Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sounds of Spring

It turns out of course that Nature has its own calendar. And birds especially are an excellent and more reliable source for when spring has really arrived. And I'm guessing the birds are confirming what our eyes are telling us. It may be February but the first of the deciduous trees and shrubs are leafing out. No going back now.
And while those of us who grew up in colder climates especially appreciate the advent of spring, no matter the kind of winter you do get, spring is always most welcome.
Mind you it's not all wine and roses. Rain + warmth = weeds aplenty and sometimes so many that you have no choice but to yank them out to see just where the heck your plants are. Makes one want to plant tall plants.
Anyway, a picture may not always be worth a thousand words but it's more pleasing to look at so here are the latest photos from my garden.

Nothing says early spring like daffodils. Here's a new patch to the left of my CA native Abutilon palmeri.

Sparaxis and freesia are two of the earliest blooming bulbs, owing to their South African heritage. Both are tough and naturalize easily. 

People plant succulents in part because they are drought tolerant but I've found they really thrive if they get a little bit of regular water. Here my Aloe striata has put out a multi-branching bloom spike and the first flowers are beginning to open. Another bloom spike is right behind it.

Speaking of bulbs, here are two more. In the front, showing the first of its pale lavender flowers, is Iris confusa 'Chengdu.' It's native to Western China and is commonly known as Bamboo iris. This rhizomatous crested iris offers bouquets of lightly fragrant flowers in spring and will become drought tolerant over time. Behind it is the deciduous South African bulb Chasmanthe bicolor, with its red and yellow bi-colored flowers. 

Here I liked the contrast between the fat, bluish leaves of Echeveria peacockii and the mass of still tiny Physocarpus 'Nugget' leaves. This deciduous 'ninebark' is leafing out early this year.

Off and running also is my CA native Ribes sanguineum 'Claremont.' I was finally able to get a decent photograph of it. Our winter rains pushed out a good crop of flowers this year.

That's a Kalanchoe 'Chocolate Soldier' in the back center area but the real question is the identity of the yellow flowering bulb in the foreground. Anyone have any ideas? It didn't have a papery sheath so unlikely to be a sparaxis. It's not a freesia. C'mon all you bulb lovers. Time to put on your sleuth hats!

Double hellebores are appearing with greater regularity. Here's a H. Double Ellen Purple that's just opened its first burgundy flowers. Love that color.

So many freesias, so many vivid colors. We'd all welcome them in our gardens even if they didn't possess that heavenly fragrance (which of course they do). 

Do you know this CA native? The flowers would give it away but in this case the leaves also do. It's a Phacelia campanularia, also known as Desert Bluebell. There are a number of Phacelias common in the trade and not all of them have blue flowers. Two things make this species a standout -- its cascading habit and the dark blush to its leaves. And that's not to mention the inky blue flowers.

Okay not the most exciting photo but my Viburnum plicatum leafing out is always cause for celebration. Love those reticulated, textured leaves and its amazing ability to flower so quickly after leafing out. The race is on and the leaves barely get established before the white flower clusters appear.

Arisaema nepenthoides. This Jack-in-the-Pulpit species is always the first to appear. It shoots up quickly and then almost as fast, unfurls its spathe. I love how primal these tuberous perennials are. It seems like a plant that was around at the time of the dinosaurs.

I had to hack this Abutilon back so it didn't obstruct the walkway but in a way I like this look even better. It's really bushed out and has begun a new bloom season. 

Not an orange Campanula but the little known Canarina canariensis. The resemblance of the flower to a bellflower is no coincidence as the genus is a member of the Campanula family. But oh that color! Notoriously difficult to propagate and summer dormant (as in nada above ground), it revives in winter and starts blooming in early spring.

Is that an Ipheion or are you just happy to see me? It's a mystery to me why every garden doesn't have a patch of this early blooming bulb. It naturalizes with the vigor of freesias and produces masses of delightful pale blue, star-shaped flowers in February before all but the earliest bulbs have appeared.

When is a jasmine not a jasmine? It's not really a trick question as this species mate of Star jasmine -- Trachelospermum asiaticum -- rarely ever blooms, is very slow growing and tends to stay low and scramble. Not what most of us think of as a jasmine. That said, it's awfully pretty, exhibiting multi-colored leaves and offering a bit of wildness.

I never get tired of looking at my favorite Tillandsia, this silvery T. tectorum. Behind it, the weird but charming Euphorbia mammilaris variegata has begun to bloom (tiny chartreuse flowers on top). To the right, the Sedum dasyphyllum kind of reminds me today of Moe's haircut from the 3 Stooges.

