Category Archives: cool season flowers

Gardening Projects and Ideas for a Rainy Day

As I looked out the window at the rain coming down I thought of all the things I should be doing in the garden. “Where does the time go”, I thought to myself. “Why did you frolic in all that sunshine last month instead of transplanting and moving plants to better spots”?  I could tell from the conversation going on in my head that I needed some inspiration so off I went to visit a local garden store. I knew I was in trouble as I explored and wanted to buy nearly every cool plant I saw. Here are some of the plants that really caught my eye.

tillandsia_on_apple_branchLast month for my birthday a friend gave me a collection of tillandsia attached to an gnarled, mossy apple branch that had fallen from a tree in her garden. There are many kinds of these bromeliads or air plants as they are sometimes called and they can be displayed in lots of ways. At the garden store, I saw miniature hanging terrariums that looked awesome with several tiny tillandsia specimens, glossy pebbles and moss bits arranged inside. The humidity inside the glass as well as the bright light from a window is just what they like.

Other tillandsia were mounted on bark, some on driftwood, some in table top terrariums and some displayed in beautiful baskets. Tillandsia, like their relatives, Spanish moss and pineapple, have tiny scales on their leaves called trichomes which serve as very efficient absorption systems to gather water. They are very tolerant of drought conditions and will grow with just a spritzing of water although I like to run mine under lukewarm water to mimic the showers they might get where they normally grow in tropical tree limbs. They prefer the light from bright window but not direct sunlight and are among the easiest of indoor plants to grow and maintain.

I’m always on the lookout for ideas for landscape plants that might be perfect in an edgeworthia_chrysanthaupcoming design. Often what is needed to complement a house or view from a window is a plant with interesting foliage color or  branching pattern and bark in the dormant season. Showy, fragrant flowers make a welcome addition to the front entry at any time of year but I found one new to me and it’s blooming now.

Tucked among other plants with soft yellow and green foliage I saw my first Edgeworthia or Chinese Paper Bush. Also called yellow daphne, this daphne relative is grown mainly for its flowers. Tubular, bright yellow flower clusters fade to creamy white. The showy display is memorable. They definitely possess that weird appeal that collectors love. In China this plant is used to make paper and medicine.

Edgeworthia chyrsantha are hardy to 10 degrees and prefer half day sun or afternoon shade during the hot summer sun. They grow to about 6 feet tall and a bit wider. The tropical looking foliage is attractive during the summer but it’s the overwhelmingly fragrant display of pendent, golden yellow flowers that will make you want to grow this shrub in your garden. I’m looking forward to planting it next to a fragrant daphne.

pittosporum_tenuifolium_Irene_PattersonAnother plant that caught my eye was an Irene Patterson pittosporum tenuifolium. With speckled frosty green leaves this shrub will really light up a dark area. It can take full sun but it’s the shady areas I have in mind. Hardy to 15-20 degrees it will survive our winters and is adaptable to most soils. I think it would look great paired with the variegated huge green and white leaves of ligularia argentea.

I was also inspired to plant up my own succulent garden after seeing the display planted in recycled wooden boxes, old tins, antique cheese boxes and weathered boots. Whatever you have on hand with a drainage hole will look   succulent_garden2great with a succulent or two planted inside. Succulents in containers can be moved out of winter frost and rain which increases the variety that can survive in our area. I have a vintage Swift’s Silverleaf pure lard tin that’s just waiting to provide a home for some new succulents.  I’m looking forward to going back to the garden store to choose just the right specimens for his special container.

It’s fun to have some gardening projects that I can do indoors. There’s lots of time to plant those new landscape plants that caught my eye on a rainy day.

Winter Flowers that Use Less Water

In our neck of the woods we could change the iconic saying inscribed on a New York Post Office that reads  “Neither snow now rain nor heat nor gloom of night…”  to “neither drought nor freeze nor wind can stay the coming of spring”.  Spring is everywhere whether we are ready or not. The birds are announcing their presence in anticipation of the breeding season. Early blooming Saucer magnolia are covered with huge pink and purplish flowers. Daffodils are already opening.

There’s not a more important time of the year to have flowering plants in the garden. The restorative benefits of growing things is astonishing. They soothe the soul and refresh the spirit. Here are some plants I like to plant in my own garden as well as recommend to others.
clematis_armandii4
Scented flowers are nature’s way of rewarding pollinators with nectar and people with smiles. One such plant blooming now is the vine, Evergreen clematis or clematis armandii.  Most books say it can thrive on occasional summer water, defined as every 10-14 days during the dry months, but I’ve seen established vines bloom in spots that receive no supplemental summer water at all. The vanilla fragrance of the creamy white, star-shaped flower clusters is fabulous, their heady scent filling the air. This vigorous, cold hardy, evergreen vine has foliage that emerges bronze colored and then matures to a glossy dark green. It’s a great choice for filling a large space.

