Thursday, January 26, 2017

Summer is Here

Okay, not summer summer but the summer blooming bulbs have arrived in local nurseries and garden centers. You may not feel like shopping for summer bulbs when it's 45 degrees out but this is the best time and will offer the widest selection. Besides the Big 3 - Gladiolas, Dahlias and Lilies - there are Begonias, Calla lilies, more Freesias and Sparaxis, Crocosmia, sweet-smelling Tuberosa (Polianthes)  and many more. And with the exception of the Dahlia tubers, which don't like cold wet soil conditions now, the rest of the summer bulbs can be planted straight away.
One nice thing about bulbs is that you can 'hide' them under existing plants or in planting them in an open spot leave room for some other lower growing plant that they can pop up through. To me they are like long lost friends that return unexpectedly in spring (or summer). No effort on our parts needed. So, we get the double pleasure in the next month - enjoying the early spring-blooming bulbs while we plant the new summer bulbs. All our other gardening should be so easy!
Here are the first photos of my garden in the new year. While it is still mostly dormant, there are always little things going on. And of course it has loved all the recent rain.

Leucospermum variety. This is actually my neighbor's bush but as its first flowers are beginning to open I couldn't resist sharing it. Of all the Protea family members, Leucospermums are my favorite. 

Leptospermum lanigerum. This silver-leaved New Zealand tea tree is more about the soft, downy foliage than the little white flowers. It is growing surprisingly fast, much to my delight. It's supposed to top out at ten feet so we'll see.

Speaking of attractive silver foliage, you get that in spades with Geranium harveyi. Not widely known, this beauty looks good cascading out of its bright blue pot. No flowers yet but that's okay. It's the foliage that caught my eye.

Beschorneria albiflora. Beschornerias are great landscape plants, getting to a generous size and featuring wide, strap-like leaves. The foliage is appealing to me, a good thing while you're waiting for the tall arching stems filled with waxy red and green tubular flowers. 

Kalanchoe 'Chocolate Soldier.' I've been pleasantly surprised at how well my ground-planted succulents have held up in all our rain. Kalanchoes grow a little more quickly than many succulents and the variety in leaf form is quite amazing ("Wait, that's a Kalanchoe?")

The yin and the yang. Here a bright red primrose shares a bed with my newly planted Myrsine africana variegata. Myrsines are known as African boxwoods, which I always thought was a bit of a stretch comparison wise. Myrsines generally have smaller rounder leaves (usually a glossy green), providing to me a more pleasing look.

Finally a decent photo of my Melianthus pectinatus! This dwarf African honey bush has finally settled in and is in bloom right now. As you can see, it has much smaller, more delicate leaves than the more common M. major. Perfect for a smaller space and you still get that great peanut butter aroma from the leaves.

Somehow, a few years on from discovering the beauty of ferns, I suddenly have 25 different ones in my garden. The newest, not yet planted, is this Dryopteris koidzumiana (Japanese Wood fern). The new growth offers beautiful burnished ginger tones and a classic 'fern' look. You may be familiar with its better known cousin - Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn fern).

The Bidens that ate Oakland. My B. HI Flare Orange Drop has kind of gone crazy in this hanging basket but its hard not to like the delicate foliage and those groovy flowers.

Couldn't resist this shot of my Pieris japonica 'Flaming Silver.' A lovely salmon-colored new leaf has appeared, kind of a 'more to come in early spring' sentinel. 

Here are two shots of my Billbergia 'Hallelujah,' which has for the first time put out its flower 'spears.' The reddish-pink sheath is the bract and then it sends out the off-white flowers with the purple tips. I know there must be some way of predicting when bromeliads will bloom but I haven't discovered it. For me the blooming is always a major event.

For some reason this Euphorbia 'Glacier Blue' looks more like a painting than a photograph. Maybe it's the soft colors or the perfect geometric composition. No matter. Beauty is beauty.

Although the sun somewhat washed out this shot I'm including it to say that you can grow this Goldfish houseplant outdoors. As you can see, it's prospering. And if you want you can tell a friend "Hey, did you know that goldfish can fly?" Then return their puzzled gaze with "Yeah, my hanging goldfish plant has little orange flowers that look like they're flying."

Though this Mother Fern is perhaps the most common of all ferns it's still beautiful nonetheless. I'm choosing to grow mine outdoors and it's found a home in a part-morning sun location.

