Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gone Camping

Camp on the Crooked River in central Oregon
     I will not be blogging for the next week because I am going  camping.  We are going to Crater Lake in Oregon and to Mt. Lassen National Park in California.  See you when I get back.

Melianthus Major

View of south terrace with Melianthus major in the middle
Melianthus major up close
Flowers of Melianthus major
Seed pods of Melianthus major
     I think I mentioned in my post on Lobelia tupa, here, that it was one of my top ten plants,  Well, today I am going to discuss another one on my top ten list--Melianthus major.  This is an evergreen shrub from South Africa, sometimes called the South African Honey Bush, although it smells like peanut butter, rather than honey. 
     Even though it is an evergreen shrub in warmer climates, it is not always evergreen here, and indeed, even if it makes it through a winter here unscathed, it looks better if it is cut to the ground each spring and allowed to grow new foliage.  That is what I did on the Melianthus in the top two pictures above and you can see how nice looking it is now.  This last winter was very mild here and so all the melianthus in my garden (I have several plants in various locations) made it through the winter unscathed, but I cut all of them back, except one which I left so it would develop flowers and, hopefully, seeds.  You can see what the flowers look like on the third picture above, and in the fourth picture you can see the seed pods.  There are a lot of those seed pods on my plant so I expect to have mass quantities of melianthus plants next year.
     Others have written that the flowers on Melianthus major are not that great, and I think I agree, but they are not bad either.  Anyway, the hummingbirds seem to like them. 
     There are two cultivars of Melianthus major on the market--'Antonow's Blue' (named after the late great gardener Steve Antonow who grew this plant in his garden) and 'Purple Haze'.  Both of these cultivars have more purple in the foliage than the normal melianthus.   'Purple Haze' has more cut leaves than 'Antonow's Blue' and is perhaps a more dramatic plant, but it is not as hardy.  Indeed, I have lost plants of 'Purple Haze' over the winter and others have told me they have had the same experience with it.  The plants in the pictures above are the normal melianthus, not named cultivars.
     Melianthus is a very long lived plant once it is established in a spot to its liking.  It wants full sun and well drained soil in our climate.  It is extremely drought tolerant and it is deer resistant.  The plant in the top two pictures above has been there at least 15 years.  Christopher lloyd wrote in his book on succession planting that he had had a colony of Melianthus major for over 50 years. 
     I have had gardeners who have visited my garden express confusion about when to cut back their melianthus.  Like all borderline hardy plants, it should not be cut back until the spring.  The old stems help protect the plant and they can also be used as anchors for old leaves or other mulch which can be put over the plant to help protect it from the cold.  That being said, I never mulch my melianthus, but if I lived in a slightly colder climate, I might.
     Sometimes growers offer Melianthus minor, a cousin of Melianthus major.  In my opinion it is not worth growing.  It just looks like a less attractive Melianthus major but without the blue hue and with smaller leaves.  The same can be said of other species of melianthus to my knowledge.
     Although in our climate Melianthus major is a great plant, in warmer climates I have heard that it can be invasive.  I just had a garden visitor who told me that it was a big weed in New Zealand.  I have heard similar tales from California.
     The easiest way to create new plants of Melianthus major is to grow them from seed which is not hard.  Seed may be obtained from a number of sources, most notably  Silverhill Seeds.  You can also take cuttings of melianthus.  I have found that I was most successful doing this if I took the cuttings in late August or early September.  I have just read in Christopher Lloyd's book on garden flowers that cuttings can be taken from young shoots below ground in early spring.  I have never tried this, so don't know how well it works.  I have tried the late August method and can tell you that it does work.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fascicularia Bicolor

Fascicularia bicolor 'Spinner's Form' in a pot

Closer view with flower
Closeup of flower
     I first discovered the world of hardy bromeliads in a little book published in 1995 called "Grow Something Different" by Nick Wray.  I highly recommend this book--it contains a wealth of information about interesting plants and I have found it very useful over the years.  I just checked and it is available on Amazon here.  Among the hardy bromeliads are the fascicularias, one of which is the subject of this blog, the Puyas, which will be the subject of future blogs, and the Ochagavias, also to be the subject of a future blog.
    This fascicularia, along with many of the other hardy bromeliads, comes from Chile.  The plant in the pictures is one I got from Sean Hogan, of Cistus Nursery many years ago, and it was labeled as Fascicularia bicolor  'Spinner's Form'.   This was a very small plant when I first got it but as it grew I put it in larger and larger pots until it reached the pot it is in now and there it has stayed for probably 10 years.  I think it would be very difficult to repot it at this stage, but fortunately, these bromeliads like to be pot bound. 
     This leads me to another point about the pots used for prickly plants which have to be periodically repotted.  I have learned through experience that it is best not to pot them in fancy pots, and particularly not to pot them in pots which are narrower at the top than the bottom.  When it comes time to repot them it is very difficult to extract them from the pot they are in and virtually impossible if the pot is narrower at the top than the bottom.  I have found that the best way to get plants like this out of the pot is to break the pot, and this is a simple matter if the pot is made of inexpensive clay.  A fancy, expensive pot is a different matter altogether.  Repotting a prickly plant in a clay pot, then, can start with a hammer to break the pot.  This advice goes for all the hardy bromeliads, agaves, cactus and aloes.
     Anyway, to get back to the fascicularia we have been discussing, it is one of the hardier of the hardy bromeliads.  I have left this one out in this pot for almost 10 years, and it has never suffered from the cold.  It may be that, like the Beschorneria I blogged about here, the plant is hardier in a pot than in the ground because the roots stay drier in the pot.  However, this plant should be hardy in the ground here.  They had a Fascicularia in the woodland garden at Heronswood and it lived there happily for many years.  It may still be there for all I know.  At the time Heronswood in Kingston closed, the gardeners there had just done a planting with many fascicularias planted in the roots of a giant fir tree which had fallen over in the garden.  These roots created a vertical feature in the garden, taller than a person and the fascicularias were planted up in those roots.  It would be interesting to know what became of that planting because I thought it was very imaginative.
     Another interesting thing about the fascicularias at Heronswood is that they were in the woodland garden.  Normally one would think of these as full sun plants, but they did just fine in the shade of the woodland.  The main problem I see with planting them in a woodland is that they are very spiny plants and taking debris out of their foliage can be a chore.  I know this is true of my plant, since I have it where it sits under an aralia and receives a lot of debris from that tree. Maybe I should move it.
     As you can see from the picture above, the flowers of this plant are very dramatic.  As the flower ages, the center becomes turqoise.  The pictures don't show that because the flower is not to that stage yet.   To be technical, the flowers are the center part--the red leaves around them are not flowers.  Like all bromeliads, once this finishes flowering the flowering part dies and more offsets are created, taking the place of the now dead flowering rosette.  This means, on a plant this size, that there will be some brown leaves that can be removed if you are an ultra tidy gardener, or if you are me, you just let them stay and eventually the green new growth crowds them out.  I should mention here that this is also the case with the Beschornerias I previously posted about.
     I recently purchased another fascicularia from Cistus, but it was F. pitcairnifolia.  It looks much like F. bicolor, except its leaves are slightly broader.  I would expect it to behave in much the same way, although I have heard that it may be slightly less hardy.  I cannot attest to this based on experience, however, and the tag says it is hardy to 10 to 15 degrees F.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Berkheya Purpuerea

