Thursday, May 29, 2014

My favorite plant this week: Cotula 'Tiffendell Gold'

For the last month or more, every time I sit on the living room couch and look out the window, I've seen a mass of bright yellow in the backyard border.  Much of this comes from Achillea 'Moonshine' but recently Cotula 'Tiffendell Gold' has added an echo at the edge of the border.

Cotula 'Tiffendell Gold' is in the foreground

Attracted by the foliage, I put in 3 of these plants, also called "Martian Moondrops," last summer. Rhizomes spread 12 inches (30 cm) or more to form an evergreen, gray-green ground covering mat less than 3 inches (7.6 cm) tall.  Pretty as the foliage is, the yellow button flowers that sit atop wiry stems averaging 5 inches (12.7 cm) tall add a nice quirky element to the mix.  Regular dead-heading extends the bloom period.

While the flowers of 'Tiffendell Gold' are about half and inch (1.27 cm) in diameter, I have another variety, Cotula lineariloba 'Big Yellow Moon,' that produces flowers an inch (2.54 cm) in size.  The foliage of this plant is similar but its spread is said to be far greater.  Reportedly, it can grow up to 3 feet (.91 m) wide.  Mine spread rapidly since it was planted early this year, although it has developed a hole at its center along the way.

Cotula lineariloba 'Big Yellow Moon' has larger flowers and a broader spread but requires more water

Both plants will grow in full sun to partial shade but on-line sources suggest that 'Tiffendell Gold' is more cold hardy, tolerating temperatures as low as -20F (-28.8C), as well as drought tolerant.  Cotula 'Tiffendell Gold' is my favorite plant this week and my contribution to the meme sponsored by Loree at danger garden.  You can see Loree's favorite and find links to other gardeners' selection by clicking here.

Monday, May 26, 2014

In a Vase on Monday: A Lopsided Arrangement

The flowers on 3 of my Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame' were past their prime.  The bulk of the lower petals had dropped off, leaving just the tops of the tall bloom stalks intact.  They needed to be cut back but the flower tips were still pretty so into a vase they went.  The color of the flowers is relatively unusual so I had to scour the garden for the right accents.

I selected 3 stems of Leucadendron salignum 'Chief' as the foliage accent and several stems of Argyranthemum frutescens 'Madeira Red' as a floral accent.  While the colors blended well, the combination of all those the red tones made the arrangement feel heavy, almost leaden.  So, I moved the Argyranthemum to the back of the arrangement and tucked in Anagallis 'Wildcat Mandarin' and Tanacetum parthenium 'Aureum' up front to brighten things a bit.

Close up showing Argyranthemum 'Madeira Red' and the stems of Leucadendron salignum 'Chief'

Close up of Anagallis 'Wildcat Mandarin' and golden feverfew

There's been something of a Digiplexis backlash here.  Declared the "it" plant last year, within months it went from being hard to find to everywhere you look.  Despite its overexposure, I have to say I like it a lot.  The orange and pink of the flowers is undeniably pretty and it has proven heat-hardy in my garden thus far.  Even when our temperatures hit record highs here, both flowers and foliage remained in great condition.  I think I probably should have cut the central flower spikes back sooner to promote earlier side growth but that's a lesson I can act on next year.

Close up photo of Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame'

While I like the color combinations in this bouquet, the heavy stems of the Leucadendron created a lopsided display.  In retrospect, I think a more delicate foliage accent, like Abelia, would have been a better choice.  I futzed with it for a while, then decided to let it be.  This asymmetrical arrangement is my contribution to Cathy's meme at Rambling in the Garden, which celebrates flowers cut from materials on hand in one's own backyard (or front yard, as the case may be).  Click here to see Cathy's floral concoction this week and to find links to other gardeners' floral creations.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Visit from a Flashy Dresser

We had a surprise visit from an attractive but unwelcome visitor late yesterday afternoon.

Yes, that's a peacock.  He was quite large but, as his tail feathers were relatively short, I suspect he may be a juvenile, although I can't say I have much experience with peafowl.  Apparently, male peacocks don't develop a full train of feathers until they're about 6 years of age.  They also shed their tail feathers each summer but it seems early for completion of the molting process; however, I can't claim any personal knowledge of that process either.

