Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Winter Gardens

Today's photos are a 'snapshot' of one winter garden but also a reminder that there are many types of winter gardens. Some of these are very cultivated, with that person's particular interest in plants showing itself in her or his choices, and some are wilder, a reflection perhaps of plants found in their natural ecosystem. I sometimes get asked as a nurseryman what is the right way to plant a garden. I tell them that apart from choosing appropriate plants given the light conditions and allowing for mature sizes, the choices and overall design is of their making. Yes, there are design recommendations that have some validity to them but a garden should, environmental issues aside, please its caretaker. While landscaping one's yard in one fell swoop has its appeal, there's also something to be said for letting it develop organically. And there are advantages to the latter approach. It's not uncommon for ones tastes to change over time. Building your garden a little at a time allows for these evolving tastes.

For sheer petal count, not much can top Camellia reticulata Bill Woodruff. If you didn't know better, you'd swear it was a peony and a pretty full one at that. Reticulatas are the 'Queens' of the camellia world, known for their wavy petals and rich colors.

Camellia Lila Naff. I was trying to get a backlit shot of this dreamy camellia and the sun only partially cooperated. Still, the luminescent coral color is lovely.

One last Camellia.  After almost losing this C. reticulata Francie L Variegated to thrips last year, it has rebounded enough to have half a dozen flower buds. Here's its first pink and white flower. I love the fact that the flowers on variegated varieties are all slightly different. It's like a roulette wheel, spinning, spinning and it stops on ... THIS color combination.

One last shot of my amazing Canarina canariensis. I swear, I should do a column on plants that die the first time you try them, die the second time too but then go crazy on the third try. That was the case with me growing this intriguing Canary Islands deciduous bulbous perennial.

Nothing says 'lemon-scented' like Pelargonium crispum Variegated Lemon. I swear, the foliage smells more intensely of lemons than lemons do! Love it.

This Agastache Raspberry Summer flowering stem is tilting sideways so it looks kind of funny to this eye. Then again you really see the individual tubular flowers. One of the great hummingbird and bee plants, and long blooming in our milder zones, Agastache is near the top of the list of my favorite plants.

Nope, this plant definitely doesn't give me the heebie-jeebies. It's an Hebe ochracea EC Stirling and it's one of the so-called whipcord hebes. I love that fine, needle-like foliage and the orangish-chartreuse color. Good things do indeed come in small packages sometimes.

One more shot of my rare Abelia species 'Chiapas.' As mentioned before, it features three unique qualities for an Abelia - it cascades, it features lavender-purple flowers and those flowers are sweetly fragrant. Too bad it's largely disappeared from the trade.

Sometimes you really DO need to read the label. It wasn't until year four of my Melianthus pectinatus doing poorly that I went back and read the label. 'Likes regular moisture.' Ahh. The extra H2O has really livened up the plant, especially during its growth season in the winter. 

Although people of course grow Arugula for the leaves, it's the simple 'flag' (four corners) white flowers that appeal to me. A prolific bloomer, it's bloomed continuously since early October and has yet to let up. 

Speaking of Abelias, here's my A. 'Kaleidoscope.' This variegated form is the one people ask for in our nursery and the multi-colored foliage is the reason why. Like all Abelias, it's a tough shrub, able to handle a variety of situations.

This unknown Lachenalia variety looks to be a L. aloides of some sort. Rosy-red tubes are tipped in green. 

Antirrhinum 'Chantilly Bronze.' This snapdragon from Annie's has performed beyond my expectations. It blooms heavily, I cut it back, it regrows then starts blooming again. And I've discovered that bees adore snapdragons. So, it's all good.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

South African bulbs

Many of you are familiar with the beauty and petite charms of South African bulbs. I've written about them before but now, as the first of them are in bloom (mostly Lachenalia) and others soon to follow (Chasmanthe, Freesia, Sparaxis) I've decided to pull out some photos from my archives.
That said, enjoy a little winter color!

Lachenalia aloides 'Orange.' Aloides species are the most populous of all the Lachenalias. They are also often the first to bloom. Many feature pinks, reds and oranges. I'm not sure I see the 'orange' in this variety but I like the rosy-pink tubular flowers nonetheless.

This is a rare cross between the milky blue L. viridiflora and L. quadricolor. This cross was done by a local grower and as far as I know it's not commercially available. You can see the greenish-blue at the base then the pale yellow, green and purple as you progress towards the tips. This cross is also an early bloomer.

