Thursday, February 27, 2014

My favorite plant this week: Phlomis fruticosa

Phlomis fruticosa has begun its spring bloom cycle and, while the flower power of this evergreen shrub is likely to increase over the coming weeks, its bright yellow blooms are already hard to ignore so I've given it status as my favorite this week.   I inherited 12 of these drought-tolerant shrubs with the garden - there are 6 in the front yard in 2 groups of 3 plants each, where the yellow flowers bloom in accompaniment with the blue flowers of the Ceanothus hedge, and 6 more in the backyard, again in 2 groups of 3, backed by the orange-tinged foliage of the Xylosma hedge.

The shrub, which grows 3-4 feet (0.9-1.2 meters) tall and wide, gets woody and needs to be cut back hard in the fall to keep it in shape.  I'm afraid I did a sloppy job of that this past fall so my specimens aren't in tip-top shape this year; however, my sloppy pruning hasn't significantly impacted blooming.  The flowers are unusual.  They form bell-shaped whorls around a central stem.  If dead-headed after the spring bloom cycle, they'll rebloom on new growth in the summer, although my experience is that the second bloom cycle is lighter.

The leaves are a nice gray-green color.  While they're usually described as woolly, they feel more like suede to me.  The leaves resemble those of some Salvias, which accounts for the common name of Jerusalem sage, but the plant is actually in the mint family.

Phlomis fruticosa grows in full sun to light shade - most of mine get at least some shade during the warmest part of the day.  Those in the shadiest locations are the slowest to bloom.  The shrub is said to be hardy to 15-20 degrees Fahreneheit (-9.44 Celsius).  They can be grown in USDA zones 7a-11 (Sunset zones 3b-24).  They like some summer water in warmer areas.

The Jerusalem sage is my favorite plant this week.  Please visit Loree at danger garden, our host for the weekly favorite plants meme, to see her current favorite and link to other gardeners' contributions.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Preparations for Planting

In my post on January 1st, I mentioned that I wanted to extend the small bed that encircles the backyard fountain along an existing pathway, linking it to the side yard border we created last year. By February 1st, we'd gotten started.

Before work began

After the edge of the new border was defined

Last week, we finished digging out the sod.

New extended fountain bed

In January, my husband also removed the snorkel spa on the far left side of the backyard border.  I described this spa, which is heated using firewood rather than electricity, last year.  Taking out the spa proved to be relatively easy but clearing the 6-inch layer of gravel underneath it took time.

Photo of the snorkel spa taken last year

The wood salvaged from deconstruction of the spa will be used to build furniture for the backyard patio - someday.  At present, it's neatly stacked in the garage.

What I hope my husband will turn into a patio dining table

However, the most important thing is that the spa's removal leaves another empty spot to fill with plants!

Bed sans spa

We ordered topsoil to backfill the new beds.  It took the 2 of us several hours to move and spread the soil over the 2 beds.

3 cubic yards of topsoil

New bed with fresh topsoil

I've been deliberating on my planting scheme for some time.  I have a long list of options for both the new beds but I've yet to draw up planting plans.  However, I signed up with Pinterest and created a bulletin board to capture ideas for the new border.  (I ended up creating 5 boards - Pinterest can easily become a time-consuming obsession!)

I already have a few plants for each new bed.  One of the Japanese maples I splurged on recently will go into the extended fountain border.  The Driyms lanceolata supplanted by the other Japanese maple will go into the bed formerly occupied by the spa.  I also have a few plants I mail-ordered from Annie's Annuals & Perennials set aside, as well as a new pot, which will mark the transition from the side yard path to the grass path between the 2 backyard borders.  I've even got some seeds germinating - my first attempt at starting seeds indoors rather than directly planting them in place.

Acer palmatum Mikawa Yatsubasa, already beginning to leaf out

Purchases from Annie's Annuals & Perennials: Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame' and Scorzonera hispanica (aka Black Salsify), which I potted up pending placement in the new bed

I bought this pot for another purpose, then decided it would be perfect to mark the transition from the side yard to the backyard (provided that I can pick up its mate this week)

I've still got a LOT of plant shopping to do and I'm looking forward to it!  That will have to wait a bit, though, as we have not one but 2 rainstorms expected this week!!!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The crows are back in town...

Around the same period last year, I kept finding long branches of our California pepper trees (Schinus molle) Peppermint trees (Agonis flexuosa) dropped all over our property.  At first, I assumed that the gardener had trimmed some of these for unknown reasons and forgotten to clean up after himself.  Then I speculated that the Santa Ana winds had brought them down.  But the volume of debris kept increasing so I soon concluded that neither of those explanations made sense.  Finally, I discovered the culprits sitting atop one of the pepper peppermint trees, tearing out branches before flying off.  Crows!  Assuming that they carried off half of what they left behind, they did a pretty thorough job thinning out the foliage of several of our 7 pepper peppermint trees.

