Friday, May 29, 2015

Who's Your Monkey?

Today I'd like to pay homage to one of the most beautiful and hardy California native plants -- Mimulus aurantiacus, better known as Sticky Monkey flower. This tough local bush, which can easily be spotted when hiking around Northern California, now is available at nurseries in a variety of colors, thanks to enthusiastic propagators. The straight species is a apricot color but that's just one's entry point. Other varieties include Garnet (Blood red), Pamela (yellow with white edge), Creamsicle(pale cream color), Ethan (red), Jeff's Tangerine (soft orange), Lemon Yellow (yes, lemon), Curious Monkey Orange (saturated orange) and Curious Monkey Red (brighter red). Just to name a few. When customers at our nursery ask for a colorful native, Mimulus is one of the first plants I think of. They love warm, dry conditions and 'play well' with other drought tolerant plants.
And now a few photos from my late May garden.

Heliotropium 'Alba.' As I mentioned before, for some reason the white version of the Heliotrope plant is much more fragrant and longer lasting than the purple. Two fun facts about the purple plant -- it is also known as 'bloodstone' and there is a color in the paint wheel called Heliotrope purple.'

Calceolaria calynopsis. Here's another shot of my fab new Pocketbooks shrub. Ladies and gentlemen - the color red.

Eccremocarpus Tresco Gold. Hard to pronounce but easy to grow. Popular with hummingbirds and a great vine to choose when you don't want it to go wild and cover everything next to it.

Another shot of my royal blue lupine (Lupinus pilosus). There's very little that offers this kind of saturated blue color, outside of certain Phacelias and Salvia patens. Speaking of the latter, did the person coming up with that name remember to 'patent' it?

Agastache 'Orange Nectar.' So many Hummingbird mints, so little time ...

Although I didn't get this shot of dwarf Ageratums perfectly in focus I thought I'd post it as they look like a collection of sea corals on the ocean bed. 

Adenanthos sericeus. My wooly bush is now, well, so tall I'd need a ladder to measure it accurately. I'm guessing 12.' That's a lot of wooly to go around but fortunately it's solved the crowding problem in my Australian natives bed by being taller than everything else there (although my Melaleuca has outgrown its stated dimensions as well). Happy campers all.

Tecoma x smithii. Just the most glorious flowers out there and something that luuuuvs the sun. It's in a median strip, meaning sometimes a car is parked in front of it, obscuring its view. It's not invasive like its 'cousin,' Tecomaria capensis.

Echeverias are one of the easiest succulents to grow and one of the easiest to get to bloom. Here's a new flowering stem on one of the ones in a mixed succulent bowl. I love the Darwinian physics of the bloom spike, how it shoots straight up to a certain height, then suddenly decides to cascade.

Speaking of the color red, here's one of the distinctive breadseed poppy flowers, this one a Raspberry. Incidentally, the word 'rasp' in the fruit name dates back to either the 15th or 17th century and depending on its origin means either 'rough' or thicket.'

Arisaema speciosum var. magnificum. Here's the newly opened spathe on one of my Jack-in-the-Pulpits. This photo doesn't do it justice, doesn't show off the wonderful burgundy colors. That little 'squiggle' in the center is the 'whipcord' part of the spathe.

Philadelphus coronarius. This slow to flower philadelphus is grown for its delightful cream and soft green variegated foliage. That's enough to earn it a place in my garden.

Amorphophallus konjac. Late 'arising' this year, this aroid, whose 'cousin' is the gigantic A. titanum -- said to possess the world's largest (and one of the foulest-smelling) flowers -- will sprout leaves quickly and possess a full head of foliage in no time. I'm still waiting for it to bloom but the leaves have a charmingly tropical appearance.

Clarkia 'Aurora.' One of my favorite clarkias, mostly for its sublime peach sorbet color. It does kind of glisten in the sun so who knows, maybe that accounts for its variety name.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

I'll have a mimosa please

Nice to have the sun back today, even for brief moments. There wasn't much rain preceding it but it at least it freshened our gardens. I've been a bit lazy about writing about a single plant that's on my recent radar but today I have such a plant in my sights. That would be Jacaranda 'Bonzai Blue.' The variety name is a giveaway as to what is new about this tropical tree. For those familiar with the tree some call the Mimosa tree, you know it can get quite huge. As in 40' at maturity. That makes them spectacular but a tad impractical for those of us with smaller yards. But now Monrovia has just put this dwarf cultivar on the market and they claim it will only get to six feet in height! I'll believe that when I see it but even if it stops at 8-10' that's still very manageable. My five gallon specimen (see photo below) is very dense and bushy. In fact, except for the distinctive foliage, you'd never guess it was a Jacaranda at all. So, we'll see. I love the look of this dwarf variety. I'd been aware Monrovia was about to debut this new cultivar for some time and finally it's available to the public. I'm especially pleased to have it because I definitely don't have room for another full-sized tree in my garden. This fits the bill perfectly!
The mostly cloudy weather today made it a bit of a challenge to get good photos from my garden but here are a handful that turned out nice.

