Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Joy of Perennials

There are so many categories of plants and ones that are so popular or that serve a certain purpose (succulents, native annuals, shrubs, vines, ground covers), that's it's easy to overlook the common perennial flower. Part of the PR problem for this category of plants is that it is so diverse. You could fill a dozen gardens with one each of different non-shrub perennials and barely scratch the surface. Mind you, what qualifies as a shrub is an elastic definition and even within certain genera, say Salvia, there are clearly many that are shrubs and others, like the Nemerosas, that are too small to qualify. Excluding bulbs and succulents, my garden is probably 90% perennials. Some of those are indeed shrubs but due to the confined dimensions of my garden I can have only so many good-sized shrubs. And I only have a total of 9 trees, four of which are in median strips. Three others are still in pots. That leaves a lot of perennials and as necessity is the mother of invention, I've sought out a wide variety of appealing perennials.
One genus that I've begun to collect is Agastache. Sometimes called Hummingbird mint, there is an ever increasing number of them available in your local nursery. The foliage can be quite diverse -- check out the golden foliage of A. foeniculum 'Golden Jubilee' that I've posted a photo of below -- but of course its the wonderful fragrance of the leaves that is the main attraction. This ranges from the anise scent of the A. foeniculums to the herbal aroma of the A. mexicana hybrids to fruity ones like A. 'Grapefruit Nectar.' The flower colors are diverse as well, from pinks and purples to sunset colors.
So, raise a glass to the joys of perennials, long may they prosper (and bloom).

And now the photos. It was overcast this morning when I took the photos, so we don't have quite the
luster that the sun can provide.

Billbergia variety. Not sure which variety this is but it's blooming for the first time and it looks like it will be spectacular.

My Hydrangea quercifolia didn't bloom last year (not enough water?) but it's back this year. One of my favorite plants.

There's something very simple about Omphalodes and that's part of their charm. For those not familiar with the plant, think of them as a perennial forget-me-not.

Filipendula ulmaria aurea. I'm not sure why Meadowsweets aren't more popular (and thus widely available). This golden-leaved version is a real delight. It's just now filling out after its winter dormancy. White flowers follow in summer.

I'm keeping a kind of time lapse video journal of my Dicentra scandens, as it quickly climbs the metal trellis, soon to wander off. Vigorous, a prolific bloomer and surprisingly drought tolerant once established.

Front yard color. See how many you can ID.

Eriogonum giganteum. There are plants that never cease to amaze and this CA Buckwheat is one of them, especially as it moves toward blooming as it's doing here. A magnet for butterflies and bees.

Ballota and Geranium harveyi. That's a whole lot cream and silver. The Ballota has begun blooming, reinforcing its membership in the Lamium family.

Justicia brandegeeana. This shrimp plant just keeps pumping out the flowers. And contrary to the tag, and general reports about what Justicias like, it's been very happy in full sun. 

My little Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow' is the 'little engine that could' in the blooming department. The flowers are actually bigger than the rest of the plant.

Dwarf conifer bonzai pot. So far so good with my 4" dwarf conifers. 

Sedum dasyphyllum. Here it is, charming white flowers and all. That's a red teacup that it's spilling out of. The cup proves you can use just about anything for a planter, being limited only by one's imagination (and proper drainage).

There's nothing like Salvia patens for an exquisite royal blue flower. To quote "The once and future king."

I had to severely prune my Hebe speciosa and it looked awful for a good three months but there's no keeping this guy down for long. He's filled out and is back to blooming (and bringing the bees around).

Tiger on the premises! Okay, just a Coreopsis 'Tiger Stripes' but I love its colors and pinwheel shape. A great way to add instant color to the spring or summer garden.

The common name 'wallflower' doesn't do justice to the charms of Erysimums, here an Apricot Twist. That's a red phlox to its right and as you can see they're both very popular with butterflies. Especially metal ones!

Here's a young Agastache foeniculum 'Golden Jubilee.' This anise hummingbird mint has it all -- beautiful foliage, pretty flowers, heavenly fragrance.

Jacaranda 'Bonzai Blue.' Sometimes 'tinkering' leads to good things. I've always wanted a Jacaranda tree but didn't have the room. Fortunately, Monrovia came out with this dwarf, bush-type cultivar. Topping out at 5-6' it has the same lovely foliage and vivid purple flowers.

Conifers can be tricky things to grow. I know that seems counter-intuitive (ever been in a forest of a million douglas fir?) but they do need regular water and the right light to be happy. This is a Chamaecyparis pisifera filifera aurea and I was happy to see some brighter new growth appear in the last couple of weeks.

