Some cultivars of culinary sage are more colorful for home gardens.

The sage that is most popularly grown for herbal and culinary uses (Salvia officinalis) is originally from the Mediterranean region, so is right at home in much of California. Like the various lavenders and some of the other related herbs, it is a shrubby perennial that behaves like a woody shrub, but lives only a few years like some perennials. Lower stems can be layered (buried where they touch the ground so that they form roots and grow into new plants) to replace older plants before they die.

Modern cultivars are quite variable with purplish, pink, pale yellow or pale white coloration or variegation to new foliage, as well as lower growth habit. The original sage gets almost two feet tall and broad, with very aromatic gray foliage.  The narrowly oblong leaves are nearly two and a half inches long and one inch wide. The flowers that bloom in late spring or summer are typically pale blue, but can be purple, pink or white.


Douglas Iris

Douglas iris can interfere with grazing.

California poppy, sky lupine and many favorite coastal wildflowers are annuals. Douglas iris, Iris douglasiana, blooms with the best of them as a perennial. It is persistent enough to be a noxious weed within rangelands. Of course, that is only because it competes with forageable vegetation. Douglas iris is actually tame enough for cultivated home gardens.

Douglas iris bloom is mostly the color of faded blue denim. It can alternatively be slightly richer lavender blue or very pale bluish white. Purple with yellow centers is rare. Flowers stand only about a foot to a foot and a half tall. Their deep green foliage is about as high. Individual leaves are narrow and arching. New leaves displace deteriorating old leaves.

Wild Douglas iris colonies can be impressively expansive. They generally mingle nicely with other low vegetation and wildflowers. With occasional irrigation, they can get dense enough to exclude most other vegetation. However, such colonies are not evenly dense, so develop bare zones. They crave good sun exposure, but tolerate a slight bit of shade. Excessive fertilizer might inhibit bloom. Excessively frequent or generous irrigation might cause rot.


These sorts of primrose almost seem to be synthetic because of their bright but simple color.

The cartoon shades of red, yellow, blue, purple and nearly orange of primrose, Primula acaulis (or Primula vulgaris) are still partying strong. They do not seem to be aware that, although perennials that could regenerate next autumn, they are likely to be replaced with warm season annuals soon. The cute flat-topped trusses of half inch to inch and a half wide flowers are short, but stand up above the even shorter two to five inch long leaves.

Jalapeno Pepper

Jalapeno peppers are harvested before ripening.

Pecan is the State Tree of Texas. Bluebonnet is the State Flower of Texas. Less natively, jalapeno pepper, Capsicum annuum, is the State Pepper of Texas. It is naturalized there from Central and South America. Jalapeno pepper is merely one of countless varieties of the species though. Furthermore, it comprises several and various culinary subvarieties.

Jalapeno pepper typically grows as a warm season annual vegetable. It has potential to be perennial. Overwintering is likely more work than annual replacement though. Mature plants can grow almost three feet tall. They may produce nearly two dozen fruits through summer. They crave sunny and warm exposure, rather rich soil, and consistent watering.

Mature fruits, or jalapeno chile peppers, are firm and crisp. They should be between two and four inches long, and as wide as an inch and a half. Their smooth and glossy skin is deep green, but can ripen to red, orange or rarely yellow. Red fruit is preferable for some culinary application. Jalapeno pepper may be the most familiar of the ‘hot’ chile peppers.

Carolina Jessamine

It is the Official State Flower of North Carolina!

Along with lilac vine (Hardenbergia), daffodil and some acacia trees, Carolina jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, is one of the first flowers to bloom late in winter. The small, loose clusters of  inch long and wide tubular flowers are as bright yellow as those of the various acacia and daffodil, though not nearly as abundant, and actually barely abundant enough for their pleasant fragrance to get noticed. They provide nice contrast for the deep purple of lilac vine, particularly since both are complaisant vines that are often grown together. These twining vines can be kept below first floor eaves, but barely reach second floor eaves if allowed to grow wild. Leaves are about half an inch wide and two or maybe three inch long. Because Carolina jessamine is toxic, it should not be grown where children or inquisitive puppies might eat it. Incidentally, Carolina jessamine is the state flower of South Carolina.

Sweet Corn

Corn takes space, water and diligence.

Almost all corn that grows in home gardens is sweet corn (Zea mays convar. saccharata var. rugosa). It is among the most popular of the warm season vegetable plants. Popcorn remains uncommon for home gardening. Other types of corn are mostly grains and other agricultural commodities that are rare within home gardens. Some corn becomes biofuel.

Corn stalks can grow as high as twelve feet! Most popular varieties grow only about half as high. Each stalk should produce one or perhaps two ears of corn. Each ear produces many kernels of corn in very neat formation on a central cob, all within a tight foliar husk. Male blooms protrude from the tops of stalks like antennae. Foliage is coarse but grassy. Stalks resemble giant reed, except smaller.