My husband returned home and found the bird seated on our roof at the front of the house.  He alerted me and I grabbed my camera and went looking for our visitor.  I heard him squawk before I saw him.  Peacocks can produce a blood-curdling screech but this one produced a sound more like a goose's honk.

I found him pacing nervously about the vegetable garden.

He didn't at all like being followed around so he flew up out of my way onto our garage roof, where he paced about some more before flying over the fence into my neighbor's yard..

Hopefully, he'll head back to his colony.  He's very handsome and I certainly bear him no ill will but I'd prefer that he reside elsewhere.  In addition to their capacity for ear-splitting shrieks, they've been known to wreak havoc in gardens.  The peacocks, which are native to India, were brought into this area as a gift to a wealthy landowner in the 1920s.  Their numbers increased and the surrounding community became quite divided about their presence.  There are clear pro- and anti-peacock factions in the community.

Although I've seen them on the road a few miles from here, I've never before seen them in our neighborhood.  Our community has an ordinance prohibiting residents from feeding them and offers a laundry list of recommendations to deter them from moving in and settling down.  Dogs are the primary deterrent but our neighborhood coyotes are unlikely to permit long-time residence either.  A city website offers a helpful list of plants disliked by peacocks, which one is encouraged to use, and plants that the peacocks particularly like, which one is warned to avoid.  Luckily, I have a lot of plants on the "dislike" list but the "like" list contains a general reference to "tender young plants," which is problematic.

As of this morning, there's no sign of our visitor.  I hope he left of his own volition and not as dinner for one of the neighborhood coyotes.

Friday, May 23, 2014

My favorite plant this week: Hebe 'Wiri Blush'

My favorite plant this week is another one that came through our recent heatwaves unscathed, Hebe 'Wiri Blush.'  This is not classified as a drought tolerant plant but it is considered heat tolerant.  Specifically, it's suited to AHS heat zones 7-12, which means it can tolerate conditions in which it's exposed to heat of 86F (30C) or greater for more than 210 days per year.*  When our temperature exceeded 104F (40C) last week, the plant didn't wilt, the flowers didn't shrivel, and the leaves didn't burn or drop.  The plant looked as good this week as it did at the end of April - better, perhaps, in that the heat seems to have prompted blooms that are normally associated with summer.

Hebe 'Wiri Blush' sits in my backyard border in front of one Phormium 'Dark Delight' and alongside 2 others

This is another plant I bought principally for its foliage.  The narrow leaves are a glossy green, edged in magenta.  The undersides of new leaves and the plant's stems have the same magenta color.  The plant is evergreen and grows 3-4 feet (90-120 cm) tall by 4 feet (120 cm) wide.  It seems to be a relatively fast grower - mine, planted in January 2013 from a 1 gallon pot, has already reached its mature size.  Its compact form is easily maintained with a little light pruning.

This foliage close-up shows the magenta undersides of the stems and the new growth

It grows in full to partial sun and normally blooms in summer through fall.  The flowers are a bright pink color.  They're also attractive to bees.

The flower spikes are about 3 inches long and hold up surprisingly well in cut flower arrangements

This New Zealand native requires good drainage and regular water.  Dry summer heat is said to shorten its life span.  As that's what it receives in my garden, we'll have to see how it does in the long haul but I'm very pleased with it thus far.  So pleased in fact, that I recently picked up another one for placement in my "red bed."  For those of you in cooler climates, this Hebe is said to handle low temperatures in the range of 0 to 10F (-18 to 12C).

Hebe 'Wiri Blush' is my contribution this week to the favorite plants meme hosted by Loree at danger garden.  Click here to see Loree's favorite of the week and to find links to other gardeners' selections.

*On a separate but related topic, looking at the heat tolerance of this plant led me to a closer examination of the American Horticultural Society's Heat Zone Map.  Unlike the USDA cold hardiness zones, I wasn't able to find a tool that linked heat zone directly to postal zip code.  I was left to deduce my zone based on my own possibly questionable reading of the AHS color-coded state map.  My reading of the 1997 map suggests that I reside in heat zone 6 or below, although average temperature data for downtown Los Angeles, which normally tracks our local temperature fairly closely, suggests that a zone 7 classification may be more accurate.  However, I have to wonder whether either estimate reflects the warming trend.  I'm also unsure whether this heat index helps me in assessing a plant's resilience in handling abrupt temperature fluctuations, such as those we've been experiencing.  Have you made use of the AHS heat tolerance index?  Do you find it of value in making plant selections?

