Friday, March 27, 2015

A One Woman Tour

News out of this little corner of paradise is that for the very first time my garden is being photographed for an upcoming Oakland Tribune article on encouraging renters to plant gardens. I was first consulted by the writer and when she said "Can I send a photographer out to take a few pictures?" I said okay. Well, that turned into an hour visit by the photographer and a million photos taken (ahh, the luxury of digital cameras). Okay, so only a few will be used but it was fun (except for the part where she wanted me in the photo. Yikes). I keep telling myself to put my garden on one of the garden tours but it doesn't easily fit into any of the regular tours. If they had a tour for "Greatest diversity of plants in one garden" then mine would certainly qualify. Or a tour for "Small-sized Gardens" mine, which is really a collection of smaller gardens, would fit the bill. In any case, the article is due to run April 5th so keep an eye peeled.
I didn't attempt to make it a perfect looking garden, though I did weed the front bed that has lots of color now, to make it at least presentable. I was a bit jealous of the photographer's expensive cameras, which will no doubt result in some very nice photos. Hopefully, some will be posted online, assuming the story will also appear online.
Meanwhile her are a few more of my humble photos. I don't pretend to be a good photographer but I do like to photograph plants in different stages and occasionally go for an 'arty' shot. Mainly, the photos are a way to share my garden and to write a bit about each of these plants. Here they are:

Clematis 'Belle of Woking.' Possibly my favorite clematis, both for its large, double pale lavender flowers and its fat leaf 'buds' (shown here). I like photographing the bud phase of plants as there's a vital expectancy bursting forth. Also, I love the way the downy hairs on this bud glisten in the sun.

Sometimes, having only modest equipment and skill, plants with saturated color are hard to photograph well. A good example is this Sedum 'Lemon Coral,' which has yellow flowers against chartreuse foliage. The camera does its best but sort of freaks out at the same time (ack, too much yellow!) Still, it's my favorite sedum these days.

Speaking of hard to photograph, this sun-kissed Physocarpus 'Nugget' is my favorite of the many shrubs I have in my garden. And when it's in bloom, with the fuzzy, spirea-like flower clusters, it's ... well ... stunning!

Speaking of stunning, isn't this 'redwood' colored Dutch iris just a beaut? It's called 'Red Ember' and the lower falls are almost a reddish chocolate color. Never seen a Dutch iris this color. Can't wait for its brethren  to flower.

Everyone that visits my garden while this Leucospermum 'Veldfire' is in bloom always sorts of ogles it and asks "What is that?!" It IS pretty spectacular I'll admit. Before I could get it in the much larger pot it needed it rooted down through the bottom of the pot and I didn't want to risk severing that root, even though it had done so in literally an inch of soil on top of the driveway. So I finally got organized enough to construct a little raised bed around the base of this pot and the Eriogonum giganteum next to it. Hopefully they'll both be happier now. 

Speaking of Leucospermums, here's an unidentified one that I brought home from Ace. It came as a 'houseplant' and without any ID. I honestly didn't expect it to survive but it is now prospering. 

Among the many reasons to recommend Chamelauciums (this one is Purple Pride) is the fact that their flowers stay open and vital for weeks on end. This makes for an especially long blooming season for this tough Australian native. I suspect that its common name, Waxflower, owes more to each flower's durability than to it being waxy (which it isn't).

To paraphrase those milk commercials -- "Got weird?" You do if you have a Calothamnus villosus. Here's a closeup of the flowers which are, no your eyes are not deceiving you, sprouting from the branches themselves. And then the flowers are sort of odd too. That and their fire engine red color make them a real showstopper.

The garden can't be all hot colors so the more subtle tones of this Aloe striata are most welcome. Everyone knows that aloes grow slowly, except for a few like this not-fast-but-not-snail's-pace aloe. It has turned out to be surprisingly unfussy, though I'm still waiting for it to bloom. It will and the flowers are what lend this plant its common name (Coral aloe).

Leucospermum cordifolium 'Salmon Bud.'  Yep, it's Pincushion shrub season. This is a new addition to my garden and due to its small size I wasn't certain it would bloom this year. It must like its location as it's been forming new flower buds every week. Can't wait to see what their actual color is.

Dicentra scandens. I never get tired of photographing this plant. Vigorous to a fault, pretty yellow flowers dangling from slender vines and a very long bloom season. So why has it disappeared from the trade?

Arisaema thunbergii var. Urashima. I included a photo last time but here the spathe has fully opened. Notice the patterning on the tube of the spathe and then the spotting on the inside. These Jack-in-the-Pulpits mostly hail from China, Japan and the Himalayas, though there are a couple native to the U.S. They have always seemed very primal to me.

Azalea 'Mangetsu.' Simple but I like the combination of pink and white.

