Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Man of Riches

Here's a little story. When I first came to the Bay Area, not knowing much of anything about the place, I once interviewed a well known local who lived in what he called the Penthouse Suite in San Francisco. When I entered his place it didn't seem particularly palatial but what I did notice was that there were piles of paper everywhere. Dozens of them. Before I could even start the interview he said "I bet you didn't know that I'm a millionaire." That seemed implausible but when I nodded he said "Yeah, if I had a nickel for every piece of paper in here I'd be rich." Okay, then.
I mention this because because the idea of being 'rich' is very subjective. And for me, having a garden that offers great diversity and an endless array of visual and olfactory delights, well I consider that to be truly rich. That is on my mind today as there is an explosion of color and new events in my garden. Of course one doesn't need the hundreds of different plants in a garden like mine to feel rich in spirit. Even a small garden has the amazing capacity to fill one's heart with joy. True gardeners know that the path (prep, planting maintenance) is also filled with rewards but there is something especially sweet with the final 'flowering,' no matter how that looks.
After that moment of mundane and sublime, here are photos of my garden on this last day of April.

Ixia viridiflora. I've always found this particular plant a kind of weird juxtaposition. On the one hand, Ixias (corn lily) are incredibly common and the hybrid color mixes are sold everywhere. They are called corn lilies because they used to multiply in corn fields. But. Ixia viridiflora's extraordinary color, some say a milky blue, some say aquamarine, is so unusual and rare that this particular Ixia doesn't seem like it could be related to the others. Just a sublime color.

Sedum 'Coppertone.' So many sedums, so little time ... This particular sedum has proved easy to grow, has maintained its color and nothing seems interested in eating it. So, all good.

Speaking of 'sparkling' sedums, here's a form of Jelly Bean sedum. Almost too tempting ...

Those in the know will recognize this beauty as one of those 'Hawaiian Flare Drop' Bidens. Indeed, this the HFD Orange variety. I love the "painted" effect of its patterning. 

And now introducing the "world's greatest lupine." Okay, that may be a bit of hyperbole but the vivid royal blue flowers on Lupinus pilosus are just too fantastic for words. Here they are in the bud stage. The leaves are also limned with silver.

Not that any proof was needed to demonstrate how much bees love Echiums but here's a foraging honey bee on a newly opened Echium Blue Bedder flower. Blue Bedder is the fast growing annual echium, a good way to quickly attract bees to your garden.

This Digiplexis flower spike looks like it's ten feet tall and stretching to the heavens but of course that's just the perspective. Still, this now rabidly popular cross between a Digitalis (Foxglove) and Isoplexis (Canary Island foxglove) is a vigorous "shooting star."

Got golden? You do if you have the delightful and beautiful Golden Chain tree (Laburnum anagyroides). This deciduous tree, native to Europe, likes some regular water, though I only need to give mine a deep soak once a month. A close look at its flowers gives away its membership in the Pea family (Fabaceae). The flowers are also lightly fragrant.

Leucospermum 'Salmon Bud.' Here's another shot of my new Leucospermum and this angle, from above, gives you an inkling of why the flowers are called Pincushion. That aside, it's a lovely and intriguing flower.

I like this shot of my Eucomis 'Sparkling Burgundy,'  where the dark ribbed foliage seems to push its way through the Phacelia viscida. Which is, in fact, what it's doing.

I like the contrast of this silver Tillandsia, covered in delicate silver hairs, with the broad coppery leaves of the Echeveria 'Black Prince' behind it.

Though the bed was still a bit too much in the shade, here's a new arrival -- Tolmiea menziesii. This is the variegated form. This shade lover has some curious common names -- Piggyback plant, Youth on Age, Pick-a-back plant and Thousand Mothers. These names mostly refer to its tendency to self-seed, spread and generally make itself at home, assuming there's some regular moisture.

On the other hand, this Eastern honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is quite drought tolerant once established. It is not fragrant like the common japonica varieties but makes up for it with brilliantly colored flowers.