Berkheya purpurea flower
     I am always searching for plants to grow in my front border which will be drought tolerant and deer resistant.  I have found that any plant that looks like a thistle will generally be deer resistant and also drought tolerant, and that plants with daisy like flowers will generally be deer resistant.  Berkheya purpurea, a South African perennial, meets both of those qualifications--it looks like a thistle until it blooms and then it looks like a daisy with these light purple blossoms. 
     I was first introduced to this plant about 10 years ago by the guys from Dancing Oaks Nursery.  At that time, the plant was not very common here, but it seems to now be making its way into more nurseries here.  I have found it at Swanson's Nursery in Seattle, one of the best retail nurseries in the Seattle area, and I have been able to special order it from my local retail nurseries.  In a nursery pot the plant has nothing to distinguish it from any thistle--it is only when it blooms that you realise it is different.
     In my front border this plant does very well, and it self sows readily.  I can envision this making its way to a noxious weed list in the future.  The noxious weed police seem to have something against thistle like plants.
     I would not put this on the top of any list of great plants because the bloom period is not that long and the plant itself is not very distinguished looking.  However, it is a useful plant for the deer resistant drought tolerant border or for wild areas of a garden.
     Seed can be obtained from Silverhill Seeds and I notice that they have seven other kinds of Berkheyas, all of which should be hardy here according to their descriptions.  None of the other ones have purple flowers, but they might be interesting to experiment with.  I'm sure they are all easy from seed although I have not tried them yet.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Begonia Boliviensis

View of south patio with pots of Begonia boliviensis 'Bonfire' surrounding Ensete ventricosa 'Maurellii'

Closeup of pots of Begonia boliviensis 'Bonfire'
     There are a number of begonias, which we normally think of as non hardy plants here, which are indeed  hardy for us.  One of these is Begonia boliviensis, a tuberous begonia which hails from high elevations in the Andes of Bolivia and Argentina.  Plant Delights Nursery lists this as hardy to zone 7b which is a colder climate than ours.  However, although I have grown various plants of Begonia boliviensis for probably 10 years, I have never tried this one in the ground so I cannot say from personal experience that it is hardy here.   These are not expensive plants and they are easily found at local nurseries so perhaps I will try them in the ground one of these days.
     The plants you see in the pictures are ones I bought last year in 4 inch pots at Bainbridge Gardens and they were labeled as Begonia 'Bonfire'.  This is a form of Begonia boliviensis, although I do not know if it differs from the straight species which I have grown in the past.  It does not look much different from the straight species to my eye.  Sometimes growers slap fancy names on straight species of plants in a marketing attempt.  I have seen another variant of Begonia boliviensis in nurseries this year which did appear to be slightly different in that the leaves were darker.  I need to buy some of those!
     Begonia boliviensis is a tuberous begonia, and, in fact, it is one of the ancestors of the fancy tubrous begonias that you see in nurseries and hanging pots.  Over time, it will form a very large tuber indeed.  I have had tubers over a foot in diameter formed over time on this plant. 
     The reason I haven't grown this plant in the ground is that I think it makes a great pot plant because of the way the flowers will hang out over the edge of the pot.  I think that it would just be lost out in the jungle of the garden if it were in the ground, whereas in a pot it shines.  Also, it appreciates good living in the summer--i.e., it likes being adequately watered and fertilized, and I can do that better when it is in a pot. 
     These begonias are quite easy to winter over.  I just take the pot into my sunroom and forget about them until the spring when I bring them out and start watering and fertilizing them again.  In the winter when they are inside they can be left to go dormant.  They need no water or light and all the foliage will die away.  I have been told that they will go dormant no matter what you do in the winter, but I have never tried to keep them from going dormant, so I cannot attest to this based on personal experience.
     These begonias are easy from seed and a lot of seed is continually set all summer long.  It is tiny seed, almost like light brown dust and it should be sowed on the surface of the pot and kept constantly moist.  Germination should be fast and if you do this you will have more plants than you know what to do with.  Cuttings can also be taken, but they must be done early enough in the year to form a tuber before winter or else, I have been told, they will not return after going into dormancy.
     I would highly recommend growing these begonias because over time they make impressive plants in pots, they are easy care, and the hummingbirds love them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lily 'Satisfaction'