Calceolaria calynopsis. This hard to find red pocketbooks is such a treat. Flowers are larger than those found on the common yellow flowering C. mexicana or the orange flowering C. Kentish Hero. BTW, who the heck exactly is this 'Kentish Hero?' Anyway, I love this new Calceolaria and am curious to see how hardy it is.

Speaking of our 'Kentish Hero,' here he is, already sporting some burnt orange flowers. I like the color orange so he's a welcome addition to my garden. And this one is a perennial too.

Albuca species. This unidentified Albuca just opened its first flowers and they are a cheerful yellow with green ribs. Albucas are generally one of the easiest bulbs to grow.

Although it may be difficult to tell from this photo, this is a flowering stem from my Aeonium 'Suncups.' It's the first time its bloomed, so I had no idea what the flowers would look like (You'd be surprised at the sometimes lack of info on the flower color of some succulents).

Clarkia amoena 'Aurora.'  One of my favorite clarkias, for this fabulous coral color. The first few flowers are showing a bit of white, which I haven't seen in the past. Clarkias are one of our most reliable wildflower natives. I once was hiking in Briones Park in April and saw a whole hillside dotted with them.

Although a lot of people associate the color purple with Statice, I picked up this yellow flowering one in a flat of mixed colors. Limonium sinuatum is a very hardy, drought tolerant plant (which is why you see it growing by dry roadsides) and of course the flowers are great for dried flower arrangements.

I thought the yellow flowering Lilium Trebbiano and the wine-colored Buddleja 'CranRazz' looked good together. Although this lily isn't fragrant the butterfly bush certainly is.

And, Ta Da, here is the star of today's plant offerings, the aforementioned Jacaranda 'Bonzai Blue.' It's only about 30" tall right now but mimosas grow quickly. I expect it to be full size by next year, if not sooner. No telling if this young tree will bloom this year. 

Just in front of the Jacaranda is my Eriogonum giganteum. Now that its roots have soil to grow into its looking much healthier. I love the silvery leaves and you can still see the beading of this morning's rain on the leaves.

Although not the best photo, I'm trying to take more pictures of whole beds and not just individual flowers. This bed is underneath a well established fir tree on the west side of the property. The bed faces southwest but the overhanging branches do shade it a bit. In front is one of my favorite plants, a low spreading mallow, Sphaeralcea munroana. Behind and sort of overlapping is a Monardella villosa (Coyote mint). Further back and to the left, the sword-shaped leaves are a Bamboo iris and directly at the base of a tree is a Passiflora citrina. Which is all to say that you can indeed grow things under conifer trees.

Immediately to the left of the above bed, still under the fir tree, is a bed with a bunch of lilies. The taller, narrow-leaved lilies are L. regale (Regal lily), which produce enormous, white, scented flowers in early summer. There are two red oriental lilies mixed in plus a Clarkia concinna (a shade-loving clarkia), a low growing variegated Plectranthus and my Abelia species 'Chiapis.' 

Collectors of carniverous plants will know what this is (Sarracenia), also known as the American pitcher plant. They come in a variety of colors but I especially like this lime one, which is especially good at showing off the red veining. Fun for humans; deadly for small insects.

Hydrangea quercifolia. Better known as Oakleaf hydrangea. Mine has sort of taken over the south side of my Tropical Corner. It's almost never deciduous, is full and lush spring through fall, produces cones of white flowers in summer and then gets some lovely red color in the late fall. To me, it's one of Nature's "perfect" garden plants.

Could a flower possibly improve your love life? (and I don't mean buying roses for your girlfriend). This flower might. Meet Osteospermum 'Berry White.' That's Berry not Barry but hey, something whose name even sounds like the king of romance can't hurt, right?

Cotinus 'Royal Purple.' This photo is exactly why you want this tree in your garden. It's just ridiculously, extravagantly floriferous in a way only smoke bushes can be.

This variety of Asclepias curassivica will send you to the moon. Well, not literally but given its variety name (Apollo Orange) it seems like maybe it might. Of course it's the plant that monarchs lay their eggs on. Don't forget to cut off any flowers in the late fall (or cut it back completely).

