Thursday, September 18, 2014

My favorite plant this week is a weed?

Last week, I shared photos of a bed I'd recently replanted.  Although the focus of that post was on my newest Australian plant introductions, another plant, Hibiscus trionum, vied for attention by flashing its flowers.

Hibiscus trionum, as seen last week photobombing Leucadendron 'Blush'

The plant is now flowering more heavily.

The flowers last only a day but they're very pretty, featuring cream-colored petals and deep burgundy centers.  The question I face is: is it a lovely wildflower or a noxious weed?

I've had mixed feelings about this plant since I purchased it, on the fly, last March.  I found it at my local botanic garden.  I was familiar with the large-flowered shrub Hibiscus but not this species.  I grabbed it up, not knowing what I was getting but reassured that anything offered for sale by the botanic garden must have the garden's stamp of approval.  Then I looked up the plant on-line.  The gardening community is divided on the subject of Hibiscus trionum, also known as flower-of-an-hour, bladder weed, modesty, shofly, and Venice mallow.  It's native to the Eastern Mediterranean and was introduced as an ornamental in the US but has naturalized as a weed in many areas.

While Fine Gardening described it as a "perfect filler" plant, the opinions expressed by posters on Dave's Garden illustrate a range of strong opinions.  Here are a few quotes from the critics:

  • "The only good is when the soybean aphids arrive, it is the first plant they attack."
  • "All it took was a little rain and a little sun and they invaded like Attila the Hun."
  • "This plant needs to be tacked up on the Post Office Bulletin Board."
  • "It is not just is EVIL, bad, malo, muy malo, ..."
  • "Kill them early and kill them often...When you think of this plant, think INVASIVE, such as in 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers.'"

Even after reading the warnings, I haven't been able to bring myself to pull it out.  It has attractive, spreading foliage, which forms a mass 1-3 feet (30-90 cm) tall and wide.

The flowers last only a day but it blooms profusely from early summer through fall.  Mine was already blooming sporadically in March and has continued to do so, with heavier bloom following our recent spot of rain.  The flowers open when the sun comes out.  While some commentators contend that the flowers remain open only a short while, those on my plant appear to remain in bloom until the bed retreats into full shade in the late afternoon.

The plant prefers moist, well-drained soil.  Under our dry conditions, I hope the plant will remain under control.  It's obvious that it will self-sow freely.  Each spent bloom opens to reveal seeds, which can reportedly survive for years, waiting for the right conditions to germinate.

Oops!  There's a grass weed hiding beneath the Hibiscus I must pull

So what differentiates a weed from a flower?  I think it's in the eye of the beholder.  Many years ago my stepfather gave me a stitchery piece he'd made with me in mind, which I still have.  Maybe he saw me as a weed sympathizer even then.

There are many plants I consider weeds in my garden, some of which I tolerate in small quantities, like Centranthus ruber, Geranium incanum, and Erigeron karvinskianus.  Others, like the seedlings of Albizia julibrissin, I pull out at first sight, wherever I find them lurking.

One of 2 Albizia seedlings found hiding yesterday evening

The weed-suspect Hibiscus trionum, is my contribution to the favorite plant of the week meme hosted by Loree of danger garden.  Whether it stays a favorite remains to be seen.  Behavior will tell.  Please visit Loree to see her favorite this week (which is definitely NOT a weed).

All material © 2012-2014 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Foliage Follow-up - Drought Busters

My front lawn has been dug up and our front entry is now surrounded by more than 800 square feet (74 square meters) of bare dirt.  Dirt that, left untended, will sprout weeds and grass attempting a come-back.  I'm planning to haul in additional topsoil to create berms and improve the overall quality of my vast expanse of dirt.  A wide area around the Magnolia tree will be topped with decomposed granite and remain unplanted.  But the rest of the area will be filled by plant material that I hope will be far less thirsty than the unhappy lawn we previously had.

In considering what to plant, I've begun by looking at what has done well in my garden thus far.  I thought I'd use this foliage follow-up post, written in connection with the monthly meme sponsored by Pam at Digging, to highlight the foliage plants that have demonstrated their drought tolerance during my, admittedly short, stewardship of this garden.

