Thursday, May 30, 2013

Angel wing begonias

I know next to nothing about begonias. However, in April 2011 I received an angel wing begonia cutting as part of a plant trade. I potted it up and it actually flowered that first year. Since then I’ve been given cuttings of another type of angel wing begonia and they, too, have thrived. Technically, angel wing begonias are “cane-type” begonias because they produce sturdy canes with bamboo-like internodes.

As you can see in the next photo, my angel wing begonias live in a protected spot on our front porch, protected from the sun and the wind. Initially I wasn’t sure whether begonias would survive outside so the first cutting spent the winter of 2011 inside the house. Last winter, however, all my angel wing begonias stayed put on the porch and they did just fine without any supplemental protection.

From December through February I watered them very occasionally, maybe every three weeks. With the arrival of spring, I increased the frequency and now, in the summer, I water them every week. They’re in plastic pots filled with moisture-retentive soil and this regimen seems to suit them fine. (Begonias are native to the tropics and love lots of water.)

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

More all-white leaves

Yesterday I posted about my Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Tricolor’. At the moment, it has two leaves that are pure white. As rare as all-white leaves are, I have another plant that currently has some: a variegated leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum ‘Argenteum’).

While it throws an all-white leaf once or twice a year, it’s still a special occasion when it happens. I don’t think I’ve ever had two side by side: one leaf is completely white and the other is 98% white.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Variegated bigleaf hydrangea

In March I planted a variegated bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Tricolor’) in a large pot under the bay trees in our backyard. I had no idea that it would grow so quickly—and even flower just two months after planting.

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I’m not a fan of the traditional mophead or pom-pom varieties (especially those that flower in shades of blue, which I find a bit creepy). On this cultivar, however, the variegated leaves are the star of the show, and any flowers are of secondary importance. At least that’s what I thought—until my ‘Tricolor’ began to bloom.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Happy Memorial Day from the Golden State

Many people think California is called the Golden State because of the California poppy, but it’s actually because the hills turn a golden yellow in the summer.

This was very obvious yesterday when we took a trip to the Farm Sanctuary’s Northern California Shelter yesterday. Whether you eat meat or not is a personal choice and I’m the last person to proselytize about that. But I do want to show you the beautiful golden hills we encountered near the Orland Shelter.

Happy Memorial Day, everybody!

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Black Butte Lake, Northern California

Friday, May 24, 2013

Itsy bitsy spider, beat it

I have absolutely nothing against itsy bitsy spider and its friends and relatives. Spiders neither repel me nor do they elicit high-pitched shrieks when I come across them (well, if a large one landed on my face in the middle of the night, things might be different). Figuring they will eat pests such as mosquitoes, I tolerate them even in the house, as evidenced by the presence of spider webs in the kitchen and elsewhere.

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One of my succulent tables

However, I positively hate it when they spin their sticky web in the middle of and across my plants. OK, on day 1 it might look cool, but on day 2 or 3 the web is full of tiny insects, and soon the scene looks like a miniature version of Sleeping Beauty’s castle after 100 years. Take a look at the photos in this post and you’ll see what I mean.

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Agave ‘Snow Glow’

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Succulent goodie boxes at Davis Food Coop

While the Davis Food Coop has been our favorite grocery store since we moved here, it’s not exactly the go-to place to buy plants. They do sell small vegetable starts in the spring and the occasional potted plant, but nothing that would rival even the limited floral offerings of a regular supermarket.

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That’s why I was very surprised to see these “succulent gardens.” Essentially, they’re wooden crates filled with all manner of succulent cuttings.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

It was magnificent while it lasted

This past weekend was filled with cactus excitement. Four of my cacti, fairly plain-looking most of the year, flowered. Actually, “flowered” is too lame a word to capture the magnificence of this event. “Exploded” is more like it. It was a floral firework display, and like any firework, it was short-lived. The flowers opened just twice, then it was all over. It must take a tremendous amount of energy to produce flowers almost as large as the stem itself!

