Saturday, April 25, 2015

Veggies are Pretty too!

I just finished working on a short article for the SF Chronicle on vegetables that have beautiful flowers. Normally we don't think of vegetables as having showy flowers (or even flowers at all although of course anything that produces 'fruit' must flower first). One could choose many vegetables or fruiting bushes/trees for such an article. My limit was five and so I chose squash, scarlet runner beans, chives, eggplants and pomegranates. Hopefully you'll get a chance to catch the article but briefly here are the reasons for my choices.
Squash. The 'star' of the veggie flower world, squash blossoms are not only exceptionally pretty (large and golden) but they have many culinary uses.
Scarlet Runner beans. The orangish-red flowers are so pretty that many people grow this plant as an ornamental. That said it produces a prolific amount of edible beans and one can collect seed for future plantings.
Chives. Chives are part of the Allium family, that also includes onions, leeks and shallots. They feature round heads of pink to mauve flowers and because this is a perennial you can let it flower.
Eggplant. Part of the Nightshade family, which also includes the tomato and potato, eggplants produce some exceptionally pretty flowers. Colors range from purple to mauve to wine-colored.
Pomegrante. These heavy producing bushes have such pretty reddish-orange flowers that they can be grown as an ornamental. The red flowers are followed by bright red fruit so it's one of the most colorful shrubs you can grow.

Papaver Lavender Semi-Double. This new breadseed poppy from Annie's is pretty fabulous. Larger and more open than the peony style breadseeds. And that color!

Here's the backside of the same poppy. I'd never photographed one from behind and it's an interesting look. You get to see the darker spots at the base of each section of the flower.

Centaurea 'Red Boy.' This new Bachelor Buttons from Annie's is indeed red (and not pink as has been available in Centaurea mixes). Alternately known as 'corn flower' because it used to grow in corn fields before agribusiness began spraying fields with herbicides, this is one tough, drought tolerant plant! And prolific.

Nigella 'African Bride.' Not many people know about this species of Love-in-a-Mist' and that's a shame. The striking contrast between the pure white petals and the deep burgundy 'hats' is quite lovely. I'm not big into white flowers but it's such a great color combo and it's so easy to grow that I usually grow it every year. I have not had luck getting it to reseed however, unlike its more familiar blue cousin.

Lotus 'Flashbulb.' My neighbor is growing Lotus as a ground cover and so I tried it out. It's done well and has formed a dense mat of its distinctive 'fern-like' foliage and then all those bright parrot's beaks.

Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame.' This now massively popular cross between a foxglove (Digitalis) and a Isoplexis (foxglove relative) contains the best of both worlds. It has the full textured foliage and larger flower size of the foxglove parent and the great colors and flower longevity of the Isoplexis. Rumors of new varieties have come to fruition. There is now an 'Illumination Raspberry' and 'Berry Canary.' Curiously, the Illumination Raspberry's leaves are narrower and less textured.

Tweedia caerulea. Who doesn't love blue flowers and this member of the milkweed family -- that means yes it is deer proof -- is actually a tough little customer. Goes largely deciduous in the winter but returns in the spring. It has those distinctive milkweed seedpods but doesn't seem to self seed like Asclepias plants are wont to do.

Bouvardia ternifolia. This nearly ever blooming perennial offers up the richest red flowers. It almost died this winter, not sure why as it was so mild, but am so glad it's back. I haven't seen hummers around it but then again they have lots of choices in my garden.

Asclepias curassivica 'Apollo Orange.' Here's the host plant for the Monarch butterfly, breaking out its first flowers of the year. It's proved its toughness by getting a toehold in lousy soil in a median strip bed.

Clarkia concinna 'Pink Ribbons.' Clarkias are sun loving CA natives but there is one species that prefers the shade and it's this guy. Pink Ribbons doesn't even look like a Clarkia (who mostly have round petaled flowers), with its finger-like flowers. A great plant for a shady woodland garden.

Speaking of shady woodlands, this Primula vialii would be right at home there. In fact I have this specimen directly above my Pink Ribbons in a sloping bed under a fir tree. I've discovered that this primrose wants regular moisture (you can't cheat on the H2O with certain plants) and goes dormant for an extended period (before popping up in spring). Worth the wait!

