Saturday, September 26, 2015

Shimmering Silver

Color is an important element in any garden, be that flower or foliage. One of the 'colors' that can occasionally be overlooked is Silver. The curious thing about plants that feature silver tones is that despite the color generally being considered a 'cool' color, when it is placed with plants where the dominant foliage colors are green and blue, silver becomes a shimmering standout. Case in point, a new and unusual Cassia that I've just added to my garden. Other than the recognizable gold, cup-shaped flowers, one wouldn't pick this phyllodinea species as being a Cassia at all. It is a 6' shrub not a 10-12' tree and its leaves are a shimmering silver not a verdant green as with the most popular Cassia (or Senna as it's now often classified), C. corymbosa.
And it doesn't get any more lovely a silver than this tough, drought tolerant shrub (see photo below). It's sheer mass makes it an immediate standout in any mixed planting. Or it can be used as a focal point in a colorful container, which is how I plan to feature mine. Sometimes all that glitters is not gold -- it's silver!
And now the photos!

Cassia phyllodinea. Put to the side everything you know about the popular Cassia trees. This dense, silver-leaved shrub will get to six feet high and wide. It's drought tolerant and of course has those brilliant gold flowers. A standout!

Bat-faced Cupheas are all the rage these days and why not? They're tough plants that put out an endless parade of colorful flowers from July to at least October. Instant color to a sunny bed.

Echeveria species. I love the way the sun picks up the subtle pink shades on the inner new leaves. For you succulent neophytes, Echeverias are one of the easiest succulents to grow. And one of the ones that most readily blooms.

A top down shot of my Glaucium flavum (Horned poppy). Still waiting on the flowers but the foliage is pretty in the meantime.

Haitian oil drum sculpture. Many of you have, or have seen, these lovely metal sculptures made from recycled oil drums. And the profits go entirely to the artists who produce the work.

Name that trunk! It belongs to my large-leaved Philodendron in the back yard. The 'patches' you see are where I removed lower branches, mostly because those leaves had gotten so huge you couldn't get by the plant! It does however make for an interesting photo n'est-ce pas?

Silene uniflorus. This hardy little ground cover is also a great choice for spilling out of a pot, as it does here.

Okay, today's groaner joke is -- "What do you call a pen with multiple personalities?" A Schizo-stylis of course. That word play aside, this is one of my favorite bulbs. Love that color and it's easy to grow.

Justicia fulvicoma. This hard to find Plume Flower plant has joyful, tropical colors and is surprisingly easy to grow (at least in the milder zones of the Bay Area). One of my faves!

Speaking of color, here's the first flower on my still maturing Protea 'Pink Ice.' It hasn't fully opened yet but is already showcasing that lovely salmon pink color.

Today's photos are displaying lots of color - a bit of a coincidence - and none are brighter than this Celosia 'Cramer's Burgundy.' This is one of the tall species from Annie's Annuals and is at the very beginning of its bloom season.

The plant of 2014 (in my mind anyway), Tecomas offer a variety of orange, apricot and gold colors. This T. stans 'Bells of Fire' showcases more of the orangy-red spectrum. This is a dwarf variety, meaning it will only get 4-5' tall.

Mimulus = summer, no? No! My various Mimulus aurantiacus varieties typically bloom well into the fall. That could be due to the warm weather stretching so late in the year.

Begonia rex 'Escargot.' The name is self-explanatory and this is one begonia where the leaf trumps the flower. My favorite Rex (sorry, dinosaurs and Marc Bolan).

Euphorbia trigona 'Ruby.' So many Euphorbias, so little time. You might even say, so many succulent Euphorbias ... This little cutie makes Prickly Pear like branches, kind of a desert cactus on a miniature scale.

Under the 'Nature is funky' heading, here's the flower on my Haemanthus albiflos. The genus is known as Blood lily, though that isn't apparent from this white-flowering species. This plant is sometimes called the Shaving Brush plant because of the flower.

