Thursday, February 26, 2015

Vegging Out

The calendar may still say February but our nursery has had tomato starts for a week and people are gobbling them up. It's one way I mark the advent of spring -- when we start the summer vegetable season. As they say, it's all downhill from here. Thus the title: vegging out. But it also occurred to me that that title could also be interpreted in its more usual way and that gardens are a great place to veg out. No texts or phone calls; no one grabbing your time; no bills to pay. Just "free" time (to paraphrase Chet Baker) to "get lost." So hooray for those stolen moments (or hours).
Here are more photos from my spring garden.

Sparaxis variety. I call this my creme soda sparaxis. It's from a bag of mixed colors and this one has proved to be a regular. I love the way the narrow black outlines the yellow center.

Halimium. This relative of the rock rose is such a pretty color. It's budding up right now and I think this year will be the best ever. 

Moraea villosa. This S. African bulb, nicknamed Peacock moraea, might be the most beautiful flower I've ever grown. Unlike some moraeas that can be temperamental, this one is quite sturdy.

I don't really need an excuse to photograph one of my favorite Mimulus but it just so happened that a ladybug was perched on the lower lip of this Jeff's Tangerine.

For a plant that I nearly killed, this Justicia brandegeeana has bounced back in spectacular fashion. Turns out it just wanted more sun (most justicias want some shade).

Speaking of close-to-croaking, I was worried that my Bouvardia was headed there but it's rebounded. I can't get it to bush out with healthy foliage. But it's back to blooming and looking perky.

Not the best shot I know but I had to show off my new Ornamental quince (Chaenomeles). This one is called 'Fuji' and it sports the loveliest orangish-red blooms.

Speaking of flowering quince, my well established Kurokoji is back to blooming. It has especially large flowers and there's nothing quite like its blood red color.

Though I brought home my Luculia for its sensationally fragrant flowers, here the sun illuminating its soft pink flowers gives them a lovely aura.

Pelargonium crispum 'Variegated Golden Lemon.' I'll admit, I used to be a 'geranium snob.' They're so common that I shunned them. But I've slowly become aware of so many cool ones and this crispum is not only fantastically crinkled but it has a heavenly fragrance.

Camellia reticulata 'Francie L. Variegated.' Whew, that's a mouthful! But the flowers are worth it and if the size of the first ones, coming on a small plant, are any indication, this plant is going to be spectacular when it matures.

I wasn't entirely successful with this shot -- I was trying to also catch its reflection in the window behind -- but I still love the way the golden color kind of explodes out of the darkness, almost as if this Kerria flower was the source of the light.

Nandina domestica. Though this Heavenly bamboo is thought of as a utilitarian shrub, I find them quite beautiful. Here it's putting out coppery new growth that is a visual delight.

This spider moved too quickly for me to get him completely in focus. But it does give me a chance to remind everyone that spiders are our friends. They gobble up unwanted insects in our gardens plus they're kind of pretty.

Babiana stricta. This pinkish-purple variety is always one of the first bulbs to bloom in my garden and this patch keeps getting bigger each year. Oh and for those who think that the common name -- Baboon flower -- is poetic license, nope, baboons in S. Africa do actually eat these plants. So, if you look out in your garden at twilight one night and you see a hairy ape-like creature ...

Friday, February 20, 2015

Going Native

Given our drought conditions, it makes even more sense these days to plant natives. I'm reminded at my job that people's awareness of what constitutes a native, or maybe more to the point what are the choices in choosing a native plant, vary considerably. Even the term is somewhat confusing. In general, people here are usually using the term to refer to California natives. That's fine, as long as one considers that might include the wet environs of N.E. California or the deserts of SoCal or Baja. There are a hundred micro-climates in this state so the term 'native' can be quite elastic. Also, sometimes the term will be applied to the West coast of the country, which in a way makes more sense as the coastal regions have more in common than coast vs inland. To further complicate things, there is the term 'endemic,' which means (roughly) "only found in that region." A plant may be endemic to Northern California and never be found in S. Cal.
There is one other confusing bit. When you say 'native' people tend to assume you're talking about plants that are all drought tolerant. That's not always true, though in general CA natives are pretty used to drier conditions. Add to this the idea of Bay Friendly plants -- plants that are tough, drought tolerant and suited to our area -- and it can all be a bit confusing.
Starting with CA natives is a good entry point but to me it makes sense to examine each plant's needs. I try to widen gardener's views of drought tolerant genera/species by expanding it to include Bay Friendly plants. EBMUD has collected a lot of these plants in a very fine book that has the rather unwieldly title "Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates."
The upshot of all this is to plant plants that will use less water. That group would obviously include succulents and bulbs, which really only need water during a three month period in spring or summer.
Okay, here are a few more photos from my garden on this fine spring, er, winter day.

Though not the best shot, here is a new addition to my garden -- Abutilon thompsonii. Its calling card is its speckled foliage. Can't wait for it to reach some degree of fullness!

