Bloom Day March 2013

If it weren’t for the few stems of Scilla peruviana in bloom I’d feel completely out of step this March Bloom Day, when so many participating gardens are sending forth crocus and iris and so many other traditional spring bulbs and blooms. We may have flowers every month of the year, as Carol’s Bloom Day muse Elizabeth Lawrence declares, but we won’t all necessarily have the same flowers.


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I’ve been trimming away the lower leaves from a Geranium maderense to let some sun in on this patch of scilla.
Even in perfect conditions this bulb takes some years off and refuses to bloom.

What I’m most interested in this year is a little meadow/chaparral experiment that I’m hoping will bloom through summer in full sun, fairly dry conditions. It’s really begun to fill in the past couple weeks.

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Diascia personata is part of this experiment, three plants, two planted in fall and a cutting struck from one of them that has already made good size. Thanks go to Annie’s Annuals & Perennials for being the only U.S. source, via Derry Watkins’ extraordinary nursery in England. In the 1980s I reverently brought new diascia species and varieties home from Western Hills Nursery in Occidental, California, the only source at that time. Now all the local nurseries carry them as bedding plants every spring, and of course being a plant snob I don’t grow them anymore. But diascias can be very good here along the coast in the long cool spring and early summer, dwindling off in the heat of August. This Diascia personata’s height to 4 feet is a very intriguing asset.

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Also in the little meadow is Anthemis ‘Susanna Mitchell,’ and self-sown poppies, probably Papaver setigerum.
I like calling it my “meadow” when in truth it covers as much ground as a large picnic blanket.

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Blue oat grass, helicotrichon on the left, borders one side of the meadow/chaparral.

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Bordering a pathway elsewhere there’s a big swathe of this silvery gazania, maybe five plants, which counts as a swathe in my garden. In full sun they’d be open and you’d see what a shockingly striped and loud harlequin variety I chose last fall. Can’t fault those beautiful leaves though.

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More beautiful leaves to shore up what few flowering plants I actually grow. Senecio leucostachys is the big silvery sprawler. Small flashes of color from the Moroccan toadflax, Linaria reticulata, and the saffron-colored blooms of Salvia africana-lutea picking up speed, especially in recent temps in the high 80s. The phormium was bought misnamed as the dwarf ‘Tom Thumb.’ Whatever it’s true name, it’s stayed fairly compact and seems to have topped off at about 3 feet.

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Closeup of the salvia bloom.

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Euphorbia lambii began to bloom this week.

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The tree euphorbia really grew into its name this year.

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Kind of amazing to write that Nicotiana ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix’ has been in bloom all winter.
I’ve been cutting off old branches as the flowers go to seed. The brick paths are full of its seedlings.
Fresh basal leaf growth is coming in strong.

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Salvia chiapensis backed by Melianthus ‘Purple Haze’

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And a different view against a backdrop of sideritis and a big clump of Helleborus argutifolius.

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The yellow-flowered form of Russellia equisetiformis is just so very cool.

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Nasturtiums are ruthlessly thinned, but this climbing variety was allowed to fill in the bottom of a tuteur that supports the coronilla, which is still in full, aureate bloom.

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The coronilla with the nasturtium growing at the base of its support

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The seductive little species geraniums/pelargoniums are at their very best in spring

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Also beginning bloom is one of my favorite sedums. S. confusum.

Thanks again to Carol of May Dreams Gardens and all who participate in opening their gardens on Bloom Day.

Bloom Day February 2013


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I admit I’m a vulgarian, if there was any doubt left. By February I’m starved for brash and garish, even though it violates the subtle order of nature that has spring unfolding with a delicacy that builds by degrees to a late summer, over-the-top crescendo. I go straight to over-the-top, and containers of gaudy tulips are the perfect vehicle for strong, fleeting boosts of color. I wouldn’t want masses of them, but a few in a pot are visual antidepressants on long stems, my go-to designer drug for jumpstarting spring. The species don’t like the chill-free winter here anyway, so that preempts any debate about the quiet beauty of species tulips versus the gypsy caravan hybrids. These hybrids are artificially chilled for six weeks in the garage fridge then go straight to the compost heap after blooming. This is the first pot of tulips to flower, the hybrid ‘Boston.’

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Lotus jacobaeus would be wonderful draping over a low wall. I’ve clipped this one back quite a bit to keep it from smothering plants below, like the tall Aeonium ‘Cyclops.’ Its shrubby-but-lax framework is about 3 feet high now, kept upright with a rebar stake. A light background propels the velvety dark blooms. I like it against the pale leaves of the variegated Australian mint bush (prostranthera), and the lotus is thin enough in growth to weave through the shrub without harming it.

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When there’s so many amazing succulents to grow, why choose the modest Crassula multicava? Because of its supernova show in spring, when it hoists those starry bloom structures over simple, dark green leaves. It would make an elegant ground cover at the base of palms. Here it’s sharing space with a potted cussonia. The crassula has a similar foamy effect to London’s Pride (Saxifraga umbrosa) or heuchera in bloom, neither of which grow in such rugged conditions for me.

