Thursday, July 31, 2014


The title of this post doesn't refer to the sweet days of summer -- although it could -- but rather to Clethra alnifolia, otherwise known as Summersweet. This sweet smelling summer blooming deciduous shrub is surprisingly not well known. It offers more than olfactory delights, with bright pink flower buds opening up to pretty pale pink flowers. It doesn't mind a little shade, though it's more of a sun lover in general. For many people heavenly scents in the garden come from roses, lavender, butterfly bush, jasmine, wisteria or certain bulbs (like freesia). There are however a great many less common shrubs whose fragrance is worth exploring. In one area of our main walkway, I have planted a series of fragrant plants -- Daphne odora, followed by an Edgeworthia (paperbush), Mirabilis longiflora and then a Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans). I planted them for the delight of anyone using the walkway.
Here are more photos of my ever evolving garden, taken on this day of July. Don't forget to click on the thumbnails to bring up the larger images. Leading off is a photo of my Summersweet bush.

Clethra alnifolia. Not only does each panicle of flowers offer a heady aroma but these lovely shrubs tend to bloom profusely. Summersweet indeed!

Another shrub not as popular as it should be is Lysimachia clethroides. You may look at it and think "Wait, that doesn't look like the ground cover lysimachia in my garden"  and you'd be right. This L. clethroides is one of the taller so-called Loosestrifes, as opposed to the low growing Creeping Jenny types. Due to its pure white flowers and curving flower panicles, it's commonly called Gooseneck loosestrife. Hey, you know somebody likes you when you acquire the common name 'Gooseneck.' It makes a shrub about 3' tall and likes regular water. Very show when there's many a goose honking.

I got two spathes on my Arisaema speciosum this year and after I yanked out an invasive Impatiens irvingii from the same pot I could finally get a good photo of it. That rich burgundy color is to die for.

Speaking of color, there is simply no flower that gives you more of your true blue fixation than Ipomoea 'Heavenly Blue.' First, that color and then the flowers are easily five inches across. 

Speaking of vigorous, my Gloriosa lily has just gone bonkers this year. I have no idea why I've had so much trouble with them in the past but it looks like it will yield twenty! flowers this year.

Give and you shall receive. I accidentally killed my front house neighbor's hibiscus so I gave her my two. They'd been languishing in the driveway so I repotted them into larger pots and now that they're on the front porch and getting way more sun they're going great guns. I love a happy ending. (Sniff)

Mimulus sp. This was a rescue from work and it didn't look to survive but I kept at it and now it's ablaze with color. It does need regular water but it's worth it for the show.

Geranium 'Mrs. Kendell Clark.' This white-streaked geranium is a real charmer. It almost died out after planting but does finally seem to be getting a toehold.

Not sure why this photo came out slightly dark but I couldn't resist adding a photo of the one dahlia that's survived the years with me. Dahlia 'Seattle' has that lovely butterscotch and white combo that's so pretty.

Tithonia. Though this photo doesn't capture the beauty of the commonly named Mexican sunflower, here it is anyway. What Tithonia lacks in the size of its flowers, it makes up for in the quantity it produces on one plant.

I'm ending on an unplanned orange trifecta. First the Tithonia, now Calceolaria 'Kentish Hero.' This orange pocketbooks not only differs in flower color from the more common C. mexicana but unlike that plant, KH is a true perennial. It seems to like a bit more sun than C. mexicana too.

And finally Lilium tigrinums spemdens or, to you, Tiger lily. They are among the favorite of my extensive lily collection. Not just the color and the spots but the expertly recurved petals. Plus it's very vigorous.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Do you speak 'Gardening?'

The other day when someone at work asked me if I spoke a second language I said no, unless you count a little French I learned in school. Then I stopped myself and said "No, actually I speak Latin." Then I explained that the horticultural names that are the stock and trade of every nurseryman (or person who uses the botanical names of plants) really do qualify as as a second language, though the terminology is a small and specialized form of Latin. Still, it's a lot of Latin names (and terminology) that piles up in your brain and that you extract at a moment's notice. I converse in this language all day with customers and co-workers and use it when I'm writing about plants. And of course it's a useful language and used more often than most people would ever use their school Latin.
So if you speak "horticulture" give yourself a little pat on the back. Who says you can't learn a second language as an adult?
I've just returned from a week's vacation and the absence from my garden is a mixed affair. I really do miss it while I'm away. But on my return I find so much that is new or has changed and that's a sweet pleasure. Though mid-summer offers fewer changes than spring, my extensive collection of plants always means new things are bursting with color. Here are a few photos taken today, with added descriptions and comments. I do encourage everyone to photograph their garden throughout the seasons, even if that is using your phone. You get a unique perspective looking at plants online and of course if you save them you can revisit them whenever you're in the mood.

