Thursday, May 29, 2014

In Praise of Begonias

Like many a gardener, there was a time when if someone mentioned the word 'begonia' I thought only of the common bedding begonia. No more. My eyes have been opened to the great and varied world of begonias, a genus that includes Cane-stemmed types, T-Rex types (okay, just Rex but someone should cultivate a T-Rex begonia), Rhizomatous, Tuberous and Semperflorens. I especially love sharing the great variety of Cane begonias with customers at Grand Lake Ace Garden Center. Once you have laid eyes on a B. Irene Nuss, it's hard to ever look at bedding begonias again. There is great variety, some of which is on display in my own garden. These include the odd but charming B. rex 'Escargot,' which yes has leaves shaped like snails; B. sutherlandii, a tuberous type with simple but delightful orange flowers, B. masoniana, known as Iron Cross begonia and containing rough-textured scalloped leaves and B. boliviensis, a photo of which leads off the group of photos below. So, a tip of the cap to the wild and wooly world of begonias.

Here's the aforementioned Begonia boliviensis, displaying its fiery reddish-orange flowers. Definitely a show-stopper.

Oxalis sp. This wild oxalis has self-seeded in my garden and I don't mind one bit. Very showy, with the contrast of orchid-pink flowers and green throats.

Hydrangea quercifolia. Now in the process of "taking over" my NW corner, it's started in blooming, with its elongated cones.

Speaking of taking over, that's exactly what I want my Ampelopsis (Porcelain Berry vine) to do. It's found the top of the fence and is slowly spreading. The bees have already found the tiny white flowers.

Clematis viticella purpurea'Plena Elegans.' This small, double burgundy clematis is one of my faves and this year I've been treated to many more flowers.

Orange masdevallia. This is one of the easiest orchids to grow and though not long lives (except in a greenhouse maybe), its golden orange flowers are a delight.

Digitalis 'Pantaloons.' This is a new "split" foxglove grown by Annie's Annuals. Not sure if you can see it here but the sides are split open.

Succulent table. Here's my ever expanding collection of succulents (the ones not already in the ground or part of the three succulent bowls). 

Lychnis chalcedonia 'Maltese Cross.' Simple bright red 'crosses' are the attraction for this tough deciduous perennial.

No this photo is not doctored! My Lobelia Magadi Blue just keeps blooming like crazy.

This Skullcap (Scutellaria suffretescens) has THE prettiest rose-colored flowers and is a tough little guy to boot.

This unnamed zinnia came home with me and if its first flower is any indication, it's going to put on quite a show this summer.

This Eriophyllum lanatum is one of the best kept secrets in the collection of CA natives available in our parts. Though it produces pretty yellow flowers, I grow it for the silvery foliage.

Raspberry breadseed poppy. Just the most sensational colors and then it leaves behind those curious ridged seedpods.

Everyone knows this guy -- Bird of Paradise, otherwise known as Strelitzia reginae. I had to dig this up, put it in a pot for the time being, where it has remained, half ignored. A little more water this spring brought it to life and here is my reward.

Cuphea ignea. One of the 'Firecracker' cupheas. It still has 'ears' like the bat-faced types but they're very, very small.

Cerinthe 'Yellow Gem.' Yes, there is a yellow flowering cerinthe, as evidenced here. It takes some getting used to, seeing the distinctive foliage but not the usual purple and blue flowers.

This series of Calibrachoas has one of my favorite names. They're called Mini-Famous double calibrachoas. Yes, the flower is a double and yes they are smaller (thus the 'mini) but 'Mini-famous'? So ... famous, but in a small way? No matter, I love the colors on this variety.

One of the succulents on my aforementioned table is this Cotyledon Elisae. Very charming!

Sometimes it isn't the flower but the flower bud! The unopened flower buds on this CA native Gilia capitata ssp. chamissonis seem to shimmer in the sunlight!

Lastly, another shot of my quixotic Impatiens niamniamensis (what, one 'niam' wasn't sufficient?). I like its former name -- Impatiens congolense -- even better (or its common name Congo Cockatoo, referring to the colorful beak-like flowers). Whatever you call it, it's pretty fabulous.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Pick of the Week Update

I am sad to announce that my weekly column, Pick of the Week, will be coming to a close at the end of June. The Home & Garden section is undergoing changes and there will no longer be room for it. For those of you have been regular or occasional readers I hope you enjoyed the columns and they provided some inspiration for your own garden. I will still be contributing to the Home & Garden section, though exactly how remains to be seen.
Meanwhile I will be continuing this blog. I hope to take up a bit of the slack with short pieces on individual plants, as well as tips on gardening. In that light it will shift its approach to being a bit more about gardening in general. I'm hoping that some of you who enjoyed the column will tune in to the blog now and again to check out the topics and tips to be discussed here. I continue on as a nurseryman at Grand Lake Ace Garden Center so have those experiences to draw upon.
I will still be posting photos of my garden, with brief descriptions or comments about those particular plants. I have over 500 different plants in my garden, so I have a lot to draw upon.

Here are a few photos taken this morning with, as usual, comments on either the plant itself or something about the photo's composition. Don't forget to click on these thumbnails to view photos full screen.

Dracunculus vulgaris. This is the (in)famous Dragon arum that has the gigantic deep burgundy spathe and even darker spadix. It is infamous partly for the unpleasant odor this spathe produces, said to smell like rotting flesh. It's not that bad but let's just say no perfume manufacturer is ever going to create an "Eau de Dracunculus." My spathe is about 15" but they can get as long as two feet!

Sphaeralcea incana. I'm not sure why globe mallows aren't better known. They have the loveliest, cup-shaped orange or rose-colored blooms (and lots of them) and in the case of S. munroana, beautifully scalloped, textured leaves. They're hardier than some other mallows and mine have never suffered rust problems. 

