Thursday, March 3, 2016

Sooner than Later

To paraphrase that Grass Roots song (Sooner or Later), our recent combination of sun and rain has put many of our gardens into overdrive. Deciduous shrubs such as Viburnums, Spireas and Physocarpus have not only leafed out almost overnight but some are already producing flower buds. Why is that you may ask? The simple answer is that it is built into many shrubs' DNA to take advantage of spring rains to not only leaf out but flower as quickly as possible in order to attract pollinators, before the rains are gone and the dry season begins. Of course it isn't just deciduous shrubs that do this. Bulbs are the classic example of this manic push to bloom as quickly as possible before the rains disappear.
In any case, spring has clearly arrived for most of us here in the Bay Area. That means not just a wonderful proliferation of flowering bulbs and early annuals but perennials that are responding to our unusually warm weather. The photos of my garden today reflect all of these conditions and so provides a nice cross section of how wonderful our early spring gardens can be.

A northern friend was sharing that her Forsythia is in bloom right now. It's not cold enough here in Oakland for that deciduous, yellow-flowering shrub so my substitute is the equally sunny Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora.' As mentioned above, it leafed out and began blooming within a mere few weeks. The 'Pleniflora' variety has the double flowers. Both this and the species are very vigorous.

Wow and double wow, my new Camellia reticulata 'Bill Woodruff' has produced its first flower and it's incredible. Not only that rich color but it is a fully double flower and the petals are extravagantly ruffled. Why do we grow camellias? This is why.

Proving that plants that like regular moisture just aren't going to be as happy without it, my Ribes sanguineum 'Claremont' has resumed its profuse blooming, stimulated by our winter rains. This part shade loving CA native is easy as pie to grow. A favorite with hummingbirds.

File Agapetes serpens as one tough plant. My specimen has survived two location changes, periods of dryness, two attacks of thrips and who knows what else. It's having its best year ever this spring, producing tons of papery red flowers. 

Somehow the dappled sun here brings out the charms of Asarina procumbens, a hard to find cascading Asarina. It features tubular, almost snapdragon-like white flowers that have soft yellow throats. Its leaves too have a soft felty texture, leading a sweetness to this vigorous evergreen species.

A recent trip to Annie's Annuals unearthed this violet-flowering Lachenalia. I keep finding new ones to bring home.

Sparaxis variety. I love Sparaxis for their sheer exuberance and color combinations. Here's the one I liken to Orange soda, with a yellow center but no dark dividing line between the two colors as is common with sparaxis. 

This is the walkway leading back to the studio apts in the rear. On the right side, pictured here, I've planted a host of bulbs, as well as a low Scabiosa, a spreading Lotus and other ground covers. Already in early March you can see the blue Ipheions in bloom as well Freesias and the first Sparaxis. Soon to follow will be Dutch iris, Ixias, species Tulips and eventually Lilies.

File under the 'It's warm and I'm being watered' category. This Mimulus 'Fiesta Marigold' is already in bloom. Our native mimulus are a great example of a hardy plant that responds almost immediately to the advent of rain. When it's dry it toughs it out and when it gets moisture from spring forward it responds by blooming.

I'm trying to expand out from photographing individual flowers so with that in mind, here's a photo of one of my median strips. Most notably, that's a Beschorneria sp. 'Queretaro' in front with the two tall bloom spikes. Also in this bed is a double yellow Gazania,  an Eriogonum crocatum, the CA native Abutilon palmeri, a Caryopteris 'Hint of Gold' and two flowering quince (Chaenomeles). Anchoring the bed is a Magnolia 'Butterflies.'

Speaking of the Eriogonum crocatum, here it is in the early morning sun. I love the pure silver foliage and the way this will eventually show off the sulphur-yellow summer flowers. Of course, CA Buckwheats, as the species in this genus are known, are great landscape plants for all manner of pollinators.

A top down view of my ever changing Sun King bed. That's a Pittosporum crassifolium (chartreuse leaves) to the front left. To its right a variegated blue daisy (Felicia) and then a pot of lilies that also holds some orangish-red Freesia. In the bed itself, that mass of yellow is Osteospermum 'Voltage Yellow.' In front, starting to spill over the low wall, is a Phacelia campanularia. Packed behind are the now blooming Ferraria crispa ssp nortieri (I call them Chocolate ferrarias because of the flower color), a CA native Salvia spathacea, another CA native, Epilobium canum plus a Scuttelaria, purple and white flowering Verbena, a Satureja mimuloides (species mate to Yerba Buena), Maritime CA poppy and both Iris and Dutch iris. Oh, and the Peacock moraea. I did mention the bed was packed!

For some reason, my Prostanthera variegata (Variegated mint bush) waited three years to bloom but the flowers on it now represent a second straight year. This hardy genus, all 90 species are endemic to Australia, thrives in sun and is quite drought tolerant. The genus name derives from the Greek word for appendage, thus our word Prosthesis. Of course its common name owes to its wonderfully fragrant leaves.

I never get tired of photographing my Euphorbia atropurpurea, especially now that it's finally hit its stride. Of course its species name owes to the purplish-red flowers, instead of the typical chartreuse. It likes a little more sun than some species but rewards its caretaker with huge rosettes of leaves and those vividly colored flowers. Hard to come by in the trade, which is odd given how lovely and durable it is.

I now have five succulent bowls and since I keep a list of all my plants in my computer and where they're found I decided it was easiest to just number them. So, meet succulent bowl #3. It likes its location so has prospered, especially the Watch chain crassula in the rear. 

Viburnum is an interesting and varied genus and one of the ones that's certainly less common is V. x burkwoodii. It's a cross of V. carlesii and V. utile and the cross was intended to produce, among other things, especially fragrant flowers. Check. These spherical clusters of pure white flowers appear before the leaves in early spring and are sweetly aromatic. This deciduous shrub can get to ten feet tall but is more likely to settle in the 6-8' height range.

Speaking of 'Phoenix' plants (those back from the dead), my Melianthus pectinatus looked to be a goner at the end of 2015 but now is vibrant and bushy. It's a smaller species than the common M. major, both its leaves and its flowers, which makes it a more practical selection for smaller gardens. Still has the same odd peanut-butter smell to the leaves.

My favorite garden 'monster,' this Pelargonium crispum 'Variegated Golden Lemon' has decided to range far and wide, not behaving like any pel I've ever grown. Fun, plus there's that lovely scent.

No, someone didn't hack my computer and insert this ... um, what the heck is that? It's a Porcupine Puffer fish (Diodon holocanthus), or rather it's the skeleton of one. I ordered it from a site that specializes in seashells. They've shellacked it to preserve the skeleton. And it does earn its common name -- those spines are really, really sharp! He's either the greeter to my back yard or something to scare people off. Oh, and of course the live fish are poisonous.

No, this is not MY Acer Beni Maiko Japanese maple but though mine is leafing out and the new growth is really this brilliant red (soon to fade to green), it's too early to get a good photo of it. So here's one grabbed from the web for maple fans to enjoy.

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