Thursday, October 1, 2015

Fall-ing into Summer

Our strange climate here in the Bay Area, especially near the bay, raises the question of what exactly constitutes summer. For most of the rest of the country, summer is the period with the warmest weather, the main time one is outside, be that at the beach, out in nature or even just in the back yard BBQing. Not so here. September through November is often our warmest period, while June July and August can be cool, as it mostly was again this year. This observation may be a specious one except when it comes to gardening. Though the nights are indeed cooling down, the warm days allow plants to continue to thrive. Flowering is extended, deciduous plants wait a bit longer to do so. A longer paradise if you will. I for one am not complaining, nor seemingly is my garden. I'm being more conservative with the water but have not gone whole hog and told the plants "You're on your own." I don't have that type of garden. My way of dealing with this reality is to use as little water elsewhere as I can, save my shower water and get as many things out of pots and into the ground as I can. So far so good. Then again, I've never had a lawn and I water carefully, so no liquid goes to waste.
All of that said, here's some photos of the garden taken this morning. Enjoy.

Rhipsalis 'Limey.' I love this genus, which has many interesting species. Many of them cascade, as this one is beginning to do.

Passiflora 'Lady Margaret.' This new variety is a real showstopper. Wine red petals with sort of striped filaments make this a real find.

My Halliana honeysuckle is popular with moths as well, as this visitor demonstrates. The white petal is the perfect 'backdrop' for his subtle colors.

Caryopteris 'Hint of Gold.' This new variety of bluebeard features chartreuse foliage and eventually wispy purple flowers.

Calluna 'Firefly.' This type of heather acquires more red color as the weather cools, though my specimen has decided to get a head start on that chameleon-like change.

Do Asclepias curavassivicas self seed? Yes, as this little guy demonstrates. And it wasted no time in flowering.

It's a little hard to tell from this photo but this is a flowering quince (Chaenomeles), in this case a C. 'Fuji.' It is one of a group of plants that produces flowers directly off its trunk or branches, as you can see here.

Echeveria pulvinata 'Red Velvet.' A new addition, this gorgeous Echeveria features dramatic red coloring to the leaves and orange flowers. C'est magnifique!

Kalanchoe 'Chocolate Soldiers.' No idea where the strange common name came from but this fuzzy kalanchoe is one of my favorite succulents.

My Begonia 'Illumination Yellow' is almost done blooming but I managed to get one last photo, here using the wood background to make the buttery yellow petals really shine.

Fuchsia 'Firecracker.' I had to cut this nearly to the ground but it has sprung back, showing even more color than before. Sometimes the garden gods smile on you.

Ampelopsis. This has been the best year yet for my Porcelain Berry vine. Many more blue and purple berries to help put on a show. 

Nematanthus wettsteinii. If this name draws a huh? maybe the common name Goldfish plant will ring a bell. Normally grown as a houseplant, it can actually be happy outside for all but the coldest nights. Mine has adjusted to its location of bright shade.

I'm still not sure which bromeliad this is but its smooth speckled leaves eventually produced a many-branched spear and finally, and I mean finally, it produced simple little chartreuse flowers (seen here at the very tip of the 'branch').

Tecoma stans 'Bells of Fire.' My specimen is happy, happy, happy and in full bloom, only a month plus from me bringing it home in a gallon container.

Cassia phyllodinea. Last week I posted a photo of this new addition to my garden (and wrote about it). Here's a close up of the lovely gold flowers. Silver and gold, a wonderful combo.

Speaking of silvery foliage, here's a photo of my Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius ‘Silver Jubilee.’ It's just beginning to sprout its tiny white flowers, adding a brighter accent to the downy foliage. One of my favorite plants.

Grevillea 'Moonlight.' One of the most spectacular grevilleas around, it produces eight inch long cones of buttery yellow flowers. Long blooming and nectar rich, it's a favorite destination for bees and hummers.

Chamaecyparis pisifera juniperoides 'Aurea.' This new addition to my dwarf conifer bed is a lovely charmer. It will top out at two feet and the new spring growth is more of a golden color.

My mimulus would be one of those 'summer' plants that is convinced that summer is a long way from being over. Here it's a M. aurantiacus 'Pete' care of Susan Ashley.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Shimmering Silver

Color is an important element in any garden, be that flower or foliage. One of the 'colors' that can occasionally be overlooked is Silver. The curious thing about plants that feature silver tones is that despite the color generally being considered a 'cool' color, when it is placed with plants where the dominant foliage colors are green and blue, silver becomes a shimmering standout. Case in point, a new and unusual Cassia that I've just added to my garden. Other than the recognizable gold, cup-shaped flowers, one wouldn't pick this phyllodinea species as being a Cassia at all. It is a 6' shrub not a 10-12' tree and its leaves are a shimmering silver not a verdant green as with the most popular Cassia (or Senna as it's now often classified), C. corymbosa.
And it doesn't get any more lovely a silver than this tough, drought tolerant shrub (see photo below). It's sheer mass makes it an immediate standout in any mixed planting. Or it can be used as a focal point in a colorful container, which is how I plan to feature mine. Sometimes all that glitters is not gold -- it's silver!
And now the photos!

