Sunday, March 27, 2016

March showers bring April flowers

On an unexpected day off, I was able to spend some time in the garden and even though I wandered through, camera in hand, last Wednesday, the nature of Spring is such that a lot can develop in a mere four days. I couldn't resist taking more photos today. I imagined myself as a child looking for -- well, not Easter eggs -- but the delightful adult version, new things in bloom! So here are a number of my 'tasty garden treats.'

If this looks like a Glechoma, it is. The variegated form. And who knew Glechoma knew how to flower and that the flowers were so pretty. We frequently recommend this plant at our nursery as a shade ground cover or to spill out of a container, something that blends in with other plants around it. Here, this variegated form  proves that it deserves a spotlight of its own.

Thrips have been such a pervasive problem for Rhodies, Azaleas and Viburnums that I now hesitate to add new ones to my garden. This R. 'California Blue' is from Sonoma Hort and after battling, yep, thrips, it's made a comeback and is finally healthy again. Love the flowers!

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf hydrangea) is to me one of the few 'perfect' plants. It's vigorous (almost to a fault), flowers profusely, is disease and bug resistant and in our mild Oakland climate is only deciduous for weeks at a time. The leaves are lovely and acquire a red blush in the late fall; the flower clusters are large and lovely; heck, even the seedpods are interesting.

This is your Japanese maple ... on drugs. Just kidding but wow, this mature tree leafed out completely in about two weeks and now is just incredibly lush. So many Japanese maples, so little room ...

Viola walteri 'Silver Gem.' This hard to find viola has the loveliest leaves, proving once again that even species violas can be wonderfully varied.

Asarina scandens 'Joan Lorraine.' Back from the dead, this tougher than she looks Asarina has begun blooming again. Love that purple!

Echeveria pulvinata. The drawing card for this Echeveria is its soft, furry leaves. The bright red flowers are a nice bonus too. 

Clematis 'Belle of Woking.' I love this guy, in part because of its dense double form and for the fact that its flowers start out this green-tinged alabaster color then gradually color in to become a light lavender color.

Lilium 'Black Eye.' A new lily on the market, it features midnight burgundy centers that look for all the world as if they've been painted.

Iris 'Red Ember.' Everybody loves Dutch iris and the combo of colors here, a brownish-red below and purple above, makes for a striking flower.

I took this photo of my Lepechinia hastata flower spike at an angle. It's actually coming out at a 45 degree angle but, well, I was trying something new. Same fabulous burgundy flowers on this, another of the plants on my 'perfect' list. Very fragrant leaves, lovely flowers adored by hummers. Tough. Works for me.

Got blue? You do, if you have one of these Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Van Pelt's Blue' plants. Love its form; love its color; love its toughness.

This Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiraliter' may not be as tough as the Van Pelt but it's gradually making itself at home. Love the bright green new growth.

Hmm, another 'perfect' plant (really, there aren't that many in my garden). Streptosolens (Marmalade bush) are just about the toughest things going. I've had mine for 12 years, never babied it, don't give it much water and it blooms all the time and has no bug or disease problems. That = perfect for me.

Here's a shot of my new metal Finial trellis. It's soon to be swarmed by my umm, vigorous, Dicentra scandens. I'm sure someone's been tempted to write a book called "Attack of the 50' Dicentra scandens."

Tillandsia tectorum + Sedum dasyphyllum. The latter is called Corsican Stonecrop but I think you could just as easily call it 'Creeping spruce sedum.' Oh and hey, look, it's blooming (little white flowers). Charming!

Iris Bronze Beauty. This aptly named Dutch iris is one of my favorites, for those rich colors. You don't see many Dutch iris this color and it contrasts nicely with purple varieties.

Here's a shot of my new copper wind spinner. It has a front and rear wheel that spin independently, making for a rather hypnotic effect.

My irrepressible Justicia brandegeeana is back in full boom. It's got to be root bound by now, in the same shallow pot for the last ten years, but it keeps on ticking.

