Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What caught my eye in the garden today

No story in this post, just some random macro photos I took today.

Enjoy the patterns, textures and colors!

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
Rhubarb (Rheum × hybridum)
Rhubarb (Rheum × hybridum)
Echeveria ‘Doris Taylor’
Aeonium tabuliforme
Unidentified aeonium
Aeonium ‘Kiwi’
Aeonium ‘Zwartkop
Echeveria pulvinata ‘Ruby Blush’
Euphorbia tubiglans
String of buttons (Crassula perforata)
False saguaro (Pachycereus pringlei)
Sea holly (Eryngium planum), blooming far too early
Cape restio (Rhodocoma capensis)
Hebenstreitia dentata
Haitian metal art

Monday, February 20, 2012

Planting some of my new purchases

After visiting several nurseries and botanical gardens lately (Annie’s Annuals | UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley | Cactus Jungle | UC Santa Cruz Arboretum | Sierra Azul Nursery & Gardens) and buying a plant or two at almost all of them, the flag stone walkway to the front door was beginning to look like a nursery display. Just the other day a neighbor said how nice it looked, but even so, it was high time to get a few things in the ground.

The first two things I proceeded to plant were the Grevillea ‘Superb’ and Leucadendron salignum ‘Winter Red’ I’d bought at Norrie’s, the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum gift shop, last Saturday. But before I could put them in the ground in the planting bed adjacent to the small patch of lawn in the backyard, I had to do some housekeeping.

The potted bamboo on the left in the photo below, Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Castillon’, needed to be moved to a larger pot anyway so that’s the first job I tackled (I wrote about it in yesterday’s post). Then I removed the lion’s tail (Leonotis leonurus) to the left of the ‘Castillon’. While it bloomed almost year round, it never looked as nice as the one next to the front porch. I also trimmed off the dead foliage of the other perennials in this bed and finally I gave the variegated flowering maple (Abutilon pictum ‘Thompsonii’) in the right-hand corner a radical hair cut to induce bushy growth instead of the lanky shoots it had.

Backyard planting bed before…

Finally I put the grevillea and leucadendron in the ground, planting them on a slight mound to improve drainage. (While our native soil is clay, this bed, for reasons unknown to me, contains loose, sandy soil so drainage has never been an issue here. That’s a definite plus, considering grevilleas and leucadendrons, like all proteaceans, require excellent drainage.)

The result is definitely sparse and severe. But soon the herbaceous perennials in this bed, including salvias, echinaceas and coreopsis, will emerge from their dormancy and things will look better.

…and after. The green squares are the grevillea (left) and leucadendron (right)

Here are some detail shots of what I accomplished today.

Grevillea ‘Superb’
Leucadendron salignum ‘Winter Red’
Abutilon pictum ‘Thompsonii’ (back) and arrow bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica) in red pot
After I cut back the Abutilon pictum ‘Thompsonii’. I’m hoping the flowering maple will become a bushy mass in the corner, setting off the arrow bamboo and the giant farfugium (Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’) in the ground next to the red pot.

I also planted a few things in the front yard. The first two, both from Annie’s Annuals, went in the planting strip inside the front yard fence.

This is ‘Mr Happy’ (that’s what Annie’s calls it), a hybrid between Echium wildprettii (my beloved tower of jewels) and Echium pininana, which is supposed to produce a 15 ft. flower spike with pinkish purple flowers in its 2nd or 3rd year of life. (Like its parents, Mr Happy dies after blooming.) I think the rosette is pretty nice, too, and I look forward to it growing to 2-3 ft. across in year 1 and 2.

Echium ‘Mr Happy’

‘Mr Happy’ hails from the Canary Islands as does the next plant. It’s aptly called Canary Island sage (Salvia canariensis var. candidissima) and it has soft and fuzzy leaves very reminiscent of lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina). It rapidly forms a 5 ft. shrub covered in the summer with purple flowers. It’s considered to be a short-lived perennial of questionable hardiness, but it propagates easily from cuttings so I will take some for insurance come fall.

Salvia canariensis var. candidissima to the left of the Meyer lemon I planted a few weeks back. I got it for $4 on clearance from Lowe’s last winter (a year ago!). It’ll be a number of years before we see any lemons.

In early December we removed a large Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberpfeil’ outside the front yard fence. My wife and I discussed several replacement options, including the grevillea and leucadendron I got from the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum. However, since this planting strip is quite exposed and hence gets more frost than the backyard, we decided to plant those tender southern hemisphere dwellers in the backyard instead.

We came across what we hope is the perfect choice for this spot at Sierra Azul Nursery & Gardens in Watsonville last Sunday: Loropetalum chinense ‘Burgundy’, commonly known as fringe flower or Chinese witch hazel. Hardy to 15°F, it blooms on and off for most of the year. As puny as our plant looks, it will eventually become a 4-5 ft, shrub. I think the purple foliage and pink flowers will look great next to the yellowish green of the emerald bamboo (Bambusa textilis ‘Mutabilis’). Loropetalum chinense is very easy to grow but it prefers acid soil, so I will fertilize it a couple of times a year with rhododendron and azalea fertilizer. If any of you have any experience with Loropetalum chinense, please leave a comment below.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Burgundy’
Loropetalum chinense ‘Burgundy’

The last plant I moved to a new home this weekend was a red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora). I’d rescued it from the clearance rack at Lowe’s a while ago and it will spend this year in a pot on our front walkway. Eventually I plan to transfer it to the succulent bed by the front door but first I need to figure out where. This is a slow-growing succulent, so there’s no hurry.

