Tuesday, March 28, 2017

If at First ...

Today's message is a simple one but one we all need to be reminded of - "There are always going to be moments of failure in gardening." This is true even for experienced gardeners. Whether that is from pushing the envelope for a particular plant (zone, too much shade, not as drought tolerant as we'd hoped), life interrupting our attention to our gardens (missed a watering or didn't see the sun/shade mix changing), being too optimistic and over-planting or any number of other reasons, it's inevitable that a few of the plants we put in our gardens fail (and by fail I mean not just that they die but that they do so poorly it's no point in soldiering on). I used to take these failures personally (who hasn't?) but now I'm both more practical and more forgiving. The point is to learn from these mistakes, not just for that particular plant but to better learn both general gardening principles as well as the specifics of your garden, such as its varied micro-climates.
One thing not mentioned above is the very frequent tendency to see something in a nursery, fall in love with it and take it home, without any idea where you'll plant it. Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention and you do find a place for it, sometimes even benefiting from cleaning an area where it will go. But sometimes it remains in its pot for weeks and then it either has already started to do poorly or you put it somewhere it isn't ideally suited for and that leads to a gradual demise.
That said, I'm a believer in not planning out every inch of one's garden. Spontaneity is a wonderful thing and sometimes the beauty of the new arrival trumps any perfect design.
So cheer up, you're every bit the gardener even if you experience the occasional failure.
Spring has sprung in a big way this last week, spurred on by the final arrival of sun and some warmer temps. Today's wealth of photos reflects that burst.

Athyrium niponicum. Better known as Japanese Painted fern, here are two varieties making their dramatic spring appearance. Though they do go fully deciduous they return like clockwork each spring.

I'm loving my new Corydalis Blue Line. The foliage is much denser and more dramatic and the 'seahorse' flowers just as blue as other varieties.

The fact that Clivias are common doesn't take away from their beauty. Clivias are endemic to southern Africa, meaning they are found no where else in the world. They also feature a 'primitive' root system that benefits from being somewhat contained.

I think I should start an award for 'Charming plant of the Month.' This month, that would go to Romanzoffia californica, which has that certain 'it' factor. 

Begonias are tougher than you think. Case in point, my B. luxuriens was completely covered by a passion flower vine but somehow survived it and is now sprouting new growth. It can get big, up to five feet, which is wonderful as it's the foliage more than the flowers that is the main attraction.

There should be a category for Unstoppable Plants and if so Choisya ternata would be the top of that list. I keep hacking mine back, which only slows it momentarily. As you can see it's nearly in full bloom now, making its heady fragrance all the more intoxicating.

I'm making an exception and showing a picture of my neighbor's Leptospermum tree. The New Zealand Tea tree as it's called is in full bloom now and since it's 20' tall and almost as wide, there's no missing its bloom season. And yes this is the plant from which the medicinal tea tree oil is extracted from.

All this rain really caused my bed of Oxalis oregana, better known as Redwood sorrel, to burst forth. I find it one of the most cheerful ground covers around. The leaves were a food source for certain native tribes, though the plant does contain oxalic acid so I don't encourage more than a nibble. BTW, its formula is  C2H2O4 for you science geeks.

Got toad? My two varieties of toad lily (Tricyrtis) are already up and slowly colonizing this bed. The two ferns here, just emerging, are Autumn ferns. 

My new pride and joy, this Physocarpus Amber Jubilee has exquisite, well, amber-colored leaves. It has the same white flowers and interesting red seedpods as other P. opulifolius varieties. 

This Helichrysum 'Ruby Clusters' not only has beautiful silvery foliage but a neat trick up its sleeve. Its flower buds are a pearly pink but when they open they produce yellow flowers! Not sure I've ever heard of such a color transition in any other plant.

Stepping from the shadows is this new scented Pelargonium called Mint-Rose. Apart from the fragrance I love the oak leaf form of the leaves and the woodsy colors.