Leucospermum 'Veldfire.' Still the showiest of all the pincushion shrubs in my opinion. Here the first of its flowers are developing the characteristic yellow fuzz, before the flowers finally open. First far flung trip when I retire will be to South Africa.

Here's a shot of my Physocarpus 'Nugget' in full bloom. Notice the similarity of the flowers to those of many Spireas. For those with eagle eyes, there's a little bee perched on a flower cluster in the center of the frame.

Sedum 'Lemon Coral.' Somehow, despite being given too little or too much water sometimes, this golden sedum keeps on ticking. Though it looks as if it's growing upwards, most of what you see has spilled forward from the container in back.

To me, Canarina canariensis is one of the holy grails of gardening. Notoriously difficult to propagate and hard to keep happy long enough for it to produce its gorgeous, tubular orange flowers, it nonetheless can reach a point where it can be quite vigorous.

Although I've spoken of Viburnum plicatum being my favorite Viburnum, V. opulus (Snowball viburnum) is a close second. Here the 'snowballs' are still green but they will soon age to that distinctive pure white color. A prolific bloomer, Viburnum opulus is one of those shrubs that leafs out in a hurry and then proceeds to bloom almost as quickly.

Exbury azalea. Sometimes just called deciduous azaleas, the Exburys have their roots in Britain. They are chosen for their orange and gold flowers, colors not commonly found on the popular evergreen azaleas. They are sun lovers, which means I need to do a bit more pruning to open up more direct sun for this specimen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Dem Bells

Today I deviate from my usual thoughts about seasons and the states of our gardens to talk a bit about one of my favorite plants -- Hermannia verticillata. Herman what? you may ask. This small-sized shrub hails from South Africa and is commonly called Honey Bells. It forms a dense two foot high by as much as four foot wide evergreen bush and produces an abundance of nodding, half inch yellow flowers in late winter and early spring. PlantzAfrica reports "The genus Hermannia is named after Paul Hermann (1640-95), born in Halle, Saxony (Germany), for a long time a physician in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), he spent some time at the Cape where he collected many plants, returned to Europe and became Professor of botany at Leyden in Holland." This species is often more commonly referred to now as Hermannia pinnata.
Though it certainly is not obvious at first glance, this genus belongs to the Malvaceae family, which contains such common plants as Hibiscus, Lavatera and Malva. Hermannia's common name owes to the pleasing fragrance its flowers emit. That would of course mean bending over to smell them, unless one raised it up in a tall planter or used it in a large hanging basket. When it blooms there's no missing the event, as even modest-sized plants are smothered in the tiny golden flowers.
Hermannia is tougher than it looks, as long as it doesn't dry out during the bloom season. It makes an ideal sunny garden addition and in our mild climate and with a little regular water will bloom over a long period. So, talk to your local nursery about adding a little 'honey' to your garden.
And now some photos from my garden.

Viburnum plicatum. Here, a bit of filtered sun gives more of an intriguing look to my favorite Viburnum species. I've kept mine pruned hard, sort of bonzai-ing it in a tight spot. That doesn't seem to have bothered it.

Geranium phaeum. The rains caused this species geranium to burst forth with lush foliage and the first of its matte finish purple flowers. Love this guy!

Here is the 'star' of today's blog. As you can see, my Hermannia specimen is in full bloom. I need to find somewhere to elevate the pot, although my sunny real estate is already over-booked!

Plectranthus 'Troy's Gold' + Begonia sutherlandii. It may be a bit hard to spot the single Begonia stem (upper left) but once it produces its creamy orange flowers then it will make itself very beautifully known.

My Thunbergia Arizona Red has continued to bloom through the winter and is showing no sign of slowing down. I love everything about this plant, not only the flowers but the interesting lime-colored calyxes from which the flowers emerge and the verdant green leaves. 

Up, up and away, my Beschorneria queretero bloom spikes keep reaching for the sky. Flowers are sprouting along its central stalk, soon to open and tempt hummingbirds. 

