Thursday, January 1, 2015

Name that Pea

A hale and hearty New Years to everyone. 2014 was a bit of a hangover but hope springs eternal.
Today I'm going to raise a topic that may be of limited interest to some but quite curious to others. It turns out that the description "pea-like flowers" actually applies to an astonishingly varied number of plants, spanning the entire globe. This thought has been brought to mind by a newly flowering plant in my garden, the curious Brachysema celsianum. This one, whose common name is Swan River pea (owing to its Australian homeland) comes by its common name honestly as it's part of the Fabaceae (pea) family. It features lovely beak-shaped deep red flowers that look like they will open to ?? but in fact stay closed. It features slender grayish leaves that provide an engagingly soft backdrop to the bright red blooms. It stays low, about two feet, and spreads. Being from Australia it is tough and drought tolerant. It blooms in the fall and winter so offers a splash of color during the 'off season.'
Interestingly, Fabaceae is the third largest family of flowering plants behind only Orchidaceae and Asteraceae. Its 16,000 species are spread all over the world (here a legume, there a legume).
It may have turned very cold in the Bay Area but for us sun lovers the blue blue skies are literally heaven sent. And of course our gardens love the one-two punch of rain and sun (as do the birds).
Here are a few photos, some taken today plus a few taken from my archives, showing plants that I'm noticing in my garden these days.

Cyclamen 'Salmon.' I love how this photo came out, with the deep shadow and then the pink flowers kind of exploding out of the darkness, like shooting stars.

This spotted bromeliad always looks interesting, no matter the season.

Bidens 'Hawaiian Flare Orange Drop' keeps popping out these colorful little flowers, not bothering to check its calendar to see what month it is. It looks more 'painted' than a live plant but then Nature is truly grand in its expression.

Where that Bidens is full of color, the leaves on my Eriogonum giganteum are a cool silvery gray, which is its own lovely color and somehow appropriate to the season.

Aloe striata plus Oxalis latifolia. This little corner of my front yard bed has become one of my favorite micro gardens. This area also includes some Sparaxis, a Hemizygia to the right and behind it my colorful Datura Blackcurrant Swirl. I am starting to discover the charms of densely planting a small area, including layered planting (bulbs underneath, ground covers on the surface and then vertical plants rising above).

This unidentified succulent in my neighbor's yard is beginning to bloom and I couldn't resist capturing its bright bursts of color.

This aloe, also in my neighbor's yard, has put up multiple spikes and is putting on quite a show. The Aloe genus contains over 500 species, distributed mainly throughout tropical and southern Africa, Madagascar and the Arabian peninsula. There are also a few species found in Mediterranean climates. Tough and prolific, with striking flowers, what's not to like?

Cupressus glabra 'Blue Pyramid.' This is a new addition to my dwarf conifer bed, though this guy will eventually get quite big. But at a growth rate of one foot plus per year, it's not going to get there very quickly. I call it my 'Icicle' cypress and love its look.

Here's the immediately recognizable leaves of Alpinia 'Zerumbet,' displaying the telltale gold and green striping. This is a great foliage plant where you want to add a bit of the tropics to your garden. It's not an edible ginger but does add loads of drama.

Jade plants may be common and almost invasive but that doesn't mean the flowers aren't pretty. This older specimen in my neighbor's garden is in full bloom right now so thought I'd share it. Botanically, it's Crassula ovata. Jade plants are a popular choice for those into bonzai and there are many varieties out there, offering gardeners a good choice.

This bird house makes a lovely silhouette against the sunset sky. That's a Japanese maple in front of it, now finally bare.

The first of my Hellebores is about to bloom. This one is H. 'Wayne Rodderick,' one of the 'purple' hellebores now in cultivation. Unlike many hellebores, that feature a green background and then a splash of pink or white, this hellebore is a solid burgundy color.

My Felicia amelloides keeps on flowering, impervious to the calendar or the weather. These guys need good drainage and once established are quite drought tolerant. For those of us who like blue flowers, it's one of the few winter blooming plants that will give us that blue fix in this season.

Nobody said Mahonias weren't tough and here's another case in point. I had to move this container of M. lomariifolia and 'temporarily' put it at the very back of my driveway, under an overhang. Of course that's where it's been for the last four years! But it still flowers reliably every year.

Speaking of reliable, my Winter Wonderland White Fairy orchid is a force of nature, blooming at least twice a year, even though it's been outdoors its whole life.

Chaenomeles 'Kurokoji.' Ornamental quince are one of the most colorful winter/early spring blooming shrubs. Noted for their toughness and ability to get established and thrive in almost any soil conditions, they are nonetheless tres, tres beautiful. The 'Kurokoji' offers blood red flowers and with a bit of water produces an abundance of flowers in late winter.

And finally here's the Brachysema mentioned in the opening. I didn't have a good photo of mine so borrowed this one off the web. Given the time of year, these little bursts of color almost look like Christmas tree lights. In any case, this guy will make a nice addition to my Australian native shrubs bed.

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