Friday, January 27, 2012

New plant introductions for 2012

It’s the time of year when new plants are being introduced in catalogs and online. While I don’t get as many paper catalogs as I used to, I receive a regular stream of email newsletters from many online sellers. For me, this is a great way of keeping up-to-date on what’s new and hot.

Here are some plants that jumped out at me in recent weeks: some because they’re beautiful or intriguing, others because they’re…interesting.

Agave gypsophila ‘Ivory Curls’

Agave gypsophila is one agave I’ve wanted in my collection for a long time. It’s uncommon in cultivation and difficult to find. Xeric Growers has now introduced a selection with creamy margins which is even more spectacular than the species. At $39.99 it’s expensive, but it will go on my wish list nonetheless.

If you like agaves, click here to check out the other goodies Xeric Growers sells.

Agave gypsophila 'Ivory Curls'
Photo: Xeric Growers

Agave potatorum 'Cameron Blue'

Introduced by Rancho Tissue Technologies, this tissue-cultured selection offers beautiful scalloped leaves and bud imprints. This is one agave I would love to have. Rancho Tissue has many offer drool-worthy agaves in their catalog.

Agave potatorum 'Cameron Blue'
Photo: Rancho Tissue Technologies

Colocasia esculenta 'Black Coral'

I’m a sucker for “black” plants even though it’s often difficult to use them effectively in the landscape (they tend to get lost against a dark background). With its dark color, shiny surface and impressive corrugation, this looks to be a showstopper of an elephant ear. Introduced and offered by Plant Delights Nursery. If you’ve never visited their web site, you’ve got to check it out. Their selection of plants is quirky, idiosyncratic and one of a kind.

Colocasia esculenta 'Black Coral'
Photo: Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.


Echinacea ‘Guava Ice’

I truly love echinaceas. Together with salvias, they’re probably my favorite flowering perennial. And I’m not alone, considering the veritable tidal wave of new cultivars in recent years. I still remember seeing ‘Tiki Torch’ in Sunset Magazine about five years ago. I was so obsessed, I actually spent $15 on a small plant!

The stream of new introductions is never-ending, and while I don’t love every single one, I typically don’t hate them either. But ‘Guava Ice’, developed by AB-Cultivars in the Netherlands and now sold by Plants Nouveau and other sources, is pushing my tolerance a bit. The color looks oddly faded, and the fluffy bits and pieces look like my hair when I first get up in the morning. If I wanted this look, I wouldn’t have to buy ‘Guava Ice’. All I’d have to do is look in the mirror.

Echinacea ‘Guava Ice’
Photo: Plants Nouveau

Kalmia latifolia ‘Starburst’

I must admit I’ve never seen a kalmia (mountain laurel) in my life before. They’re native to the eastern half of the country, and I’m not sure people even grow them here in California. Based on looks, they should be much more popular. Maybe they’re heat-intolerant? That’s the only explanation I have. This introduction from Briggs Plant Propagators in Elma, Washington looks to be particularly stunning. Hardy to zone 5, it would be perfect at my in-laws’ in the mountains of Northern California.

Kalmia latifolia 'Starburst'
Photo: Briggs Plant Propagators

Kniphofia 'Echo Rojo'

Finally a reblooming red hot poker! Not only does this selection by Itsaul Plants claim to be especially free-flowering, it also looks to have narrower and hence more attractive leaves than the species. Still 4-5 ft. tall x 2 ft. wide. If I ever see ‘Echo Rojo’ for sale locally, I’ll pick one up to replace the overgrown clump of Kniphofia uvaria I dug out last month.

Photo: Itsaul Plants

Lantana ‘Sunny Side Up’

I used to love lantanas. In our previous house, we had always had lantanas, and I didn’t care that in our climate they can get invasive if you don’t trim them occasionally. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I haven’t looked at lantanas in over 10 years. However, when I saw this introduction from Plant Introductions, Inc., I looked twice. I’ve never seen this color combination in a lantana before, and it’s fantastic (yellow and white happen to me among my favorite flower colors). Based on Plant Introductions’ Chapel Hill Yellow, ‘Sunny Side Up’ is supposed to flower prolifically from spring to frost and offer better cold-hardiness than annual cultivars.

Lantana ‘Sunny Side Up’
Photo: Plant Introductions, Inc.

Musa xishuangbannaensis ‘Mekong Giant’

Who doesn’t get excited about a newly discovered species of cold-hardy and giant banana from China? This is how Plants Nouveau describes it:

Mekong Giant grows much taller than other hardy bananas, reaching 15 feet in zone 6. In more southern climes, it can reach 40’ tall with trunks up to 20 inches in diameter.