Five-finger fern. This CA native maidenhair fern is tougher than it looks. A gift from a friend, mine nearly died in the transplant, then nearly died again adjusting to getting some sun, looked spotty last winter but in the end has thrived. It provides a fertile welcome to the beginning of my Shady Lane bed.

Tricyrtis formosa. This toad lily has begun blooming early. I guess it couldn't wait till late summer, its usual flowering season. Toad lilies are one of the easiest plants to grow, coming back faithfully each year.

Plectranthus 'Sapphire Dream' plus Campanula muralis. I like this variegated plectranthus in part because it stays lower and neater. The flowers seem to have the most blue of all plectranthus, another plus. The colors are complementary with the purple blooming campanula. Two more Shady Lane denizens.
The photo below is of my gorgeous Lonicera sempervirens. This East coast native honeysuckle isn't fragrant but the colors are just too fab. Although it's also in the Shady Lane, it has climbed an arch and is getting lots of sun.

Clethra alnifolia. If the botanical name doesn't ring a bell, perhaps its common name (Summersweet) does. These fuchsia colored buds will open to small rosy flowers that exude an oh so heavenly sweet fragrance. Something to look forward to every summer.

Azolla. Sometimes improperly referred to as Duckweed, this is actually a tiny fern. It has earned the nickname Mosquito fern. In any case it multiplies quickly and here it is covering a small pond in my back yard. Among other things, it is good for controlling the algae in your pond, as it will suck up the nitrogen in the water.

Small is beautiful. This dwarf canna only gets two feet tall but still manages large, saturated red flowers. Behind it, a Fire ginger (Hedychium greenii) has sent up shoots and will soon add more color to my Tropical Corner bed.

This Heliotropium 'Alba' is a survivor. The pot it was originally in was smashed by a delivery person and the plant sat out on its own for a couple of weeks while I searched for just the right replacement pot. As luck would have it, our nursery got in the same ginger-colored pot and so the original look is back. It took awhile but the specimen is now healthy and blooming. One of the most interesting fragrances in the plant world, to some it smells like vanilla, to others talc powder!

Abutilon lovers may think this is a Nabob but in fact it's a new, lighter red variety called Lucky Lantern Red. I haven't had an abutilon in many years so it's nice to have it back. It's a hummingbird magnet so am hoping some hummers will stray from their favorite marmalade bush and venture down the main walkway to find this guy.

Though not a great shot, I couldn't resist adding a second shot of my Viola 'Brush Strokes.' Just the most amazing colors and patterns.

Mecardonia. My favorite new addition to the garden. I love the contrast of the verdant green foliage and the canary yellow flowers. It's a spiller so I'm looking forward to a great mass of it in the near future.

Here's an interesting shot of a Heavenly Blue morning glory. Sometimes the stage after the flower is at its best can provide its own unique visual treat. The five dark pink sections are the ribs of the morning glory, not noticeable when this very large, fully blue flower is at its peak.

Gloriosa lily. I love these spectacular lilies and now, in their third year, I'm getting quite the show. They start out a pale yellow then color in to that rich red, bordered in yellow.

Count me guilty as charged for going gaga over my Agastache 'Grapefruit Nectar.' It's partly the range of colors on a single plant -- yellows, pinks and apricots -- that add to its childlike charm.

Wahlenbergia 'Blue Cloud.' This campanula relative is aptly named, offering up masses of true blue flowers in the summer and fall. Your biggest worry in growing it is simply containing it as it is indeed a 'happy wanderer.'

Eriogonum giganteum. Here's another photo of my St. Catherine's Lace. The clouds of tiny white flowers are fully open now and that means regular visits from a variety of pollinators.

I'm a fan of the simple but interesting Campanula primulifolia. Unlike a lot of upright campanulas that tend to flop or stray, this species sends up sturdy upright spikes that produce flowers all along the stems.Textured leaves provide another reason to add this architectural campanula to your garden.

Seedpod lovers unite! I'm getting to be a fan of seedpods, as they take an astonishing variety of forms. Here's one from my vigorous Datura metel 'Blackcurrant Swirl.' Below is another photo of this plant's flower about to open. It's a double variety, thus the fluted edges.

This is my Wooly bush (Adenanthos sericeus), showing almost lime green new growth. This Aussie native gets its common name from the silky softness of its leaves. A tactile treat!

I'm continuing my photographic charting of this 'new' succulent bowl. It's making good progress, helped by a little regular water. The center plant is an Aeonium lancerottense. I'll need to eventually move it to the ground as it will get too big.

Above and below are two shots of my Tecoma x smithii. The peach-colored version of the so-called Trumpet bush is less invasive and vining than its better known cousin Tecoma (Tecomaria) capensis, the latter having much smaller orange flowers. I love the colors on this species and the way the trumpets flare completely at the tips, almost recurving. The bush puts on a spectacular show in summer and autumn.