All you non-birders can skip to the next photo. Here's the best I could do (without a telephoto lens handy) to capture a female hummingbird sitting on her nest. It's just right of center and a bit lower. I knew hummers were using the tree in years past to build nests but this is the first time I've actually seen one.

Arisaema ringens. Possibly the sturdiest of all the 'Jack-in-the-Pulpits' this low growing arisaema has a lovely green and white striped spathe. Woodland plants, they like cool, moist conditions and rich, loose soil. Too bad this particular species is hard to find these days.

Succulent bowl #4. My newest succulent bowl, though it's now 8 months on. It's still filling in but gives viewers an idea of the combinations of color, texture and form possible.

Bromeliad sp. I'm finally starting to get the hang of my slowly expanding bromeliad collection. This is year two for this guy and I was so happy to see the colorful bracts appearing on a new shoot.

Aechmea fulgens. I was very happy to finally ID this Aechmea and this is year three for its blooming so it seems it will be reliable. This bromeliad features shiny, smooth, leathery leaves and these curious flowers. 

Here's stage two of my Amorphophallus kiusianus. You can see the thickening of the top section and the tiny colorful tip. This will open to its white horizontal spathe and vertical, dark burgundy spadix. Simply one of the weirdest but coolest plants on the planet.

Choisya ternata 'Sundance.' I'm not sure why but it took four years for this choisya to bloom. It's making up for lost time now, offering up an abundance of sweetly fragrant blooms. Heavenly!

Finally, another shot of my CA bluebells (Phacelia viscida). For some reason this year's edition (it's an annual) is much happier, with more flowers and the saturation of royal blue that is its calling card. So lovely.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Got spring?

Why yes we do. Well, we have spring as long as you don't count the missing rains. If it gets any worse for water in CA, we'll all be taking dust baths like the birds. The last two days the real enemy for us gardeners is the wind. It dries out plants a lot faster than the heat. You can mulch the soil to protect from the heat but you can't 'mulch the wind.' Be thee gone oh desert winds!
That annoyance aside our gardens are beginning to show their brilliant spring coats. Though this year it's been a slow slide into spring and not the winter in February and then spring in March two-step, there's still been a mini-explosion of color this last two weeks. Which means that gardeners are rescheduling everything that can be put off so they can be out in their gardens. To paraphrase Marlow (he of The Singing Detective), "Am I right or am I right?"
For those of us working in the nursery trade, our gardens are a stress free bit of glory, absent the craziness of long days at work. It's a bit strange to retreat from plants (work) by escaping into plants (our own gardens) but that's exactly right.
Anyway, here are some visual treats from one gardener's garden. Enjoy!

Leucospermum cordifolium 'Salmon Bud.' Here's the flower now fully open. It's a wonderful (and unique) color and it bloomed in year one from just  a two gallon size! For me Leucospermums are the kings of the Protea family.

Arisaema ringens. If you look carefully, you'll see the thick hooded spathe in the middle of the plant. The leaves have yet to unfurl so they are still obscuring the white striped green spathe. One of the easiest Jack-in-the-Pulpits to grow but sadly hard to find these days.

Cotinus 'Royal Purple.' The leaves on my Smoke bush have yet to acquire a deeper burgundy color but already the beginning of the wispy flowerheads are in evidence. I'm using it as a street tree, an excellent choice as this Cotinus species doesn't get too big.

Papaver 'Fringed Lavender.' This new Annie's breadseed poppy is a beaut. I would describe the color as a 'matte' wine purple. And of course it's fringed. Here one of the petals has already dropped but since this is the plant's first flower, I decided to take a photo anyway. Love that color!

Calibrachoa 'Dreamsicle.' Just a simple Million Bells but pretty nonetheless. It's anchoring the corner of a front bed, right next to our main walkway. And it's a sign to never give up on plants. It looked pretty dead this winter -- no leaves at all -- but miraculously it has returned. 

