Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Season for Birding

It's no secret that many gardeners love birds, even if they aren't 'rise at dawn' birders. We are blessed with a great variety of birds visiting our Bay Area gardens. Besides the year round sparrows, finches, chickadees, titmice, oaktits, juncos, hummingbirds and others, winter is the prime time for seasonal birds. Most notably it's raptor season, with hawks prominent. But it's also time for goldfinches to arrive, seeking both thistle seed and often drinks from our hummingbird feeders. That holds true for several warblers. Yellow-rumped warblers especially are very common this time of year.
So don't forget to put out seed and suet and if possible have a supply of water for them, be that in a birdbath, small pond or even just a large container.
Today's garden photos are a mix of seasonal interest. For many of us, December and January are the slow months for what's in bloom. Especially in the milder zones, by mid-February we already have the earliest bulbs (Freesia, Daffodils, Dutch iris, Ipheion) starting to bloom.
I would say to gardeners, but really for everyone, take heart - the days now start getting longer.

Salvia subrotunda. This large sage hailing from Brazil grows quickly and though the flowers are small, they are a brilliant reddish-orange. Plants can reach 8-10' in their homeland but more likely 6' here. It is a bit frost sensitive.

Not cold sensitive at all is Chaenomeles (Flowering quince). Here is my C. 'Koji.' They bloom in mid-winter to mid-spring and are tough as nails. Incidentally, they do produce some fruit, though I'm not sure how edible it is.

Another winter returner is Osteospermum, hailing from South Africa originally. This variety is 'Blue-eyed Beauty,' though I'm not sure where the blue is supposed to be. Recessed gene perhaps? (just a little dna humor).

Make sure you take a look at this photo full size, in order to appreciate the glowing whites and shimmering pinks of the buds. It's a Viburnum x burkwoodii, one of the most fragrant of all the viburnums. Heck, one of the sweetest smelling flowers of any genera.

I liked the way my fan aloe (Aloe plicatilis) looked in part sun/part shadow. Sort of mysterious.

I love the colors and fine texture of my Plum cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides Ericoides). This is a dwarf species that will slowly reach 3-5' in ten years so best to appreciate it as a kind of natural bonzai. And that's in fact where I found it - in a bonzai section at Grand Lake Ace.

This Pinus thunbergii (Iapanese black pine) is NOT a dwarf and mature specimens can reach 80-100' over time. I plan to dwarf my specimen by keeping it in a pot. I love the way the sun makes the needles glow here.

Speaking of 'large or small,' here's a dwarf form of the usually very tall bottlebrush tree. This is a Callistemon viminalis and it only gets 4-6'. I'm growing mine in a large pot and now, finally in year three, it's really beginning to bloom. Hummers and bees seem to like it.

I finally have a 200mm zoom lens for my camera so began by taking a shot of my neighbor's camellia. So far so good with the resolution and focusing on the Auto setting.

Camellia reticulata 'Frank Hauser.' No relative to Doogie one presumes. I love the rich color, the fluted petals and the sturdiness of the flowers. I've not seen any camellia rot on this variety or in general with reticulatas.

Example A of the fact that our plants sometimes aren't listening to us. Or anyone. Or the weather. My Sappho rhododendron blooms whenever it feels like it. In theory it's a mid-spring bloomer but well it already has its first flowers.

Iochroma coccinea. Add to the 'anytime I please' list the genus Iochroma. I've given up predicting when they will bloom, although my I. coccinea does seem to favor the late fall and winter period.

Though not an exciting shot, this was another experiment with my zoom lens. That said, I can recommend these Chinese blue and white balls. They're great for a variety of locations. Here I have them in my birdbath.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

What's up doc?