This new selection gets its hardiness honestly, for it was selected from seedlings whose native range goes from the northern most point of the Tibetan Plateau, to southern, tropical regions along the Mekong Delta into Vietnam and Cambodia. The fruits are purple and the trunk is streaked red to purple, creating a perfect accent to the lush, deep olive green tropical foliage.

Musa intinerans var. xishuangbannaensis
‘Mekong Giant’
Photo: Plants Nouveau

Pennisetum 'Cherry Sparkler' and ‘Skyrocket’

I love regular purple fountain grass (Pennisetum × advena ‘Rubrum’) as much as the next guy. I have two in containers and one in the ground and I look forward to its cheery plumes every summer. Now Itsaul Plants has introduced two sports, and I’m not sure what to think.

‘Cherry Sparkler’ has leaves that start out green and white and assume an increasingly purple blush as the light intensity increases. Beautiful or just odd? I can’t make up my mind.

Pennisetum 'Cherry Sparkler'
Photo: Itsaul Plants

‘Skyrocket’ has green and white leaves and whitish plumes. Much more to my liking!

Pennisetum ‘Skyrocket’
Photo: Itsaul Plants

Sedum telephium ‘Autumn Charm’

How many of you have sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ in your garden? Probably many, myself included. It comes back every year and it blooms reliably in the fall. However, it’s just a tad boring. Intrinsic Perennial Gardens to the rescue! Their 2006 introduction of a variegated sport, called ‘Autumn Charm’, is finally becoming more widely available. Bluestone Perennials has it in their 2012 spring catalog.

Sedum telephium ‘Autumn Charm’
Photo: Bluestone Perennials

Many more plants are being introduced this spring. To see a sampling, check out American Nurseryman Magazine.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

Yesterday (January 25, 2012), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled the 2012 version of their Plant Hardiness Zone Map. This is the first revision since 1990, and based on data collected since then, the zone boundaries have shifted in many places. To many gardeners, this confirms a trend they’ve noticed themselves: Winters are getting milder than they used to be, allowing them to grow plants that even 10 years ago might not have survived the winter. Newspapers all around the country are reporting on this phenomenon today. Here are just a few:

What does this mean for you? Probably not much because you already know what works in your garden and what doesn’t. But you might see plants in local nurseries that didn’t show up in the past because now they can “officially” be grown in your area.

My zone is still 9b. As the San Francisco Chronicle article above says, things didn’t really change much in California.

Click here to read the USDA’s press release.

Click here to access the interactive 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map with convenient zip code search (US only).

2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map home page
Detail page for Northern California, accessed by clicking on the map on the home page or by making a selection in the State dropdown menu

P.S. According to his latest newsletter, Tony Avent, the owner of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC, was involved in developing this new zone map. Be sure to read it for some interesting insider tidbits.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wild turkeys

This has nothing to do with plants, but there is a flock of wild turkeys that regularly shows up in our part of town, just walking about like they owned the place. What is amazing to me is that they don’t seem to be afraid of people. They just go about their business (usually foraging for food) as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

I guess it is to them.

To me, seeing wildlife in the middle of the day in the middle of town is a cause for excitement!




Monday, January 23, 2012

Do I really have that many agaves?

Loree over at Danger Garden posted a partial list of her plants this morning. She mentions the benefits of having such a list on her blog, but also registers some concern: “[c]an you still respect me now that you know the true depths of my plant lust?”

Loree, not only do I still respect and admire you, I also feel inspired by your list and will start one of my own. I used to keep track of my plant purchases in a spreadsheet, and while I haven’t entered everything, a lot of the basic information is in there.


Agave potatorum ‘Kichiokan’ (or ‘Kissho Kan’)

Many of you probably think this is a touch obsessive-compulsive. I wouldn’t disagree with you there, but I do think it’s useful to know what you bought when and where. It’s much easier that way to keep track of which plants have thrived, which have croaked, and which are just hanging in there.


Agave chrysoglossa

Starting out, here is a list of all the agaves in my collection. This may seem like a lot, but please remember that most of them are in pots (marked as “[P]” below) and many of them are still quite small.

I’ve killed two agaves so far; they’re listed as “[K].”

Agave americana ‘Medio-picta alba’

[P] Slow-growing in a large pot

Agave americana ‘Variegata’

[P] Vigorous grower; confined to a 3-gallon pot.
Agave applanata 'Variegata' [G] Very small, good for pot culture. I can’t tell it apart from Agave parryii ‘Cream Spike’. Might be the same thing.

Agave attenuata ‘Boutin Blue’

[P] Beautiful blue color but extremely slow-growing for me.

Agave attenuata x ocahui ‘Blue Glow’

[P] Vigorous grower. Stunning form and coloration.