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Unidentified Echinopsis (scarlet-fading-to-coral flower)

All four cacti are Echinopsis hybrids. Echinopsis is a large genus of South American cacti noted for their large and colorful flowers. They range from small globular cacti to tree-sized species. There are many Echinopsis hybrids with flowers in myriad shades of red, purple, yellow, and cream. I think not even experts are able to tell them apart unless they are in bloom, maybe not even then. To me, it doesn’t really matter what variety they are. All I care about are the fantastic flowers.

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Unidentified Echinopsis (scarlet-fading-to-coral flower)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Silky oak (Grevillea robusta) sighting in Davis

As I was driving to the public library last week, I noticed a group of trees covered with orange blossoms. I couldn’t quite tell what they were from the car, but they looked unusual enough that I decided to go back for a closer look. These are tall specimens, towering above the two-story apartment buildings along F Street, but with my telephoto lens I was able to zoom in close enough for a positive identification.

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The leaves and flowers were a dead giveaway: These trees are Grevillea robusta, commonly known as silky oak, southern silky oak or Australian silver oak although not related to the true oaks (genus Quercus).

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Sometimes what you get is not what you thought

About six weeks ago I bought a bunch of plants for a raised bed in a corner of the front yard. This included three Asiatic lilies: two cultivars called ‘White Pixels’ and one called ‘Lollipop’. This is what the label for ‘Lollipop’ looks like:

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Compare that to the actual flowers, which just opened up:

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Poppy love

Last month I got all mushy over the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). But it isn’t my only poppy love. I’m just as nuts over the Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri), which is at its peak right now. There’s a large clump in the park near house, and no matter how often I walk by there, I go gaga each time.

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The Matilija poppy (pronounced “ma-TILLY-huh”) is native to the dry washes and canyons of Southern California and northern Mexico. It is named after a Chumash Indian chief of the same name. This shrubby perennial can grow to 8-9 ft. high and wide and thrives in dry, sun-baked situations. It’s very drought-tolerant once established and survives temperatures as low as 0°F (zone 7).

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What have we got here?

About five years ago an online plant seller included a freebie in an order I’d placed. It was labeled Agave parryi and it was a bit of an ugly thing from the beginning—the runt of the litter, you might say. I stuck it in a pot and even though I gave it regular watering, it never transformed from a beast into a beauty. Every winter, it would develop unsightly brown spots—weird, since Agave parryi is very hardy—and dead leaves around the base didn’t make things better. Sure, I could have groomed it better but after a while I gave up on it and relegated it to the “ugly corner” near one of the vegetable beds.

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May 3, 2013

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a strange sight. Something resembling a white asparagus spear was emerging from the center.

“No, it can’t be,” was my first thought.

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May 3, 2013

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Help a local high school raise money through plant sales

I can’t speak for other states or countries, but schools in California are suffering from ever tighter budgets, forcing cuts to programs that are deemed expendable. Often these are disciplines like art and music which have a far lower priority than English, math or science. Some schools are lucky enough to have parent-teacher associations which provide funding for such programs, others don’t fare so well. You can imagine that if art and music classes are on the chopping block, anything related to plants—like horticulture or landscape design—must be even lower on the totem pole.

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Greenhouse at Woodland High School

My friend Sue, whose garden I profiled in this piece, has been volunteering at Woodland High School (WHS) in the nearby town of Woodland for over a year. Woodland High has commercial greenhouse facilities that had fallen into disuse after its horticulture program was cut. Working with Eric Dyer, the chair of the WHS agriculture department, Sue has breathed new life into the greenhouse and, with the help of student volunteers, has started to propagate succulents and other plants. The goal is to raise money at plant sales and farmers markets to offer more plant-related extracurricular activities for students.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Blue jacaranda sighting in Davis

Every year in mid-May there’s a spellbinding sight not far from our house. Yesterday I grabbed my camera to capture this fleeting beauty.