You can keep the multi-colored bag of M and Ms, I'll take the bag of mixed colors Sparaxis. Here are three color combos - the deep red above, the pink and white below and then at the bottom a kind of orangey-coral color. When people ask me how to grow Sparaxis I smile and say "Put them in the dirt and water them." Period. There isn't an easier bulb to grow and they naturalize.

To paraphrase Sarah Lee, "Nobody doesn't like Dutch iris." There's every color imaginable now; here's a classic deep purple one (above) and one called Bronze Beauty (two below).

It seems as if there's a dwarf form of everything these days and that holds true for snapdragons. These little orange beauties are only 4-6" tall but this six pack has filled out a low bowl nicely.

Leucospermums are perhaps the best of the Protea family threesome: Protea, Leucadendron and Leucospermum. The flowers are every bit as showy as those on Proteas, yet they're as easy to grow as Leucadendrons. Here's a L. 'Tango,' set off nicely by a patch of purple Osteospermums.

And here's my established Leucospermum 'Veldfire,' one of the showiest of all Pincushion shrubs. Note the whitish 'down' on the unopened flowers. A real showstopper.

Speaking of showstoppers, my Aloe striata is in full bloom. Again. I swear this plant is a blooming machine, which of course pleases the hummers to no end.

Ornithogalum umbellatum. This sweet little ground cover Star of Bethlehem is an annual rite of spring in my garden. 

Not that Sphaeralceas are a well known genus to begin with but this less common cascading species, S. munroana, is my favorite. Great for covering a low rock wall, as it's doing here, or for use as a ground cover. I love the small scalloped leaves and tiny rosy red cup-shaped flowers. Tough too. 

Kudos to those who can recognize this guy. It's an Arisaema ringens and why it isn't more popular I don't know. It's probably the sturdiest of all Jack-in-the-Pulpits and it has one of the widest, longest lasting spathes. It's hard to see here but the inside of the spathe is a deep chocolate-purple.

Here's another photo of my 'Octopus' Euphorbia as I call it. It's a E. atropurpurea but it's long twisting branches makes it seem like something from the sea. Note the distinctive deep red flowers.

More kudos for those who can ID this bulb. It's a Homeria and I think H. ochroleuca. Homerias have apparently been reclassified as a Moraea but I love its old genus name. 

I call this shade of pink 'Sunglasses pink' as you'll go blind staring at it without some protection. Vivid, vivid pink. Somewhere out there there should be an ice cream this color!

If this looks like an Azalea, well, yes it is. It's one of the Exbury hybrids, which are deciduous azaleas. You don't see oranges, apricots and golds with evergreen azaleas so the Exbury hybrids have a rather large fan club.

Speaking of those colors, here's a new Ixia in my garden, I. maculata. Love those colors!

Though the colors have faded ever so slightly on this Tulipa viridiflora, I thought it had a certain fading charm to it.

There so many California natives that we keep finding more. This is a Tolmiae
menziesii ‘Taff’s Gold.’ I love the golden new growth.

Abutilon variety. I managed to catch the light shining through some red flowering maple flowers. Lovely!

This charming creature is Ferraria crispa nortieri. Sometimes called Spider iris, Ferrarias are perhaps the most unusual and certainly one of the prettiest bulbs around.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Rain in Spain

... falls mainly on northern California apparently. Just when we thought we were done, here it comes a-calling again. I think we're past the point where this is helping our gardens. The ground has soaked up plenty of moisture, enough to last for awhile. There's no denying that spring is here however. One look at one's garden, or for that matter the lines out the door at your favorite nursery on the weekend, and yep, that's spring.
Here's a pictorial snapshot of what that looks like in my garden.

Everyone's favorite mock orange, Choisya ternata is a blooming machine. Mine is just now starting to load up on flowers. Even more fragrant than the 'other' mock orange (Philadelphus) it's popular with bees and hummers alike. Give it morning sun and a bit of occasional deep watering and it's happy as a clam.

Abutilon thompsonii. Though I bought this species for the variegated foliage, the peach-colored flowers are really growing on me. This species is more of a bush type, spreading wider and not getting too tall.

