Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Helichrysums are one of those genera that are somewhat taken for granted these days. Want a tough, sun-loving ground cover? Helichrysums will do the trick. They're right up there with the very toughest and adaptable mat forming ground covers. But wait, they're damned attractive. As I've come to appreciate, even love, gray and silver foliage, I've found these so-called Licorice plants very charming. Start with the straight species H. petiolare, showing off that downy gray foliage and the little white flowers in summer. There's the more delicate version of this species called Petite Licorice. But sometimes you want a bit of pizazz as well as well as the functionality so there's the chartreuse H. 'Limelight.' This variety will hold its best color in a bit of shade. And let's not forget the H. petiolare 'Variegatum,' which features mint green leaves edged in cream.
And just when you think you know your Helichrysums along comes H. 'Ruby Clusters.' It's not a petiolare but H. amorginum. It sports sparkling silvery foliage that twists and curls. To top it off, it features the aptly named ruby clusters, which sparkle like little gems nestled in the foliage.

And now the photos.

Passiflora 'Lady Margaret.' I love the deep almost garnet reds of this passion flower. The flowers aren't large but it has proven to be prolific.

Golds, apricots and oranges abound in this tight little cluster of Cosmos, Agastache and Mimulus. 

Although this seems as if it must be two Cupheas, it's only C. vienco 'Burgundy.' Somehow in year two it began to produce red flowers as well. Perhaps that was the parent and some of the flowers are reverting. No matter, they complement each other very well.

Here's my Helichrysum 'Ruby Clusters.' In the lower right, you can see the beginning of its first flowers. 

My Amaranthus has prospered and is filling out the distinctive curving seed heads. 

Last week I mentioned the upcoming article on interesting seedpods. Although I won't use this Cassia phyllodinea, if you look closely you can spot the light green, legume-like seedpods. 

Lilium regale flowers are some of the most beautiful lilies we can grow here. Not just their visual beauty but that intoxicating fragrance.

Here IS one of the plants I'll use for the seedpods article - Cotinus 'Royal Purple.' Although not in perfect focus, you can clearly see the dark black seeds. They will be dispersed by the wispy flower puffs that catch the wind and so scatter. 

Another seedpod entry will be the pineapple lily - Eucomis. This Sparkling Burgundy variety's column is already shooting up and the first waxy flowers at the base have begun to open. It will eventually form fruits (berries) that contain the seeds.

Aeonium 'Kiwi.' One of the most popular Aeoniums, loved for its soft but refreshing color palette.

Begonia 'Mocha Mix Orange.' I love the prominent veining on this begonia.

Here's the new stepping stone I took a photo of last week, now in its permanent home on my back yard gravel path. The blue is small glass pieces, giving the (intended) suggestion of this being a bluebird.

My other new stepping stone, further down the path, is of a frog sitting on a lily pad. Me and frogs go way back, back to my childhood days up in S.E. British Columbia, down at our rustic lake property.

Here's a 'vanishing point' shot of the middle portion of our walkway, included to show how much you can pack into a very narrow strip of soil.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Seedpods as Art

We are are naturally drawn to flowers and foliage in choosing ornamental plants for our garden. But seedpods? It turns out there are many fascinating seedpods out there, so much so that I've decided to do a piece on them for the Fall 2016 issue of Pacific Horticulture Magazine. As I began researching the topic and gazing at the incredible diversity of form and function of plants' ways of creating and dispersing seed, I realized that they naturally fell into categories. Before I list them, let me say that these are my own categories. There may be many others and I limited myself to ones where there was a multitude of seeds, not a single, and where the form of dispersal was less common. With that caveat, here is what I've come up with.
1. Elongated Legume type - ex. Albizia or Decaisnea (Blue Sausages, see photo below)
2. Papery Shell - ex. Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi)
3. Fluffy - ex. Asclepias (milkweed) or Cotinus (Smoke tree)
4. Exploding - ex. Impatiens balfourii or Ricinus (Castor bean plant)
5. Berries - ex. Dianella or Eucomis (Pineapple lily)
6. Wafer - ex. Lunaria annua (Money plant)
7. Spiky or Protected shell - ex. Datura or Fremontodendron
8. Windborn - ex. Briza media (Quaking Grass)
9. Woody capsules - ex. Melaleuca
10. Waxy or soft shell - ex. Physocarpus

This will be a fun article to write and I'll keep everyone posted on how it goes. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the Summer 2016 issue. It contains many excellent articles, one of which is mine on the subject of Cane and Shrub Begonias. It hits the newsstands in early July (we still have newsstands, right?)

Meanwhile, here today's photos. Hard to believe that it will be July in one week.

If 'Blue Sausages' sounded like an unlikely (okay bizarre) description of a seedpod, well, one look at these Decaisnea seedpods makes the description seem not only apt but inevitable. 

This new Heuchera 'Snow Angel' looks dramatic with it seeming to emerge from the deep shadow. 

Though it's only begun to bloom, this is one of the new Illumination series begonias. They are heavy bloomers and make good hanging basket selections. Mine is getting a decent amount of sun where it is so they seem to be handle some warmer locations.

Okay, no photo awards for this shot but my Ampelopsis (Porcelain Berry vine), now in year four, has finally gotten a toehold and is filled with a million tiny white flowers. Which of course the bees have found. 

This corner of my Shady Lane has acquired a bit of wildness. The yellow and green leaved plant is Plectranthus 'Troy's Gold,' the spray of yellow flowers is from a nearby pot of Calceolaria paralia and the light green serrated leaves belong to a Begonia sutherlandii. 

Another shot of my lovely Erewhon sweet pea. I haven't had much luck recently growing them so this year's success is very gratifying.

Lilium leitchii. This yellow tiger lily is hard to find but it's certainly a beauty! Notice the distinctive recurved petals.

Here's a shot from above of the same lily. It's amazing to me how the petals recurve. Lily yoga!

Lotus jacobeus. The so-named Black lotus is a phenomenal bloomer and is much tougher than its slender branches make it seem. Mine is still in a pot, so that shows you how resilient it is.

Cuphea Vienco Burgundy + Double yellow gazania. Two tough and colorful ground covers.

One of the names for this Eriogonum giganteum is St. Catherine's Lace and this photo of the myriad flower sprays show how apt that name is. A real butterfly and bee magnet.

Bouvardia ternifolia. That's it with the saturated red flowers. This small shrub is a testament to the value of pruning. I pruned it back hard last winter and it really liked it, responding with much healthier new growth and a new bloom season.

I know I just posted a photo of my Tecoma x smithii bush but its peachy-orange flowers are just so gorgeous I'm posting one more.

Crassula alba v. parvisepala. A better shot showing off its red speckled leaves. It's put up its first seasonal bloom spike. Brilliant red flowers are soon to appear.

It's not often that a stepping stone says it all but I think this one does. Now if I could only follow that advice a little more often ...

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Woodland Wonder

Today I am enchanted by a new woodland garden plant I have discovered. It's Patrinia scabiosifolia 'Golden Lace.' This member of the Valerian family (Valerianaceae) has a passing resemblance to Cow Parsley (Anthriscus) in that both have tall, multi-branching stems, very little in the way of leaves and unbels of tiny flowers. Anthriscus' flowers are white however, where this Patrinia has bright yellow flowers. Both plants would be considered "airy" plants, in that the sparse foliage lets light through. These plants are also nicknamed 'See-through' plants for obvious reasons. They can reach a substantial height, five to six feet, most of which are the stems holding the flat sprays of flowers. It is native to Japan, where it has long had a place in that country's art and poetry as one of “the seven grasses of autumn.” It likes sun/part shade and seems ideal for a woodland garden area.
It's always a treat to discover a new gem of a plant. For those wanting to add it to their garden, Annie's Annuals has it for sale in four inch containers.
And now today's photos, reflecting the diversity of the garden in its June clothes.

Begonia boliviensis. The hybrids of this species are famous for their vivid colors and profuse blooming. Mine is just getting started.

Another photo of my Passiflora 'Oaklandii.' They're such fabulously beautiful flowers that I couldn't resist posting another close up.

Kudos to those that can ID this vine. It's a Clematis viticella purpurea 'Plena Elegans.' Whew, that's a mouthful! This summer bloomer's flowers are small but I love that matte burgundy color and the double form.

It took so long for my Duranta 'Gold Mound' to do anything that I'm celebrating its new fullness. Aptly named, it holds that golden color all year.

Calceolaria calycina. Another shot of my red pocketbooks. There's something charming about the simplicity of Calceolarias and the way their narrow opening still invites pollinators in.

There's red and then ... there's this red Phlox. It's kind of a glow-in-the-dark red. Don't-touch-it-or-you'll-burn-yourself red. Is that fire engines you hear getting closer? Certainly not for the faint of heart.

Painted Tongues. Here's a question. If these Salpiglossis became evangelicals, would they pick up 'Speaking in Tongues?' Okay, that was lame.

And now my official greeter, for those coming up our main walkway -- Epilobium canum. This CA Fuchsia, as the genus is called, is just starting to bloom.

Amaranthus 'Giant Purple.' As many of you know, certain North American native tribes used the seeds from the seedheads for food. They even ground it for use as a flour.

I share this photo of my Mimulus Bronze to show that Sticky Monkey flowers can also scramble, given the right conditions. They have been prolific bloomers in my garden (I have 8 varieties).

Lotus 'Flashbulb.' This amazing plant always seems to be in bloom. When an Ace customer says "I want something colorful as a cascader" this is one of the first plants I think of.

Honey bees are of course industrious creatures and fond of many flowers but clearly Gaillardias are high up on their list of favorite nectar sources.

Is it an iris? Sort of. It's in the Iris family, this Neomarica caerulea. Prolific bloomers and the flowers appear on tall (to four feet) stems, making this a very showy plant indeed.

And finally the star of today's posting, the Patrinia scabiosifolia. This photo is from the Annie's Annuals site. It gives you a good idea of just how showy the plant is in full bloom.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The June Swoon

Though the phrase 'June Swoon' I think refers more so the hot weather, here I'm using it to reflect the wonderful shows our gardens are putting on. June is a great gardening month, at least here in the Bay Area. There's still a few things from spring that are going strong but already summer perennials are kicking in. Case in point in my garden is my Helenium 'Mardi Gras.' It's already begun to produce its multi-colored blossoms, little suns (the prefix 'Hel' means sun) attracting as always a collection of bees. Agastache too are returning, bringing with them their pleasing collection of aromas. Adding to the early summer joy are lilies of all kinds. The spring rains are not too much in the rear mirror so our shrubs are taking advantage to offer their blossoms. For all these reasons and more June is one of my favorite months in the garden.
Okay, and now today's photos. I tried to mix it up this week, with some photos focused on flowers, some on foliage, some on the ever increasing variety of succulents in my garden and a few shots where I was after a certain 'mood' in the shot.

Though Edgeworthias are primarily grown for their aromatic yellow flower clusters, the foliage is attractive too. It almost has a tropical look to it. In the same way perhaps that Eskimos have 50 words for snow, gardeners have many words (and images) for green foliage in their garden.

Dudleya gnoma. I just adore this dwarf Chalk Live-forever. Lately I've begun to appreciate the dwarf forms of plants and of course I have limited space so the smaller the better for certain things.

I know I've posted this Aeonium and Sedum before but today for some reason I had the thought that the
Schwarzkopf above was the father or mother and the multi-branching golden sedum were its kids.

I'll admit to being a 'blue junkie' and this Evolvulus gives me a regular fix. It's proven surprisingly durable as a ground cover and I'm glad that I planted it along our main walkway so everyone can enjoy its bit of blue heaven.

