Friday, March 28, 2014

Bulb Heaven

Among the many pleasures of Spring gardens is the advent of colorful bulbs popping up to display their cheerful charms. My garden is filled with them, covering a wide range of types. Outside of tulips, crocus and hyacinths, which need more of a winter than those of us living in a mild zone can provide, most other bulbs return faithfully each year. I've utilized every bit of my gardening space for perennials, leaving the bulbs to push up through them in spring. This multi-level planting isn't just an efficient use of space; it creates a bit of a natural or wild look to those beds (which I like). It's also fun to first spot their appearance in the garden, not always recognizable at first until they clear the plants around them. Right now it's freesias, sparaxis, daffodils and iris in bloom. And the first of my lilies have already pushed their heads up. One little tip about bulbs. They really benefit from regular water as they're first growing, then blooming (there's a reason they are spurred by spring rains). During dry spring seasons make sure to water them. I also fertilize mine with a bloom fertilizer once they get ready to flower.
Here are more photos from the bounty of my spring garden, starting with a second photo of my clivia. For reasons I don't understand, this year the flowers were especially vivid, and with more red than in years past.

Speaking of bulbs, Bearded iris rank right up there with people's favorite bulbs. Not just the large, extravagant flowers but many are fragrant (as is the case with this I. Joyce Terry).

Clematis 'Belle of Woking.' Double form clematis aren't common but they certainly are showy. This variety has one other nice attribute -- it begins a greenish-white then colors in, becoming a soft lavender color.

There's a lobelia called 'Waterfall' and even though this is a Magadi Blue, it does rather resemble a blue waterfall.

Physocarpus 'Nugget.' I'm always amazed that certain shrubs (Physocarpus, Viburnums, Spireas to name a few) can progress from bare to leafing out to flowering in such a condensed period of time. This 'Ninebark' is in full bloom, smothered in corymbs of pure white flowers.

Scabiosa lavender. Pincushion flowers, as they're sometimes known, may be common but that doesn't make them less pretty. And they're a favorite destination for butterflies and bees in my garden.

Iris 'Eye of the Tiger.' I'm particularly fond of the colors on this Dutch iris. And with a few drops of rain from the previous night still clinging to its petals it looks especially lovely.

Leucospermum 'Veldfire.' Whenever I'm telling a nursery customer about this fabulous Leuco and I show them the closeup photo in our Proteas book (Leucospermum is part of the Protea family), I know what they're thinking ("Mine will never look like that"). Au contraire. Here's living proof that this species does have the most outrageously beautiful flowers. I actually like this stage, before the flower has fully opened, the best. Love that 'fur.'

One of the prettiest Aussie shrubs that nobody has heard of, this Verticordia plumosa is in full bloom right now. Tough, drought tolerant, floriferous. End of discussion.

This Aeonium species is getting ready to open a 'shooting star' head of flowers and I thought a top-down photo offered an interesting view.

Grevillea 'Moonlight.' I took this shot to illustrate the four stages of flowering on this showy variety. Center-right is the budded panicle; to the far right is the open flower in all its glory; center-left is the flower as it's fading and far left is the final seed-pod. One of the most distinctive and spectacular of all grevilleas, Moonlight is my favorite.

New succulent bowl. An empty bowl is a dangerous thing for me and it led to me doing a third succulent bowl. I'm taking a different approach here. The larger item is an Aeonium escobarii, which in time will take over the entire bowl. In the meantime, the bowl is acting as a "nursery" to grow the other little guys, to be moved at a later stage.

Here's an example of a bulb bursting up through a perennial bed. This is a top down shot of a Lilium regale, making its way skyward through a surrounding plectranthus and low growing abelia.

Though in front of my neighbor's house, this median strip is a joint effort of my planting, their planting and Mother Nature. It has a pleasingly wild look, with self-seeded CA poppies already in bloom, plus a red arctotis and a red euphorbia.

Berberis 'Orange Rocket.' A soon-to-be addition to my little Japanese Garden plot, this lovely barberry is about to burst into bloom. Can't wait!

This peach-colored Heuchera almost died out, at one point smothered by daylilies in the same bed, not to mention weedy grasses. After a good weeding, the sunshine has spurred new growth. It's part of a 'sunshine' bed, featuring golden colors.

