Thursday, January 29, 2015

Garden as haven

If there is one thing that most enthusiastic gardeners agree upon is that our gardens can often be a soul-revivifying haven. A piece of paradise 'hidden' in the everyday world that surrounds. It doesn't really matter what type of garden one has, or how big, it can be a peaceful respite in which one can nurture one's inner self, as well as a place to feel that tactile contact with Mother Earth. Please pardon the bad pun but 'Can you dig it?' Indeed. It's also nice to know that our gardens provide a safe haven for pollinators and friendly bugs. They show their appreciation by visiting us as often as they can. And that's another reason for planting a diverse garden, especially one that provides flowers in all four seasons.
Okay, now for the pudding (the invisible segue here is that the 'proof' is in the pudding and that's the photos). The big news in my garden is the beginning of the bloom season for my Magnolias. The first are almost always the M. stellatas (Star magnolias), the ones with the 'finger' flowers. But my M. Butterflies has jumped in with its first flowers, just open this morning. My trees are still very young so the flower show is still a low key affair.

Babiana framesii. The markings on this flower remind me a bit of an unusual S. African bulb, Lapeirousia oreogena (google it). Very pretty and showcasing an especially lovely purple. 

I found this engraved stone at a shop in Nelson B.C. and it speaks for itself. It's 'mate' says "Weed it and reap!" 

Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium) isn't as well known as it should be. With very cheery lemon flowers and a bit of fragrance it's the ideal plant for putting along one's walkway (where mine is).

The wine colored violas have finally got to rock-n-rolling, finally complementing the Kalanchoe in this ginger pot.

Two foliage plants. That's Stylomecon heterophylla (Wind poppy) on the left and Oxalis 'Sunset Velvet' on the right. Eventually the Stylomecon will produce pale orange flowers, picking up on the orange in the oxalis.

Magnolia 'Butterflies.' The flowers are just now opening and at this stage the base of the flowers still offer up peach tones. The flowers will open to a butter yellow color.

Magnolia stellata. I love the flowers on these 'finger' magnolias. Such a glorious white and then the double fingers. Like most tulip trees, the flowers appear before the leaves.

Melianthus pectinatus. One last shot of my 'phoenix' plant (in the sense of coming back from the dead). I swear I was but months away from digging it out and tossing it. Maybe it heard me. Now it's gone crazy in the flowering department, though the flowers are tiny compared to those on the more familiar M. major.

You want indestructible (and who doesn't)? My Hebe speciosa just goes and goes and goes. Love the bi-colored flowers. So do the bees. If there were ever a plant that tries to please this is it.

Kalanchoe 'Flapjacks and Euphorbia polycantha (Fishtail cactus). Talk about mismatched lovers ...

Camellia 'Black Magic.' I love the textured, almost leathery look and feel of these flowers. Plus there's that color!

Here's a somewhat dramatic shot of a single flower on my Spirea prunifolia, otherwise known as Bridalwreath spirea. The tiny flowers are like perfect little roses. It's just starting, a bit early, but another plant fooled by the unusually early warm weather.

Sedum 'Sea Urchin.' I don't yet have a good photo of my specimen, in part because I cut it back, but here's a photo from the web showing how pretty it is when it spreads out.

Setaria palmifolia or Palm grass as it's known. This photo is also taken from the web, as it gives a much better view of the striations in each leaf. Not well known but perhaps it should be, given its unique beauty.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Blue = Green

Blue skies are back in Northern California, bringing us ... well ... not rain I guess is the sad answer. But our gardens, after all the rain in December, followed by the unusually warm days in this month, have conspired to make perennials bolder, bulbs pop up earlier and are tempting gardeners to plant the first of the spring annuals (sweet peas, breadseed poppies and the like).
Today's spotlight is on an interesting genus that many gardeners are unfamiliar with. Othonna is a genus of plants hailing from South Africa that is a member of the sunflower family. There is great diversity within the genus. Species can be pachycauls (with swollen stems), caudiciforms or dwarf and compact succulents. One unique group is made up of tuberous geophytes with subterranean rootstocks and deciduous leaves. Most feature small, yellow, daisy-like flowers, some of which are intensely fragrant. Not surprisingly they belong to the Asteracea family. Othonnas are closely related to Senecios. Though the caudiciforms tend to be collector's plants, there are a variety of more common Othonnas now on the market.
My interest in this plant was sparked in part from a visit to an acquaintance Russell's amazing greenhouse, where he has collected and is propagating a wide selection of these curious plants. I encourage those interested to do a little research online.
And now the photos. I was convinced I'd have to rely on archive photos for today's post but in fact the sunshine brought out the best in a few new arrivals.