Agave attenuata x shawii ‘Red Margin’

[G] Fast grower. Has started to pup.
Agave bovicornuta [P] One of my favorites. Striking cinnamon-colored spines and very visible bud imprints.

Agave bracteosa ‘Calamar’

[P] ‘Calamar’ is a tissue-cultured selection that does not offset. I’m not sure mine has grown at all in 3 years.

Agave celsii

[G] Striking apple green color. Good grower.

Agave celsii ‘Nova’

[P] Bluish green. Started to rot in a large pot. Now healing in a smaller pot.

Agave celsii ‘Tricolor’

[G] Beautiful coloration but very slow grower.

Agave chiapensis

[P] Dark green leaves. Planted in full shade so open form instead of the tighter “artichoke” habit seen in the sun.

Agave chrysoglossa

[P] Unique appearance. Thin strappy leaves with faint red margin.

Agave colorata

[G] Slow grower, generic “agave” look, nothing special.

Agave ‘Cornelius’

[P] Does great in a pot. Unique look.

Agave cupreata

[P] Generic look; does not look like a miniature bovicornuta to me. Maybe with time…
Agave dasyliroides [P] Like chrysoglossa, it doesn’t even look like an agave. Looks more like a dasylirion, duh!

Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’

[G] Another favorite. Striking and fairly user-friendly agave. Fairly tender (28°F).

Agave ‘Felipe Otero’ (FO-076)

[G] Bizarre spines. One of my favorites, but I let mine sunburn last year so it’s in an ugly phase.

Agave filifera sub. schidigera

[G] The best thread-producing agave, in my opinion.

Agave funkiana ‘Blue Haze’

[G] Faint striping on leaves. Will need more time to come into its own.

Agave geminiflora

[P] Another favorite. Reminds me of Dasylirion longissimum, but with filifers.

Agave ghiesbreghtii

[G] Generic looking. Nothing special.
Agave guiengola ‘Creme Brulee’ [K] Killed by 28°F frost. Very tender!

Agave isthmensis

[P] My newest purchase, also my current favorite. Very striking leaves. Frost-tender.

Agave lophantha ‘Quadracolor’

[G] The best variegated agave, bar none.

Agave montana

[P] Mine has narrow dark-green leaves. Pleasant-looking, but not a beauty.

Agave montana ‘Baccarat’

[G] Fairly generic-looking when small but it has great potential. Bud imprints can be stunning on large plants.

Agave parryi ‘Cream Spike’

[P] Small variegated plant. Perfect for pots where it can be viewed up close. I can’t tell it apart from Agave applanata ‘Variegata’. Might be the same thing.

Agave parryi ‘J.C. Raulston’

[G] Solitary (non-pupping) selection. Very slow grower.

Agave parryi var. huachucensis

[P] Supposed to grow larger than the species. Mine is very slow.

Agave parryi var. parryi

[G] Leaves are much more narrow and pointy than ‘Truncata’

Agave parryi var. truncata

[G] Beautiful. The classic “artichoke” agave.

Agave parviflora

[G] Tiny, one of the smallest agaves. Looks like a miniature A. filifera.

Agave potatorum ‘Kichiokan’

[P] Small beauty, good for pots.

Agave schidigera ‘Shira ito no Ohi’

[P] One of my favorites. Small, and perfect in every way. See it here.

Agave titanota

[P] Unique look. No other agave looks quite like it.
Agave utahensis var. eborispina [K] Killed by overwatering. Extremely sensitive species!

Agave victoria reginae

[G] Symmetry perfected. See it here.

Agave victoria reginae ‘Variegata’

[G] Variegated version. Not as pretty as the species.

Agave victoria-reginae ‘Compacta’

[P] A supposedly smaller selection of the already fairly small Agave victoria reginae. To me, they look the same.

Agave vilmoriniana

[G] Octopus agave—the name is well chosen!

[G] = in ground, [K] = killed, [P] = in pot

Agave isthmensis

Over the course of the next month, I will add a new permanent agave page with photos of all my plants. This will be a valuable tool for me to track their progress year over year, and some of you may find it interesting as well.

What is your personal take on plant lists? Useful or a waste of time?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Getting ready for spring

I know I’m jinxing ourselves by even mentioning the “s” word, but spring was definitely in the air yesterday. After a good hard rain, the air was as clear as can be, and the accumulated dust and grime of the past months was gone. But more than that, the light looked less wintry, too—the sun a little higher in the sky, and the day a little longer.

Beautiful puffy clouds in the morning

I decided to grab this opportunity by the neck and do some trimming in front of the house. As you can see in the “before” photo below, quite a few perennials needed to be cut back.

