Friday, November 21, 2014


Not wintersweet as in Chimonanthus but an allusion to the fragrant shrubs that show themselves in the late fall to late winter period. Start with the Witch hazels (Hamamelis mollis or H. x intermedia hybrids). They sport delicate finger-like blooms in a variety of golds, oranges and reds in the December to February period. My H. mollis is in bloom now, though it has yet to drop all of its leaves. Another shrub that flowers before its new leaves appear is the intensely fragrant Edgeworthia chrysantha, also known as Paperbush as its peeling, parchment-like bark was used to write on. It and the subtly fragrant Pieris japonica both have a neat trick. They form unopened flower clusters in the late fall then in late winter/early spring the tiny hard flowers open to release their scent. In the case of Edgeworthia, the pale, creamy buds open to vibrant yellow flowers.
No need to wait for Sarcococcas to bloom. The plant known as Sweet or Christmas box can flower as early as December, releasing a heady perfume out of proportion to its tiny white flowers. Two Viburnum species offer a very pleasing fragrance in late winter. P. farreri (fragrans) has a subtle tangy fragrance, while the sometimes temperamental V. x burkwoodii seems to bloom when it feels like, including in early spring. It offers a pleasingly sweet, woodsy aroma. And don't forget Pittosporum tobira, known as Mock orange for its citrusy fragrance.
It isn't just shrubs that can spice up the winter period. The native Ribes sanguineum offers panicles of pink, red or white flowers in mid-winter, a heavenly treat for hummingbirds and humans alike. And here in the Bay Area the flowering cherries sprout flowers in mid-February, offering millions of subtle flowers with a delicate aroma. Not so delicate are the Angel's trumpets of Brugmansias. In milder zones, they can easily be blooming during the winter and varieties like the peachy Charles Grimaldi offer a heady perfume. And though we take them for granted, a multitude of citrus trees offer sweetly fragrant flowers during the winter period. It almost seems like cheating that we should be treated to such heavenly fragrances when they will soon also give us an abundance of fruit.
And of course I have to mention Daphnes, everybody's favorite fragrant shrub. As the saying goes, so many daphnes, so little space.
So, no need to sigh looking out the living room window. Get out and enjoy some of the winter fragrance that Mother Nature has to offer.
Here are a few pre-Thanksgiving photos from the garden. I didn't have the advantage of recent raindrops on the plants for this photo session but many came out very nicely nonetheless.

Echeveria runyonii 'Topsy Turvy.' My favorite new succulent. Look at that color. Regardez those wavy petals. Ahh, mon dieu, c'est fantastique!

Here's the aforementioned Edgeworthia chrysantha. It's held onto its leaves quite late in the year but you can already see the small white flower clusters. This plant can be susceptible to thrips but I've beaten that back and it's looking very healthy right now. It bodes well for some February fragrance!

Abelia 'Kaleidoscope.'  This tough shrub hasn't grown as quickly as I'd hoped, nor bloomed as much, but I planted it more for its foliage so I'm happy with its present state. It's part of an east facing bed next to the house and sits in the middle of the Edgeworthia and the Daphne odora 'Marginata.'

I've grown to love this Pelargonium crispum 'Variegated Golden Lemon.' It's finally put on a mini-growth spurt and if you look closely you can see the scalloped leaves that explain its species name. It's another fragrant addition to the same walkway that has the Edgeworthia and Daphne.

Just a simple viola but I loved the colors, the royal red paired with the canary yellow and of course the whiskers. 

Context is everything in photography and nowhere is that more evident than in photographing plants. This odd-looking, spoon-shaped item is the stipule of the curious Cunonia capensis. Known as the Butterknife tree for their stipules, this 'spoon' will open to sprout coppery new leaves. 

Who says aloes are slow growing? This Aloe striata was planted as a tiny plant and a year later it's already a pretty good size. The so-called Coral aloe (for its flowers) offers a bluish cast to the rigid leaves and a pink edge to set the color off nicely. 

Fans of Magnolia grandiflora will recognize this photo, being the golden-brown backside of its upper green leaf. It's an odd juxtaposition, the shiny, dark green on the top side and the fuzzy brown of the underside.

I find the bud form of certain flowers to be quite interesting. Here's one of my Camellia reticulata 'Frank Hauser' flowers, starting to unfurl. Reticulatas are the queens of the camellia court, being the largest, sometimes waviest and in general the showiest of all camellias. Frank Hauser is no exception; it sports large rosy-pink flowers that are extravagantly fluted.