Blue meet red; red, meet blue. The blue daisies (Felicia) seem to be getting along royally with the red flowers of the Mimulus Fiesta Marigold above them.

Rhododendron 'Sappho.' My favorite Rhodie and it keeps getting better and better. This year the bloom clusters are larger and the colors more vivid. A selection from the great collection of rhodies at Sonoma Horticultural Nursery near Sebastopol.

Abelia 'Kaleidoscope.'  The variegated leaf form of the popular and vigorous Abelia genus is really rounding into form. The new growth offers delightful peach tones while the older leaves mix greens and golds.

Phacelia campanularia. Desert Bluebells is one of my favorite blue-flowering plants and here the flowers are a vivid gentian blue. A good cascader, I have it planted at the front of a low rock wall, where it can spill to its heart's content.

Justicia brandegeeana. Already back to blooming, this tough plume flower or shrimp plant depending on your choice, is a real blooming machine. 

Calluna 'Firefly.' My heather has just about outgrown its pot and I better get it out before I have to break the pot to do so. One of my favorite small shrubs, its leaves are constantly changing color. Here they're exhibiting some of the red winter color but also a bit of the spring green. It appears to be as tough as most other heathers.

Here's a shot of the fabled Grevillea 'Moonlight.' I say 'fabled' because it is darned hard to find in the trade. Glad I grabbed mine while I could. A favorite destination for hummers.

It took a couple of years but my Iris douglasii has finally begun to bloom. Here are the first 3 flowers this year, with more on the way. This CA native is one tough customer, able to adapt to a variety of environments. 

Eriogonum giganteum. This tall CA Buckwheat is one sturdy and gorgeous plant. There aren't many large, silver-leaved plants any better. 

Dutch iris. There's probably no richer purple than that of certain Dutch iris and here's Exhibit A. Enough said.

Physocarpus 'Nugget.' My Ninebark went from deciduous to full leafed out in three weeks then to full bloom in another two. This is one impatient shrub! It sports tiny heads of white, spirea-like flowers that are rich in nectar. Nugget is the golden-leaved variety, this specimen providing a nice eyeful for those coming up our main walkway.

Speaking of golden, my Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious' rebounded very quickly from being hacked back in January. No truth to the rumor that I be a pirate but I do likes me 'gold.'

Pieris japonica 'Flaming Silver.' Another shot of my new Pieris. The pinkish leaves are the newest growth, contrasting nicely with the variegated older leaves and the white heather-like unopened flowers.

Goldfish out of water! Goldfish out of water! Okay, it's only a goldfish plant (Nemantanthus nervosus) but in this case it's more accurate to exclaim "Goldfish plant found outdoors!" This plant is mostly grown as a houseplant but it's mild enough in Oakland that I've trained mine to live outdoors. So far so good.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Rivers of Life

Well, I guess El Nino officially showed up this last two weeks. While no one expected one wet winter to wipe out our drought, I think we're all breathing easier. And of course our gardens have welcomed the rains with open arms. It almost seemed like everything sprouted overnight. That doesn't mean we shouldn't abandon good gardening principles, such as mulching, deep watering, planting drought tolerant plants, making sure we don't have leaking hoses or faucets etc. That said, it's sure nice when Mother Nature helps with spring rains.
The weather is warming too, making for a great one-two spring punch. We've gone seemingly overnight from staring longingly at our gardens, encouraging a few things to grow or bloom to suddenly having nearly everything shoot up. Of course that also includes weeds. I'm now convinced that weeds are just regular plants hopped up on growth hormones! In any case, to paraphrase the Byrds (Turn, Turn, Turn), it's weed, weed, weed!
Lots of upside. And proof of that is shown in the bounty of this week's photos. Here they are, a random collection of what's in bloom or of interest this week.

Though always a subtle treat, I didn't want to forget about my Ledebouria socialis. The foliage is always interesting then it puts out sprays of perhaps the tiniest flowers in the world. 