Monday, May 19, 2014

In a Vase on Monday: Agapanthus takes the lead

Blooming Agapanthus dominate my garden at the moment, both in sheer numbers and in the perfection of their flowers.  These plants came through our two May heatwaves completely unscathed, which cannot be said for the majority of plants in my garden.  They were the obvious selection to go "In a Vase on Monday" as my contribution to the weekly meme hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.

I inherited dozens of clumps of Agapanthus (presumably A. praecox orientalis) with the house.  The majority are a medium blue but some are light blue and there are a few white ones.  I picked 2 stalks of the medium blue variety and one pale blue.  I accented these with a few stems of Arthropodium cirratum (aka Renga Lily), which I used in my bouquet 2 weeks ago.  A good many of these flowers dried up in the heat and wind last week so I thought I'd best use them while I can.  Other accents included 2 varieties of Leucanthemum x superbum (aka Shasta Daisy), Tanacetum parthenium 'Aureum' (aka golden feverfew), and Phlomis fruticosa (aka Jerusalem Sage).

The blooms of the Phlomis peaked in mid-April.  There are only a few of these Dr. Seuss-like blooms left in the garden now.  I wanted a punch of yellow to complement the blue and white of the other flowers but I wasn't sure these fuzzy flowers would fit the bill; however, I liked the whimsy they added to the arrangement.

The Leucanthemum x superbum 'Snow Lady' shown with the Phlomis in the picture above have relatively short stems but I liked the way they complemented the Jerusalem Sage better than the taller, ruffled variety of Shasta Daisy I cut first.  The ruffled variety was relegated to the back of the arrangement with the golden feverfew.

The arrangement sits on the dining room table, where I enjoyed it while eating breakfast.

If you have a bouquet from your garden you're enjoying this Monday, post a picture on your blog and link in with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.  You can find her composition here, along with links to other contributing gardeners.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

My favorite plant this week: Dorycinium hirsutum

My favorite plant this week, Dorycinium hirsutum, isn't flashy like last week's selection but as it performs exceptionally well under hot, dry conditions, it's one I value highly.  I acquired my first plant early in 2011 because I liked the soft gray, fuzzy foliage and, based on the label, I thought it might do well in my dry garden.  It grew, spread, and flowered with little attention and sparse irrigation.  I was so impressed that I picked up 2 more this past January.

One of the newer acquisitions, not yet in bloom

My oldest Dorycinium hirsutum, currently in bloom

It's said to grow 1-2 feet (30-60 cm) tall and 2-3 (60 cm-1 meter) wide.  My 3 year-old plant is somewhat shorter, yet nearly the projected breadth.  It's currently covered in flowers, which the bees love.  It's common name, Hairy Canary Clover, can be attributed to the clover-like white and pink flowers it produces.

Here's a closer look at the flowers

It's native to Portugal and other areas within the Northern Mediterranean region.  Despite its name it isn't indigenous to the Canary Islands, although apparently other varieties of Dorycinium hail from those islands.  Reports of its hardiness vary.  San Marcos Growers contends that it's cold hardy to 15-20F (-9 to -6.7C).  As my plants haven't been exposed to temperatures anywhere near those levels, I can't offer any personal testimonials as to its cold hardiness; however, I can tell you that the plant sailed through 2 heatwaves just this month, as well as extreme heat spells in 2011, 2012 and 2013 without any noticeable ill effects.  All 3 of my plants are in an area with no automated irrigation.  I provide water somewhat haphazardly, approximately every 4-6 weeks in the absence of rain (of which we've had very little this year).

After flowering, the plant produces a multitude of brown seedpods, which are easy to harvest.  I tried sowing some last fall in the dry garden with no luck; however, in researching the plant for this post, I discovered that the seeds can take up to one year to germinate so maybe I'll get a plant out of them yet.

This heat and drought tolerant plant is my contribution this week to Loree's favorite plant meme at danger garden.  Please visit her there to see her favorite this week.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Foliage Follow-up - May 2014 Heatwave Edition

As I've mentioned (ad nauseum), we're in the middle of yet another spring heatwave.  The heat reached a ridiculous level for awhile yesterday - not that any temperature above 80F (27C) in May isn't ridiculous.