Speaking of 'buds,' here's a photo of my American pitcher plant (Sarracenia) putting out two new 'flower' stalks and buds. Of course they are carnivores, getting their nutrition from digested flies and tiny insects which get trapped inside the 'pitchers.'

Abutilon 'Lucky Lantern Red.' Though they are common, flowering maples are still lovely and they seem to bloom nearly year round.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Cleared for takeoff

As they say in the sports world -- "I'm calling it." Spring, that is. We're pushing on to April and there's no way the milder parts of the Bay Area are going to see 30 something degrees again. And the garden confirms that. Everything is coming up ... well, okay, not roses in my garden but everything else.
No verbal pearls of wisdom today, just the thought that I love every stage of gardening: the shopping for plants; the soil prep;  the planting; the tending and of course the fruits of one's labors. I also love the relationship as a whole, both with individual perennials as they evolve year to year and the garden as a whole. There aren't many things in our lives that bring pleasure from beginning to end.
And now the photos.

I always recommend Kalanchoes to those customers who want an easy, floriferous succulent. They're easy and beautiful, inside or out, very tolerant of different light conditions, not prone to disease.

I may have mentioned that I love Arisaemas. I have five and this A. thunbergii var. Urashima is always the first to shoot up. It produces its spathe seemingly overnight and though in this photo it has yet to open, you already see the 'whip' at the top.

Here's a shot of my 'Sun' bed, featuring the exuberant Mimulus 'Jeff's Tangerine,' as well as the 'sea' of Dorycnium underneath it. There's a Voltage Yellow osteospermum in there plus some colorful Ranunculus.

There's just no stopping my Marmalade bush and this shot was taken after I'd pruned it back! I think maybe you could hide a few small countries in there. Simply put, the happiest plant in my garden.

Campanula 'Blue Waterfall.' This hardy little evergreen campanula is a real joy. It's spilling out of a low pot that houses my Justicia brandegeeana. 

I had a wonderful surprise when I walked out in the garden yesterday. My once thought to be dead Dietes bicolor, which finally regrew last year after being mistakenly weed-whacked by a neighbor's gardener, had produced a new flower! I know it's a simple flower but I love the color and the delicate spotting. 

Clerodendrum ugandense. I love blue flowers so there's no secret why I love this climbing shrub. You'll need the room though, as it can easily reach 10' or more. 

Halimiocistus 'Merrist Wood Cream.' Here's another shot of one of my favorite low growing, spreading shrubs. Perfect for a rock garden and it's tough as nails. 

Here's more of a closeup of the Sun bed, with the osteo more in evidence. That ferny plant in front is Nigella 'African Bride.' If Nigella sounds familiar, it's because the common one is known as Love-in-a-Mist, a staple in Wildflower mixes and something that self seeds prolifically. This 'Bride' is a white not blue flowering variety. Very beautiful!

Some flowers look as much painted as grown and that's certainly true for this Phacelia viscida. The inner nectary has a delicate  patterning that adds to the charm of the inky blue petals. It's a CA native too.

Speaking of Phacelias, here's P. campanularia. This low, cascading CA native not only offers exceptionally vivid blue flowers but has a dark dusting on its leaves. Quite possibly the most popular CA bluebell.

Babiana villosa. I don't have a good photo of my plant so I'm borrowing this fabulous shot from Annie's Annuals. Most people associate babianas with the color purple or a reddish-purple but this one has a vivid cherry-red flower. Fabulous.

Speaking of fabulous, how about this passion flower? It's Passiflora parritae x tarminiana 'Oaklandia' and it was a stubborn customer. It's finally bloomed in year three and I'm thrilled. This photo is also from Annie's, as my first flowers are too high up to get a good closeup of. No corona but the color is fab! 

Finally here's a closeup of my Ribes sanguineum 'Claremont.' I love everything about flowering currants -- their lush foliage, the way they shoot up in a heartbeat, the fact they flower in late winter, the spicy aroma, the fact that my hummingbirds love the flowers. And did I mention they're tough and disease resistant?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Milkweeds and Monarchs

Monarch butterflies have been in the news recently and sadly that’s due to disturbing trends in their numbers and migration patterns. Their numbers have been declining steadily during the last 20 years, alarming those who monitor their populations. One thing is agreed upon, habitat loss both in Mexico and especially in the U.S. and Canada is the leading factor in their decline. Monarchs lay their eggs, and use as their primary food source, a variety of milkweeds. These Asclepias species populations have shrunk considerably, not just due to habitat loss but also due to the increasing use of pesticides in commercial farming. And increasingly, climate change is having a negative effect. Excessive heat can cause some die-off in Monarch populations, adding another stressor to their lives.
The most common milkweed that Monarchs rely upon is Asclepias curassivica, commonly known as Mexican milkweed because of its abundance south of the border. North of the border this plant acts as an annual, dying off when the cold weather arrives, providing one of several triggers for Monarchs to migrate south.
However, there is an increasing trend for this Asclepias to continue to grow and flower in the winter, disrupting this normal migration. Milkweed hosts a protozoan parasite called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE). As caterpillars, monarchs ingest this parasite and when they hatch from their chrysalises they are covered in spores. Infected monarchs are much weaker than their healthy counterparts and don’t live nearly as long. Migrating eliminates many of the sick monarchs, preventing them from passing the parasite along to their offspring. When the butterflies return in the spring, they have new, clean milkweed upon which to feed.

