Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Big Calm

There have been so many extreme weather events lately - earthquakes, massive rainstorms, etc -- that our continuing drought seems mild by comparison. That doesn't mean we should let up on our water conservation efforts. Here  are some planting/mulching tips I wrote for our Ace Nursery customers last year. I'm sure most of you are following these principles but it's sometimes handy to have a checklist.

1. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Use a thicker layer of bark mulch than you might otherwise do.
2. Gradually scale back on the frequency but use a deep watering method. Make the roots search out moisture deeper in the soil where it does not evaporate.
3. Choose drought tolerant perennials OR deciduous shrubs that need little regular water. In both these cases, they should need little or no water between November and April.
4. Seek out drought tolerant plants for shade. Dry Shade plants include Plectranthus, Liriope, Heuchera maxima (a native), Western sword fern (also a native), Sarcococca (Sweet box), Camellias, Clivia, Hellebores and many others.
5. Use drip irrigation where possible.
6. Keep the number of plants in pots to a minimum. They naturally use more water than those planted in the ground.
7. Plants things with similar water needs together wherever possible. That is, plant drought tolerant plants together and those that need a little regular water together.
8. Expand out past natives to include the larger list of Bay Friendly plants. These are also drought tolerant, tough and non-invasive. Consult for a list of such plants.

And now this week's photos.

Here's my sweet Aquilegia chrysantha 'Flora Pleno' in fuller bloom. Now in its third year, it has proven to be a sturdy little guy.

This charming, variegated leaf Pelargonium is P. 'Frank Headley.' It has made do in a small pot but it's definitely time for an upgrade. I like the salmon-colored flowers too, a color you don't often see with pels.

I lucked out on this photo of my new Dudleya gnoma. The sun brings out a kind of white heat on the plant. It's a dwarf variety and yes it's not a coincidence that the species name looks a lot like Gnome. It is also known as Munchkin dudleya. Nope, not making that up. It tops out at 4" x 4." It's rare, found only on Santa Rosa Island (one of the Channel islands). This specimen is a cultivar called 'White Sprite.'

Speaking of uncommon plants, for some reason Ballota nigra isn't widely known. This is the variegated form called Archer's Variety. I love the foliage and if you take a good look you can see why it's part of the Lamiaceae family. It can reach a 3' x 3' size so has a full presence. In the front, starting to spill over, is my silvery Geranium harveyi.

Many gardeners will recognize this CA native. It's a 5 Finger fern and despite its name it's a very trustworthy plant (5 Finger being a term for a pickpocket). That's the lighter new growth above and the darker older growth lower down.

I'm thrilled that my Passiflora parritae x tarminiana 'Oaklandia' is starting to bloom. It produces very large, salmon-orange flowers and it has climbed up into my apple tree. 

Mixed succulent hanging basket. Though I kept adding succulents in a bit of helter-skelter manner, the end result has been quite pleasing.

There's something entirely appropriate about letting Mimulus do their thing, rather than manicuring them. Here's my M. 'Jeff's Tangerine' meandering through other plants, a bit woody, but very happy.

A golden Teucrium? Mais oui! This is T. 'Summer Sunshine,' a golden-leaved, low growing deciduous perennial. It does flower of course but I have it mostly for that glorious foliage.

The tree that ate Oakland! Well, not exactly but my Cotinus 'Royal Purple' has loved our winter rains and responded in kind. It's a 'street' tree and has managed to get a good foothold in lousy soil. 

There are many lovely Mallow members but one of my favorites is Sphaeralcea munroana. As you can see, it's a low growing, cascading species and once the weather warms up it blooms profusely, with little half inch rose-colored flowers. I also love the tiny scalloped leaves.

Looking almost good enough to eat (candy corns perhaps), this Passiflora citrina has proven to be one of the most durable plants in my garden. To me they look like little vegetative fountains.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Faster than a Speeding Bullet

No, not Superman (speeding bullet) but the curious and delightful bird known as an Oaktit. Part of the titmouse family, it's distinguished by having a more pronounced crest (or Tyrolean hat as a birder friend describes it). They're around my garden a lot these days, flitting back and forth from a close by tree to the window seed feeder. They're so fast that the human mind can't quite process the microsecond it takes them to get from limb to feeder. They're excitable birds and have a very sweet song. So today's post is dedicated to this garden friend (as well as all birds of course).
And now the photos ...

Salvia 'Sao Borja.' Though an annual in climates that get a hard freeze, here in temperate Oakland, this part shade tolerant Salvia has prospered. Love those burgundy flowers!

This shot is a bit darker than I'd prefer but too much sun simply bleaches out the subtle butter tones of Camellia 'Dahlohnega.' As you can see, it's a double form camellia, with a hint of pale yellow at its center. This proved to be the last of my ten camellias to bloom. Don't know if that's due to its own nature or the fact that it's still a youthful shrub.

Certain things may not have a "snowball's chance in hell" of doing well, but this Snowball viburnum is quite happy in the sun (at least some). The flowers start out green then mature to a blinding white in no time. And it's prolific. No sense in crowding this bush into a tight spot. It's a freedom lover baby and it gots to roam.