Camellia japonica 'Black Magic.' There's a funny story behind this fantastic camellia. It was still relatively new to the market when I did a column on it. I happened to mention the grower so as to help retail nurseries know where to find it. Evidently there was a strong interest and the grower was flooded with requests. Normally that's a good thing -- sales! -- but of course they didn't anticipate such interest and didn't have near the stock needed to cover all the orders. The rep told my manager "Some %#*& said people could order this variety from us and now we're screwed." And my manager said "Umm, that %#*& works here." Pause. More pausing. Pretty funny!

Haworthias are such an interesting genus that, well, there isn't the space. Here's one of the translucent varieties. They are just so cool, almost looking like a 'jello' plant. In nature, the bottom of the plant is under the soil, leaving only the translucent part above ground.

Here's another Haworthia, this one a zebra type. Okay, come up with your own "What happened when the haworthia crossed the road" joke. This one has a rough texture, the white 'bands' being superimposed on the green background.

Laying down with the enemy! Here a cute little viola is being momentarily overrun by the weedy oxalis. For now, they look quite cute together. But you know very soon the viola is going to say "Hey, I need my own space!"

Another shot of my Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious.' It really does stay golden and the scarlet flowers really pop against that backdrop. Plus, it has that subtle 'pineapple' fragrance.

Just a common yellow tuberous begonia but still, as we slide into winter, it's awfully pretty and lights up a shady area.

A new arrival, this unnamed Azalea from one of our houseplant growers offers up rosy-red flowers. We'll see if it can get established.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Apres the rain

The rain is not only great for our gardens, it is a photographer's best friend. There are many evocative shots available after the rain has left examples of its miniature worlds clinging to leaves and flowers. I was able to capture a few such examples in today's collection of photos. In particular, there are two very nice photos of my Cotinus tree, as it gradually loses its wispy seedheads and its leaves acquire the reds of fall. Today's photos focus as much on foliage as they do on flower, in keeping with the season. That's not to say there isn't late fall/early winter color. Many of my camellias are already in bloom plus several passion flower vines. My Iochroma coccinea is smothered in rosy tubular flowers (a photo was posted two weeks ago), several fuchsias are in bloom still and several of what I call the "year rounds" (plants that flower nearly year round in our milder zones) such as Arctotis, Felicia and Osteospermum are all in bloom.
And of course this is the time for bulbs, both planting and watching as the early species first pop their heads up. In my garden, the first of the Freesias, Sparaxis, Iris and Ipheions are already up. And that's not counting the late winter South African bulbs such as Lachenalia, Moraea and Ferraria that have been up for a month now. For a little more info on planting bulbs and companion plants, check out my SF Chronicle article on spring bulbs.

The photos above and below are of the wildly decorative Passiflora actinia. I've been waiting two years for it to bloom so I'm very, very excited about this development. Flowers are about 3" across and besides the purple filaments, it features pollen rich stamen. The pure white petals provide a delicate contrast. So, it's one down and three to go of my reluctant passifloras ...

As I've mentioned, my collection of camellias are blooming very early. Here's the Little Babe variegated, with its mottled pink and white flowers. It's still a young plant, as are all my camellias except for the older Silver Waves, but that hasn't stopped them from producing a few flowers.

Fuchsia 'Firecracker.' Okay, not the most beautiful photo but this Gartenmeister hybrid is putting on a nice November show. Sometimes hybrids aren't as strong and vigorous as the straight species but so far so good with this variegated form. Plus, it's been mite resistant so far.

If the camellias are early, my salvias are correspondingly late. That includes this S. elegans 'Golden Delicious.' Nothing quite the bright red flowers against the golden foliage. Plus that subtle fragrance that gives this species its common name (Pineapple sage). Normally a late summer bloomer, mine didn't really get going until mid-October.

One of my favorite succulents, this Euphorbia trigona 'Ruby' has nearly reached 30" in height and now as the weather cools, the tiny leaves look like little red flames licking the central trunk.A large collection unto themselves, the succulent Euphorbias provide year round interest.

Oxalis penduncularis.One more photo, capturing the way the tiny rain drops bead up on the leaves. One could easily nickname this Oxalis 'Melon Ball,' for its round ball-shaped clusters of leaves. This species opens one's mind to the reality that Oxalis is not only more than the weedy species that pops up about this time of year but more diverse than the common, low growing O. spiralis varieties commonly available in garden centers and nurseries.

Just a simple Dianthus but I love the way this single flower seems to rocket up above the rain kissed foliage. This carnation was brought back from the dead so its first flower of the season is an especially joyous occasion.

