The weather here is excellent for growing all sorts of fruits and vegetables, but is not exactly ideal for bell peppers. Cool nights between warm days are comfortable for us, but limit production of even the healthiest and most robust of plants. Although they like warm nights, the fruit can be sensitive to hot days, and can even get scalded. Bell pepper plants like rich soil and regular watering.
Bell peppers lack capsaicin, which causes other peppers (‘chiles’) to be distinctively ‘hot.’ The fruits of the more popular varieties of green bell pepper are generally harvested while immature, but would otherwise ripen to red. However, most popular red bell peppers are different varieties that produce somewhat elongated fruits with milder flavor. Other varieties produce orange or yellow fruits. Uncommon purple, lavender, brown and white bell peppers are just . . . weird.
Of all the aggressively invasive exotic species on the West Coast, Himalayan blackberry, Rubus armeniacus, could be the nastiest! It seems to be impossible to kill. It forms dense thickets of wickedly thorny canes that develop roots where they touch the ground. Even if canes are cut to the ground, and the roots are pulled out, new plants regenerate quickly from remaining bits of roots.
Individual canes can grow more than twenty feet long in their first year! They may lay on the ground to creep under a thicket, or arch up and over other plants that are fifteen feet tall. These canes develop blooming and fruiting branches in their second year. By their third year, they are replaced by new canes. The palmately compound leaves are smaller for the fruiting second year canes.
Trusses of white or very pale pink flowers bloom late in spring. Dark purplish black berries that started ripening a few weeks ago are now being depleted. Some experts believe that Himalayan blackberries are bigger and sweeter than the fruit of most garden varieties. However, berries are only bigger among well cultivated canes; and keeping canes contained and pruned is not easy.
It may not look too nasty, but barberry, Berberis thunbergii, is the sort of small hedge that one goes through only once. It does not have big strong branches to hold anyone back. In fact, the limber branches are quite twiggy. The tiny spines are not impressive either, and might go unnoticed by cursory observation. Yet, they are sharp enough and plentiful enough to make quite an impression!
Because it is so unpleasant to prune, barberry should probably be planted where it has room to grow as big as it wants to without bothering anyone. If it is too close to walkways, it will either offend whomever bumps into it, or whomever needs to prune it to keep it out of the way. Mature plants will unfortunately need to be pruned eventually, so that old deteriorating stems can be groomed out.
The most popular cultivars of barberry have dark reddish or purplish foliage. A few are variegated with white; and a few have golden foliage. Green barberries are now uncommon. The tiny leaves turn bright orange in autumn before winter defoliation. Densely dwarf cultivars may not get much taller than two feet. Taller cultivars might get taller than six feet. Some barberries are very vertical.
From formerly dormant bulbs just below where their foliage shriveled in the warmth of last spring, the naked brown floral stalks of naked lady, Amaryllis belladonna, grow fast to about two feet tall. They bloom suddenly with a few or several garish pink lily flowers about three inches long. They are sneaky about it too. Without foliage, and prior to flashy bloom, the bare stalks are easy to miss.
Even though individual flowers do not last long, the collective bloom lingers a bit longer as newer flowers bloom to replace those that bloomed slightly earlier on the same stalks. They are nice as cut flowers. The minimal floral fragrance is usually unnoticed, so can be a surprise if the weather happens to be conducive to the dispersion of the light fragrance of exceptionally abundant bloom.
Foliage does not regenerate until after bloom, and should wait until after the first rain of autumn. Where winters are colder, it waits until early spring, only to die back before summer. The long strap shaped leaves resemble those of lily-of-the-Nile, but are a bit softer. If ruined by frost, they try again. The tops of the two or three inch wide bulbs are visible at the surface of the soil while dormant.
It is not easy to get a pretty picture of rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum. The big and sometimes flabby leaves are only impressive to those who know about the succulent petioles (leaf stalks) below. The petioles do not look like much either, until they are cooked into pies or garnet colored preserves. Shabby stalks of tiny flowers rarely bloom, and should get cut out to favor more foliar growth.
Traditional rhubarb stalks are mostly green with a red blush, and a distinctively tart flavor. Some modern varieties with richer red color are not quite as vigorous, and have milder flavor. Varieties with light green petioles are probably the most productive, but are not so richly colored when cooked. Tender young stalks are preferred to firmer mature stalks. Leaves are toxic, so they are not eaten.
