a feature article I did for the S.F. Chronicle in February of 2011. Those wanting to check out this article can google the subject and my last name to find it. Late winter/early spring is the prime season for these colorful and sometimes dramatic flowers. The first to bloom are the Lachenalias, known as cowslips. This one genus has over 90 species, making it one of the most diverse of all the S. African (SAF) bulbs. Ferrarias follow and you may never seen a stranger bloom from a bulb than this beautiful but eerie flower. Freesias (yes they are native to S. Africa), Sparaxis, Babianas, Ixia and Gladiola follow. Here are photos, taken from my garden over the last five years, of a number of my favorite SAF bulbs, with comments attached. They are roughly in order of bloom time.

Here are three Lachenalia species, the first one L. tricolor and the other two lacking positive ID. If given a summer dry period, cowslips are one of the easiest SAF bulbs to grow. They come in nearly every color, though blues, purples, pinks and whites predominate. They are reliable rebloomers, something that cannot be said about a great many bulbs. Although I have not seen them sold in packages in retail nurseries, they can be found online or in 4" pots in certain nurseries.

As mentioned above, Ferraria flowers might be the oddest in the whole world of bulbs (and that's saying something). They are an interesting mix of colors in one flower, with usually spotted or striped centers, and they all feature heavily crinkled edges that some have compared to starfish. Their exotic looks, and the fact that many people have never heard of them, might lead one to think they are difficult. Au contraire. Once established, they are hardy, even vigorous. These two species -- below F. crispa and above the chocolate F. crispa ssp nortieri -- are gradually colonizing my front yard bed.

A lot of people have seen this bulb growing wild around the Bay Area and probably wondered what the heck it is. It's Chasmanthe 'Bicolor' and it is one of the easiest bulbs to grow. Some have reported it to be semi-invasive but it has been well-behaved in my garden. A cheerful February bloomer.

Everyone will recognize this freesia and they have become so ubiquitous that it may surprise some to realize that this bulb's origins are in South Africa. Of course, the ones we buy in stores are hybrids and tend to be larger than the original species. Take note, that is a theme with SAF bulbs that have crossed over to become staples of the American garden.

Right behind Lachenalias for being easy to grow are Babianas. Their common name is Baboon flower and while it is very common for flowers to be given poetic names, in this case, yes, baboons do eat this bulb in South Africa. The above photo is of unspecified species/variety while the photo below is of B. stricta. Incidentally, there is a very curious babiana, B. ringens, whose common name is Rats-Tail babiana, though I'm not sure how its red flowers remind anyone of that rodent.

Moraeas are a wonderful, and diverse genus. The only species that you may be familiar with, M. iridioides, has now been put under the Dietes genus. It's that very common Iris family member with the white and purple petals that you see planted everywhere. There are many showier Moraea, including the one above. M. villosa is nicknamed Peacock moraea and you can see why! Some moraeas are fussy, some not. My experience with M. villosa has been very positive. In the fussy category would be the Moraea atropunctata, shown below. It's not the greatest photograph but it's the only one because it only bloomed once in four years. But I just noticed today that the pot has a flower spike nestled in the foliage so maybe I'll be in luck. As you can see, it features alabaster petals dramatically marked with chocolate spotting. Fabulous!

Many of you will recognize the bold colors of the following four photos. The one above, plus #3 and #4, are Sparaxis hybrids. They feature fabulous colors, especially yellows, oranges and reds, all with a central ring and differently colored centers. The odd man out below is a true species, S. grandiflora ssp grandiflora. I love its rich maroon colors. Sparaxis bloom during the same period as freesias, giving the gardener a riot of color to enjoy in late February/early March.

Here's a bulb I'd never heard of until a friend gave a pot of it to me. It's Melasphaerula ramosa and I swear it has the sweetest flowers. Very simple but plants produce an abundance of flowers. But if you find it be careful. It self seeds vigorously. 

Star of Bethlehem may not ring a bell as a flower reference but that's what the Ornithogalum genus is commonly called. The white and green flowering types are most common but there is also a glowing orange species, O. dubium. The above photo does somewhat manage to capture its sun drenched colors. Very vigorous, it can even be grown as a houseplant, so much so you will more likely find it being sold with other houseplants. 

Ixias, or Corn lilies as they're known, have entered people's radar more in recent years. They are commonly available in commercial packages and they are exceptionally easy to grow. They come in an endless array of colors. Above is the straight species I. monadelpha while the lower photo is a hybrid called 'Buttercup.' Lovely!

Another plant that has sadly disappeared in large measure from the market is Homoglad. It was a cross of Gladiolus tristas (the 'glad' ending) and Homoglossum watsonium (the Homo part). Though this photo isn't in perfect focus, I wanted to include a photo of one. The flowers are small, like the original Gladiolas from S. Africa, but the sensational colors and patterns more than make up for it.

Speaking of the original gladiolas that the common glads are derived from, here are two species types. Above is the delicate but gorgeous G. alatus and below is one simply identified as 'Lemon Moon.' I suspect it has some G. tristas in it. Once you accept the smaller size and almost non-existent leaves, the species gladiolas hailing from the Cape are just sensational.

Here's a sweet bulb that needs a better press agent! Anomatheca laxa is the coolest little customer, able to thrive in shade, and self-seed to its heart's content when happy. It's tough too. If it's dry it simply waits in the soil until the rains come and then it seems to sprout almost overnight. This member of the Iris family is a great low ground cover or adept at being an understory plant. 

Finally, here are two photos of Ledebouria socialis. Although the top photo isn't the best, I wanted to show its most attractive features, that being its spotted leaves and the glossy, above ground succulent-like bulb. Below is a photo of its tiny green and white flowers. Super easy to grow and not taking up much space, it is a wonderful accent plant that typically blooms in summer. 

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