Sunday, September 29, 2013

Summer Losses

Overall, our summer temperatures were relatively mild.  Yes, temperatures exceeded the 100 degree mark on some occasions but, with the exception of one 3 week heatwave, we didn't have the sustained periods of high temperatures experienced in other parts of the country.  However, as usual, we haven't had any measurable rain since winter ended.  As even the winter rains were lighter than average again this year, our summer has been dry, Dry, DRY.  Our water bill reached a ridiculous level last month and, by comparison with last year, I've been stingy with the water I use to supplement my twice a week sprinkler coverage during our "warm" season.

The upshot of all this is that I've lost some plants.  I attribute most of these losses to the combination of our last heatwave and my miserly water usage.  One of my saddest losses was Loropetalum chinense 'Sizzling Pink.'

Loropetalum chinese 'Sizzling Pink' in early June

Loropetalum today

As this is the second Loropetalum I've lost in the backyard border, I'm guessing that something about this location is inhospitable.  Maybe the loss is attributable to a sprinkler coverage problem or something is funky with the soil in this area but I'm going to replace the Loropetalum with a different plant this time.

A vigorous Cuphea aff. Aequipetala died quite suddenly and unexpectedly after nearly 2 years in the garden.  This plant had been a rampant spreader and I'd considered removing it but, without an immediate replacement, I'd let it be, cutting it back when its size got out of bounds.  Perhaps the last haircut was ill-timed or a touch too severe?

Cuphea aff. Aequipetala in January

Dead Cuphea this week

A small seedling is visible at the lower left side of the plant in the above picture.  I may allow it to stay - or I may relocate it to an area where its mature size won't present an issue.

In addition to some annuals that expired quickly as the heat turned up, my other losses in the back border were smaller-sized perennials such as the 2 shown below.

Mostly dead Fuchsia thymifolia, foolishly planted in a spot that got too much sun

Osteospermum 'Zion Copper Amethyst,' dead even though 4 others in the same area survived

Some plants are hanging on for dear life.  The question I ask every time I see one of them is: should I put it out of it's misery?  The most disappointing of these is Phormium cookianum 'Cream Delight.'

Transfer to rehab clinic pending

The plant's condition is disappointing because it's pretty clearly my fault.  I moved it from one spot to another in my dry garden earlier this year.  It didn't get the water or attention it needed after transplantation and it hasn't recovered since I put it on life support a month ago.  I think I'm going to move this one to a pot and make one more try to revive it.

When the 60 foot Eucalyptus tree was removed from our side year in February, the surrounding area was transformed from a mostly shady bed to a full sun area.  Among other plants, I had 3 Acanthus mollis in that area, which I was concerned would fry when summer hit.  Amazingly, one of these thrived, blooming continuously.  I suspect this variety is Acanthus mollis 'Summer Beauty,' which is said to be more sun tolerant.

However, a second, purchased at the same time and possessing the same leaf shape, has fared less well.  I'm nonetheless keeping it in the same area for now.  The third, shown below, has had a harder time.  This past weekend, I moved it to a shadier area, where I hope it'll be happier.

Acanthus mollis with sunburn

The same Acanthus mollis, looking happier already

Plant losses always hurt but, looking on the brighter side, they can provide insights into cultural needs for future reference, as well as opportunities to try out different plants.  It's too bad, though, that the heat and drought doesn't take out more weeds...

Weed, thriving in the hot sun with no water

Friday, September 27, 2013

A case of mistaken identity?

I swung by the local garden center last week to pick up some planting compost and, as I usually do, cruised the plant aisles to see if there was anything new and exciting.  I came upon a Leucadendron with exceptionally dark foliage.  It looked like L. 'Ebony' but it was labeled as L. 'Safari Sunset.'  The tag also didn't reflect the going rate for 'Ebony,' which I've seen priced at nearly $150.

I nearly picked it up right then but the dimensions shown on the pot put me off.  I wasn't sure I had a sunny spot large enough for a plant the tag claimed would grow 8-10 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide.  At $40, I didn't want to bring it home only to find myself challenged as to what to do with it.  When I got home, I pulled up on-line references to L. 'Safari Sunset' and, true to my recollections, these showed a plant with foliage that was more green than the purplish-black of the plants I'd seen.  I was fairly certain that the plants I saw were Leucadendron 'Ebony' masquerading as their parent, L. 'Safari Sunset.'

I finally got back to the garden center late this afternoon.  The plants were still there so I brought one home.