Common but beautiful, this strawflower plant (Bracteantha bracteata) provides blasts of color all through the summer. It's perhaps better described as a 'paper flower' as the flowers feel like they have already been dried and are ready for a vase arrangement.

Eucomis species. I love Pineapple lilies and here's a simple green-leaved one I bought at Trader Joe's! There's nothing quite like the waxy flowers on this reliable bulb hailing from South Africa.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dealing with the Drought

As those of us living in California continue to have to deal with the drought, I thought I'd share a few thoughts about tips for both saving water and for using the water we do use in ways that let us get the most out of our gardens.To conserve water:
1. Mulch, mulch mulch. This not only saves water but keeps weeds in check. I even use microbark on top of my larger pots. Mke sure to replenish mulch as it thins out.
2. Plant drought tolerant plants together. I know this sounds obvious but keeping these kinds of plants together means using less water. It also means they'll do better than being mixed in with plants that need more water.
3. Drought tolerant does not just mean natives. There are many great plants -- both perennials and annuals -- that are not endemic to our state.
4. Use vertical planting. You can make better use of your "valuable" space by planting in layers. Bulbs under the ground; low growing plants above them and then taller plants tucked into the same space. Having nutritious soil allows you to keep plants close together happy.
5. Use efficient forms of watering. Avoid sprinklers or any form of watering that disperses water in the air.
6. Use a deep watering method where possible. Deep watering = deeper roots = stronger plants and plants you can water less often, saving you water and time.
7. Do a little research (or ask your local nursery) for alternatives to plants that need regular water. You'd be surprised at the range of drought tolerant plants available these days.
8. All of this having been said, don't deny yourself the pleasure of having some of your favorite plants, just because they need regular water. Find other ways to save water around and inside your house.

Okay, now the photos. I want to remind those of you relatively new to the blog that I normally only take photos of plants in my garden that I hadn't taken last week. Or the week before that. Etc. So if you enjoy the photos (or the descriptions) you might want to check out older posts.

Magnolia grandiflora. I came out this morning and saw honey bees kind of rolling around dazed in the petals of my Southern magnolia. They were after the pollen on the fallen stamen but I don't think I've ever witnessed something like this before. They were completely oblivious to me and stayed in there for a good ten minutes.

When I saw this Zinnia I thought it looked like a fireworks display so I played around with the focal point and was able to achieve a near black background, simulating a night sky.

Schizostylis is one of the least appreciated of bulbs in my opinion. I mean, look at that color. It's vigorous too. Below is a shot of my Buddleja 'CranRazz.' Love that color and of course the bees do too.

Here's a shot of a cool new Bidens, B. Hawaiian Flare Orange Drop. Lovely pattern and just as tough as other bidens.

Although I wasn't able to get this shot in perfect focus, I thought a closeup of the tiny little flowers that make up an Eriogonum giganteum was an interesting shot. Flowers such as these, and the even tinier flowers on Ampelopsis (Porcelain berry vine) prove that bees can collect nectar from the very smallest of flowers.

Here's my gregarious Datura Blackcurrant Swirl, along with the orange flowering hawkweed and the light blue flowering Nigella.

Speaking of nigella, here's a closeup of one of its robin's egg blue flowers. Part of their charm is the feathery 'ruff' of leaves underneath and the distinctive developing seedpod on top.

Eucomis 'Sparkling Burgundy.' I love the waxy flowers on pineapple lilies and this year I'm getting an especially good show on this specimen. Another favorite destination for bees.

Delpinium chinensis 'Blue Butterfly.' My favorite delphinium! Here's a little tidbit about blue delphiniums. Breeders trying to create a true blue rose -- something as yet to be accomplished -- have tried crossing a purple rose with a blue delphinium, as the latter contains a compound especially strong in producing the color blue.

Teucrium 'Summer Sunshine.' I have to admit, the flowers are quite pretty, even though I'm growing this variety for its golden foliage.

Protea neriifolia 'Pink Ice.' Love this pot and can't wait for the protea to bloom. Next year perhaps?

Swainsona. This Aussie native is one tough and floriferous guy. Unstoppable really. I had to really hack it back this winter as it was overrunning the bed.

Though the flowers brown at the tips rather easily if they get any direct sun, they are nonetheless really interesting. To me they look like turtle's eggs. Their color and shape has led to this Alpinia 'Zerumbet' being called Shell ginger. 

My Sauromatum venosum has put out an especially large leaf shoot and leaf. Now the question is, will this Voodoo lily produce its famous foul-smelling spathe?

Wahlenbergia. This campanula relative likes sun and has an arching habit. Very sweet.

I didn't quite get what I was after with this shot but in the end I kind of like it. The unfocused flower has a kind of dreamy quality, half there and half not.

This is a new Viola that I took an immediate shining to. It's called V. 'Brush Strokes.' It does rather look like it's painted, n'est-ce pas?
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