Since I reduced my water usage, I've lost a lot of plants.  The healthy ones stand out dramatically in contrast to those holding on by their root hairs.  Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt' is one of these.  As I went through my garden I was surprised just how good these plants look, especially those that have been in the ground for a year or more.  Last December, I commented that the 'Cousin Itt' I had in a pot looked better than those in the ground but the plants in the ground have taken off.  Perhaps they like drought.

This one looked spindly last December but it's got a healthy mop now

Despite competing with tree roots, this one's ready to take over a portion of the backyard lawn

The 3 plants in this border look better than any of the surrounding plants

I'm also impressed by the 3 Agonis flexuosa 'Nana' I planted last September.  Like the Agonis flexuosa trees that surround the property, 'Nana,' a dwarf variety, is taking the drought in stride.

One of the 3 Agonis flexuosa 'Nana' planted along the side yard patio

I've had mixed results with Phormium but P. tenax 'Atropurpureum' and P. 'Amazing Red,' which some sources indicate also belongs to the tenax species, have been the most reliable.

Crowded into a relatively small area along the driveway, this P. tenax 'Atropurpureum' is doing fine

I've been very pleased with this more diminutive P. 'Amazing Red' too - I now have 4 of them

Among the smaller plants, I've been impressed by the drought tolerance of Lomandra longifolia, a grass-like plant; furry Pelargonium tomentosum, also known as peppermint geranium; and Helichrysum petiolare 'Petite Licorice,' which spreads in my garden with relative abandon.

I now have 9 Lomandra longifolia 'Breeze' - I pick up one or more every time I come across them in small pots

The peppermint geranium can get by with less water in partial shade (it's certainly doing better than the nearly dead foxglove next to it in this picture)

The gray-leaved Helichrysums are astounding performers in the sunny, dry areas of my garden but I prefer the fine-leafed variety, which I inherited with the garden, even though it plants itself wherever it likes

I've acquired quite a few Leucadendron in the past 3 years as well.  One, L. 'Wilson's Wonder,' moved in with me - it exploded in size when I removed it from the large pot I had it in at our old house and put it in the ground here.  I've purchased half a dozen more Leucadendron since then, most of them hybrids of L. salignum.   I haven't had any problems with them until L. 'Rising Sun,' planted in March, died suddenly this month.

Leucadendron 'Wilson's Wonder' gets no attention other than an annual trim

Leucadendron salignum 'Chief' has been happy in my dry garden since January 2013 and L. 'Ebony' has sat at its feet for a year now

I'm still not sure what caused the rapid demise of L. 'Rising Sun.'  The 2 most likely culprits are phosphorus toxicity - plants in the Protea family are said to react negatively to phosphorus in soil or fertilizer - or Phytophthora root rot.  It looks more like the latter to me but I'm no expert when it comes to conducting a plant post-mortem.  Still, I'm going to test my soil before I plant a lot more Leucadendrons.  I think another L. 'Wilson's Wonder' might do very well in the front yard.

The sad L. 'Rising Sun' shortly before I gave up and pulled it out

You can find more foliage-focused posts by visiting Pam at Digging.

All material © 2012-2014 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Monday, September 15, 2014

Bloom Day - September 2014

Today is Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, a monthly event hosted by Carol of May Dreams Gardens to celebrate the flower power of our gardens.  Last September, I complained that finding flowers for my Bloom Day post resembled a scavenger hunt.  It's much the same this September, although some flowers present at this time last year, like the Japanese anemones, Camellias and Salvia leucantha, have yet to make an appearance while other plants, like Echinacea and Leucanthemum, have stopped blooming.  After a brief but unexpected rainstorm a week ago, our temperatures soared over 100F (37C) and the hot Santa Ana winds have returned, sparking a fire in nearby Orange County.  Given the combination of heat, dry winds, and reduced irrigation in response to our drought, perhaps it isn't surprising that most of the flowering plants in my garden are showing few, if any, blooms.

The most significant exceptions are 2 blue beauties.

Despite the heat, the second round of blooms on the Eustoma grandiflorum 'Borealis Blue' is more robust than the first

Next year, I'm planting more of these in a broader range of colors!