OK, here's a pop quiz. What does this native plant and Elton John have in common? That would be 'elderberry,' the common name for this Sambacus canadensis and the name of an Elton John song ("Elderberry Wine"). But you knew that. While the flowers aren't overly showy, their pure whiteness contrasts nicely with the lush green foliage.

Snow in April? We should be so lucky (or rather Tahoe first then our reservoirs).  Nope this is a Snowball viburnum (Viburnum opulus). Just a fabulous, one of a kind shrub. Below is a closeup of the four inch wide flowers.

Kudos to those who can identify this 'shoot' coming up through the Heavenly Bamboo. Yep, it's a bamboo shoot, in this case a Black bamboo. Soon to be removed.

If this looks like a Buddleja (Butterfly bush) then in the words of Ed McMahon (so sorry if you actually know who he is as you must be ancient like me) "You are correct sir!" In this case it's a dwarf Buddleja called CranRazz. Dig that color, man!

Speaking of colors you need to wear shades around, above is a new very red Penstemon. It was okay the first year but now in its second it's much more vigorous. Fire engine red, perhaps?

And then here is the famous Orange Chiffon breadseed poppy, which is SO ORANGE that the camera can barely record its true color. Not only that, it has slightly taffeted petals. To paraphrase the movie "Spinal Tap," I give it an 11 out of 10.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Veggies are Pretty too!

I just finished working on a short article for the SF Chronicle on vegetables that have beautiful flowers. Normally we don't think of vegetables as having showy flowers (or even flowers at all although of course anything that produces 'fruit' must flower first). One could choose many vegetables or fruiting bushes/trees for such an article. My limit was five and so I chose squash, scarlet runner beans, chives, eggplants and pomegranates. Hopefully you'll get a chance to catch the article but briefly here are the reasons for my choices.
Squash. The 'star' of the veggie flower world, squash blossoms are not only exceptionally pretty (large and golden) but they have many culinary uses.
Scarlet Runner beans. The orangish-red flowers are so pretty that many people grow this plant as an ornamental. That said it produces a prolific amount of edible beans and one can collect seed for future plantings.
Chives. Chives are part of the Allium family, that also includes onions, leeks and shallots. They feature round heads of pink to mauve flowers and because this is a perennial you can let it flower.
Eggplant. Part of the Nightshade family, which also includes the tomato and potato, eggplants produce some exceptionally pretty flowers. Colors range from purple to mauve to wine-colored.
Pomegrante. These heavy producing bushes have such pretty reddish-orange flowers that they can be grown as an ornamental. The red flowers are followed by bright red fruit so it's one of the most colorful shrubs you can grow.

Papaver Lavender Semi-Double. This new breadseed poppy from Annie's is pretty fabulous. Larger and more open than the peony style breadseeds. And that color!

Here's the backside of the same poppy. I'd never photographed one from behind and it's an interesting look. You get to see the darker spots at the base of each section of the flower.

Centaurea 'Red Boy.' This new Bachelor Buttons from Annie's is indeed red (and not pink as has been available in Centaurea mixes). Alternately known as 'corn flower' because it used to grow in corn fields before agribusiness began spraying fields with herbicides, this is one tough, drought tolerant plant! And prolific.

Nigella 'African Bride.' Not many people know about this species of Love-in-a-Mist' and that's a shame. The striking contrast between the pure white petals and the deep burgundy 'hats' is quite lovely. I'm not big into white flowers but it's such a great color combo and it's so easy to grow that I usually grow it every year. I have not had luck getting it to reseed however, unlike its more familiar blue cousin.

Lotus 'Flashbulb.' My neighbor is growing Lotus as a ground cover and so I tried it out. It's done well and has formed a dense mat of its distinctive 'fern-like' foliage and then all those bright parrot's beaks.

Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame.' This now massively popular cross between a foxglove (Digitalis) and a Isoplexis (foxglove relative) contains the best of both worlds. It has the full textured foliage and larger flower size of the foxglove parent and the great colors and flower longevity of the Isoplexis. Rumors of new varieties have come to fruition. There is now an 'Illumination Raspberry' and 'Berry Canary.' Curiously, the Illumination Raspberry's leaves are narrower and less textured.

