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.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Lamb of March

Yes, time to turn the calendar page, it's March and with the sunny, warmer day ahead it's coming in like a lamb. These last few days of sun have really stimulated our gardens. No matter where you live and how long the winter season actually is it always feels too long. So when the first few days of sun and warm weather roll around, it's welcomed with open arms (and without the rain gear). Time to weed, time to prep the soil, time to plan where new treasures will go. And time to shop! Our nursery (Grand Lake Ace in Oakland) has been furiously stocking up on new spring plants, including a lot of native annuals. I'll be adding some of those to my garden this week.
Here are a few more photos from my garden, with the emphasis on late winter blooming shrubs. The first of the bulbs are also beginning to bloom - Ipheions, Freesias, Crocus, Ranunculus, Tulips and Ferrarias. To me, bulbs are the gifts that keep on giving, sort of an hors d'oeuvre before the main course of full-on spring.

Ranunculus. Though the blooming season is short, the brilliant colors of Ranunculus make it worth our while. I don't have much luck getting this bulb to bloom a second season so just enjoy them as a cheerful late winter annual. Below is a closeup of an orange variety, so intensely orange that the camera has a hard time recording it properly.

Physocarpus 'Nugget.' This golden-leaved Ninebark shrub leafs out seemingly overnight. It features attractively crinkled leaves and pure white flowers that remind some of Spireas. They soon produce very decorative red seed capsules, making this shrub a 'triple threat.' And bees love the flowers.

Here's my conifer tree bed. The big cascading mass in the lower right is Sphaeralcea munroana. The 'alcea' in its name gives away the fact that it's a member of the mallow family. In the rear center is a thicket of Chasmanthe bicolor, a vigorous S. African bulb that blooms this time of year. In front of it are three primroses, still in bloom, and in front of them is an unusual Abelia (Chiapis). Apart from it being a spiller not a shrub, its claim to fame is its fragrant lavender-colored blooms. 

Grevillea 'Penola.' I love this fuzzy-leaved Grevillea, as much for its foliage as for its pretty red and cream flowers. As I tell customers at our nursery, your shrub will only bloom for 2-3 months so pick one where you also like the foliage. Done and done with this handsome evergreen shrub.

Magnolia stellata. I call these types of Magnolias 'finger' magnolias due to the flower petals looking like fingers spread apart. More fragrant than most magnolias and earlier blooming, it's one of the easiest species to add to your garden, as it's a modest size (6-10'). A great plant for a moon garden.

Crassula species. My neighbor's succulent is in full bloom right now. Lovely! It's a Crassula of some time and most likely a Jade plant (Crassula ovata). Crassulas are one of the easiest succulents to grow and they bloom readily.

This lovely fern's common name says it all - Mossy Soft Shield Fern. It's a Polystichum setiferum ‘Plumosum Densum.’It's a new addition to my garden and it joins an unexpected collection of ferns. Slowly over the years I've added a fern here and a fern there and now I have 25 different species. They're so versatile and for the most part easy to grow.

Everybody knows this plant, commonly called Pink Jasmine for the pink buds that soon open to intensely fragrant white flowers. I have the fortune of both my east and west neighbors having planted specimens many years ago and now they scramble over both fences. Fences may make good neighbors but free jasmine doesn't hurt either.

Allium 'Silver Springs.' It's not cold enough here in Oakland for ornamental onions to do well so I plant them knowing it's a one year delight. Incidentally this is the same genus that gives us edible onions, chives, leeks and garlic. By the way, the Greek word Allium means garlic.

I've added a new Leucospermum to my garden (L. 'Tango'). Its first flower is about to open. To me they are the showiest of the Protea family members and there is a surprising variety of colors available. Besides the common reds and oranges, there's salmon, pink and even yellow. 

Chaenomeles 'Fuji.' One of the newer flowering quinces in my garden, this lovely and hardy late winter bloomer is full of red flowers now. By the way, plants that flower before leaves appear are known as 'hysteranthous' plants. It is thought that the evolutionary advantages of this behavior is explained by a mass of flowers coming out together being more likely to attract a greater number of insects. And the absence of leaves is thought to facilitate wind pollination.

Lachenalia variety. Many Lachenalia flowers are multi-colored. This simple, all yellow one has its own unique charms. 

Sometimes the color of Camellia flowers are at their most intense hue in budded form, as is the case with this C. reticulata 'Bill Woodruff.' In this case, the open flowers are still a pretty intense red but here we see the concentrated form of its deep red tones.
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