Aloe striata. File under 'some plants just speak to you,' this lovely Aloe is one of my favorites (and that's saying something as I have 500+ species/varieties in my garden).

SB5. That's my code for Succulent Bowl #5 (the most recent). It's turned out pretty well and is placed to greet both passersby and folks coming up our main walkway.

Though it may not look like it at first glance, these vertical 'climbing' branches are part of a Pelargonium (geranium). In this case, it's a Pelargonium crispum 'Variegated Golden Lemon.' A closer look will reveal intricately twisted leaves and a gentle rub of the fingers will reward the olfactory senses with a heady lemon scent.

Kalanchoe 'Flapjacks.' Enough said.

Though tuberous begonias are common, that doesn't take away from their beauty. This yellow variety helps to brighten a shady area.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Following One's Nose

When I am asked by shoppers in our Grand Lake nursery 'Can you show me some fragrant plants?' I never know quite how to address that question. They may be looking for the usual suspects -- roses, lavender, buddlejas, philadelphus -- or they may want to expand their horizons. Even the question itself is too general. Are they after plants with a sweet fragrance, those with a citrus scent, those with a pungent fragrance or those with a woodland aroma. And a plant like Lantana may have a pleasing fragrance to one person's nose but be unpleasant to another's. To use a mixed metaphor, fragrance is in the eye of the beholder. We might further complicate the question by determining whether the scent is from the flower or the foliage. The bottom line is that there a great many plants with a pleasing fragrance. They just need a better PR agent.
Some are making progress. Agastache varieties are finally getting their due as possessing one of the most pleasing scents in the world of flowers. They come to mind today as two of the photos here are of Agastache varieties. Known broadly as Hummingbird mints, their scents can range from citrusy (Grapefruit Nectar) to culinary (A. foeniculum, better known as Anise hyssop) to a pleasing woodland (A, rupestris varieties). We might also categorize this interesting genus under 'Human mint,' as they attract humans as much as they do hummers!
Sometimes well known fragrant plants have lesser known cousins. Such is the case with Satureja mimuloides whose more famous cousin is Yerba Buena (S. douglasii). Both are members of the savory family, with Yerba Buena being sweet smelling and S. mimuloides possessing an earthier but equally pleasing scent.
Sometimes there's a battle for a popular common name. 'Mock orange' is a well known common name, rightly bringing to mind a plant with a pleasing citrus fragrance. But does that name refer to Philadelphus (Mock orange), Choisya (Mexican mock orange) or Pittosporum tobira (Japanese mock orange)? Whatever the choice, your olfactory sense will be the winner.
Sometimes one is after a very specific scent. Take chocolate (yes please!) as an example. Most gardeners know about Chocolate Cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus) but did you know there are (at least) four other plants with a chocolate fragrance? Berlandiera lyrata is simply known as Chocolate Flower due to its unmistakable fragrance. Akebia quinata is known as Chocolate vine for that plant's small but delicious smelling flowers and Cosmidium's gold-rimmed brown flowers also smell delightfully of cocoa. The most intense chocolate-scented plant is the least known. Scorzonera hispanica (Black Salsify) has flowers that will make a chocolate lover swoon. 

And now the photos. 

Speaking of fragrance, here's a shot of my Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious.' Better known as Pineapple sage for its pleasing fruity fragrance, this is one tough vigorous salvia. I have to keep hacking mine back as it wants to overrun its neighbors!

Got orange? I do, in this corner that starts the walkway to the back apartments. Those are tiger lilies in the foreground; behind them is a thatch of Helenium 'Mardi Gras' and to the right are the delightfully charming Bessera elegans 'parasols.' 

Agastache rupestris 'Orange Nectar.' Hidden in the obvious appeal of Agastache varieties -- that fragrance and the hummers -- is the simple visual evidence that the flowers are very colorful and pretty.

I thought the combination of shade and sun looked inviting for this shot of Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Plumbago). It's in more sun than what it seems like here and it's off to a good start. It makes a great spreading ground cover and the gentian blue flowers add that wow factor.