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Like the lotus, another lax member of the pea family, coronilla, has really started to bloom in the mini heat wave we’re having the past couple days. This shrub is supported and wound through a tuteur and has grown past the eaves of the garage roof. Its overall effect is that of a gigantic rue, except rue stinks and coronilla smells lovely.

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More brash. Love the moroccan toadflax, an annual that blooms well through the winter and spring here. Hasn’t self-sown yet, so I keep bringing in a few plants in fall.

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I have just a few clumps of the Corsican hellebore, which is all the space I can spare, though I could have lots, lots more.
It carpet-bombs the garden with seedlings.


Lots of emerging gardens to explore at May Dreams Garden, where Carol is to be congratulated for hosting Bloom Days for seven years this February.

Foliage Followup (and other digressions)

The answer to Bloom Day, the 15th of every month, is the Foliage Follow-up, the brainchild of Pam Pennick of the excellent blog Digging, whose garden has endured both record high temps in summer and now record low temps this winter — kinda why “climate change” is more apt a term than “global warming,” since every cold spell is pounced upon as proof, aha! that carbon dioxide emissions are not causing warming (because then we’d be warm and sweaty all the time, right?) and that it’s all the socialist payback plot of evil scientists. But as reader Paul Schickler of Brooklyn so ably stated in a letter to the New York Times on January 1, 2010, “Yes, we may possibly err in thinking that we need to spend uncounted billions on green technologies, new industries and fostering worldwide unanimity of purpose. But if climate fears do turn out to be less than apocalyptic, we can ease our embarrassment with a full-employment economy, fiscal surplus, clean air, a more peaceful world and a more optimistic future for our children. I’m ready to be thus embarrassed.”

Whoops, where’d that digression come from? Back to the garden…

This whole enterprise of naming what’s in bloom and leaf seems so unfair on my part because here in zone 10 we usually don’t get temps lower than the 40s to contend with — this winter at least, so far, knock wood — so consequently there’s always lots in bloom and leaf, no matter the skill level of the gardener, and if you’ve got garden space for exotic evergreen shrubs, the sky’s the limit. (A couple years ago, a rare freeze did occur, and it was the talk of the town. I lost a sole plectranthus and the cats’ water bowl iced over, nothing to cry over. The Huntington Botanical Garden had just bedded out masses of Zwartkop aeoniums, all of which were lost, amongst other tender stuff. It also, strangely enough, snowed in South Central L.A., but only there.)

But soon enough, probably around June, as I check the Bloom Day blogs (a day shy of that other famous Bloomsday of James Joyce’s Ulysses, June 16, commemorating June 16, 1904), I’ll bewail the deficit of strong perennial bloom in my garden, the sore lack of breezy, Piet Oudolfesque, diaphanous beauties like veronicastrum, astrantia, the zaftig prairie stalwarts like baptisia and eupatorium that refuse to check in at the Hotel Southern California of the endless summers and suburbs, of the 4-Oh-5 and 1-Oh-1 freeways, of the lack of proper winter chill. We’ve all got our zonal (and urban planning) crosses to bear.

So with that disclaimer, and barring further digressions, I offer the leafy charms of Coprosma ‘County Park Red’
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Sedum nussbaumerianum, Coppertone Stonecrop:

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Oxalis spiralis sprawls in the cool winter months then retreats during summer. The dark burgundy form is out of frame, planted in the ground. The variegated plant is a sterile basil ‘Pesto Perpetuo.’ So pretty, I haven’t as yet snagged a leaf for the kitchen. And with tomatoes out of season, what’s the point anyway?

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Fatshedera, bigeneric cross of, you guessed it, fatsia and hedera, picked up at the Cistus Nursery of Portland, Oregon, this past July. Lost the tag to this cultivar:

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The round-leaved mint bush, Prostanthera. I assumed this is P. rotundifolia but find reference to the variegated mint bush as P. ovalifolia. Whatever it is, it’s a lovely, minty, shimmering shrub from Australia that I’ve grown off and on for over a decade. Tiny lavender bells appear in spring. It can get big fast:

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The little Moroccan toadflax likes the cool winter temps too. Linaria reticulata ‘Flamenco’:

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Another fine-leaved shrub, the New Zealander Lophomyrtus x ralphii ‘Red Dragon’ that I keep in pots to bring to the fore when the succulence of summer’s bounty can no longer upstage their delicate beauty. (That and the fact that there’s simply no ground left in which to to plant them.)

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Hebe ‘Quicksilver’ bringing a cross-stitch counterpoint to the solidity of a potted agave:

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Hellebore argutifolius is in bloom, as are still the Waverly salvias and Teucrium azureum, thank goodness, for the hummers that stop by several times a day. Salvia chiapensis is awakening. The bronzy fennel backs rusty spears of Libertia peregrinans, and the white umbellifer Orlaya grandiflora has started to bloom.

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There’s lots to look at in January. Temps are mostly in the 60s, sometimes 70s. The light is wonderful, not the “toaster oven” light of summer, as cinematographer Gordon Willis described Los Angeles light to Terry Gross in a Fresh Air interview. But I digress…