This Scabiosa columbaria is one that sadly is getting harder to find in retail nurseries. It acts more like a ground cover, spreading out with dense, ferny foliage. This variety, Harlequin Blue, produces an abundance of pretty, lavender-colored flowers.

My Aloe striata (Coral aloe) is up to its old tricks, producing huge sprays of orange flowers. As soon as the tubular flowers open, there'll be an endless stream of hummers coming to collect nectar.

This is an unusual angle (looking up) of my Pelargonium crispum Variegated Lemon. Super vigorous and with those distinctive crinkly, curled leaves of crispum species, this specimen is slowly taking over this whole end of the fence.

Thunbergias are supposed to be late summer through late falling blooming vines but mine has pretty much bloomed nonstop for the last six months. Thunbergias are about as easy a plant to grow as there is.

This odd little fellow will soon be coming to a Pacific Horticulture magazine near you. He's a Cussonia natalensis and his claim to fame is his 'fat trunk.' Yes he's a caudiciform and one of the easiest to grow. That summer issue of Pacific Horticulture will have a piece I'm writing on this subject, with 16 different 'fat trunk' plants featured.

Exibit A of why I love Sparaxis. This deep red color isn't as common as others but it's blessing my garden as we speak. Always colorful, usually with a contrasting center ring, and easy to grow, it's no wonder they'r near the top of every bulb lover's list.

Is this a poppy you may ask? Mais oui! It's the double form of Papaver atlanticum called Flore Pleno. It's also sometimes referred to as the Taffeta poppy, for its crinkled petals. In any case it has many virtues, among them that fantastic orange color, the crinkled petals, it being a true perennial poppy and last but not least how drought tolerant it is.

There must be a term for plants whose flowers sprout from the sides of the branches, as this wonderful Calothamnus villosus does.  In any case, I find this type of flowering endlessly fascinating, as the whole idea of a woody stem suddenly producing little buds that then open to flowers is just so weird and cool.

Though they haven't opened yet, my Exbury azalea is budding up and getting ready for a spring show. Known as deciduous azaleas (Exbury hybrids simply being the most famous and widely propagated), their claim to fame is their flower colors - reds, oranges and golds not normally found on evergreen azaleas.

Speaking of reds, early spring is the season for flowering quinces (Chaenomeles). This blood red variety is Kurokoji and it puts on quite a show in the January to March period. 

If you're wondering what this little charmer is, it's a double form of Gazania. Just as tough as the other African daisy varieties but boasting that fabulous Sunflower Teddy Bear form, it hugs the ground and gradually fills in an area.

Do you have a Clu what this plant is? Yes, it's a Tulipa clusiana, one of the so-called Lady Tulips.This is a pink and yellow variety but they also come in white and pink. It's a species tulip, meaning it comes back every year, even in our mild winter climate. Smaller flowers but loads of them.

California Mist Maiden may seem like a kooky name for a plant (okay it is) but this Romanzoffia californica overcomes that drawback with its shiny scalloped leaves and dainty white flowers. Curiously, there is a mountain range in Alaska called the Romanzof mountains. Sounds vaguely Russian and as we all know you can see Russia from Alaska's back door.

Corydalis Blue Line. I didn't quite get this shot is perfect focus but wanted to show the otherworldly blue of the flowers. Wow!

Camellia 'Maroon & Gold.' The maroon part is the flower petals color and the gold is the group of stamens. This camellia has been slow to develop and bloom but this year I'm finally reaping the benefits.

This gorgeous flower is a South African gladiola called Lemon Moon. It is typical of many S. African glads - smaller flowers, patterned centers, thin stems. One of my favorite bulbs.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

And now the sun

This extravagant tulip is a variety called Monsella. It almost looks like it has a bit of parrot tulip in its genes.

My Butterflies magnolia has burst into bloom, helped by the recent sun. As you can see they sport butter yellow blooms, not the white, pinks and reds associated with other magnolias.

Though Sparaxis are famous for their bright colors, here's a white flowering one. It still has the yellow center and burgundy ring that is often seen on Sparaxis hybrids.

