Thursday, December 17, 2015

Happy Solstice!

As we approach the winter solstice, a 'calendar' that goes back literally thousands of years, it gives us an opportunity to reflect on our place in the natural world. No matter how many electronic gadgets we have or how big and modern our houses are, we are still tied to natural rhythms. In the very least we are governed by the length of the day and in three days we hit the shortest day of the year. Just as it's hard to appreciate four distinct seasons if you only have two (or even one), it's hard for us to fully appreciate the warmer and longer days of spring and summer without first experiencing the shorter and colder days of winter. Or to put it another way, don't hate the winter for being winter. Honor it and then also cherish the days as they get longer.
Now suspend that mutual honoring with the fact that Oakland and the Bay Area offer the opportunity to garden year round, a suspension of reality that most other parts of the country don't get to indulge in. It's a delicate suspension of two worlds but one I'll take. Today I wandered out into the garden, camera in hand, not expecting there to be much to photograph. But surprise, surprise there were a host of solstice visual treats that compelled me to photograph. Here they are and while none are about to win any photography awards anytime soon, it is a way of sharing my winter garden.

Front yard area. The S. African Osteospermum 'Voltage Yellow' thinks it's summer and is putting on a very cheerful show. To the right and in front is the new Coprosma 'Pina Colada.' They make a colorful winter pairing.

Luculia pinceana. This winter blooming shrub gets my vote for best shrub nobody's ever heard of. Very pretty pink flowers but the real attraction is its heavenly scent. Truly, one of the most intensely fragrant shrubs you'll ever smell. Sweet!

Any guesses what this is? It's a Cotinus 'Royal Purple' in its near winter disguise. I get different colors every late fall, sometimes orange, sometimes gold, sometimes red. All beautiful!

While the Cotinus is just about done, my Leucospermum 'Veldfire' is just getting started. That fuzzy little center is the earliest stage of what will become one of the most magnificent flowers in all of the Proteaceae world.

This odd but vigorous plant is a Pelargonium crispum variegated Lemon. So, the crispum name owes to the crinkly leaves; the variegated moniker owes to the yellow and green leaves and the lemon, well, it really does smell powerfully of lemon. It's kind of a wonder plant, giving a little of everything to its caretaker.

The photographer in me coached this Salvia discolor. "There, just a little to the left. Turn slightly to me. There, hold it!" It does look good against the gray stucco wall, showing off a bit of its white undersides and stems.

Winter means Daphnes, at least to me. Here's my D. odora variegata. It started as a tiny 4" potted plant so it's made good progress in a mere year and a half. It's planted along the main walkway, along with other fragrant plants, so all can enjoy its sweet smell.

Kalanchoe 'Chocolate Soldier.' Whatever name you give to this kalanchoe, it showcases bluish-gray, felty leaves, highlighted with those chocolate tips. Very easy to grow, whether in a pot or in the ground.

Heavenly bamboos (Nandina domestica) may be called utilitarian (you say that like it's a bad thing ...) but they're also beautiful and look good year round. This year I'm finally getting a few red berries. 

If you're wondering what the heck I'm shooting here, it's the last of the Viburnum opulus foliage, now a pinky-orange. This is my Jungle Strip, where the various shrubs are largely left to fend for themselves. They've done surprisingly well, augmented by the occasional deep watering.

This Asarina erubescens 'Bridal Wreath' isn't making a break for it (though it certainly looks like it). It's still producing a few late season, all white flowers. Probably the easiest Asarina to grow and that's saying something. 

Here's another attempt to capture winter color on dying foliage. In this case, it's a tuberous begonia, offering up a mix of reds and golds on otherwise dark green leaves.

Thunbergia alata 'Arizona Red.' This IS the time of year for Thunbergias, especially in the milder zones. This new variety is possibly the reddest of all the 'Susans.'  It'll likely bloom well into late January if not longer.

Sempervivium tectorum calcareum. This Hens and Chicks is a favorite of mine and I love the name. The species name 'tectorum' makes it seem solid and tough and that's sort of what it is.

"The Wooly Bush that ate Oakland!" Well, almost. My Adenanthos sericeus is now 12' tall! Umm, that's a bit taller than the 6' listed on the seller's label ... If I ever write a book I'm tempted to title it "Your results May Vary." Indeed. And when I run for president my slogan will be 'A wooly bush in every garden!' (forget about chickens in pots). Okay, you have to be of a certain age to get the reference.

