Thursday, August 27, 2015

Scintilating Skullcap

One of the categories of common names for plants that I find particularly amusing are the ones that end in -wort (as in Mugwort) or in -cap, as is the case with the charming low growing perennial Scutellaria, commonly known as Skullcap. Somehow I picture Lady Hamlet holding a skull, with a Scutellaria cascading over the top. In fact, the term refers to the hooded nature of the little flowers. They are widespread, mostly occurring in temperate regions of the globe. I was surprised in looking up this genus that it contains 300 species (most of which alas we will never see). One of the common ones is S. suffruticosa, with its colorful deep pink flowers. However I just came across one I was unaware of, S. javanica 'Veranda.' With darker and glossier leaves and purple flowers with white throats that are a bit more tubular than suffruticosa, it's a real beauty (see photo below).
Scutellaria baicalensis (in particular) has been in use for over 2000 years as a remedy for such conditions as hepatitis, diarrhea and inflammation. It is still used as a traditional Chinese herbal preparation today.
So, a doff of the cap to the history of plant names and the stories they hint at.
And now the photos ...

Scutellaria javanica 'Veranda.' As mentioned above, this little charmer features purple flowers with white throats. They don't get big, usually topping out at ten inches, but can spread. They are hardier than they look, although I'm not sure about this lesser known species.

Plemonium 'Stairway to Heaven.' Well, maybe if 'heaven' is only a foot off the ground. The nice thing about this variegated form is that it looks great even before it blooms.

I love the rich colors on this Portulaca 'Soleil Tangerine' plant. There's a Darwinian reason why many succulents have especially showy flowers but absent that discussion let's just appreciate the way they brighten our day.

Speaking of succulents with vivid flowers, I give you Crassula falcata. This specimen's flowers are just beginning to color up but they will eventually be a vivid red. This is the so-called Propeller plant, named for the broad, flat leaves. Crassulas can take many forms, being quite Chameleon-like.

I was looking for contrast here and a certain depth of field and I got both with the morning sun lighting up the top three flowers on my Scyphanthus elegans. They almost resemble cup-shaped, flaming comets bursting out of the night sky. 

Tiger lilies (in this case Lilium tigrinum splendens) are one of life's simple pleasures. I love the recurved petals, the pollen rich stamen and of course the spotting. 

"Okay, quick, all you mimulus flowers, crowd close together so I can get you all in this shot." Okay, it only seems like this abundance of blooms must have darted together just for the photo. Mimulus are exhibit A to prove that not all natives are boring (not that that's true anyway). And of course, there's a steady stream of bees and hummers visiting.

So many Tecomas, so little ... space! Okay, it only seems like there's an endless number of varieties of this extravagantly flowering shrub out there. A fairly recent entry is this T. stans 'Bells of Fire.' Lovely!

I love the way that Echeveria flowers appear on arching stems. 

My favorite Grevillea, G. 'Moonlight,' has begun a new bloom season. They produce the most extravagant (and huge) cones of alabaster flowers. I love everything about the flowers -- the color, the form, the size and even the chocolate-colored seedpods.

Though not the best shot, I couldn't leave out this photo of Dianella 'Baby Bliss' flowers. The blue and gold combination and the nodding form is just so irresistible.

Ampelopsis would be pretty enough to photograph all on its own but I love the variegated leaf version of this Porcelain Berry vine. This year promises to be the best yet for a crop of iridescent blue berries.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Return

We're not exactly in the dog days of August but for many there is a pause. Summer's been here awhile and at least in the milder parts of the Bay Area, our warm weather lasts well into the fall. And yet, the kids are heading back to school and the summer vacations are drawing to a close. Many people have taken time off from their gardens as well, focusing on other activities. The nursery trade is no different, in step as the marketplace dictates, to when customers will return to retail nurseries to buy newly arrived fall plants. Of course the growers have to plan ahead for this, in order to have those plants on the 'shelves.' That is most apparent with bedding plants but it's also true for perennials as well. Rudbeckias and Echinaceas appear in greater numbers and there's plenty of Salvias to choose from.
It's in the fall season when we get a better idea of the annual/perennial balance in our gardens. That single choice is perhaps the greatest commonality among all city gardeners. And that balance may well change according to the season. In my own garden, where I have a great preponderance of perennials, finding room for new perennials is always a challenge. And with our drought, I'm more determined than ever to have as few plants in pots as is possible.
That said, here is a 'snapshot' of my mid to late summer garden, as seen in today's photos.

