Thursday, October 31, 2013

My favorite plant this week: Senna (Cassia) bicapsularis

I looked around for a scary plant I could feature in this week's favorite post in a toast to Halloween but I couldn't come up with anything truly sinister (unless you count the mimosa tree that's on a march toward world domination with its relentless self-seeding but I'm tired of giving it attention it doesn't deserve).  Instead, I picked Senna (Cassia) bicapsularis  'Worley's Butter Cream' as my favorite because it finally sprung into bloom just when I'd about given up hope that it would.  Last year, it began blooming in late summer.  I thought that the failure to bloom this September might be due to getting too little water this year.  It was a very dry year and the Senna is planted at the top of the stairs leading down the slope at the back of our property, an area that gets watered haphazardly by hand.  However, in examining on-line sources regarding this tropical shrub, I discovered that it commonly blooms in late fall or winter.  In fact, some of its common names are Christmas Senna and Winter Senna.  So apparently it actually bloomed very early last year and it's blooming somewhat early this year.

It isn't a particularly easy plant to photograph, though.  Its position along the fence between us and our neighbor at the top of the slope stairway makes it difficult to find a good vantage point from which to take a picture.  It has also gotten quite tall - over 7 feet tall at my rough estimate.  It can grow 8-10 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide so its current placement isn't optimal.  I may try pruning it to a more manageable size following the current bloom cycle.

Picture taken from the far end of the dry garden,  In a happy coincidence, the neighbor's Brugmansia, sporting similar floral color, is blooming again on the other side of the fence.

Picture taken from one of the stair steps below the Senna bicapsularis

Taxonomists have yet to agree on whether this shrub should be considered part of the Cassia or Senna genus.  There also seems to be some confusion as to whether or not it should be classified as an invasive plant.  One source holds that its invasive label is undeserved and attributable to confusion between this plant and Senna pendula var. glabrata.  I can only say that, after 2 years in my garden, I've seen no sign whatsoever of rampant self-seeding.

This evergreen plant is native to the northern part of South America and the West Indies.  The bright yellow flowers attract butterflies and bees.  It provides larval food for the Sulphur butterfly.

The flower buds look like small yellow marbles

It prefers regular water, although in my experience it can tolerate a little drought.  Reportedly, it can be grown in USDA zone 8 as a perennial.  It is winter hardy in USDA zones 9-11.  Senna (Cassia) bicapsularis is my contribution to Loree's favorite plants meme at danger garden.  You can check here for her choices for plants of the week.

Oh, and from my home to yours, Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fall Planting Frenzy - Part II

What constitutes a planting frenzy?  In my case, it means more than 6 hours in the garden in one day with scarcely a break, preceded by one or more expensive trips to nurseries or garden centers, and followed by exhaustion and painful joints.  It also means doggedly facing unplanned planting obstacles, which in my garden usually means digging out pockets of rock, apparently left over from the 1940s when this property was part of a large quarry.  Sometimes I think I should give up gardening altogether and just go into the rock quarry business.

The planting exercises I described earlier (in Frenzy-Part I) and now here were preceded by trips to 2 nurseries the weekend before last, another one this past Saturday, and a mid-week mail order delivery.  The buying is the easy part - reckoning with one's spouse about one's seemingly out-of-control spending habits can be another matter.  Arguments about the importance of fall planting and the value of planting prior to a forecast of rain don't seem to carry as much weight as they should.  I fully expect to receive one of my husband's infamous pie charts showing how much I've spent on plants this year any time now.

Annie's mail order delivery

My plant purchases from Saturday's trip to Rogers (minus the 2 Phormium and a few other things)

Many of the plants shown above went to fill vacancies in the backyard border created when I tore out a mass of lavender.  I'd also torn out an overgrown patch of common lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina) but, in that case, I'd like to note that no purchases were actually required to fill the area.  I managed this with divisions from Stachys byzantina 'Helen Von Stein' growing elsewhere in my garden and yarrow (Achillea 'Moonshine') relocated from an adjacent area.  (I can only hope the lamb's ear transplants take - they were looking a little bedraggled when I finished.)

