Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Day to rest

As we approach Labor Day, I'm hoping many of you will be able to celebrate the day as it should - by resting. Americans work too much and that view isn't held only by Europeans but by Canadians! I know, as I was one once (in the 'long ago'). And it seems to me that being out in the garden is a damn fine way to rest. It would make a good koan - "When is work rest?" And of course the answer is, 'when we're out working in the garden.' Mind you, the damn weeds need to get that message.
Still, it's very much the lazy days of summer when our main plantings have been accomplished and now it's a matter of adding a bit of color here and some texture there. All except for those of us addicted to gardening who relentlessly hunt for the newest thing. For those of us lucky to live in the milder zones of the Bay Area, where we can garden year round, there's no time when that roving eye isn't searching out some new treasure.
My current fixation? Begonias. I never imagined it would happen to me but that's before there were so many fabulous cane and shrub begonias available in nurseries. Not to mention the new colors of tuberous begonias finding their way to the market. And I'll admit to a growing fascination with succulents. My latest one is a Kalanchoe thyrsiflora 'Fantastic,' a type of flapjack kalanchoe with amazing colors. So celebrate your latest obsession and share it with others!

Here's the aforementioned Kalanchoe thyrsiflora 'Fantastic.' You can already see the interesting patterns of olive, cream and pink.

My Justicias are once again starting to bloom, including my prolific J. brandegeeana. This shrimp plant is a floral wonder, blooming easily half the year.

Here's a look at the S.E. corner of my sunny Aussie natives bed. There's a new silvery Teucrium fruticans, a silvery Geranium harveyi to its right and behind them the vibrant red flowers of Bouvardia.

I had a little fun shooting this Euphorbia mammillaris variegata from the top down, making them look like those ocean bottom dwelling eels/worms that pop up out of the sand.

This Osteospermum 'Sunny Cambria' offers up the most vibrant reddish-purple colors. 

Here's another shot of my silvery Dyckia marnier-lapostle. Not quite as deadly as most dyckias, it still nonetheless has sharp teeth. V-e-r-y slow growing (I swear it's only grown a couple of inches in five years).

Yes, that's an elephant (didn't want you to think 'Wait, isn't that an elephant but it can't be'). It makes for a great low stand, in this case shouldering a tall terracotta pot holding an Echeveria.

Begonia Nonstop Salmon. Love the color and each flower is slightly different, with some showing more pink and others more orange.

Speaking of orange, here's my Helichrysum bracteatum 'Orange.' Curiously the way the camera lens recorded the color makes it seem a lot more golden than its actual bright orange tones.

Oxalis vulcanicola. First off, how cool is it to incorporate the word vulcan into a species name. Perhaps a Star Trek fan? Paging Mr. Spock.

I just happened to catch this butterfly resting on my hose stand. I think it's a Fritillary of some sort, though the coloring is muted.

There's nothing quite the brilliant red flowers on Crassula falcata, sometimes known as the Propeller plant. Bees dig them and so does the occasional butterfly.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Everyone is familiar with honeysuckle. For many of us, this relationship began in childhood, when we first encountered that flower's intoxicating fragrance. They say that smell is the one sense that can stimulate total recall of an event from our past, elevating it above even our dominant sense - sight. Gardens are a great laboratory in this regard, offering us a cornucopia of different fragrances. Next to roses, honeysuckle plants may be many a person's most familiar olfactory connection. The one we're most familiar with is Lonicera japonica, with its intoxicating white and butter yellow flowers. Less common and still interesting are species such as L. hildebrandiana (Giant Burmese honeysuckle), whose flowers are indeed spectacularly large. Or L. sempervirens (Eastern honeysuckle), with its bright coral, yellow-throated flowers. Curiously, this and a few other honeysuckles aren't fragrant. Lonicera fragantissima earns its species name by producing extremely sweet smelling creamy-white flowers. There's even a shrubby honeysuckle, L. nitida. Commonly called Boxleaf Honeysuckle, it forms a dense shrub comprised of half inch ovate leaves and can reach 10.' Although many species are native to Asia, hybrids have made their way west and are now a staple in the American gardening world. They're in bloom now so whether you're adding one to your garden or just encountering them on a neighborhood, make sure to stop and smell the ... honeysuckle.

My durable Crassula falcata (Propeller plant) is once again in bloom. The bright red flowers contrast nicely with the smooth bluish-gray surfaces of the leaves.

Abutilon thompsonii. I love the closeup view of this flowering maple, as it suggests a forest of 'painted' leaves. The flowers are lovely but it's the foliage that drew me to this species. 

Though far from an impressive photo, I wanted to share the charms of Calamintha nepetoides, better known as Catmint. Funny thing about this plant. Even though cats are irresistibly drawn to it, they don't generally eat it. My cats used to love to just roll around in it. 