Oreintal/Trumpet lily hybrid 'Satisfaction
     One of my favorite groups of plants is now coming into bloom in the garden--the lilies.  I grow a large number of these in my garden because (1) they do well in the Pacific Northwest; (2) they provide flowers and color at a time when many other perennials here are past their prime; and (3) they are extremely fragrant and beautiful.   Lilies do so well in the Pacific Northwest that there are a number of lily growers and breeders located here. One of these is B&D Lilies which is located on the Olympic Peninsula not too far from us.  Another one is Lily Pad Bulbs which is located in Olympia, Washington.  Both of those nurseries produce excellent quality lilies and I would recommend them.
     The lily pictured above is what is commonly called an orienpet, because it is a hybrid between an oriental lily and a trumpet lily.  Before these came on the market, I liked the oriental lilies the best because they were fragrant and sturdy plants with colors in ranges that I liked.  I did not like the trumpet lilies as much because they tended to lean over too much and I did not think they were as fragrant.  That said, they were both good plants.
     Anyway, once I grew some of the orienpets, I was hooked on those.  They are extremely vigorous sturdy plants with very thick stems so they never fall over.  This one, called 'Satisfaction', is about 5 feet tall, but I also have some yellow flowered orienpets which are about 8 feet tall with very thick stems.  They never lean and never have to be staked.
     I am not a lily snob--I like the large flowered brightly colored hybrids.  I do not care that much for dainty little species lilies.  For me, the larger and sturdier the plant, and the brighter the flower, the better.  I particularly like flowers that are bright magenta with some yellow in the center, just like 'Satisfaction'.  I also like some of the yellow hybrids, just because it is always nice to have yellow in the garden and some of the yellow ones are good 'doers'.  I do not care that much for white lilies (surprise!).
     Lilies are great plants to interplant among other perennials or low lying annuals, since the stems will rise up above the other foliage.  Here, they do well in full sun or part shade, although not deep shade.  However, it is best not to plant them where overhanging foliage will interfere with the flowers which can be on quite tall stems.  I have planted them at one time or another in practically every bed in my garden.  They tend to be long lived plants, although I have found that they do decline after about 10 years in one spot.  That is ok by me because I am always buying and trying out more of them.
     Although I recommended the local growers above, I should mention that I bought 'Satisfaction' from Brent and Becky's Bulbs.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Golden Catalpa

Golden catalpa peaking through Geranium palmatum
     I have a blue painted concrete wall in my garden which was designed as a place to stop the eye at the end of the sight line along the south terrace.  I will post more about it later, but today I want to focus on one of the plants that is in front of it--a pollarded golden catalpa.  I have had this catalpa in this location for at least 15 years.  When I first got it these trees were not very common in nurseries here, but now they are easily available.
     The blue wall is about 6 feet tall and the planting bed in front of it is about 6 feet wide, so it is not a huge space.  Also, I do not want too large a tree in that spot because I do not want it to cast too much shade and I do not want it to impede various sight lines in the garden.  That is why I do not let this catalpa grow to be a large tree which it would do if I did not cut it back every year.  For a few years I did let it become much larger than it is now, but it was getting too big and I did not like the effect it created, so about 3 years ago I decided to cut it all the way to the ground and if that killed it I was willing to take that chance.  It did not, however, kill it, and from the stump which was pretty much level with the ground, grew one stalk which was at least 6 feet tall by the end of the season.  So the next year, I again cut that stalk all the way off, and it grew another one and did basically the same thing.  So this year I left a few feet on the stalk and allowed some branching on the stalk.  What you see in the picture is this year's growth from that structure.  As you can see, this treatment does not seem to hurt the catalpa and it creates these very nice large golden leaves.  This catalpa is just now reaching over 6 feet in height and I am sure it will be taller than that before the summer is over.
     I first read about pollarding golden catalpas in the writings of Christoper Lloyd, one of my favorite gardening authors.  If you want to grow one of these catalpas as a full grown tree, I would recommend  them for that purpose.  I once saw one grown that way in a park in Vancouver, BC, and I thought it was spectacular.  However, they look best in my opinion if they are grown as specimen trees, and not bunched with a lot of other trees and that means that they require a lot of space.  If I had to do it over, I might plant a golden catalpa where my Magnolia macrophylla is now, since it would fulfill the same purpose--i.e., create a broadleaved focal point tree in contrast to the much finer leaved trees around it.
     I am not sure I would plant this catalpa in front of the blue wall if I were starting over for two reasons.  First,  a plant like this develops an extensive root system and that makes the soil around it very dry and root filled and hence difficult to plant. Second, this tree does not leaf out until very late in the season, so the space is bare for a long time.  If I were starting from scratch I probably would plant some cannas in this location, like Canna 'Pretoria', and perhaps some other plants to take up the slack before the canna got going.
     Since these catalpas do not get going until fairly late in the season, they can be cut back fairly late in the spring.  I would do this chore whenever you can get around to it and not worry too much if you are doing it a the right time of the year.  I have found these trees to be very forgiving of whatever treatment you may give them. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Hakonechloa 'All Gold' In Pots