I saw 2 scouting about last week but didn't think too much about it.  Then, this morning, I began coming across tree debris.

First this

...and then this

Then I heard them - their cries are unmistakable.  I wasn't quick enough with my camera to catch both members of the pair sitting in a tree on my neighbor's property but I caught a photo of one before it flew off to join its mate.

I have no doubt they'll be back as the debris I collected this morning is a small fraction of what I picked up last year.

Debris collected this morning along one pathway

A portion of the debris collected one day last year.  I stuck it in an empty hanging basket in the foolish hope that the crows would take it from there rather than continuing their tree thinning activity but apparently fresh material is better in their view.

According to an on-line resource affiliated with Cornell University, breeding pairs take one to 2 weeks to build their nests, which are constructed from scratch each year.  Nests have 3 layers: a base constructed of sticks, a filling made of mud and grass, and a thick bowl of "something soft," which I assume is where the pepper tree branchlets come into play.

This year, so far anyway, they seem to prefer the 2 trees that were trimmed in late January, even though the other 5 trees have a lot more foliage to pick from.  My husband speculated that the open branching of these trees allow them to swoop in, pick what they want and fly off more easily than the trees with denser foliage.  That makes sense to me, especially as I recall that their favorite tree last year was the one with the lightest foliage.

The crows prefer these 2 trees this untrimmed tree

The internet is full of interesting information on crows, deemed by many sources to he highly intelligent creatures.  Click here for an article on 6 "terrifying" ways crows have demonstrated how smart they are.   Among other things, their abilities include facial recognition, conspiracy, planning and trickery.  Hitchcock's film, "The Birds" no longer seems like a fantasy to me.  I think I have to seek peaceful coexistence.  The good news is that the presence of the crows hasn't seemed to bother the smaller birds in my garden - the crows seem to be more interested in nesting material than prey.  While they are predators, according to the Cornell source, their main food sources are grains, earthworms and other invertebrates.

A trio of small birds enjoying an undisturbed bath in the fountain

Have you had any interesting experiences with crows in your garden?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

My favorite plant this week: Coleonema pulchellum 'Sunset Gold'

It's already spring in this area of southern California.  Plants are putting on new foliage and many are beginning to pump out flowers.  Soon they'll all be vying for attention and it will become increasingly hard to pick a favorite - I can almost hear them crying "choose me, me, me!" already.  I was tempted to focus on a couple of these, Acanthus mollis 'Summer Beauty' and Phlomis fruticosa, but they're nowhere near their peak yet so I passed them by for now.  Instead, I picked Coleonema pulchellum 'Sunset Gold' (formerly classified as Diosma pulchra).  It has produced a light scattering of flowers all during the past year but it's blanketed with tiny pink blooms now.  It blooms most heavily from winter through spring.

Close-up of Coleonema pulchellum 'Sunset Gold' in partial shade

This shrub, sitting along the driveway, gets more sun

A 'Sunset Gold' on the other side of the front pathway with another one visible in the background, sited at the edge of the lawn

I have 6 of these plants in the front borders lining the driveway.  Two were added recently as part of my ongoing effort to decrease the jumbled appearance of my garden by repeating more of the same elements in individual beds.  Pale pink isn't my favorite flower color - I bought 'Sunset Gold' for the chartreuse color of the foliage, which is more evident in new plants than those in full bloom.

This recently planted shrub, not obscured with flowers, provides a better view of the foliage 

The scent of the evergreen foliage, which gave it the common name of 'Breath of Heaven,' was also an attraction.  In addition to serving as a good filler plant in the border, the feathery scented foliage is a nice filler in cut flower arrangements.  The soft texture also makes it a nice accent for plants with large leaves or sharp edges in garden borders.

'Sunset Gold' is a dwarf variety.  It grows about 1.5 feet (.46 m) tall but can spread as much as 4 feet  (1.22 m) wide.  Mine are placed around the edges of the front borders.  It's a well-behaved plant and, unlike its taller cousins, it hasn't required regular pruning to keep its growth under control.

This Coleonema album needs a good pruning twice a year and even then can get straggly-looking

Coleonema does well in well-drained soil in both full sun or light shade.  The yellow gold color is more prominent in full sun.  In partial shade, the foliage of 'Sunset Gold' takes on a more lime green shade and it may grow taller.  It requires a moderate amount of water.  It's said to be hardy to 20 or 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-6.67 or -3.9 Celsius).  It's suited to USDA zones 8-11 (Sunset zones 7-8, 14-24).