Thursday, May 14, 2015

For the Birds

This comes as no great revelation but one of the joys of gardening -- some would almost say a pleasant duty -- is creating a welcome habitat for birds of all kinds. This goes beyond hanging a bird feeder or two. Birds welcome trees and shrubs of all kinds, like nearby water for drinking and bathing and for some fruit eaters like mockingbirds and robins, a fruiting bush can be, well, the cat's meow. Of course you want to take care to hang your feeders where our feline friends can't get at them and for many, it involves trying to keep the squirrels away as well. I live in a second story apartment and I use a suction cup bird feeder, which is both safe from other critters and affords me an eagle eye view. And for my hummer feeder, I use a plant hanger with a swivel hook, having secured it to the outside window frame and then used the swivel to position it directly in front of my kitchen window (only 15' away). Birds also appreciate a nearby tree that they can use for shelter and from which to launch foraging flights to nearby feeders.
You'll have common birds like finches, sparrows, chickadees, titmice and oaktits in your garden. Making the garden bird friendly means you'll have many more of them. While the winter birds have moved on, if you're lucky (as I am) you'll have delightful summer visitors such as Hooded orioles and mockingbirds. Maybe we bird lovers can actually turn the somewhat negative description "For the birds" into a positive description!
So, here are a few photos from my mid-May garden. As those of you who read the blog know, I'm a bit of a collector. This week's photos give evidence of that.

I've posted several photos of my Amorphophallus kiusianus, as the spathe shot upward. Well, it finally opened and here's what all the fuss is about (for those of you that like weird plants). It has that lovely alabaster mottled 'nest' and then the black as night spadix. To be followed later by strange bluish-black 'berries.' As writers say about real life "You just can't make up weird stuff like this."

The latest wowie-zowie petunia -- Cha-Ching Cherry. Nope, didn't make that up either. Very cool colors though. For those of you familiar with the Phantom petunia, this is like that, only red.

I took a closeup photo of my Nigella African Bride to show off its 'Jester's Hat.' They are especially large, and prominent, on this white flowering species.

Although my Pavonia missionum  is a bit less hardy than I would like, it produces the most indescribably beautiful flowers. Not much equals its saturated reddish-orangish coral color.

Nope, not a dandelion. Any other guesses? I doubt a look at the leaves would aid in solving this plant's ID. It's Scorzonera hispanica and there's a good chance nobody would even remember its name, much less bother to grow it, except for one wee little reason. Uhh, that would be its INTENSE chocolatey fragrance. There's simply no other flower I've ever heard of that comes anywhere close to this intoxicating fragrance.

Speaking of heavenly fragrances, Iris pallida can hold its own. Sometimes known as the 'grape iris' for its sweet smelling, grape-like fragrance, it adds pretty lavender flowers to its list of reasons to grow it.

Another shot of the fabulously ornate Papaver Lavender Semi-Double. Breadseed poppies may have a short season but there's plenty of wow while they're in bloom. Plus it's very easy to collect the seed.

My Cunonia capensis (Buttrerknife Tree) keeps steadily advancing. You can see three of the stipules in the center of the plant, which open to produce more leaves. My specimen is in year three and yet to bloom but I'm willing to be patient. Meanwhile, love the red stems.

Calluna Firefly.' This heather is supposed to turn red in the winter then have golden new growth in the spring, aging to green. This year the red growth has appeared in spring. Curiouser and curiouser.

Echium Blue Bedder. Want Echium but can't wait for the slow growing perennial bushes? This annual form gives you an instant fix of those wonderful blue flowers, sure to attract bees to it.  This guy is just getting started.

Hebe speciosa may have one of the more boring species names (really, that's the best you could come up with?) but it has proven vigorous, disease free and floriferous. So I guess it doesn't need to be called H. 'Cellophane Symphony'  or whatever (gratuitous Tommy James & The Shondells reference).

No, this isn't an outbreak  of the measles but the wonderfully spotted Crassula alba var. parvisepala. Umm, that's a succulent to you non-succulent geeks. I love this little guy.

And the "First lily of the year" prize goes to Lilium 'Trebbiano."  I had to google the word to see where the name might have come from and it turns out it's a type of wine grape from Italy. Not sure why it was chosen for a lily but hey if anyone knows, let me know.

Helenium 'Mardi Gras.' I've posted lots of photos of this vigorous Sneezeweed but it's so colorful that it's hard to resist. Another plant that bees adore and butterflies like it too. Buying it from the nursery, it's slogan could be "A party in every pot!"

