Cool (Native) Plant(s) of the Week!

For this weeks Cool Plant of the Week post I bring you my two favorite California native annuals this year.  One of the reasons I wanted to plant a lot of true annuals in my garden was for instant gratification.  New perennials can take a year or more to really fill in and bloom spectacularly so having plants that grow to full size and bloom in just a few short months can help fill in the gaps.  Despite the weather not being particularly good early on the annual garden worked out beautifully.  I loved all my California native annuals but two in particular stood out.

This first star is Lupinus succulentus.  It’s flowers are not as big and dramatic as typical lupine hybrids but it was a wonderful plant all the same.  Its little two toned purple spikes of bloom just keep going and going.

I liked this plant so much I wish I had bought more.  Just one was a nice show but next year I think I’ll try three in the same spot.  I’m leaving the seed pods on in the hope that it will self sow. Hopefully closer to the path so I can reach it easily to squeeze its juicy succulent foliage.

The second cool plant of the week is Layia platyglossa (aka tidy tips).

They are found in almost every county in California.  The first time I saw them was in huge fields north of Glass Beach in Fort Bragg.

They were by far the largest and showiest of the native annuals I tried this year. They started blooming a bit later so while the others are winding down (I have already started pulling out the baby blue eyes and cream cups) these are still going strong.

Gophers 1 – Me 2

Just in case any east coasters are wondering what gopher damage looks like:

I looked out the window the other day and saw this Lupinus cruickshankii laying on its side with a big piled up hill of soil beneath it and I knew it was toast.  Further investigation confirmed that the roots were simply gone.  Dragged off into gopher hell to be devoured.  I hadn’t bothered caging this annual lupin. I could see the gopher tunnel lead straight to a Nicotiana mutabilis nearby that is just starting to flower.  Luckily I did cage that plant so when the gopher couldn’t get to the roots it surfaced under the plant, snapped off a low branch, but then left in confusion.

I wasted no time in setting a trap where my lupin used to be.  I read recently that after you set the trap you should cover the hole with a pot or a tarp so it is dark or the gopher may fill the hole up and push out the trap without setting this.  This happened several times with the first gopher I caught and I didn’t want to waste any more time since this guy was so close to other uncaged and newly blooming annuals.  So after setting the Macabee trap I covered it up with a five gallon plastic pot.  Fifteen minutes later the gopher was caught in the trap.

Alas it was still alive.  Ack!  This is a horror I knew I would have to deal with some day I just was hoping it wouldn’t be so soon.  The gopher was doomed and I didn’t want it to suffer any more than it already had so I had to just get a grip and finish him off as quickly and humanely as possible. I’m proud of myself for being able to do it (after walking around in circles for a few minutes wringing my hands and crying out “Why!?  Why!?”). For all the animal lovers who might take offense I posted that picture of my half devoured lupin above to help you understand why I was driven to this act of violence.  I think most gardeners will understand.

This is my second gopher caught and first plant casualty.  Maybe I should keep a running tab on the site.

Building My Garden Part 5 – Flower Gardens

Sorry it has taken me so long to share this part of the garden.  I actually debated waiting even longer because, to be honest, the garden still doesn’t look like much in photographs.  The plants are small (most of the plants were 4″ pots or gallons), I still haven’t mulched, and there isn’t too much in bloom yet. There are also a lot of finishing touches I need to apply to make the garden look like it was done by a professional.  But then I figured it would be more rewarding when the garden is all full and nice to have shared the garden at this infantile stage.

So everyone remembers the before picture from December right?  That was right after I moved in. Yuck. Look at all that stupid lawn.

This is the garden five weeks ago as I was laying out the initial plants.  To be honest I didn’t really have time to do a design for this garden.  Not the best way for a supposed garden designer to create his own garden but I suspect it is common.  I really wanted to get the plants in quickly to take advantage of winter rains (Ha!).  Especially since I planted a lot of native annuals.   So the design was a bit random. The way I normally work is to pick a few specimen plants and build a garden around them but it didn’t really pan out in my own garden.

Above is a shot of the entire garden last week.  The mediterranean garden is on the right and was the first garden I installed (though I keep adding to it and am going to enlarge the two beds next week). Between the two houses in the fenced area in front of the lawn there is a long bed that is going to be a shrub border.  That is currently still in limbo because I decided to remove part of the lawn behind the fence so the shrub border can be expanded.  That is also where I had my gopher problem so one of the reasons I am doing this is to get rid of all the yellow lawn daisies that the gophers seem to love.  When that project is finished the only lawn remaining will be above the septic field in the back. Anyway you can see the shrubs in their big pots waiting patiently to be planted.

The gardens to the left of the mailbox is what we will be talking about today.

Here is the garden today. First up is the “Big Border”.  The long bed between my driveway and the “Path Garden”.  It measures Forty feet long by nineteen feet wide and is made up of two berms with a little valley in the center.

The large plant anchors that I tried to build the  beds around are a Grevillea rhyolitica in the front and a Cantua buxifolia in the back portion. I said tried because I really didn’t shape the design around those plants and instead it is more of a cottage garden look (at least it will be when the plants fill in). The house faces north so the portion closest to the house will be shadier most of the year. That will have a separate drip system so I can include more moisture loving shade plants. Toward the street I think I will eventually shift that part of the garden to include more mediterranean themed, drought tolerant  plants.

The beds on the right are divided by a path that leads to the shrub border and mediterranean garden.  The back bed around the palm is shadier so is made up of several species and cultivars of Fuchsia and Cuphea.  I decided to do a bit of a color themed garden here and so that is the “Red, Orange, Purple Garden”.  Since that bed is most visible from my large living room window I thought it would be fun to have a garden that attract hummingbirds right in front of it.

The front bed I am currently calling the “Chaos Garden”.  Even more so than the other beds this one has no theme or strong anchors.  It was basically the bed where I threw all the leftover plants. More than half of it is California native annuals so this bed will probably dramatically change later in the season. It will likely just become part of the mediterranean garden.

By the way the “Path Garden” is filling in nicely.  Aside from one Dianthus that suddenly dropped dead the other day the rest of the plants are blooming quite a big and slowly creeping outward. The Chamomile in the front smells divine.

So there you have it.  Now you’ve seen the flower garden in early stages.  There is nowhere to go but up. If all goes well I will put in irrigation, mulch, and add some finishing touches (gravel and mulch for paths, more rocks to cover and pretty up the drainage ditches, shrub border finished) in the next few weeks.

Now a few of the plants that are in bloom and my thoughts on them.

Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’

I grew this back east and found it to be short lived and Gabe said it is the same here.  So I probably won’t use it in clients gardens unless they are OK with something that may potentially act as an annual.  They are very impressive though and will hopefully self sow. They are in the front of the “Red, Orange, Purple Garden”.

Cuphea ‘Strybing Sunset’

I have five different varieties of Cuphea because I think they are adorable and they bloom pretty much year round.  This one is in the back of the “Red, Orange, Purple Garden”.

Cuphea cyanea

This Cuphea is so cute I want to eat its little face. It is in the back of the “Big Border”.

Fuchsia splendens

This is kind of a weird Fuchsia.  The flowers are sort of waxy and lumpy.  Strange thing.  It is sort of salmon which counts as orange or red as far as I am concerned so it is living in the “Red, Orange, Purple Garden”.

Uncinea uncinata ‘Rubra’

This was not a plant I had any intention of buying until I saw it in person.  At Annie’s Annuals at about a hundred feet away I saw something glowing, beckoning to me, it was lit up from within and said “Come close so I can jump in your cart”.  Of course you know which bed it is in without me telling you.

Eupatorium sordidum (syn Ageratum corymbosum)

This guy is like a really sturdy Ageratum and is at the back of the Big Border in the shade.  Supposed to get three feet across which is really exciting.

Lupinus hartwegii ssp. cruickshankii – sunrise lupine

I’m having a little love affair with lupines.  They are one of the first plants I grew from seed in my first New Jersey garden and there are so many delightful species that grow well in California.  So I sort of want all of them.  I think I currently have six different types growing in the garden.  I have three of this annual species growing in the “Big Border”.