Leucadendron 'Ebony' found labeled as 'Safari Sunset'

Closer look at the foliage

What do you think?  Am I mistaken as to the plant's identity, or did the nursery mislabel it?  In either case, it's a handsome plant.  Assuming that it gets no more than 4 feet tall and 3-5 feet wide, I have 2 prospective spots for it.  And I can do a lot with that $110 price differential.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My favorite plant this week: Plectranthus ciliatus 'Zulu Warrior'

I almost presented Plectranthus ciliatus 'Zulu Warrior' last week as my favorite plant in the on-line exhibition sponsored by Loree of danger garden.  I held off because I thought it still had a way to go before it reached its peak.  Even today, I can see a lot more bloom spikes developing so next week it may look better still - then again, there's always the possibility that another heatwave or Santa Ana winds could take a swipe at it.  So, here it is:

Plectranthus ciliatus 'Zulu Warrior'

Close-up showing the flower spikes

Another flower close-up

I've shown this evergreen plant before in Foliage Follow-up posts but I think this is the first time I've shown it in bloom.  Like the Prostanthera ovalifolia I presented last week, this isn't an in-your-face beauty.  Its attractions are more subtle, requiring a closer look.  The toothed leaves are quilted.  Their tops are deep green but the undersides are a purplish burgundy.  The stems and veins are the same purplish burgundy.  In the fall, the plant produces graceful lavender flower spikes.  If you brush the leaves, they produce a pleasant, soft herbal scent.

I brought this plant with me from my former garden as a cutting, which I rooted in water.  It roots easily - in my old, shady garden, I've even grown it by simply sticking a piece in the soil.  It spreads easily if the soil is sufficiently moist but a mature plant will tolerate some drought.  Estimates of its size vary.  In my old garden it got close to 3 feet tall and spread about 5 feet; however, in its current site, it's closer to 1 foot tall and 3 feet wide.  It prefers partial shade - mine gets morning sun but shade during the hottest period of the day.

I'd been perplexed as to the name of the variety as I didn't have any record of my original purchase, 15 or more years ago.  However, some diligent on-line research suggests that the variety is 'Zulu Warrior,' aka Lush Lavender Spur Flower.  It's reportedly native to the Cape region of South Africa and widely used as a perennial groundcover in Europe, Australia and California.   I think it's more attractive than Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender,' which is currently much more widely found in nurseries.  The foliage can be damaged by insects but I found that product that treats both snails and worms effectively manages the problem.  It's hardy in USDA zones 9-10 (Sunset zones 22-24 and H2) but it can be over-wintered indoors or cultivated as an indoor plant.

Plectranthus ciliatus 'Zulu Warrior' is my contribution to Loree's collection of current favorites, which you can view here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fall Planting Season

Although spring arrives early in southern California, fall usually arrives late.  For that reason, I didn't plan to start my fall planting until mid-October at earliest but, once again, I couldn't stop myself.  My husband and I began working on the side yard mid-summer, tearing out the beat-up lawn and adding a major extension to the existing flagstone walkway.  I posted about the planting I did around the walkway earlier this month.  This weekend, when cooler temperatures returned following a heat wave, my itch to begin planting the large open space in the side yard returned.

Side yard area after lawn was removed and new top soil was added

So, I went shopping.  I focused on finding the largest plants in my scheme.  I'd plotted a prospective plan for the side yard earlier but I knew that, once I had the plants on hand, I would probably make adjustments.  I figured that putting the largest plants in place would help me flesh out my other plant choices.  Here's what I got:

  • 3 Agonis flexuosa 'Nana'
  • 3 Coprosma 'Plum Hussey'
  • 2 Phormium 'Amazing Red'
  • 3 Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'

I also picked up a few small plants to provide some fall/winter color and moved quite a few plants in the adjacent border.  There's still a lot of open space to fill but it's a start.

View from backyard lawn
View looking toward patio

View from inside the house

Believe it or not, the chair cushions provided the jumping off point for the plant choices.  The new growth on Agonis flexuosa 'Nana'  is a red/orange color.  The color of the stems also picks up on the bark of the Arbutus 'Marina' on the other side of the open area.

Agonis flexuosa 'Nana' (aka Dwarf Peppermint Tree)

I wanted a dark-toned Phormium to complement the Agonis.  After passing on P. 'Dark Delight' and P. 'Pratt's Black,' I ended up with Phormium 'Amazing Red.'