Here's an interesting shot of my Lotus 'Flashbulb.' In this light and with the raindrops giving it a more silvery appearance, the dense foliage looks more like a low growing conifer.As it turns out, Lotus makes a surprisingly effective ground cover, filling in so densely it is good for weed control.

This Buddleja 'CranRazz' is also a survivor. I need to get it in a larger pot but though it's a bit cramped, it's still managing a few cool weather flowers. Love that color!

Here's another cool "rain" shot, this time droplets beading below the wiry new branches of my Alyogyne hakeafolia. For those not aware of this species of "Blue Hibiscus," it's a yellow flowering type. Strangely, my specimen didn't look its best during the spring and summer but is perking up now in the late fall.

Another shot of my rare Luculia pinceana. Okay, it's not exactly rare, just really, really hard to find in the trade. The flowers are simple and I'm not a big fan of pink but the photo is an opportunity to mention just how amazingly fragrant this shrub is. Almost-make-you-swoon sweetly fragrant. It's a fall and winter bloomer so is just entering a new flowering season. It belongs to the Rubiaceae family, which also contains gardenias.

Here's my Cornus florida showing its fall color. I love the way the leaves curl back in on themselves. I have this tree planted in a median strip and it wasn't doing as well as I'd hoped until I took my own nurseryman's advise and began a regular deep watering schedule. 

Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius in the foreground plus Phylica plumosa behind it. They both feature silky soft leaves and have pleasingly muted colors but offer an interesting contrast in form.

Here's a closeup of my vibrant Cunonia capensis (Butterknife tree). The red stems really jump out and then the beads of water look like little transparent beads. As with life, photography is about perspective. Changing our normal perspective, which a photo can nicely preserve, allows us a fresh look at something we see every day.

Nicandra physalodes variegated. This 'Shoo-fly' plant earns its rep as a free self-seeder. It sent up new plants in two adjoining pots a couple of weeks ago and one has already bloomed.Horticulturists know that it's the flower that offers the definitive info as to the identity of a plant and this flower is a giveaway to it being a Solanum family member. As to the self-seeding, a 'weed' is only a plant you don't want in your garden, n'est-ce pas?

I love this shot of my Cotinus 'Royal Purple' tree. It's of course the remaining seedhead, in a suitably glorious state of decay, still viable enough to hold beads of rain. In a way, the water droplets almost become a new stage of flowering.

And here are a few remaining leaves on the Cotinus, showing the distinctive red colors of the late fall. There's something about darker red and green that is such a pleasing combination.

A single flower from my Impatiens congolense (niamniamensis). Still one of the most curious flowers around, not only offering the bright red and yellow bicolors but the flowers are lightly waxy. One other curiosity -- the flowers sprout directly from the stems not, as is mostly the case, from the tips of each leafy branch.

I tried a bunch of photos to get a good shot of my Hamamelis mollis flowers and still didn't succeed but this at least gives an idea of the little 'finger' flowers. It's not cold enough here in Oakland for them to be completely happy but it's trying!One curious bit of info about Witch Hazels as they're known -- the concoction we buy as Witch Hazel is pretty much unchanged from the formula that Thomas Dickinson created in 1866.

Here's my Silene uniflorus. It's colonizing its pot rather nicely and migrating over to the rich blue pot next to it ("Hi, I'm Silene uniflorus but you can call me Flo").

The one established Camellia in my garden (C. 'Silver Waves') is also early, putting out the first of its huge white flowers. Besides its own beauty, this camellia is providing support for the Passiflora actinia next to it.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Zebra weather

Zebra weather? Yes, that is when black is white and vice versa. As in, summer in November, as we dig out our T-shirts again and rummage through the closet for our circulating fan. There's snow in Tahoe though so there's hope yet.
Our gardens certainly like the warm weather, assuming they're getting some water. Still, succulents continue to fly out of our nursery. Those and drought tolerant plants, so gardeners are still not convinced we'll see much rain. At least it's led to wiser planting decisions.
Here are a few more photos from my garden. I've decided, time and inspiration allowing, I'll talk a bit more about certain plants. Where to plant them; my own experience in growing them and so forth. 

Fern lovers will recognize the broad fronds of Pteris cretica but this isn't the popular albo-lineata but a variety called Green on Green. The inner rib is just a bit greener than the white of albo-lineata. Brake ferns are some of the showiest ferns around and they are especially good for lightening a really shady spot. Mine is getting a bit more sun than it absolutely needs but it seems quite happy. In fact, in reaching for a bit of sun, it has formed a lovely cascading shape.

