Plants I Need Part 2

We’ll call this one the Botanical Garden Edition as I took most of these photos at the various botanical gardens I worked and studied at over the years.  Some of these plants I have waited ten years to grow and now I finally can.  I just have to find them.

This first plant caused quite a sensation at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden when I was an intern there in 2003. This amazing specimen was right at the entrance to the perennial garden and no one could go past it without stopping and freaking out over it. It is Angelica stricta 'Purpurea' I am not sure where Lily Ricardi got it originally but I know she shared some seed with Annie's Annuals so I will hopefully be able to get it at some point. I actually collected seed from this specific plant and sent a bunch of packets out all over the world to various friends from a garden forum I posted at back then.

Another exciting plant that Lily introduced me to that summer was Mathiasella bupleuroides a very unusual umbellifer from Mexico that was named after botanist Mildred Mathias. At this stage it looks almost like some sort of bizarre Hellebore but once the flowers fully open it is quite unique. Despite the fact that it is a North American plant it is probably easier to get in England than it is here but I'm sure I'll track it down eventually.

Dierama pulcherimum is another one that stops people in their tracks. It is from South Africa so it does quite well in California gardens so I am not sure why I don't see it more often. I try to put it in gardens that I design whenever I feel it is appropriate. I have a Dierama mossii that I started from seed a few years ago that I have been nurturing in a pot. I'm sure it will be happy to finally get in the ground. There is a dark purple cultivar called 'Merlin' that I want to get ahold of as well.

Agrostemma githago is a pretty Mediterranean annual that makes a great cut flower. Like Dierama the flowers are at the end of gently swaying wands that add movement to the garden. Annie's always seems to have this in stock and I have the perfect place for a row of them along the white picket fence bordering my driveway.

I'm not sure what it is about Catananche caerulea that I love so much but I have wanted to grow it ever since the first time I saw it in bloom in Mendocino. I pretty much love all little daisy flowers but these are not shaped or colored like a typical daisy.

Now with Jasione perennis (aka J. laevis) I just love to say the name. Jasione. Say it with me. Jazz-e-oh-nee. So ridiculous sounding. I love it.

Lily had quite a collection of Eryngiums and I would like to grow many of them but Eryngium maritimum stood out as a favorite. It grows in dunes across Europe and is sort of silvery green but also with a hint of that metallic blue that it shares with some of the other Eryngiums. If I remember correctly gophers loved them so I'll have to protect mine with chicken wire. I just know there is an army of those little devils waiting for me to start planting.

Another one that is fun to say. Himalayacalamus hookerianus 'Teague's Blue'. I am so excited that I actually found a source for this plant and specced it for a garden I just finished designing. I really hope the homeowner likes the design and goes ahead with it. I know she will love this plant. There are a lot of really interesting bamboos but the colors on this one are sort of otherworldly. And it is a clumper too so it isn't going to eat your entire yard!

I'm not actually sure how Crambe cordifolia will do on the California coast. I have never seen it growing here. But it is a common staple in English gardens. A bit like babies breath on steroids. These plants were in the order beds at Kew but I saw them planted at almost every garden I visited in England last May and June. If I can get my hands on some I would love to give it a try here.

Digitalis are one of those delightfully collectable plant genera. So many different species and cultivars and so many of them are beautiful (or at least interesting). They brownish and orangish ones used to be a nightmare to ID because it seemed like every book on the subject gave conflicting info. But Google images seems to have helped narrow things down and I feel pretty confidant that this is Digitalis laevigata. Hopefully the seed that I ordered will actually be the correct plant as well.

How can you not love Verbascum bombyciferum. First of all another fun name to say. And then it is like a jacked up lambs ear that goes crazy and creates this huge spiky candelabra of yellow flowers but the inflorescence is still all fuzzy. Verbascums are already fun plants as it is but to have one that is fuzzy like a pet is way cool. They are monocarpic but they seed around after they bloom and die.

And finally a plant that is so cool I am posting not one but two photos of it. The incredibly bluest of blues, Techophilaea cyanocrocus from Chile. What is it about Chile having plants with all the best colors? Remember Puya chilensis from last time with its intense chartreuse flowers?