Although I've displayed several shots of my beautiful Camellia reticulata 'Frank Hauser,' I thought a side-angle view was interesting. You see the depth of the flowers and get a different take on its wavy petals.

Okay, no beauty awards for this shot of my Begonia 'Wild Pony' but two things. First I rooted this from a cutting and it immediately took hold. Second it has stayed evergreen. This is a variety you grow for the textured almost crinkled foliage. Can't wait to see how big it gets.

A photo of a bare tree? Yes and no. It's my Magnolia 'Butterflies' and it won't be long till it bursts into bloom. You may already have seen some mature Magnolia soulangianas in bloom. BTW, magnolias are one of the oldest trees on our planet. 

There's soft and then there's soft. The foliage on this Phylica plumosa is just unbelievably silky soft. It's one of many South African plants in my garden.

I love this little Fabiana imbricata violacea. A member of the Solanaceae family, it is native to Chile. The funny thing is, it almost looks more like a heather than something related to a Potato vine or a tomato.

It's sweet pea season so I've planted one of the new Annie's Annuals varieties in this ceramic pot, positioned so it can climb on the wrought iron railing.

Here's a closeup of the stand underneath the pot. Yep that's an elephant, guarding the entrance to the steps!

Callistemon viminalis. Callistemons are bottle brush trees or, in this case, a shrub. This species tops out at 6-8' tall and wide, making it easier for those of us with limited space to grow one in a pot.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Poppies 'N Peas

You may be sitting in your house, looking out at the rain or the cold and wondering "What the heck is there to plant in my garden right now?" It's a legitimate question. And here's a legitimate answer: breadseed poppies and sweet peas. It's somehow fitting that two of the most colorful and engaging flowers should arrive in January, just in time to cheer us up. No worries about rushing things, this really is the time to plant these guys. Everybody knows sweet peas but for those who may not be acquainted with Annie's Annuals, as the saying goes "You ain't seen nothing yet." They have over the years produced an intoxicating variety of these sweet-smelling annuals. Look for four new ones this year - two brilliant red varieties (Future Shock and Lynda's Blush), a rich purple variety (Paradox) plus a charming purple-splashed white variety (Nimbus).
Though breadseed poppies have their own fan club - if any plant should have a fan club it's breadseed poppies - there are still a few people apparently living in outer Siberia who haven't heard of them. There's an easy way to remedy that and that's by posting photos of some of the more notable ones. Okay, with permission from the kind folks at Annie's, here are some photos of these P 'N P's, with a few comments where appropriate. For those wanting to check out one or more of these flowers here's the Annie's link

Lathyrus 'Blue Vein.' One of the more intriguing sweet peas, with varying shades of orange, red and purple, with the veining more obvious than in some sweet peas.

 Lathryus 'North Shore.' A lovely mix of blues, purples and lavenders. For some reason this variety reminds me of some of the Bearded irises I've seen. That's high compliment indeed for a sweet pea.

Lathyrus 'Blue Shift.' This unique variety actually changes color, starting off a rich violet-purple, then transitioning into lovely blue tones.

 Lathyrus 'Future Shock.' This new variety also changes color, from coral orange to cherry red, finally adding hints of purple in the veining. No shock here, just plenty of eye candy.

Lathyrus 'Gwendoline.' You can't go wrong with the lovely pink-edged white flowers of this fragrant variety. One of the more ruffled varieties to boot.

Perhaps this year's most intriguing new entry, even down to its name (Nimbus). Undulating petals have a picotee edging and prominent purple veining. The word nimbus is defined as "a luminous cloud or a halo surrounding a supernatural being or a saint" and either could apply to this beauty!

There's purple and then there's purple. As a New Yorker might say "We got your purple right here!" Another new offering, Lathyrus 'Paradox' has color (and fragrance) to spare. Not only that, it's a petite charmer, only growing to three feet tall.

Orange sweet peas are uncommon but this Lathyrus 'Prince of Orange' really crushes it (Orange Crush, got it? Okay back to the photos).

No slouches in the blooming department, breadseed poppies come in two basic forms - single and double (there are also a few semi-doubles). Here's one of the doubles (also known as Peony-style), Black Peony. The peony-style poppies have an almost inexhaustible number of petals and well, a style of their own. They can get so heavy, they'll actually bend the branch down a bit. 