The perspective is a bit confusing but there are two Autumn ferns here, slowly being overrun by Toad lilies (Tricyrtis). 

My Begonia rex 'Escargot' sometimes does funny things, like putting out one monstrous leaf before the other tiny leaves catch up. 

There aren't many more beautiful ferns than Japanese Painted ferns (Arthyrium). In the center is a purple colored variety and to the right, barely in view, is one of the so-called Ghost varieties. Their beauty and silky leaves belie their toughness. They go deciduous but come back faithfully ever year.

I've had mixed results with Rhodies but one that's survived tough conditions and is now thriving is my R. Sappho. First viewed at (and purchased from) Sonoma Horticulture Nursery, this variety is otherwise hard to find. I call it my 'Raspberry Swirl' rhodie, as it looks a bit like Raspberry Swirl ice cream.

This dense mass is my Black bamboo, which is finally getting a toehold and developing some dark culms. I've learned two things. They like a deep watering on a semi-regular basis and they like regular doses of a high nitrogen fertilizer to be happy.

Camellia 'Lila Naff.' Simple but I love the coral/salmon tones. It displays the wavy petals so common to reticulata hybrids.

Gladiolus 'Lemon Moon.' Okay, not the greatest shot but this is one very lovely South African gladiola. As you may know, the South African gladiola flowers are small but often have intricate markings at their centers, as this variety does.

Here are two shots of my slender front yard bed, as it hugs the walkway leading to the back apartments. This shot shows purple Freesias, double yellow Gazanias, orange Sparaxis and blue Ipheions.

Further down toward the street in the same bed, this section shows off deep purple Dutch iris, short, pink Dianthus and just opening deep pink Ixias (Corn lilies). 

Speaking of Dutch iris, here's a relatively new variety called Apollo. The yellow falls are evident but this photo doesn't quite capture the lovely light violet upper petals.

Felicia amelloides. This genus is aptly named (from the Spanish 'Feliz' for happy). The periwinkle blue flowers of this tough evergreen shrub appear in spring and it will continue blooming all summer.

Silene uniflorus. This tough little ground cover (the genus is commonly called bladderworts) also happens to have charming tubular white flowers. Here it's spilling out of a pot containing a Pavonia.

Not sure why my variegated mint bush (Prostanthera) waited three years to bloom but this year it's gone berserk, making for quite the show. I imagine it must be the winter rains.

Spring brings lot of floral treasures but it also provides anticipation for the progress of one of my favorite shrubs -- this Leucospermum 'Veldfire.' Here are the developing buds, soon to provide spectacular furry yellow pincushion flowers.

I know, I know, another photo of my Aloe striata but here it is at the very peak of its flowering. BTW, aloes are beloved by hummingbirds so make sure to include a few in your garden.

Pieris japonica 'Flaming Silver.' I've wanted one of these showy shrubs for quite awhile and I finally gave in and brought one home last week. I have a place in mind for it (very near where it was placed for this photo). 

I know Abutilons seem like the easiest possible shrub/tree to grow but they do take some care to get them to look their best. In our mild Oakland climate they prefer some sun and some regular watering to get established. Fertilize once in awhile and prune as necessary to keep them bushy (if that's your preference). This shrub is another hummer favorite.

This strange looking plant is an Arisaema ringens. Jack-in-the-Pulpits have become more popular but this A. ringens is harder to find. I don't know why. It makes a sturdy and lovely, striped green and white spathe and the leaves are large and tropical. I couldn't get the right angle to really show off the spathe here.

As readers of this blog know, I love dwarf conifers (and have a bed full of them). Youngblood Nursery sells a limited selection of 4" species and I recently brought three home and have created a dwarf conifer pot (kind of like a mixed succulent bowl only with slow growing, dwarf conifers).

Yeah, it's just a photo of a Ranunculus but I love them and they're so cheerful.

Speaking of mixed succulent bowls, here's a hanging basket with 3 different ones. Though it's hard to see there's an Aeonium, Crassula and Jelly Beans sedum in there.
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