And they shall rise! That burgundy shoot in the center is my Eucomis 'Sparkling Burgundy.' Eucomis members are better known as Pineapple lily. The name owes to a tuft of leafy bracts that adorns the top of the flower spike and that is said to resemble that of a pineapple. The real attraction is the thick stem that houses rows of waxy white, pink or purple star-shaped flowers. Nothing like them and the Sparkling Burgundy throws in the great leaf color to boot. Eucomis are surprisingly sturdy bulbous perennials.

Salvia discolor. For those familiar with this 'black' sage there is simply nothing like it in the plant world. Start with the sticky white stems and light green leaves that are pure white on the undersides. Add in light, lime-green  bracts and then the coup de grace the darkest purple almost black flowers you will ever see. In fact the flowers look completely black until the sun brings out the dark purple palette. If you said "I'm making up a plant that has these qualities" it's likely no one would believe you. And it's easy to grow.

Sarracenia sp. American Pitcher plants are fun and easy carnivorous plants to grow. Here are two 'flowers' that are getting ready to open. As long as you can keep them moist and give them some sun they're an easy and reliable plant. And they have that "Je ne sais quoi."

Campanula punctata. This is the purple form of the sun loving, rhizome creeping bellflower. It has to be the easiest campanula to grow and actually makes a good ground cover. Flowers arise on 6-10" stems beginning in April and continuing through the fall.

Here's a shot of a bromeliad that was a gift from a friend. It's an epiphyte of course and so I just wedged it in the crook of a tree.

Viburnum plicatum. Here's a better shot of my V. plicatum, that I've managed to keep in a semi-dwarf state. While the white flowers are indeed pretty, it's the lush, deeply veined leaves that are the real attraction for me.

Choisya ternata 'Sundance.' This 'golden' Mexican Mock orange more accurately sports variegated  leaves of green and gold. It hasn't bloomed much in its first four years but now has many buds so this may finally be the year. ("Patience, grasshopper, patience.")

Primula vialii. Though this shot isn't in perfect focus, I wanted to share this unusual primrose with those that are unfamiliar with it. It is hard to find in the trade, which is odd because it possesses a singular beauty. Flowers first produce a spike of red buds and then slowly they open to sport tiny lavender flowers, starting from the bottom! Apparently the secret to growing this guy is to keep him moist and don't be worried about his long dormancy. I'll report back.

Iris louisiana 'Pastiche.' After a couple of poor years, this iris has returned to producing the flowers it should sport. They are large, 5-6" across, with white standards and lavender falls. Simply lovely.

Iris pseudacorus 'Holden Clough.' Although the species I. pseudacorus flowers are simple and in no way showy, this Holden Clough cultivar is quite the showboat. Yellow with heavily veined copper markings, it's a real standout. It's tough like other pseudacorus but prefers regular water. Can even be used as a bog iris.

Friday, April 10, 2015


For those of you who may be visiting this gardening blog for the first time, after seeing the article on Tenant gardening in last Sunday's Oakland Tribune or one of the other Bay Area Newsgroup papers, welcome! I use this space to discuss a variety of topics -- the last one was on the controversy over planting milkweeds to help the struggling Monarch butterfly population -- to talk about a particular plant or group of plants or sometimes just to ponder the current state/experience of city gardening. There is no set format. I write about what is on my mind that day or week. I post nearly every week.
The other thing this blog allows me to do is share my garden by way of photos and descriptions of those individual plants. I have an extensive collection of plants in my Lake Merritt area garden and it is a year round hobby for me. As with any avid gardener, I'm continually working on it, trying to keep pace with everything that needs attention and sometimes, like today, having the free time and motivation to rework an entire bed. As was mentioned in the article, my garden is a collection of smaller beds, divided by sidewalks, driveways and walkways and that has necessitated working with small and especially narrow beds. That provides both a challenge and an inspiration.
For those of you who are indeed new, you can scroll back through older entries. I've been doing the blog for quite some time so there's lots to explore if one is motivated to do so.
One other feature of note. On the right side of the blog is a list of all of the columns I've written for the SF Chronicle in the last ten years. You can use that list to explore any one or number of my columns.
So, I hope you'll enjoy the blog and check it out from time to time. Anyone who wishes to receive a link to the blog every week can write me at: and let me know to add you to my list.
And now this week's photos ...

