Thursday, February 23, 2017

Spring beckons

Okay, we've had the rain. And now sunny weather is on the way. And we're about to flip that calendar page and welcome March. At least in the balmier regions of the Bay Area that equals Spring. Time to visit our local nursery. Amend our planting beds. Buy some spring color and add favorite new perennials. Get our hands in the dirt!
My garden has made a quantum leap forward in what is in flower or leafing out. Today's photos reflect that wealth.

Ribes sanguineum 'Claremont.' All the rain this winter has made for a joyful harvest of flowering current blooms. Ribes is a riparian bush so is definitely happiest with regular moisture. Along with its beauty, this Ca native offers a spicy fragrance and lots of hummingbird visits.

Want to grow a Jack-in-the-Pulpit? This Arisaema triphyllum  is one of the easiest. My bulbs sprouted and within weeks the first spathe (flower) has appeared. What you don't see in this photo are the chocolate colors on the inside of the hood. There's green and white veining on the lower portion of the spathe to enjoy as well.

My Dicentra scandens is back. I've taken many photos of it and ruminated on the mystery of it disappearing from the trade so won't repeat myself. One of the easiest and most vigorous plants you'll ever grow.

Although you'd never guess it, this beauty is a Helichrysum ('Ruby Clusters'). Those ruby-pink buds will eventually open to the usual yellow flowers but for now the silver and pink looks fabulous together.

Another one of my Lachenalia varieties. They are one of the easiest and most prolific of the South African bulbs.

Though it is just getting ready to flower, the still bare Magnolia 'Butterflies' has its own charm. I've nursed this specimen through thick and thin and it's finally fully established (as a street tree).

This glorious beauty is my neighbor's Leucospermum bush. As you can see, it's in full bloom. Leucospermums are my favorite Protea family member and this photo demonstrates why.

Another Protea family member, Leucadendron, is shown off in full measure in this same neighbor's yard. This genus's flowers, really bracts at the tips of each branch, can be red, yellow or variegated. Probably the easiest Protea family member to grow, though Grevilleas are easy as well. Protea family members want little or no phosphorus so don't feed them with a balanced fertilizer.

This dark-eyed beauty is a Helleborus 'Double Ellen Purple.' I've always thought that the name should correctly be 'Ellen Double Purple,' unless Ellen has a split personality. No denying the inky purple color, one of the deepest of all Hellebores.

Lonicera japonica. I'm showing this picture just to demonstrate that you can indeed prune a honeysuckle vine to keep it as a bush. Mind you, I need to keep at the pruning ...

Beschorneria albiflora. Beschornerias are native to Mexico and Central America and are sometimes mistaken for Yuccas. This species is from Oaxaca, Guatemala and the Honduras. In summer they put up a tall flowering spike filled with waxy green and pink flowers. Even when not in bloom it's a handsome plant.

Aloe striata. I swear this aloe has become a blooming machine. This is its third flowering within a year. I love the foliage, I love the flowers and I love the fact that hummers adore the flowers.

I have photographed and written about my dwarf conifer garden. Here's another version of that, with three Chamaecyparis (False Cypress) varieties growing as a kind of bonzai pot.

The rains also benefited my shady raised bed, populated with ferns, fuchsias and Oxalis oregana (CA native woodland sorrel). 

Thrips nearly got my Mother fern but I've nursed it back and now it's lush and very happy. 

Agapetes serpens. My latest article for Pacific Horticulture magazine will be on plants with prominent caudices (fat trunks). Agapetes belongs to that group, although as here the fat base is half buried in the soil. Mostly though, people add this plant to their garden for the charming, papery red flowers that dangle from the bottoms of branches.

The good news about my Crocus Orange Monarch is that the flowers are very pretty. The bad news is that they're tiny. Sometimes plant breeders give up something (like size) to gain something else (a certain color). 

My Scabiosa columbaria 'Harlequin Blue' has already filled in well and produced its first flower. This less common type of Scabiosa forms a dense low mat, as opposed to the taller more gangly S. atropurpureas. 

It's the time for Freesias and they are arriving not a moment too soon. For many people, they're the first fragrance in their late winter garden. And those colors!

Speaking of fragrance, this Viburnum x burkwoodii's flowers are intensely sweet. Flowers appear before the leaves and though tiny, there are dozens packed into each head. An olfactory delight!

Not sure why this photo came out this way (the lighting) but I kind of like it. The white on this Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star' is a soft almost luminescent tone. 

Though I couldn't get this Iris confusa flower in sharp focus (a camera issue) I wanted to share the flower anyway. This species is nicknamed 'Bamboo iris,' not for its stems resembling culms but for the multi-branching. Simple but charming and they exude a mild fragrance too.

Ditto for the focus on this Melaleuca incana. And if the yellow flowers kind of look like Bottlebrush tree flowers, well, yes they do. An Australian native, Melaleucas are tough, drought tolerant and once established prolific bloomers.

In the sky, is it a bird, a plane ... no it's an ornamental onion flower head. This Allium 'Silver Springs' flower is about to open and unfurl dozens of pink-tinged white flowers. It's not really cold enough for most ornamental onions to flower consistently here in the mild Oakland area so I treat them as an annual.