Phormium 'Amazing Red'

This appears to be shorter than the varieties I'd originally considered, although internet sources are divided on its size with estimates ranging from 2 feet to as tall as 4-6 feet.  However, operating on the assumption that it'll stay fairly short, I moved the positions of the 2 I bought from the placements I'd originally planned.

I wanted to add more Coprosma repens 'Plum Hussey' to connect the space with the nearby bed created after the removal of our large Eucalyptus tree.  The red tones in this plant play nicely with the Phormium and the Agonis but I need to add a deep green groundcover of some kind to highlight the variegation in the plants - that's still to come.

Coprosma repens 'Plum Hussey'

For fall color, I added a Cuphea melvillea 'Candy Corn,' which mirrors the colors in my patio pillows.  It gets only 2 feet tall by 1.5 feet wide so I may get more.

Cuphea melvillea 'Candy Corn'

For additional color, I put in an orange Anigozanthos (aka Kangaroo Paws) and 3 Ursinia anthemoides 'Solar Flare,' which I'd previously admired.  According to Annie's Annuals & Perennials, the latter plant should bloom soon after planting.

Anigozanthos (no ID as to variety)

Ursinia anthemoides 'Solar Fire,' a self-seeding annual, which reportedly can be grown year-round in zone 10, and which produces orange/gold flowers with a burgundy ring

I pulled 3 annual Pennisetum glaucum 'Purple Baron,' out of the back border, where their red-toned color had clashed with surrounding plants, and popped them into a large pot, which now anchors an empty area of the new bed.

Pennisetum glaucum 'Purple Baron,' an ornamental millet

One side of the new area is now partially filled but the other side is still relatively empty as I reconsider some of my original choices.  I did add 3 Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' from 1-gallon pots, as well as a 6-pack of Echinacea 'Magnus;' however, it's going to be a while before those plants gain a real presence in the garden.

Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' and Echinacea 'Magnus'

More choices need to be made.  I'm ordering some daylilies for a few spots.  I also need to add more flagstone to provide a pathway across the new space.  Ideally, I'd like to add a decorative element like a sundial or a peace pole in the middle but I may have to put that on my Christmas list.

I feel that I've made a good (if early) start.  I predict that there are many more visits to the local nurseries in my immediate future as I chip away at bare earth.  Fall is the best time to plant in this area of the country and I intend to take advantage of it.  The days are still warm, the nights are cool but never really cold, and rain is, hopefully, on the horizon.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

My favorite plant this week: Prostanthera ovalifolia 'Variegata'

My favorite plant this week is a subtle player in the garden.  She stands demurely in the middle of my backyard border, always beautiful but never shouting for attention.  She is Prostanthera ovalifolia 'Variegata' (also known as Mint Bush).   According to my records, she's occupied a spot in my garden for one year as of today so it seemed only fitting to celebrate her anniversary.

Prostanthera ovalifolia 'Variegata' photographed in the early morning sunshine

This evergreen shrub is said to handle full sun to partial shade conditions.  In my garden, she gets some shade during the hottest part of the day but receives sun in both the morning and late afternoon. The foliage is aromatic but the scent isn't heavy or cloying.

She bears purplish pink flowers in the spring.  Mine bloomed back in April but only near the base.

I'd like to add more to the garden but I'm still looking for the right placement.  This shrub would look wonderful in front of a plant with dark green foliage.

Prostanthera ovalifolia 'Variegata' is hardy in USDA zones 9a-11 (Sunset zones 14-17 and 19-24). The Australian Native Plants Nursery says that it will tolerate heavy frosts.  It can wilt if it gets too dry but is said to recover well when irrigated.  Despite a significant number of plant losses to the drought and near-drought conditions in my garden, I've never yet had a problem with this plant.  Predictions as to its height and girth appear to vary widely but the tag that came with my plant says she'll get up to 4 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide.

This is my contribution to Loree's collection of favorite plant nominations this week at danger garden.  You can find Loree's favorite and links to other gardeners' selections here.  Thanks for giving Prostanthera ovalifolia 'Variegata' an opportunity to strut her stuff, Loree!

Monday, September 16, 2013

September 2013 Foliage Follow-up

Even when many of my plants are looking tired, as is the case now as summer makes its final stand, I find that I can rely on two things to hold my garden together: trees and succulents.

Trees are a little like walls inside a house - they don't always stand out and make a statement on their own but they provide the backdrop that gives the garden its ambiance.  The trees that have the most presence in my garden are Schinus molle (aka California Pepper Tree) Agonis flexuosa (aka peppermint tree) and Arbutus 'Marina.'  Our property has 7 of the former and 5 of the latter.  Both species are evergreen.