With periodic deadheading, Salvia 'Mystic Spires' keeps on pumping out new flower spikes

There are a few other blue and purple flowering plants to be found, tucked into corners here and there but none have the presence of the Eustoma (aka Lisianthus) or Salvia.

Angelonia  augustifolia

Brachyscome 'Brasco Violet' has bloomed almost continuously since March

I almost missed the blooms of the Liriope muscari 

The flowers on Salvia macrophylla aren't profuse but you can't miss that bright blue color

The intense heat has scorched the leaves of Tibouchina urvilleana but not the blooms

Yellow flowers demand notice, even when there are few to be found.

This Anigozanthos 'Big Roo Yellow' is new to the garden

Succulent Bulbine frutescens have bloomed non-stop all summer

Coreopsis 'Big Bang Redshift' is on its second run

I showed this Phalaenopsis orchid last month but it deserves another mention - it keeps producing new blooms while sitting outside with only partial shade and haphazard watering

Rudbeckia 'Prairie Sun' is trying to upstage Grevillea 'Superb'

But the Grevillea can't be side-lined by anything

There are some pink, red, white and cream-colored flowers too, if you look hard enough.

Gaura lindheimeri 'Snow Fountain' has come back after an infestation of aphids and mid-summer pruning, providing a nice complement to recently planted Rudbeckia 'Cherry Brandy' in the background

Hibiscus trionum started blooming in earnest following the little bit of rain we got a week ago

Leptospermum scoparium 'Pink Pearl' is entering its peak bloom period

Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' is in its glory

There were even a couple of surprises as I searched high and low for flowers.

This unidentified Cyclamen, plunked in the side yard when I changed out the contents of a pot in late June, not only survived in the dry shade but has flowered ahead of schedule

The Digiplexis I hadn't cut back yet is blooming again

I also found signs of coming attractions.

Plectranthus ciliatus 'Zulu Warrior' is getting ready to bloom

And the first few flowers have appeared on Tagetes lemmonii

Before I close, as it's Monday and I usually post photos of a bouquet in connection with the "In the Vase on Monday" meme hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, I'm appending photos of a bouquet I created from flowers collected from my garden as I conducted by Bloom Day survey.  Cathy's vase post can be found here.

A 'Buttercream' rose, slightly past its prime, is surrounded by Angelonia, Abelia, Bulbine, Rudbeckia, feverfew, ornamental oregano and sprigs of thyme

A closer look at Rudbeckia 'Prairie Sun' and Bulbine frutescens 'Hallmark'

That's it for September's floral round-up.  Hopefully, temperatures will cool and my garden will rebound in October.  In the meantime, please visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens, the host of the monthly Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day event, to see what's in bloom elsewhere around the world.

All material © 2012-2014 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Friday, September 12, 2014

My favorite plant this week: Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku'

I've always loved Japanese maples.  Even in my former, tiny garden, I had two of them.  So, although the climate of my current garden is hotter, drier, and far less shady, I had to have some here as well.  I currently have 3, of which Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku,' also known as the coral bark maple, is my favorite.  I brought it home in 2011 with only the vaguest idea where to put it.  It ended up planted in a bed alongside our garage, facing the vegetable garden, where it has done surprisingly well thus far.

As you can see, 'Sango Kaku' is already sporting its autumn colors, and has been for perhaps a month already.  In May, it was mostly green but still flaunting its trademark coral trunk and stems.

In its current spot, it gets morning sun and afternoon shade, which may account for its healthy appearance.  In my experience, Japanese maples here do best with some shade.  This one had shown little in the way of tip and leaf burn, although I've read that those problems may become less prevalent as the tree matures.

In contrast, my poor A. 'Purple Ghost' is a stick, with only a tenuous hold on life.  I placed it on the southeast side of our property, where it was blasted by sun during the hottest time of the day; buffeted by Santa Ana winds when they blew; and pestered by raccoons burrowing at its base in search of grubs.  I've moved 'Purple Ghost' to a spot alongside 'Sango Kaku' in the hope that it will soon achieve the same level of health.

Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' is my favorite plant this week.  It provides a bright spot in my vegetable garden even when most everything else looks dreadful and it provides me a touch of autumn color, which is hard to come by in Southern California.

Please visit Loree at danger garden to find her favorite plant selection and those of other gardeners.

All material © 2012-2014 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party