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Dealing with Drought

A gardening friend and I were talking about the Nor Cal drought and among other things we talked about the 'hot' issue of whether to plant something that isn't drought tolerant. Each gardener has to arrive at that decision on their own but one thing we agreed upon is that if you DO plant something that needs regular water to be happy, you can't then later cheat and try to skimp on the water. All you do is make the plant unhappy and likely poor looking. And then it's a "why bother?" kind of deal.
That said there are things you can do to minimize your water use. These include:
1. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Use a thicker layer of bark mulch than you might otherwise do.
2. Gradually scale back on the frequency but use a deep watering method. Make the roots search out moisture deeper in the soil where it does not evaporate.
3. Choose drought tolerant perennials OR deciduous shrubs that need a little regular water. In both these cases, they should need little or no water between November and April.
4. Seek out drought tolerant plants for shade. Dry Shade plants, as they're known, do exist (no urban legend here). This list would include Plectranthus, Liriope, Heuchera maxima (a native), Western sword fern (also a native), Sarcococca (Sweet box), Camellias, Clivia, Hellebores and many others. Curiously, many of the popular shade plants use more water than those in the sun.
5. Use drip irrigation where possible.
6. Keep the amount of plants in pots to a minimum. They naturally use more water than those planted in the ground.
7. Plants things with similar water needs together wherever possible. That is, plant drought tolerant plants together and those that need a little regular water together.
8. Expand out past natives to include the larger list of Bay Friendly plants. These are also drought tolerant, tough and non-invasive.

And of course recycle all the water you can.
And now here are some new photos from my garden.

Calceolaria calynopsis. Thanks to Jeff at Monterey Bay growers for gifting me this exciting red Calceolaria. Difficult to find in the trade, hard to fathom given how striking it is, its flowers are even larger than on the commonly available C. mexicana. This 'Pocketbooks' certainly holds lots of treasure.

Abutilon thompsonii. It's growing slowly but surely. The question will be whether this more delicate species can take the sun it's getting. Lovely peach flowers too.

Clematis niobe. Still my favorite clematis, for that rich burgundy color. It was developed by a Polish grower in the 1970s and has been a popular cultivar ever since.

Salpiglossis variety. Painted Tongues are supposed to be annuals and they mostly have for me but this red one is on year three and has just begun blooming. So cheerful!

Got vexing gardening issues? No problem. Just consult Ganesh. Ganesh knows all and if it suits him he will reveal the answer. Well, maybe not but he definitely holds court wherever I put him in the garden.

Penstemon sp. This fire red penstemon is ablaze with color but no need to turn the fire hose on him! (save the water). For me, penstemons are in that "when they're good they're very good and when they're bad they're horrid" group of plants. Mine inevitably get powdery mildew and don't look their best. So I enjoy them while they're 'good' and keep my fingers crossed.

Alyogyne hakeafolia. Here is a closeup of the flower, meant to show the inner boss of stamens. To me they look like a little beehive.

Most of you will recognize this plant, commonly called Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena).  Curiously, when I googled 'Nigella' what came up first was Nigella Lawson. That just goes to show you that I'm not a foodie. Nigellas have been around in English gardens since Elizabethan times. That's like, way older than last week ...

I love to photograph my Phylica plumosa. This closeup makes them look like sea creatures (jellyfish?) or maybe sea anemones. Of course the "flowers" are super soft, giving the plant another unique dimension. Not as hard to grow as is commonly thought (but hard to find).

Bird of Paradise. In the immortal words of Jon Stewart (when I was thinking of something interesting or pithy to write about this plant) "Uh, I got nothing." No need. The flowers speak for themselves.

Iris douglasiana. Although this short lived Native flower is already starting to curl up I thought I'd post a photo. Douglas iris are tough and though simple, quite pretty in their own right.

I recently bought some garden art and here's one of the pieces, a metallic Bluebird. The orange and yellow part is its head and the blue are its wings. 

Here's another garden art addition, a metal Blue Heron. I put her by my back yard pond, where she appears to be gazing into the water looking for fish (which is kinda what herons do). 

Here's another shot of my developing Amorphophallus kiusianus spathe. When it opens, the black tip will become a six inch tall spadix, rising out of a ruffled horizontal white 'vase.' This will eventually be followed by a vertical fruit stalk covered in bluish-black berries.

Pteris cretica 'Green on Green' plus Fuchsia 'Rose Quartet.  I love this fern and it has made itself at home with a smaller, very pretty fuchsia.
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