Cassia phyllodinea. Put to the side everything you know about the popular Cassia trees. This dense, silver-leaved shrub will get to six feet high and wide. It's drought tolerant and of course has those brilliant gold flowers. A standout!

Bat-faced Cupheas are all the rage these days and why not? They're tough plants that put out an endless parade of colorful flowers from July to at least October. Instant color to a sunny bed.

Echeveria species. I love the way the sun picks up the subtle pink shades on the inner new leaves. For you succulent neophytes, Echeverias are one of the easiest succulents to grow. And one of the ones that most readily blooms.

A top down shot of my Glaucium flavum (Horned poppy). Still waiting on the flowers but the foliage is pretty in the meantime.

Haitian oil drum sculpture. Many of you have, or have seen, these lovely metal sculptures made from recycled oil drums. And the profits go entirely to the artists who produce the work.

Name that trunk! It belongs to my large-leaved Philodendron in the back yard. The 'patches' you see are where I removed lower branches, mostly because those leaves had gotten so huge you couldn't get by the plant! It does however make for an interesting photo n'est-ce pas?

Silene uniflorus. This hardy little ground cover is also a great choice for spilling out of a pot, as it does here.

Okay, today's groaner joke is -- "What do you call a pen with multiple personalities?" A Schizo-stylis of course. That word play aside, this is one of my favorite bulbs. Love that color and it's easy to grow.

Justicia fulvicoma. This hard to find Plume Flower plant has joyful, tropical colors and is surprisingly easy to grow (at least in the milder zones of the Bay Area). One of my faves!

Speaking of color, here's the first flower on my still maturing Protea 'Pink Ice.' It hasn't fully opened yet but is already showcasing that lovely salmon pink color.

Today's photos are displaying lots of color - a bit of a coincidence - and none are brighter than this Celosia 'Cramer's Burgundy.' This is one of the tall species from Annie's Annuals and is at the very beginning of its bloom season.

The plant of 2014 (in my mind anyway), Tecomas offer a variety of orange, apricot and gold colors. This T. stans 'Bells of Fire' showcases more of the orangy-red spectrum. This is a dwarf variety, meaning it will only get 4-5' tall.

Mimulus = summer, no? No! My various Mimulus aurantiacus varieties typically bloom well into the fall. That could be due to the warm weather stretching so late in the year.

Begonia rex 'Escargot.' The name is self-explanatory and this is one begonia where the leaf trumps the flower. My favorite Rex (sorry, dinosaurs and Marc Bolan).

Euphorbia trigona 'Ruby.' So many Euphorbias, so little time. You might even say, so many succulent Euphorbias ... This little cutie makes Prickly Pear like branches, kind of a desert cactus on a miniature scale.

Under the 'Nature is funky' heading, here's the flower on my Haemanthus albiflos. The genus is known as Blood lily, though that isn't apparent from this white-flowering species. This plant is sometimes called the Shaving Brush plant because of the flower.

Aloe striata. File under 'some plants just speak to you,' this lovely Aloe is one of my favorites (and that's saying something as I have 500+ species/varieties in my garden).

SB5. That's my code for Succulent Bowl #5 (the most recent). It's turned out pretty well and is placed to greet both passersby and folks coming up our main walkway.

Though it may not look like it at first glance, these vertical 'climbing' branches are part of a Pelargonium (geranium). In this case, it's a Pelargonium crispum 'Variegated Golden Lemon.' A closer look will reveal intricately twisted leaves and a gentle rub of the fingers will reward the olfactory senses with a heady lemon scent.

Kalanchoe 'Flapjacks.' Enough said.

Though tuberous begonias are common, that doesn't take away from their beauty. This yellow variety helps to brighten a shady area.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Following One's Nose