In the same area but in front is my equally vigorous Sambucus canadensis. I chose this species for its berries. For the birds. It's on the side of the house with the bird feeders so it's ideally located to tempt our avian friends. That said, elderberries have been used to make wine for centuries.

Aquilegia chrysantha 'Flora Pleno.'  This super cool and rare variety of the chrysantha species makes petite, fully double, red and yellow flowers. Proof indeed that good things come in small packages.

This new lily (L. Black Eye) has made a nice stand in its first year. Despite its name, I'm guessing it's a lover not a fighter.

The bright colors of Mimulus 'Bronze' help it stand out in a 'jungle' of Dutch iris stems, Echium Blue Bedder and yes a few stubborn weedy grasses. Most of my sticky Monkey flowers have begun a new bloom season.

This is probably the last of my flowers this year on the late winter blooming Luculia pinceana. Those that follow this blog know how much I love it, mainly for the intensely fragrant flowers.

My second time around of growing Correa 'Wyn's Wonder' has met with greater success. It's filling out nicely, even if it doesn't bloom this year.

There's a relatively new line of Petunias called 'Surprise.' Here's the 'Surprise Moonlight Bay.' I love how the cross breeding has created a kind of scalloped burgundy pattern, outlined by the butter yellow. Surprises are a cascading type of petunia. I guess I'll see; mine is at the front of a low rock wall.

Lovers of Eucomis will immediately recognize these new shoots. They're from a E. 'Sparkling Burgundy.' The color is most vivid at this point of first appearance, gradually aging to a burnished dark green. Central flower stalks will follow, with distinctive (and popular) waxy flowers.

Okay, not the most dazzling photo but that little peach-colored flower is an Ixia bellendenii 'Peach' bulb. Hard to find these days, I'm glad that at least one of mine has survived.

From the sublime (Ixia flower above) to the ridiculous, here a Passiflora actinia. Last week I posted a photo of it having ascended to our second story roof. Here's a close up of it's showy flowers. Or rather of its showy filaments, as the petals are a plain white. Sometimes it looks more animal than flower, like some sea creature scuttling about the ocean floor with its hundred legs.

Here's a photo of a little terrarium I did. The feature is a Tillandsia but there's also a little blue metal lizard in there (to the left).

Speaking of tillandsias, here's one of unknown species/variety that has produced not one or two but five flower spikes!

My Eriogonum giganteum has lived up to its species name, especially when it sends out its multi-branching flower stems. I love everything about this plant -- its intensely silver foliage; its huge sprays of white flowers; its popularity with pollinators and its toughness. But that's CA Buckwheats for you.

As advertised! That description should appear on all labels for Campanula 'Blue Waterfall.' This vigorous, spilling, long blooming bellflower has become one of my favorite garden plants. Here it is, doing its thing. 

Okay, another entry from the show What's My Line? Are you old enough to remember it? One of the tag lines was "Who Am I?" So, any ideas on this week's celebrity entrant? Did you start by deducing that it's a Verbascum? Good. It's a lesser known species called thapsus and it's native to Europe and northern Africa. I love its heavily textured leaves and that grayish-green color.

When the omnipresent weedy grasses took over my Dwarf conifer bed I gave up on my idea of letting the 'floor' there be just pine needles from above and some Viola labradorica that I was waiting to self seed. Nope, the grasses were way too fast. So I've resorted to microbark, which is way too bright right now but will soon age to a more natural light brown. 

Here's a riddle. When can you have both sunlight and moonlight out at the same time? You do when you have a Grevillea 'Moonlight' in your garden. Here's one of its massive flowering panicles. My favorite Grevillea and one of my favorite garden denizens, no qualifications needed. Hard to find!

Exbury azaleas are a true treat for those of us that like our azaleas with orange, gold and orangish-red tones. Sun lovers and deciduous, their spring glory is all too brief but entirely worth the effort.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Species Diversity

I've been watching a number of the BBC nature series recently and it's one of those 'Cup half full or half empty' deals. The cup half empty is that due to various factors -- predominantly climate change and clear-cutting of huge expanses of forests -- we are literally losing hundreds if not thousands of species every week. Yes, every week. Think about that. That's not counting the fact that in the parts of the world a certain fungus is eradicating huge numbers of the frog population. Losing even a single link in the genus chain, be it plant or animal, can have far reaching consequences.
The cup half full? There is an ever-increasing awareness of such devastation and people are redoubling their efforts to save local and national ecosystems. Now this may be something you feel is beyond you but there are two things you can do as a gardener to maintain, even increase, species diversity. First, buy species plants and not only the sometimes more colorful hybrids. Support growers who grow these plants. Likewise do not support places like Proven Winners who take a big business approach to propagating and selling plants. That is, producing huge quantities of an increasingly more limited variety of plants. Not to mention that they develop and sell mostly hybrids, and by their sales clout, diminishing the availability of true species selections.
Secondly, plant a garden filled with a diversity of plants. Not only is this fun, but especially if one is planting CA natives or Bay Friendly plants, one is inviting pollinators and other beneficial insects/wildlife into one's garden. The gardening business is, like any other business, driven by supply and demand. People buying a lot of natives and plants that do well in our Mediterranean climate means that growers will grow them to meet that demand.
In short 'acting locally' can make a difference, especially when it's hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of people doing this.
All right, where are the steps to get off this soapbox?
Here are the latest group of photos from my garden. This time of year, it's an embarrassment of riches. Ain't Nature grand?

