Every garden changes over time. Gardening is a process, a constant experiment so don't get discouraged when things don't go exactly as planned. For example, a cool spring may cause some things to bloom later while a warm, dry winter speeds up plant and flower development. Maybe that pink flowering tree now conflicts with the red blooms nearby. Whether it's caused by climate change or just the weather, take comfort that your garden can grow more beautiful each year with a little tinkering now and then.
At this time of year look to the following plants combined with ornamental grasses coming into bloom to carry your garden until autumn color from trees and shrubs kicks in. Go for dramatic extravagance with color combinations than inspire.
Russian sage. Tall, airy, spike-like clusters , create a lavender-blue cloud of color above the finely textured gray leaves. This perennial has a long blooming season and the cool color of the flowers is stunning in the fall garden. There are several varieties available with different shades of soft blue to violet blue flowers. Most grow 3-4 ft tall. Little Spire Russian sage is a shorter, upright selection that doesn't flop over in the landscape. It adds a sense of lightness to the garden. You'll love the cool color on a hot day.
Aster x frikartii 'Moench'. The lavender-blue flowers on this perennial can get 3" across and cover the plant with blooms from early summer to fall, even longer in mild winter areas if spent flowers are removed. They attract butterflies and make a good cut flower. This reliable, drought tolerant plant thrives in full sun, grows 2- 3 ft tall and is mildew resistant.
Agastache which is also called hyssop attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees to your garden It's also deer resistant. Aromatic foliage on Blue Fortune smells like peppermint-lemon when brushed or crushed. The flowers on Electra are vivid orange. Then there's licorice mint hyssop, orange hummingbird mint hyssop, anise hyssop and a whole slew of hybrids of every color in the rainbow- lavender, pink, apricot, orange, purplish, coral, powder blue, tangerine, red – you name it. Agastache is easy to grow in full sun or partial shade and is drought tolerant. Just be sure to provide excellent drainage.
Salvia- the workhorses of the garden. Their long blooming season makes them right at home in the fall garden. There are some 900 species of salvias. They are the largest genus in the mint family. Choose from many new cultivars like Dancing Dolls with rose and cream colored flowers. Another good choice is a Ca. native hybrid called Starlight that blooms with long white flower wands that really stand out at twilight.
There are lots of Salvia greggii varieties available such as Pink Frills, Golden Girl and Neon Dancer which has vivid rose and red flowers. Salvias are drought tolerant and deer resistant (really). Although they tolerate some shade they looks best when planted in full sun. To encourage repeat bloom trim off spent flowers stalks when they start to look rangy. They will rebloom for months.
Another common plant from this huge family is the Mexican bush sage. So showy that people mistake them for huge lavender plants. They are vigorous and upright growing to 3-4 feet tall and as wide. Velvety purple and white flowers cloak foot-long stems. Salvia Santa Barbara is a compact selection that grows 2-3 ft high and spreads 5 ft wide. They stop blooming only when frost hits them. To limit plant size and renew flowering stems, cut back close to the ground before spring growth begins. You can't go wrong with these plants if you have a large space to fill. Hummingbirds love them, too.
Perennials should be planted in multiples, not only for beauty's sake but also for lower maintenance. Let your trees and shrubs lend structure and year round interest with an explosion of perennial color that gets all the attention. Just don't hesitate to change what needs adjustment or transplanting if needed to a better location.
Print this entry
One of the most dramatic sites in a garden is an ornamental grass backlit by late afternoon sun. They seem to come alive as their tawny flowers spikes glow and sway in the breeze. This is what grasses are all about and why they are so popular. Who could resist?
Grasses are versatile plants and come in all sizes, from ground-huggers to shrub-like clumps. Some form upright tufts, some look like mop-top mounds and others form arching fountains. They easily adapt to the same conditions most garden plants thrive in, rarely needing any special soil, preparation or maintenance. And more subtly, their gentle movement and soft whispering sounds can bring your garden to life as no other plants do.
Grasses serve many functions in a garden. If you want to replace your lawn and save water you can choose from California natives. Some are low like Carex pansa or sesleria while others like Festuca californica make great flowering accents and look their best massed in groups. Other good natives for meadows are Blue grama grass or Boutelous gracilis, Creeping wild rye or Leymus triticoidies, and Alkali sacation or Sporobolus airoides.