Coleonema pulchellum 'Sunset Gold' is my choice as favorite plant of the week for the meme sponsored by Loree of danger garden.   Visit her site to see her choice and to link to other gardeners' selections.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I was tempted...

I was seduced.  And I succumbed.  Yet again.

You may recall that I mentioned that I was thinking of getting a Japanese maple to replace the Mountain Pepper (Driyms lanceolata) I'd planted at the site of the large Eucalyptus tree we took down early last year.  (My misgivings over the selection of the Driyms were described here and the reasons for the removal of the Eucalyptus were discussed here.)

This is Driyms lanceolata shortly after planting last February - it's an attractive plant but perhaps not the best choice as a focal point for the bed

The Driyms, in the center foreground in this photo taken at the end of January, grows slowly and has been eclipsed by the surrounding plants, particularly the 3 Coprosma repens 'Plum Hussey'

After some scouting about, I decided to go ahead with that plan and, last Sunday, headed to Roger's Gardens, an Orange County nursery, to pick up the maple I'd selected, an Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost.'  At this point, it looks like a stick in a pot but the images of the plant I found on the web convinced me that it will make a much better focal point for the bed than the Drimys, which I plan to move to another area of the garden.

Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost' in its nursery pot

The 'Purple Ghost' purchase was planned but I can't visit Roger's without checking out what else is available.  I cruised through the nursery and found myself putting things onto my cart I hadn't had any plans whatsoever of purchasing when I left the house.  The first of these were tulips.  I'd long ago given up on tulips.  With the exception of some species types, these don't come back in southern California.  They require a long period of chilling in the refrigerator and then, just when they're about to bloom, one of our Santa Ana winds comes along and withers the buds.  No matter how beautiful they are, they're a bad investment here.  But Roger's had some already sprouted in nursery packs.  They weren't unusual varieties and I know they won't last long but they didn't cost much so onto the cart they went.  The sun shining through their petals was just impossible for me to pass up.

I popped the tulips into a partially empty pot, where they'll keep very temporary company with a Euphorbia

Then there was the Puya berteroniana.  Sure, I've admired pictures of its turquoise flowers and spiky foliage on-line but it can take 6 or more years to reach blooming size.  (You can find a picture of it in flower here.)  Still, 6 years can fly by, can't it?  Onto the cart it went.

A baby Puya berteroniana in its nursery pot

Then there were some Osteospermum with spoon-shaped petals.  I already have Osteospermum of various types throughout my garden, as noted in my recent Bloom Day report.  I didn't need more, yet 3 ended up on my cart.

One of the new Osteospermum, already planted in my backyard border

Several other things ended up on the cart as well.  In an exercise of self-discipline, I decided to put 2 plants back.  That's when things really got out of hand.  Having returned those plants to the spots I picked them up from, I walked by another Japanese maple and stopped dead in my tracks.  I walked back to my cart.  Then I walked back to the maple.  Then I walked back to my cart and brought it to the maple.  Then the maple and I, along with my other purchases, checked out and drove back home, my wallet a little lighter.

Could you have turned away from this plant?

Look at the branching structure!

Look at the picture of the mature leaves!

Look at that new foliage!

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa Yatsubusa' is a dwarf variety, often used in bonsai.  I was attracted by its form, already evident in the young plant, and the appearance of the new foliage, with its chartreuse color.  In summer, the leaves become a medium green, shifting to a golden orange color with red tips in the fall.  It was pricier than 'Purple Ghost' but I decided that its dwarf stature might make it the perfect focal point for the new border we're creating in the backyard, where we're removing another long strip of lawn.  That bed should be ready to plant within a few weeks, if not sooner - so this purchase is really just a head-start on plant selection.

What garden plants have tempted you recently?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Foliage Follow-up: February Focus on Phormium

Okay, I couldn't stop myself with the title of this post - I like alliteration.  However, the Phormium in my garden do deserve attention.  I seem to accumulate more each year we live here.  They do well in my USDA zone 10b (Sunset zone 23/24).  Many are drought tolerant, which is helpful when rain is in short supply and the state of California has declared a drought emergency.  They're also relatively easy to care for and they come in a range of sizes and colors.  I fully expect that more Phormium will enter my garden this year when I plant the new border area (assuming we ever finish digging the lawn out).