One plant not often in the conversation of fragrant plants is the aptly named Snail vine (Vigna caracalla). Its snail-shaped flowers are indeed fragrant, though I'd be hard pressed to describe the smell. No matter and the flowers are exceptionally lovely.

What does the above plant have in common with Winona Ryder? Why they're both 'Heathers' of course. This is Calluna 'Firefly' and it's one of those plants that changes color throughout the year. What begins as golden new growth in spring ages to dark green in summer then in fall changes again to oranges and reds.

Choisya 'Sundance.' Sometimes the photographic effect you're after does pan out. I wanted this shot to evoke a painting as much as a photo and the gray stucco wall helps towards this end. 

Bonus points to those who correctly identify this plant as an Abutilon. With its gray felty leaves and sun loving temperament, one would not guess it to be a member of the flowering maple genus. Add to its differences that it's a California native and you have a very unique species (A. palmeri). It's sometimes called Desert Mallow, giving a clue to it really preferring the heat.

Bouvardia ternifolia. This evergreen and profuse bloomer has two interesting Family mates. It's part of the Rubiaceae family, which also includes the Coffee plant and Gardenias. Ain't horticulture grand?

Here's another shot of my Bessera elegans. This little known bulb from SW Mexico is slowly finding a home here in California. Easy to grow and a prolific bloomer, it produces charming coral-orange flowers that resemble tiny parasols. Not fussy (it does not require a dry summer) and very reliable (mine is in year five and is only getting more voluminous), it only needs sun and little water to do its thing.

If that looks like an oxalis flower and a shamrock leaf, that's because this Oxalis latifolia is one of the 'Shamrock' oxalis (so named for its leaves). Hard to beat this combo of lime foliage and bright pink flowers. It's one of the 'winter' oxalis, that is from the group that reappears in the fall and sticks around till the spring (as opposed to the 'summer' species that do the reverse).

'Fire, fire!' Well, not really but this so-called Fire Ginger (Hedychium greenii) does offer some flaming color to a part sun garden. At once delicate and bold, it's a great choice for a tropical garden.

Satureja mimuloides. Couldn't mention this member of the Savory family (above) without including a photo of its colorful flower. Unlike Yerba Buena, which needs shade, this Satureja really likes the sun. 

And suitably, we end this post about fragrant flowers with the aforementioned Agastache 'Grapefruit Nectar.' It doesn't smell like grapefruit to me, though it has a fruity aroma, but that aside it has a neat trick, combining pink and yellow flowers on the same plant.

Friday, September 11, 2015

To rain or not to rain

... that is the Quest(ion). There was a bit on the news last night that meteorologists now are predicting a 95% chance of an El Nino (rainy) winter. The main issue for those of us in the Bay Area is whether it will make it this far north. It seems it will but at this point we're like Missouri (Show me!). Then again, we could really get pounded and that may not be as much of a good thing as it first seems. Yes, if we get snow in the Sierras as a result the reservoirs will rebound some but it could also result in widespread flooding. But at least it will be rain and it will soak the state, reducing the wildfires and reinvigorating parched lands.
That doesn't mean as gardeners we shouldn't still be following drought tolerant gardening principles. One year of rain does not a reliably wet climate make. And for those of us who work outdoors (and don't relish getting soaked), the promise of a series of big rainstorms is a little less a joyful event to look forward to.
And now the photos. My garden is definitely transitioning into what I call NSNF (not summer, not fall). That is, the plants that are following their natural clock and that are spring or summer bloomers, are largely done with their flowering. It's the period for late summer and fall bloomers. Then again, the continuing warm weather is delaying the changes brought on by cooler nights. That's Nature for you; sometimes 'early,' sometimes 'late' but always in the moment.
The first batch of photos is from my new Nikon and the second from my older Nikon. The new Point and Shoot has its limitations so will continue to use my older dslr Nikon.