Lamb's ear transplants up front with relocated Achillea 'Moonshine' in the upper left 

Nicotiana alata 'Lime Green,' purchased by mail order from Annie's, and Digitalis x mertonensis "Polka Dot Pippa,' obtained from Roger's Gardens, filled in the larger mid-border gap, along with some Euphorbia 'Dean's Hybrid' moved from another area of the border.   A Salvia mexicana 'Limelight' from Annie's was tucked into the back area (in front of the Agapanthus in parallel to the mint bush) just to try it out.

The mint bush is no longer obscured but I hope my new additions gain size quickly so the area doesn't look so bare

Phygelius x rectus 'Salmon's Leap' replaced a Chorizema 'Bush Flame' on the right side of the border; however, now think I could use 1 or 2 more to fill in holes created by moving the Euphorbia.

Phygelius 'Salmon Leap' complements the Abelia 'Kaleidoscope' on either side much better than the poorly performing Chorizema

For the most part, I stuck to my list in making my recent plant selections, at least as long as the Phygelius counts as the "orange flowering perennial" on my list.  However, spouses must forgive the occasional deviation to pick up plants you don't know you need until you see them.  Such was the case with Uncinia uncinata 'Rubra,' a low-growing grass-like plant grown by Annie's but purchased through Roger's Gardens.  Look at the pictures below.  You understand, don't you?

3 Uncinata placed near the front of the border, where they should get the moisture they need

Sure, it's small, but look how the sun already lights up the foliage

I still have vacancies to fill in both the backyard and side yard borders.  I need more Phygelius and perhaps more Euphorbia for the back border, as well as additional succulents and some low-growing grass for the side yard.  Oh, and I think I've found a good space for that Grevillea 'Superb' I've been coveting.  Luckily, my friend and I have rescheduled our nursery trip to Carpinteria for early November...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Fall Planting Frenzy - Part 1

The title of this post suggests that my fall planting frenzy has just begun.  In actuality, it began much earlier.  You could say that it kicked off before the official start of fall when I began planting the area surrounding the new pathway on one side of our house in early September (as described here).  It continued as I began to fill in the expanse of open area on the same side of the house, where we'd removed a large section of lawn (as described here).  I've been haunting nearby nurseries and garden centers ever since looking for the plants on my list for the side yard, as well as plants to fill in vacancies in my backyard border.  To complicate matters, last week, in a fit of disillusionment with the back border, I began tearing out plants there.  It started with this:

3 lavender plants grew together to form a troublesome mass in the middle of the border

I put in 3 lavender plants (Lavandula x heterophylla) in the spring of 2012.  In the fall of that year, I placed a mint bush (Prostanthera ovalifolia 'Variegata') behind them, mainly because space was available.  The lavender plants subsequently grew together to form a single mass, which I saw out the window every time I sat on the couch in the living room.  The mass obscured the pretty mint bush, which began to bug me until, this past week, I tore the lavender out, leaving a big hole.

Space after removal of the lavender mass

This area bi-sects the backyard border, separating the warm-toned plants on the right from cooler-toned plants on the left.  While I haven't come to terms with the perfect planting scheme for that area, I did pick items to fill in the space for now.  Some of these came by mail order and others were picked up at a nursery this weekend.  I'll post on that reconfiguration in the near future.

While I was staring at the backyard border trying to decide what it needed, I reached the conclusion that the left side also needed substantial work.  I've been looking for burgundy foliage plants for that area since my 2 failed attempts to grow a purple-leafed Loropetalum there.  I recently added one Phormium 'Dark Delight' and decided, what the heck, I'd add 2 more.  These went in this weekend, along with some bulbs, 3 society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) and a new thyme honey myrtle (Melaleuca thymifolia).  The new arrangement required me to dig up and reposition several of the surrounding plants as well.

Left side of border after the addition of 2 more Phormium and some rearranging

Melaleuca thymifolia

I can't say that I'm thrilled with this section of the border yet.  It still looks a bit hodge-podge to me; however, my hope is that its appearance will improve as the plants fill out and grow to their anticipated heights.

Work on the side yard continues as well.  Some of last week's purchases, including the Agave 'Blue Glow,' have been added there, along with Helichrysum italicum, and Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow,' which was moved from a nearby area.