Astilbe 'Fanal.' 'If at first you don't succeed ...' I haven't had luck in the past growing Astilbes but am trying once more. When they're happy, as in my nephew's yard in Vancouver BC, they're vigorous as all get out.

Okay, Better Homes & Garden won't be impressed by this shot but I'm posting a photo of this walkway bed to illustrate how much you can put in a narrow strip. This strip is less than two feet wide and yet it's filled with low growing perennials (Lotus, CA poppies, Scabiosa, Eriogonums, Monarda), taller perennials (Agastache, Mimulus, Heleniums, Cupheas) plus bulbs (in spring, Ipheions, Dutch Iris, Ixias, Freesias and now in summer lilies and Gloriosas).

I always fold in some annual color in spring and summer. Here's a six pack of Salpiglossis, better known as Painted Tongue. I love their colors and they are surprisingly durable plants.

Annie's Annuals grows a stable of unusual Marigolds and here's one called Harlequin. Very aptly named and to me they somehow invoke summers gone by and the circus being in town.

Last week I posted a shot of my Eriogonum giganteum's developing flowerheads. I didn't want the exquisite silver foliage to be left behind so here's a photo. I happen to love 'silvers' and they are hard to come by.

Purple and gold always look good together. Here it's my North Shore sweet pea and my Hint of Gold Caryopteris. For some reason last year I had zero luck with my sweet peas but this year the two I planted are doing fine.

Speaking of silver, my Cassia phyllodinea has started to produce its distinctive cup-shaped yellow flowers. Cassias as a genus aren't well known. They are found in many parts of the world, some tropical and some not. A few species are native to North America. This species is native to Central Australia. Many cassias are now classified under the genus Senna.

When in doubt add water. That's been my Rx for some of my shrubs and it's worked for my Cunonia capensis. This guy apparently doesn't like drier conditions. It did go dry awhile back and nearly died. It's not only revived but is leafing out down below, a development I'm very happy about. I'm still waiting on the fuzzy, Banksia-like cone flowers though.

Can anyone ID this Salvia? I know I should know but damn if I can remember. Here it looks like an arm that's stretching out for ... ? No matter, it's purple and white flowers plus its rough-textured leaves are worth keeping it happy.

I can never seem to get a good photo of this Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Lutea' and this is as close as I've gotten recently. I love its twisting 'panels,' giving an extra dimension to this dwarf conifer.

I liked the 'mood' of this shot. It's almost as if this Echeveria peacockii is shy and the sun has caught it hiding in the shadows. Speaking of silver-leaved plants, the bluish-silver foliage here is tres, tres delightful.

My other sweet pea, Lathyrus Erewhon, is just now hitting its stride.

Calceolaria calynopsis. Not well known, this red pocketbook species offers dazzling red and yellow flowers. It may act as an annual in our climate but that's okay. Calceolarias are super easy to grow. Not sure if this species will self sow as readily as C. mexicana but I'll enjoy it while it's around.

Mystery fern. No word yet on the horticultural ID of this fern but it has proven very durable. I love the way that the fronds come out at all angles.

Though I didn't intend for the shot to come out this way, the pitch black background and the bleached out white flowers make for an interesting look on this Hydrangea quercifolia.

"Don't mind me, I'm just here filling out, putting out sprays of little white flowers, looking good year round." Or at least that's what I imagine my Nandina domestica is saying and it's all true. It's one of my go-to plants that as a nurseryman I recommend to customers for a 'problem' spot. On the rare occasion when a customer comes in and says "My Nandina died" I'm always amazed. They're just one of those 'takes a licking and keeps on ticking' plants.

The Philodendron that ate Miami. Or so it seems. The biggest leaves on my specimen are easily three feet long. I have to keep cutting it back or there's no getting past it. File this under "Be careful what you ask for." (I wanted it to prosper).
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