Clematis Niobe. This lovely burgundy flower has an almost velvety look to it. Large 5-6" flowers too. 

Speaking of clematis, here's another shot of my charming C. 'Belle of Woking.' It's a double form that starts out white then colors in to a pale lilac shade. It's always one of the first clematis to bloom.

Lat week I posted a photo of my Physocarpus 'Nugget.' Now a week plus later it's already starting to produce seedpods. That would be the red clusters you see here. It's one reason why this versatile shrub is a three season plus wonder.

Looking down on my prolific Echium Blue Bedder. Though an annual, it nonetheless is a bee magnet. Plus it truly does self seed (I have four plants that sprouted from last year's one mother plant).

Here's a nice trio: the lavender blooming Scabiosa, the pink and red Dianthus and in the middle the CA native Eriogonum 'Shasta Sulphur.' All three are favorite destinations for butterflies, although homo sapiens have been known to linger nearby and enjoy as well.

Kudos to those who can ID this plant. It's a Callistemon viminalis. Not the large Bottlebrush tree that one sees everywhere but a smaller-sized shrub type. This one tops out at about six feet. I'm still waiting for it to bloom but the coppery new growth is certainly pretty in the meantime.

I thought the combo of my Exbury azalea and the broad leaves of Alpinia 'Zerumbet' provided a nice contrast. Although Exbury is the common name for these types of azaleas, technically they're known as deciduous azaleas, of which the Exburys are one major group. Here's this week's bad pun. "I'm thinking of forming a touring flower and rock band called 'The Traveling Exburys.'"  If the reference is lost on you that's probably just as well ...

I've decided to rename this little gardening plot, under and just to the west of a big fir tree, my Woodland Garden. In the front are some lobelia and an Aquilegia; behind them left to right are an Euphorbia Ascot Rainbow, a Fuchsia Autumnale and some Douglas iris; further back is a Francoa, some Louisiana iris, some Galium (Sweet Woodruff) and a Woodwardia fern.

Liked the sun-dappled shot of my pretty purple and white Verbena. Despite them being sold as annuals, my plant returned vigorously this spring. Ditto for the CA Fuchsia (Epilobium) to its right.

Although Plectranthus are tough and adaptable, great for planting in places where few other things grow, they do have pretty flowers. My P. Zuluensis is just beginning to bloom.

I make lists of different categories of plants in my garden, things such as bulbs, succulents, dwarf conifers etc. I really should make a list for 'Phoenix' plants (those that came back from the dead). That listed might be headed by this Azalea 'Mangetsu.' It's had not one, not two but three bad cases of thrips; is still in a container (no room yet) and has survived who knows what else. But here it is, happily blooming away.

Though they are a little hard to make out, this Rhipsalis has finally bloomed, producing a collection of tiny white flowers. Whoa, who knew one could get excited by simple and tiny white flowers?

"First to the roof gets the ... what do I get exactly?" says my Passiflora actinia. It used a phone cable to climb to the second story roof and is now bursting with extravagant blooms.

Also making the Phoenix list, well maybe not that list but the 'Are you EVER going to bloom?' list, my California Blue rhododendron  decided to go all out this year. Below is a closer look at the tres, tres belle blooms.

I posted a photo of my "I'll bloom when I damn well feel like it bub" Canarina canariensis last week. Now it has four full-sized flowers with more on the way. I know, I know, it looks like the easiest thing to grow but those with greater gardening acumen than I have failed to coax orange flowers from this semi-rare plant.

Here's another ID quiz. It might be part of a new horticulture quiz show -- "What is my name and where do I belong?" Note the lightly serrated leaves. It's the color that will throw some. It's Helleborus argutifolius 'Pacific Frost.' Love those speckled leaves!

Ignore the weedy grasses for the moment and just enjoy the pretty purple flowers of Babiana stricta. Babianas are one of the easiest South African bulbs to grow (along with Freesias and Ixias), not needing a dry summer to bloom the next year.

Among the top ten favorite plants in my 500 member garden, this Leucospermum 'Veldfire' is not only one of the showiest Leucospermums but to me one of the most beautiful of all the Protea family members.

Cotinus 'Royal Purple.' Not as eggplant-colored as usual (there's time yet), my Smoke tree is nonetheless already producing panicles of those distinctive airy flowers. I'm using mine as a 'street' tree and the Royal Purple is a good variety for this purpose, not getting as big as say the Grace cultivar.

Here's a look down the walkway leading to the back yard. It gets some morning sun -- more for the taller plants -- meaning that a lot of things do well. Each bed (left and right) is only two feet wide but that's enough to plant a surprising variety of plants.
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