This may seem like a strange photo to include, a little scrawny, not yet flowering plant. It's an Ornithogalum concordiana, a S. African bulb. The appeal for me lies in its spirally, curly leaves. As strange as this seems, there is a loose collection of plants that are grouped together by this one defining characteristic. In fact, one devotee has even labeled this group "Twirls and Curls." It's definitely got my attention.

I never get tired of growing freesias. Bright colors, fantastic fragrance, faithful perennials, what's not to love? Plus, spring blooming bulbs are like harbingers of spring so they also herald the near arrival of other spring plants.

What was said about freesias above could apply to this colorful S. African bulb, Sparaxis, the only difference being that it is not fragrant. Who cares when you get fuzzy sheaths then an assortment of colors, all with a differently colored center edged in black.

Aloe distans. This guy is all bark and no bite, its teeth soft and rubbery. It's one of the easiest aloes to grow and grows quickly. It's newly in the ground so we'll see what happens next.

Yellow-flowering oxalis -- aiiii!!!!! Hold on, this is the non-invasive Oxalis penduncularis. You get all the beauty and no fuss with this guy. He makes large globes of leaves from which sprout these typical oxalis flowers. "Bush" species are much less common than the popular ground cover types but they're just as colorful.

Chamelaucium 'Purple Pride.' This guy has definitely decided it's spring, bursting into bloom. It has one of the more curious common names -- Geraldton Wax Flower, especially since the flowers aren't particularly waxy (to me at least). They are however very pretty and come in a variety of colors ranging from white to pale pink to bright pink or lavender. The flowers last a long time, making for an extended show.

The succulent to the lower left of this photo is the one in bloom, producing the simple but inviting yellow flowers. It's a sedum no wait it's an echeveria no it's a ... gimme a moment ... a sed-everia? Yes, that is indeed what it is. Someone crossed a sedum with an echeveria to produce a sedeveria. In this case, a S. hummelii. Upwards and onwards!

I wasn't trying to create this dark background, it's no trick of the camera, but that's a Bridalwreath spirea (S. prunifolia 'Plena').  This one produces tiny little "button" flowers right before the leaves appear.

Here's a better shot of my latest "victory," the long awaited flowers on my Iris confusa 'Chengdu.' Charming and the plant produces many spikes that each contain multiple flowers. 

Ferraria species. I'm not sure which one this is but Ferrarias are just the coolest (and weirdest) flowers most of us will ever see. Like underwater starfish, someone once opined. Ai, matey!

This one I just call my 'chocolate' ferraria. This species doesn't have quite the pronounced curly edges that most ferrarias have but is no less charming.

Echeveria 'Black Prince.' I call this my California beach variety, with the 'black' having turned to a copper color in the sun. For sure, dude. Still, a fabulous color and it's one tough little guy.

Aloe rupestris. This tree aloe is one of the faster growing species. Now I'm just waiting for it to bloom. Still it's pretty impressive, now 8' tall and with some very sharp 'teeth.'

Melasphaerula ramosa. This delicate looking but tough and prolific S. African bulb is reliable and pretty, though its flowers are small and simple. I didn't quite get it in focus here (damn wind) but hopefully will have a better shot in my next posting. It looks a lot like a Gladiolus tristis to me (another S. African bulb).

This 'gold on black' shot shows off the great colors of Eccremocarpus 'Tresco Gold.' If you're looking for a smaller vine, Eccremocarpus are perfect for that. I know of three -- this gold, one called 'Cherry Red' and a new one called 'Pink Lemonade.'

Justicia carnea. I am slowly collecting Justicia species. This one is commonly called Brazilian Plume and the other readily available species, J. brandegeeana, Shrimp plant. Given that they are tropical, they do surprisingly well in the milder Bay Area zones.

This dangling participle, oh wait that was an English class flashback, is Pandorea pandorana. It has one of the great common names in the entire plant world -- Wonga Wonga vine. No need to buy it for that name; the pretty sunset flowers will be more than enough of a reason. Just as tough as other Pandorea vines.

I keep trying to get a good shot of my charming little Fuchsia 'Rose Quartet' but then keep falling back to this photo I took in 2012. There's something about the hot pink juxtaposed against the pure white petals that make this a refreshing sight. Despite it being a hybrid, I've not had any problems with the dreaded fuchsia mite.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Damn it, it's Spring!

I give up. Despite it being early February, I'm giving into overwhelming physical evidence and acknowledging it's spring. The plants have spoken. I know, I know, New England is still buried under 10 feet of snow. But that's a place far away and long ago.
We have what we have when we walk out the door and out my door is spring.
Not that that's a bad thing, mind you. It's just weird. If we can just alternate a week of heavy rain with a week of pleasant sunny weather then that would be perfect.
In a way this early warm weather is a good reminder that we do indeed live in the natural world. That it doesn't matter a whit what a human calendar says. That said, climate change is wreaking havoc on our planet so it's only through a useful short term amnesia that we can put aside those worries and enjoy this lovely weather. I was watching the Pebble Beach golf tournament in Monterey yesterday and despite the fact the average high on this date would be 61 degrees, it was 75. The golfers were alternately baffled and delighted. And the views were spectacular. Worth tuning in even if you don't care at all about golf.
So, here are photos from my 'spring' garden. Of course there are plants that aren't as easily fooled by this unusually warm weather. It's still February for them and they'll surface or bloom when they are damn well ready, thank you very much! Still, lots to photograph on such a lovely day. Praise be.