Of the various warm season vegetable plants, corn is one of the more consumptive sorts. It occupies significant area. It requires methodical and generous irrigation. Also, it craves rich soil, but depletes nutrients. Corn grows best from seed sown directly into the garden. Squared orientation, rather than typical rows, improves pollination and ear development.

Mexican Orange

Mexican orange does not actually produce any fruit.

Remember when gardening took advantage of the great climate and soil of the Santa Clara Valley? Single story suburban homes with low suburban fences had generous sunny garden space. Now, multiple-storied homes on smaller parcels surrounded by big fences leave only minimal space for shady gardening. Rhododendrons, azaleas, hydrangeas and all sorts of ferns are more popular than the many fruit trees that were so much more common only a few decades ago.

‘Washington’, ‘Robertson’, ‘Valencia’ and ‘Sanguinelli’ oranges that have quite a history in local home gardens are now not much more common than the previously rare Mexican orange, Choisya ternata, which, although related, provides only mildly fragrant flowers without edible fruit. The modest white flowers are only about an inch to an inch and a half wide on loosely arranged trusses, but show up nicely against the rich glossy green foliage. They can bloom anytime, and happen to be blooming now because of the pleasant weather. Otherwise, they prefer to wait until late spring and early summer.

The trifoliate leaves (which are palmately compound with three smaller leaflets in a palmate arrangement) are about two or three inches long and wide. The individual leaflets are about one and a half to three inches long and nearly an inch wide. Foliage can get sparse on big old plants, as they eventually reach lower floor eaves. Occasional pruning of lanky stems can improve foliar density and keep plants as low as three feet. Mexican orange does not actually resemble real orange trees much, but provides nice glossy foliage that is occasionally enhanced by simple softly fragrant flowers.

Oxeye Daisy

Oxeye daisy is actually a perennial.

Like several annual warm season bedding plants, oxeye daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare, is actually perennial. Also, some of the less extensively bred sorts disperse enough seed to naturalize and potentially become invasive. Increasingly popular modern varieties that are prudent with seed might not be true to type. Some might revert to more prolific forms.

Modern varieties should not get much higher than a foot and a half. They should also be more dense than the simple species, which gets a few feet tall. Foliage and form is quite variable among varieties. Stems are solitary or branched. They may be leafy or sparsely foliated above basal rosettes. Leaves might be lobed or serrate, with or without petioles.

The solitary, paired or tripled composite blooms of oxeye daisy are not so variable. They are classic daisies, with a dozen to three dozen clear white ray florets surrounding bright yellow disc florets. Without deadheading, fresh new bloom overwhelms deteriorating old bloom. Oxeye daisy is splendid as a cut flower. Spring bloom continues through summer, and can actually continue sporadically for as long as the weather is warm.

Japanese Black Pine

Japanese pine is more proportionate to confined urban home gardens than more common species.

Not many large specimens of Japanese black pine, Pinus thunbergiana, can be seen around the Santa Clara Valley. They can get taller than a hundred feet on straight trunks in their natural range on the coast of Japan, but locally, rarely get more than a quarter as tall on leaning and irregular trunks. They just are not quite as happy in the dry air here (minimal humidity). They are purported to be more tolerant of smog than most other pines that were so sensitive to the nasty smog of the 1970’s, but are more likely to become infested with insect pathogens as they get old.

With their angular and somewhat open growth, and classic pine foliage and cones, Japanese black pines are one of the more distinctive pines. Since they do not get too large, they can work well as sculptural specimen trees in small garden spaces and atriums. Even if they grow up above the eaves, their leaning trunks and outstretched lower limbs with rough gray bark are as distinguished as those of larger trees.

The paired somewhat stiff needles are about three or four inches long. The small but stout cones stay green through most of their first year of development, and then turn brown as they mature and open to disperse their seed in the second year. They are only about two inches long, but can become annoyingly abundant among aging trees.

Jade Plant

Jade plant is vulnerable to frost.

Wandering Jew, spider plant, various philodendron and jade plant were among the most popular houseplants of the 1970s. They are as easy to propagate as they are to grow, so were popular gifts for friends and neighbors. Jade plant, Crassula ovata, commonly grew too big to stay inside without pruning. It fortunately grows better than the others outdoors.

Jade plant does not grow fast, but can eventually get more than six feet tall, with densely rounded form. The succulent stems of such large specimens get quite plump, but remain rather fragile. The paired evergreen leaves are thickly succulent, and mostly a bit longer than two inches. Clusters of tiny pale pink or white flowers are not especially impressive.

At least one cultivar is variegated with irregular white stripes. Another is somewhat ruddy with relatively compact growth. Others exhibit tubular or curly leaves. Foliage can fade or develop narrow red edges in response to harsh exposure or heat. It is also susceptible to frost damage. Jade plant is mildly toxic, but also potentially appealing to dogs who chew.