Here they are at the old alpine house at the New York Botanical Garden. My friend Marc is manager of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections at NYBG. I figure if I trick him into coming to visit me and hold him hostage maybe they'll trade me one of those plants to get him back. I mean they don't need ALL of those, right? I just NEED one!

Well hopefully you liked this latest edition of plants I need and maybe learned about a new plant or two that you can now lust after yourself.  And hopefully in the next year I will be growing some of these in my garden and will have new pictures to share.

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My First Installation

I think I have mentioned before that I have recently started my own garden design business (Propaganda Garden Design).  For the past few months I have been doing freelance work designing for my friend and former classmate and roommate Gabe.  He and his wife Maggie have a successful landscaping business in the San Luis Obispo area called Gardens by Gabriel.  I’ve done around six or seven designs for them now but the first one was recently installed so I am pretty excited about it.  I’ve designed many gardens but this is the first legit “I got paid to do this” one.

It is a small courtyard garden for a beach house in the coastal town of Cayucos.  That perfect zone 17 climate right on the ocean but somewhat sheltered by the house.  The home owner wanted lots of color and listed a bunch of bedding plants that he loved.  Now I am not such a garden snob that I dislike bedding plants but I figured since he was paying a designer he should get something a bit more special so my first thought for the space was that a garden full of Annie’s Annuals plants would be perfect for this spot.

I first experienced Annie’s plants back when I was an intern at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden when the nursery manager let me act as buyer.  This was back right before Annie started doing mail order so for me as an east coaster it was pretty exciting getting to see all these amazing plants in person.  Anyway I got to relive a bit of that nursery buying magic and buy a bunch of Annie’s plants on someone else’s dime.  Being a garden designer is pretty awesome.  So enjoy this photo tour of the process from start to finish.

The courtyard had four beds. This is bed one. Just a bit overgrown and not terribly exciting.

Bed two is not much better. My favorite part of this particular design is all the hardscaping was already taken care of. All I had to do was fill the beds with plants.

The Bougainvillea on the right in bed 3 got a reprieve. I wanted to rip it all out but it was one fo the few plants the homeowner really liked so we decided to spare a bit of it. I'm kind of notorious for wanting to start with a really blank slate.

Bed four is rather tiny but this Bougainvillea got to stay as well. Everything else came out though. Including the Solandra.

Back home in West Hollywood I poured over Annie's website deciding on a theme for the beds and picking out plants. The general method I use when designing a garden is imagine the beds in my head while pouring over websites and books and writing down a list of plants. Then I look over the plants and start moving them into combinations that I think will work well together and crossing some plants off the list (because I always go a bit overboard). Since this was a small design I decided to do it in marker. I also wanted to get across the color theme of the beds. There are two plants that are featured in all the beds (Trachelium and Anagallis) to tie the beds together and then each bed would have its own color theme while sharing at least one other plant in common with the bed across from it.

Now for the fun part! A trip up to the bay area and shopping at Annie's. On this trip I learned that you can fit nine flats of plants in a VW Golf! Now obviously taking such a monumental road trip isn't a really sensible way to run a business but I made a four day holiday of it. I figured this was a special occasion and I wanted my first garden to be incredible. But normally there are lots of other cool nurseries in the Central Coast area to shop at.

I don’t really have any cool pictures of the nursery because EVERY time I visit Annie’s it is always insanely bright out and my photos are all washed out.  But I’m sure anyone that is reading my blog already knows all about Annie’s and has read about her and seen her nursery in lots of other blogs from folks who are better photographers.  If by some chance you haven’t heard of or have never visited Annie’s be sure to check it out if you are visiting the San Francisco area.  It is probably my favorite nursery in the world.

Meanwhile back in Cayucos Gabe's crew was hard at work tearing out all those plants and preparing the beds for their new arrivals!

The next day the beds were all ready to be planted. Those Bougainvillea really got a haircut.

Hard to believe that this is the same bed that was full of tree fern and Impatiens just the day before.

So I got to work placing all the plants.

Gabe's crew got to work installing. Here David and Victor are planting bed three. The plant that Victor is removing from its clay pot in the back is a Abutilon vitifolium that I grew from seed collected at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden in 2003.