Here are the first flowers on my new Bidens Hawaiian Flare Drop Orange. It will soon be smothered in these cheerful little  solar flares.

Snapdragon Chantilly Bronze. The Chantilly series, most readily available From Annie's Annuals, seems to be especially vigorous. I keep cutting it back, whereupon it proceeds to flush out new flowers. Love that color too!

Most gardeners are familiar with the fluffy seedpods of Asclepias curassivica (Mexican milkweed). This morning this photo suggests an exploding seedpod and then that explosion captured in time.

A friend gave me a piece of Aloe plicatilis last year. I let it harden off then stuck it in a pot of soil. Lo and behold it rooted and here's the result. It will eventually go in the ground but for now it's keeping company with other smaller succulents in the bed to its left.

I've been trying to think of a book I could write, something I could pitch to Timber Press. They've published everything under the sun so that proposition is a difficult one. Here's one idea, a book featuring photographs of "dying" plants (or flowers). Nature photographers are naturally after the most vibrant flowers or the photos of interesting foliage. I have however begun to take an interest in how plants/flowers look as they are fading. Here it's my Cotinus 'Royal Purple' and its fading flower heads. Incidentally, there's a great film called Drowning by Numbers by the creative Welsh director Peter Greenaway. He is perhaps best known for The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover and Prospero's Books. Drowning by Numbers is a visually sumptuous meditation on decay in nature.

Lilium 'Black Beauty.' I love how the flowers seem to hover in space, like giant floral hummingbirds. 

I was after the contrast of light and shadow with this shot of my Alpinia Zerumbet (Shell ginger). The flowers look especially blindingly white (they are in fact pure white on the outside) and the dappled sunlight on the leaves only emphasizes their patterning. 

Ditto on the shot of my Cistus 'McGuire's Gold.' It's a more interesting shot with some shadows, especially since the leaves are a monochromatic yellow. 

I haven't had much luck photographing my purple and pale yellow Torenia so this is about as close as I'll get. BTW, Torenias are often sold as shade or part shade plants. In my experience they do much better in a good amount of sun (in more temperate weather).

Rhipsalis. Just a simple shot of this unique plant. Note how multi-branching it is, a common characteristic for this epiphytic member of the cactus family.

There is simply no other hydrangea that matches the exquisite blue of H. 'Nikko Blue.' Not only that but its flower heads are especially large and abundant. They are also the best at holding onto their blue color, assuming one gives them acidic soil. If neutral, one can always add some Aluminum sulphate (True Blue) to accentuate the blue tones. 

Scabiosa 'Black Pom Pom.' Okay, the flowers are small and they look an awful like those on S. atropurpurea 'Black' but in this plant's defense it does have interesting curly leaves that disguise its genus's usual look.

Here's a closeup of my new Dianthus x superbus 'Bearded' flower. It's quite an interesting look. Curling tips at the end of each petal; 'runway' lines on each petal; a delicate look that belies the usual toughness of most Dianthus. Seen in full bloom, the flowers look like a storm blew through and kind of 'shredded' the petals. Unique and charming.

Caryopteris 'Hint of Gold.' The flowers on this vigorous shrub are surprisingly delicate. And it brings to mind one of my favorite plant name jokes. What would be the offspring of a Stephen King heroine and a dinosaur be called? A Carrie-opteris of course ("I'm in town all week ...")

Finally, a look at one of my favorite hellebores. This is one you buy as much for the foliage as for the flowers. It's Helleborus argutifolius 'Pacific Frost.' Snow in summer?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Fall preview

I know it's only mid-August but it already feels like fall is just around the corner. Kids are getting ready to go back to school, fall sports will be returning to the tube and our recent cool weather, especially the occasional nippy morning, brings on feelings of fall. Our gardens might argue. They're still enjoying summer, thank you very much. That said, autumn staples are already showing up in nurseries, such as Rudbeckias, Salvias, Heleniums and even the first Violas. Of course for those of us lucky enough to garden in milder zones, the transitions between the seasons are more of a continuous progression than a more sharply delineated end and beginning. And of course our warm Septembers and Octobers here in the Bay Area only extend the summer for certain plants.
After the glut of photos in last week's post, I have just a few to share this week. I try not to repeat photos of the same plant more than on an occasional basis so, even given the diversity of my garden, there aren't always a lot to share from week to week.

Although I couldn't get the contrast I was after in part because of the depth of field, I wanted to share just how sweet the slender purple flowers are on this Tillandsia. They're kind of like little purple shooting stars.

Here I was able to achieve the look I was after, isolating this Helichrysum bracteatum flower. With that vivid red color, yellow at the base, it almost seems like this 'paper flower' is on fire.

I was worried that my Gazania 'Nahui' had died off (foliage turned all brown) but it did revive with some careful attention and here is the first flower of the year. 