Tweedia caerulea. Who doesn't love blue flowers and this member of the milkweed family -- that means yes it is deer proof -- is actually a tough little customer. Goes largely deciduous in the winter but returns in the spring. It has those distinctive milkweed seedpods but doesn't seem to self seed like Asclepias plants are wont to do.

Bouvardia ternifolia. This nearly ever blooming perennial offers up the richest red flowers. It almost died this winter, not sure why as it was so mild, but am so glad it's back. I haven't seen hummers around it but then again they have lots of choices in my garden.

Asclepias curassivica 'Apollo Orange.' Here's the host plant for the Monarch butterfly, breaking out its first flowers of the year. It's proved its toughness by getting a toehold in lousy soil in a median strip bed.

Clarkia concinna 'Pink Ribbons.' Clarkias are sun loving CA natives but there is one species that prefers the shade and it's this guy. Pink Ribbons doesn't even look like a Clarkia (who mostly have round petaled flowers), with its finger-like flowers. A great plant for a shady woodland garden.

Speaking of shady woodlands, this Primula vialii would be right at home there. In fact I have this specimen directly above my Pink Ribbons in a sloping bed under a fir tree. I've discovered that this primrose wants regular moisture (you can't cheat on the H2O with certain plants) and goes dormant for an extended period (before popping up in spring). Worth the wait!

All you non-birders can skip to the next photo. Here's the best I could do (without a telephoto lens handy) to capture a female hummingbird sitting on her nest. It's just right of center and a bit lower. I knew hummers were using the tree in years past to build nests but this is the first time I've actually seen one.

Arisaema ringens. Possibly the sturdiest of all the 'Jack-in-the-Pulpits' this low growing arisaema has a lovely green and white striped spathe. Woodland plants, they like cool, moist conditions and rich, loose soil. Too bad this particular species is hard to find these days.

Succulent bowl #4. My newest succulent bowl, though it's now 8 months on. It's still filling in but gives viewers an idea of the combinations of color, texture and form possible.

Bromeliad sp. I'm finally starting to get the hang of my slowly expanding bromeliad collection. This is year two for this guy and I was so happy to see the colorful bracts appearing on a new shoot.

Aechmea fulgens. I was very happy to finally ID this Aechmea and this is year three for its blooming so it seems it will be reliable. This bromeliad features shiny, smooth, leathery leaves and these curious flowers. 

Here's stage two of my Amorphophallus kiusianus. You can see the thickening of the top section and the tiny colorful tip. This will open to its white horizontal spathe and vertical, dark burgundy spadix. Simply one of the weirdest but coolest plants on the planet.

Choisya ternata 'Sundance.' I'm not sure why but it took four years for this choisya to bloom. It's making up for lost time now, offering up an abundance of sweetly fragrant blooms. Heavenly!

Finally, another shot of my CA bluebells (Phacelia viscida). For some reason this year's edition (it's an annual) is much happier, with more flowers and the saturation of royal blue that is its calling card. So lovely.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Got spring?

Why yes we do. Well, we have spring as long as you don't count the missing rains. If it gets any worse for water in CA, we'll all be taking dust baths like the birds. The last two days the real enemy for us gardeners is the wind. It dries out plants a lot faster than the heat. You can mulch the soil to protect from the heat but you can't 'mulch the wind.' Be thee gone oh desert winds!
That annoyance aside our gardens are beginning to show their brilliant spring coats. Though this year it's been a slow slide into spring and not the winter in February and then spring in March two-step, there's still been a mini-explosion of color this last two weeks. Which means that gardeners are rescheduling everything that can be put off so they can be out in their gardens. To paraphrase Marlow (he of The Singing Detective), "Am I right or am I right?"
For those of us working in the nursery trade, our gardens are a stress free bit of glory, absent the craziness of long days at work. It's a bit strange to retreat from plants (work) by escaping into plants (our own gardens) but that's exactly right.
Anyway, here are some visual treats from one gardener's garden. Enjoy!