A happy Solstice to everyone! Though it's the shortest day of the year - and for us gardeners shorter days means possibly less time in the garden - at least we have the knowledge that the days slowly begin getting longer.
I'm taking a break from my usual format today and doing another entry in the Thematic Plant Names collection. Today, I'm invoking a bit of medical science or at least anatomy in the plants I include here. It's a reminder that Latin is Latin is Latin. By that I mean that Latin is the source for many medical terms as it is equally the source for most horticulture terms. There's bound to be overlap and as it turns out there is. I've taken substantial liberties (a lot of rope as they say), so keep that in mind. And this is all tongue-in-cheek.
Here goes.
Adenium obesum. This caudiciform (fat trunk) is aptly named, referring of course to obese.
Chamaecyparis thyoides. Add in an 'r' and you've got thyroid.
Corokia. Umm, isn't this awfully close to 'croak?'
Heliophila longifolia. The genus name of this pretty blue-flowering annual conjures up 'hemophilia.'
Fallopia japonica. This is easy, being directly connected to 'fallopian tubes.'
Some botanical names just sound like they should be medical terms. For example, the species name of Porcelain berry vine (Ampelopsis brevipedlunculata), certainly sounds like a fatal disease. Or how about Dicliptera suberecta? "I'm sorry sir. We're going to have to remove your dicliptera suberecta."
Asplenium. This fern genus is easy, sounding very much like spleen.
Speaking of ferns, a number of ferns have very medical sounding names. How about the fern genus Coniogramme? Doesn't that sound like some sort of X-ray? A version of a sonogram?
Or how about Phyllitis. You'd swear that was a disease. Perhaps related to a certain STD? Even the rather common sword fern Nephrolepsis sounds a bit too close to sepsis for comfort.
One medical sounding name that seems to confuse certain of our nursery customers is the shade ground cover Glechoma. You see the puzzled look on their face and I suspect they heard 'glaucoma' instead.
Then there's the hard to find Lobostemon. Any guess what it made me think of? Perhaps your mind can't quite pull it up. Perhaps because you recently had a lobotomy? The prefix 'lobo' of course refers to a lobe or rounded portion affixed to the main body.
Regular gym members will get the anatomical connection with the South African shrub Melianthus pectinatus. How's work going on your 'pecs?'
Speaking of botanical names that have an ominous sounding name, how about Roscoea purpurea? "I'm afraid Ms. that you have Purple Roscoe disease. Fortunately, there is a cure. Eat lots of chocolate." If only that were the go-to cure-all ...
Sometimes it's the variety name that suggests a medical connection, like Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue.' Black and blue indeed.
Scrophularia. Umm, I think you can guess this one ... No? Certain private parts?
Stachys albotomentosa. It's the species name here that sounds vaguely clinical.
Streptosolen. This exceptionally colorful flowering shrub nonetheless suggests 'strep throat' (streptococcal infection). Curiously, 'Strepto' translates as 'twisted.'
Trachelospermum. Our common star or bush jasmine contains the root 'trach' as in trachea.
And lastly, I give you the word 'schizo.' Our first association is of course schizoid and there's a reason for the use of this word for certain botanical terms. 'Schizo' means "to split" and that has a bearing on plants as diverse as Hydrangea schizophragma, Hibiscus schizopetalus and the genus Schizostylis.

Okay, there you have it. A little fun with names on this chilly solstice day.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Watering in Winter?

Remember last year? Specifically last winter and spring when it seemed like it rained every single day for five months? So far it's not that winter. Good for us sun lovers but it does mean one uncommon thing - having to water our gardens in winter. I know, I know, that seems wrong but all plants that haven't gone dormant are going to need some water. For me they fall into four groups.
1. Shrubs and trees. If established, these plants will need little or no winter watering but if it does indeed stay dry for most of the winter they'll need some.
2. Evergreen perennials. These will need some regular water. How much depends on the leaf mass of the plant, how much sun it's in, how drought tolerant it is and how established it is. Annuals are going to need a bit more water on average because they don't have as large a root system as perennials (on average).
3. Plants in pots. How often you water plants in pots depends on the size of the plant and the size of the pot. The larger the pot, the more soil it contains, the longer that soil holds onto moisture, the less you water. See you knew that calculus class would come in handy, right? Generally you'll need to water plants in pots more often than plants in the ground.
4. Bulbs. There's a reason that most our common bulbs bloom in the spring. That's when the rains arrive, spurring growth and then the sun helps with blooming. No late winter/early spring rain = no moisture getting to the bulbs = poor growth and performance. If their normal growth season rolls around and it's still dry, you're going to need to water that area, be it ground or pot. Amazing how quickly bulbs will respond to water (assuming the temperatures correspond to what they're used to). Incidentally, that's why you don't want to plant certain bulbs too early in the fall. If they're getting water and it's still warm out, it may confuse them into thinking it's spring and they may sprout. Only to discover cold temperatures soon upon them.