Mindy and David prepare the drip lines for the irrigation.

And here is bed number two almost finished. After the drip was installed it was mulched as well but I had a three and a half hour drive back to West Hollywood ahead of me so I left early. Hopefully this garden will be as beautiful in the spring as it is in my mind and I'll have some great photos to share then. And in the next few months I will be moving up to the San Luis Obispo area so I can be closer to my work and get involved in more projects with Gabe and his crew.

Just so you get more of an idea of the setting of this garden here is a view of their "backyard". That is Morro Rock off in the distance.

I really hope this garden is successful and the homeowners end up loving it.  About 95% of the plants are from Annie’s so it should be pretty neat.  Aside from some really colorful plants in beautiful combinations I tried to include something really interesting in each bed that the homeowners have maybe never seen before (Musschia wollastonii, Cantua buxifolia, Abutilon vitifolium).  So fingers crossed that we have a perfect winter so the plants get big and fat and burst into bloom in the spring.

I’m a little bit in love with…

Containers!  I wish I could just do nothing but design and plant containers all day long.  The trick to a good container is over stuffing it full of really cool plants that will spill out and look fantastic together and then making sure to keep them well watered and carefully maintain them as they fight for container dominance.  You can’t worry about long term plant health in a mixed planting.  Your focus is short term drama.

My favorite container ever is one I did when I was an intern at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden. Those perfect Fort Bragg spring and summer days of 65 degrees made for slow and steady growth and a ridiculously long bloom time.

This mixed container I did was displayed and eventually sold in the garden shop for $65.

The pot wasn’t that big. I think it was maybe a 14 inch terra cotta herb pot.  The plant list was:

  • Cymbalaria muralis
  • Brachycome ‘Toucan Tango’
  • Viola ‘Rebecca’
  • Viola ‘Etain’
  • Heliotropium arborescens
  • Pelargonium crispum ‘Variegatum’

Close up of the Viola 'Etain', Brachycome and Pelargonium

If there is something special that you want to save for future use you can remove it from the mixed container at the end of the season and pot it up on its own to try to rejuvenate it but any time you over plant like this you should expect losses.  I like to think of it as a long term bouquet that you eventually discard.

I’ve tried to do some shade containers for my balcony this spring but I included a lot of Fuchsia’s and for some reason I can’t grow Fuchsia’s to save my life.  So I may replace them with some ferns or other foliage plants later.  I’ll post pictures of them later in the season if any of them are worth showing off.

Large Flowered Begonias

As much as I lament the loss of my old balconies full baking sun one cool benefit is the ability to grow some shade plants.  Now if I have my choice between big double flowers and dainty little natural species flowers I will usually pick the latter.  But for some reason I love the absurdly oversized flowers of tuberous Begonias.  Not the little bedding ones you buy in flats. I’m talking the giant ones with big monster sized flowers.

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Nicotiana mutabilis

Nicotina mutabilis. The flowers open up white and fade to dark pink.

I haven’t made an official list of my top ten favorite plants but when I do Nicotiana mutabilis from Brazil will be on it. Nicotiana is the flowering tobacco family and mutabilis means variable or changeable because the flowers open white and fade to pink. They are massive plants and are always covered with hundreds of blooms in varying shades.
I believe that one reason that flowers change color is so that pollinators will know that a plant has already been pollinated and won’t waste their time on old flowers but I am not sure if this is always the case.

This particular plant was grown from seed sown last July and is about 7 feet tall now. It survived being accidentally flipped over and crushed when I was repotting it into a much larger container and a trip in my hatchback to my new apartment last December.

All packed up and ready to go to its new home.

The plant was only officially described in 2002 but I believe it had already found its way into the trade at specialty nurseries before that. I first learned of it at a lecture by Derry Watkins from Special Plants Nursery in 2002 and then encountered it myself in 2003 at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden and Annie’s Annuals.
I’m a fan of most Nicotianas but this one is so ridiculously oversized and covered in so many blooms that it will always be a favorite and I’ll always try to include it in my garden. Even if that garden is just a balcony.