Hakonechloa 'All Gold', Alstroemeria, and Geranium Roseanne

Hakonechloa 'All Gold' in front of border with Melianthus major

View of back patio and pond sculpture with both pots of Hakonechloa 'All Gold'
     I have many large pots in my garden and my thinking about how to deal with them and what to plant in them has evolved over the years.  As I get older I try to cut down on the work my garden requires and one of the ways I resolved to do that this year was to plant things in my big pots that could winter over outside with no added protection and that would come back year after year.  In the past I have used big pots to showcase non hardy plants, but I have reached the limit on how many of those I want to schlep back and forth to my sunroom as the seasons change. 
     I have three extra large pots, 2 of which you can see in the pictures above, which I have placed at three corners of my back patio.  Last year and the year before, I had planted these with Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii', the dark red Abyssinian banana.  I basically now treat these bananas as annuals, since they are not that expensive, they grow rapidly and they are a pain to winter over in my sunroom.  I will describe my experience with them in some later post, but suffice it to say I love them and have grown them for many years.  But this year, although I have one of those bananas elsewhere, I thought I would not plant them in these big pots because I wanted something more permanent there and also, I thought that something less vertical and more horizontal would look better. 
     It occurred to me that Hakonechloa macra aureola would look good in those pots and could stay there permanently. These are big pots and so I thought I would need three nice gallon containers of the grass to fill each one.  That meant I needed 9 pots of the grass because I had three of the big pots to fill.  When I went to my local nursery I found that they had nice gallon containers of Hakonechloa 'All Gold', which is a relatively new introduction of Hakonechloa macra and it differs from auroela, which I have grown for many years, in that it is--you guessed it-- all gold, whereas aureola has some green in the leaf.  This makes 'All Gold' a brighter presence in the garden.  So I decided to use 'All Gold' in these pots and I think it has turned out very well!  I like how these pots echo the chartruese of other nearby plants such as Robinia 'Frisia', and my pollarded golden catalpa.
     You may ask why I don't plant these pots up like so many other people do with a variety of different plants.  Well, that is just not my style.  I almost never plant more than one kind of plant in a pot, and the reason I don't is that my entire garden is filled with a variety of plants and I wants my pots to be a place to rest the eye.  Also, and probably more importantly, I simply don't have the time or energy to fuss over pots and it is much easier to just plant one kind of plant in a pot and be done with it.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Magnolia Macrophylla

Magnolia macrophylla flower
     I have previously posted about the large Magnolia macrophylla which is a focal point in my garden. See here.  Magnolia macrophylla, which is a deciduous magnolia native to the Southeastern US, is the largest single leaf tree native to North America.  It also has the largest flower of any tree native to North America.  The flower in the picture above is in excess of a foot across. 
     Unfortunately, the tree does not produce many flowers in a year--this is the only flower on my tree right now.  Also unfortunately, the flowers are usually so high up in the tree that you cannot get a good view of them.  This flower, however, was placed fairly low down and so I was able to get this shot.
     I'll have to admit that this is a striking flower when you can see it, even if it is white!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Tropaeolum Speciosum

Tropaeolum speciosum
     I like all the tropaeolums, but many of them, other than the commonly grown annual varieties, are hard to find as plants and tricky to grow from seed.  Tropaeolum speciosum, also commonly known as flame creeper or Scottish flame flower (although it is not from Scotland, but hails instead from Chile) is no exception.  The ironical thing about this scarcity is that once you have this vine established in your garden it can become rampant.  This is certainly the case in my garden.
     I got this plant from--where else--Heronswood, many years ago.  They had them listed as plants that you had to specially ask for because they weren't growing in pots, but instead were kept as roots in the refrigerator.  So when I purchased 3 of them I got 3 thread like roots kept moist in a paper towel.  I dutifully planted them in 3 separate places in my garden and waited.  It didn't take long for the wispy, delicate looking vines to come up, but it took them a couple of years to really get established and take off.  But take off they have and now in certain parts of my garden they are everywhere.  I don't really mind this because they are easily removed from places I don't want them.  They scramble up any vertical plant they encounter, but the vine is not so dense as to smother any of these hosts.  They look particularly good on conifers, providing a dash of scarlet color to an otherwise dull and boring plant.  They are just coming into bloom in my garden right now and they will bloom pretty much into the fall.
     I have read that they thrive in climates with cool, moist summers, which is apparently why they do so well in Scotland and probably why they do so well in my garden.  I wouldn't say we have moist summers, but they are certainly cool.
     These vines probably do not do so well in pots, which is why they are hard to find in nurseries.  That is just a guess because I have never tried to grow them in a pot, and I could well be wrong.  However, it is true that they are hard to find.  Seed is available from a number of sources including Chileflora and Plant World Seeds.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Romneya Coulteri aka Matilija Poppy

Romneya coulteri
     Although I have said on more than one occasion that I don't like white flowers, rules are made to be broken.  So I break the rule for a few great plants, one of which is that California native known as Matilija Poppy or Romneya coulteri.  If this came in pink or blue, I might not want the white one, but since it only comes in white, I will settle for that.  Some people refer to this poppy as the fried egg flower, and, as you can see from the picture, it does look like a fried egg.
      I first grew this plant in my old garden on the west side of Bainbridge Island.  That was when I was first getting into gardening and I planted this poppy near the edge of a steep bank that was held in place by some railroad ties.  These ties were about 4 feet high. Anyway, the Romneya liked its spot so well that it sent its roots down under the railroad ties and came up beyond them.  This gives an indication that this plant, if it likes its position, can be incredibly invasive.
     Knowing the tendencies of this poppy to wander, I have not tried to plant it where I might regret it.  However, there used to be a large arbor on the west side of our house that was covered by kiwi vines.  The arbor eventually rotted and had to be taken out, and one of the spots that became open after this was sort of a well between the south side of our house and the terrace.  This well is about 2 feet lower than the terrace and is probably about 6 feet wide and 15 feet long. 
     I decided to plant only perennials and not shrubs in this well because I knew that if any work had to be done on our house, any shrub would be damaged.  Perennials can take that kind of abuse and come back much better than shrubs can.  I also wanted only plants that did not have to be watered and that were tall enough to come up well over the 2 foot height of the well.  So, of course Lobelia tupa came to mind as an ideal plant for this area.  I planted  7 or 8 of them and they did well, but there were still some gaps.  Then, last summer I was at a local retail nursery and they had some very nice looking gallon containers of Romneya coulteri, so I thought these would be ideal to interplant with the Lobelia tupas.   The white of the poppy would go well with the orange red of the lobelia and the terrace which surrounds the well would hopefully contain the Romneya's wandering roots.  Also the sides of the well would provide some support for the stems of the poppy which can flop around quite a bit.  The Romneya is also drought tolerant like the lobelia.
     I planted 3 of these poppies in the well and they have done gratifyingly well.  Sometimes this poppy is difficult to get established but that was not the case here.  Last summer as I was looking at the floral display in this bed, I thought that some blue flowers would be nice there too.  We have an area that used to be a compost heap by our garage, and is now becoming lawn. I had noticed that there were some seedlings of a blue flowered echium there, so I transplanted a few of those to this well and now they are flowering!  So now I have a red (if you can call the lobelia flower red), white and blue planting scheme going.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Miss Willmott's Ghost