The graceful weeping foliage of the Schinus Agonis frames our view of the harbor off the back yard and provides us some cover from the street in the front yard.

Setting sun shining through the California Pepper peppermint tree branches at the front of the house

View of the house through the trees from the slice of lawn bordering the street

The Arbutus provides shade but also offers interesting bark, flowers attractive to hummingbirds, and strawberry-like fruit that feeds the birds.

We also have a large evergreen Magnolia in the middle of the front lawn.

View of Magnolia from side yard

View up through the center of the Magnolia

Close-up of Magnolia leaves

The Magnolia sheds leaves continuously during the summer months when it blooms but clean-up is far easier than in the case of the Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) in the back.  I've commented on my love-hate relationship with the Mimosa before.  I'm still pulling out the seedlings deposited last year and the tree is preparing to shed a new crop.

This year's crop of Mimosa seedpods 

There are seedpods on the 2 Western Redbuds (Cercus occidentalis) in the front yard that serve as understory trees too.  However, these pods add interest to the front landscape, picking up the reddish tones of the Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' and the bark of the Arbutus, without producing a slew of mini-trees.

Ripened seedpods on Cercis occidentalis

I have a lot of succulent containers scattered about the garden.  I wrote one of my earliest posts about them (which you can read here).  These are a few of my current favorites:

Aloe 'Delta Delights', Crassula 'Ivory Pagoda', Dykia 'Burgundy Ice', Echeveria 'Violet Queen', Rhipsalis salicorniodes, Sedevaria 'Fred Ives', and Senecio radicans glauca

No list of contents on hand

Agave 'Blue Glow' (please excuse the scattering of Mimosa litter)

A succulent planter created by my mother-in-law

These are my contributions to this month's Foliage Follow-up, hosted by Pam of Digging.  You can view Pam's foliage picks and find links to other gardeners' foliage highlights here.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

September 2013 Bloom Day Scavenger Hunt

I somehow lost track of Bloom Day this month.  This was mostly to do with the fact that, after our recent heat wave, there are relatively few flowers to be found in my garden.  And, with a few exceptions, those that are there are relatively undistinguished.  However, in the interest of maintaining a record, here are the results of today's Bloom Day scavenger hunt:

I'm impressed by this Acanthus mollis (probably 'Summer Beauty'), which is still putting out new bloom spikes despite the heat and the exposure to scorching sun following the removal of a nearby tree in February

The foliage of this Anemone japonica (no ID) is looking horrible but I do love the flowers

I placed 3 Angelonia 'Angelmist Pink' in my dry garden, not expecting much, but they've done fine there despite the hot, dry conditions

Argyranthemum frutescens 'Elsa White' isn't splashy but the blooms have kept up non-stop since I put in 3 4-inch pots in late February

Billbergia nutans, brought from my former garden and largely ignored in this one, regularly surprises me with new blooms (Note: the quality of the photo doesn't do it justice)

The first Camellia sasanqua (no ID) has appeared - maybe fall is on its way to SoCal after all

Coreopsis 'Big Bang Redshift' is still blooming, although the flowers are smaller and, presumably in response to the recent heat, are showing less red

This Cymbidium (no ID), rescued from my mother-in-law's garden before sale of her house, has delivered a bloom spike since its arrival in my garden

Echinacea 'Sombrero Hot Coral' is more pink than coral now but it handled the heat well in a partially shaded spot in the back border

I grow Lavandula multifida (fernleaf lavender) more for the foliage than the flowers but it's pumping out flowers right now

Leucanthemum x superbum 'Snow Lady,' a short, non-flopping Shasta daisy, is producing a new round of blooms

Lisianthus 'Echo Pink' continues to produce relatively short, sweet pink blooms

Osteospermum ecklonis '3D Silver' is also producing new blooms since being cut back several weeks ago

This low-growing Pentas lanceolata (no ID), relocated from my former garden, is brightening the border of my vegetable garden

A flower has already appeared on one of the Phlomis fruticosa (Jerusalem sage) in my back border

The Plectranthus ciliatus (no ID), brought in as a cutting from my former garden, is producing its first blooms of the season

This Plectranthus ecklonii, purchased by mail order from Annie's and moved once, has beautiful blooms on a still immature plant

Salvia mexicana is putting out a few blooms

Salvia 'Mystic Spires" is still going strong

Bloom Day is sponsored by Carol of May Dreams Gardens.  Please go to her webpage here to see other gardeners' Bloom Day selections.