Papaver 'Danebrog.'  Like the touchstone of some major cultural event (fill in yours), everybody remembers the first time they encountered a Danebrog poppy in bloom. One is likely to gape with open mouth and wonder whether the sight is real. Oh, yeah. Fire engine red and pure snow white next to each other and then the fringed petals.

I used to kid a co-worker who was prone to being, ahh, voluble that someone had named a poppy after her. "Really?" she gushed and then I showed her this flower. Indeed it is named Drama Queen and the reason for that becomes obvious at first glance.

There are some pretty amazing breadseed poppies but this Flemish Antique may take the grand prize. Just impossibly gorgeous, with seemingly a million petals and then the speckling. And each flower is slightly different from the other.

The poppy that launched a thousand others. This 'Lauren's Grape' was one of Annie's first breadseed poppies and that rich color has meant it has remained popular to this day. 

Look up orange in the Visual Dictionary (not a real thing but it should be) and you'll see a photo of this Orange Chiffon poppy. Just impossibly supra-orange and when back-lit it positively glows. I grow it every year.

Is white a color? Some say no but then they haven't seen this Persian Princess poppy. Whiter than snow and ruffled, it seems to be its own galaxy around which everything turns.

There are many, many breadseed poppies but I'll end with this lovely Raspberry variety. I bet if you asked ten people what type of red it is you'd get ten different answers. It seems to be all reds rolled into one and that's part of its charm.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

South African bulbs

Many of you know that the Cape region of South Africa is home to many of the world's most colorful bulbs. They are also in some cases - most notably for Gladiola, Ixia, Freesia and Sparaxis - the origins of hybrids that now are commonly found in garden centers and nurseries. South African (SAF) bulbs begin blooming in December with the early Lachenalia species and continue through May (the spring bloomers that is). Here are some select photos from my archives of various SAF bulbs, a little colorful preview of a spring show to come. I've posted them roughly in order of bloom time.

Lachenalia aloides 'Orange.' The very first SAF bulb in my garden to bloom (December).

This unknown Lachenalia species has a pretty light lavender bloom.

One of the most colorful of all Lachenalias, this L. tricolor is a real showboat!

My favorite SAF bulb, Ferraria crispa is so weird yet so lovely.

Here's the oh so chocolatey Ferraria crispa ssp crispa (dark form).

This peacock moraea is well named. M. villosa is simply one of the most gorgeous flowers in existence. 

Moraea atropunctata. Although this isn't that great a shot it's the best I have of my short-lived and now deceased moraea. They're rare and I haven't found it since I bought it back in 2011. Really a spectacular flower, with the beautiful chocolate spotting against an alabaster white background.

Gladiolus 'Lemon Moon.' Very lovely species glad that luckily is still being propagated and sold.

Sparaxis elegans. Has the distinctive center ring and the common pink 'eye.'

This Sparaxis grandiflora ssp grandiflora doesn't at first glance look like a Sparaxis at all (petals aren't round, no center ring or eye).  It's a beauty nonetheless.

Though this isn't a great shot, I wanted to include a shot of my not-rare-but-hard-to-find Melasphaerula ramosa. It's prolific and self seeds everywhere so is easy to share with friends. Sprays of these gladiola-like white flowers appear in March and April. Very sweet.

Another common-but-hard-to-find SAF bulb is this colorful Chasmanthe bicolor. It too is prolific (some would say invasive) and will self seed wherever it can (although my specimen has behaved itself).

Babiana variety. Not sure which one this is but it's a solid purple. Babianas are one of the easiest and most reliable SAF bulbs to grow.

Babiana stricta. This is the most common of the Babiana species and there are many hybrids.

Although there are plenty of weedy grasses here, this shot shows the sprays of Babianas as they reach for the sky. Babianas typically only get to a foot tall.

This lovely creature is an Ixia Buttercup. Ixias (Corn Lilies) are also very easy to grow. I lump Ixias, Freesias and Sparaxis together because they all come up in early to mid-spring, they're all reliable and easy to grow and they all naturalize in your garden.

Ixia monadelpha. This lesser known Ixia is a lovely splash of white in the spring garden.

There's subtle and then there's Ornithogalum dubium. Brilliant orange flowers stack one on another is an upwards little pyramid.

Last but not least is Anomatheca laxa, a Freesia relative that produces masses or coral-pink flowers in late spring. Liking shade and a prolific self-seeder, you plant a couple and just let them colonize an area.
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