Not only did my Begonia 'Escargot' survive the winter but it's already put out a handsome new leaf. Truly one of the prettiest leaves in our neck of the woods. 

Here the light and shadow effect is intentional, as I was trying to catch the new leaves on my Hydrangea quercifolia in the afternoon sun. 

I'll call this shot 'Mercury Falling.' This piece of art glass is a Mercury glass vase, now taken up residence in my garden. I love how it reflects the various plant forms around it.

And finally a bit of a tease. Yes, those are lily stalks. In February! It's a new variety called 'Black Eye' and by the looks of their growth they'll be in bloom before the end of March. Ahh, California.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Spring is a State of Mind

Well, it certainly is when the weather sort of matches it and that's been true for Northern California this last two weeks. That and recent rains are giving gardens the big Thumbs Up to leaf out (deciduous shrubs), pop up (bulbs) and get going (annuals). My Oakland garden is in full swing and I know, I know, it's February 17th and it's sub-freezing on the east coast but well, the temps here don't lie baby. So, I'm giving in to the fact we have yet another early arriving spring.
I'm okay with it in the microcosm (my garden, our nursery) though the Macrocosm view is more unsettling. Global warming aka Climate Change continues and that ain't good. One small bonus for planting a garden is that when you have thousands or millions of gardeners doing that, collectively it does remove carbon from the atmosphere. Not to mention providing a habitat for birds and pollinators.
The photos today reflect the above comments - one deciduous shrub leafing out, another photo of a newly blooming bulb, plus plenty of camellias and magnolias. And as usual there were surprises.
Okay here they are:

Camellia reticulata 'Lila Naff.' This blush pink flower has just a hint of salmon in it. It's a young plant still and this is its first year blooming.

Camellia reticulata 'Francie L Variegated.' This lovely variegated form is in its second year of blooming and is displaying the characteristic mottled pink and white flowers.

Under the heading "I guess when they say 'riparian' they mean it" my Ribes sanguineum is so much happier this year with all our January rains. One mystery -- ribes are supposed to be popular with hummers but I rarely see any on my flowers. Maybe I'm just not looking when they're there ...

Camellia japonica 'Jury's Yellow.' This is one of my favorite new camellias. Check out the 'ruffled' center portion of the flower. True, there's not a lot of yellow coloring, just enough to suggest a bit of butter.

Lachenalia species. Not sure which one this is. It was labeled L. mutabilis but does not change color so it must be something else. No matter, it's certainly pretty enough.

Gold Star winner for plant of the month in my garden is this Clematis armandii 'Snowdrift.' It's gone berserk blooming, a thousand buds all seeming to open at once! And this is truly one of the most fragrant Clematis ever. Incredible. Let's review: handsome foliage year round; easy to grow and maintain; fantastic sweep of pure white flowers and heavenly fragrance. It's all good.

Here's today's entry for Name that Plant. Hint - it's fragrant. Second hint - bears might like it (sort of). It's Gelsemium sempervirens, better known as Carolina Jessamine. It's a type of honeysuckle, thus the bears reference (honey), and produces its bright yellow flowers in late winter/early spring.

Magnolia 'Butterflies.' This subtle yellow saucer magnolia has finally hit its stride in year four. This photo doesn't feature the best composition (or quality of light) but I was just so excited to see it bloom I couldn't wait to share it.

Speaking of finally reaching enough maturity to begin putting on a show, my Chaenomeles 'Cameo' just keeps getting better and better. Love that peach color.

Speaking of nearing a point of perfection, my Aloe striata is about to show why its nickname is Coral aloe. Its flowers are about to color up, soon to produce coral-orange flowers. Amazing how fast the flower spike grew.

Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star.' I call this species the 'fingers magnolia' for its finger-like petals. For some reason, my specimen has spread out low rather than getting some height. Oh, well, its delicate white flowers contrast nicely with the large, vibrant green leaves of Alpinia 'Zerumbet.'

Here's a picture of my Iris confusa 'Chengdu,' warts and all. Also known as Bamboo iris for its bamboo-like stems. It's a multi-branching, floriferous, lightly fragrant iris that is very vigorous once established.

To quote the Beatles -- No. 9, No. 9, No. 9. Those familiar with this deciduous shrub will get the reference, as the common name for the Physocarpus genus is Ninebark. That's a reference to the way the bark on mature specimens will peel multiple times. This golden-leaved variety is P. 'Nugget.'