We’ve had a little rain but I still think it’s a good idea to concentrate on plants that need only daphne_odora_Aureomarginataoccasional water during the summer months or drought tolerant species that can thrive with water 1x per month. A good plant choice that fits the bill is Variegated Winter Daphne. Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ is evergreen and wonderfully fragrant. This deer tolerant shrub is good looking year round and does well under the shade of small trees. Although many daphnes are tricky to grow, this one is adaptable and easy to please. During the summer water it as infrequently as the plant will allow. Little or no water in summer will reward you with clusters of fragrant purple flowers that start opening at this time of year.  Cut them to bring inside with hellebore and euphorbia for a pretty bouquet.

For May fragrant flowers try daphne burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’ which is also easy to grow and requires only occasional water as does daphne transatlantic ‘Summer ‘Ice’. Summer Ice produces sweetly scented flowers for an extraordinarily long time. Flowering begins in early April and can continue as late as November.

helleborusHelleborus is one tough plant. Also called Lenten Rose this extremely cold hardy, deer tolerant perennial blooms in the dead of winter. It looks especially good planted under winter and early spring flowering deciduous shrubs like witch hazel, viburnum, red or yellow twig dogwoods. Cut foliage to the ground in December so that flowers are displayed unobstructed.

Other drought tolerant plants in this family include the Corsican hellebore which is the largest of the hellebores. Creamy, pale green flowers float above leathery, evergreen foliage. This hellebore is tough and long lived if left undisturbed. It will grow in sun or shade and prefers a well drained or sandy soil but will tolerate clay if drainage is good. Once established it is fully drought tolerant.

Helleborus foetidus is also called Stinking hellebore but don’t let the name fool you. Only if you crush the leaves or stems do you get a strong chlorophyll smell which makes the plant unattractive to deer. The flowers last throughout the winter. This unique plant is the only plant discovered to date that uses yeast to produce heat.

Rounding out the short list of low water use, winter flowering plants are vine maple, berberis thunbergerii, euphorbia characias wulfenii, iris pallida, ribes sanguineum, huckleberry, forsythia, witchazel, azara microphylla,  western wild ginger and rosemary.

Chihuly Garden & Glass

Recently I visited a garden of glass and it was spectacular. At the base of the Space Needle in Seattle, the newly opened Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit is a marriage of garden and art like no other I've ever seen. To experience larger-than-life blown glass in vibrant rainbow colors nestled among trees and shrubs was magical. I was transported beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary.

You may have seen some Dale Chihuly glass art at the DeYoung Museum when it was displayed there several years ago. Some of the pieces were influenced by Pacific Northwest American Indian art, others reminiscent of plants and sea forms. In a PBS special currently airing called Chihuly Outside, I learned that his love of blown glass has evolved since 1995 from installations in glass houses in Europe and the U.S. to massive outside exhibits in Finland, Venice, Japan, Australia and Jerusalem. The Chihuly Gardens and Glass Exhibit in Seattle is his most ambitious project ever.

Soft winter sunlight backlit the glass art that seemed to sprout up from the earth. Evergreen magnolia trees, pines and weeping cedar formed a dark green backdrop for the vivid blue, red, yellow, orange, mauve and chartreuse blown glass. Coral Bark maples echoed the same shade of glass reeds and spears. Red Twig dogwood sported a stand of fiori or flower inspired glass. Cobalt glass spheres reflected the Space Needle nearby. Swaths of steel blue eryngium or sea holly were still blooming a bit complementing the ruby glass behind.

Seattle is cold in the winter with lots of rain (sound familiar?) so plants appropriate to the site and climate are a must. Lily-of-the-Valley shrubs provide year-round interest. Their burgundy flower buds hung in clusters ready to open in the spring. Mahonia, which are native to our area also, bloomed with spikes of yellow flowers attracting hummingbirds that over winter in the area. Helleborus or Lenten Rose held tight flower buds just waiting to open. Sasanqua camellias in pink, rose and white popped with color.

Lots of burgundy coral bells carpeted the ground in front of massive logs that looked like petrified wood. I had to check for myself. Mondo grass, epimedium, strawberry  begonia and Japanese Forest grass complemented more flower inspired glass art. Strolling the garden and looking at the glass from different angles as the changing light filtered through was awesome. Chihuly doesn't so much mimic nature as borrow inspiration from it. As with all art, it's in the eye of the beholder and I fell, hook, line and sinker under its spell.

