Friday, January 31, 2014

Dealing with Drought

This topic (Dealing with Drought) will be the subject of an upcoming column but I thought I'd give readers here a summary of the 5 steps you can take to save water and yet keep a healthy garden.
1. Group like-minded plants together. That is, plant drought tolerant plants together and ones needing regular water with each other. That's good advice in any case but you'll save water by keeping away as much as possible from "mixed" beds.
2. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Common sense I know but I would guess there are areas in many people's gardens that are "bare." You can vary the type of mulch so you avoid a sameness. You can even employ other materials besides bark mulch, such as gravel, stones or other plant matter. You can also add microbark to pots, to achieve the same results of less watering and fewer weeds.
3. Plant more drought tolerant plants for seasonal color. The list is a surprisingly long one, with perennials such as CA buckwheats (Eriogonum), Mimulus, Lewisias, native Salvias and Penstemons, Asclepius, Verbena lilacina and CA fuchsia (Epilobium). There are plenty of less thirsty spring native annuals to choose from as well. The list includes CA poppies, Clarkias, Gilias, Lupines, Monardellas and Desert Bluebells (Phacelia).
4. Employ vertical gardening. You can pack a lot of plants in a smaller area, thus using less water, by employing layers. Start with bulbs in the ground then add a ground cover or low growing plant above them and finally taller plants for a vertical element. I liken this approach to container gardening, where you play with levels, textures and colors in a confined space.
5. Employ deep watering. Once established, use less frequent but deeper watering for trees and shrubs. For many of these, setting a hose on a fast trickle for an hour once a month is sufficient. Most trees and shrubs should not be on drip irrigation. You can even use the deep watering technique on perennials, weaning them off more frequent but surface watering schedules.

And now a few photos from my Chinese New Year day garden! Congrats to all of you born in the year of the horse!

Oxalis carnosa. We may be invaded by the awful weedy oxalis but there are so many more desirable species out there. One of the distinctive features of this O. carnosa  is its large round clusters of mint-green leaves, with the typical but pretty yellow flowers shooting out from these spheres.

Physocarpus 'Nugget.' Here it is, still the end of January and many of my deciduous shrubs are already leafing out! Meanwhile the East coast is buried under a foot of snow and even the South is having near freezing temps. And people wonder why we want to live in CA? Anyway, this golden ninebark (given this name because mature shrubs will evidently go through nine peeling stages) is one of the most beautiful shrubs you've ever seen, especially when it flushes out its wrinkled golden leaves in spring.

This cute little primula is a survivor, having come back for a fourth year now. I love the white edging.

Lotus 'Flashbulb.' It wasn't until I saw Lotus grown as a ground cover in a neighbor's yard (and liked the look) that I realized I could do the same. It's spreading, staying dense and putting out its first flowers.

Here's a wider angle of the Lotus, with freesia foliage poking up through.

Though I didn't intend the look, the flowers on my Luculia look good in a bit of shadow. If you had a contest for the most powerfully fragrant plant able to be grown in NorCal, the Luculia would probably make the top five! It's almost too overpoweringly fragrant, though the smell is heavenly.

Calothamnus villosus. This wonderful shrub hailing from Australia has a neat trick. Its flowers sprout along the stems, making for an interesting display. This photo came out over-exposed but you can see the clusters of flower buds along the stem.

Melaleuca incana. This Aussie shrub has butter-yellow, bottlebrush-like flowers that really sparkle in the sun. It's loaded with seedcone-like flower panicles just waiting to open, so it should be quite the show this year.

Lachenalia species. How anyone can resist lachenalias is beyond me. So many different colors and color combinations. Vigorous. Floriferous. Easy. Reliable. If there was such a thing as a dog in the plant world (man's best friend), my vote would go to lachenalias.

Speaking of colorful, winter-blooming plants, here's a sweet new Cotyledon named Elisaea. Pretty flowers appear in abundance. It's very satisfying when one's hard work leads to a plant looking its best but then again it's nice when plants do all the hard work themselves, like many succulents.

This pretty nasturtium is climbing my bare Porcelain berry vine. Simple but pretty.

This new addition, a Paphiopedilum that features pale green, spotted leaves, is holding court in my kitchen.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Spring/Not Spring

You know things are out of whack when our weather here in Oakland is warmer in January than it sometimes is in July! Tanning salons must be taking a hit! I find the timetable of plants a most interesting study in this banana belt we live in. When we get unseasonably warm weather this time of year some plants get excited and jump ahead of schedule. I've already begun to see flowering cherries in bloom, a full month earlier than is usual. Then again, the bulbs seem to be stubbornly clinging to their normal schedule, their 'clocks' ignoring the wacky weather (Picture an older Orson Welles intoning on a wine ad 'We will sell no wine before its time'). My camellias have decided its warm enough to get serious about their blooming but my magnolias are hanging back.
That's the thing about gardening; gardens follow their own rhythms and schedules and none of us can hold our palms out and say "No, no, don't bloom now!" Well, okay fruit farmers are allowed such protests, as early blooming then a freeze can cause severe damage.
These musings aside, here are a few photos from my spring, er, winter garden.