Finally, here's a Pandorea species (P. pandorana 'Golden Showers') that has one of the great all time common names - Wonga Wonga vine. BTW, as best as I can determine, the name Wonga is of Australian aboriginal origin.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Natural World

I've been watching a number of the series of famed British naturalist David Attenborough recently (highly recommended) and so I've had the wonders of the natural world on my mind. There is of course an intimate relationship between plants and animals -- in general and in many cases between a particular plant and a particular insect, bird or animal. It should come as no surprise then that there are many common names for plants that contain an animal or insect name. The use of these descriptive common names can be divided broadly into two categories -- those where the animal has a direct bearing on the plant's growth or pollination and those where the name is descriptive of the look of the plant. An example of the former would be Baboon flower, where baboons do actually eat Babianas in South Africa. An example of the latter would be Tiger lily. Tiger lilies are orange with black spots, thus invoking the look of that animal.
So, what follows is a new version of the Name Game, something I started last year in this blog. There are likely hundreds of such common names. I'll introduce a subset of those, part one here and part two next week. This time around I'm going to leave off the botanical names, as a kind of fun puzzle for those who want to see how many they know. So here are the common names, each with a short comment. Enjoy.

Not only is there the common Baboon flower, but there is a red flowering species called Rat's Tail. So, I guess that would make it a 'Rat's Tail Baboon flower.' Hmmm.
Bird of Paradise. Speaking of Attenborough, he did a program on this colorful South American bird. Or birds, as it turns out there are many species/varieties.
Bird's Eye flower. Here's a hint. This is a California native and has tiny fuchsia-colored flowers.
Bat flower. No? This flower is often sold with orchids and is sometimes called Cat's Whiskers.
Burro's Tail. This will be an easy one for many people, though I honestly don't see the resemblance between a burro and this plant.
Butterfly plant. There's two, maybe more, common plants that answer to this name. One of them famously is the host plant of Monarch butterflies.
Canary Creeper. One of my favorite common names and one that is actually quite descriptive (although we all know canaries don't creep).
Carrion flower. I doubt this succulent had a vote as to its common name. Carrion? Yuck. It is however aptly named.
Catchfly. I'm not sure if these plants were used to catch flies but it is said that the Xhosa tribe of South Africa ground up the roots to make a preparation for ritual and to influence one's dreams.
Elk clover. Elks may not have eaten this CA and OR native, at least not in the last 5000 years, but it has another distinction, being related to the only ginseng native to our west coast.
We all know about Cat-nip but did you know our feline friends are also mentioned in other plants? That would include Cat's Ears, Cat's Paw and Cat's Whiskers among others.
Speaking of animal companions, did you know there's a flower called Cockscomb? Chickens anyone?
Staying with the farm animals theme, there are actually two plants using the common name Cowslip. Can you name them?
Here's a common name that many will be familiar with: Cranesbill. But did you ever stop to think what that plant may have to do with a Crane's bill? Neither had I.
Speaking of another puzzling name, there is a plant that's found in aquatic regions of the Western states called Crow's Foot. Hmm, to the google ...
Speaking of plants found out west, one of my favorite common names is Dog's Tooth violet. A bit of artistic license perhaps?
Speaking of artistic license, anyone out there know of a plant called Dove tree? Curiously this dogwood relative is also called the Handkerchief tree or the Ghost tree.
No question where the Elephant Ear plant gets its common name. It sports large leaves that with a little imagination could be thought of as belonging to our favorite pachyderm.
Also descriptive is the fern commonly called a Foxtail fern. It goes by an even more popular common name but that would be too much of a giveaway.
Under the "huh? category, let me introduce you to one of the most common of all garden plants - Fleabane. Not quite sure where the 'flea' part comes in. Anyone?
Everyone knows Foxgloves but our red rascal shows up in a couple of other common names. That would be Foxtail lily and one that few have heard of - Fox and Cubs. This latter plant, a ground cover with orange, dandelion-like flowers, is also called Hawkweed.
You wouldn't think the the word Snakeshead would be in use as a common name for more than one plant but there's two I know of -- Snakeshead iris and Snakeshead fritillary. Herpetologists out there will get the connection.
Goatsbeard on the other hand would seem to be a common name that applies to many plants but the one I'm thinking of here is goes by the curious name of False Goatsbeard. Does that mean this plant is, in the words of that Simon and Garfunkle song, just 'Faking It'?
One of my favorite common names is Buffalo Grass. Yes, it's a real grass and it's native to the North American prairies. Where there used to be buffalo ...
Then there's Zebra grass. Not actually a grass and not actually walked on by Zebras so I guess, um, this is one where the look of the plant engendered its common name. Indeed it did.
Speaking of descriptive grass names, how about Hare's Tail? In this case it's the grass's fluffy seed heads that remind one of bunny tails. Or is that bunny tales?
Everybody knows Hens and Chicks, at least as it refers to a popular succulent. It's famous for making lots of pups off of the 'mother' plant, which I guess reminds some of chicks huddling close to mom.
Horse Chestnut anyone? And here I thought it was apples that horses liked?
Not sure how it came to be that Hound's Tongue came to describe a certain common, blue-flowering plant. Any Sherlock Holmes sleuths out there?
Many are familiar with the plant called Kangaroo Paw but did you know there is a shrub hailing from New Zealand called Kangaroo Apple? Here's a hint: it's in the same family as Tomato and Eggplant but one has to be careful because the unripe fruit is poisonous (no wine before its time?)
Lamb's Ears is both descriptive, everyone loves its soft, fuzzy leaves, and kind of fun.
There are probably several flowers claiming the common name Peacock flower but two come to mind and they are both bulbs. One hails from Central and South America while the other is found in South Africa. Can you guess what they are?
Toad lilies are well know in the trade but did you ever wonder how they came by that common name? My best guess is because of the dramatic spotting on the flowers. Not sure I know any toads that are so brightly spotted but I've never been a princess in search of the right frog.
Lastly (for this week) we have the the plant known as Lobster Claw. This plant's flowers do actually look like lobster claws though of course they are soft and one is in no danger of getting pinched.

