Plants have several different ways to adapt to heat and drought. A coating of white hairs on their leaves reflects sunlight to reduce evaporation and help conserve the water lost during photosynthesis. This gives the plants an appearance that ranges from pure white to silver or grey and in some cases their foliage is even more ornamental than their flowers.

As I mentioned yesterday I lost my silver leaved Athanasia pinnata but other silver plants in my garden have faired much better.

Calocephalus brownii (syn Leucophyta brownii) looks like it is made of some sort of futuristic white plastic. It is the perfect foil for plants like Santolina and lavenders and so far has been almost care free in my garden.  It can get a bit scraggly as it ages though so may need cutting back this winter.

Verbascum bombyciferum is showing no signs that it is going to bloom this year but just look at these felty, white, architectural leaves!  I almost don’t want it to bloom even though the tall spires of yellow flowers are magnificent too.

Claire Woods from Annie’s Annuals describes the Lupinus pilosus as “heartbreakingly beautiful”.  With a description like that I just had to have one so I put it on my wish list and ordered it the moment it became available. The first deep blue flower is just opening but the fuzzy silver leaves are lovely too. Hopefully I’ll be able to collect some seed.

Plecostachys serpyllifolia may not be the flashiest plant but it is a nice mounding silver ground cover for a dry garden. It seems like it would make a really nice container plant too.

Maireana sedifolia has really juicy silver leaves.  They are a bit unnatural looking.  Long lasting in a vase so could make a really unusual accent for cut flowers.

Santolina chamaecyparisis ‘Nana’ is one of several Santolina species in my garden. It will eventually have deep yellow flowers but it is a nice foliage plant too.

Helichrysum thianschanicum has leaves that are almost pure white. I’m kind of curious about the flowers.  If they are cute I will let it bloom but if not I’ll cut it way back.

Berkheya purpurea is getting ready to bloom!  The spines on its leaves are rather unpleasant to work with but help contribute to its unusual appearance.

What do you all do with your Salvia argentea?  Do you let them bloom?  Cut them back right as the last flowers fade or before they even start to open? Or just let them go to seed in the hopes that you will get babies next year?  I just cut back one that flowered.  Kind of wondering if it will survive.

Craspedia globosa is one of those plants that never looks that great in nursery containers.  Even at wholesale prices I just wasn’t willing to spend money on gallon plants that are so ugly.  Luckily it is available here in six packs at a few retail nurseries.  At three bucks for a six pack that works out to fifty cents a plant. You can’t go wrong for that sort of price!  They sulked quite a bit and needed almost daily watering while they were getting established but now they seem to be settled.  I can’t wait for the little yellow globe flowers. If only the foliage always looked as nice as this one is looking at the moment.

Sideritis cypria looks a bit like an upright lambs ears until it starts to bloom.  Just look at those beautiful fluorescent green bracts.

I’ve added a few succulents to the large mixed border, including this Dudleya pulverulenta, a California native. Instead of white hairs it is covered with chalky white wax.

Even though the flowers are spent on this Lavandula stoechas ‘Silver Anouk’ the silver foliage continues to be an attractive feature.

Teucrium ackermanii is supposed to be a bit tricky because it needs perfect drainage.  That is pretty easy to provide in my sandy soil so hopefully it will thrive here.

I’ve mentioned before that Artemisias are new to me. I never had luck with them in the heat and humidity of the east coast.  So far I am pretty impressed with all five of the varieties I am trying out in my garden.  The one above is Artemisia frigida. I could cut back these feathery flowering wands but they look pretty cool right now so I’ll leave them unless they start to look ratty.

Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ is very robust.  Quickly reaching two feet across from a four inch pot.

I think Artemisia versicolor ‘Sea Foam’ is my favorite. Look at the beautiful pale purple and mint green tints to the feathery silver leaves.

I’ve been warned that Artemisia ludoviciana ‘Valerie Finnis’ is a bit of a thug.  It is already showing signs of this with several runners forming around the base of the plant. A very attractive plant though so I think I will put up with it for now. It can’t get into too much trouble in the spot where I have it.

The last time I posted a picture of Artemisia pycnocephala ‘David’s Choice’ I mentioned how weird looking the flowers are.  I snipped them all off and am left with this cute little silvery mound.

Believe it or not under all those flowers Tanacetum niveum has beautiful silvery foliage.  I am a sucker for any kind of daisy flower so I am loving this impressive mound three feet across.

Lotus berthelotii is not as drought tolerant as you might be lead to believe with its somewhat succulent looking silver foliage.  At least until it is established it seems to want fairly rich soil and regular water. I have some in worse soil but they are not exactly thriving and if they dry out they look particularly sad. But they make a great container plant or ground cover.  We used some in a Morro Bay garden where they are on drip and receive regular water and they are gorgeous.

So what are your favorite silver leaved plants? Am I missing any that are “must haves”?  Let  me know in the comments section below.

Not So Immortal After All

The word athanasia means immortal so it is rather ironic that my Athanasia pinnata dropped dead when all the plants around it are thriving.