Nearly 105F (40.5C) outside at 2pm

The effects on the flowering plants have been obvious but the weather has impacted my foliage plants as well.  There are clear winners, plants that continue to thrive under heat and drought conditions, and losers, plants that are struggling, so I thought I'd use this month's Foliage Follow-up, the meme sponsored by Pam at Digging, to highlight some of each.

In the popular plants category, Yucca 'Bright Star' is doing so well that I kept myself awake recently wondering where I could put more.  My 3, planted in January in the backyard border, are still small but they get prettier with each passing month.

In contrast, Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt,' another popular newcomer reputed to be drought tolerant, has had more difficulty adapting to the abrupt increases in temperature.  Prior to the first heatwave, I'd have said the Acacia in the large pot near to the house was the best-looking of its brethren; however, despite receiving only morning sun and regular watering, it lost a lot of its leaves and now has a visibly thinner appearance.  To be fair, the 4 plants in the ground experienced less leaf loss than the one in the pot even though they get more sun and less attention.

Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt' has receding foliage

Leaf debris dropped by 'Cousin Itt'

In the Japanese maple category, 'Sango Kaku,' growing in a partial shade location next to the garage, and 'Mikawa Yatsubusa,' which gets mid-afternoon shade in the backyard, are both looking good despite exposure to heat and wind.

Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' hasn't shown any ill effects to the heat thus far

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa Yatsubusa' has only the slightest leaf tip burn

This is not the case with Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost' despite extra water the other 2 didn't receive.  'Purple Ghost' stands on the southeast side of the house and, although it gets some shade from nearby trees, it probably gets more sun overall that the other 2.  The wind that whips through that area as it moves around the house  may be an even more significant issue.  And, of course, the visits by raccoons and a gopher can't help things.  I'm afraid that 'Purple Ghost' may have to be moved in the fall (if it lives that long).

My sad 'Purple Ghost'

All my Phormium are doing well.  They don't appear to notice the heat at all.

Phormium 'Amazing Red'

That's not true of Cordyline 'Renegade,' despite similarities in appearance and place of origin.  Perhaps, as in the case of the Acacia cognata described above, part of the problem is that my Cordyline are in pots.

'Renegade's' growth is stunted and the foliage has lost some of its intense color while the Pelargonium planted with it enjoys its sunny setting

In the decorative shrub category, Agonis flexuosa 'Nana' is performing very well in full sun conditions in the windy southeast side yard.

Justicia brandegeeana,' on the other hand, doesn't seem happy.  Although it seemed fine before the temperatures soared this week, it clearly needs more shade under current conditions.  I'll have to find another spot for it.

This Justicia brandegeeana is frying - the other one, in partial afternoon shade, is faring better

Some groundcovers are doing better than others as well.  The St. Johnswort is slow growing but seemingly impervious to heat.  The red hook sedge gets a touch of shade during the first half of the day but takes the sun's full blast from mid-day with no ill effects thus far.  But my experiment in stretching my zone to include Nepeta 'Pink Cat' was short-lived.

Hypericum x moserianum 'Tricolor'

Uncinia uncinata 'Rubra' in the midst of our 2nd heatwave

Nepeta 'Pink Cat' was dead after the 1st heatwave

The ugliest parts of my garden right now are the remaining areas of lawn, most of which are quickly turning straw yellow even though I've delivered far more water during the current heatwave than I did during the first one.  I've been reading about drought tolerant grasses, grass substitutes, and even fake grass.  Although we've eliminated various sections of grass since we moved in 3 years ago and I'd already slated other sections to go, I hadn't originally planned to take it all out but it may come to that.  Looking at this, in mid-May, is depressing:

This patch of lawn in the backyard was mostly green just a week ago

This, in contrast, is not depressing.

Lomandra 'Breeze'

Stipa tenuissima

If current conditions represent the "new normal," then I need plants that are better at adapting to sudden temperature fluctuations, more intense heat, and less water.  At present, my plants aren't the only ones having trouble adapting.  Heat and low humidity (plus dying plants) has made me cranky.  In contrast, at least one of my household companions takes the heat in stride.