Echeveria 'Black Prince.' It took its time blooming (three years?) but it turns out that it produces a cluster of flowers, not single ones on a long sloping stem like some other Echeverias.Echeveria flowers are often popular destinations for hummingbirds.

Aeonium castello-paivae 'Suncups.' A new Aeonium (at least to me), this lovely variegated offering was just too cool not to bring home (I brought home two). Aeoniums are at their best in the winter period, liking the cooler weather, though below 20 degrees it would suffer or possibly die. A closeup look at the leaves reveals an almost painted type of pattern.

Justicia fulvicoma. My 'Orange' justicia has finally opened its simple, two-lipped flowers. There's a bit of patterning at the top -- a nectary runway as its called, directing pollinators inside the nectary. I'm a fan of justicias and whenever I spot one that can be grown here I usually snap it up. They're a bit frost tender so one has to be a little careful.

This odd looking creature is a Senecio (I sometimes think that if one cannot guess what a succulent is try Senecio first, as it's such a diverse genus). This is S. anteuphorbium 'Swizzle Sticks.' As the species name indicates, it's a Euphorbia type of Senecio. The little leaves sprouting off the stems look like little green flames to me, as if its a type of 'burning bush.' 

Bouvardia ternifolia + Grevillea 'Bonfire.' Not sure what I was after here but they are two of my favorite plants. The Bouvardia blooms nearly year round, with brilliant red tubular flowers on slender, almost leafless stems. The newly purchased Grevillea is growing by leaps and bounds and will soon sprout equally red flowers.

Phylica plumosa. I've posted photos of this before but it's looking particularly fluffy these days. I think the tips look like the foamiest fountains, spilling chartreuse foliage upwards to greet the passersby's eyes. This South African native isn't nearly as difficult to grow as it has been reported but it does love sun, heat, good drainage and just enough water to keep it happy. Hard to find in the trade so grab it when you do spot it.

Whenever I would describe a plant in one of my columns as "tough, drought tolerant, pretty and long blooming" there'd usually be a stampede to our nursery to buy one. Well, count this white-flowering Swainsona as fitting that bill. Though I'm not a big fan of white flowers, the combo of the pure white flowers and delicate, fern-like foliage is a winning combo.

Is this fly after an exotic fruit perhaps? Nope it's a seedpod from my Datura Blackcurrant Swirl. Everything about this plant is weird and interesting, including the seedpods. I don't know how I ever failed growing my first Datura because this one has been blooming nonstop since March and shows no sign of letting up.I keep pruning it back so it doesn't overrun nearby plants.

I somehow lost the tag to this succulent and being still a bit of a novice I'm not sure what it is. A Kalanchoe perhaps. I love the bluish tint to the leaves and that red rim. It has stayed low to the ground so far, spreading out to make a small colony. 

No mystery for this cute little guy. It's a Ledebouria socialis.It has semi-translucent succulent tubers and then the spotted leaves. It does flower, though the stems of very tiny white flowers are not very showy.

A rescue from work, this mini-orchid (genus unknown) was nearly dead. But it has hung in there and now has some new growth. I love the tangle of cascading roots.

Look up 'red' in the floral dictionary and you might find a picture of this Abutilon 'Lucky Lantern Red.' More so than some abutilons, the flowers on this variety are almost waxy. My experience is that Abutilons like some sun (this one gets it from 10 am to 2 pm in summer), though some will tough out some shade. But if your abutilon is kind of leggy and it's getting aphids or scale, that may be a sign that it's in too much shade. Also, abutilons benefit from being whacked back at least once a year if not more. It spurs new growth and a bushier, lusher look.

This photo is far from perfect but for now it's an introduction to Pelargonium sidoides. Yes, this is a geranium, for those of you not familiar with this species. It's grown as much for its scalloped grayish-green leaves as it is for these intense burgundy flowers. A most distinctive pel, even if one doesn't remember its name.

I've posted many photos of my exuberant Helenium 'Mardi Gras' in the past but not one recently. My specimen blooms eight months out of the year, prolifically, and is a real bee magnet. Never a problem getting a photo of a bee collecting nectar, as they're over there all the time.

Lastly, Cypella peruviana. Sensationally beautiful flowers but you practically have to pitch a tent beside them as the flowers open and close in a matter of hours and then that's it until the next flower opens. There's not much to the foliage so the flowers are the thing for this South American bulb.
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