Thursday, October 23, 2014


As we transition from summer to fall, or is fall to winter (depending on where you are and even in the Bay Area how cold it's getting inland), our gardens are one reliable sign of this change. Summer flowers have faded or on their way out and fall perennials like salvias come into their own. This is the period for plants that have for me the acronym SCSVB -- shrubs, conifers, succulents, vines & bulbs. Besides the aforementioned salvias, it's the time of year for shrubs that hold winter interest, such as Camellias, Daphnes or Euonymus. We get to enjoy a wide variety of stately conifers in the Bay Area and for those inclined there are a host of fascinating dwarf conifers, especially from the Chamaecyparis and Cryptomaria genera (my own dwarf confer bed is thriving). Fall and winter is a great time to grow succulents and many will take on even more color during the colder months. Fall is also the season when many vines come into their own. Everything from Passion Flowers to Bower vines to Porcelain Berry vine. And lastly, we are fast approaching the bulb bonanza. That starts early for those growing South African bulbs. Popular favorites like Lachenalias (Cowslip), Freesias and Sparaxis will soon be popping up. I already have most of my Lachenalia species up and already have the first blooms on the sweet little Moraea polystacha. For those of us lucky enough to garden in the milder zones of the Bay Area, the phrase "Tis the season" really applies to all four seasons when it comes to enjoying our gardens.
Here are a few photos from my 10/23 garden, representing some of the plant groups mentioned above.

Begonia 'Calypso.' One last shot of my favorite begonia and a reminder that begonias don't just have one season. This is a later bloomer and will still have a few flowers well into November. Love that color and the delicate red edging.

These next two photos are the first of my Camellia 'Jury's Yellow' in bloom. Please excuse the quality of the shots but I wanted to point out something curious. The photo above is what the flowers should look like, a subtle creamy yellow hidden in the ruffles of the inner petaloids. The photo below remarkably is off the very same plant. No yellow at all; in fact it's quite easy to notice the pink blush.  Not sure how to explain that. Perhaps some of its Camellia x williamsii parentage leaking through.

Choisya 'Sundance.' New growth on this Choisya variety comes out golden then ages to a darker green. Curiously, mine has offered up a mix of golds and greens in its fall incarnation. And no the plant is not chlorotic; it has been well fed. Just one of Nature's fun little surprises.

I was going for a little depth of field effect here so that the front couple flowers on this Lobelia 'Hot Whitespot' are in focus and the rest seem to be like little moons orbiting the mother plant.

Here's a photo of the aforementioned Moraea polystacha. Unlike certain Moraeas, who have a rep for being difficult to grow, this species is super easy. He's always the first Moraea to arrive in my garden.

Echeveria 'Kiwi.' One of the most popular of the Echeverias and this photo shows why. Great colors and it doesn't get too big. 

Asclepius aren't always blooming this time of year but my A. curassavica 'Apollo Orange' has offered up a second round of flowering. There's nothing quite like these showy flowers, proving that sometimes small flowers can indeed pack a big punch!

Speaking of fall vines, here's my vigorous little Passiflora citrina. Hardly recognizable as a passion flower vine because of its flowers' diminiative size, unique shape and unusual color, it nonetheless puts on a great show till Christmas.

Oxalis latifolia. This shamrock-type oxalis features bright green tri-petaled leaves and vivid pink flowers. Spreads slowly  then disappears in the winter.

There's a reason many plants have common names. This Andromischus cristatus is not only a mouthful but hard to remember as well. But Crinkle-leaf plant, that's a whole lot easier, especially when you notice its ... well ... crinkly leaves. The two stems emerging from the center are flower stems. The flowers aren't much to write home about (tiny white) but the curious form of this succulent is more than enough reason to take one home.

Silver tumbleweed? Huge friggin' white spider? Nope. It's a Tillandsia Ionantha 'Silver.' One of my favorite plants because it's just so unique and beautiful.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Wet and Dry

People who study California's climate don't talk in terms of spring, summer, fall and winter. More accurately they quantify our climate as having a wet season and a dry season. Normally for us the wet season starts in late November or early December and continues through to April. That's followed by the dry season that rarely gives us more than a smattering of precipitation. Our predictably dry summers makes it even more imperative to have rain (and snow) in the winter and early springs months. Gardeners are understandably concerned and are going strong for drought tolerant perennials and succulents. Add bulbs to that list, especially spring blooming bulbs which are stimulated by spring rains and then can survive the summer dry spell by going dormant.
Here are a few more photos from my fall garden.

Looking at this broad-leaved succulent always makes me mysteriously hungry. Oh, yeah, it's a Kalanchoe 'Flapjacks.' Pass the butter and maple syrup.

Speaking of curious succulents I'm not sure what this little guy is but it's bloomed for the first time and the flowers sure are cute. I'm thinking it's a Euphorbia of some kind, given the red-centered chartreuse flowers.

What do you see here? "Umm, a bunch of green leaves" you might answer. It's my Edgeworthia chrysantha, otherwise known as a Paperbush because the Chinese used to use the peeling bark as a kind of parchment. It will soon shed its leaves and then the hard, tightly held little flower clusters will come into view.