This Lachenalia tricolor is a very popular species. It's a reliable bloomer too, returning year after year. 

Babiana stricta. This baboon flower is known for two things - the purple or white flowers of course but also its pleated leaves. The leaves arrive first, forming a thick bunch and then flowering stems rise above this foliage in late February/early March. One of the least fussy of all South Africa bulbs, it doesn't need to be given a summer dry period (as Lachenalias do).

Ixia Buttercup. This lovely named variety of the colorful corn lily offers up creamy yellow flowers and contrasting burgundy centers. Ixias are tough, they come in many colors and they naturalize. For that reason I often lump them together with Sparaxis and Freesias.

Chasmanthe bicolor. This early blooming Cape native is one of the easiest bulbs to grow and naturalizes easily. Some might say 'too easily' but I have not had it escape its location and pop up everywhere. Hard to find in the trade but if you know anyone that has a stand you could easily remove a clump, pot it up and start your own colony.

Ferraria crispa. Sometimes called a 'spider iris,' I think a better evocation might be a sea star. Has those weird crinkly edges and the dots lead to the center 'mouth.' Definitely one of the oddest plants we can grow here in the Bay Area. 

Ferraria crispa ssp crispa. This subspecies has deep burgundy, almost chocolate centers and that makes for a lovely and yummy flower. Ferraria flowers look delicate but don't be fooled. The plants, once established, are vigorous and will colonize a bed (as mine have).

Believe it or not this gorgeous flower is a Gladiola. It's not one of the common hybrids available everywhere but a straight species from South Africa called Gladiolus alatus. It's hard to find and alas mine petered out a few years ago. Time to hunt for new ones.

Another South African glad is this G. Lemon Moon. Like most Cape gladiolas the flowers aren't large and they appear on thin arching branches. This variety has proved surprisingly sturdy for me.

This gorgeous flower is a Homoglad variety. Homoglads are a cross between Gladiolus tristis & Homoglossum watsonium and their Gladiolus parentage is quite apparent. Some now put Homoglads within the Gladiolus genus. 

Although this isn't a great photo, it's the only one I have of my long gone Moraea atropunctata. It's rare. The petals are an alabaster white and the radiating spots a chocolate color. It took 3 years to flower but it was worth the wait.

Ixia monadelpha. It's the pure white contrasted by the wine-colored centers that's the attraction of this species. 

Moraea villosa. This peacock moraea or peacock iris is everybody's favorite Moraea and one look tells you why.

Ornithogalum dubium. The dubium species offers a variety of yellows and oranges but this bright orange Star of Bethlehem is very popular. It has succulent leaves and produces masses of flowers in upright cones.

Sparaxis variety. Though there are a number of Sparaxis species, the common ones sold in mixed color packets all have a center ring that contrasts with the color of the petals. Flowers emerge from unusual papery sheaths, adding another element of intrigue.

This Sparaxis is a bit less common, with the center not providing as dramatic a contrast as most. That orange sherbet color is fab though.

Sparaxis grandiflora ssp grandiflora. This species demonstrates how different some sparaxis are from others. Here it's all about the burgundy colors.

Monday, January 15, 2018


The date January 15th says we're in the middle of winter. Right? Except if you live in the milder zones of the Bay Area. There's already a hint of anticipation of a not-so-far-off spring in the air. Lots of bulbs are up. For those of us with bulbs such as Lachenalias, the first of these are already blooming. Not far off are freesias (I spotted the first unopened flower spikes yesterday) and snowdrops, which are already up. All of that helps us be a bit more patient, marking off the weeks on the calendar, waiting now for February and beyond.
Today's photos are a mix of my garden's winter clothes, with a few surprises just noticed yesterday. If it so suits you, I hope you find pleasure in living vicariously through this man's garden.

Choisya 'Sundance.' I love the varied gold and green patterning on this mock orange. It took awhile to really get established - much longer than the straight species - but it's become one of my favorite plants over time. 

Ribes aureum. This yellow flowering currant should be growing in the spring and summer but has decided to put out new growth in late December and January. It has yet to bloom but does have those lovely tri-lobed soft leaves.

Staghorn fern. This newer staghorn is off and running, with the larger fronds already leaning out over the walkway for more light. 