Here are two shots of my Albuca spiralis. The photo below makes it apparent where the species name derives from. This South African bulb is one of a select few plants that have curly or twisty leaves. One person has dubbed this group 'Twirls and Curls.' I call this my 'Corkscrew' albuca.

Asarina scandens 'Joan Lorraine.' Though it's just beginning to flower, this vigorous little climber has scaled a nearby gutter drainpipe and is nearly up to the roof! Love the rich purple flowers and the delicate leaves.

Here's another shot of my yellow flowering Scaevola. The plants look delicate but they're much tougher than they appear. A great cascading plant, it's perfect for hanging baskets or spilling over a low wall. 

Calceolaria calynopsis. This hard to find, red-flowering Pocketbooks plant is a real showstopper! The flowers are also larger than the C. mexicana or C. 'Kentish Hero,' which only adds to the plant's appeal.

Speaking of hard to find, this rare Lotus (L. jacobaeus) is called 'Black Lotus' for the deep burgundy blooms. And yet, I've noticed on my specimen that it has quite a few flower clusters that are a golden ginger color, as can be seen in the higher cluster here. Curious. 

Likewise with my Gloriosa lily. These are two flowers from the same plant, the one on the left almost entirely red and the one on the right the more usual yellow-bordered orangey-red.  Both are pretty, n'est-ce pas?

Along the 'differences' line of discussion, I love seeing flowers in all their stages of unveiling. Here's my Datura 'Blackcurrant Swirl,' still unopened. At this stage, the purple hue is at its richest, an almost velvety deep wine color.

Lilium 'Black Beauty.' No black but the flowers do feature a rich rosy-red hue. This is by far my most prolific lily, getting easily 20 blooms off a single stem every year.

I love the velvety feel of  Lepechinia hastata's leaves. Textured, felty, furry, call them what you will but their tactile appeal, that wonderful grayish-green color and the intense aroma all make the foliage on this hardy, drought tolerant 'native' a great package. I say 'native' because this plant is endemic to Mexico but has slowly crossed the border so it's a welcome immigrant.

The flowers on this shockingly showy Mimulus (M. 'Fiesta Marigold') really do take some getting used to. It's a hybrid, having a little M. aurantiacus in its parentage but it is not a true Sticky Monkey flower. Still, it provides that wow factor in my front yard, a mere two feet from passersby.

Many of you will recognize this Salvia as 'Hummingbird Sage.' While that is the common name of this handsome S. spathacea, the truth is that hummingbirds love nearly every salvia for their nectar. This guy has the advantage of being a California native.

I always think that the flowers in the photos of this Justicia fulvicoma look more painted than something coming from a camera. The flowers have just an indescribably lovely color.

Begonia rex 'Escargot.' This is the best year yet for this tender begonia. I've left it outside to fend for itself in my Oakland garden and though it was late to leaf out this year, it's filled out very nicely. The variety name owes to the spiraling shape of the leaves, said to suggest a snail's shell.

Discovered this 'Ursine' in my garden but decided to let him stay. It's a Blue Bear's Paw fern of course (Phlebodium areolatum) and his handsome grayish-blue paws really stand out in this shady, raised bed.

Can goldfish live outside the water? They can if they're a Goldfish plant (Nematanthus species). Normally grown as a houseplant, I have mine outdoors until the really cold weather arrives. 

One of my favorite Agastache, A. mexicana 'Sangria' has lovely raspberry-colored flowers and a very pleasing fragrance. Agastache, known as Hummingbird mint due to their minty fragrance and appeal to hummingbirds, are easy to grow and most will return faithfully each year. Make sure to plant them where you'll regularly pass by, so as to enjoy their unique perfume.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Ring dem bells!

