Saturday, December 17, 2011

The garden in December: front yard

Winter is my least favorite season. Plants that looked great through spring, summer and fall begin to turn brown or go dormant. I know all about the circle of life (thank you, Elton John), but I still don’t like it.

It was against this frame of mind that I started to take photos of our front and back yard this morning. However, as I went along, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the many interesting things I saw. There are quite a few plants that are still blooming, while others look great in their winter “garb.” When I was done, I felt better. Winter isn’t all that bad after all!

This post is about the front yard. The back yard is covered in this post.

This raised bed next to our front porch is filled with tropical foliage plants, mostly elephant ears (both Alocasia and Colocasia) and gingers (Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’, Hedychium coronarium, Hedychium gardnerianum)
The same bed seen from the street. The straggly shrub this side of the fence is a Black Lace elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’) that needs a severe pruning in early spring.
111217_fy_bamboo musella
The three clumping bamboos in front of the house (Bambusa oldhamii outside the fence, Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’ and Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’ inside the fence).
To the left is a clump of golden lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa) that tripled in size this year and bloomed!
More photos of the golden lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa). On the right is what’s left of the flower.
While Musella lasiocarpa is hardy to zone 7, its leaves are frost-sensitive and they are beginning to turn brown. Soon all leaves will be dried up.
To the left of the golden lotus banana, this roseleaf sage (Salvia involucrata) still has flowers. It has been in bloom non-stop since mid-summer.
Back to the bamboos. Here are the same three clumping bamboos (Bambusa oldhamii, Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’ and Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’) as seen from the driveway
Bambusa oldhamii on the right, and a mixture of succulents and perennials in the planting bed in front of it. My favorite here is Yucca filamentosa ‘Bright Edge.’ The lavender all the way on the left (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’) is still blooming!
More photos of Bambusa oldhamii. I still like the way I thinned it out in late October. The focus is now on the beautiful culms instead of a mass of tangled leaves.
Another blooming lavender in the planting strip outside the front yard fence.
This Hot Lips sage (Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips') is an incessant bloomer in our garden. We will give it a radical haircut soon, which in turn will stimulate another grow cycle. Read this interesting post on Paghat’s blog to find out more about this beautiful sage, including how it came into cultivation.
This Gaura lindheimeri, also known by the charming name ‘Whirling Butterflies,’ doesn’t seem to be fazed by nighttime lows around 32°F. It basks in the winter sun all day long.
Another faithful late-season bloomer is this pink autumn sage (Salvia greggii, don’t know which cultivar)
Our Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) is still going strong even though it got flattened by high winds a couple of weeks ago. I’ll trim it back tomorrow to the new growth emerging from the base.
This lamp post outside our front yard fence is a real eyesore. I’m hoping the emerald bamboo (Bambusa textilis ‘Mutabilis’) I planted last spring will grow tall enough next year to soften the ugliness.
The pink-flowering plant on the left is the autumn sage you already saw above. The grass on the right is Stipa gigantea 'Pixie,' a dwarf form of the giant needle grass.
Stipa gigantea 'Pixie.' I bought it at the UC Davis Arboretum plant sale this past May.
Left: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Dixieland,’ the most upright of the maiden grasses we’ve grown.
Right: Elegia capensis, also known as “fountain rush,” a restio from South Africa which I recently moved.
After going to a bonsai show in October, I’ve become very interested in this ancient art form of growing miniature trees in containers. In the last few months I’ve picked up a few inexpensive shrubs that will be my first guinea pigs. I’m still deep into a stack of bonsai books I’ve checked out from the library, but I hope to go from theory to practice very soon. I think my first candidate will the Green Mound juniper (Juniperus procumbens 'Nana’) on the left.
I hope to style it like this.
While I’m saving the potted plants on the front porch (mostly succulents) for a separate post, I do want to show you this glazed strawberry pot filled with Echeveria subsessilis ‘Blue Azure’ and Aeonium ‘Kiwi’, with an unidentified Graptosedum or similar intergeneric hybrid thrown in for good measure The blue of the echeveria is almost otherworldly.
Close-up of Echeveria subsessilis ‘Blue Azure’

In this post we take a look at the back yard.

Friday, December 16, 2011

I like our Japanese maple even in December

This morning we had the first rain in the month of December. It wasn’t much, but it provided some relief from the early winter drought we’ve been experiencing. What the rain did do was add a touch of magic to garden. While mid-December isn’t the most attractive time of year by any stretch of the imagination, I couldn’t help but admire the quiet beauty of the Japanese maple planted right outside the family room slider. It isn’t a fancy cultivar, just an all-green upright Acer palmatum, but I’m very fond of it.