Sedum 'Jelly Beans.' Okay, I'll admit to just loving this sedum. Great color and great name. I'm at work right now on an article for Pacific Horticulture Magazine on sedums. Stay tuned for that.

Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender.' I have to laugh at myself sometimes. When I've run out of ideas in recommending shade-loving plants to a customer I often fall back on suggesting plectranthus. There's a reason for that. The lot of them are tough, drought tolerant, easy to grow, plus they have pretty salvia-like  lavender flowers.  

My unidentified fern has sent up a new 'fiddlestick.' Kind of cool and very prehistoric (ferns were already here during the time of the dinosaurs).

Geranium phaeum. I call this tough little species the Monet of  geranium world. It has soft, expressive forest-green leaves, distinguished by purple markings on the new leaves. The flowers are a soft purple, the look more "matte" than glossy (thus the Monet reference). Lovely.

Scrophularia auriculata variegata. Quite a mouthful for a simple plant that has been known for centuries as Figwort (or Water figwort owing to it liking moist environments). The flowers are small but it does lighten up a dappled shade location.

Rhododendron 'Sappho.' Back from the dead, this rhodie is now making itself at home in the back yard, where it gets a decent amount of morning sun. The flowers remind me of Raspberry Swirl ice cream!

I love viburnums -- I have four different species in my garden -- and this V. plicatum might still be my favorite. Love the pleated leaves and their fresh green look and then the white flowers really pop. I'm keeping it well trimmed to keep the walkway clear, giving it a kind of large bonzai look.

I was very excited to see brink bracts emerge on this tillandsia a few weeks ago and lo and behold here are its first purple flowers. Lesson? Don't give up on them flowering and do fertilize them!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Return of Old Friends

One of the very nice things about Spring is that we see the return of "old friends," be that bulbs returning to offer their show of color, the flowering of late winter shrubs or the re-emergence of deciduous perennials. Call it a Rite of Spring if you will but for me it's like seeing old friends again. I walk through my garden and reacquaint myself with these floral companions. Except for those plants that go completely dormant and that have re-emerged from bare earth, it's like the other shrubs and perennials are slowly waking from a slumber. Their 'bare bones' have been there all along but their leafing out is like someone opening their eyes and starting to stretch. There is a particular joy in watching plants leaf out in the spring. The fact you know they're going to do that doesn't diminish the joy one feels in seeing them burst forth.
Here is a sampling of the color in my garden these days.

Dutch Iris are always a lovely sight and lately I've been planting yellow ones.

Speaking of yellow, here's a photo of my Halimium, now fully recovered after surviving a near death experience in a pot. It's planted in a median strip with other yellow bloomers -- a Butterflies magnolia, yellow daylilies, an Alyogyne hakeafolia and Bidens as a ground cover. 

Calothamnus villosus. This is my plant of the month. This Aussie native has one of the most interesting flowers you've ever seen. First off, they sprout from the stems themselves, not at the tips of branches. The flowers look like fan coral and the main tubes are surprisingly stiff, with only the fringed edges being soft. Fabulous.

This lavender freesia is new this year and the individual flowers are especially large and fragrant.

 Selaginella kraussiana. This variegated form of Club moss is to me one of the prettiest of all ground covers. It really does prefer shade so if you're looking for something pretty for full shade and you can give it a little regular water, Selaginella is your guy. Good for terrariums too.

I know nasturtiums are common but many are particularly beautiful. This one is growing up the base of my Porcelain berry vine.

Arisaema thunbergii var. Urashima. If you've been reading my blog you know I love Arisaemas and here is why. Love the markings on the "tube" and then there is the deep chocolate color of the spathe head. The Arum family contains so many strange and wonderful species!

From the unusual to the common. Here's the first flower on what I refer to as my "Original rhodie," as it was the first one I planted many moons ago. It's variety name is long lost but it's usually the first one to bloom.

Speaking of Rhodies, here's a shot of my lovely R."Sappho."  It has been acting very strangely, first producing blooms back in November. Its true blooming period is April to June so even mid-March is early for it.

Tradescantia 'Sweet Kate.' This golden tradescantia sits below a deciduous hibiscus, adding a little color to this small bed. Its eventual deep purple flowers are a lovely contrast to the yellow foliage.

Azalea 'Mangetsu.' Nearly killed by thrips, this uncommon azalea has rebounded nicely. Here's a shot of it partly in shade, adding a nice texture to the photo, as if one were walking through a wooded area and suddenly came across this azalea beginning to flower.