We have a small shrub planted at the entrance to our Grand Lake Ace nursery in Oakland and it's in full bloom right now, showcasing yellow, flared tubular flowers. Of course anything this showy is going to draw interest from customers and that affords me the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite plants -- Tecoma. Many gardeners are familiar with Tecomaria capensis and its tubular orange flowers. It's a semi-scandent shrub that can border on being invasive. Tecomas (in some circles the terms Tecoma and Tecomaria are used synonymously) offer several species that are even showier and are less likely to go wild on you. Start with Tecoma stans and its hybrids. The straight species, known as 'Yellow Bells,' has vivid yellow flowers that are flared at the tips. It can get big, to 15 feet, but can be pruned hard to keep it lower and bushier. No need to do that with T. stans 'Mayan Gold,' a dwarf sport that tops out at 3 x 3. That's the one we have planted in our Ace entrance. And now there's a new dwarf stans hybrid -- 'Bells of Fire.' Sporting orangy-red flowers, it's a real showstopper and it too stays in the 3-5' foot size range.
Then there's the peachy-gold flowering Tecoma x alata. Just as tough as all the Tecomas, it tops out at 8 feet and has arching or semi-scandent branches. The other commonly available Tecoma, one I have in my garden, is the exquisite T. x smithii. Similar in its form to the x alata, this sport features peachy-orange blooms that, like most Tecomas, appear in clusters. When in full bloom the dwarf varieties especially are smothered in flowers. Showy indeed!

And now this week's photos from my garden. They represent a cross-section of what is interesting in our gardens. Many of the photos are of flowers, which are naturally too inviting to not capture on film. But there are also photos of foliage (especially the Alpinia 'Zerumbet'), one of an interesting patterning on stems (Amorphophallus rivieri), one of a nutritious nectary (Echinacea) and several combo shots. Okay, here they are.

And here is our main attraction, the Tecoma x smithii. Love that color!

Portulaca 'Soleil Tangerine.' Here's a fuller shot of this dazzling new Portulaca. There are many succulents that have colorful flowers and Portulacas are near the top of the list.

If it looks like a Scaevola and quacks like a Scaevola, well then it must be a Scaevola. And it is indeed, here a yellow-flowering variety. Like the more common purple flowering types, this 'Fan flower' is a great cascading plant.

Immediately identifiable by its deep burgundy rosettes, Aeonium 'Schwarzkopf'  is one of the most popular succulents for adding both dark tones and some height and size to a particular bed or large mixed succulent bowl. Mine is still awaiting its final destination.

Here's my 'Odd couple.' The yellow 'spear' is the forming inflorescence on a Billbergia (soon to produce flowers whose color is yet a mystery) while the dainty climber with the small yellow cup-shaped flowers is Scyphanthus elegans. As a quasi-vine, the Scyphanthus will attach itself to anything close by and though it's finally starting to climb the trellis behind it, the 'spear' is fair game too.

This 'combo' shot didn't quite come out as planned. Yes, it's a nice photo of the beautiful Gloriosa lily flower but if you look closely, in its open center are tiny blackish flowers from the nearby Lotus jacobaeus (Black Lotus). Both are plants not commonly found in gardens and that's especially true of the unusual and hard to find Lotus. In fact this lotus in no way resembles the common Parrot's Beak lotus commonly found in nurseries. What's that expression? 'Black is the new black.'  Truly black flowers are hard to come by and this is one of the few.

Although the lighting isn't perfect, here's a shot of the aforementioned Amorphophallus rivieri. As with many Arums, this one has spotted or patterned branches. One wonders how this came about. Is it for purposes of camouflage or to get the attention of some insect?

More mimulus! This one is M. aurantiacus 'Bronze,' one of the Sticky Monkey Flowers that are found in our northern California landscape. This is a new addition and still very small but it's already in bloom. Found on dry rocky slopes, this plant flowers at a young stage because it needs to take advantage of precious rain to grow and attract pollinators.

This spotted Begonia is one of the so-called Angelwings types. As you can see it sports bright pink flowers. As with many begonias, it appreciates bright shade or morning sun. 

Here's a better shot of my new Asclepias tuberosa. There's orange and then there's ORANGE. Just as popular with butterflies of all kinds though I'm not sure if monarchs will lay eggs on them, as this butterfly bush is an east coast species. Popular too with hummers.