Primula Primlet. These cute little 'Rosebud' primroses have proven very popular these last few years. They come in a variety of colors and the flowers mostly stay budded (thus the common name).

One bulb that liked the warmer weather so has opened its first flowers earlier than usual is Ferraria crispa. Yes, weird. Someone once likened their crinkly, frilly edges to that of starfish or sea anemones. Wherever your imagination takes you they are nonetheless beautiful and unique. Plus tough and prolific.

I usually post photos of my Marmalade bush flowers in full bloom but here I thought it would be a fun change of pace to shoot them as buds.

This Cosmos Double Cranberry self seeded (just the one) and also thought it was spring. 

The Ranunculus are not confused. This is their time of year and they are loving the sun. They are in a bed with the above Ferraria, various daffodils, several species of Moraeas and some Dutch iris. Much color to follow ...

I'd always wanted to plant some Saxifraga so brought home a six pack and planted them in one of median strips. Go forth and multiply!

The winter 'star' of my dwarf conifer bed is this lovely Cryptomeria japonica 'Vilmoriniana.' I say winter star because this normally light green rounded conifer acquires a reddish-rust hue to it in colder months. Sure enough, that's what mine has done.

This cool little customer is an Aloe deltoideodonta 'Sparkler.' (say that species name real fast ten times). Love the white spotting and its thick non-serrated leaves.

My Aechmea 'Little Harv' has begun to open, giving it more of a sculptural look.

This fabulous beauty is a Coelogyne Janine Banks 'Snow White.' It's not only prolific but has a sweet, subtle fragrance.

I almost killed this Kerria japonica, then made it unhappy by putting it in too much sun (garden book said "Loves sun") before putting it in its current part sun/bright shade location. Now it hardly ever goes out of bloom, despite the fact that it's supposed to be deciduous. This is the double form and for me, it's one of the most cheerful plants in my garden.

This orange Masdevallia is a reliable bloomer and I love its long 'coattails.'

I know Forget-Me-Nots are very common but they're also very cheerful.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Winter Perfume Pt 1

It may seem at times lately that spring has already arrived but rest assured we are still in winter. But as we look to longer days and more consistent warmth, there is one wonderful late winter treat to look forward to -- the sweet fragrance of certain flowering shrubs. Many will think immediately of daphnes and that's certainly a great place to start. I have yet to meet anyone not intoxicated by the intense fragrance of these evergreen shrubs. But daphnes are just the beginning. Here are a few more of my favorite winter perfume plants.

Edgeworthia chrysantha. First come the hard flowerheads with the white buds then slowly as the weather warms, each one pops open to reveal intensely sweet smelling yellow flowers.
Pittosporum x burkwoodii. Pink winter buds open to surprisingly intense fragrant white flowers. Tough like other pittosporums, but not as big as some.
Sarcococca ruscifolia or S. humilis. Called Sweet box or Christmas box, this shiny-leaved shrub makes up in fragrance what it lacks in the size of individual flowers. Some say the flowers smell like gardenias. An unassuming star in the winter fragrant garden.
Pieris japonica. Although some say Pieris aren't all that fragrant, a friend and I were out walking and came across a pieris in full bloom and the scent was intoxicating. Case closed.
Brugmansia. Not all Angel's trumpet trees are fragrant but the ones that are, like the popular Charles Grimaldi, offer up a one of kind dreamy scent.
Ribes sanguineum. There's no mistaking the spicy scent of flowering currant. And it isn't just humans who are under the spell of these winter flowers -- hummers will find them in an instant.
Citrus. Let's not forget about our lemon, lime, orange and other citrus friends. It may be great picking the fruit when it eventually forms but first come the super fragrant flowers. Bees especially are drawn to the flowers.
Ornamental cherry trees. Though the perfume of these February blooming trees is more subtle, the flowers nonetheless exude a delicate sweet smell.
For something not as much of a commitment of space, there are a number of late winter perennials and bulbs that offer a similar perfume.Start with familiar fragrant bulbs such as freesias and hyacinth. They are some of the first to bloom in early spring. Add in bearded irises, some of which are possibly the most fragrant of all bulbs.
It isn't just bulbs. Certain primroses offer a heady fragrance, especially certain of the yellow flowering ones. Add in Viola odorata, a tough little ground cover with fragrant purple flowers. And lastly, for those who plant their sweet peas early, they will be treated to a cornucopia of sweet-smelling blossoms.
Personally, I think winter fragrant plants are a gift from the gardening gods, something to get us through until spring arrives.