Lupinus albifrons – silver bush lupine

This one is from Annie’s.  It should become a fairly large woody stemmed shrub with very low water needs. It is so tiny now I wasn’t sure I should even let it flower but I will deadhead it before it sets seed so it can put more energy into growing big and strong.

Lupinus succulentus – arroyo lupine

This is another annual from Annie’s.  The leaves really are quite succulent and juicy. I kind  of wish I had bought a few more of them so I could have planted them in a group because the annuals around it aren’t really filling in as much as I thought they would.  I also wish I had planted it closer to the path so I could easily squish its leaves. Hopefully it will self sow.

Ursinia anthemoides ‘Solar Fire’

A great South African annual from Annie’s. I bought these because I love them but didn’t really have a place in mind for them and somehow they were left over and forgotten at the end. In retrospect they would have been great for the “Red, Orange, Purple Garden” but I sort of randomly stuck them here and there at the front of the “Big Border”.  Perhaps not my best design choice as they are far ahead of the other annuals there but at least they are pretty.

Nemophila menziesii – baby blue eyes

In the future I’ll plant these earlier (beginning of February instead of the end of February) and I’ll plant them closer together.  I tried to be really good about spacing things appropriately but I think in the case of annuals smooshing them together a bit just looks way cooler.  I’m hoping these will keep growing a bit bigger even though they are all in full bloom already because some of them are really doinky. They are currently planted across the front of the “Big Border” and the “Chaos Garden”.

Heliophila longifolia

South Africa has the best annuals.  This has been a favorite since I first saw them in Mendocino and those were stunted plants that were in their nursery pots for way too long.  If you plant them at the appropriate time of year they became large plants covered in wands of these cheerful little tricolor flowers.  These are in the “Red, Orange, Purple Garden” just because I reserve the right to plant whatever I want wherever I want even if it doesn’t fit into the prescribed theme.  They look really nice with Geum Maggelanicum and Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’.

Anyway that is it for now.  Hopefully in a few months there will be so much blooming you won’t even recognize these beds.  Next installment should be the shrub border but who knows when I will get around to finishing it.

You know as I am tagging this post it occurs to me that “Red, Orange, Purple Garden” is a monumentally stupid name for a garden.  From this point on it will be known as the “Hummingbird Garden”.

Road Trip to Annie’s!

It was time to take a road trip to the Bay Area this weekend so I could stock up on plants from Annie’s Annuals for my garden.  I decided to take the scenic route up Route 1.

I stopped at Ragged Point and took a bunch of pictures of this hummingbird zipping around the Echium candicans.  Even though there are several species of hummingbird in California I always assume they are Anna’s hummingbirds I am seeing because I believe they are the most common year round residents.

They are fast little buggers but I got a couple of decent pictures.  Pretty sure this is the same guy but the red around their throat is only visible when the light hits it from a certain angle.

I pulled over to take a picture of this huge lupin.

Aside from lupins there were Oxalis, Ceanothus, mustard, and California poppies in bloom along the coast.  On my way back I took the interior roads and there were tons of almonds, cherries, and plums in bloom.  It will always be a bit strange to me that fruit trees bloom in the middle of winter here in California instead of in early spring on the east coast.

Since it was a Sunday I didn’t make too many stops because there were a lot of cars on the road and most of the parking lots were full. So I skipped the elephant seals and Nepenthe.  I did stop at the vista point to take a picture of Big Creek Bridge.  It was a beautiful clear winter day.

wooly Indian paintbrush

I believe this is Castilleja foliolosa but I’m not an expert on them.  I do know that they are hemiparasitic (derive some of their sustenance from the roots of other plants) which is why you don’t see them for sale as a garden plant.

So happy!  Every time I drive up the California coast I feel very lucky to be living here.

The waves were insane!  I tried to get a picture of some of the big ones but of course they wouldn’t cooperate.  The huge waves were shy and only came out when I put my camera away.

I spent Sunday night in Berkeley and woke up bright and early Monday morning and headed to Annie’s for a full day of shopping.

I made a beeline for this Athanasia pinnata.  I think it will make a really nice specimen planting in my mediterranean garden so of course I had to have one.

Megan from Far Out Flora (one of my favorite garden blogs) works at Annie’s so I let her know I was coming so I could say hey.