Echinacea pupurea hybrid. Here the focus is on the 'cone,' a favorite destination for bees and butterflies alike as it's very rich in nectar. I think it's every bit as beautiful as the petals, if not more.

Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius ‘Silver Jubilee.' Love this plant, in part for the mix of green and silver. Its species name refers to the rosemary-like foliage, though in this case the leaves are very soft. It produces tiny white flowers in summer but for me the show is the foliage.

Lilies are my favorite common bulb and here's a photo of my Lilium 'Scheherazade.' It's an Oriental type lily and well, just a beauty. At the risk of telling a bad joke, this is one lily that has many stories to tell.

Although the flowers on this shell ginger are pretty (and fragrant) most people plant this Alpinia 'Zerumbet' for its foliage. This photo demonstrates why. Each leaf has its own distinctive patterning and mix of greens and golds.

I need to unpack my zoom lens so I can get closeup photos of certain flowers in my garden and here is one that I need it for. These are the flowers on Vigna caracalla, better known as Snail vine. And yes, the flowers are shaped like snail shells and exude a light, pleasing fragrance. An aggressive climber, it will latch onto anything close by so be careful where you plant it.

I thought this was an interesting composition, with the small and delicate lavender flowers of Thalictrum rochebrunianum seeming to emerge from the broad yellow leaves of the Abutilon thompsonii. Thalictrums, known as Meadow Rue, seem like ancient plants to me but maybe it's just because they've been in cultivation for a very long time.

Though this Asarina procumbens was in a bit too much shade, this shot in a way captures its affecting shyness. It's a low growing, cascading Asarina and the flowers are more like those of a snapdragon or Nemesia than the tubular flowers of most Asarina species.

I'm still not sure which Tillandsia this is and it's never bloomed but it's silver waterfall-ness is so beautiful.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Names Game pt 3

Well, after a week's absence I'm back with more (hopefully) fun Names Game selections. For those of you who didn't see the first two, here is the idea. Remember that old board game Concentration, where you had to remember where the pair of a certain image was 'hidden?' I've adapted that to the common or varietal names of flowering plants. It'll be obvious how this works from reading the first couple of entries. Sometimes the connection is simply the name (or similar name); sometimes the names refer to something in common and occasionally what they have in common is a pop culture reference. Okay, that said, here is part three.