Justicia fulvicoma. As many of you know, I love Justicias. This unusual one is hard to come by so thanks to Susan Ashley for keeping it alive in the trade. It gets to be about 2' tall and a bit narrower and in the late summer and fall produces these colorful plumes. Love it.

You don't see many yellow salvias but this is one. S. 'Lemon Light' is a greggii type, so gets about 2' x 2.' It's a bit difficult to get an accurate representation of its color when shooting it in the sun but this gives you an idea. I'd describe it as a butter yellow. Lovely!

Hibiscus 'Cherie.' Hard not to swoon over hibiscus! Although it isn't immediately apparent, hummers love hibiscus.

I haven't shared a photo of my Bouvardia recently so here's one. It was looking ragged at the end of the year last year so I pruned it back hard. I was a bit nervous but it did eventually sprout new growth and soon it had budded up and burst into bloom. 

As I've mentioned, I'm trying to remember to include the occasional shot of a whole planting bed or area. My garden is dissected by a series of walkways and driveways, leaving the modest-sized back yard as the only non-interrupted space. Here's the house wall bed as one walks back to the studio apts in the rear. This bed is only 30" wide so it limits what I can plant there.

Another shot of my amazing Evolvulus. Not sure why I had trouble with this plant before but it's now in year three and going strong. If the flowers look a bit like morning glories there's a reason for that. This genus belongs to the Convolvulaceae family, which contains several morning glory genera. 

Hydrangea 'Nikko Blue.' One of the few reliably blue hydrangeas, mine has proven vigorous and long blooming.

Begonia 'Irene Nuss.' Everyone's favorite cane begonia and the large scalloped leaves are a main reason why. Incidentally, there really was an Irene Nuss. But unlike professional plant breeders, Ms. Nuss was an amateur with a keen interest in begonias. It's fitting that she will be remembered by this outstanding selection.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Garden Bounty

Sometimes the words can easily get in the way of the images, in much the same way that analyzing one's garden or while out there constantly thinking of what needs doing rather than just being can take away from the enjoyment of such beauty. I'm certainly guilty of that. So here are some photos of my garden with just a few words to identify the plants.

Passiflora Lady Margaret. I love the color on this vivid passion flower and here I was shooting it at 'surface' level for a different experience of the flower.

Papaver atlanticum, the double form. Crinkled petals and that unique orange make for such a pretty flower.

Pavonia missionum. Simple but with that intense color, this member of the Malvaceae family is a one of a kind.

A new addition, this Delasperma 'Jewel of the Desert Ruby' should be happy in its sunny location, ready to spill over the container.

Shell ginger, as this Alpinia Zerumbet is called, owes its common name to the shell-like white flowers. As you can see, they open up to reveal intricate gold and red throats. Also, a delicious fragrance.

No need to explain that bees dig Campanula primulifolia flowers. Here's one foraging.

Here's my red Mimulus hanging out with the more subtle purple and pale yellow Torenia. Both are favorites of hummers.

Yes, that pink frilly flower is a Dianthus (D. x superbus 'Bearded'). I'm not a big fan of pink but these flowers are just so unique I had to have one.

Here's another shot of my Helenium 'Mardi Gras' in all its glory. Another bee magnet.

There might be a better background for photographing a Mandevilla laxa but this is what I have. The white flowers do really stand out.

My succulent and tillandsia display rack.

Here's another new addition, a Calylophus drummondianus. It's in my 'Yellow' median strip bed.

I've discovered that my Cunonia capensis (Butterknife tree) really does like regular water. Since I've complied, it's filled out more lushly.

Tis the time for lilies. Above it's a Lilium Shehezerade, with its rich blood reds outlined in yellow. Below is a Lilium Black Beauty, a use of the word 'black' that is, umm, artistic license.  Finally there's the pure white beauty of Lilium philippinense, looking all the world to me like L. regale.

My Calibrachoa Superbells Spicy continues to flower and spill and to my eye acquire even bolder colors. 

Another shot of the Lilium philippinense, here catching a bit more sun and showing off its outer pink ribs.

I'm really enjoying my new Ipomoea Jade Masquerade. This sweet potato vine variety is new on the market and will be, I predict, a most popular selection.

Lotus jacobaeus. The so-called Black Lotus does indeed have flowers that are a blackish-burgundy. It's proven to be especially vigorous.

I grow this Canary Creeper nasturtium every year and in this same place. I love the way it scrambles in and around the lattice.

Scrophularia may have tiny flowers but the lovely foliage more than makes up for that deficiency.

Black bamboo. Amazing what a little cottonseed meal will do ...

Clethra alnifolia. Better known as Summersweet for its sarsaparilla-scented flowers. 

And please welcome the newest addition to my collection of houseplants. If a glance makes you think 'That's a rubber plant, right?' the answer is yes. Only in this case it's a variegated variety called Tineke.
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