Osteospermum 'Voltage Yellow.' Here, my new camera was able to automatically adjust for the lighting (sun) and largely remove the bleaching the sun can cause. 

Leucophyta (Cushion Bush). A little test with a shot in part sun, part shade. Mostly successful. Cushion bush is a curious plant. Some have compared this Aussie native to tumbleweed and you can see why. It is super tough and drought tolerant and adds both silver tones and texture to a garden.

Here's my Succulent Bowl #5 (should I have a contest - name that succulent bowl!?). It is progressing nicely. This shot was another test of my new Point and Shoot camera, to see if it could handle different objects in the same shot, plus differing colors and textures. Not completely successful but not bad.

Here the new camera did do its job, getting a good shot of my notoriously difficult to photograph Evolvulus. In the past the sun has washed the colors out or if photographed in shade the camera didn't capture the true blues. This shot is pretty accurate and if it's accuracy that one wants in a photograph (one doesn't always want a literal accuracy, going for a certain effect) then this one succeeded.

Tillandsia species. I call this one 'Silver Spider.' Just the coolest air plant I've yet to come across, even though it has yet to flower. 

Here's what the excitement is all about for Passiflora parritae flowers. Sensational color more than makes up for the fact that the filaments are inconsequential. This plant is a cross, being P. parritae x tarminiana 'Oaklandii.'  It took a couple years to bloom but is off to a good start this year.

Plectranthus 'Zuluensis.' One of the taller Plectranthus, it can get 6-8' tall, it nonetheless produces flowers similar to the popular 'Mona Lavender.' Most Plectranthus are fall bloomers and of course are great plants for dry shade, being tough and resilient.

Ampelopsis. As you can see, this is the variegated form of the Porcelain Berry vine. This shot is from the new camera. I had to stand further back and use the zoom to get it in focus.

And here's a shot taken with my Nikon dslr. This was manually focused and is perhaps not perfectly focused. I'm dealing with a balky lens that has a tendency to move slightly so getting that perfect focus is sometimes a challenge. When I retire I'll likely invest in a much higher quality digital slr but for now I make do with my present equipment. Thus the new 'easy' camera.

Justicia fulvicoma. This hard-to-find shrimp plant is a real delight. I love the color of the flowers and its tropical appearance. Justicias are easier to grow than one might think, assuming one is in a zone where you don't get a freeze. Plume flowers as they're called are a great way to add a bit of the tropics to one's garden.

Echeveria flower. Not the perfect shot to be sure but this particular Echeveria's flower has a lot of orange in it. Delightful.

Here's a closeup of my new native abutilon, A. palmeri. The flowers are a saturated golden yellow and the leaves a very un-Abutilon like downy silvery-green color. This is one flowering maple that actually prefers the sun (and the heat). I planted it out in a median strip so we'll see. This 'exception' makes me think that a good article might be "Native specimen of generally) non-native genera." There are more examples of this than one might think. For example, Lavateras are not a native genus but there is one native species, L. assurgentiflora.

This odd 'egg' is a Datura seedpod. It will eventually crack open and spill its seeds. Of course the seeds especially are very poisonous, part of the plant's defense mechanism, so caution must be taken when growing it.

Asarina scandens 'Joan Lorraine.' One of the prettiest flowers in the Asarina genus. Asarinas are hardy and prolific vines and a good choice where you don't want something going wild and completely covering plants next to it. Incidentally, there is a charming ground cover species, A. procumbens, which sports downy leaves and flowers that resemble snapdragons or nemesias as much as they do typical Asarina blooms.

Dietes 'Lemon Drop.' I love the buttery-yellow petals and the black and orange 'eyes' of this Moraea cousin (it was originally classified as a Moraea). 

Bessera elegans. My vote for "the prettiest bulb you've never heard of." This late summer blooming bulb produces masses of inch plus little 'parasols.' The interior of the petals have a cream-colored 'rib,' adding extra intrigue to the flower. Delicate but vigorous and one that will colonize in your garden.
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