Pipig has no problem with the heat despite being covered by fur

Please visit Pam at Digging to read her Foliage Follow-up post and to find links to other gardeners' flaunting their foliage.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bloom Day - May 2014

May is usually one of the very best months in the garden here.  This year, we're sitting through our second major heatwave.  The Santa Ana winds are blowing and the risk of wildfire is high.  These are conditions we generally face in September and October, not in spring.  The heat, dry air, and lack of rain has had impact on the garden.  Plants that were in full bloom last year at this time, like the Alstroemeria and the Argyranthemum, have already bloomed out.  Others, like the Iris germanica and Digitalis purpurea, have produced only sporadic bloom thus far.  I've lost a few plants and expect to lose more.  However, some plants are thriving, most notably the Agapanthus.

On May 20th last year, I posted about the arrival of masses of Agapanthus buds.  But, on this Bloom Day, the Agapanthus are already in full bloom throughout the garden.

Clumps of Agapanthus below the mimosa tree

More clumps below the California pepper trees

Clumps in the front yard

Other standouts in the backyard include:

Achillea 'Moonshine' and Salvia 'Mystic Spires'

Erysimum linifolium 'Variegatum'

Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow'

Hebe 'Patty's Purple'

Leucanthemum x superbum 'Snow Lady'

Some smaller plants showing their resilience in the backyard include:

Anagallis 'Wildcat Mandarin' - flowers close until the sun shines on them

Bulbine frutescens has been blooming continuously since it was planted in early March

Cotula lineariloba 'Big Yellow Moon' forms a mat from which petal-less, disk-shaped flowers spring

Hibiscus trionum, aka flower of an hour, is an annual that produces flowers that survive only a few hours

I love Nigella damascena 'African Bride' but find it hard to place because the white petals can look dingy next to bright whites

The flowers of Scorzonera hispanica smell like chocolate!

I wish I'd bought more of this cherry skullcap (Scutellaria suffrutescens)

The southeast side garden has taken a beating.  In addition to repeated onslaughts by raccoons, there are signs that a gopher is tunneling about there.  The sun and wind also poses challenges in that area.  Still, some plants are holding up well.

Both Acanthus mollis 'Summer Beauty' and Arthropodium cirratum would prefer a less sunny setting but they're troupers

While I was disappointed by the dwarf yellow Anigozanthos, I can't fault this red variety, which has bloomed non-stop since January

Osteospermum ecklonis '3D Silver' doesn't care for the heat but the Ageratum houstonianum 'Blue Horizon' planted from 6-packs only weeks prior to the 1st heatwave are taking the temperatures in stride

Cuphea micropetala 'Candy Corn' is supposed to grow 1-3 feet tall and 1-2 feet wide but this plant is nearly prostrate and is spreading far further than expected

Self-seeded Gaillardia (probably 'Goblin')

Tagetes lemmonii 'Compacta' doesn't mind the heat

In the front yard, the 'Joseph's Coat' rose which was covered with flowers last May, has already produced 2 flushes of bloom and has little to show for itself this May.  The 'Pink Meidiland' shrub roses are blooming, although not as heavily as they did last year.

Other plants are undaunted by the weather conditions.

The indefatigable Cuphea x ignea 'Starfire Pink' may swamp the roses in the front beds

Gaura lindheimeri 'Snow Fountain' has produced its first flush of blooms

Hemerocallis 'Spanish Harlem' continues to pump out new blooms each day

Pelargonium x domesticum 'Georgia Peach' is a reliable bloomer

I caught the final blooms on the pineapple guava in the bed bordering the street.

Feijoa sellowiana grows just inside of the hedge

The vines covering the arbor between the vegetable garden and the dry garden are in full bloom.

Distictis laxiflora interwoven with Trachelospermum jasminoides

The biggest floral splashes in the dry garden are provided by the daylilies.

Hemerocallis 'For Pete's Sake' surrounded by the "weed" Geranium incanum

But a few other plants add subtle interest.

Bright pink Cistus x pulverulentus 'Sunset'

Dorycinium hirsutum, aka Hairy Canary Clover

Globularia x indubia

Groundcovers Thymus praecox 'Pink Chintz' and Teucrium chamaedrys

Finally, there's the slope, which has held up surprisingly well despite limited irrigation.

Centranthus ruber, Oenothera speciosa and Euphorbia 'Dean'Hybrid'

Those are the highlights for this exceptionally hot May Bloom Day in Southern California.  Please visit Carol of May Dreams Gardens, the host of the monthly Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, to see what's blooming in her garden and to find links to the posts of more than a hundred other contributors.