Iris confusa (Bamboo iris) + Coniogramme japonica (Bamboo fern). One could create an interesting subsection of this game just for plants whose common names reference a plant that neither of them are actually related to, horticulturally speaking. So, here, these two plants use the bamboo descriptive more for the shape of their leaves. The former is a free branching iris with lightly fragrant blooms and the latter has slender blade-like fronds that might remind some of bamboo (though not me).
Cotinus (Smoke tree) + Nicotiana (Flowering tobacco). Okay, no real connection except for the 'smoke' and 'smoking' reference. The former's common name refers of course to its puffs of delicate flowers that resemble smoke and the latter is a genus of primarily ornamental plants. It's only N. tabacum that's grown for smoking tobacco.
Ampelopsis (Porcelain Berry vine) + Cobaea scandens (Cup and Saucer vine). The connection? Why, the idea of a British afternoon tea of course, when one brings out one's porcelain china. Ampelopsis is most famous for its iridescent blue berries and Cobaea for pulling off the neat trick of having its 'cups' start out green then gradually color in till they're a rich burgundy.
Since we're on a food theme, how about Streptosolen (Marmalade bush) + Vinca 'Blackberry Jam.'  The former has now become a widely known and beloved shrub for those wanting to add a spectrum of oranges and peaches and golds to one's garden. The Vinca, this the sun-loving annual plant, came out in a new color last year and it offers the yummiest, deepest wine colored flowers.
Sometimes you have a word in common that seems unlikely to be used in naming plants but there it is. Case in point, the word 'tongue.' For our purposes that's Salpiglossis sinuata (Painted Tongue) and Sansevieria (Mother-in-Law Tongue). The former owes its common name to the intricate markings in the throat of each flower while the latter plant, well, I think that's self explanatory. One may think I've pulled the only two 'tongue' names out of the hort world but nope. One could also add Hart's Tongue fern, among others.
Here's a fun entry. I've paired Lotus 'Amazon Sunset' (Parrot's Beak) with Impatiens niamniamensis, also known as Congo Cockatoo. Both display beak-shaped flowers, the former soft reddish orange flowers and the latter, a real curiosity plant, waxy bi-colored red and yellow flowers. "Squawk, Polly want some Maxsea fertilizer?"
Of course it's inevitable that U.S. Presidents have to sneak in here. There's a "Mr. Lincoln" rose and Martha Washington pelargoniums. The former is a rich red rose and the latter is a type of geranium. Now, hush, hush, it is believed the recent rose "Hot Cocoa" was inspired by Michelle Obama becoming the First Lady. Keep that on the QT.
Sometimes the connection is related to a country or culture. Thus we have Aquilegia 'Leprechaun Gold' and Shamrock Oxalis. The former is an exceptionally pretty columbine, featuring variegated golden foliage and purple flowers while the latter is a group of Oxalis with shamrock-like leaves. Whether these plants have been 'lucky' for you, well let's hope so!
Back to food, a recurring theme in plant names (sometimes I swear it's as if the people coming up with these variety or common names have been fasting for a week). Here it's seafood (because of course who wouldn't think of seafood when naming a flower. Groan). Justicia brandegeeana (Shrimp plant) naturally would go with Ajuga 'Black Scallop.' The former has flowers whose vertically stacking peach-colored bracts look eerily like those of a shrimp. The Ajuga name?Probably the scalloped edges of the leaf but hey sea scallops works for me too.
Where a common name like 'tongue' does seem a bit out of place, some common names do seem quite natural for the world of plants. One of those would be 'star.' My pairing today is Laurentia axillaris (Blue Stars) and Hydrangea 'Shooting Star.' Now there could be more common entries (ie Blue Star Creeper) but, well, Blue Stars is an exceptionally pretty and durable plant (see photo here). Meanwhile the 'Shooting Star' hydrangea is equally lovely, small white flowers seeming to explode out away from the plant's center foliage.
And then there's that obvious link between gardening and ... embroidery? All will be revealed. Start with the Scabiosa genus, known as the Pincushion flower. Avid gardeners know where I'm heading next -- Leucospermum, a South African plant commonly known as the Pincushion shrub. Fortunately, no need to worry about getting 'pricked' with either plant.
'Foam' might be an odd concept to come across in gardening, unless maybe it's a kneeling pad made of foam. In fact there are at least two flowers that incorporate this name -- Limnanthes douglasii Meadowfoam) and Tiarella wherryi (Foam flower). The former is a CA native wildflower that has lovely yellow and white flowers. The Tiarella, native to the South, seems like a better choice for the common name, given its wispy white flowers.
Schizostylis coccinea + Schizophragma hydrangeoides. I just had to add this pair of 'schizos.' Of course the term 'schizo' here does not refer to a plant with multiple personalities (though the way some plants act one wonders) but derives from the Greek, meaning 'divided.' In the latter plant, its genus name means 'divided wall,' referring to the split walls of the fruit. This plant is commonly called 'climbing hydrangea while the Schizostylis belongs to a group of bulbs called Kaffir lilies.
Animal names show up in common names with some regularity. Here are two of my favorites: Lysimachia clethroides (Gooseneck strife) + Ribes uva-crispa, better known as Gooseberry. I guess what is good for the gander is good for the goose. BTW, Gooseneck strife has an especially lovely flower, forming a sloping then upturned cone of pure white flowers.
Let's take a trip to South America, starting with the intoxicating Mandevilla laxa (Chilean jasmine). While we're there we can look up the Sacred Flower of the Andes (Cantua buxifolia). The former produces pure white flowers that have a truly intoxicating fragrance. And the latter makes a sort of Brugmansia-like tall shrub with vivid fuchsia or red, flared tubular flowers. Each bring a bit of the high altitude heavens to your garden.
Staying local? How about the CA native Mimulus aurantiacus (Sticky Monkey flower) paired with a decidedly non-local Araucaria araucana. Not familiar with this plant? How about its common name -- Monkey Puzzle tree? I'll hold off on the simian jokes. You probably couldn't find two plants with a similar common name be so different but hey that's all part of the fun in the Names Game.
Speaking of 'sticky,' how about Melianthus major (Peanut Butter bush) and Jelly Bean sedum? Not quite PBJ but close enough for our purposes. And yes, it isn't just creative license calling the Melianthus the PB bush. It's leaves actually reek of peanut butter. Paging Mr. Darwin. Umm, how exactly did that quality further this plant's evolution? As to Jelly Bean sedum, well, the tiny round 'leaves' really do look like jelly beans, especially given their pink, peach and gold colors.
It's easy to find plants that have the word 'bee' associated with them but here are two that may not be immediately known. Monarda is to those in the know better recognized by the common name Bee Balm. And there's a wonderful Salvia called Bee's Bliss. That kind of says it all!
And since it's "time to go" I'll end with plants associated with the time of day. First up is Mirabilis jalapa, better known as Four O'Clocks (because their fragrant flowers open later in the afternoon). And then there's everyone's favorite -- Hylocereus undatus. Just kidding. Only cacti enthusiasts are likely to know this plant, affectionally known as Dragon Fruit. Its flowers open at night. This ornamental would be worth having just for the collection of bizarre common names associated with it. These include: Strawberry Pear, Belle of the Night, Cinderella Plant and Jesus in the Cradle. You got me on the last one.