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Planted in front of a nondescript apartment building is a blue jacaranda tree (Jacaranda mimosifolia) and it’s in full flower.

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Weekend potpourri

The weather this past weekend was a preview of what summer will be like: 70°F by 10am and low 90s mid-afternoon. Luckily our humidity is low, but I still don’t enjoy working in the heat so I got up early to get some work done around the yard.

A week and a half ago I’d bought a tray full of 4-inch plants at Morningsun Herb Farm in Vacaville, 20 minutes west of here.

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Plants from Morningsun Herb Farm

I planted most of these last weekend and the remainder went in the ground on Saturday.

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Plants from Morningsun Herb Farm

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The front yard in May

It’s been a while since I did an overview of the front yard. This is a good time because everything is actively growing.

The patio is home to many potted succulents. I’m trying to consolidate—and not replace the ones that died during the winter—but it’s getting crowded. Still, I like the multi-layered look you get from having plants here and there and everywhere.

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Covered patio

Potted plants have also popped up along the walkway that leads to the front door. The gap you see is just wide enough for the lawnmower :-).

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Succulent bed next to front door

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The view you see as you enter the front yard from the driveway

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Two first-time bloomers

I’m excited because two plants that have never flowered in our garden are blooming now.

The first is an Australian cordyline (Cordyline australis), one of two in our backyard. Check this post for background info and photos.

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Cordyline australis

Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society 2013 show entries

Building on yesterday’s coverage of the 2013 Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society show and sale, this post will show you some of the many plants members entered in the juried show. While it is true that the winners of the top prizes are likely to be either rare species and/or mature specimens, other entries were fairly common and/or juvenile plants. This realization was somewhat comforting for me; it means that I will be able to enter next year without fretting too much about not having an array of rarities to choose from.

Above all, though, the entries must be perfectly clean and immaculate. No debris caught between the leaves, no brown parts, no cobwebs. Just like dogs get groomed before a show, so do succulents. I wonder if anybody makes a shampoo and rinse for succulents?

Here are some of the winners as well as other plants and arrangements I found particularly interesting.

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Class winners

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society 2013 show and sale recap

This weekend (May 4 and 5, 2013) is the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society’s 53rd annual show and sale. It is being held at Shepard Garden and Arts Center adjacent to McKinley Park. For more information, go to the SCSS web site.

To whet your appetite—or to show you what you missed—here are some photos I took yesterday (Saturday). Be sure to click each photo to see a large version.

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Friday, May 3, 2013

First wave of cactus flowers, 2013 edition

A few days ago I showed you some cacti that are currently in bloom at the UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley. While my cactus collection is nothing compared to theirs, this is the season for cactus flowers so if you have even just a dozen plants, chances are one or more blooming now. Here’s what’s flowering in my garden right now.

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PARODIA UEBELMANNIA

The flowers of Parodia uebelmannia are so brilliant, it almost hurts your eyes. I actually reduced the saturation a little in these photos because they looked too unreal. My specimen is only about 4” across and its body is all but invisible when you look at it from above.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Echium × ‘Mr Happy’ spindly but a-blooming

A few years ago we had a tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii) blooming in our front yard. It produced copious amounts of seeds, and two of those seedlings are growing outside our front yard fence. Since this is their 2nd year, I expected them to bloom this spring but it looks like they’ll wait another year. (Echium wildprettii is a biennial, i.e. it flowers in its second year, sets seeds and then dies.)

However, not all is quiet on the echium front. My Echium × ‘Mr Happy’, purchased in February 2012 at Annie’s Annuals, is a-blooming. According to Annie’s, this “incredibly rare hybrid of Echium wildprettii & E. pininana” has the potential to reach “an impressive 15’ tall & 20” across, with a 3’ bulbous base.”

As you will see below, my specimen is much less “studly” and lacks the “bulbous base” altogether. But at least it’s full of flowers that are irresistible to bees.

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4” plants at Annie’s Annuals

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March 30, 2013