Monday, June 30, 2014

In a Vase on Monday: Forget-Me-Not

In early May, following our first major heatwave, I mail-ordered plants I'd had on my wish list when they finally became available.  As the price for shipping is the same for 8 plants as it is for 5, I added 3 Chinese forget-me-not plants, Cynoglossum amabile, to the order as a spur-of-the-moment selection.  When the plants arrived, we were entering our second heatwave and all that came to mind was "what was I thinking?".   I'd never grown them before.  They aren't heat or drought tolerant.  And I had no place identified for them.  I plunked them in pots in a partially shaded area that had been left bare by the loss of other plants following the May heatwaves.  To my surprise, they thrived.  They began blooming about a week ago.

I selected them as the focal plant for my next bouquet because they're prolific bloomers.  In addition, the turquoise tint to the flowers doesn't do anything for the purplish-blue Agapanthus flowering above them so cutting them doesn't prompt the usual angst I feel when taking fresh blooms from the garden.

Cynoglossum amabile situated below Agapanthus in my backyard border

As this Friday is Independence Day and we have guests coming to watch the firework displays visible in the harbor area and beyond, I thought I should create a red, white and blue bouquet.  However, there's very little red in my garden.  I found just one true red flower in bloom, a coneflower (Echinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit').  I added some blue Salvia, white Shasta daisies and feverfew.  The result didn't thrill me.

The stiff form of the coneflower, which seemed in stark contrast to the looser form of the other flowers, bothered me more than the color (which matched the canisters behind the bouquet in the picture above very well!).  I pulled the coneflower and replaced it with a stem of my blue Lisianthus.  The new mix meshed much better with the blue and purple vase I'd selected.

The revised bouquet contains the following:

  • 4 stems of Cynoglossum amabile 'Blue Showers' (aka Chinese foret-me-not)
  • 1 stem of Eustoma  grandiflorum 'Borealis Blue' (aka Lisianthus)
  • 3 stems of Leucanthemum x superbum 'Snow Lady' (aka Shasta daisy)
  • 3 stems of Salvia 'Mystic Spires'
  • 2 stems of Tanacetum parthenium 'Aureum' (aka golden feverfew)

Close-up of Cynoglossum amabile and Tanacetum parthenium

Close-up of Eustoma grandiflorum 'Borealis Blue'

Close-up of Salvia 'Mystic Spires' and Leucanthemum x superbum 'Snow Lady'

The coneflower was banished to the guest bathroom with some other floral remnants.

The bathroom gets a tiny red, white and blue bouquet, which looks bigger than it is with flowers duplicated in the mirror

And my featured bouquet ends up on the dining table, replacing last week's edition.

This is my contribution to the weekly meme hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.  Please click here to see her composition and to find links to posts by other contributors.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Trapped By His Own Greed!

That sounds like the headline of a sensational story in a supermarket tabloid, doesn't it?  Well, this isn't that kind of article but the title is descriptive.  This is yet another account of the extent to which my resident squirrels will go to consume the seed I put out for small birds.  My husband created a cage to enclose our largest feeder years ago when it became apparent that the squirrels were consuming far more of the seed than the birds.  Then he fortified it with metal sides when the squirrels ate through the original wood slats.  More recently, when the squirrel managed to push in through the bottom, my husband reinforced that with more metal.  But, earlier this week, I looked out of my home office window and saw this:

The squirrel was once again sitting inside the cage surrounding the feeder, eating away

When I came outside, he tried his usual freeze posture to avoid detection

When my continued approach made it clear that didn't work, he scrambled to escape - and failed

He tried hiding from me - he's still there on the opposite side of the feeder

You can just see his tail at the top of the feeder and his little face peaking out at me on the left

Now, he's moved to the right to see if I've gone away yet

I went back into the house to see if he could get himself out of the cage without help.  He tried to find a way out but, failing that, settled down and began eating seed again.

After probing the bottom and sides of the cage for an exit strategy, he gave up and resumed his former activity while I watched from the house

I came out again and we went through a second round of hide-and-seek.

Are the paparazzi back again?!