Both San Lorenzo Valley Water ( http://www.slvwd.com ) and Scotts Valley Water Districts ( http://www.svwd.org ) offer many tips and incentives to conserve water. There are lists on the website of water smart grasses. Their rebate programs offers several landscaping credits including converting an existing lawn to water-wise grasses. Both districts have guidelines and procedures to apply for the rebates on their websites.
My favorite shade tolerant varieties for meadows include red fescue, acorus gramineus or Sweet flag, festuca altissima, bromus beneckenii, and several varieties of carex-divulsa, blanda and texensis.
But it's the showy accent grasses that always gets my attention and Pink Muhly grass has got to be at the top of the list. A must have for the low maintenance garden this ultra-rugged, ultra-tough California native grass is topped in late summer and fall by enormous plumes of cotton-candy pink that can also be used in dried arrangements.
I like variegated plants and two-tone grasses combine well with many other garden plants. Miscanthus sinensis Morning Light is an especially refined and elegant ornamental grass. Fine leaf blades are green with clean, paper-thin, white margins that give the plant a silvery cast when viewed from a distance. It is luminous when backlit by the early morning or late afternoon sun. Morning Light tends to keep its upright shape better than some other cultivars and rarely flops. The reddish bronze plumes that appear in late fall are spectacular.
Another personal favorite ornamental grass is Stipa gigantea or Giant Feather Grass. This semi-evergreen grass grows 2-3 ft high and makes a stately specimen with narrow, arching foliage and shimmering gold panicles that reach 6 feet tall. The flowers open early in June as silvery-purple and mature to shades of wheat. Large plants in full flower are a spectacular sight. Their tufted, clumping form makes them suitable as accents anywhere. It takes drought once established but also will grow with regular garden watering. The beautiful flower spikes are good in dried arrangements.
Caring for grasses is easy. As a rule of thumb, if it browns in winter then cut it back before new growth starts. If it's evergreen by nature just clean up outside leaves. Most like well drained soil and are tolerant of a wide range of garden conditions. You shouldn't fertilize heavily because an excess of nitrogen can lead to lush, soft growth that tends to flop. Mulching with 2" of compost yearly will keep the soil and your plants in good shape. Water grasses regularly during their first year to help get a good root system established. Even grasses that are normally touted as drought-tolerant require a season or two to become fully established.
Print this entry
I know this gardening season isn’t over yet, but I’m already . Some are already being grown on a limited basis by the wholesale growers while others won’t become available until 2011. Recently I had the opportunity to view up-close and personal some of these new unique perennials, shrubs and grasses. It’s exciting to envision these in our own gardens.
It’s no secret our weather is just about perfect here. That’s why so many of the wholesale nurseries have operations in this county. They know the growing conditions are excellent here for annuals, perennials, grasses and woody ornamentals.
Many of the plants we buy start life as small plugs and liners. Some of these are produced in tissue culture labs located in places such as India, China, Guatemala and Holland. These are then grown on to sellable size by other wholesale growers before they eventually arrive at your local nursery. If you have a Black Mondo or carex grass or a cordyline, hellebore or heuchera it may have been started from a tissue culture somewhere on another continent and has more frequent flyer miles than you do.
Plant tissue culture consists of taking a piece of a plant, such as a stem tip, and placing it in a sterile ( usually gel-based ) nutrient medium where it multiplies, It’s similar to taking a cutting of your favorite houseplant and growing it to share with a friend. The production of plants in sterile containers allows the propagator to reduce the chance of transmitting diseases, pests and pathogens.
One of the new plants that I saw that really caught my eye is the grass, Pennisetum Fireworks. The variegated pink striped blades of this grass are just as spectacular as the pink flower heads. Some gardens with clay soil and heavy frost in winter may need to grow this plant in a container but it’s worth babying this one, it’s so beautiful.
You may have bought a bright orange Begonia Bonfire this year and were impressed with the hundreds of flowers that it easily produced over the season. Well, next year you’ll be seeing the Sparkle series begonia which is similar. This tuberous begonia is nothing like the classic you are familiar with. One plant will grow to about 24" in the ground or a container and depending on which color you choose, will be covered with scarlet, white blush, rose or apricot flowers.