Crassula falcata. Known as Propeller plant, mine has decided to act as a spatula-like waterfall, tumbling down from its pot. Quite possibly my favorite succulent.

Though the shot isn't perfect, this Primula Primlet 'Sunrise' is just so exuberant I had to photograph it. So cheerful!

Speaking of exuberant, here's a closeup shot of a hybrid freesia. I swear, some of these freesias are so brightly colored you need sunglasses to view them. 

Iceplant + violas. Golden yellow and wine colors, hanging out, loving the sun. Iceplant flowers really do react to the sun. They rarely open on cloudy days. It's as if they're operating by solar polar, unable to unfurl until the sun gives them the energy to do so.

The Sun bed. This small bed is my favorite destination to plant spring annuals over top of the many bulbs here. Here it's Ranunculus, which though a bulb, I usually buy new each spring. There's also a Voltage Yellow osteospermum, also a perennial but which added a bit of much needed color in the winter. Soon this bed will be alive with Phacelias, Nigellas and Nemophilas, not to mention a host of Iris and Daffodils.

If this looks familiar, in fact like a Euphorbia, it is. What makes it different are the red flowers, here just starting to emerge, marking it as a Euphorbia atropurpurea. Deer proof, tough and pretty, Euphorbias are a great landscape plant.

Brachysema selsianum. Another shot of my Aussie native shrub that produces "unopened" red, pea-like claw flowers. It's a low scrambling shrub, used for texture. I always think of the pure red flowers as Cardinals (birds) in a tree, only close up.

Here's my own shot of the Wind poppy, Stylomecon. The crinkly orange creme soda flowers are pretty but its the 'eye' and the stamen that are the real attraction to me. 

Sometimes the bud form of flowers can be as interesting as the open flowers. Here my Luculia pinceana has produced little pink balls that look like little alien pods. Of course once the flowers open, their heady fragrance becomes very apparent.

Let's imagine a world where you aren't familiar with a lot of common plants. In that world you come across this exquisite sky-blue nodding flower and fall head-over-heels in love. That's how I look at the common Borage. If there were ever a flower I wanted to self-seed in my garden (and this one does), it's borage. And of course bees love it.

Calothamnus villosus. There must be a term for plants that flower directly off the stem and Calothamnus is one of the more unique ones. It forms little bumps along the stems that then suddenly open into these wispy flowers that are sort of pom-pom like.

Everybody's favorite 'orange' plant, Streptosolen (Marmalade bush) is immediately identifiable.  It's blooming early this year, no doubt responding to the warm weather. Toast anyone?

Melaleuca incana. This Aussie shrub has gone a bit wild, literally branching out. Here, one of the branches has created a 'highway' through the Adenanthos (Wooly bush). This species has fuzzy yellow flowers that remind some of Bottlebrush flowers, only on a miniature scale.

Here's a closeup of the Melaleuca flowers. One interesting thing about them -- the flowers start out looking very much like conifer cones and then gradually plump up before finally releasing their color.

Last week I posted a photo from my archive of my Magnolia 'Black Tulip.' Here's a "live" shot, taken this morning, of two open flowers. As I noted, this variety's flowers stay in a tight cup shape, which to me adds to their beauty. The flowers also hold onto their color.

Ten points for anyone that can guess this flower. Of course it hasn't opened yet. The multitude of little buds should be a clue that it's a bulb. It's in fact Allium schubertii. That is, an ornamental onion. This one, along with A, cristophii, form huge balls of tiny flowers that seem to explode out from the center, like fireworks. Very pretty.

Here's a photo of my Bamboo iris, taken of my own plant (not the one I raided from the net last week). The flowers aren't showy in and of themselves but there will soon be dozens of them, opening on crooked stems that snake up above the foliage. 

Chasmanthe bicolor. Most gardeners are familiar with the phrase "A weed is only a plant you don't want in your garden." That might be true for this S. African bulb. It can be slightly invasive, though mine has proven well behaved. Tough, pretty and drought tolerant. It's all good.

Gelsemium sempervirens. Better known as Carolina jasmine, though it acts more like a honeysuckle than a jasmine. Not especially fragrant but it produces a wealth of cheerful yellow flowers in spring.

Camellia 'Francie L. Variegated.' Another reticulata camellia, this one has variegated rose and white flowers. You get a preview of that even in this early bud phase.

This lovely Sedum is just commonly referred to as Jelly Bean sedum and you can see why here. They really do look yummy enough to eat. 

Sedum 'Lemon Coral.' Amazing how this sedum just brightens up any area. That chartreuse just really pops. From this top view it looks like it's shooting upwards but very soon it will be spilling over the front of the pot.
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