Eccremocarpus Tresco Gold. This smaller sized vine is gradually getting its due. Sporting red or gold flowers and finely textured leaves (not the clematis leaves seen here), this is one vigorous, long blooming vine. 

Here are two shots of my newly blooming Clematis 'Belle of Woking.' True double clematis flowers are uncommon and this one is one of my faves. 

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Nugget.’ This golden-leaved Ninebark has already finished flowering and is starting the process of producing its colorful seedpods. The white flowers are certainly lovely but in a way the dark red seed capsules are an even more dramatic combo with the gold foliage.

Grevillea 'Bonfire.' This grevillea certainly earns its name, with the crimson red flowers seeming like for all the world as if the shrub is on fire.

I seem to accumulating Mimulus species this spring. Here's a newly arrived M. bifidus 'Apricot.' It's one of the drought tolerant, "sticky monkey" flowers. Love the color and, for now, the way this stem is 'ascending,' with opposite flowers 'climbing the ladder.'

I haven't always had the best luck with Passion flower vines, surprising perhaps as they tend to be ... umm ... vigorous. Case in point is this showy Passiflora actinia. It took three years to bloom but wow once it got going it's unstoppable. It has one of the showiest flowers; if you like dramatic filaments that is. 

There ought to be a term (perhaps there is) for keeping a plant tightly pruned while not actually bonzai-ing it. That would be the case for my lovely Viburnum plicatum, which I was forced to keep small due to it being in an 18" wide bed. This and my Viburnum opulus (Snowball viburnum) are my two favorite viburnums. 

Flowers don't come much redder than Ruellia elegans. It's such a saturated red in fact that cameras have a hard time handling that occurrence. Not so for us gardeners and the butterflies and hummers that will take an interest.

One look at this and the viewer may kind of squint and think 'What the heck is that, exactly?' It is in fact a Philodendron leaf getting ready to unfurl. And there be a whole lot of unfurling, as the leaves on this mature specimen are often two feet long and a foot wide!

Hydrangea quercifolia (or Oakleaf hydrangea to you non-plant geeks). In our mild Oakland climate this shrub is almost never deciduous, starting to put out new growth as the old leaves are finally dropping to the ground. Very quick to leaf out, though it takes a little while to bloom.

Though this shot of my Nandina domestica (Heavenly bamboo) is more in the shade than I wanted, it was looking so full and robust I decided to take a photo anyway. As is true with a lot of common names, this plant is neither a bamboo nor a guarantee to get you into heaven. Sounds nice though.

This simple little flower is Anomatheca laxa, also known as False freesia.  It likes the shade and self seeds like crazy, which in this case is a good thing.

Although this isn't a great photo, I wanted to record the opening of the first flowers on my Albuca spiralis. Albucas are South African bulbs and this one (A. spiralis) belongs to a curious group of plants that all have twisting or curling leaves. Someone has dubbed this group 'Twirls and Curls.' I've been sufficiently intrigued to possibly do an article on the subject for Pacific Horticulture magazine (which BTW is a great quarterly magazine).

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Garden Writ Large

I had an opportunity yesterday to take a day to go with a friend to Coyote Hills Regional Park near Fremont. The visit not only reminded me that it's good to get out of the city and to be in peaceful environs -- certainly true of this wonderful and singular park -- but that as gardeners we sometimes forget about the larger natural world surrounding us. My garden keeps me busy and it's full of wonderful and interesting plants but at the end of the day it's a man-made creation. It's nice to get away from the city to see what Mother Nature has been up to in the plants department. Normally this time of year the hills would be full of wonderful wildflowers but the lack of rain has somewhat hampered their blooming. Still we found clumps of Mimulus aurantiacus in bloom, plus Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium), Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma) and Hairy Vetch. And CA poppies, something that will eventually cover the hills surrounding the marshes here.
Coyote Hills, for those that haven't been, is a large wetlands area that hosts great numbers of cattail reeds and is home to a great variety of birds. Lots of ducks, geese and occasionally pelicans plus a ton of swallows (there are swallow boxes all along the far side of the marsh), hawks and other songbirds. If you go at the right time you'll find Redwing blackbirds nesting among the reeds. Despite being a stone's throw from Fremont, this nature preserve is so large that you forget you're even in the city.
We are blessed with having a multitude of inviting ecosystems in Northern California, offering many choices for day trips in nature.
And now the photos.