Miss Willmott's Ghost or Eryngium giganteum
     This is yet another post on an eryngium--do you get the sense that I like these plants?  As I have said before, I have grown many of them in my gardening life and I have definite opinions on which ones I think are good and which ones should be ripped out of the garden.  The one pictured above, commonly known as Miss Willmott's Ghost, is one I have mixed feelings about as a garden plant, although as a photographer I like it.  I have noticed that my tastes in garden plants have changed somewhat since I have taken up photography.  Many plants that I would not have wanted in my garden in the past I now want simply to photograph the flower.  But more on that subject later.
     Miss Willmott's Ghost or Eryngium giganteum is a biennial that has been growing in my front border for at least 15 years.  It is a prolific self sower and I don't think I could get rid of it even if I wanted to, and sometimes I do want to get rid of it.  It has self sowed so well that it is now taking over neighboring properties.  It got its nickname because supposedly Ellen Willmott,  an English amateur horticulturalist living in the late 1800s went around surreptitiously dropping seeds of it in other people's gardens.  I don't know if this is true or not but it makes a good story. See this article for more on Miss Willmott. 
     The flowers of Miss Willmott's ghost are a silvery color, not the blue that many other eryngium flowers are, and while they look good at certain stages in their life, as they age they get brown and ugly looking.  Of course that can be said of many of us, but we certainly don't like it in flowers!
     The image above is of the flower at its peak and it does look good then.  I used the focus stacking technique I described in an earlier post to achieve this image.  I used a tripod, since to do focus stacking well, all the images must be exactly the same except for the focus.  I then took 14 different images using manual focus and tried to get each part of the flower in focus on at least one image. There is no magic number of shots necessary and 14 may have been overkill, but that is the number I had on this one.  I don't usually take so many shots for a focus stacked image.  I used my 60mm macro lens for this shot at f11. (I have a Nikon d300 camera).
     After uploading the images to my computer, I went to  Adobe Bridge and selected the 14 images. These were all Raw images. I do not use jpegs for editing.  I then made sure that all 14 images were processed simultaneously in Camera Raw, and then, keeping all images selected, I opened them all in one image as layers.  This can be done be selecting from the drop down menu in Bridge under Tools, and then under Photoshop where it says Load Files into Photoshop Layers. This opens Photoshop and all the images you have selected will be displayed, each as a separate layer.
     Then, selecting all the layers, go to the dropdown menu in Photoshop (I am currently using CS5) under Edit and choose Auto-Align Layers. It may take the computer a few minutes to do this, but this step is necessary because, even if you used a tripod, there may have been some movement of the camera or of the plant.  Then, after the layers are aligned, keeping them all still selected, go to the Edit dropdown menu again and choose Auto-Blend layers.  Again, this may take some time but what the computer is doing is taking all the in focus parts of the photos and putting them in one image. And voila just like magic you have an in focus flower and an out of focus background. You can then process the combined image just as you would process any other image.
     There are also some Photoshop plugins or stand alone programs that do the same thing and some of them may do it better than Photoshop, but I can get satisfactory results using Photoshop alone.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Square on my back terraces filled with annuals

Another view of my annual filled square

Another view of annual filled aquare

Yet another view

Another view

Agrostemma from Annie's Annuals

Another annual daisy in the square

Schizanthus grahamii from Annie's Annuals
     I have a square planting bed where the south terrace meets the west terrace in my back garden.  It is about 12 ft. by 12 ft. and I have never had a really satisfactory planting scheme going there.  I tried various small trees in the center of it, including various acacias, but they eventually succumbed to the cold.  Until last year it was filled with Carex muskingumensis 'Oehme'. but I finally got tired of that.  It was a pain to clean it up every year and weeds were starting to infest the bed.  So last year, the entire bed was dug up and I planted a Musa basjoo in the center of it.  I thought it would look great when it got big.  I will have a future post on hardy bananas, but suffice it to say they are still one of my favorite plants, even after growing them for so long.
     Last year I planted the yellow leafed sweet potato vine around the base of the banana, and after those filled in and covered the ground, it did look good, but, of course, those do not survive the winter here, so this year I was back to square one on what to plant around the banana.  I opted for a variety of annuals from Annie's Annuals and I decided to go for a cottage garden look.  In the past I have always planted in blocks of plants and colors, but I am now getting away from that style and going more for a wild natural look.
     So I ordered a variety of things from Annie's, including Schizanthus grahamii, which is in the last picture posted above, and Agrostemma githago 'Milas' which is the third from last picture above. Other plants I got were Viscaria oculata 'Pink', a clarkia which I do not remember the name of,  Anagallis monellii, Ursinia anthemoides 'Solar Flare', Anchusa capensis 'Blue Angel',  and Nemophilia menziessii 'Baby Blue 'Eyes'.  The Nemophilia has been a particularly good plant with a very long bloom period. I also really like the Ursinia which has orange daisy type flowers.  Orange flowers always make a planting scheme pop.
     My criteria in ordering things was to get a good mix of blue, hot pink (not pastel pink), and orangey-yellowy flowers.  You notice that I ruled out white flowers.  As I have said previously, I do not care for white flowers.   Thus blue, hot pink, and orange/yellow are the big three and they should be in fairly equal parts.  I also wanted things that were not too tall since this was not that large a bed and the banana was supposed to tower over the middle.
     Since I had never grown any of these plants before, I just had to guess about how well they would fill in when I placed them.  As I have had gaps, I have ordered more things from Annie's and have also gotten various annuals from Bainbridge Gardens, my local retail nursery.  Just recently I filled in with some South African daisies and a few other things.  I also popped in a tomato plant that a neighbor had given me.  I like this style of planting because of the fact that things can be popped in when necesaary, unlike in a more established perennial bed. 
     All in all I am liking this bed more and more as the summer goes on, and it has given me the idea to try more annuals in the other parts of my garden.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sinopanax formosana