A simple shot of one of my favorite Dianthus (love the color) but something happened in the shooting and I wound up with a murky background. Sort of neat though.

Although this Cupressus variety doesn't have Icicles in its title (it's a Blue Pyramid) I still think the silvery foliage resembles a network of icicles. Now I need to find a spot for it in my Japanese garden ...

Can you guess what this is? Sometimes a closeup photo can hide its subject's identity. It's a stock. People plant them for their peppery fragrance but Iwhat made me take this guy home was its color. 

Kudos to those who can ID this golden shrub. It's the little known Duranta 'Gold Mound.' My specimen's one purpose in life is to drive me crazy. It goes deciduous but doesn't reappear until July. Then it does nothing much until September. Finally it makes a little growth spurt but by that time it's too late and having only gotten to a foot wide and six inches high it goes deciduous again. Then it repeats.

I couldn't resist another photo of my Deppea splendens. Although it's surprisingly resilient, it just seems like one of those tropical plants that you have to fuss over and pray to the plant gods that it will somehow survive the winter. Nope. It's ticking along quite nicely thank you very much.

Here's another photo of a newly emerged Camellia 'Winner's Circle' flower. As I mentioned, this Nuccio's variety is so new that not even Nuccio's has a photo of it posted. When I googled it, the two photos I'd taken of it were the only ones on the web. So, here's a third.

My winter shrubs ain't waiting for the invitation to arrive; they're crashing the party now. That includes my Rhododendron 'Sappho.' Here's its first bud. I've discovered that it may be a repeat bloomer and if so that might explain a few fall flowers. 

For a little change of pace, thought I'd share a photo of my back yard bench. I bought it for its lovely tree design.

This begonia looks an awful lot like a B. Irene Nuss but my friend Ann, who gifted it to me, and I think it's something different. Very similar though, down to the handsome scalloped leaves and large sprays of pink flowers.

Pteris cretica albo-lineata and Fuchsia 'Rose Quartet.' One of my favorite ferns beside one of my favorite smaller fuchsias. They have found their 'happy place' at the foot of my stairs.

Here's another plant ID that may stump some, especially without the benefit of the flowers. It's an Oxalis, labelled as O. carnosa but I'm thinking it's something else. One of its distinctive features is that makes these six inch globes of petals, from which sprout yellow flowers in the late fall.

Alyogyne hakeafolia. This is the so-called Yellow alyogyne and is related to hibiscus, which you can see from the flower. That red 'spiral' is a red limn at the base of each of the five petals. And this species has a pronounced stamen and nectary, making it one of the more beautiful members of the Malvaceae family.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Just bulb baby, bulb

The title is a bad humorous reference to the Oakland Raiders' legendary owner Al Davis, whose motto was "Just win baby." And yes, it is already the season to be buying and planting bulbs. With the exception of the bulbs that need to go in the fridge for those of us in mild zones (tulips, crocus, hyacinths), pretty much everything else but daffodils can be planted now. That would include iris of various kinds (bearded, Dutch, Louisiana types), Freesia, Sparaxis, Ixia, Scilla, Anemones and the like. This group doesn't need a winter experience and fall is a great time to plant them.
Speaking of bulbs, we're on the cusp of the season for South African bulbs. Many of you know that this area has the richest concentration of bulbs found anywhere in the world. The breadth and variety is dazzling. Many of the hybridized Gladiolas have as their parentage S. African (SAF) species. South Africa is also home to Freesias, Amaryllis, Ixias, Sparaxis, Babianas, Crocosmias, Lachenalias, Moraeas and Watsonias, just to name the common ones.
Often, the first ones to pop up are the Lachenalias, known as Cowslips. I noticed that my L. tricolor has just sent up shoots.That's my cue to take the various SAF bulbs that I still have in 4" pots and move them from their summer-dry location out to the display stand and begin watering them again. SAF bulbs can be a source of winter joy, flowering as they do from early November through end of April. It's one of the few things that I look forward to about winter.
But fall it is still and there are many plants blooming in my garden. Here are a few new things that are showing off their true colors.

Although mums are a common fall plant I happen to really like this color so tucked one in a  sunny bed along a pathway. Good fall colors and so cheerful.

Fall and winter is a great time for succulents, as many of them bloom in the cooler months. Here's a little Cotyledon 'Elisae' with its simple red and green flowers. I like the nodding form and reflexed petals.

Pelargonium sidoides. This delicate geranium has brilliant, tiny magenta flowers but distinctive and attractive leaves even when not in bloom.

Speaking of Pels as they're known to lovers of this genus, here's a hybrid called 'Raspberry Twizzle.' 

Silene uniflorus. This commonly used ground cover is nonetheless very attractive, especially the variegated leaf form and sports these curious "bladder" flowers. 

There are the drought tolerant mimulus types and then the water loving ones. This red variety is one of the latter but I only give it a little at a time so I don't feel too bad. 