Though I bought my Abutilon thompsonii for its pretty variegated foliage, the peach-colored flowers are lovely too.

Wonga wonga baby! Not the latest dance craze but the popular name of Pandorea pandorana. Like other bower vine cousins, it likes to climb and in this case it's scaled this tall conifer and has now flowered above its canopy. Make sure and look at the full-sized photo, to get an idea of the charming, small yellow and orange flowers.

Rocking on! My Helleborus 'Amethyst Gem' keeps on blooming. Love its color and that double form. I think we can officially lay to rest that notion that Hellebores are hella boring.

Again, not in sharp focus (I'm using a telephoto lens, don't ask) but the flowers on Edgeworthia chrysantha are so charming I wanted to share. They are meant to be sweetly fragrant but I get only the mildest scent from them. Still, the winter flowers and the lush foliage during spring through fall are reason enough to keep this Chinese bush.

The reason for this photo is hovering near the bottom center of the picture. Note that the hummingbird's wings are moving so quickly that they come off as a blur. Yes, hummers enjoy the nectar this vining Bleeding Heart produces.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What drought?

So were the previous five years of drought just a dream or has the last three months been just a reverie we'll wake up from. And now the Oroville dam is close to flooding out a huge population in NorCal, all the reservoirs are overflowing and sump pumps are suddenly in demand. Even our gardens aren't sure what the heck is going on. Spring rains are great for gardens, to a point. Too much water, like too much of anything, isn't good for our gardens either.
Still, the rains are certainly a blessing for spring bulbs and many of mine are appearing earlier than in past years. Ditto for my deciduous shrubs, which the rains have spurred to leaf out especially early.
Right about now though even our plants are hoping for a stretch of sun.
So here a few photos of new developments in the garden.

The two pots of pink flowers are from my collection of Lachenalias. Though they weren't tagged, I think the one on the right is L. rubida. It's one of the earlier blooming species.

Tillandsia tectorum + Aeonium Schwarzkopf. I love the contrast of silver and black. BTW, don't you think the Aeonium variety's name would be a great candidate for a spelling contest?

The little train that could. That's how I think of this dwarf Helichrysum bracteatum (Paper flower). It just keeps flowering through thick and thin. Some flowers just make you like them, don't you think?

I love photographing my Phylica plumosa in all kinds of light. This morning they remind me of furry jellyfish floating to the surface.

Two of my favorite shrubs. That's Westringia 'Wynyabbie Highlight' on the left and Grevillea Penola on the right. Both are very durable and bloom in late winter and early spring. 

My Calluna 'Firefly' has been especially colorful this winter. The small purple flowers are almost an afterthought when they appear. Callunas are a type of heather, which if you see the full size photo you can better appreciate.

Remember those 'Got milk?' commercials. This time of year one might change that to 'Got Quince?' That is, flowering quince (Chaenomeles). Here's my C. 'Kurokoji' with a backdrop provided by my Wooly bush. I love the blood red color of its flowers. It's almost as if the shrub really does have blood coursing through its veins and some has bled out onto its flowers.

My amazing Aloe striata (Coral aloe) already has two new nestled flower spikes. I swear, it's a blooming machine. Hummers love aloe flowers, another reason to add one or two to your garden.

Although this bed is a bit messy, it's the pretty lavender flowers here that are the subject. They're Iris confusa 'Chengdu,' better known as bamboo iris. It took a couple years to get established but now it's putting out a good amount of petite, lightly fragrant blooms. It's a tough plant too, doing equally well in sun or light shade, in moist or dry conditions. 

Speaking of tough, it doesn't get much more resilient than Chasmanthe bicolor. This vigorous South African bulb pops up in late winter and puts up a seemingly endless number of flowering spikes. The flowers are small, two-lipped red and yellow. People often mistake this plant for a Crocosmia, which also hails from South Africa. Both are members of the Iris family (Iridaceae).

Teucrium fruticans 'Gwen.' To rework that old phrase (two kinds of people), there's two kinds of Teucriums in this world, the lower ground cover types and the taller ones. T. fruticans belongs to the latter. Gwen is a dwarf variety, only getting to two feet not 4-6.' Still, it has all the virtues of a T. fruticans - lovely silvery foliage, pretty lavender flowers and it's just as drought tolerant and long-lived.

Nandina domestica. Here's a headline - "Nandina domestica goes wild!" You see, domestic(a) goes wild. It's a sort of joke you see. Okay, moving along. Actually though it doesn't go wild, this shrub is vigorous and will spread out. Here it's showing some of the lovely coppery new foliage that is part of this evergreen shrub's charm. Another tough customer plus it produces berries for the birds.

Scrophularia calliantha variegata. This species has the largest flowers of any figwort (though that's still only 1/2"). Most people buy this variety for the lovely variegated foliage (as I did). It can handle some shade though if it gets too much it will be straggly. It sends up tall flowering stems dotted with small but curious red flowers.

Abelia 'Kaleidoscope.' This multi-colored evergreen shrub is a four season delight. Spring foliage is a bright green and yellow. These colors mute a bit in summer when little bell-shaped pink flowers appear. The flowers continue on into the fall, which is when the leaves suddenly add red and orange tones. It's an abelia so it's tough.

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