I like a bit of wildness in my garden and here some enterprising nasturtiums have found their way into the bed holding my Physocarpus 'Nugget.' I thought they looked nice as seen through the wrought iron railing. 

I've been reluctant to add Astilbes to my garden as they haven't done well in the past (I think because it's not quite cold enough for them here). But I couldn't resist this A. 'Fanal' and its cherry red flower plumes.

This photo doesn't quite capture the sparkling reds in this Crassula alba v. parvisepala. It's proven to be prolific, both in leaves and flowering. So many crassulas, so little time ...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Is there a doctor in the house?

Those of you who have been following my blog for awhile know that I have on several occasions had fun with the common names of plants, offering up lists with (hopefully) amusing comments.
Well, here's a variation on that Name Game. On more than one occasion, an Ace customer has misconstrued my recommendation of the shade plant Glechoma, thinking I'd said 'Glaucoma' (and clearly confused). And that got me thinking that there are quite a few botanical names that sound as if they might belong to the world of medicine. Here is a beginner's list, most of these found in my own garden.
Streptocarpella. As in strep throat. Strep is short for Streptococcal and that makes the two names even closer.
Trachelospermum (star jasmine). Of course the connection is the trachea in our throats.
Gasteria (a type of succulent). As in Gastro-intestinal tract.
Chlorophytum. The connection is the Chloro part (means green), most obviously in the word chloroform. For the medical geeks, there's Chlorpromazine, a tranquilizing drug.
Nephrolepsis (a genus of ferns). This word just sounds scary ("I'm so sorry," the doctor said to Robert "your wife has nephrolepsis. I'm afraid it's fatal." The 'lepsis' part reminds me of things like sepsis, so maybe that's where the scary echoes are.
Dyckia marnier-lepostollei (a spiny succulent). This name reminded me from the moment I heard it of same rare genetic disease.
Doryncium hirsutum. The species name means 'hairy' and it seems like this could be a medical term referring to a disease that attacks the hair follicles or leads to excessive hair growth.
Same for Buddha's Hand citrus. If you've seen the fruit, it gets this common name from the fruit resembling a deformed hand. Shades of Elephant Man.
Sticking with parts of the body how about the botanical name for Mousetail arum? Arisarum proboscideum. All right, give us your best Jimmy Durante impersonation. Of course, proboscis is latin for the nose of a mammal.
Mammillaria. This barrel-type cactus's name is pretty straight forward (ie mammary gland).
Then there's the genus Scrophularia. Here the reference is somewhat obscure. Some of this plant's species reportedly cured scrofula, a disease causing swollen glands in the young.
Glottiphylum (succulent). Do you get the connection? The glottis is the part of the larynx consisting of the vocal cords and the slit-like opening between them.
Fenestraria (succulent). To 'fenestrate' is to cut an opening into something and is a term used in the operating room (as well as a general use term).
Aglaonema (houseplant). For some reason this name reminds me of a certain disease; I just can't put my finger on it. Anyone?
Ampelopsis brevipedlunculata (Porcelain berry vine). It's not the genus but the species name that seems like it has to be part of some medical lexicon. Of course, it should be pointed out that medical and botanical terms are both derived from Latin so they share a common source.
Same with Sarcococca humilis. It just seems like it refers to a medical condition.
And finally, since psychology has links to the world of medicine (mind/body and all that), I offer two curious plant names. The first is Schizostylis and the second Schizophragma. Of course the use of the word 'schizo' doesn't refer to a split personality but to a way in which the plant is in some way 'divided.' In the latter plant's case, it refers to the divided wall of the fruits.

Okay, whew, that was a lot of medical  mumbo-jumbo. Or is that mumbo-gumbo (I think I may be getting hungry).
Here are photos taken in the garden today.

Everybody's favorite 'pocketbook,' Calceolaria 'Kentish Hero.'

The distinctive Coreopsis 'Tiger Stripes' with its pinwheel petal form.

Lilium 'Honey Bee.' Usually the first of my lilies to bloom, this year it waited until mid-May.

Here's it's the little metal butterflies that are the subject of the photo. Found them online. Very sweet.

Annie's has some of the best snapdragons. Here's one, A. 'Chantilly Bronze' in all its glory. 

My Eriogonum giganteum just keeps getting bigger and better. It's hard to pick out in this photo, but it is topped by large sprays of developing flower clusters. I love CA Buckwheats.

The tubular orange flowers belong to an uncommon Cuphea called C. schumannia. Bigger than a cigar cuphea but not as big as those on the llavea (batface) types, it's its own charming creature.

"The Jack is back!" Okay, I can't really patent that phrase but it's appropriate for my dwarf Jacaranda (Bonzai Blue). Like my friend's specimen, it lost all its leaves but then leafed out again in late April. It's now producing its first purple flowers.