Sinopanax formosana in Dan Hinckley's garden
     I was at Dan Hinkley's garden yesterday and I saw again his speciman of Sinopanax formosana, pictured above.  That picture was taken at the end of May, and yesterday the new leaves that you see at the top of the plant in the picture had expanded and were quite a bit larger than in the picture.  All in all, this is a great looking plant with its furry, indumentum covered stems and its thick leaves with indumentum on the undersides.
     This plant, which is one of those evergreen shrubs or small trees whose name ends in panax, is a member of the aralia family, and as I have said on more than one occasion, that family has more than its fair share of great plants.  Thus, this plant is related to the scheffleras, fatsias, and tetrapanaxes, and I would assume it to grow in similar conditions and in a similar fashion to those plants.  I have never grown it however, because it has not been in cultivation here.  Dan collected this plant in Taiwan (see Dan's blog where he describes seeing this on Taiwan).  Dan has now grown it in his garden at Windcliff for a number of years, and it has proven to be hardy here, so far.
     The great news, however, is that Dan says that he thinks Monrovia will be selling this plant in the future.  Hurray!  One of the great things about gardening is that there is always something to look forward to.  Speaking of looking forward to things, Dan also confirmed that Monrovia will be offering more forms of Schefflera taiwaniana and Schefflera delavayi.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hardy Scheffleras

Schefflera delavayi in my garden

Schefflera delavayi and Schefflera macrophylla in Dan Hinkley's garden
     Some of the hottest plants around these days, at least for plant nerds, are the hardy scheffleras.  Scheffleras are plants we all know as usually sickly house plants,  but recently plant hunters have been coming back from Southeast Asia and China with some spectacular versions which are proving to be hardy in our climate.
     In the first picture above is one of my favorites of these--Schefflera delavayi.  I now have three of these in my garden, all from Sean Hogan at Cistus Nursery.  That is the only source I know of at the present for this plant, but I believe it will become increasingly available because there is a big demand for it and it is not that difficult to propagate.  I wouldn't be surprised to see it coming from Monrovia in the future, since Dan Hinkley is working with Monrovia and he has collected many scheffleras on his plant hunting trips, including S. delavayi.  I like S. delavayi because the leaves are very large and tropical looking, and the indumentum on the stems is very nice.  Also, the color of the new leaves as they put out new growth each year is very nice.
     I have grown this Schefflera in my garden now for more than 5 years--I don't remember exactly when I got it, but I have had it long enough to know something about how it grows.  This plant has never been damaged by the cold in the time I have grown it.  That fact is echoed by other people I have known who have it.   These scheffleras are in the aralia family and another plant in that family is Fatsia, which, as many of us know, can basically be cut down to the ground and will regrow.  I believe these scheffleras have that same property and I base that statement on the fact that one of my S. delavayis was growing near a bamboo clump which eventually overshadowed it and crowded it.  It was declining because of this so I moved it.  After the move, the trunk looked like it had died, but after several months, new shoots appeared from below ground and now the plant is doing just fine, except where it had only one trunk before, it now has three.  This is exactly the behavior I would have expected of a Fatsia.
     Also, like a Fatsia, these Scheffleras can be pruned to control their growth and to make them branch.  I have a Schefflera taiwaniana which Dan Hinkley gave me and right now it is very much a Dr. Seuss looking plant with a tall bare trunk and a little head of leaves on the top.  I intend to decapitate it to make it branch a little lower down.  This method may also allow me to root the portion I cut off and create a new plant!
     Speaking of Schefflera taiwaniana, last year Monrovia had a nice crop of 5 gal. plants  which were very full and nice, but their entire crop sold out almost immediately and they have none available this year.  This illustrates the pent up demand for these wonderful evergreen shrubs or small trees.  Never fear, however, because I have heard that they have more on the way.  Indeed, when I was last at Dan Hinckley's garden, he showed us various forms of S. taiwaniana which were distinguished by the markings on their leaves. Hopefully these will show up from Monrovia in the future.  More plants to look forward to!
     The second picture above is from Dan's garden and it shows a nice little grouping by the entrance to his house at Windcliff.  On the upper right is Schefflera delavayi and on the left with brownish new leaves is what I believe is Schefflera macrophylla.  Dan says it is not completely hardy, but it makes a good pot plant.  I do not know where this schefflera can be obtained in the U.S., but in the UK it can be had from Crug Farm.  If you want to see a mouthwatering list of Scheffleras, look at the offerings of Crug Farm.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Lobelia Tupa