Streptocarpella saxorum. Although the flowers on this shade-loving, semi-deciduous perennial are certainly pretty enough, one thing I particularly love about the plant is its nearly translucent stems. Very unusual and cool. Another great plant for a very shady area.

Extra bonus points if you can name this bulb. It's a South African cutie named Homeria ochroleuca. There's something about them I find enormously charming. They're very hard to find in the trade but our nursery (Ace Garden Center in Oakland) has managed to find some in 4" pots and I couldn't resist taking one home.

This daffodil (N. Orangery) has a neat rick. The corolla starts out a bright golden color but then ages to a peach color. I've always wondered how it does that ... and why?

Phacelia viscida. My favorite 'bluebell,' this species has the most vivid, gentian-blue flowers. And the patterning in the nectary is so beautiful.

While this pansy is certainly pretty enough to warrant a photo, it was the visitor that made me snap this picture. Ladybugs (or Ladybirds as they're called in England) may be cute but they're also voracious aphid eaters. Yea!

Justicia brandegeeana. The aptly named "Shrimp bush" is one of my favorite plants. Despite listed as a part shade plant, I find that here in Oakland it likes quite a bit of sun. And where the heck did that long species name come from? Looking at it yesterday, I realized that one humorous interpretation could be that it combines three girl's names: Brandy, Gee (a Filipina name) and Ana. I guess the person who discovered this species couldn't choose just one name!

Ornithogalum umbellatum. This cute little Star of Bethlehem makes for a great ground cover for a sunny bed. Sweet!

While it's hard to get a good shot of Pulmonaria, here are the first flowers on my specimen. I thought it was dead last year as I saw no sign of it. So gave up on it. To my surprise it reappeared in January and has been blooming again. Some plants you just have to ignore.

Calluna 'Firefly.' This great little heather had the most brilliant red foliage in the winter but now that the weather has warmed up, it has lovely, golden new growth.

This isn't the best shot but I couldn't resist posting a photo of my Physocarpus 'Nugget' producing its first flowers. Something about the delicate white flowers against the rich golden textured leaves makes for a nice photo.

For those familiar with Trachelospermum asiaticum the very fact that I have something to photograph will be recognized as a victory. Extremely slow growing, mine has taken four years to get to 30" wide. Still, the coppery new growth mixed in with the greens and whites makes for a lovely sight.

The hard won victories are the sweetest, isn't that what they say? This Iris 'Joyce Terry' was in bloom when I bought it but then didn't flower the last two years. Bearded irises can be finicky and I'd almost given up when I saw a bloom spike this year. You can see why I was overjoyed to have it back.

Speaking of survivors, this Halimiocistus 'Merrist Wood Cream,'  which I have planted in a median strip, has suffered all manner of ignomies. Branches kept getting broken, it seemed unhappy and I was about to throw in the towel when I thought "Okay, I'll cut it back hard and see what happens." That pruning has prompted much healthier new growth and last week its first flowers.

Dicentra scandens. As I've mentioned I have no idea why this yellow Bleeding heart is largely no longer in production. Beautiful, vigorous and very long blooming, it's much more reliable than most pink dicentras. 

My favorite Salvia, S. discolor has the blackest flowers of any salvia and one of the darkest of any flower. In the light, you can see that it's actually a very deep purple and the pale lime bracts offset it very nicely. One of the toughest sages to boot.

It's a bit of a mystery to me why deciduous azaleas aren't more popular. The best known ones, Exbury hybrids, feature a fabulous array of golds, oranges and reds. Sun lovers, they add a splash of bright color where it can best be enjoyed.

Speaking of color, my indefatigable Streptosolen is back blooming. Being in my front yard and in bloom much of the year, it probably draws more attention from passersby than any other plant. Hummingbirds and titmice love it and the hummers will come over for nectar even if I'm two feet away.

Begonia 'Irene Nuss.' My favorite cane-type begonia, in part for the extravagantly lobed and burgundy-red backed leaves. Easy to grow and very floriferous, it makes a great addition to my morning sun raised bed.

Viburnum plicatum. It amazes me every year how quickly this deciduous viburnum leafs out then begins producing flowers. As you can see, the buds open to greenish flowers, which then mature to a lovely white.
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