This is not an optical illusion. I really am posting a photo of that weedy oxalis. This is to demonstrate that if you separate yourself from the experience of always having to yank it out, it's actually a very pretty and cheerful plant.

One might say the same for Chasmanthe bicolor. It's notorious for self-seeding everywhere. But the one I planted at the base of this conifer has remained well behaved.

It sort of looks like ... hmm, give me a moment ... a Corydalis? Yes. The reason this new Blue Line variety looks different (foliage) is that it's a cross between C. flexuosa and C. elata. Hybridized in France, then brought to England and finally stateside, it's a real beauty. Little know fact: Corydalis is part of the poppy family (Papaveraceae). 

Though compositionally not the best shot, I had to share a photo of my Camellia reticulata 'Bill Woodruff' flower. It's huge and intensely ruffled. And a very saturated red. One word - Wow!

This scented Pelargonium's leaves remind me of oak leaves, with their highly segmented form. Scented Pelargoniums (geraniums as they're commonly called) may be an English garden staple but that doesn't mean you can't add one or more to your garden. Plus that fragrance!

My sidewalk bed is starting to burst with color. The pale violet flowers you see are Ipheions. Lower right are species Freesias. Soon there will be Dutch iris, Sparaxis and Lilies.

This year my Pandorea pandorana (Wonga Wonga vine) went wild and it has smothered the fir tree it climbed into with masses of tiny gold and orange tubular flowers. Good things come to those that wait, as this vine did nothing for its first four years.

My large red-flowering Helichrysum bracteatum toppled over in all the rain but my dwarf orange one is going strong.

My first Dutch iris, seen against the backdrop of a copper spinner.

My new Leucospermum 'Tango' didn't waste any time in producing its first pincushion flowers. High in nectar, it's a favorite for bees and butterflies.

I didn't quite get the perfect focus in attempting this depth of field shot but those white flowers belong to Viburnum x burkwoodii and they are intensely fragrant!

Camellias are tough. My Silver Waves survived being smothered by a passion flower vine for nearly a year and yet it's still going strong.

A little winter color. Violas, crocus and a pot of Helichrysum 'Ruby Clusters' all add winter cheer.

Phylica plumosa. I've started over with a new plant and so far so good. One of THE softest plants you'll ever feel.

My next Pacific Horticulture magazine article will be on Caudiciforms (plants with fat trunks). Here's one of them, a Cussonia natalensis. It will soon leaf out.

Though it's a challenge photographing a Sophora plant due to its delicate stems and tiny leaves, here's mine. More of a collector's plant but lovely nonetheless.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit lovers unite! Here's my Arisaema thunbergia unfurling its first leaf. The distinctive hooded spathe will appear lower down in short order. Arisaemas are part of the Arum family.

Tolmiea menziesii + Ajuga. This sweet but tough CA native has settled in nicely in my Shady Lane.

Heliotropium 'Alba.' This more fragrant cousin to purple heliotrope is also longer lived. Talc powder or vanilla, you decide.

Abutilon thompsonii. Even this variegated abutilon is happiest getting a decent amount of sun. It's back to flowering now that we're getting some sun.

Even though it's just leafing out, I wanted to photograph this new variety of Ninebark. It's Physocarpus 'Amber Jubilee' and its leaves will get more of a ginger blush to them as they mature.

It's amazing what you can grow in pots, how many cool pots are out there and how many you can jam into a small space. I have to resort to pots to hold all my treasures and I have little tricks. I put many of my annuals in pots, as they will be changed out in 3-6 months, leaving the valuable ground space for perennials.

Euphorbia atropurpurea. This red flowering Euphorbia has produced big heads at the ends of gangly branches.

The arching branch with the furry little bottlebrush-like flowers is my Melaleuca incana. Very sweet and at the same time hardy as a horse.

Everybody loves Sparaxis (Harlequin flower). They come in all colors and naturalize easily in the garden. Here's an orange and reddish-coral ones.

Pieris japonica 'Flaming Silver.' This evergreen shrub puts out delicate reddish new growth in spring, providing nice contrast to the variegated green and white foliage.
01 09 10