Okay, here are a few photos from my garden, including a few of the plants mentioned above.

I want to dispel the notion that Moraeas are difficult to grow. Here's M. polystacha, one of the easiest. Soon to follow will be the dramatic M. villosa, known as Peacock moraea.

This may look like a fern but it's a club moss, Selaginella kraussiana variegata to be precise. I love its frilly look and bright green colors. 

It's the time of year for S. African bulbs and one of the first to bloom is this orange bulbinella. Very cheery and popular with bees.

One of my favorites in the Japanese-theme dwarf conifer bed is this curious Chamaecyparis Nana Lutea. I love the twisting 'panels.'

Lots of plants are described as having 'black' foliage or stems but this Datura Blackcurrant Swirl's stems are very, very black.

Last time out I posted a web photo of a Justicia rizzinii. Well, mine has finally begun blooming. Here's an open flower and one still budded. Charming.

Speaking of charming, my "what time of year is it anyway" Fuchsia denticulata is blooming. Such a great color combination.

I usually don't post photos of my Viburnum tinus but what the heck, it was feeling left out. It's formed a huge bush and is starting a new blooming period. Not as fragrant as the V. x burkwoodii but a great landscape shrub.

Finally a photo that does justice to my salmon Christmas cactus!! So lovely!

My Daphne odora marginata was started from a 4" pot less than a year ago and it's progressed steadily. I hadn't expected it to bloom in its first year but yea!!

Here's the aforementioned Viburnum x burkwoodii. It apparently can't wait for spring so has decided to bloom now. No complaints here. Such an intoxicating fragrance, sort of like daphne, only with musky overtones.

Another shot of my Rose campion. It has simply ignored the edict that one shouldn't plant it in the fall, that it'll suffer under the cold weather. Nope. It's added its own silvery tones to others in the narrow walkway leading up away from the street.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Welcoming garden

We have all wished our family and friends a happy new year but there is one more welcoming and that's from our gardens. Mine has welcomed me into the new year with camellias galore in bloom, with new bulbs popping up every day and fun little things still in bloom (dianthus, arctotis, lobelia et al). I even had one of those YES!! moments yesterday. I have an Agapetes serpens and once long ago and in a land far away it sat contentedly on my front house's porch, soaking up sun and blooming each year. Then it had to move and I put it temporarily in a much shadier spot. Where it sat. And sat. Got thrips. Got a worse case. I finally had to toss it or save it so I fought back with spinosad and fertilizer. It recovered then last year began vigorous new growth. And finally yesterday I saw a single flower! Miracle of miracles. I'm especially happy because I love this plant, so much so that it was one of the first columns I ever did for the SF Chronicle. So, welcome back agapetes!
Though we're still a long ways from Spring, I did find a few things to photograph on what sure seemed like a spring day. Here they are.

Orange alonsoa. Almost nobody knows of this species and Annie's is the only one propagating it as far as I know. Love that color!!

Melianthus pectinatus. This smaller sized African honey bush has finer-textured foliage, quite pretty to this gardener's eye.

Here's my sweet-smelling Edgeworthia, starting to open its little treasures. My walkway is being populated with fragrant plants -- for all to enjoy.

Liked the way the disappearing sunlight was dappling my Salvia elegans Golden Delicious.

Here's the aforementioned Agapetes. Of course this is one tiny flower but hopefully I'll see hundreds more in spring!

My salmon XMas cactus has changed to be quite pink this winter. Very pretty.

I mostly included this photo cuz I wanted to type its name -- Plectranthus Mike's Fuzzy Wuzzy. I think it may be related to Mike's Hard Lemonade ...

Here's my Camellia reticulata Frank Hauser, this time capturing it from a bit further back. One nice thing about reticulatas is that they grow faster and have more of an open habit.

My Black bamboo is finally getting a toehold. Here's a closer look at the signature black stems.

Even the leaves on this Fuchsia Nettala are interesting to me. This guy is a species type, meaning no Fuchsia mite, and it'll get big (up to 8')

Aloe species. I thought the "teeth" on this specimen looked cool backlit by the winter sun.

Although this shot isn't in perfect focus, I wanted to share the lovely hue of this Lobelia Magida Blue.

I think the unopened flower buds of Carolina Jessamine (a type of honeysuckle) are quite lovely. I like the "dimples."

Although this isn't my photo, I wanted to share a picture of my new Justicia rizzinii. Mine is budding up, ready to produce a great abundance of flowers.
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