This is what it looked like back in mid-March…


…and this is what it looks like today. They color of the leaves complements the color of our house, doesn’t it?


Even on the concrete walkway the maple leaves look good…


…and on the children’s picnic table they form the pattern in an autumnal tapestry.


For most of the year I was so focused on bamboos and succulents that I neglected to pay much attention to this humble tree, but it certainly brightened my day today.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

FREE 400-page ginkgo book

I’ve blogged a couple of times this month about ginkgo trees (1, 2) and the more I learn, the more intrigued I become. Judging from how many different cultivars of Ginkgo biloba are out there, I dare say I’m not alone in my fascination with this living fossil.

Today I came across an impressive resource: a two-volume e-book available as a free download from Scribd. Entitled Ginkgo biloba: Nature’s Miracle, it was written Branko M Begović Bego, a Croatian gingko expert and collector, and translated from the Croatian by Blanka Capic.


I’ve downloaded free e-books before and more often than not was disappointed by the lack of substance. Expecting something similar, I was pleasantly surprised—very much so. This is not a skimpy brochure, it’s an almost encyclopedic treatment of the genus Ginkgo, of which only one species, Ginkgo biloba, has survived.

Volumes 1 and 2 are combined in one downloadable PDF with a total of 400 pages. Volume 1 (268 pages) is entitled “Ginkgo in general—Let’s get to know gingko” and covers taxonomy, history, morphology, cultivation and propagation. Volume 2 (142 pages) is entitled “Cultivars & bonsai forms;” it lists 220 (!) different cultivars, many with photos, and also describes the use of ginkgo in the art of bonsai.


I don’t know how many photos and illustrations are in the book, but there must be well over 1,000. In addition, there are meticulous references substantiating the facts presented by the author. Writing this book was clearly a labor of love, and it must have taken years. There is so much information that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But if you’re like me, you’ll simply skip the stuff that doesn’t interest you. It’s easy to do in a PDF.

Many photos I’ve never seen anywhere else

The translation from the Croatian wasn’t done by a native English speaker, which manifests itself in somewhat clumsy sentences such as this example:

When the plant germinates it is preferable not to touch her until next year, but if the seeding was conducted individually in separate containers then plants can be grafted into larger containers throughout the year.

In addition, the byline “Will ginkgo be the saviour of the human kind?” will probably produce more of a groan than anything else.

However, I won’t belittle the monumental effort of translating a 90,000 word book, especially one that gets quite technical at times. In spite of the less-than-idiomatic English, it’s easy enough to understand what the author is trying to say.

Detailed cultivar information

Volumes 1 and 2 are available now for download. Volumes 3 (“Medicine and food—unrivalled”) and 4 (“Ginkgo as inspiration—through out the history and today”) are still being written.

Since the download doesn’t cost anything, I highly recommend you get this book even if you have just a passing interesting in ginkgos. The photos alone, compiled from many online sources, are worth it.¹

¹ I was pleased to see that proper credit is given for each photo included in the book.

Numerous photos of Ginkgo biloba cultivars

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ginkgo ‘Majestic Butterflies’

Ginkgos have been among my favorite trees for as long as I can remember. However, since our lot is only 8,100 square feet, we simply don’t have the room for one, let alone several. In spite of that, I decided a few weeks ago to do a bit of research in order to see what wonderful ginkgo cultivars are out there. When I came across ‘Majestic Butterflies,’ I knew I had to have it.

Photo © Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery
Photo © Whitman Farms

‘Majestic Butterflies’ is a variegated mutation that Oregon nurseryman Crispin Silva of Creations Nursery found among a batch of ‘Jade Butterflies,’ a non-variegated dwarf cultivar originally from New Zealand. Unlike other variegated ginkgos discovered in the past, the variegation on ‘Majestic Butterflies’ is very stable and allegedly doesn’t fade in the summer. That is a huge plus for me because I don’t like it when a plant with beautiful variegation turns all green as the growing season progresses.

In addition, this cultivar is even slower growing than regular ginkgos, which makes it ideal for container cultivation, at least for a number of years. Its ultimate size is as yet unknown, but its parent ‘Jade Butterflies’ is supposed to grow to only 6 ft. in ten years. I believe the variegation will slow ‘Majestic Butterflies’ down even more.

The availability of ‘Majestic Butterflies’ is very limited, making it quite difficult to find. Through PlantScout on Dave’s Garden I was able to find a source: Whitman Farms in Salem, Oregon. Run by veteran nurserywoman Lucile Whitman, Whitman Farms specializes in rare and unusual trees and shrubs.

My ‘Majestic Butterflies’ arrived in record time, packaged very safely in an oversized box. I really appreciated the care and attention that went into this packaging; many mail-order operations are sorely lacking in that department. The tree itself is a small thing, about 10 inches tall in its 1-gallon container, but I’m not sure anybody sells larger specimens at the moment, seeing how recent an introduction this is.