This garden of glass reminds you of frog legs with webbed toes, anemones waving in the incoming tide, towers of tall ti plants. Harmonizing plants and art is the creation of designer Richard Hartlage. Conifers, evergreen grasses, small shrubs and ferns set off the brilliant glass art. A green roof can be seen from above,a green screen of evergreen clematis encloses one side and large crape myrtles provide beautiful winter bark that blends with the lavender and burgundy glass sculptures.

A visit to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit in Seattle was a day spent with light and glass and the plants that make them sparkle. I hoping to see this garden next July when the asters and rhododendrons are in bloom. Even in the quiet months of winter it was spectacular.
 

Gift Plants for your Christmas List

I've barely finished eating leftover turkey a dozen different ways and already I find myself thinking of all things Christmas. I know I should relish Thanksgiving longer and not rush it but I can't help myself. I'm basically just a big kid at heart and there are so many fun gifts that come from the garden. Most of the people on my Christmas list live far from from here so I'm not giving anything away by sharing some of my gift ideas.

My Aunt Ruth is quite the gardener. I enjoy flowers of every kind whenever I visit her. There is always something in bloom.  She loves her neighbors who stop, talk and admire her landscape as she prunes or weeds. I'm going to give her a winter flowering camellia to spice things up at this time of year. Chansonette camellia hiemalis, a variety often classified with sasanquas will get heads turning. This easy to grow shrub is one of the most popular camellias for good reason. Rich pink, double flowers standout against the dark green foliage.  Spreading 6' tall and 8' wide this vigorous shrub is perfect to espalier on a trellis against a wall. They actually prefer winter sun and can tolerate more sun year round than other types of camellias. The beautiful flowers last a long time and will make my Aunt Ruth's garden the talk of the neighborhood.

My Aunt Rosemary lives in Concord in the Bay Area where it gets hot in the summer. The border around her patio would be perfect for a tea tree as it blooms for a long time and requires little or no water when established. They are called tea tree because Capt. Cook brewed a tea from the leaves and gave it to his crew to prevent scurvy. Just in case deer jump her fence they won't devour its needlelike leaves leaving her to enjoy the small showy flowers from winter until very late spring. I especially like the double white flowers on the variety Snow White as they really pop when combined with stronger colors.

My Aunt Alba especially likes fragrant flowers. In her garden she grows roses, gardenias, lilacs, sweet peas and pinks to name just a few. Fragrant Star erysimum would make the perfect addition to her perennial border. It blooms from spring until early fall with bright lemon yellow highly scented flowers. Radiant, variegated green and yellow foliage will stand out among her other flowers. As a bonus they are butterfly magnets. I've seen swallowtails visit this plants again and again on a sunny afternoon.

For those on my Christmas list that love California natives a Common Snowberry would make a great addition to their woodland garden or in the dry shade under oak trees. Seldom troubled by pests this small shrub can be used to control erosion and is deer resistant. Beautiful ornamental white fruits cover the plant at this time of year and are valued by varied thrush, robins and quail.

Creeping snowberry is similar and makes an excellent groundcover. Few shrubs work as well as creeping snowberry when situated under the dense canopy of a coast live oak. When combined with Hummingbird sage, Fuchsia Flowering gooseberry and coffeeberry they create  a woodland garden that provides nesting cover for birds as well as protective shelter for other wildlife.

I'm also working on some garden and nature inspired crafts but if I tell you I'd have to…well, you know.

Magnolia soulangeana or Saucer Magnolia

I went to see a million daffodils  but I was too early. Filoli Gardens in Woodside has suffered from lack of rainfall like the rest of us and the daffodils know it. The treat I got instead was a massive display of Saucer Magnolias that scented the warm air with a sweet, lemony fragrance.  This tree loses its leaves in winter and even in the summer, the large green leaves are not very showy. But come late winter and kaboom you see them everywhere totally covered with huge, spectacular flowers. A tree in full bloom with a carpet of petals underneath can beckon us to stay a while.

Magnolias are native to China and has been cultivated in Chinese Buddhist temple gardens since 600 AD. Saucer magnolias or magnolia soulangeana were initially bred by French horticulturist, Etienne Soulange-Bodin, in 1820 at his chateau near Paris. Crossing two types of magnolia both with impressive flowers themselves, his new tree produced in 1826 the spectacular flowers we know today. From France, the hybrid quickly entered cultivation in England and other parts of Europe and also came to the shores of North America.  Over a hundred names varieties are now known.