Calendula 'Bronzed Beauty.' This flower hasn't fully opened but already gives us a sneak peek at its fabulous colors and patterns. I have a new-found respect for calendulas, after  growing both this and the equally vigorous C. 'Zoolights' last year. It's another flower that looks to have been painted by Mother Nature.

My 'wonderful surprise' plant of 2014 was this Silene 'Starfish.' It has settled in and has been blooming nearly nonstop since July. I not only love the color but the shape of the petals, which are sort of indented.

Calluna 'Firefly' (insert your own Josh Whedon joke here).  This heather keeps changing its appearance, like a sly chameleon. Last year it turned bright red in the winter and this year it's sporting lower bronzy foliage and blood red tips. In any case it's lovely and much appreciated by this gardener.

I'm sort of cheating including a photo of my Marmalade bush (Streptosolen). Yes I shot this photo today but it's at the very end of it's bloom period. It takes a break then usually resumes blooming in mid-spring.

If this verdant green plant looks familiar but you can't quite put your finger on what it is, it's because one is usually paying more attention to the flowers on Cosmos plants. I think this is C. 'Yellow Garden.' This plant sprung up where I'd planted a Yellow Garden last year and of course Cosmos are known to self-seed. Still. January?

Everyone knows this pretty Oxalis 'Sunset Velvet' (one of the more imaginative names I reckon. And if it goes deciduous would you then call it (Sunset) Velvet Underground?) I have it in a pot with a Mimulus bifidus Apricot. It should make for a very pretty combo.

It's Hellebore season and this Wayne Rodderick is usually one of the first to produce flowers. 

This isn't the greatest photo, or composition for that matter, and I only include it to wax poetic about the charms of Kerria japonica. This little known deciduous shrub has verdant ribbed leaves and cheerful yellow flowers. This double form is Pleniflora. One of the most cheerful and hardiest plants in my garden.

Camellia 'Silver Waves.' I tend to take this camellia for granted, it being the first in my garden, and the simplest. But it's prolific and the flowers are quite a good size. It has adapted to liking a good amount of late morning/early afternoon sun.

Speaking of hellebores, here's one of my faves -- H. argutifolius 'Pacific Frost.' Love that speckling! As I tell our customers at Grand Lake Ace, you need to take into consideration the foliage, as the flowering period is brief and then you have the foliage for the rest of the year.

I would love it if anyone could ID this Plectranthus for me. It has a curious leaf structure, making towers where larger leaves half shield smaller inner leaves. It's fuzzy but not one of the succulent types.

Though the plant is very small and this isn't the greatest photo, this is another of my new arrivals from the visit to Russell's greenhouse. It's an Ornithogalum concordiana. It's notable feature is its curly foliage. I didn't realize that this leaf pattern is part of a larger grouping, all featuring curling or twisting leaves. Some have called them "Twirls and Curls." This Ornithogalum is from South Africa and like other species is classified as a bulb.

Lachenalia tricolor. This Cowslip comes by its species name honestly, sporting distinctive red, yellow and green sections. One of the most prolific bloomers in my Lachenalia collection.

Finally, here's a new arrival to my garden, Rhipsalis pilocarpa, sometimes known as Mistletoe cactus. This epiphytic cactus hails from Brazil, though the Rhipsalis genus itself is widespread. The botanical name derives from the Greek, the word meaning 'wickerwork.' R. pilocarpa has stems (and fruits) heavily covered with bristles, making it a unique species in this genus.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

January or June?

Not a trick question -- okay maybe it is -- but a comment on the unseasonably warm days we're having. Those of us in the Bay Area are of course already dusting off our rain dance boots as we need much much more rain. Or to be more precise, the Sierras need much much more snow.
I'm a little short on inspiration (of the gardening variety) or perspiration (to write something substantial about a plant), so today the sharing is of the visual kind. That is, more photos of my garden, though of course I always add little tidbits about each of the plants displayed. I'm trying to expand some of those tidbits, as the occasion warrants.