With the exception of the Arbutus, Phlomis, Acanthus, and 2 of the Arthropodium cirratum, everything in this area was recently planted

I still need to add a path through the middle of this space to the backyard beyond but the other side of the area, adjacent to a small patio, is coming together.  I added some Iceland poppy seedlings (Papaver nudicaule) this weekend just because I love them.

All the plants in this area were introduced in late September or October

View of side yard bed from patio area

Fall is unequivocally the best time to plant in my area of Southern California.  It's still warm enough to give roots time to establish but, more importantly, we have a reasonable chance of getting rain.  We got our first rain since March on October 9th.  Although that yielded less than a quarter of an inch of rainwater, another rain event is forecast for today and tomorrow.  I'm looking forward to it.  The view this morning is auspiciously cloudy.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bouquet: Something from Nothing

Walking through my garden late yesterday afternoon, I didn't see much of anything I thought could be used to construct a bouquet (unless I duplicated the last one I created, which you can see here).  I clipped some short stems off the Lisianthus in the back border anyway, then walked about the garden picking up a piece of this and a piece of that until, voilà!, I had the making of a hodgepodge bouquet.

Here it is:



And here's what I included:

  • Angelonia 'Angelmist Dark Pink'
  • Lisianthus 'Echo Pink'
  • Centranthus ruber
  • Cuphea ignea 'Starfire Pink'
  • Leucanthemum x superbum
  • Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'
  • Pentas 'Kaleidoscope Appleblossum'
  • Persicaria microcephala 'Red Dragon'
  • Salvia leucantha 'Waverly'
  • Strobilanthus dyeranus (aka Persian Shield)

Sometimes it amazes me what you can create from seemingly nothing.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My favorite plant this week: Arbutus 'Marina'

My favorite plant in the garden this week is a tree, Arbutus 'Marina.'  I inherited 5 of these trees with the house, 2 along the south side, another 2 in the backyard, and the last on the north side.  Given the size variances among the trees, I suspect they may have been planted at different times.

The largest and most well-developed tree is shown in the rear of this picture.  The smaller tree sits next to a "snorkel spa," used as a storage bin for garden furnishings until my husband gets around to converting it into something more useful.

Back view of the largest tree

The other large Arbutus Marina, located on the southwest side of the property 

The trees have beautiful ornamental bark.

They flower throughout the year with the heaviest flower production occurring in the fall and the spring.  Hummingbirds are attracted to the light pink, urn-shaped flowers.

The flowers are followed by fruit that turns orange, then red.  At this time of year, the fruits that fall from the tree look like miniature orange pumpkins.  The birds seem to prefer the fruits when they turn red and become soft.  The squirrels, which eat everything else in the yard, appear to ignore these fruits completely.

Arbutus 'Marina' is drought tolerant once established.  It grows up to 50 feet tall and nearly as wide.  It's hardy in USDA zones 7-9 (Sunset zones 8, 9 and 14-24).  It's said to be susceptible to Sudden Oak Death root rot (phytopthora ramorum), a condition I dread as it killed an Arbutus unedo at our last house seemingly overnight.  One half of a dual-trunked tree on our current property also died off suddenly shortly after we moved in.  I had concerns that it may have been infected; however, as the other half is still hanging in there a year after the dead half was cut away, I'm hopeful that I was wrong as to the source of the problem (although the trunk's cracks and gray coloration make me wonder if I need to consult an arborist).

Half this tree was cut back to the stump after it died suddenly

San Marcos Growers has an excellent write-up on Arbutus 'Marina,' including the history of its arrival in the U.S.  You can find this summary here.

This is my contribution to the weekly meme sponsored by Loree of danger garden.  You can find Loree's favorite plant of the week here, as well as links to other contributors' favorite selections.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Twofer Nursery Trek

This weekend, a friend and I had plans to visit a couple of nurseries in Carpinteria, a coastal California community more than 100 miles north of where I live.  For various reasons, we delayed that trip until mid-November; however, we did make it to one of my favorite nurseries.   Sprawling over 11 acres in Calabasas, Sperling Nursery isn't fancy but it's always well-stocked with a diverse collection of plants, including California natives and a seemingly ever-expanding selection of succulents.  When I was visiting the San Fernando Valley one or more times a week to see my stepfather, who passed away in 2011, and my mother, who passed away earlier this year, I would often pay a visit to the nursery before getting on the freeway to head home as a way of centering myself.  I haven't been there often since March of this year.