I hope these entries will stimulate you to think of your own Names Game entries. And for those who missed parts one and two of the Names Game, scroll back through Older Posts to find them. Hope these tickled your curiosity bone. And now the photos!

Portulaca 'Soleil Tangerine.' Another in the series of groovy, colorful portulacas, this one having rounded petals not the crinkled ones found on bedding portulacas.

Another shot of my Rhodanthe, this time of the whole plant. Though the stems usually grow upright, this one decided to cascade. Papery flowers are only the beginning of this annual's charms.

Mandevilla laxa. Everyone buys this Chilean jasmine for its intoxicating scent but as this photo makes obvious, the flowers are almost a blinding white! If there was a 'white' version of a black hole, this flower would be it. 

Nothing remarkable about this Clematis niobe, except for the fact that it appeared a full three months after the main flowering period. No idea why it happened but love the color and this rates as a 'welcome' surprise.

Flower quiz? "Do you know who I am?" Yes? No? It's a Potentilla 'Melton Fire.' This member of the Rosaceae family, commonly known as Cinquefoil, is a tough little guy and is just starting its summer blooming period. 

Tecomas were one of the 'It' plants of 2014 and here is a new addition, the wonderfully colorful T. stans 'Bells of Fire.' Unlike other Tecomas, which can get 8-10' tall and be semi-scandent, T. stans varieties are a dwarf bush type, usually reaching only 3-5' in height. They are profuse bloomers, starting in early summer and continuing well into the fall.

Clerodendrum ugandense. This Blue Bower shrub has the prettiest pea-like blue flowers, appearing in great numbers in summer and fall. It's a part sun, part shade plant and thus versatile, though its size (to 10') means you need the room.

I rarely include photos of plants not in my garden but here I make an exception. This is my neighbor's Lonicera hildebrandiana, better known as Giant Burmese honeysuckle. And giant it is. Each flower is easily three times the size of the common japonica types. Though it's not as fragrant, the sheer size and subtle colors of its flowers make a great plant for, in this case, covering a carport. 

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Although the flower is certainly pretty enough all on its own, here I took a bit of an angle to show these flowers amazing stamen and stigma. They are much more elongated than in most flowers. Many hibiscus are self-pollinators, though they are also pollinated by insects and birds.

Here is the Laurentia 'Blue Stars' mentioned above. To me they look like a swarm of tiny blue birds, spooked into flight. 

So we could make a little rock song about this fern. "I got one, I got two. Give me three, give me four, give me a Five Finger fern." (Bass and drum break). Yep, this is indeed a 5 Finger fern and it's one of the more vigorous of our California native ferns.

Crocosmia variety. Perpetual winner of the 'Easiest bulb to Grow' contest. No truth to the rumor that Crocosmias are related to rabbits. Those having grown this bulb will get the joke (both produce many, many 'offspring'). Pretty though, especially if one likes the color orange.

Last but not least, my new Mimulus 'Fiesta Marigold.' One of the most vividly colored of all the Mimulus hybrids.
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