My ever evolving front of the Aussie bed. Succulents are gradually finding their way there.

The dangling flowers belong to Tecoma x smithii, looking a bit strange juxtaposed against the house in the background. But there's no mistaking their vivid peachy-orange bells.

Speaking of instant recognition, here are the vivid blue flowers of Evolvulus. It's now in year three and better than ever, proving that yes indeed it is a perennial.

Philadelphus 'Belle Etoile.' Okay, not the greatest photo but it was an excuse to mention this wonderfully fragrant mock orange. I swear, you can practically smell them through your computer.

Arisaema speciosum var. magnificum. Love the Jack-in-the-Pulpits and this is one of my favorites.

Begonia 'Gryphon.' Not a true 'cane-type' begonia but it is a hybrid of one. It has the distinctive spotting of certain angelwing types, only this hybrid will get 3-4' tall and wide! Make room.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A local Botanical treasure

I had the pleasure of visiting the U.C. Botanical Garden yesterday, in part to visit and research the new Julia Morgan Hall and natives plantings for an upcoming article in Pacific Horticulture magazine. Although I didn't need reminding, this world famous botanic garden up the hill from Strawberry Canyon in Berkeley qualifies as a local treasure. The Julia Morgan hall was moved from another university site to its present location in 2014 and in keeping with Ms Morgan's philosophy of buildings fitting in with their natural surroundings (being an integral part of them), it now already seems as if the hall has been there for decades.
I also had a chance to visit parts of the Garden and since I had my camera with me I took a few photos of things that caught my eye. So in lieu of uploading photos of my garden, this week I offer photos of that Garden walk I took. For those wanting to learn more about the Garden, here's the link to UCBG.
So, here are a few of the photos, starting with a photo of the hall.

Julia Morgan Hall. From Wikipedia " When the building opened in 1911, its name changed to Senior Women's Hall. The hall gave women's groups at Berkeley a place to meet and represented a significant step toward gender equality at the university."

Leucospermum grandiflorum. This straight species pincushion shrub's flowers have a slightly different look than many of the hybrids available in the trade.

Ranunculus cortusifolius. This Buttercup from the Canary Islands is a colorful addition to any garden. 

Asian Garden pond and water lilies. This peaceful part of the garden not only is a lovely place to sit and lose one's self but it will eventually be a destination for hundreds of newts.

Water iris. This huge clump of aquatic iris in the same pond seen above is always a welcome sight in the spring. 

This strange sight are masses of seedpods on a Cordyline, possibly C. petiolaris (I couldn't find its ID sign). Quite a colorful and weird sight for a plant that many people never even see flower let alone produce these striking 'fruits.'

Medicinal Garden. This decorative railing leads one down into the Medicinal Garden. Of course taken to its furthest reach, all plants are medicinal (that is, they change some part of our body's biochemistry) but the plants here have been used by peoples in various parts of the world for millennia.

There's big in the plant world and then there's BIG. This Titan arum produces the biggest flower in the world. From the UCBG website "The 'Corpse Flower' is not actually a single flower but an inflorescence (a stalk of many flowers). The flowers are a mixture of tiny male and female flowers held out of sight at the base of the central phallus-like structure (spadix) surrounded by a pleated skirt-like covering (spathe) that is bright green on the outside and deep maroon inside when opened. The female flowers mature before the male (pollen producing) flowers which avoids self-pollination."

If this plant in the Garden's tropical greenhouse looks familiar it might be. It's a Chenille plant (Acalypha hispida). Its common name refers to the soft, fuzzy, tube-shaped flowers. 

Orchid species. I couldn't find the sign for this orchid, though its flowers look a bit like Epidendrums to me. Very pretty!

The Garden is divided into geographic regions and this photo is of the South African hill. When I volunteered at the Garden in 2007, I joined a small group propagating plants from this part of the world (a favorite region of mine). Walking the hill again brought back many fond memories.

Prickly Pear cactus (Opuntia). As many people know, this cactus got its common name from the fruits being edible enough that native peoples included it in their diets. 

This Echinopsis huascha demonstrates how spectacular flowers can be on certain cacti. I sometimes have to remind gardeners coming to our nursery that flowers on many cacti and succulents are must-stop destinations for various pollinators, including hummingbirds.

Euphorbia horrida. This plant, commonly known as African Milk Barrel (there's a common name for you!), isn't horrid at all but rather charming. That said I wouldn't want to fall into it ...

Desert House. This enclosed structure holds an astonishing variety of cacti, succulents and other dry garden specimens. If you like these plants, this is rather like that candy store in the Harry Potter novel.
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