Lobelia tupa in front of Eucalyptus glaucescens
   As I said I would a couple of days ago, I am going to tell about my experience growing Lobelia tupa.  This is one of my top 10 favorite plants and I have it planted in many places in my garden.  It is deer resistant and drought tolerant so it is a great plant for my front border. It is also beloved by hummingbirds and it blooms at a time of the year when many other perennials are past their prime.
     I first got this plant many years ago from Heronswood and it was described as being marginally hardy.  At that time I had no idea what to do with it or how to grow it and the only lobelias I had had experience with were the kind of more common lobelias that liked moist soil and that tended to flop around.  Therefore, the first couple of years I grew it, it didn't do much, probably because I didn't put it in the right place.  I only got the hang of it when I saw a slide at a garden talk that showed a huge plant of this growing out in the open in an arid landscape.  So that clued me in to the fact that this is a drought tolerant plant, that it will get very large and that it is not a plant to crowd into a small spot.  Full sun is also what it likes. 
     I have now been growing this for more than 15 years, and the oldest clumps I have are almost that old.  As I said, Lobelia tupa will become very large, with my biggest clumps being probably 6 feet in diameter.  The plant can also get quite tall, with the flower spikes in excess of 6 feet.  Fortunately, if you grow this plant out in the open, it does not need staking.
     Established clumps sometimes send out runners with new plants coming up several feet from the mother plant.  These can be dug up and moved if you so desire.  I have also had self sown seedlings in the garden.  Indeed, the clumps against my blue wall seeded themselves extensively this year, so now I have lots of babies to put elsewhere in the garden. At first I didn't realize that all the weedy looking things around those plants were seedlings because they looked so much like all other common weeds.  So if you want seedlings, be careful in weeding around established plants because it is not easy to tell seedlings from weeds at first.
     Although Lobelia tupa has a reputation for being marginally hardy, I have not found this to be the case.  I never protect my plants and they have never died from the cold.
     Lobelia tupa is now available from many sources and local wholesalers grow it so I have found it in local nurseries. Seed can also be found from many sources including Chile Flora.  These, of course, are native to Chile.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tetrapanax Papyrifer 'Steroidal Giant"

Tetrapanax papyrifer 'Steroidal Giant' in my garden now

New leaf of Tetrapanax 'Steroidal Giant"

Stem of Tetrapanx 'Steroidal Giant' showing indumentum
     I have been growing Tetrapanax in my garden for almost 20 years.  I first heard about it from reading the books of Myles Challis who was the writer who did more than any one else to spark the trend for growing tropical looking plants in temperate gardens.  At that time, almost none of the plants he wrote about and almost none of the plants we now commonly use to achieve the tropical look were available in nurseries here.  Furthermore,  in those days, plants were not generally sold on the internet, so finding many of these plants was a difficult chore.  One source for tropical looking plants that I found was a nursery called Louisiana Nursery, located, of course, in Louisiana.  They had a thick catalog with all sorts of mouth watering goodies, including Tetrapanax, so I ordered one from them.   It arrived sometime in the fall or winter and to get to the Pacific Northwest from Louisiana it had had to travel through parts of the country that were experiencing freezing temperatures.  So when it arrived, the root ball was partially frozen.  I planted it anyway, and lo and behold! it survived and thrived for many years. 
     That first tetrapanax I had differed from 'Steroidal Giant', the one in the picture, in that the leaves did not have the sharp lobes that those of 'Steroidal Giant' have.  Otherwise its size and growth habits were similar.
      I later got another unnamed clone of tetrapanax from Heronswood. This one also did not have the sharp lobes that 'Steroidal Giant' has, although its leaf shape was not exactly the same as the Louisiana nursery clone. It, too, had the same size and growth habit as 'Steroidal Giant'. 
     Probably 10 years ago, Sean Hogan of Cistus Nursery introduced me to a clone of tetrapanax he called 'Steroidal Giant".  This was a plant he had gotten from someone in California who had grown it in a pot for many years.  When it was liberated from the pot, it became this gigantic plant, hence the name 'Steroidal Giant'.  'Steroidal Giant' is supposed to be bigger and more vigorous than other tetrapanaxes and it may well be, but all the tetrapnaxes I have grown have been big and vigorous.  I do like 'Steroidal Giant' the best, however, because its leaf shape and coloring seem crisper and sharper than other tetrapanaxes.   Also, the indumentum, or brownish fur like stuff on the stems, seems more pronounced and colorful in 'Steroidal Giant'.  This, however, may not necessarily be a good thing since this indumentum can irritate the lungs of some people.  Dan Hinkley told me he no longer grows tetrapanax because of this.
     I have grown tetrapanax in many parts of my garden.  It does well in the shade, particularly if the soil is moist.  It will also grow in full sun in our climate.  I have found that, given enough time and moisture, tetrapanax 'Steroidal Giant' will colonize vast quantities of land.  Right now the stand in the pictures above is growing where I have a septic drainfield and it clearly likes that spot.  It actually put itself there--originally it was planted about 20 feet away, but it sent out runners and discovered the promised land!  I even have tetrapanax coming up in the lawn.
      Every once in a while all the tetrapanaxes in the garden will be frozen to the ground in a cold winter.  Never fear--they will arise from the ground, making many new stems in the process.  When new baby tetrapanaxes come up from runners from the mother plant, and you want to dig them up to give to a friend, wait until they develop a woody stem. Otherwise, they probably will not survive.  Tetrapanax can also be propagated from root cuttings which I have done.  The main precautions to take if you do this are to keep the plants warm and moist, and to protect them from slugs.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Geranium Palmatum

View of South Terrace with Geranium palmatum in front of blue wall

View of west terrace from lioness sculpture

View from west terrace toward lioness with plantings in front of blue wall
      I have always wished we could grow Geranium maderense in our climate, because it has, in my opinion, the most spectacular flowers of any geranium.  I remember visiting a geranium specialist nursery in the San Francisco area many years ago and having the owner tell us what a nuisance Geranium maderense was there.  I would like to have such a nuisance, but sadly, G. maderense is a biennial which needs to winter over to bloom and in our climate it usually does not survive the winter.  So, if we can't have G. maderense, the next best thing is Geranium palmatum.  Both of these plants hail from Madeira and the Canary Islands and they are related to that weed sometimes called Herb Robert or Geranium robertianum, which I am always having to weed from my garden.
     I got plants of Geranium palmatum many years ago from a now defunct mail order nursery in Ohio and, although they are generally biennial, I have had them in my garden ever since because they mildly seed themselves about.  They are not in the class with Herb Robert however when it comes to self seeding.
     The big pink mass you see in the pictures, which is in front of my blue wall,  is created by about four plants of Geranium palmatum.  These were plants which seeded themselves last fall in various places in the garden and which I then transplanted this spring to their place in front of the blue wall.  These plants were tiny at the time I transplanted them, but they get very large very quickly and so you have to take that into account when you place them.  When they are first placed, they look ridiculously  small for their location, but never fear, they will fill out and smother anything in their way.
     The foliage of Geranium palmatum is very nice before it blooms and it would make a good foliage plant if it never did anything else.  However, it does eventually bloom and when it does, the foliage rapidly goes downhill.  You can see this starting to happen in the bottom picture where some of the foliage in the skirt of one of the G. palmatums is getting brown.  Basically, after the plant blooms, it looks bad and although sometimes it survives after blooming, the best course of action is to take the plants out after blooming.  If you have allowed it to self sow, you will have new plants coming up, usually near the mother plants. 
     These geraniums are very versatile plants, growing in full sun or in dry shade.  Like most plants they appreciate good soil and moisture, but they can do without either.  The only thing that presents a problem to them is deer, which love them.  Sometimes a deer gets inside my fenced in garden and the first thing they head for is the Geranium palmatum.
     You can see in the second picture above, in addition to the Geranium palmatum, that Tropaeolum polyphyllum, which I previously wrote about, is still blooming and it has many unopened blossoms on it.  I expect it will bloom for at least another month which makes it a very long blooming plant indeed.  You can also see the bright orange red Alstroemeria in the picture which I recently had a post about. In the third picture, you can see Lobelia tupa starting to bloom beside the Geranium palmatums.  I will be having a post on that plant in the future.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dendroseris Litoralis

Dendroseris litoralis just purchased from Annies' Annuals
     Since starting this blog I have been thinking about the old Heronswood nursery which used to exist near us on the Kitsap Penninsula, and I have been trying to remember all the great plants they had and what plants I have not been able to find anywhere else since.  One of those plants was Dendroseris litoralis.  This is a very cool looking plant in the daisy and sunflower family which is endemic to a group of islands off the coast of Chile called the Juan Fernandez Islands.  One of these was the island that Alexander Selkirk was marooned on and which became the basis for Robinson Crusoe.
     Anyway, I often visited Heronswood--anytime I needed a plant fix I would go and wander the greenhouses there and discover all sorts of treasures.  They were always putting out new things and many of them were not yet listed in their catalog.  So, while wandering the isles one day I came across these pots filled with these large leafed plants, and although they were labeled as Dendroseris litoralis, I knew nothing about them because they were not listed in the catalog.  I visited the nursery a number of times and each time I saw them and no one was buying them, so one day I decided to get a bunch of them and try them.  I must have purchased most of what they had, took them home, potted them up and began to water and fertilize them.  They grew in a very gratifying manner and soon were big, full plants in 5 gallon containers with these enormous, tennis racket sized leaves on big thick trunks.  The plants at that point were one or two feet tall.
     I looked them up on the internet and discovered they were a rare and endangered plant from the Juan Fernandez Islands, and that at one time this species had been down to only 3 individual plants on the island.  Later, I asked Dan Hinckley, the former owner of Heronswood, where he had gotten them and he said from New Zealand because there are places in New Zealand where apparently they are grown now.
     I grew them in large pots for several years, giving many of them away to my friends in the hopes that if mine died, someone else would have one that survived and that could be propagated.  I kept them outside in the summer, in full sun (which is not very hot in our climate), and watered them and fertilized them a lot.  They appreciated this treatment.  I think if these plants are grown in more shaded conditions they might become elongated and not such good looking specimens.  However, I have read that they do not like hot scorching conditions, either.  
     Wintering them over was more of a challenge and eventually led to their demise.  The problem is that they cannot just be left in a cool sunroom without water in the winter which is the treatment all my other non hardy plants get.  You can certainly cut down on water in the winter, but I don't think letting them get bone dry is good for them.  Also, they were prone to pest infestations in the sunroom.  I think all these problems can be overcome with more attention but I usually don't pay too much attention to my indoor plants in the winter.
     So, I had been without Dendroseris litoralis for about 4 or 5 years when I just started thinking about it again while I was contemplating all we plant nerds had lost with the demise of Heronswood.  I decided I would try to find seed of it on the internet.  It appeared that had had them at one time, but no longer had them in stock, although they did have 3 other Dendroderis species which look equally interesting.  I finally found seed on Ebay from a seller in South America, which, of course, I ordered and which are supposedly on their way to me.
     And then, just about the next day after I had ordered those seeds, I got an email alert from Annie's Annuals that they now had a one crop offering of Dendroseris litoralis!  So I immediately ordered three plants and the last picture posted above is of one of those.  This time, I have sworn that I will take more care of these in the winter.  Based on my past experience they are not hard to bulk up--just feed and water them a lot in the summer.  They are not hardy in our climate.  I have read that they do not like temperatures below freezing, and they do not like it too hot either.  These sorts of conditions are the same as many of the New Zealand natives require, and so I would treat them like those types of plants.  They are apparently easy to grow from seed, so I am looking forward to trying that when (or if) my seeds arrive.