And don’t even get me started on all the new mimulus colors that are going to be available next year. The Jellybean series comes in classic orange and gold but also red, purple, pink, light pink, lemon and terra cotta. Remember these are deer resistant, too.
Also there are new hummingbird favorite agastache flavors out now. Picture in your garden, flower spikes in colors that look like fruit- grapefruit, apricot, grape and orange nectar.
I haven’t even touched on new introductions like Green Jewel echinacea or dwarf butterfly bushes in magenta, violet or pink. How about a bush form of the vine, Hardenbergia? Meena will grow 36" tall and have purple flowers in winter.
Look for one of these new perennials next year. It’s going to be a colorful year in the garden.
Print this entry
Despite how hot it’s been, the "dog days of summer" just came to an end August 11th. Where did this expression come from?
Some say it signifies hot sultry days not fit for a dog, but the dog days are defined as the period from July 3 through August 11 when the Dog Star, Sirius, rises in conjunction ( or nearly so ) with the sun. As a result, some felt the combination of the brightest luminary of the day (the sun) and and brightest star of the night ( Sirius) was responsible for the extreme heat that is experienced during the middle of the summertime. Since Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky it’s reasonable to guess that it adds some heat to the earth but the amount is insignificant.
The name "dog star" came from the ancient Egyptians who called Sirius, the dog star, after their god, Osirus, whose head in pictograms resembled that of a dog. They called the period of time from 20 days before to 20 days after the conjunction "the dog days of summer" because it coincidentally fell at the time of year when it was very hot. We now know that the heat of summer is a direct result of the earths tilt. Now you know… the rest of the story.
If your deck or patio needs some perking up about now, plant up a new container or add to your existing ones. Almost anything goes when it come to combining plants in containers and nearly any type of container looks good with the right plant. I have over 250 in a sprawling garden of containers arranged like a border on my deck, under trees, around my front door, down my driveway… places where planting in the ground just isn’t possible. I can move them farther apart, up, down, to the front or to the back to create a display that is always evolving. I add spots of vivid color where I need it and texture where I want it. I have the flexibility to remove anything past its prime or bring forward a fragrant plant when I want to really enjoy its scent up close.
So what looks great in containers? One simple strategy I use a lot is to put just one plant in a pot. A single perennial like a flowering maple looks good year round. My asparagus meyeri really looks dramatic in a low ceramic pot. The princess flower and my enormous hosta sieboldiana (which I’ve named Bob) can be hidden behind other pots in the winter when they are dormant. Succulents, like a large hen and chicks, are always real standouts in a pretty container as are grasses. I have a Sango Kaku Japanese maple in a large cobalt blue glazed pot as the thriller in one vignette with chartreuse green barberry and a fragrant heliotrope as fillers and lysimachia aurea and purple calibrachoa as spillers. I like burgundy foliage so Sizzling Pink loropetalum is one of my favorite background plants. It looks great with Japanese forest grass and black mondo grass. The purple leaves of oxalis triangularis works well in this color scheme, too. My displays change every year and also as the summer progresses. I live in partial shade but if you live in the sun try the rich colors of canna lily, black-eyed susan, kangaroo paw, aeonium and old fashioned variegated geraniums.
Although I take a more-is-merrier approach to container gardening, numbers alone don’t mean much. Five pots are enough to create a dramatic composition on a porch or patio. The trick is not how many pots you have, but what you do with them. I use overturned nursery or clay pots, boxes and plant stands to stage my plants so short but showy plants can be placed up off the ground at eye level. Containers of plants placed in front hide the risers from view. By elevating pots with various props, I create combinations that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
Staging can also be an effective way to display garden art like sculpture , fountains and handsome empty pots. It’s easy to place ornaments where they look best -a place of honor – by raising them up in your grouping.
When planting mixed containers never use more than three plants colors, two is sometimes enough. That doesn’t count green, unless it’s lime. Skimpy pots are a miss, pack the plants so the pots are full when you’re done. You want the pots to look good right away. Big pots, at least 16" across are dramatic and make a nice contrast to matching smaller ones.
Whatever plant or container you choose, you’ll enjoy the results now that the dog days of summer are over.
Print this entry