Succulent bowl #4. As is. Meaning, I just pulled out a couple tiny weeds, pointed the camera and click. It's progressing nicely and the Crassula muscosa (Watch chain plant) in back has kind of gone wild.

Zygonista murasakikomachi. Easy for you to say. Translation: an orchid. Love the color!

My favorite Camellia reticulata, C. 'Frank Hauser' has produced its first flower. Yes, this is its actual color! And the photo doesn't even make clear its silky petals and how wavy they are (not flat like C. japonica varieties). No wonder Reticulatas are considered the Queens of the camellia world.

From the extravagant to the sublime, here's a photo of my Chaenomeles 'Cameo.' Love the subtle colors and the fact that flowering quinces start blooming in winter.

Though my juvenile Jacaranda 'Bonzai Blue' is done blooming, it looks like it will hold onto its foliage year round here in Oakland. This dwarf only reaches 5-6' so it's easy to keep it in a container, as I've done. Love the foliage and of course those lovely purple flowers when they arrive.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Tis the season for conifers

Well, the blogpost gremlin is playing tricks again. See my opening comments at the end of the photos before checking out the pictures.
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Barry's Silver + Cham. obtusa 'Nana Lutea.' Two of my favorites in the dwarf conifer (DC) garden. I love the color of the former and the latter's wide 'branches' look like panels. It's all about contrasts and complementary looks in making a DC garden.

Cham. pisifera juniperoides aurea. This is one of the new additions to the garden. I like its bushiness, light green color and nice rounded form. 

Cham. pisifera 'Boulevard.' This handsome shrub will get to six feet and as you can already see it has a fat conical shape. Love its glaucous tones and dense habit.

Cham. pisifera 'Snow.' This shot is the one not from my garden but I love it all the same. It's aptly named, with its new tips a snowy white color. It forms a dense 2' x 2' mound, making it one of the few dwarf conifers commonly available to showcase this shape.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Knaptonensis.' Cryptomerias are commonly called Japanese cedars, though their variety makes them seem at first glance quite different from our association with western cedars. This two foot tall species features attractive bright white new growth, meaning it will enliven any shady spot in your garden. 

Cryptomeria japonica 'Vilmoriniana.' One of the distinctive features of this rounded shrub is its inclination to turn a bronzy color in the fall and winter, as it's done here.  The rest of the year the foliage is a light green. This little guy tops out at about 18."

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Rimpelaar.' Here's the first of the Youngblood photos. Another of the mounding varieties, Rimpelaar almost looks like a bluish-green hedgehog that's rolled up into a ball. Like many of the dwarf varieties, it looks best combined with other conifers or with compatible plants such as Hellebores, Euphorbias or Azaleas.

Possibly the bluest of all the dwarf conifers, this Cham. lawsoniana 'Blue Surprise' makes a great focal point in a conifer garden or dappled shade area. It gets to six feet so it has enough presence to really make a statement.

Cham. obtusa 'Gold Fern.' You can see how this beauty came across its common name. The delicate foliage reminds one a bit of an Asparagus fern and of course the new growth has a golden sheen. Its multi-branching thus more open habit belies its small stature. This guy only gets to 18" tall!

Cham. pisifera 'Curly Tops.' One of the most distinctive of the False Cypress, this beauty gets its name from its tightly curled tips. Add to that its rich colors and attractive shape and you have a highly sought after specimen. 

Pinus mugo. This dwarf Mugo pine (photo courtesy of Monrovia Growers) is a nice change of pace from the main two genera featured above. This guy tops out at 3-5' and is a bit wider, though it will take many years to reach full size. I just love everything about this guy!

It's December and the holiday season is upon us. For those of us not overwhelmed with the task of shopping, it's a good time to reflect upon one of the origins of Christmas. No matter your reference, Christmas involves a Christmas tree and that tree is of course a conifer. That's appropriate to the season, as deciduous trees have, or will soon, shed their leaves. Whether you have a conifer in your garden or simply enjoy their majestic presence all around us, they are a wonderful reminder of the season. Among other pleasures, they are popular with many seed eating birds. So, in the spirit of the season, here are a few of my favorite dwarf conifers. Some are in my dwarf conifer bed, while others are ones you may see in your local nursery or in a neighbor's garden.
They've also been on my mind due to an article I wrote about them for Pacific Horticulture magazine. That article will appear in the Winter issue, out in early January. The first batch of photos are mine, most of them from my dwarf conifer garden. The second batch, starting with the Chamaecyparis Rimpelaar, are courtesy of Youngblood Nursery. The last photo of the Mugo Pine is courtesy of Monrovia Growers. Here they are.

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