When I am asked by shoppers in our Grand Lake nursery 'Can you show me some fragrant plants?' I never know quite how to address that question. They may be looking for the usual suspects -- roses, lavender, buddlejas, philadelphus -- or they may want to expand their horizons. Even the question itself is too general. Are they after plants with a sweet fragrance, those with a citrus scent, those with a pungent fragrance or those with a woodland aroma. And a plant like Lantana may have a pleasing fragrance to one person's nose but be unpleasant to another's. To use a mixed metaphor, fragrance is in the eye of the beholder. We might further complicate the question by determining whether the scent is from the flower or the foliage. The bottom line is that there a great many plants with a pleasing fragrance. They just need a better PR agent.
Some are making progress. Agastache varieties are finally getting their due as possessing one of the most pleasing scents in the world of flowers. They come to mind today as two of the photos here are of Agastache varieties. Known broadly as Hummingbird mints, their scents can range from citrusy (Grapefruit Nectar) to culinary (A. foeniculum, better known as Anise hyssop) to a pleasing woodland (A, rupestris varieties). We might also categorize this interesting genus under 'Human mint,' as they attract humans as much as they do hummers!
Sometimes well known fragrant plants have lesser known cousins. Such is the case with Satureja mimuloides whose more famous cousin is Yerba Buena (S. douglasii). Both are members of the savory family, with Yerba Buena being sweet smelling and S. mimuloides possessing an earthier but equally pleasing scent.
Sometimes there's a battle for a popular common name. 'Mock orange' is a well known common name, rightly bringing to mind a plant with a pleasing citrus fragrance. But does that name refer to Philadelphus (Mock orange), Choisya (Mexican mock orange) or Pittosporum tobira (Japanese mock orange)? Whatever the choice, your olfactory sense will be the winner.
Sometimes one is after a very specific scent. Take chocolate (yes please!) as an example. Most gardeners know about Chocolate Cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus) but did you know there are (at least) four other plants with a chocolate fragrance? Berlandiera lyrata is simply known as Chocolate Flower due to its unmistakable fragrance. Akebia quinata is known as Chocolate vine for that plant's small but delicious smelling flowers and Cosmidium's gold-rimmed brown flowers also smell delightfully of cocoa. The most intense chocolate-scented plant is the least known. Scorzonera hispanica (Black Salsify) has flowers that will make a chocolate lover swoon. 

And now the photos. 

Speaking of fragrance, here's a shot of my Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious.' Better known as Pineapple sage for its pleasing fruity fragrance, this is one tough vigorous salvia. I have to keep hacking mine back as it wants to overrun its neighbors!

Got orange? I do, in this corner that starts the walkway to the back apartments. Those are tiger lilies in the foreground; behind them is a thatch of Helenium 'Mardi Gras' and to the right are the delightfully charming Bessera elegans 'parasols.' 

Agastache rupestris 'Orange Nectar.' Hidden in the obvious appeal of Agastache varieties -- that fragrance and the hummers -- is the simple visual evidence that the flowers are very colorful and pretty.

I thought the combination of shade and sun looked inviting for this shot of Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Plumbago). It's in more sun than what it seems like here and it's off to a good start. It makes a great spreading ground cover and the gentian blue flowers add that wow factor.

One plant not often in the conversation of fragrant plants is the aptly named Snail vine (Vigna caracalla). Its snail-shaped flowers are indeed fragrant, though I'd be hard pressed to describe the smell. No matter and the flowers are exceptionally lovely.

What does the above plant have in common with Winona Ryder? Why they're both 'Heathers' of course. This is Calluna 'Firefly' and it's one of those plants that changes color throughout the year. What begins as golden new growth in spring ages to dark green in summer then in fall changes again to oranges and reds.

Choisya 'Sundance.' Sometimes the photographic effect you're after does pan out. I wanted this shot to evoke a painting as much as a photo and the gray stucco wall helps towards this end. 

Bonus points to those who correctly identify this plant as an Abutilon. With its gray felty leaves and sun loving temperament, one would not guess it to be a member of the flowering maple genus. Add to its differences that it's a California native and you have a very unique species (A. palmeri). It's sometimes called Desert Mallow, giving a clue to it really preferring the heat.

Bouvardia ternifolia. This evergreen and profuse bloomer has two interesting Family mates. It's part of the Rubiaceae family, which also includes the Coffee plant and Gardenias. Ain't horticulture grand?

Here's another shot of my Bessera elegans. This little known bulb from SW Mexico is slowly finding a home here in California. Easy to grow and a prolific bloomer, it produces charming coral-orange flowers that resemble tiny parasols. Not fussy (it does not require a dry summer) and very reliable (mine is in year five and is only getting more voluminous), it only needs sun and little water to do its thing.

If that looks like an oxalis flower and a shamrock leaf, that's because this Oxalis latifolia is one of the 'Shamrock' oxalis (so named for its leaves). Hard to beat this combo of lime foliage and bright pink flowers. It's one of the 'winter' oxalis, that is from the group that reappears in the fall and sticks around till the spring (as opposed to the 'summer' species that do the reverse).

'Fire, fire!' Well, not really but this so-called Fire Ginger (Hedychium greenii) does offer some flaming color to a part sun garden. At once delicate and bold, it's a great choice for a tropical garden.

Satureja mimuloides. Couldn't mention this member of the Savory family (above) without including a photo of its colorful flower. Unlike Yerba Buena, which needs shade, this Satureja really likes the sun. 

And suitably, we end this post about fragrant flowers with the aforementioned Agastache 'Grapefruit Nectar.' It doesn't smell like grapefruit to me, though it has a fruity aroma, but that aside it has a neat trick, combining pink and yellow flowers on the same plant.
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