The nursery has always had a friendly, family atmosphere, probably because it's family-owned and operated.  The staff, even those who work the check-out counter, know plants.  Founded in 1971 as a sod outlet by Joe Sperling on one acre of land in what was then a largely undeveloped area, it was expanded it to 11 acres in the late seventies, creating a full-service nursery.  When I pulled up the nursery's website, I discovered that Mr. Sperling passed away in August.  I sincerely hope Sperling will continue as an independent nursery - I still remember what happened to my beloved Begonia Farms Nursery when the founding patriarch died and the land was sold to a developer.  Calabasas has been growing at a wild pace for decades so I'm sure there will be pressure on the family to sell.

It was sunny and hot in Calabasas.  That didn't stop me from thoroughly checking out the plant stock but I'm afraid that it did negatively impact the quality of my photographs.  Sperling doesn't have demonstration planting beds but there are always nice collections of pots arranged near the entrance to show possible planting schemes.

Succulent prices have sky-rocketed in the last few years, here and everywhere, but Sperling offers a nice selection.

Aloe plicatilis (Fan Aloe) could be be yours for $200

This large Aloe ferox was offered for $400

More than any other nursery I can think of, Sperling always entices me to buy garden ornaments I don't need.  I somehow managed to avoid such purchases on this trip, although I was tempted.  (I didn't even set foot in the gift shop.)

I've admired this cast iron crow before but he goes for $120

This little frog might look nice with the orange plants off the patio in the side yard

I have a peculiar affection for gargoyles and dragons

This photo screened onto wood planks was interesting but I didn't even bother to look for a price

My friend was attracted to this rhino pot containing an interesting succulent (but she resisted too).

I was tempted by a beautiful Grevillea.  I passed on it because I couldn't think where to put it but I'm still kicking myself.  Maybe I need to move other plants to make room for it?

Grevillea 'Superb'

Here's what I did bring home:

Tulbaghia violacea, Aster frikartii 'Monch,' Perovskia atriplicifolia 'Little Spire,' and Allium 'Graceful' bulbs

I was happy enough with my Sperling purchases - they'll fill some empty spaces in my back and side yard borders -  but I have to admit that they weren't that exciting.  So, after leaving my friend in the Valley, I decided to stop at another of my favorite independent garden centers on my way home.  Marina Del Rey Garden Center is conveniently located right off the freeway, not far from the ocean.  I once worked nearby and I've been going there for years, although it's a little more out of the way for me now.  It generally offers a good selection of plants but the staff doesn't always seem as well-informed as I'd like to find.

The garden center had a Halloween pumpkin patch and jumper/bouncey house thing going for kids.  I skirted around that and headed straight for the small-sized perennials.

Alternanthera tenella 'Crinkle Red'

Pennisetum setaceum 'Cherry Sparkler' 

Salvia 'Wendy's Wish'

Solanum xantii

I took a stroll through the larger plants in the back.

Lots of Leucadendron

Lots of Phormium and Cordyline

Lots and lots of Salvia

A garden cat who just wanted to be left alone

I spent a lot of time perusing the center's wide selection of succulents.

A very large Agave 'Blue Glow' with multiple pups (yours for $140)

Unlabeled succulents - some kind of Kalanchoe?

I searched out help to get the name of this small tree-sized succulent.  The horticulturist told me it was called 'Copper Leaf' but  she didn't have the species name and it wasn't Acalypha wilkesiana.

I passed on most of the uber-expensive succulents but I did splurge on a large Agave 'Blue Glow' even though the center offered budget-friendly $10 plants in 4-inch pots.  Here's what I took home:

Agave 'Blue Glow,' Alternanthera tenella 'Crinkle Red,' and 3 small assorted unlabeled succulents

All things considered, it was a good shopping day.