As the bottom of the cage around the seed canister was still secured, I was fairly certain he must have entered by pushing up the plastic dome cover at the top.  I pushed it up on the side farthest away from me several times to give him an escape route but he was too panicked by my presence to take advantage of the exit.  I returned to the house again to see if he'd work it out on his own.  He did try.

You can see him sitting on top of the feeder below the plastic dome of the cage in this photo taken from inside the house

After another 30-40 minutes, I got some heavy gloves, took the hanging cage down, put it on the ground, and lifted the top off.  He was gone in a flash and hasn't been back yet.  Lesson learned?  I doubt it.

Friday, June 27, 2014

My favorite plant this week: Anagallis 'Wildcat Mandarin'

Anagallis monelli, with its intense blue flowers, seems to be relatively well known, although I only became acquainted with it last year.  I came across a hybrid, Anagallis 'Wildcat Mandarin,' on a nursery tour of Carpinteria, California in March of this year and picked up 6 plants in 4-inch pots for the new border my husband and I had created as an extension of the small bed around our fountain.  Developed and patented by the University of New Hampshire, A. 'Wildcat Mandarin' are sold under the Proven Winners name as an annual but they're technically classified as a tender perennial.  Whether they'll last beyond this year remains to be seen but I'm very happy with how they've performed thus far.

They're not tall.  They're said to grow 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) high but mine are at the shorter end of that spectrum.  They make a good filler between plants, spreading farther than the 10-14 inches (25-36 cm) described on the label even after I trimmed back the trailing stems to encourage the plants to bush out some.  In my garden, they complement the Abelia x grandiflora 'Kaleidoscope' and Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame' grown nearby.

The flowers are relatively small but plentiful.  The plants are self-cleaning, making deadheading unnecessary.  They have flowered without a pause since they were planted and proved their heat tolerance during our May heatwaves.

There's not a lot of information available on the plant on-line.  Most of the sellers report the same statistics.  When scanning pictures of the plants I Googled on-line I was surprised to find that quite a few came from my own blog, including pictures of 2 bouquets in which I used the flowers.  (I'd only remembered using it once.)  I can attest to the fact that it performs well as a cut flower accent in a vase.

Bouquet posted April 28th showing Anagallis with a rose, Tagetes lemonii, and Abelia 'Kaleidoscope'

Bouquet posted May 26th, shwoing Anagallis with Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame,' Tanacetum parthenium, and Leucadendron salignum 'Chief'

This little powerhouse plant is my contribution to Loree's regular feature on favorite plants at danger garden.  Please click here to see her favorite this week.  You'll also find links to other contributing gardeners' posts.  Post a description of your favorite plant this week if you have one and link up.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Front Porch Gets Dressed Up

As summer sets in here in Southern California, it becomes more and more ridiculous to continue planting.  If a heatwave hits, new plantings frequently die, even if they get extra water.  Every year I make a vow to stop planting between June and October.  And every year I break my vow, although my purchases do taper off a bit.  This year, the month of June has been relatively pleasant, at least by comparison to the miserable May we had, but July is seldom pleasant so I've tried to shift my attention to activities that don't amount to throwing money away.  This year, those activities involved replanting the pots on the front porch (which can always be moved if the heat gets too intense).

I didn't take any "before" photos so the following picture, taken last December showing one side of the porch, is the best one I can provide to show what I started with.  The pots shown in this photo weren't looking nearly this good earlier this month.

The front pots were originally created to adorn the front of my mother-in-law's house when we prepared it for sale but I moved them to our house after the sale.  The ivy geranium (Pelargonium peltatum 'Pink Blizzard') took the sunny setting in stride but the Cordyline 'Renegade' struggled and the Calibrachoa eventually died off.  One of the Cordyline has been repotted and placed in a shadier location and the Pelargonium have been moved elsewhere.  The back pots were intended as temporary holiday decorations and they were definitely past their prime.

The ceramic pots, benches and bench cushions remain but I changed out the pillows and swapped out most of the contents of the pots to create a sunnier front entry.

The two sides of the front entryway are near mirror images of one another.