Hesperaloe parviflora (in the pot on the right) with Alphonse Karr bamboo (Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’) behind the gate

My wife and I also did a good amount of trimming and cleanup work. While necessary, it rarely makes for interesting photographs so I didn’t even try. Being outside on a perfect early spring day felt great, and President’s Day promises to be more of the same.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Repotting a Castillon bamboo: lesson learned

Since our backyard is so small, all our running bamboos are confined to containers. Planted in the ground, they would require careful monitoring to ensure that they don’t escape under the fence into a neighbor’s yard. While I do keep a good eye on things, I’d rather not have to worry about potential bamboo problems.

The downside about keeping taller bamboos in containers is that they get pot-bound fairly quickly. To keep them healthy, you need to remove them from the pot every year or so and remove the rhizomes that will invariably have started to circle around the root ball. In addition, potted bamboos need extra watering because a great deal of moisture evaporates through the leaves.

Our potted bamboos are tied into an automatic drip system. It usually runs from April through late October, i.e. during our dry season. In the late fall through early spring, we get enough rain to keep things hydrated. In a normal year, that is. This winter has been exceedingly dry, about 40% of normal. While I’ve manually turned on the drip a few times, I’ve been lax about it lately. I noticed the other day that our Castillon bamboo (Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Castillon’), a beautiful running bamboo with green-striped golden culms and variegated leaves, is looking parched. Instead of simply watering it, I decided to kill several birds with one stone: remove the bamboo from its current pot, do some rhizome pruning, and move it into a larger pot.


Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Castillon’ (in red pot)
Leaves on the verge of drying out

With my wife’s help, I laid the old pot on its side and then carefully pulled out the bamboo. I expected quite a bit of resistance, and I was shocked by how easily it slid out—and how light it was. It was clear the root ball was almost completely dry.

Nice roots but not enough moisture
Rhizomes circling around the pot. I cut them off before replanting the bamboo.

I removed the rhizomes that had encircled the root ball, trimmed off some smaller culms as well as some lower-growing branches, and then plopped the plant into its new pot. After I filled in dirt mixed with slow-release fertilizer, I watered the bamboo thoroughly. Hopefully within a month there will be new leaves to replace the ones that have dried up. Fortunately, bamboos are very forgiving as long as you don’t let them go completely dry.

New pot, new spot
I’m hoping that in a year or two the new culms will be tall enough to give us added privacy
What remains after I removed the oldest (and smallest) culms and the lower branches

I’ve definitely learned my lesson. Just because it’s winter and Mother Nature is supposed to provide us with water, we can’t take anything for granted. Gardeners can never allow themselves to become self-complacent!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why did this cactus rot?

A month ago I wrote a post about one of my favorite succulent container combinations: Silver Torch cacti (Cleistocactus straussii) and Agave schidigera 'Shira ito no Ohi'. In addition to the Silver Torch cacti planted in that pot, I had two others in a separate terracotta pot. They had grown just as much and I had plans to transfer them to a larger container this spring.


Like all my cacti, they were protected from the winter rains (not like it’s been a wet winter anyway). Much to my surprise, I noticed yesterday that the tallest of these two Silver Torch cacti had flopped over due to rot toward the bottom of the stem, an inch or so above soil level.


The soil is bone dry and I have no explanation what might have happened here. Sure, it’s possible that a stray rain drop or two might have landed on it during a rain storm, but if it’s that sensitive to moisture, wouldn’t it have rotted at the soil level?


On Friday afternoon I decided to do a radical amputation to save the patient’s life. Out came a sharp fillet knife, and in a split second I had cut off the rotten parts. I then dunked the cut surface in 70% isopropyl alcohol to seal it…


…and I drizzled some alcohol on the cut off section still in the pot. I’m hoping it will heal so the pup originating from the rotten stem will survive.


I placed the cut segment in a dry and shady spot where I will let it callus over for a month before planting it in a new container.


With temperatures warming up, I have every hope that it will survive and eventually become as healthy as the ones in the other pot:

120106_Cleistocactus strausii   Agave Shira ito no Ohi_01
Silver Torch cacti (Cleistocactus straussii) and
Agave schidigera 'Shira ito no Ohi'

Friday, February 17, 2012

Agave americana in motel landscaping

We spent last weekend in the Santa Cruz/Watsonville area south of San Francisco, and we stayed at the Best Western Rosen Garden Inn. Usually motel landscaping is as generic as it comes and I rarely get excited about what I see. However, being the succulent nut that I am, I was thrilled to find several suckering clumps of Agave americana.

Agave americana is a somewhat variable species. It can be as large as a compact car, leaving behind a difficult-to-remove carcass when it flowers (and dies),  or it can be quite refined, especially in its protoamericana incarnation or when interbreeding with closed related species.

I don’t know if these are plain-vanilla Agave americana or something more exotic, but I loved the overall look just as I’m sure the motel gardening contractor loves the fact that these are zero maintenance plants. Considering how critical the water situation is in Northern California, landscaping with extremely drought-tolerant plants such as agaves is a definite plus. Kudos to Best Western Rose Garden Inn for making all the right choices for their location!

Curiously, I didn’t see a single rose, but I tend to tune out plants that don’t interest me.


Other posts from our trip to Santa Cruz and Watsonville: