Monday, September 29, 2014

In a Vase on Monday: A Substitute for Roses

I'd planned to feature yellow roses in this week's vase, prepared in connection with the popular meme hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.  One of my 'Buttercream' rose shrubs has been working hard to produce blooms since the weather cooled the weekend before last.  But then temperatures heated up again before cooling once more this past weekend and the roses were left looking rather sad.  So I went hunting for a substitute and ended up with a little of this and a little of that, creating a cheerful bouquet better suited to the start of autumn than the pale yellow roses.

This week, the back view of the vase is almost as pretty as the front view

The jumping off point for the new color scheme was Russelia equisetiformis 'Flamingo Park.'

Russelia 'Flamingo Park' is shown here in a close-up with Grevillea 'Superb'

Once I had my new color scheme, I was able to find a surprising number of complementary materials.  This week's bouquet consists of:

  • Abelia grandiflora 'Kaleidoscope' (3 stems)
  • Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame' (2 stems)
  • Gaillardia  x grandiflora 'Goblin' (4 stems)
  • Grevillea 'Superb' (1 stem)
  • Leucadendron 'Wilson's Wonder' (3 stems)
  • Nandina domestica (1 stem)
  • Russelia equisetiformis 'Flamingo Park' (2 stems)
  • Solenostemon scutellarioides 'Honey Crisp Coleus' (1 stem)
  • Tanacetum parthenium 'Aureum' (5 stems)

The Digiplexis is still producing sporadic blooms - shown here with Grevillea on one side, Gaillardia on the other, and a coleus leaf in the back

It's hard to pick a favorite when it comes to Leucadendron but 'Wilson's Wonder,' my 1st Leucadendron, is the one that most often causes me to stop in my tracks

The unripe berries of the Nandina were the perfect color for this bouquet

The vase is visible when you step through the front door, next to my favorite toad.

You can see Cathy's vase and those of other gardeners by visiting Rambling in the Garden.

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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pleated Leaves

I have a few orchid plants of different types sitting alongside the window in my home office.  They bloom sporadically despite receiving little attention.  I usually water them when I dust my office (i.e. haphazardly and not nearly often enough).  One plant, a gift from a friend following my mother's death last year, recently burst into bloom.  Its yellow flowers and soft, sweet scent provide a welcome greeting every morning.

The orchid's most unusual feature may not be immediately noticeable.  It's not the pretty flowers.

It's the leaves.

They're pleated

They unfurl from a cramped mass at the center of the plant 

I'd assumed the accordion-pleated leaves were a normal characteristic of the plant.   The orchid came without a label and, when I first noticed the funky leaves, I couldn't remember what the flowers looked like so I was at a loss to identify the genus.  When the flower buds finally opened, I realized that the orchid is some variety of Miltonia.  When I conducted an on-line search regarding pleated leaves on a Miltonia, I discovered a shameful fact: I've been guilty of orchid abuse.  The Miltonia's leaves aren't supposed to start out crimped.  This occurs as a result of dehydration.  Experts recommend watering twice a week, raised humidity, and regular fertilizer.

I repotted my orchid in a slightly larger pot with new orchid bark, added a pebble tray to increase humidity, and have increased my watering schedule.  This apparently won't help the pleated leaves - that damage is said to be irreversible.  But future leaves should be fine.

Hopefully, the orchid will forgive me and reward me with blooms for years to come.

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

Thursday, September 25, 2014

My favorite plant this week: Salvia 'Mesa Azure'

I've thought of featuring Salvia microphylla 'Mesa Azure' as my favorite plant of the week several times but always passed it up in favor of something flashier and more photogenic.  This plant has had a place in my garden since May 2011, our first year in our current house.  I put in 3 plants in the border tucked into a corner of the front yard usually seen by no one other than myself.  With the exception of a few foundation plants that came with the house, most of the plants in this border have been changed out over the past 3 years but this Salvia has remained in place.  It always looks good, whether in flower or not; it tolerates our heat and drought; and it blooms at least half the year if regularly deadheaded.

Salvia 'Mesa Azure' seated next to Lomandra, Coprosma and Gaillardia in the front yard

I added another plant, purchased with a tag labeling it a "California friendly plant," in early June of this year.  Despite my reduced watering schedule, it settled in just fine in the backyard border.

Salvia 'Mesa Azure' shortly after planting in the backyard border in June 2014

The foliage is evergreen.  The flowers are relatively small and, despite its name, they're more violet-lavender, than blue.

A perennial shrub in my USDA zone 10b garden, I cut it back once a year when it stops flowering.  It's reported to grow 18-24 inches (45-61 cm) tall and almost as wide.   My oldest plants are just under 18 inches (45 cm) tall.  It can be grown in full sun or light shade.  My plants all get some shade until late morning or mid-day, after which they receive full sun.

If you're looking for a long-blooming, drought tolerant plant, this is one I'd recommend you try.  Salvia microphylla 'Mesa Azure' is my contribution to Loree's favorite plant of the week meme at danger garden.