Native Milkweeds
This is where native species of milkweeds come in. There is some evidence that they are less prone to OE and thus less likely to pass it on to feeding monarchs. And native species do go dormant in the winter, thus not tempting monarchs to hang around. There are two excellent native species that experts are suggesting that gardeners can plant – Asclepias speciosa and A. fascicularis. Tough and beautiful, they will naturalize in your garden.
Love the A. curassivicas? There are ways to keep them. As fall lengthens, either cut them back so there is no danger of them blooming or simply yank them out and plant new ones in the spring. They grow quickly.

Monarch info source: For valuable information on Monarch butterflies check out and

And now a few photos from my garden.

Dicentra scandens. I've posted so many photos of this yellow bleeding hearts that I know I'm in danger of having regular viewers rolling their eyes (not again!). But I just can't fathom how this incredibly prolific, exceptionally pretty vine has disappeared from the retail trade. 

Ixia hybrid. Ixias are a fun bulb, there's just no denying it. Check out the hot pink of this one and that's just one of a bushel of colors that now populate the Ixia world. One of the THE easiest bulbs to grow and they naturalize real easy like.

There's blue and then there's blue. Lithodora is blue, with an accent on the royal end of the spectrum. My plant of ten years has finally just about given up the ghost so I decided to start anew. One of my favorite cascading plants.

Tulipa saxatilis. One of the low growing 'species' tulips, saxatlis tulips are fun and pretty reliable. This is the classic pink and gold but other colors combos have appeared in recent years.

Scabiosa 'Fama Blue.' The 'star' of my early spring garden, this pincushion plant produces huge flowers and this one has a rich purple hue. This is my plant's first offering so can't wait for there to be a bushel of them.

Stylomecon heterophyllus. This wind poppy has been a pleasant surprise this spring. I'd never grown it before and wasn't sure what to expect. But it has proved floriferous and there's no denying it's an awfully pretty orange.

Sometimes one's 'victories' can be with common plants, not just with difficult species. This little wine-colored viola just went crazy on the blooming this year and spilled over the ginger pot in a very pleasing manner. I've designated it my 'official greeter,' as it's right at the head of our walkway.

I was 'promised' a zillion yellow flowers on my Hermannia verticillata and that's what this specimen has delivered. The little yellow flowers also offer a subtle fragrance. Now that I know what it does, I'll have to find a place for it in the ground.

Halimiocistus 'Merrist Wood Cream.' This cross between a Cistus and Halimium has one of the great cultivar names (Merrist Wood Cream, what the heck is that?) Well, it turns out this cultivar was raised at Merrist Wood College in 1970 (that's in England for those non-Britphiles). Lovely color.

Speaking of interesting names associated with a plant, this Pandorea pandorana probably makes the top ten list. I mean, Wonga Wonga vine? There may actually be an explanation. This Australian native may be named after a large Aussie pigeon called a Wonga pigeon ( Leucosarcia melanoleuca). 

Clivia miniata. Here's a much prettier photo of my specimen. Okay, here's an example where regular water improved the results 100%. Richer color. More bloom spikes. Happier plant.

There's nothing quite like the inky blues of Phacelia viscida. This CA native starts blooming in March and though the flowering season is short (6-8 weeks) one is rewarded with the most gorgeous flowers imaginable. Plus they feature cool, speckled nectaries.

Homeria ochroleuca. One of the prettiest bulbs that nobody has ever heard of. Hard to imagine why, given it's simple, sunny charms. Another gift from the great pantheon of South African bulbs.

Dutch iris. Though simple and common, I do love Iris of all kinds, even the most common types, the Dutch iris. They simply express joy.

Verticordia plumosa. This Aussie native is a survivor in my garden. Animals have broken off branches and it's been temporarily covered up by other plants. It keeps on ticking, somehow fending for itself.