I had a long day ahead of me.  I was there for a total of 5 hours.  Even though I came prepared with a list and Annie’s is very well organized I always end up running around in circles like a fool.  Everyone that congratulated me for being a grown up and not buying that Globularia a few weeks ago can go ahead and revoke my adult status.  Things I didn’t plan on buying were literally leaping into my cart when I wasn’t looking.  To be fair it is a four hour trip so I need to stock up. And there is no other nursery in the world like Annie’s Annuals (and Perennials).  The type of plants they grow are the exact sort of plants that I am in love with.  It was a beautiful overcast day for taking pictures but of course it is February so the display gardens are not at their bloomiest best.  There are always display plants in containers in bloom though so I did take the time to snap a few pictures.

Platystemon californicus – cream cups

Nemophila menziesii ‘Penny Black’

Lupinus succulentus – arroyo lupine and Gilia tricolor 

Nemophila menziesii – baby blue eyes

Alonsoa meridionalis ‘Apricot’

I set a new record for amount of the amount of plants I can fit in my VW Golf!  Twelve and a half flats.  That is TWO HUNDRED four inch pots!

I purposely traveled light so I would be able to stuff plants in every available spot. I had added so many extra plants I was afraid I was going to have to balance a few on my head but as it turns out two hundred is pretty much the exact amount of plants that will fit in my car without resorting to heroic measures.

They all made it home with me safe and sound.  I spent all of today placing and planting and I have a lot more planting to do tomorrow.  My spring garden is going to be out of control!  Thanks Annie’s Annuals!


Visit to Montana de Oro

I went to Montana de Oro again the other day to see if any wildflowers were blooming yet and to enjoy the ocean and bay views.  I am a bit clueless when it comes to California coast wildflowers. I usually know the general genus but even after pouring over the Calflora website I am stumped on specific species.   So feel free to let me know what some of these are.

These huge silver lupine shrubs are very common here.  But which species is it?  What color will the flowers be?

Lots of Arctostaphylos covered in buzzing bees.  Not sure exactly which species.

These architectural beauties are very common but I am afraid I don’t even know the genus.  Very fine Artemisia like foliage and fuzzy little seed heads.  There are usually lots of bare braches showing like this specimen. What is it? It must be something that every native Californian learns as a child but I’m an east coast expat.

I know what this one is.  Sadly it is not native but an invasive from South Africa.  Conicosia pugioniformis or false iceplant.  Even though they are listed as an invasive they don’t seem quite as insidious as Carpobrotus but maybe I just haven’t seen them in the right place yet.  There are quite a few of these about though.  At least they are prettier than Carpobrotus.

I am pretty certain this is a Dudleya.  But which one?  D. casepitosa perhaps?

Just like the Arctostaphylos these Ceanothus are covered in happy buzzing bees.  Don’t know the exact species on this one either.

Yay! An easy one.  This is Abronia latifolia or yellow sand verbena.

There is also a purplish pink variety.  Abronia umbellata or purple sand verbena.

Horses are pretty common on the dunes and on the beach.

This yellow flowered plant was driving me crazy. I feel like I should know what it is but I can’t even figure ou the genus.  The flowers are small and kind of delicate and papery looking.

Finally an easy one.  I believe this is Mimulus aurantiacus.

I need to get a book on coastal wildflowers.

Plants I NEED

Christmas seems like a good day to set up a wish list for plants that I need to grow someday.  Either in my new garden (I’m moving on Friday!) or a future garden or just a wish list of amazing plants that I would love to grow.

I’ll probably try to do this as a long running series and hope to fill it with new plants I learn about or just plants that I love.

The first is Crotalaria agatiflora. I spotted this Chartreuse beauty at the Kula Botanical Garden on Maui (well worth a visit if you are ever in Maui). Both Annie's and San Marcos Growers have sold this plant in the past and no longer do. I don't know if that means it is difficult to grow or just not very garden worthy but I want one. I NEED one!