Here's one of my early blooming Lachenalias, L. viridiflora x quadricolor. The blue you see is from the viridiflora parent and the other colors from the quadricolor.

This handsome fellow is a Helleborus argutifolius 'Pacific Frost.' If you look more closely you'll see the pronounced speckling on the leaves, at times making the leaves more white than green. The smaller, lime-colored flowers seem a perfect complement.

Snapdragons in winter? Yes, believe it or not, snaps do quite well in the milder zones like those here in Oakland. Here's a A. 'Chantilly Bronze' displaying pink flowers that will age to bronze.

'Fuzzy green' should be the name of a cocktail (if it isn't already) but in any case it describes the leaves of this Salvia libanensis. It's supposed to be a winter bloomer but so far no flowers yet. That's okay; I'm digging the 'fuzzy green.'

Say the word 'senecio' and most gardeners don't think 'shrub' or yellow flowers' but in fact both those descriptions apply to the lovely Senecio barbertonicus. Throw in the bright green foliage and you have an appealing and oh-so-easy-to-grow succulent.

Gold stars to those who can ID this shrub. Hint: the leaves smell like peanut butter. It is indeed a Melianthus but not M. major but M. pectinatus. As you can see, the leaves are a lot smaller and more heavily dissected. And the flowers look nothing like the huge panicles on M. major. These ones are red in bud (front) opening to a bronzy-orange (rear).

My Deppea splendens shouldn't still be blooming and this cluster is certainly one of its last for the season. So pretty and they dangle on the slimmest of stems.

One should always have at least one deliciously fragrant shrub that blooms in winter. One of my favorites is this Viburnum x burkwoodii. Fragrant is an understatement. Intoxicating comes closer to its heady scent. This head of little flowers is only 2-3" across but packs quite the punch.

I've discovered that my Abelia species 'Chiapas' likes to bloom in the late fall and early winter. It's unusual for three reasons. It is a scrambler/cascader not a shrub; it features purple flowers unlike any other Abelia I know of; and the flowers are fragrant. Not just a hint but very sweetly fragrant. It's now very difficult to find; I got mine when Annie's Annuals was still selling it.

January is the month for Hellebores. Here's the first flowers on my H. 'Wayne Rodderick.' It boasts some of the deepest burgundy colors of any hybrid.

It's a bird, it's a plane, no it's an .... Osmanthus? This Sweet Olive is O. 'Goshiki' and you'll be forgiven for thinking it looks an awful lot like a Holly bush. That's its thing. Very slow to bloom - mine is 6 years old and has yet to bloom - it nonetheless makes a handsome addition to any garden.

Melaleuca incana. When I first grew this Australian native bush/tree, I was puzzled at what seemed to be developing seed cones. You can see them in this photo. They are in fact woody flower buds that the pale yellow petals open from. For me, this adds another layer of interest to a plant that already is lovely in all four seasons. The flowers resemble those of another Aussie native, the bottlebrush tree (Callistemon) but are shorter and in this case a lovely butter yellow.

It isn't until you begin taking a closer look at Hebes that you realize how many different kinds there are. This Hebe ochracea EC Stirling is one of the so called Whipcord hebes, whose leaves mimic many Cupressus species. The unique foliage, dazzling color and compact form all make this one of a kind hebe something worth lusting after.

Lachenalia aloides 'Orange.' The 'aloides' species of the popular cowslip is the most abundant and varied of all the Lachenalias. Also, one of the first to bloom. 

One of the most popular shrubs for winter fragrance, Daphnes are also an enduring plant when happy. Here the telltale pink buds will soon open to heavenly-scented starry white flowers. Luckily for us, the flowers remain open for a considerable amount of time.

Cupheas are another surprisingly varied genus. Here's my C. oreophila and no, the flowers don't smell like Oreos. But now that you mention it, breeder guys, can you get right on that job and propagate a plant that smells like our favorite cookie? In this species, the 'bat's ears' are tiny little green appendages.

For some reason my Barry's Silver Chamaecyparis has taken on more a bluish tinge this winter. In summer it really does have a lovely silver caste. No worries, I love this color almost as much.

Although the five minutes of sun that appeared today came right as I took this photo, thus bleaching out the lower flowers, you can still see how vivid the yellow flowers are on my Mahonia lomariifolia. Tough, drought tolerant, easy to grow, a winter bloomer, eventually berries for birds, well, Mahonias are just about the perfect plant.
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