Silene 'Starfish.' Couldn't resist another photo of my starfish silene. I think it gets its name from the five "arms" and the markings on each of them.

Felicia amelloides. If ever a genus was aptly named it's Felicia, meaning happy or blessed. Indeed this tough little shrub puts out an almost endless supply of cheerful blue flowers and is drought tolerant too.

I thought my Datura Blackcurrant Swirl was done blooming for the year but nope, it was merely a momentary pause. On top of the fabulous color of this double datura, it features the blackest stems you'll ever see on a plant.

My Aussie native Ozothamnus 'Silver Jubilee' has put its first tiny cream-colored flowers. Not showy but it looks fab with the silvery foliage.

Here's a botanical quiz. Name a honeysuckle whose flowers offer no fragrance. Pictured above is Lonicera sempervirens, an East coast honeysuckle that indeed is not fragrant. That's okay, it offers such fabulous colors that it is easily forgiven for its olfactory shortcomings.

This be a simple Mother fern but since it's come back from the dead and they're so beautiful anyway, I thought it worth a photo. My little feline friend in the background thinks so too.

Here's a closer look at my Mosaic tile kitty. She's a beauty and she's always on the prowl.

Though I wasn't fast enough to photograph the first flower this year on my Camellia 'Winner's Circle' I couldn't resist snapping it anyway. This is a preview for what looks to be a fabulous show on this brand new variety. It's so new I couldn't find any photos of it on the web last year. It's acquiring more of the promised coral shades this year and this first flower was huge.

Here's another shot of my Porcelain berry vine, doing better than I expected it to do this year. Dig the speckles on the blue berries especially, which gives it its common name.

Though this isn't my photograph I just had to grab a photo off the web of my Parochetus africana. It's a deciduous ground cover that reappears this time of year, offering the sweetest little blue flowers.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fall Splendor

What's that old saying? Fall would be my favorite season if it wasn't followed by winter. We are lucky in the Bay Area, getting to enjoy a lengthy fall season and especially for those of us near the coast a mild winter. Right now, in the middle of a three day heat wave, I'd gladly take some cooler weather. And rain. Somehow our gardens march on, able to survive our crazy weather.
Speaking of tough plants, this is the time of year for salvias. There are so many great ones, it's hard to keep up. I have a dozen different ones in my garden, the latest (yet to be planted) is the exquisite S. splendens 'Sao Borja.' First you have the rich burgundy colored flowers and then, surprise, this salvia likes some shade. It's native to the higher elevations of Brazil and so likes cooler temps. It's a bit frost tender so will need to be protected. It grows quickly, getting to 6' in a single season.

This little glass bird is a new addition to my garden. He's keeping a lookout in the back yard that is also my bird sanctuary. I'm curious to see if any real birds will take an interest. "No answer?" they tweet. "Ahh, you must be the strong, silent type."

Azalea 'Mangetsu.' It's just now coming into its blooming season. I bought this variety many moons ago at Moraga Garden Center and now I'm not sure anyone is selling it anymore.

One last shop of my trippy Sunrise Serenade morning glory. Talk about hot pink ...

My Begonia 'Calypso' was a late starter but it's in full bloom mode now. Calling it a showoff only encourages it.

What's that expression? "A weed is only a plant you don't want in your garden." I did indeed plant this purple form of Campanula punctata a few years back and now it's self seeded throughout the entire bed. What you don't see from this angle is the spotting inside the throat, a pattern I once described as a dusting of confectioner's sugar.

Finally a good shot of these colorful guys, a Portulaca mix. 

Here's a shot of my neighbor's Black and Brown Boar tomato plant that I've been caring for. Great color and yummy too.

Although it's still in the foliage stage, my new Protea neriifolia 'Pink Ice' is already showing the characteristic pink spines on the leaves. The flowers on most neriifolias are spectacular and Pink Ice is no exception. Can't wait.

What's more exciting -- watching paint dry or waiting for one's Puya to bloom? Hmm, let me think about it. Gimme a minute. Nope, can't say which sends more shivers down my spine. This Puya is in year eight with nary a bloom. I'm going to have to eat more health foods so I can live long enough to see it bloom.

My Tecoma x smithii keeps pumping out the gorgeous peachy-orange blooms. Fabulous.We have a specimen of the yellow-flowered Tecoma stans at the entrance to our Grand Lake Ace nursery and it's been in continuous bloom since early July.

Plectranthus coleoides. This lovely, ground cover type plectranthus has made itself happily at home under a fir tree, where not a whole lot else has prospered.

It may be just a New Guinea impatiens but this one has the loveliest rose-pink flower and it's doing a good job of bringing interest to a somewhat dark & shady bed.

Still a great many people's favorite salvia, S. patens has the richest blue flowers of just about any plant. If once upon a time, a single rare tulip in Holland was worth enough to single-handedly buy you a house (it was), then this exquisite blue flower must be worth something special.

Reason number 27 why people love Haworthias. This H. obtusa has translucent tips that sparkle in the sun. Fab green color too. Almost looks yummy enough to be a cool dessert on a hot day.
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