Sticking with a Chartreuse flower theme for a moment the next plant on my list is Puya chilensis. This is a plant I first learned about from one of my gardening mentors, Lily Ricardi, at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden. The only one I saw at that time was already finished blooming but I never forgot Lily's description of the vivid green blooms. Remember when I went to England last May but then didn't share many pictures with you because I suck at blogging? Well I'll try to remedy that with future blog posts and this is the first of them. I was very excited when I visited St. Michael's Mount near Penzance and got to see this impressive specimen in full bloom. I had seen photos of course but nothing beats seeing a plant in real life. I'm not sure if I will grow this in my new garden as it a huge plant (this one must have been at least 20 feet across) and is rather prickly (it is believed that Puya's may be carnivorous because animals get trapped inside the prickly tangle of leaves) but it is on my "some day" list.

This plant was so big that this was the closest I could get to capturing a photo of the blooms.

And now for something a little less rare but still spectacular. I grew Lupins in my first garden in the mountains (OK hills) of northern New Jersey. There is something about the way the leaves push up out of the soil in late winter and early spring that is magical. They look like dewy green fingers. And then the flowers are these wonderful phallic spires of pillowy bi-colored pea flowers! My first plants were all seed grown Russel Hybrids so it was always exciting to see what interesting color and bi-color combinations you would get. Once my garden moved to my father's place I could no longer grow them as they prefer cooler summers, but California has many native Lupines, and the cool climate of Los Osos should be perfect for them. This picture was taken at Hidcote where they had an entire border filled with Lupins.

Isoplexis is a foxglove relative endemic to the Canary Islands and Madeira. They are very common growing under glass in English gardens but in coastal California they should be quite happy growing in the yard. This one was growing in the glasshouse at Hidcote.

The spectacular spiral leaved Aloe polyphylla, coveted by many, but tricky to grow. It grows at a high altitude in its home in South Africa so doesn't do well with heat and humidity. Luckily the central coast of California seems to have the perfect growing conditions and it is quite common there. I have even seen a row of them planted in a hell strip in San Luis Obispo!

Quite by accident the next plant I chose was another with the polyphyll specific epithet (it means "many leaves"). This one is Tropaeolum polyphyllum. Regular garden Tropaeolum or Nasturtium has escaped into the wild and is a fairly common weed here in California but there are also many unusual species in the genus. Many of them are tuberous or climbers and most are somewhat tricky to grow (especially compared to Nasturtiums). I feel like the cool coastal climate may be just what they want so I am going to give a few of them a try. This tuberous blue leaved beauty was growing at Beth Chatto's garden.

As I have said in earlier posts I am eager to learn more about the Protea family and definitely want to grow some in my new garden. But there are so many. Which ones should I grow? I don't even know where to start! Luckily I saw this beauty while driving in Maui and stopped to take some pictures. It is Leucospermum reflexum. This impressive silver leaved bush is growing along the road that leads to Haleakala Crater and the Kula Botanical Garden so I'm sure I'm not the only person who has stopped to take pictures.

The flowers of Leucospermum reflexum start out with the usual pincushiony greatness! I think this one looks like a phoenix.

Then the petals all bend back on themselves and the look changes to a fiery shuttlecock. Very cool. I NEED one.

The last plant on my list today is one I am not likely to ever grow but I was just excited I got to see them in person. It is the Haleakalā silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense subsp. macrocephalum) a rare and endangered plant endemic to Maui (two other endangered species of silversword grow on the big island of Hawaii). All the ones I saw were basically planted in the parking lots at the top of Haleakala Crater. It was so cold, foggy, and rainy that we didn't go hiking about looking for them out in the wild (in fact my father and brother stayed in the car when I got out to photograph these). On a nice day the views from the top of the crater must be spectacular but all we could see was a wall of grey. But it was worth the cold, and rain, and my father crying in the back seat, as we drove up the crazy 18 mile windy road to the summit 10,000 feet above sea level (he is terrified of heights and complained the entire time that he had not given informed consent when he agreed to take the trip with us to the top).

Sadly the flowers were all finished on this silversword (they are purple!). But the spent inflorescence is still cool. The plants can live up to 50 years but they are monocarpic. Once they bloom and set seed they die. So this guy won't be around much longer.

That’s it for this installment of Plants I NEED.  Have a Merry Christmas everyone!