And now some photos from my garden. A word about the photos. Although I always try to include attractive and interesting photos, I'm not a professional photographer. Sometimes I'll post a photo mainly to share my interest in, and thoughts about, that plant, even if the photo isn't perfect.

Camellia 'Little Babe Variegated.' Now in its fourth year, this japonica type is finally producing flowers that are fulfilling its visual promise. Like most variegation, be it in flowers or leaves, no two flowers are exactly alike.

The rains have begun to fill out my raised shady bed. That's the CA native Oxalis oregana below, while the Blue Bear's Paw fern is front and center and the Fuchsia 'Firecracker' is finally filling out after a necessary pruning job.

Chaenomeles 'Kurokoji.' My flowering quince went berserk in the flowering dept this year. The lower cluster of red flowers almost seem as if they're 'erupting' from the ground like some floral volcano.

Euphorbia atropurpurea. Whew, that's a mouthful. Notice the red flowers, something uncommon for a Euphorbia, where most flowers are a telltale chartreuse.

Mahonia lomariifolia. I love Mahonias and this one, despite being 'stuck' in the back of my driveway, has managed to lean forward to escape the overhang and grab some sun.

Behold a Thunbergia (AZ Red) before it has completely taken over the fence. As the saying goes, the day is young ...

My Lepechinia hastata (Pitcher sage) is blooming its heart out and that 's great news for hummers, who love its flowers. For me it's one of the (perfect) 4 star plants - tough and drought tolerant; fragrant leaves; lovely flowers; a good source of nectar for hummingbirds and bees.

Lachenalia 'Fransie.' The picture on the bulb package showed yellow flowers but as you can see they're a mix of yellow and red. One of the easiest of the S. African bulbs to grow, they just need a dry summer in order to be happy.

Here are two 'foundation' plants in the front of my garden. Up front is the silver-leaved Eriogonum giganteum. It has settled in nicely and last year it produced 'branch' after branch of pink-tinged white flowers. Behind it is a Leucospermum 'Veldfire,' possibly the showiest of all the Leucos.

Here's the front yard bed I call the Aussie bed, as it's populated mostly by Aussie native shrubs. I'm gradually adding succulents to the front.

Aloe striata. This succulent is anchoring the front left corner of the Aussie bed. That's a bloom spike elongating in the front, while a second one is nestled in the leaves behind it.

Helleborus 'Wayne Rodderick.' One of the best of the burgundy hellebores, this variety has proven to be hardy and a reliable bloomer each year. Helle-boring? No way.

Aeonium Schwarzkoph. Unmatched for adding dark tones to a garden. Here it's contrasted with Golden Sedum (Sedum x adolphii).

Even in the 24 hours since I took this photo, my Clematis armandii 'Snowdrift' has opened dozens more flowers. One of the most intensely fragrant flowers you'll ever smell. And it's got company. I have a Daphne odora marginata underneath it, alongside an Edgeworthia chrysantha. Across the walkway is the sweet smelling plant known as Chilean Jasmine (Mandevilla laxa). 

Bulbinella latifolia. A bit of winter cheer, this 'orange rocket' typically blooms in February. A favorite destination of bees.

Here's a preview of my Chasmanthe bicolor. This South African bulb is a member of the Iris family and though it looks a bit like a Crocosmia it's actually more closely related to a Babiana.

Abutilon thompsonii. I've mostly been photographing the foliage on this striking flowering maple as they're called but here I caught the sun illuminating one of the peach-colored flowers.
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