So, there you have it. Long stretches of winter sunshine are great for the soul, as long as you don't forget about your garden's needs. And now this week's photos. It's a grab bag of winter flowering shrubs, a few succulents and a few late blooming perennials.

Platycerium veitchii. This species of Staghorn fern is a little less common but its silvery foliage was reason enough to add it to my collection. This species is also different in that it is a semi-desert species hailing from Queensland Australia. It wants full sun, very unlike most staghorns, which are typically understory plants.

Couldn't resist sharing one more photo of my exuberant Helenium Mardi Gras. This prolific bloomer is a bee magnet and one of those very low maintenance plants.

I keep trying to capture the pale pink colors in my Luculia pinceana but the photos always come out looking more white. Guess I need to learn Photoshop! No matter, I love any excuse to write about this plant as it is truly one of the most intensely fragrant plants on Earth. It is found in the Himalayas south to China but is easily grown here (if you can find it!)

Chrysocephalum apiculatum is a mouthful so it's a good thing it has an easier-to-remember common name (Common Everlasting). This Aussie native is a low spreader that blooms easily, with a parade of bright yellow buttons. Like many Aussie natives, it's drought tolerant and a tough customer. I'd want it in my garden for the silvery foliage even if it didn't bloom.

Okay this photo may not send your heart aflutter but remember this photo in two months when it will be ablaze with color provided by Sparaxis, Ixia, Dutch Iris and Daffodils. And that's before the Tiger lilies arrive. This is a newly constructed bed, using the back retaining wall, two large square pots already in place as the ends and a simple 12" tall board in front. Fill it with soil, plant a million bulbs, put some winter annuals on top and voila! This whole project only took 2 hours.

Speaking of a plant whose botanical name is a mouthful, here's my Chamaecyparis pisifera Filifera Aurea. Jr. Okay, just kidding about the Jr part. Chamaecyparis are literally False Cypress and this genus has a fabulous array of species and cultivars. If you look closely enough you'll see that this is a weeping type.

I was a bit disappointed with the color on my first Grevillea Superb flower. Then I googled the plant, looked at Images and discovered that the plant can exhibit a wide range of colors. In each case, the forming flowers start out a cream color and then as they open and mature they acquire more of a peach/rose/red color. I guess we'll see what happens with mine (many more flower cones are on the way). 

Cotyledon orbiculata var. orbiculata. I love the milky blue leaves, the hint of a red limn and the way it grows as a kind of a colony that keeps adding houses.  

Though my Jacaranda Bonzai Blue is done blooming, I think its foliage is pretty enough to warrant a photo. This is the dwarf shrub form of the familiar tree. Some foliage, same flowers, all in a pint size.

Chaenomeles Fuji. Flowering Quince are a great way to add color to a winter garden. Hardy, disease free, drought tolerant, tolerant of any soils, it's as about a perfect plant as it gets.

Calluna Bradford. Though the flowers are beginning to fade, this exceptionally pretty heather is another tough customer that needs little water or attention.

My Cotinus Royal Purple usually offers up oranges and reds for fall color but this year it's decided to mix it up and turn a peachy-golden color. Since I love those colors I'm delighted.

Speaking of tough and long blooming, thumb's up to Lotus jacobeus, otherwise known as Black Lotus for its nearly black pea-shaped flowers. Mine is hardly ever out of bloom now. Sweet and tough (hmm, sounds like a former girlfriend).

Crassula falcata, commonly known as Propeller or Airplane plant, doesn't always spill so dramatically as mine has taken to doing but I love its form here. I know what you're saying "That's a Crassula?" Okay, you weren't saying that perhaps but this species is quite different than almost any other common Crassula, with its broad planar leaves. So pretty!

I finish with two of my favorite Camellias. Here it's the dramatic C. reticulata Frank Hauser. I love it's wavy petals, its semi-double form and that gorgeous color.