Magnolias, once established, are easy to grow. They are naturally adapted to areas with cool, moist winter conditions like ours.  If you have a lawn they make a good specimen tree and do well in very large containers. The roots are shallow and don't like to be disturbed once they are established so make sure you pick a good spot to plant them, a place in the garden where they can show off their spreading branch structure. If planted in a lawn  leave a grass-free area bare under the canopy as the fleshy roots can be damaged from constant foot traffic. Most varieties grow about 20-25 ft tall and as wide. Here are some of my favorites.

Of the many cultivars that are commonly seen, I'm always drawn to Alexandrina. Large, tulip-shaped flowers are deep rosy-purple with dark veins outside and white inside. Rustica Rubra is another stunner with deep reddish-purple cup-shaped flowers. The variety we call simply Saucer magnolia is beautiful, too. Planted in a woodland or Asian style garden it's white blooms, pink on the outside, are fragrant like all of the varieties.  Gamble Garden, in Palo Alto, has a beautiful Vulcan variety blooming in their woodland garden. Above the blooming hellebores, their ruby-red flowers completely covered this spreading mature specimen. At 10-12" across, the showy flowers glowed in the late afternoon sun.

Star magnolias or magnolia stellata also make a fine addition to the garden. Much smaller than its cousin this mounding shrubby plant grows only 10-15 ft tall but much wider. Often it is pruned like a small tree to show off the early profusion of striking flowers in white, pink or rose. Star magnolias are valued for their small scale in woodland gardens and are especially beautiful if you can enjoy the early flowering from inside the house.

Deciduous magnolias along with flowering plums are among the earliest showy trees to herald in the new season. Valuable for both their stunning flowers and also their sweet scent they make the late winter garden come alive.
 

Flowers, Edibles and Camellias

Every year the stirrings of early spring excite me. There's even a name for it – spring fever. There are lots of early season plants that can go in right now or you can spend some time planning for later additions to your garden. Both are great ways to kick-start this gardening season.

An article in this month's Sunset magazine talks about the "5- Mile Bouquet". How about a 50-foot bouquet using flowers from your own garden? There are flowers we can grow in every season around here. Who wants to put flowers doused in chemicals and shipped halfway across the world on the table? Plan to use your entire property as a cutting garden. You can have fresh little bouquets year round from your own backyard.

Winter flowering, fragrant sweet peas could be in your vase right now or bright orange and gold calendula. Stock blooms during the winter along with early narcissus. Both are very fragrant. Deer-resistant Sweet Violets are blooming now and smell wonderful in a tiny vase by the kitchen window. Anemone and snapdragons make good cut flowers and will be blooming soon. It's easy to plan ahead for a spring or summer bouquet because there are so many choices but make sure you have aster, scabiosa and gaillardia for those fall arrangements.

This year plan the edible garden around what grows best for you. It's not always cost effective to devote space in your vegetable plot for something that peaks at the same time as it's plentiful at the local farmers market. What makes sense for your taste, time and garden space? Easy to grow edibles like strawberries, blueberries, herbs, lettuces, arugula and peas are delicious freshly picked and don't take up too much room in the garden.

There are ways to make your whole landscaping edible. Fruits, vegetables and herbs can be intermingled with the ornamental shrubs and flowers in the yard. Plant an apple where a crape myrtle was going to go or an artichoke instead of a New Zealand flax. A border of parsley or chives around the flower bed would look and taste great. Or maybe French pole beans to grow up a bamboo arbor you tied together yourself. Take advantage of your entire property to incorporate your favorite edibles.

Now is a good time to pick out a camellia for that morning sun or shady spot that needs a shrub with year round good looks. Looking at pictures of camellia flowers in a catalog is nice but seeing them in person is even better. What better way to choose the perfect one? If you're partial to vivid flowers, Nuccio's Bella Rossa is right up your alley. An abundance of huge formal, crimson red blooms open slowly over a long period for an especially long bloom season. This brilliant camellia is believed to bring wealth if planted at the entrance to your home as are other red flowering plants.

A great camellia to espalier on a trellis is a sasanqua variety called Fairy Blush. Deep pink buds open to apple blossom tinted blooms with a sweet fragrance. Growing to a compact 4-5 feet this plant is perfect for a small courtyard or patio.

Then there's the soft blush-pink, semi-double flowers of Magnoliaeflora that can be the prized plant of the winter garden. It's deer resistant and the showy flowers are good for cutting. It would make a great privacy screen and looks natural in the woodland garden.

 requiring a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system. Provide well drained soil, rich in organic matter. Feed with an acid fertilizer after bloom. Keep roots cool with a thick layer of mulch and prune them in spring after flowering.