Winter has come to equal succulents in many people's gardens. It's not just that winter is the 'off' season but that many succulents are at their best in the colder months. Here's a shot of my Aeonium 'Suncups'  (suitably enjoying the sun).

Just winter color, these pansies, but they complement the chartreuse foliage of the newly emerging Filipendula.

When I planted my Trachelium 'Hamer Pandora' it was green for the longest time. Hmm. But in the last few weeks the foliage has turned its characteristic bronzy-purple. Long before the hydrangea-like heads of purple flowers appear, I get to enjoy this distinctive foliage.

Though just starting to rebloom, this Erysimum 'Winter Sorbet' has put out its initial multi-colored blooms. 

I'm now calling my Oxalis penduncularis "The Octopus" for its gangly curving branches, each topped with a ball of bright green leaves.

My Chamelaucium has decided to test the waters by opening a few of its many flower buds. I didn't get this photo quite in perfect focus but it was so pretty I decided to include it.

I'm now engaged in a kind of death stare match with my Puya, daring it to finally bloom after eight years. So, yeah, it's a contest of wills at this point.

I'm loving my Melianthus pectinatus these days. Not just because it finally flowered after so many years but due to the singular, lush foliage. This plant, which I never knew needed a steady supply of water, is an example of needing to pay attention to each plant's individual needs.

On the other end of the spectrum we have my fourth succulent bowl. It's newly planted so the plants are still small. Contrast that with succulent bowl #3 below. Over a year old now, it's a study in the growth rates of different types of succulents. The big guy in the middle is an Aeonium  lancerottense and I knew it was going to get big. It'll be transplanted into the ground this spring.

Heliotropium 'Alba.' As I share regularly with customers, the white heliotrope is far more fragrant than the purple one. It's supposed to be longer lived as well. I love the textured leaves, as well as the dainty white flowers. Noses (as it pertains to smelling these flowers) fall into two camps -- talcum powder or vanilla. Which are you?

Speaking of plants with a 'food' connection, here's a shot of my delicate Camellia 'Buttermint.' Though it is supposed to exude a light fragrance (it doesn't for me) I think the butter part of the name refers to its subtle yellow center.

Here's a new photo of my O.R. (original rhodie). It really is this vivid fuchsia color. Lots of rhodies have a paler color as part of the flower but this one is a solid pink throughout.

Want a 'winter' shot? Here's one -- my Coral Bark maple's red stems shown off to good effect against the grey stucco wall.

Hydrangea 'Nikko Blue.' If your first reaction is "An hydrangea flower in January" and your second reaction is "This is a Nikko BLUE?" there is an explanation. I left this 'dying' flower on the bare plant and it gradually 'faded' to a soft pink. Sometimes 'death' can be interesting, even pretty, to photograph (when it comes to deciduous plants that is).

Here's the walkway leading back from the front area towards the studio apts in back. It gives you an idea of the narrow spaces I have to work with here.

Ferraria crispa. I had my first flower open yesterday but it was a bit small and the light wasn't right. So I raided my archives and found a photo of the flower from last year's blooming. What can you say, they're just spectacular flowers -- weird, cool, unique, impossible (who in the Making a Flower committee in the Nature Hall dreamt this one up?) and perhaps most unlikely of all it's hardy and a prolific bloomer.

Echinacea 'Summer Sky.' Okay, it's not summer and the sky isn't this color so ... wait ... okay, I've got nothing. Someone had clearly had a few drinks in naming this one. But it's a pretty flower nonetheless and it's a nectar rich plant so bees adore it.

Sphaeralcea munroana. This is a low growing, mounding globe mallow. This shot is from two years ago when it was in full bloom. Why here now? I had to replace it last year and for the first few months it looked like it would die. But it's settled in now and I see some flower buds so I am thrilled to have one of my favorite plants back.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Year Round Garden

A year round garden may not be practical for many parts of the country but here on the West coast our winter weather is tempered by the Pacific ocean. That allows those so motivated to garden year round, though there are days, even weeks, where only hardy souls will be out tending to their garden. Here in Oakland, which has one of the most ideal climates of the non-tropical regions, it is indeed not only possible to be out in the garden in January but at times entirely pleasant. Such was the case today and even though the clouds are out the temps are very mild.
Of course the milder temps in winter can confuse certain plants, making them think spring is on the way. I've heard of people who "talk" to their plants. Unfortunately, I'm not sure my plants would listen if I told them "No, no, this isn't really spring. Stay in the ground!"
That's okay. They know the drill by now and are used to the highs and lows. In fact, I wish I handled my own ups and downs as well as my plants do.
Here are a few more photos of my 'winter' garden, most taken today and a few from my archives.