So here are the stand-outs in my garden:

2 Phormium 'Amazing Red' went into the side yard border last year - it grows just 2 feet tall and wide

I have no record of the name of this Phormium I planted in the front border shortly after we moved in - my best guess is that it's P. tenax 'Atropurpureum Compactum,' which grows 5 feet tall and wide

Several smaller Phormium 'Chocolate Baby' are also planted in the front border - they grow 2-3 feet tall and wide

I added 3 Phormium 'Dark Delight' to the backyard border last year - they grow 3-4 feet tall and 3-5 feet wide

Phormium 'Tiny Tiger' is indeed small - it grows just 1 foot tall and wide

Phormium tenax 'Yellow Wave' sits in the dry garden - it grows 3-4 feet tall and wide

These lovely Phormium are my contribution this month to the meme sponsored by Pam of the fabulous Digging blog.  Please visit Digging to view her foliage choices and connect to other gardeners' selections.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Bloom Day - February 2014

Our weather in southern California couldn't be more different than the winter conditions affecting so much of the US this year.  After a couple of long-awaited rain events last week, our temperatures soared back up into the low 80s this week.  Northern California received more rain than we did and the mountain areas got some snow but, even with that, the state remains firmly entrenched in a serious drought.  In fact, one speaker on a news program last night said that a study of tree rings indicates that 2013 was California's driest in 400 years.

I've previously commented on the impact our unseasonably warm weather has had on my garden.  A number of plants, most notably the Agapanthus, are blooming considerably ahead of schedule.  Most of what was blooming in January is still blooming so, rather than publish pictures of all the same flowers, I thought I'd focus on the heaviest bloomers this month, as well as some of my newer acquisitions.

If I was to recognize one genus as the most floriferous this February, that award would go to Osteospermum.  Right now, every single member of this genus in my garden is blooming, and blooming heavily.

Osteospermum ecklonis '3D Silver'

Osteospermum 'Lemonade,' a new acquisition

Osteospermum 'Serenity Purple'

Osteospermum (no ID), white with a blue eye - some of these originally had spoon-shaped petals but they seem to have reverted to a more conventional form, which my Sunset Garden Book says is common in cooler weather.  I guess I'll have to wait until the temperature reaches 90F for the petals to snap into proper shape...

This trailing variety of Osteospermum, here when we moved in, seems happy in partial shade

Osteospermum 'Zion Copper Amethyst' - during the warmer portion of the year, all of the flowers tend to bloom a purplish color but, during cooler periods, we see this nice range of color in the blooms on the same plant

Other plants deserving recognition for heavy bloom include the following:

Alstroemeria (no ID), which comes back every year after a period of summer dormancy
A sun-saturated photo of the white Argyranthemum - all the Argyranthemum are in full bloom now too

This Bauhinia x blakeana (Hong Kong Orchid Tree) currently has more flowers than leaves

Coleonema pulchellum 'Sunset Gold' - its performance is so impressive in an out of bloom that I've added 2 more to the front border
Cuphea x ignea 'Starfire Pink,' which blooms continuously until I hack it back

Erysimum  linifolium 'Variegatum,' one of my favorites for the sunshine glow it adds to garden beds

Grevillea lavandulacea 'Penola' - those flowers make up for their tiny size in sheer number

Hebe 'Patty's Purple' - this is the 1st year it has pumped out a steady supply of blooms

Papaver nudicaule (Iceland Poppy) - the bees and I love them

Limonium perezii (aka Statice or Sea Lavender) - ordinary, perhaps, but the bright purple is welcome in my dry garden

Lavandula multifida (Fernleaf Lavender) - its photos never do it justice

Some relatively recent additions to the garden are also adding color:

Arctotis 'Pink Sugar' - how can you not love that color combination?

Geranium x cantabrigiense "Biokovo' - these created a blanket groundcover in my former garden but I've had a harder time getting them to establish here

Nemesia 'Berries & Cream' - I'm as much a sucker for these blooms as I am for pansies

Penstemon heterophyllus 'Margarita BOP,' planted in the dry garden - it died out in my backyard border in 2 years.  I'm hoping it'll be happier with drier feet.

Pericallis hybrid (aka Florist's Cineraria) - I used to grow the taller varieties of Cineraria but they're hard to find now

Pretty purple viola (no ID)

As the blooms from bulbs are so temporary, I guess I should include a few photos of those as well.  The Anemones and Freesia are among my favorites.

While I've grown quite a few of these from tubers, those pictured here were purchased in 4-inch pots last month
However, these Anemone 'Dr. Fokker' were grown from tubers

As was this pink variety

I wish I'd planted more Freesia bulbs this year - this purple one was planted last year or the year before

As was this white Freesia

Ming kept me company as I photographed blooms for this post.  It tuckered him out.

Ming relaxing during our picture-taking exercise

That's it for my February bloom report.  Please visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens, our gracious host for the monthly Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day event, to see what's blooming in her garden and find links for other contributing gardeners.