Thursday, September 4, 2014


Diversity is a word you hear a lot about when talking about preserving the flora and fauna of our world, a topic of immense importance. But the term even applies to home gardens and thus to the nursery business. If places like Home Depot and Lowe's had their way they'd sell only 50 plants but ten million of each of them. Their business model is build on volume. Similarly, the vendors that supply them are streamlining their selection of plants to meet this business model. In another related vein, businesses such as Proven Winners seek to establish market dominance by trademarking varieties of plants that they produce in "super" greenhouses, huge, automated growing factories that maintain near ideal growing conditions to maximize performance and thus salable product. In fact, their goal is to grow thousands of one plant where one specimen looks exactly like the other. In ads in the major magazines, Proven Winners advertises these plants by trademarked descriptive names, hiding or avoiding their true botanical names. The reason for this is obvious -- PW wants to sell the plant by its visual appeal and to sell their "brand." Again, the goal is to produce fewer species and/or cultivars and thus minimize costs.
The effect these business models have in common is to gradually shrink the diversity of what is grown and sold to the trade. That means certain species or varieties are not planted in people's gardens and gradually are no longer grown, leading to them largely disappearing. That's why I feel that supporting growers who propagate and sell less common plants is almost a spiritual calling. And gardens like mine in some way continue the beneficial aspects of plant diversity.
Of course, a special place should be reserved for maintaining the diversity of local flora, so critical to the ecosystems here. Fortunately there are many growers in the ecosystem conscious Bay Area that continue to grow and keep alive local flora -- and share them with the rest of us.
On that note, here are more photos from my early September garden. The first hints of fall are showing themselves, as vines and fall perennials like salvias begin to shine.

Chamaecyparis 'Barry's Silver.' I may have mentioned that I have begun to take more notice of conifers when I visit public and private gardens. That increasing interest led me to create a Japanese style dwarf conifer bed. Here is one of my favorite denizens there -- Chamaecyparis 'Barry's Silver.' Love the color and the fine textured foliage.

Zinnia "State Fair' mix.These flowers continue to amaze me, finally answering the question "What the heck is the big deal about zinnias anyway?" At least for the large State Fairs, you're looking at the answer.

Caryopteris 'Hint of Gold.'One of my favorite plants, just now coming into its own. The flower clusters are not as big, or as deep a purple hue, as some Bluebeards, but that crinkly gold foliage is just so fab.

Hedychium greenii. This 'Fire ginger' is probably my favorite ginger, not only for the lovely coral-red flowers but for its red stems. Doesn't take over, doesn't get too tall or wide, blooms faithfully every year. What else do you want?

People coming into our nursery and spotting this Begonia sutherlandii are always charmed by its petite, cream soda orange blooms. Plus it has red stems and a very thin red rim to the leaves. Despite its delicate appearance it's pretty vigorous.

Another shot of my third Succulent bowl. The tall one, an aeonium, is from a 4" pot but the others were all bought in 2" containers. A little water, a lot of sun and voila ...

This isn't the greatest shot of my favorite Oxalis (species uncertain) but if gives you an idea. Lime green clover-like leaves and those vivid rose-colored flowers make a great combo.

Many will recognize the petite burst of color that is Schizanthus grahamii. A sweet sun-loving annual, it puts on quite a show all summer and it's super easy to grow. 

Though the focus isn't absolutely perfect, I like this shot of my Dicentra scandens' canary-yellow flowers in front of the wooden fence backdrop. I cut my plant to the ground in late June but it's already back up and blooming again. It's one of the most delightfully unstoppable plants I've ever grown.

Hedychium gardnerianum. So many wonderful gingers out there but this is certainly one of them. There's something about gingers that really appeals to me. They're colorful while in bloom but the foliage is often fresh and sort of tropical, so holding nearly year long appeal here in our mild zones.

Speaking of tropical, here's another member of my Tropical Corner, Canna Australia. Love its vibrant burgundy foliage and it provides a nice contrast to the gingers and bamboos around it.

Tricyrtis formosana. Toad lilies are fun and easy to grow, though they can kind of take over. Still, the flowers are just so cool and the spotting looks as much as if a painter flicked his paintbrush soaked in purple paint at a white flower.

The closeup on the flower may make this plant a bit hard to ID but it's a Zauschneria canum, now classified as Epilobium canum. This one is E.canum ssp. garrettii 'Orange Carpet.' There's definitely a bit more orange to the flower than on the straight species. Here the flower seems propelled away from the foliage, almost like a shooting star.

Here's the plant of the month and if you're a chocolate lover then the plant of the year! Let me introduce you to (drum roll) ... Scorzonera hispanica. If you've never heard of it, well, either had I. But it has been cultivated for a very long time, in part because it produces an edible carrot-like root that is said to taste a bit like oysters crossed with asparagus! You're not likely to grow it for that but for the fact that the flowers exude an intense chocolate fragrance. Plants like chocolate cosmos barely register next to the heady chocolate fragrance of this perennial.

Dahlia 'Coupe de Soleil.' A very pretty formal double dahlia that this year surprised me by also producing a few white flowers and combinations in between. 

My favorite Agastache, A. Grapefruit Nectar, doesn't smell like that fruit but has a very pleasing sweet smell. And it is floriferous, not just in volume and duration but it has this neat trick of producing both pink and yellow flowers on the same plant.

Sometimes simple is best. The flowers on Salvia azurea are just one color (though it has a paler blue 'throat') but when that color is a robin's egg blue then all is good. This guy didn't bloom its first year, went deciduous, then sort of hid among another agastache's leaves. I didn't realize it had survived until the first flowers appeared yesterday.

Who doesn't like Justicias? Sometimes collectively called Plume flower or Shrimp plant, these South and Central American natives have that tropical look to them that is most pleasing. The flashy red parts are of course the bracts, with the pretty two lipped lavender portions being the flowers themselves. I thought our week-long freeze last winter killed it but it has returned good as new!

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck ... These sweet little double, mini calibrachoas throw some people at first, being half the size but having the inner petals. This particular one, MiniFamous Double Peach calibrachoa, is an especially lovely one and has proved tougher than it looks, now back for year three.

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