Before trimming.
Lots of dead stuff on deciduous perennials and unruly growth on evergreen perennials.

Things look much tidier now. Some of the clumps, especially the Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’ and the cat mint (Nepeta × faassenii ‘Six Hills Giant’), had dead areas in the middle caused by a lack of light. Cutting them way back—all the way to the ground in the case of the cat mint—not only keeps their size compact, it also stimulates lush and dense new growth.

After trimming.
We cut the lavenders back last year so there’s no need to trim them this year.

However, I decided to leave the Miscanthus sinensis ‘Dixieland’ be for now because I still enjoy its winter foliage and the tall plumes with the fluffy seed heads on top.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Dixieland’ still intact

We had already done most of the trimming inside the front yard fence. The only thing left to do is remove the dead foliage on the golden lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa), seen on the right in the panorama below.

Planting bed inside the front yard fence

While at first glance most plants are still in winter mode, there are definite signs of spring when you look closer. Here are a few I noticed.

First flower bud on our variegated Eureka lemon. We had flowers last year, too, but no fruit. The tree has been in the ground for three years now, so maybe there’ll be a lemon or two this year. The fruit is beautiful.
New shoot on an established Verbena bonariensis, one of my favorite summer flowers
Bog sage (Salvia uliginosa)
Firebird penstemon (Penstemon 'Firebird')
Sea holly (Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’). Highly unusual to see a flower bud on a very short stalk—and this early! I’m not sure if this is a leftover from last year or a new bud. The rest of the plant is completely dormant.
I’m not a hellebore expert (this is only the 2nd hellebore I’ve owned, having killed the first), but this appears to be a developing flower bud on Helleborus argutifolius ‘Janet Starnes’
Euphorbia × martinii, one of my favorite spurges, is putting out lots of new growth. The color of the new leaves is beautiful, a perfect match for the wine red stems.
Euphorbia × martinii
New culms on Thamnochortus insignis, a restio from South Africa.
I planted it outside the front yard fence almost exactly a year ago, and it’s good to see these new shoots.
Much to my surprise, I spotted a new shoot on our Asian lemon bamboo (Bambusa eutuldoides ‘Viridivittata’). This clumping bamboo normally shoots from summer to fall. It’s possible this is a late shoot from last year, but I never noticed it until now. In any case, it is a welcome sight, and it does remind me that spring is just around the corner.

Today, another storm system is moving in and we’re battening down the hatches. But rain is good after such a long dry spell. We’re up to 4.08 inches now for the 2011-2012 water year which started on July 1st, 2011; normal would be 9.56 inches.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wet stuff is finally here

Until yesterday, less than 3 inches of rain had fallen since the current water year began on July 1, 2011. That is dry even for us! In fact, I can’t remember ever having to turn on the sprinklers and drip irrigation in December and January as often as I did this year. Even then it was challenging keeping everything hydrated, especially potted plants. Occasional high winds did their part in drying out sensitive plants, like the yellow Buddha belly bamboo (Bambusa ventricosa ‘Kimmei’) in the photo below.

These potted bamboos are loving the rain!
LEFT: Bambusa ventricosa ‘Kimmei’
CENTER: Bambusa dolichomerithalla ‘Silverstripe’
RIGHT:Semiarundinaria fastuosa

All of that changed when the first in what is predicted to be a series of wet storms made its long-awaited entrance last night. It has been raining steadily all day—slowly, almost like a continuous drizzle. This is the kind of rain I love because it soaks into the parched soil instead of running off like a gully washer would.

On Thursday my wife and I put up the tarp over the succulent table once again to protect my xeric beauties from the rain. I like how the tarp seems to collect the light; the entire area appears to be brighter than without it.

Succulent table
Tarp with rain drops

I also set out a few potted plants on the walkway so they can get a good soaking. Rain water is so much nicer than our alkaline tap water!

Soaking up the long-awaited rain

The three clumping bamboos in front of the house are loving the rain. Now they can drink their fill and work on replacing the leaves that have become ratty over the last few months.

LEFT: Bambusa oldhamii
CENTER: Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’
RIGHT: Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’

Aeoniums—like many aloes—are winter growers. This is their active season, and they appreciate a good soaking. The soil in these pots is loose and fast-draining so there is little risk of rot in spite of nighttime temperatures in the 40s.

Unknown green Aeonium species. I used to think this was Aeonium undulatum, but I’m not longer sure. Can anybody give a positive ID?
Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’

Some plants are beyond rescue, though. Not even the most restorative rain can revive these gingers and elephant ears in our tropical bed. But that’s the normal life cycle of these plants in our less-than-tropical parts. As soon as reliably warm days return in spring, they’ll produce new growth from their rhizomes or tubers.

Tropical bed