Buddleja 'CranRazz.' The Cran is short for Cranberry and the Razz for Raspberry one presumes. In any case, this variety sports gorgeous plum-colored cones. It's a dwarf, so doesn't get too big. Buddlejas are not only a butterfly magnet, they're popular with bees as well, making them a great pollinator plant for your garden.

Here's another shot of my Papaver Orange Chiffon. It's hard to get over how just how orange these flowers are. The petals' natural crinkles only seem to add to the experience, capturing light in interesting ways.

Penstemon 'Apple Blossom.' A vigorous penstemon with subtle colors, it's one that blends in well with other perennials. I have it planted with lilies, a variegated plectranthus, a low growing, fragrant abelia and several campanulas in a part shade location.

Verbascum nigrum. Not as well known as other mulleins commonly available in the trade, I have found it reliable, sturdy and very floriferous.Verbascums are another excellent plant for pollinators and so much more versatile than simply as an English garden staple.

I thought the single white flower on my Agrostemma 'Ocean Pearls' looked lovely nestled in among the gentian blue flowers of the Echium Blue Bedder. Like a white corsage on a vivid blue dress.

My favorite shot of the day. Sometimes you just luck out. This red Ladybug landed on the 'field' of Eriogonum 'Shasta Sulphur' flowers. Lovely!

There's no blue quite like that of Salvia patens. Royal blue might be a good description. After some early bad luck, this specimen has returned three years running, very vigorous each time. 

Sarracenia species. Here I thought the 'veining' on the flower looked exactly like blood vessels in the human body.

My recent column on modest-sized vines spotlighted asarinas and here's one of the loveliest -- A. erubescens 'Bridal Wreath.' It's made a nice little thicket in a morning sun location and is happily sprouting these white flowers with a bit of green in the throats. 

Clematis viticella purpurea plena elegans. That's a long name for such a small flower but this variety produces an abundance of two inch, fully double burgundy flowers that possess infinite charm.

Everybody's favorite true blue hydrangea -- Nikko Blue -- is off to its usual rousing start. I have to keep it in check cause it wants to cover everything in its vicinity.

Though nandinas aren't "sexy," they are wonderful landscape shrubs. Mine has performed admirably, not suffering the fungal diseases that often plague Heavenly bamboos (as they are called) in winter. As you can see, it's starting to bloom, the white flowers soon to yield black fruits.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Surviving the Heat

Hope everyone survived the heat spell, a real knock down drag out four days. And of course the heat is hell on gardens, especially those that don't have an irrigation system installed. Mine survived fine but only due to extensive watering. The heat reminds us to mulch, mulch, mulch and to water deeply to encourage deeper root systems and thus plants less dependent on frequent watering. Personally, it makes me glad I'm not living in an area that gets this kind of heat for five months of the year.
Okay here are some photos of the garden, starting with my lovely Apricot foxglove. It rebounded very well this spring, helped by getting more light and a little fertilizer. Looking at its pink flowers, I'm reminded of the amusing tendency for those naming varieties/cultivars to use any descriptive name besides the word 'pink' for flowers that are indeed pink. There are so many plants with pink flowers that describing something as 'Pink' is a kind of death sentence. So, here, we have Digitalis 'Apricot' for a flower that looks pretty darn pink to me.

Plectranthus 'Sapphire Dream' and Campanula muralis. It's my 'Shady Lane' bed, though with my Brugmansia mostly deciduous right now this bed's getting more sun than usual.That seems to have been beneficial especially to the Campanula.

I love how the morning sun seemed to almost add a Creme Brulee glaze to these nasturtiums.And it reminds me once again that in taking photos, sometimes your eye is not able to process what is going on in your viewfinder, leading occasionally to some wonderful surprises.

Likewise, I love the play of light and shadow on the first of my Nikko Blue hydrangea flowers.This I did see in lining up the photo, in this case making each little floret a kind of well that light disappeared into.

For some reason it's hard to get a good picture of my Anomatheca flowers. This comes closest to capturing their elusive charms. Rosy-red? Coral-red? Reddish-pink? Color, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Everyone's favorite Calceolaria (Kentish Hero), with its burnt orange 'pocketbooks.'After a poor year in 2013, it seems to have rebounded.

Scrophularia calliantha's flowers may not be big but compared to other species they're huge. Love the contrast of the lime throats and red petals.They have an amusing common name - figwort.

I'm still over the moon for Lupinus pilosus. Those royal blue flowers and silver-limmed, shimmering leaves!

Phacelia grandiflora. Less known but just as beautiful as the bluer species. The lighter color really shows off the radiating lines.

It's Lily season and this 'Honey Bee' is always one of the first to bloom. No fragrance but the burnt red splotches are certainly eye-catching.

Echium Blue Bedder. This guy just exploded with flowers seemingly overnight. Like other echiums, it's a bee magnet. Guess I must have a little bee in me ...

Everybody's favorite poppy (Papaver commutatum). Called Ladybird poppy, it makes me wonder if that is a homage to Ladybird Johnson. The first lady was famous for her love of gardening.

Centaurea gymnocarpa. For some reason, this year the flowers are more lavender than pink. Just as fabulous, no matter the color.They look great, flaring out from the species's silver foliage.

Dracunculus. This arum member with the long, wide deep chocolate spathe is one of the more striking "flowers" in the world of gardening. If you can ignore the stink, it's the most wonderfully exotic plant to grow.

Platycodon (Balloon flower). Just so cool, both closed and then open.One curious note -- this plant is used in many Chinese herbal formulas.

Echeveria subrigida. One of my favorite Echeverias. Love the red rims and the way the color of the leaves varies from mint green to a bluish green.

Asclepius curassavica 'Apollo Orange.' An orange twist to an old favorite.
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