Leucospermum cordifolium 'Salmon Bud.' Here's the flower now fully open. It's a wonderful (and unique) color and it bloomed in year one from just  a two gallon size! For me Leucospermums are the kings of the Protea family.

Arisaema ringens. If you look carefully, you'll see the thick hooded spathe in the middle of the plant. The leaves have yet to unfurl so they are still obscuring the white striped green spathe. One of the easiest Jack-in-the-Pulpits to grow but sadly hard to find these days.

Cotinus 'Royal Purple.' The leaves on my Smoke bush have yet to acquire a deeper burgundy color but already the beginning of the wispy flowerheads are in evidence. I'm using it as a street tree, an excellent choice as this Cotinus species doesn't get too big.

Papaver 'Fringed Lavender.' This new Annie's breadseed poppy is a beaut. I would describe the color as a 'matte' wine purple. And of course it's fringed. Here one of the petals has already dropped but since this is the plant's first flower, I decided to take a photo anyway. Love that color!

Calibrachoa 'Dreamsicle.' Just a simple Million Bells but pretty nonetheless. It's anchoring the corner of a front bed, right next to our main walkway. And it's a sign to never give up on plants. It looked pretty dead this winter -- no leaves at all -- but miraculously it has returned. 

And they shall rise! That burgundy shoot in the center is my Eucomis 'Sparkling Burgundy.' Eucomis members are better known as Pineapple lily. The name owes to a tuft of leafy bracts that adorns the top of the flower spike and that is said to resemble that of a pineapple. The real attraction is the thick stem that houses rows of waxy white, pink or purple star-shaped flowers. Nothing like them and the Sparkling Burgundy throws in the great leaf color to boot. Eucomis are surprisingly sturdy bulbous perennials.

Salvia discolor. For those familiar with this 'black' sage there is simply nothing like it in the plant world. Start with the sticky white stems and light green leaves that are pure white on the undersides. Add in light, lime-green  bracts and then the coup de grace the darkest purple almost black flowers you will ever see. In fact the flowers look completely black until the sun brings out the dark purple palette. If you said "I'm making up a plant that has these qualities" it's likely no one would believe you. And it's easy to grow.

Sarracenia sp. American Pitcher plants are fun and easy carnivorous plants to grow. Here are two 'flowers' that are getting ready to open. As long as you can keep them moist and give them some sun they're an easy and reliable plant. And they have that "Je ne sais quoi."

Campanula punctata. This is the purple form of the sun loving, rhizome creeping bellflower. It has to be the easiest campanula to grow and actually makes a good ground cover. Flowers arise on 6-10" stems beginning in April and continuing through the fall.

Here's a shot of a bromeliad that was a gift from a friend. It's an epiphyte of course and so I just wedged it in the crook of a tree.

Viburnum plicatum. Here's a better shot of my V. plicatum, that I've managed to keep in a semi-dwarf state. While the white flowers are indeed pretty, it's the lush, deeply veined leaves that are the real attraction for me.

Choisya ternata 'Sundance.' This 'golden' Mexican Mock orange more accurately sports variegated  leaves of green and gold. It hasn't bloomed much in its first four years but now has many buds so this may finally be the year. ("Patience, grasshopper, patience.")

Primula vialii. Though this shot isn't in perfect focus, I wanted to share this unusual primrose with those that are unfamiliar with it. It is hard to find in the trade, which is odd because it possesses a singular beauty. Flowers first produce a spike of red buds and then slowly they open to sport tiny lavender flowers, starting from the bottom! Apparently the secret to growing this guy is to keep him moist and don't be worried about his long dormancy. I'll report back.

Iris louisiana 'Pastiche.' After a couple of poor years, this iris has returned to producing the flowers it should sport. They are large, 5-6" across, with white standards and lavender falls. Simply lovely.

Iris pseudacorus 'Holden Clough.' Although the species I. pseudacorus flowers are simple and in no way showy, this Holden Clough cultivar is quite the showboat. Yellow with heavily veined copper markings, it's a real standout. It's tough like other pseudacorus but prefers regular water. Can even be used as a bog iris.
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