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

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Planting Bed Facelift #2

My first planting bed facelift involved the bed formerly occupied by an unused wood-fired spa.  Last week, I tackled my second facelift, the bed once occupied by a 60 foot Eucalyptus tree.  I replanted the area in March 2013 after the tree was removed at the request of a neighbor.  It looked fine for a short while but the combination of dry soil (made worse, not better by the addition of the woody remains of the Eucalyptus tree), high winds, drought, nightly digging operations by the neighborhood raccoons, and poor plant selections left it looking sad.  The wood chips and shavings left after grinding down the tree stump had formed clumps with the consistency of dry cardboard and didn't hold water well.  I cleared as much of the remnants of that debris as I could and added lots of soil amendment before replanting.  My fingers are crossed that the new plants will fare better than the bed's previous occupants did.

View of replanted bed looking west

View of the same bed from the side yard patio

Two of the 3 original Coprosma 'Plum Hussey' remain in place along the bed's outer edge.  The third, which was struggling to survive, was removed and replaced with a smaller plant of the same variety, moved from the side yard border.

The 2 original Coprosma 'Plum Hussey' bordered by Pelargonium tomentosum (peppermint geranium)

The smaller Coprosma, moved from a shadier bed, hasn't developed 'Plum Hussey's' striking red color yet

Grevillea 'Bonfire' replaced the sad Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost,' which couldn't hold up to the winds that whip through this area most afternoons.  The Japanese maple was moved to the vegetable garden, where I hope it has a chance to survive.

Newly planted Grevillea 'Bonfire'

Four Agave 'Blue Glow' and one Hesperaloe parviflora were installed both for their looks and the possibility that their prickly leaves will deter the raccoons from digging in the area in their relentless search for grubs.

Agave 'Blue Glow,' still relatively small

Hesperaloe parviflora (aka red yucca)

To complement the gray-foliage of the Hesperaloe, I added Festuca 'Elijah Blue,' tiny cuttings of succulent Senecio mandraliscae, and pink-flowering Cistus x scanbergii.

Cistus x skanbergii

We raised the height of the wall that borders one length of the bed to reduce its slope and support the additional soil amendments I added.  I replaced the mass of gray Helichrysum petiolare that previously occupied that space with 5 Pennisetum setaceum 'Fireworks' and 2 varieties of Rhipsalis.  The Helichrysum did well in the location but it wasn't particularly interesting.

Pennisetum setaceum 'Fireworks' is reputed to be smaller than the standard variety

Five plants line the top of the wall

This was labeled 'mistletoe cactus' - my best guess is that it's Rhipsalis baccifera aka spaghetti cactus

This one was labeled Rhipsalis salicornioides, aka dancing bones cactus

I moved 3 Hemerocallis 'Spanish Harlem' here from the front yard borders to pick up the red tones of the Coprosma and the Pennisetum.  There's less late afternoon sun in this bed but I hope it will be sufficient to keep 'Spanish Harlem' blooming as I love this daylily's flowers.

These evergreen daylilies are a little sad at the moment as I cut them back prior to transplanting 

Here's a reminder of what 'Spanish Harlem' looked like in full bloom

Unfortunately, the Agaves are still small and aren't yet up to the challenge of keeping the raccoons at bay.  The little monsters dug up a few of the smaller plants and pawed around the base of the Grevillea.  I've put down more animal repellent and temporarily caged the Grevillea for its own protection until it's well-rooted in its new location.

Grevillea wearing a tomato cage

Work continues on the denuded front lawn area, as well as a small bed dug out of the lawn in the backyard.  My lawn removers left a lot of grass roots behind, as well as much of that nasty plastic netting embedded in the sod laid by the former owners.  My husband and I are in the process of clearing out what we can before hauling in supplemental topsoil and soil amendments.  It may be quite some time before I'm ready to plant the front area but, impatient as I am, those grass roots need to go and the soil, pure clay in one area and nothing more than decomposing rock in another, needs work.

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

In a Vase on Monday: The Old and the New

The seasonal change is in the air.  After a miserable heatwave, temperatures here in Southern California have returned to more normal levels.  It's possible to work outside without melting and to sleep at night without feeling as though you're roasting on a slow spit.  Days are becoming noticeably shorter.  Fall arrives in Los Angeles at 7:29pm PDT this evening.  The garden is responding.  Even the most robust of my summer flowers are tiring out while the first of my fall flowers are making an appearance.  It seemed appropriate to note the change with this week's floral arrangement, created in connection with the weekly meme hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.

Summer is represented by Eustoma grandiflorum 'Borealis Blue,' which has bloomed off and on since early June.  Fall is represented by Plectranthus ciliatus 'Zulu Warrior,' which has just begun to bloom.

The Eustoma blooms are smaller now but just as pretty as they were at the start of the season

The delicate lavender-pink blooms of the Plectranthus are coming on in a rush now that the heat has abated

I added bits and pieces of other plants to add fullness to the arrangement, including:

  • Angelonia augustfolia (aka summer snapdragon)
  • Leucadendron 'Pisa'
  • Pseuderanthemum 'Texas Tri-star'
  • Salvia leucantha (aka Mexican bush sage), also just beginning to flower
  • Tanacetum parthenium 'Aureum,' which bloomed all summer

An Angelonia stem is seen here poking out to the right of the Eustoma

The silvery Leucadendron is beautiful even without flowers

A Salvia stem can be seen above the variegated foliage of the Pseuderanthemum

Pipig resented the time I spent fussing over flowers, feeling that my time should be devoted to her.  She watched me reproachfully during the photographic process until the vase was in place and she had my full attention.

She doesn't value plants unless she can chew them

Do you feel the change in the air?  Visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden to see what she and other gardeners have put together to usher in the autumnal equinox.

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

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