Helenium 'Mardi Gras.' Back for a repeat performance, this star performer is in bloom about eight months of the year! File under: Party on!

Physocarpus 'Nugget.' Though shot in the shade so not catching the sparkle of the sun, here is one of the flowerheads. Notice how symmetrical it is, how each little flower seems perfectly placed next to those beside it. This is one aspect of Nature that we tend to take for granted, how when things are operating normally there is a perfect blueprint followed by every flower.

Phacelia campanularia. Known as Desert Bluebells, this CA Native annual offers the most scintillating blue flowers and willingly spills over a low rock wall or a container. A favorite destination for bees.

Mimulus Jeff's Tangerine. This CA Native sticky monkey flower is loving its location and is doing its best to politely take over this front yard bed. 

To paraphrase "So many Mimulus, so little room." Here's one called Ethan and wow I love its garnet red color! It's just getting going so looking forward to seeing it fully in bloom.

Here are two shots of my new Leucospermum cordifolium 'Salmon Bud.' You can start to see its color already, though it has yet to open. Sort of a salmon-orange. The moth on the lower photo is clearly showing interest.

Another shot of my lovely Dietes bicolor. Sometimes simple is good and I love that butter yellow palette. As noted before, the plant is back from the dead and nothing has made me happier!

That's an unknown Leucospermum in the center (probably a Scarlet Ribbons), with the arching branches of my Chamelaucium behind. 

Papaver atlanticum. This Moroccan poppy has been as advertised -- a true perennial, tough and long blooming. Sporting pastel orange blossoms (this one a semi-double), it forms clumps in the sun or part shade. 

There are quite a number of deciduous shrubs that start producing flowers within weeks of leafing out. One of them is Viburnum opulus, better known as Snowball viburnum. Here is the very beginning of the flowering sequence, where the flowers are mostly green and more a  spray than the big balls they will become. Still pretty at this stage.

Kerria japonica. It looks as if this deciduous shrub is a vine and a leafless one at that but is in fact just the nature of this shrub (sometimes). It will soon leaf out, providing rich verdant foliage.

Salvia splendens 'Sao Borja.' Mine struggled in the winter but didn't go completely dormant. Now with warmer weather it's starting to fill out (and bloom).

Amorphophallus kiusianus. A smaller relative of the huge Titan arum (the world's largest flower) this arum starts off sporting this intricately patterned shoot. As to the body parts included in both the genus and species well, umm, the less said the better.

Speaking of the slightly weird, here's a new flower on my suddenly floriferous Passiflora actinia. Really, it has one of the showiest filament clusters of almost any passion flower vine. Love it!

One last flower on my Camellia 'Jury's Yellow.' The yellow is in the center, very subtle, easily seen with this microscope lol.

Continuing with the unusual theme, here's a less common Dyckia called marnier-lapostle. Not as deadly as most dyckias (who have the sharpest throrns of just about any plant), its outer "teeth" are nonetheless a bit sharp. 

Papaver 'Crimson Feathers.' One of the peony style breadseed poppies, it's deep red and intensely ruffled petals make it a real treat.

Though a bit hidden right now, here are the delightful orangy-apricot blooms of an Exbury azalea hybrid. Known commonly as "deciduous azaleas" because they are not evergreen, they feature oranges and golds not generally found on the evergreen types.

Scabiosa 'Harlequin Blue.' A success story in the making (it took three years to really be happy and bloom like this), I'm loving this low growing, lavender flowering Pincushion plant.

Though I didn't catch my Clematis 'Belle of Woking' flower in the sun (thus its color isn't fully evident) I thought I'd include the photo anyway. It's just such a beautiful flower.
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