Bench #1

Side view of bench #1 with a close up of the replanted blue pot, which now contains Pennisetum 'Purple Majesty,' Abelia x grandiflora 'Kaleidoscope,' Echinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit,' Calibrachoa 'Peach' and 'Papaya,' Lotus berthelototii, Zinnia 'Profusion Apricot,' and leftover lime Alternanthera

Bench #2

Close up of one of the 2 back pots, which contain 3 varieties of coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) and yellow Calibrachoa

I'm planning to stick to succulents for any further planting I do between now and October - or at least September.  Probably.  It's a real possibility.  Well, it's a goal anyway.

Monday, June 23, 2014

In a Vase on Monday: Fuzzy Flowers

Since Leonotis leoanurus is currently making a splash in my backyard border, I thought I'd try using a little of it in my bouquet for "In a Vase on Monday," a weekly meme sponsored by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.  What I learned is that too many fuzzy flowers create a fuzzy arrangement that looks out of focus in photographs.  (Try to say that 3 times fast.)  My initial effort included both the flowers of the Leonotis, which look a little like orange tarantulas, and some equally fuzzy Ageratum houstonianum.  It was a bit much.

First attempt with Leontis and Ageratum in the vase

I pulled the Ageratum and was left with what I think is a somewhat more refined composition, although not one of my favorites.  Perhaps I should have removed the Agapanthus too and stuck with hot colors?

Second version, sans Ageratum

In addition to 2 stems of Leonotis leonurus, I used:

3 stems of Agapanthus (no ID)
3 stems of Bulbine frutescens 'Hallmark'
4 stems of Coprosma 'Evening Glow'
2 stems of an unidentified Hemerocallis (possibly 'Sammy Russell')
2 stems of Sollya heterophylla

Close-up of 2-decker flowers of Leonotis Leonurus

Close-up of Agapanthus, which are slowly beginning to wane in my garden

Close-up of Coprosma 'Evening Glow' and Bulbine 'Hallmark'

Close-up of the unidentified Hemerocallis

Close-up of the delicate blooms of Sollya heterophylla

I know the daylily won't last but there are several other buds on the stems and my hope is that they'll open at intervals over the course of the next several days.  I'd been wanting to try daylilies in a vase for some time and, seeing them featured in vase in a recent blog post by Loree of danger garden, encouraged me to take advantage of the current overabundance of red-orange daylilies in my garden.

Bouquet on the dining room table, where its colors complement a nearby picture on the wall

Please visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden to see what she's cooked up this week and to find links to other gardeners' contributions.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Summer Solstice Pool Party

It's probably my imagination but the birds seemed particularly active in the backyard on the afternoon of the summer solstice.  There was a lot of activity at the fountain, although that didn't seem to make it much easier to get good photos.  As soon as I approached the living room window, the little devils would fly off and my attempts to patiently lie in wait holding my camera didn't yield results.  Here are the best of my pictures of the avian pool party.

This Hooded Oriole was especially camera shy

I think this assembly is comprised of House Finches and a Lesser Goldfinch, although the yellow bird on the top tier appears larger than a female Lesser Goldfinch should be

This male House Finch spent a lot of time enjoying the fountain by himself

I hope your summer solstice was as enjoyable.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Case of Mistaken Identity

When asked for input about trees, I generally respond that "I'm not a tree person," an inept way to explain that I'm not particularly knowledgeable about trees.  I grew up surrounded by palm trees and a few fruit trees but the prominence of trees in the gardens of my childhood diminished as residential lots shrank and the area in which I grew up developed, with roads and commercial buildings gradually replacing ranches and orchards.  The first garden of my own, a jungle in some people's views, contained just 3 trees, a birch, a Japanese maple, and an Arbutus unedo.  In contrast, the garden I inherited at the end of 2010, contains more than a dozen trees, most of which I'd had no prior experience in growing.  This is a very long-winded way of explaining that I've been entirely wrong about the identity of one variety of these trees.  The tree I'd believed was a California pepper (Schinus molle) is, most probably, an Australian willow (Geijera parviflora).