This is one of my great disappointments in the mediterranean bed as this plant was meant to be a large, bold, centrally located specimen.  Closely related Hymenolepis parviflora is thriving but Hymenolepis does not have the wonderful silvery foliage that Athanasia has.

Sometimes plants just fail despite out best efforts to keep them happy and there is nothing you can do about it.  I’ll probably try again in the fall if I can get ahold of another one.

This is why we can’t have nice things…

I’ve had a little Hoodia gordonii for a few years and I’m never quite sure if I am giving it what it wants.  Shortly after bringing it home it turned sort of white. I thought for sure it was dead and then last year a little green offset grew.  Which also eventually turned sort of white.

Yesterday I was potting up some seedlings and as I walked toward the backyard I startled a flock of band-tailed pigeons.  As they took to the air I heard a crash and discovered the little Hoodia had been knocked over.

On the plus side now that it is knocked out of its pot I can see that it has some new growth forming.  I potted it up into a slightly bigger pot and moved all the succulents off the top shelf where apparently the pigeons like to roost. I’m not sure if it is exactly thriving but at least it is alive.

And here is one of the culprits at my ground feeder.  As far as I am concerned band-tailed pigeons are only one step better than regular city pigeons which are only one step better than rats. They are similar to mourning doves but nearly twice as big and dark grey with a green and white band around their neck.  I try to love all the birds equally but these guys are kind of annoying.  They usually come in a big flock of a dozen birds and when they get frightened (which is all the time) they take off at once and their big beating wings sound like a jet engine.  Not only do they greedily pig out on the ground feeder but they are incredibly agile and I have seen as many as three of them at once clinging to my little hanging bird feeder. But I guess you have to take the good with the bad. If I want to attract the quails I have to put up with these big clumsy creatures that knock over little clay pots.


A lot of succulents and cacti have yellow flowers which don’t particularly excite me.  So I am always on the lookout for species or cultivars with red or orange or purple flowers.  One cactus genus I have admired in photographs is Rebutia which tends to have bright red or orange blooms so over the years I picked up a few.

What a disappointment my supposed Rebutia deminuta turned out to be. Instead of the red flowers I was promised they were a rather insipid white.  Either a white form or a mislabeled plant but a big disappointment either way. This year my Rebutia sanguinea bloomed and I am thrilled that it is the real deal!

Cacti are one of those worrisome plant families with a dormant period. In winter they are more than happy to take a break and any watering could lead to rot.  This is a problem for California gardeners growing their plants outside as we tend to have a lot of cold rainy days in winter.  I was told that the plants could be overwintered in a dark garage which I have to  admit sounded a bit daft to me. But since I now am living in a house with a garage I decided to throw caution to the wind and when I moved in this past December my cactus collection when right into the garage where I promptly forgot about them until late April.

Seems to have done the trick as this is the first time this plant has bloomed for me and the rest of my plants look unharmed as well. I think I may need to start expanding my cactus collection a bit.

The Ugly Phase

There comes a time in a young gardens life when it goes through an ugly phase.  Usually in late spring or early summer you can tell what worked and what didn’t and the “what didn’ts” can be a bit disheartening. Something part of your design might not work or you may have a string of plant deaths that make you question whether you really know what the hell you are doing. Maybe you actually have one of those black thumbs that none gardeners are always talking about.

There have definitely been some disappointments in my garden. I usually notice them when I am crawling around the garden grouchily pulling out the stupid kikuyu grass that keeps coming back. Some perennials are growing slower than I thought they would, of course there are plants that I was really excited about that dropped dead for no discernible reason even though everything around them is thriving, entire areas where I added that new soil are dying or not thriving (I should have added compost instead of just planting mix – that can always be fixed), and of course a few plants that are new to me aren’t quite as impressive as I thought they would be or didn’t bloom as long as I thought they would.

Before you let your failures get you down it is important to step back and look at the garden as a whole to see what did work and make notes about what can be improved for next year.  The garden as a whole doesn’t look so bad.

Looks nice enough from a distance, right? In the medit garden the Santolinas are blooming, and the Gaura and Nepeta have been pretty successful. I absolutely love the silvery white Calocephalus and the Salvia ‘Aromas’ has been pretty awesome. The California poppies were amazing and I have cut most of them back all the way to the ground in the hopes that they will leaf out again this fall and come back even stronger next year.

The new annuals to the left of the mailbox are filling in and I think they will be really nice when they bloom.

Next year the garden will be even better!  But I think it is off to a good start (just don’t look too close).


Well this is unexpected.

I was out checking on my seedlings this morning and another mesemb seedling has a bud.

This is a Stomatium alboroseum and it is only six and a half months old. The seed was sown 1/1/12 right after I moved into my new place.  I had no idea they could reach blooming size so quickly. The seedling flat is in full sun all day and the plants are all in little two-inch pots so they are watered almost ever day.

Pretty neat huh? I’m not sure if the flower will open today as it is pretty foggy but I’ll try to get a photo when the bloom opens instead of just in bud.