My puny ‘Majestic Butterflies’

I was surprised to find what I think are leaf buds. I imagine that the tree will remain dormant through the winter, though, instead of starting to push new leaves now.

New leaf buds

Initially I was simply going to leave my ‘Majestic Butterflies’ in its 1-gallon nursery container until next year. Then, as I was exploring Whitman Farm’s web site in more detail, I discovered that Lucile Whitman grows most of her trees in the ground in root control bags. If you’re not familiar with the concept, check out the video below.

Years ago, when I was trying to grow hostas in our not-very-hosta-friendly climate, I had come across reports that claimed that growing hostas in root control bags turned inside out (so the side coated with root-repelling copper hydroxide covering is on the outside, halting the approach of the roots of trees or other plants that might be in competition for water and nutrition) would work miracles. I tried the bags on a few hostas and they ended up dying anyway, so I never used the remaining bags. (Selecting hosta cultivars bred from species native to warmer climates proved to be much more effective in ensuring survival.)

I therefore happened to have a few Tex-R Agroliner tree production bags on hand and I decided to put my ‘Majestic Butterflies’ in the ground for the winter and possibly for several years to speed it along a little. The bag will ensure that I will be able to easily lift the tree from the ground when it’s ready to be moved to a large container (or possibly even planted in the ground if I find a spot for it).

Tex-R Agroliner tree production bag. The non-woven fabric is laminated on the inside with a copper hydroxide covering which repels roots that come into contact with it. This stimulates the formation of a healthy fibrous root system inside the bag without roots circling around the perimeter of the root ball as they would in a container.

I dug a whole in a sunny corner of one of our raised vegetable beds and put the bag in the ground.


I filled the bag half-way with soil, added the ‘Majestic Butterflies’ (its root ball was very small, not even filling the 1-gallon pot), and added more soil until it was flush with the rest of the bed.


Finally I mulched with leaves (I didn’t have anything else on hand) to give the tree some protection from the elements. Considering that ginkgos are hardy to zone 3 that probably wasn’t necessary, but this small plant looked so forlorn, I decided to pamper it a little.

Now get growing, little one!!


For more information about Tex-R Agroliner tree production bags and the technology behind them, visit:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bamboo sightings around town

On Saturday morning I took advantage of the crisp but sunny weather to walk around the residential area adjoining the campus of UC Davis. I had recently spotted some bamboos from the car and wanted to take a closer look. Bamboo still isn’t used as much for landscaping as it should be; that’s why I get excited when I come across a planting.

The first stand I found was on a property that is clearly a student rental. I wasn’t able to positively identify it, but it’s definitely a Phyllostachys, a running bamboo that can get out of hand if not properly cared for. (The culms looked like black bamboo, Phyllostachys nigra, starting to darken in its second season, but I couldn’t find any all-black culms.)


While the bamboo was growing on both sides of the fence, I didn’t seen any runaway culms so somebody must be maintaining it at least occasionally.


The house in the next photo is just around the block from the first one. It’s on a corner lot and the bamboo is visible from a block away. I love how it completely encloses the front yard with a lush screen of green.


This is a Phyllostachys as well; in fact, it looks like it’s the same species as the one on the first property—black bamboo that doesn’t quite go black. However, the leaves look a little too large for Phyllostachys nigra.


No matter what species of bamboo it is, the overall effect is elegant and beautiful.


The next bamboo sighting was at Delta of Venus Café, a popular eatery and music venue in downtown. One end of their outside seating area is flanked by a row of half barrels filled with golden bamboo (Phyllostachs aurea).


The other end is screened in by arrow bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica) planted in the ground against a fence. Arrow bamboo is a running bamboo but it is clear that somebody is keeping it confined to this narrow space.


For a very casual café with a beachy look, I think bamboo is perfect. It gives privacy and creates a relaxed tropical ambience.


The last set of photos were taken at the playground of the Center for Child and Family Studies (CCFS), a nursery and preschool on the edge of campus that serves as a model early childhood program and research lab for UC Davis faculty and students. Our older daughter went there as a preschooler, and I fondly remember their gigantic outdoor playground. I don’t remember the bamboo, however; it is possible they planted it when they remodeled the facility.

Unlike the running bamboos found at the locations above, CCFS planted only clumping bamboos. The variety with golden culms on the left is Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr,’ and the variety on the right is giant clumping timber bamboo, Bambusa oldhamii.


This row of bamboos screens off the busy street on the other side of the fence and creates an almost jungle-like atmosphere that I’m sure the nursery and pre-school children love.