Agapetes serpens. There are some plants that are more unique than others (though uniqueness like beauty is in the eye of the beholder) and this evergreen shrub is one of them. First you have the flowers hanging underneath the branches. Which is similar to many heathers. But add in the papery feel of the flowers and you have a plant that's unlike just about anything else.

Abelia 'Kaleidoscope.' After a slow start my variegated Abelia is looking good. It still has yet to produce much in the way of flowers but since I wanted it primarily for the foliage then that's quite fine by me. 

Daphne odora marginata. It may be the most common Daphne but that doesn't mean it isn't pretty. And like many shrubs, the unopened flower buds are sometimes as pretty as the open flowers. That's certainly true for many daphnes. Incidentally, the genus name is from the Greek myth. Daphne was a lovely maiden and was pursued by the God Apollo, whose advances she spurned. When Apollo was about to capture her, Daphne's father Peneus turned her into a plant to save her. Apollo was still so smitten he then set out to tend to his special plant, to see that she prospered. Apollo as a faithful gardener? In this case, yes.

Justicia fulvicoma.This sweet little 'Plume flower' isn't as showy as some of its species mates but it has its own subtle charms.

Here the aptly named Campanula 'Blue Waterfall' is doing just that, spilling over this low bowl. It's a perfect compliment to the taller Justicia brandegeeana above it. 

I take so many photos of individual plants -- it's the nature of my garden -- that I have to remember to take a few "group" photos. I can almost imagine my saying to the plants "All right, Lepechinia, can you move a little closer in so I can get you in the photo." That is indeed the "Salvia-type plant gone wild" in the upper left. The charming and unique Cunonia (Butterknife tree) is in the middle. And snaking upwards on the right is my variegated mint bush (Prostanthera). "Can't we all just get along?" In this case the answer is yes.

This may not look like a Sweet olive but it is indeed an Osmanthus. In this case O. heterophyllus 'Goshiki.' Yes, it does have serrated leaves and yes it's incredibly slow to flower. Hmm, maybe the other Sweet olives kicked it out of the family!

Echeveria species plus Ornithogalum umbellatum. This Echeveria is proof positive that these guys can be just as happy in the ground as in pots. In fact, mine only began to prosper once I did relocate it to the ground. The vertical shoots sort of in the middle of the Echeveria is the Ornithogalum (Star of Bethlehem). It's a late winter blooming bulb, producing sweet little white flowers.

I have come around to feeling that Dianthus are one of the great little common plants in the trade. They're tough, prolific, adaptable, come in a variety of flower colors but also types of foliage. I happen to like the ones with a bluish foliage as is the case here. The bright red flower really pops against that foliage. 

Though this shot isn't in perfect focus, I include it as much to give an example of what I talked about in the lead-in discussion. Filipendula ulmaria is a deciduous shrub and mine did indeed lose its foliage in early December. But by the end of December it was already putting out new growth, obviously confused by our recent warm weather. I guess we'll see what happens next.

I planted this Fuchsia 'Rose Quartet' late so it's just now starting to produce flowers (another plant that's not paying attention to the calendar). I like the simplicity of the rose pink petals and the white sepals. 

To paraphrase Wayne's World "Plectranthus rule!" Indeed, many a gardener has fallen in love with these tough, pretty and versatile plants. Here's the low growing, spreading P. 'Troy's Gold.'

Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens). Though not as fragrant as say honeysuckles, it has the prettiest flared yellow flowers and enough fragrance to be enjoyable. Mine seems to bloom whenever the mood suits it. 

Phylica plumosa. I just love this South African native. It has the fuzziest and softest plumes, so soft you wish you could make a feather duster out of it. It turns out to be tougher than its reputation and has even been happy in a pot for me.

I call this my O.R. (not to be confused with an O.G.), standing for my Original Rhodie. I planted it so long ago that I no longer know its variety name. It's almost always the first of my rhodies to bloom, though it usually 'previews' its spring show with a few January blooms.

Ferraria ferrariola. Mine has yet to bloom (though it will in ~ a month) but here's a photo from the web that shows why I'm so stoked. Just breathtakingly beautiful and weird.
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