Tree in backyard (prior to January haircut)

How did I mistake the two?  I can't really explain it, except to say that Schinus molle is far more common in the general area in which I live.  Many of the pictures posted on-line as S. molle also look similar, at least from a distance, to those growing in my garden.  (See the images of S. molle posted here and here.)  Moreover, the only Australian willow I knew of, Agonis flexuosa, looks nothing like my trees.  There are some similarities between S. molle and G. parviflora.  Both have limited water needs, have pendulous branchlets, and produce cream-colored flowers in spring.  However, their bark and trunks are very different and, after seeing a mature California pepper at a botanic garden, I realized I was probably off-base in identifying my trees as S. molle.  After seeing drawings of the leaves of both trees in a recently acquired book, I was certain of my error.

Close-up of the tree's leaves and flowers 

I've yet to see G. parviflora in either a nursery or a botanic garden so I'm hesitant to be definitive about my trees' identity, although I can say with a degree of certainty that they aren't S. molle.  For one thing, the scattering of red berries characteristic of the California pepper tree during the summer months aren't evident on any of my trees.

The good news in the discovery of the classification error is that, of the two, G. parviflora is the more well-behaved tree.  The Sunset Western Garden Book says that it "combines the grace of a willow with the toughness of a eucalyptus."  Unlike the California pepper tree, its roots aren't invasive and it produces minimal litter (discounting that created by the local crows when they pull pieces of the tree out for use as nesting material).  It also isn't known to be susceptible to scale infestations and root rot like the pepper.  So, while I'm embarrassed by my mistake in identifying the trees, I'm gratified that the trees I have are unlikely to present significant difficulties for me.  I trust that they'll take no notice of my temporary failure to recognize their true nature.

Current photo of one of the trees at the front of the property

Happy first day of summer to all of you in the northern hemisphere!  I hope the new season brings only pleasant surprises.

UPDATE: Based on comments provided by Max below and examination of additional on-line photos, it appears that these trees are Agonis flexuosa after all.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

My favorite plant this week: Leonotis leonurus

One of the best things about the weekly favorites posts sponsored by Loree at danger garden is that they encourage a closer examination of what I have growing in my garden.  My favorite plant this week, Leonotis leonurus, came with the garden.  Frankly, it looked pretty scraggly when we took possession of the property and I seriously considered pulling it out.  Having limited knowledge of the plant, I cut it back lightly but was unimpressed by the results.  I cut it back harder last fall and, while it's still a bit spindly in the middle, it's looking pretty good this year.

Leonotis leonaurus in my backyard border

This photograph shows the shrub's bare mid-section

There are signs of new growth at ground level.  I'll cut it back hard again this year in the interest of beefing it up further.

New growth at ground level

My plant sits at the point at which our back border slopes downward.  The drainage is good but water retention is not so the plant's drought tolerance is an advantage in this setting.  The plant is said to grow 4-6 feet (1.2-2m) tall and almost as wide.  Mine is close to that tall but much narrower.  Like other plants in the mint family, the foliage is aromatic when crushed.  The evergreen foliage is attractive but it's the flowers that draw the eye.  The deep orange tubular blooms are fuzzy and arranged in tiered whorls around a square stem.  They're very Dr. Seuss-ish.

I know the plant by the common name of Lion's Tail but, in researching it on-line, I discovered that it has many names, including Lion's Ear, Lion's Claw, Minaret Flower, and Wild Dagga.  I also learned that it has medicinal and mild psychoactive properties.  Leourine is used to treat respiratory tract infections caused by streptococcus, and bone and skin infections, among other things.  I can't claim any personal knowledge of its psychoactive features but smoking the dried leaves and flowers is said to have a mild calming effect.  It also reportedly has an unpleasant taste that can numb the mouth and irritate lungs and throat.

San Marcos Growers rates it as hardy to 20-25F (to -6.7C); however, it has been known to come back from the roots in areas with colder winters, where it can be been treated as a perennial rather than an evergreen shrub.  There are over 40 comments on the plant on the Dave's Garden site, the vast majority of which are positive.

Leonotis leonurus is my contribution to Loree's collection of favorite plants at danger garden.  Click here to see her favorite of the week and to find the selections of other contributing gardeners.