And here's my rare C. Winner's Circle. It hasn't fully opened, here showing off its clustered inner petals. Though this photo makes it look quite pink it's actually more of a coral/salmon color. Lovely!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Slow Forward

It's still fall. No, it's winter. No, spring is just around the corner. That's our Bay Area Decembers folks. The photos in today's entry reflect that confusion. There's still some fall plants in bloom in my garden, notably Salvias, Cupheas, Passifloras and Mimulus. Then again I have winter shrubs like Camellias and Westringia in bloom. And almost spring? That's covered by all the bulbs up - Freesias, Ixias, Sparaxis, Dutch iris and Lachenalias. All of which makes going out in my Oakland garden an adventure each morning. And that's why I love the idea of gardening year round. It may be frosty in my apartment first thing in the morning but when I head outside I'm sure to find something new.
With that said, here are the newest batch of photos.

I chose to photograph this Lachenalia because of its dramatically spotted leaves. The tag is somehow missing but I think it may be a L. rubida. Many species have some sort of spotting on the leaves.

File this Zaluzianskya capensis under the 'White Rabbit' category ("I'm late, I'm late!"). First off, how many plants have two 'Zs' in their name? This Midnight Candy as it's known has plenty of buds, even this late in the year. And true to its name, the buds tend to open late in the day. I have mine right along the walkway so neighbors and friends can enjoy its sweet scent.

Callistemon viminalis. This dwarf, bush form of Bottlebrush tree is finally getting its bloom on in year three. This plant is great if you want to enjoy the soft colorful bottlebrush flowers but don't have room for a 20' tall tree.

Though I've shared several photos of my Rudbeckia Chim Chiminee before, I've included this one to show its peculiar habit. This flower is emerging from the very base of the plant not, as is typical, from the ends of taller branches. Very odd.

Though this Salvia corrugata is not in bloom, its textured leaves have their own appeal. Also, I'm fascinated by the nomenclature of plants. Very often the species name indicates some quality of that particular species. So here, 'corrugata' as in 'corrugated,' indicates the rough texture of the leaves.

This Hamamelis is planted in a west yard bed so would that make it the 'witch of the west?' The pun is of course due to the common name for this genus - witch hazels. It's not cold enough here in Oakland for them to flourish but this year it has at least produced a bevy of much smaller yellow 'fingers.' This H. mollis is supposed to be fragrant but I only get a hint of fragrance from mine.

A pine is a pine is a pine? Not really. The 120 species in the genus Pinus exhibit a great variety in form, needles, cones, endemic environments and more. This is my Japanese Black pine (Pinus thunbergii) and it is to my mind one of the loveliest. And it grows a little faster than many Pinus species so that's a bonus.

Salvia discolor. I love sharing photos of one of my favorite Salvias and the gray stucco wall shows it off to nice effect. Given the sticky stems and calyxes of this plant, we might well hear Stan Laurel say to Oliver Hardy "This is a sticky mess you've got me into Ollie!"

No comment on what this lovely cacti kind of looks like but Mammillaria elongata Golden Stars is one of the easiest cacti to grow. Note the pups circling the mother plant. 

This evergreen shrub should be on the flora version of that Game show 'Name that Tune.' No one seems to be able to get it right and I confess when I first saw it, I didn't either. It's a Duranta erecta 'Gold Mound.' It took awhile but this hardy shrub has finally established itself in year four. Hasn't flowered yet though. Hmmm.

This is my 'tree' bed (under a fir tree) and only the tough survive here. That would be a Caryopteris Hint of Gold; an Iris confusa 'Chengdu'; a patch of Chasmanthe bicolor (upper left) and a Passiflora citrina. Though not really planned, yellow and chartreuse colors dominate.

One of my earliest blooming Camellias, C. Silver Waves, is already producing its huge double form white flowers. Most camellias are easy but this variety is near the top of the 'Indestructible' list. And very pretty.

Passiflora Oaklandii. This unique passion flower vine is all about the color of the petals, as the filaments are all but nonexistent. That coral-red color is more than enough for me and this Passiflora is prolific. 

My favorite Camellia (so far), this C. reticulata 'Frank Hauser' offers the dreamiest orchid-pink color. Plus wavy petals and a semi-double form. I'm obviously not the only person who loves it; we've been selling this variety at our nursery for years.

Ledebouria socialis. Wikipedia says this plant "is a geophytic species of bulbous perennial plant native to the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. It was first described by John Gilbert Baker as Scilla socialis in 1870. John Peter Jessop later revised the genus Scilla and split off several species, reclassifying Scilla socialis into the genus Ledebouria in 1970."
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