No doubt that somewhere there's a list of the 20 weirdest flowers available for sale in the trade and if true then those of the Asarum maximum would surely make the list. They're a weird combination of colors (deepest burgundy with a creamy pink center) and the two inch flowers are actually rubbery. Plus they sort of smell. The common name for this plant, related to the flowers, is 'Panda-faced ginger' but I'm sorry I just don't see it. Cool flower though.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Bee all that

Everybody loves bees visiting their garden (except those who are allergic - ouch). A variety of bees will visit your garden, especially bumblebees which are 'generalists,' but there is now "an app for that." It's the 'Wild Bee Gardens' app for the iPhone/iPad. It has expertly researched information on the great number of native bees in our Bay Area and which plants will draw them to your garden. Highly recommended.
Meanwhile spring "marches" on and finally we can now relax and accept that what we see with our eyes and what it says on the calendar somewhat matches. Now if we could only get a bit more rain ...
Here are more shots from my garden, which is in transition from late winter to early spring. Aren't we all?

Clivia miniata. To paraphrase those milk commercials -- "Got orange?" You certainly do with orange clivias. Here is one example where what they look like (primitive) matches what they are (primitive). One common misconception about clivias is that are bulbs, belonging as they do to the Amaryllis family. In fact, their leaves grow from thickening rhizomes or roots.They are closely related to Blood lilies (Haemanthus).

Acer 'Beni Maiko.' The bright red new foliage is one of the reasons I added this Japanese maple to my garden. Such a vivid color!

Impatiens congolense. This Congo Cockatoo plant is always fun to show people. First the brightly colored, waxy flowers (said to resemble a tropical bird's beak). Then the fact that the flowers sprout from the stems not, as usual for most plants, at the tips of new foliage. It likes bright shade or some morning sun and makes a great 'conversation plant.'

Abutilon pictum 'Thompsonii.' Though it's still very small -- it was planted from a 4" pot -- this 'flowering maple' is growing quickly and has produced its first peach-colored flower.One curious item about Abutilons. Hummingbirds love them but don't reach for the nectar through the open part of the flower, instead of sticking their tongues under the calyx to more quickly reach the nectar.

Kalanchoe 'Flapjacks.' This kalanchoe plant almost looks like a tulip tree (Magnolia) flower from a distance. I love its smooth surface, its waxiness and of course its color. 

Clematis armandii 'Snowdrift.' My new favorite plant in my garden, due to its amazing fragrance. Sweet and heady. Hard to understand why the straight species or the 'Apple Blossom' don't match this cultivar's sweet perfume but for those who like the color white and want something sweet smelling, this is the part or full sun plant to choose.

Freesia. It's unfathomable to me why freesias aren't in every garden where there's some sun. They're sweet smelling, colorful, are the easiest bulb (hell, plant) to grow and they multiply. Short of them serving you scones and lemonade I don't know what else you can ask of a plant.

Last week I posted a photo of a single Halimium flower. Here it is again, starting to multiply its blooms. I'll admit I like the three closest related of these plants -- Cistus (Rock rose), Halimium and their cross, Halimiocistus. All tough and pretty.

Dutch iris. Caught this yellow and white Dutch iris in the act of opening (hold that pose!). As Dr. Evil might say there are "One millll-yun" people who love irises. 

Here's another shot of my Peacock moraeas. I just learned that there other varieties of this species that have different shades of blue or purple, with some that are striped! I will admit to being a bit of a Moraea junkie.

It's 'name that plant' time again. This is a tough one but imagine there are hundreds not dozens of these small nodding yellow flowers. It's Hermannia verticilliata and those flowers are fragrant. It stays low and kind of spills, so would be perfect for cascading over a low wall.

Here's another shot of my front yard sunny bed, with red and orange Ranunculus, a Voltage Yellow Osteospermum behind them, a Mimulus 'Jeff's Tangerine' to the left and a newly planted Phacelia campanularia to the lower right. The latter will cascade and produce a bushel of rich blue flowers.

Brachysema celsianum. Here's another shot of my curious Swan River Pea plant. This morning the red flowers seemed like Cardinals (the birds) nestling in a tree. Or perhaps red flames running along the length of the branch.

I was looking for contrast here, pairing the silvery Eriogonum giganteum with the greens of Leucospermum 'Veldfire.' Although they look a bit like seed cones, those white orbs are flowers-to-be. I'm most certainly biased but I think the Veldfire is the most spectacular of all the Pincushion shrubs.

After giving me more grief than one rightly deserves, my Abelia sp. 'Chiapis' has settled down and is blooming very nicely this spring. As I had mentioned, this Abelia is noteworthy for being a cascader and for the fragrance of its flowers.

Here's my Kalanchoe sexangularis and to the right an Echeveria variety. So, just wondering, we all know that 'sex' used in this context means 'six.' So was it a Freudian slip, the transition from 'six' to 'sex?' Just wondering ...

Hemizygia. This Plectranthus relative has gotten a good toehold and is making itself at home. True to the reports, it does indeed seem to like sun (most Plectranthus appreciate a bit of shade).

Allium schubertii. I think of this species and the similar A. cristophii as the "exploding star" ornamental alliums. So pretty!
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