Petioles can be harvested as soon as they are big enough in late spring, and as late as autumn. The outer leaves get plucked first, which leaves smaller inner leaves to continue growing. Plucking most of the leaves gets more of the tender inner stalks, but also slows growth so that new stalks may not be ready for a few months. Rhubarb likes rich soil, sunny exposure, and plenty of water.
This is not just another mandevilla. Well, maybe it is. Mandevilla laxa is special though. It is known as Chilean jasmine because, unlike other mandevillas, it is so delightfully fragrant, particularly on warm summer evenings. Some say the fragrance is similar to that of gardenia, but not as strong. Others say it has a bit of vanilla mixed in. Sporadic bloom continues through most of summer.
The two inch long pure white flowers flare out to be a bit wider than long, and are a bit more relaxed than the neatly tailored flowers of other mandevillas. They bloom sequentially in small groups, with new flowers replacing the old for quite a while. The glossy rich green leaves can get almost twice as long at the flowers. Foliage last better on the coast, but is mostly deciduous elsewhere.
Chilean jasmine grows fast in spring, especially if pruned well after winter, but is surprisingly tame. It can grow past downstairs eaves, but should not reach upstairs eaves. It is satisfied with a light duty trellis. If carefully pruned out and removed each winter, it is one of the few vines that is complaisant enough for lattice. Light frost can kill stems to the ground, but they usually recover in spring.
‘Alice Dupont’ mandevilla that was so popular through the 1980’s was already a cool vigorous but not too overwhelming vine, with big clear pink radial flowers. It grows rather vigorously to upstairs eaves, and tends to get bunched where it reaches the top of its support. Modern cultivars with red, white or bright pink flowers are more compact and tame, and can stay below downstairs eaves.
The wiry twining stems neither root into their support like ivy does, not get bulky enough to constrict and crush their support like wisteria does. However, old vines might get thick enough to split lattice apart. New plants are greener in partial shade, although they will probably climb to where they get full sun exposure. The glossy evergreen foliage is surprisingly sensitive to even mild frost.
Mandevilla is tropical, so enjoys warmth, but not aridity (minimal humidity). Overly exposed foliage can get scorched by hot weather. Sporadic bloom continues from spring through autumn, with more prolific bloom phases in response to warm weather. Unfortunately, mealybug, aphid, scale and whitefly enjoy warm weather too. While pruning, the caustic white sap can be a toxic nuisance.
A landscape designer would have more fun describing both the modern and the good old fashioned varieties of morning glory. Their vivid colors are so resplendent. Their rich green foliage is so luxuriant. Their delicate vines are so elegant. Hey, perhaps this is not so difficult. Anyway, the popular garden varieties of morning glory are descendents of various species of the genus Ipomea.
Except for a few obscure types, and the perennial blue dawn flower, popular garden varieties of morning glory are surprisingly complaisant annual vines, which grow from seed sown at the end of winter. Without getting too invasive or weedy, they sometimes reseed where they get watered, although they might revert to a more feral state after a few generations, or after the first generation.
Some varieties of morning glory have the potential to reach single story eaves, although most stay a bit lower, and some varieties do not get much higher than a doorknob. They work well on small trellises, or even simple stakes, and are just right for picket fences. The simple two or three inch wide flowers are rich hues of blue, purple, red, pink and white, some with spots, stripes or streaks.
Only a few flowers are true blue. A few more are nearly blue, but slightly blushed with lavender. Of the latter group, fan flower, Scaevola albida, which is usually more lavender than blue, can be quite convincingly blue if conditions are just so. The semi-circular flowers (which are actually wide bilateral flowers) are most abundant in spring and summer, but can bloom sporadically all year.
The finely textured evergreen foliage is dense enough to function as light duty groundcover. Mature plants eventually get about four feet wide without getting deeper than a foot, and more typically stay less than half a foot deep. Outer stems pressed into the soil with their tips up should root and grow into new plants. Fan flower prefers regular but moderate watering. Shade inhibits bloom.
Fan flower only became available in the middle of the 1980’s. How appropriate for flowers of such distinctive style and color! The original common type is still the most reliable. Newer cultivars are not quite as resilient, and might not be as vigorous either. However, they are worth growing for their bigger and bolder flowers, and because they cascade better from pots or raised planters.
It is gratifying to see renewed interest in this old fashioned flower. Naturally occurring varieties of some of the nearly three dozen species of Iochroma were popular decades ago. Some might actually be naturally occurring hybrids that have yet to be identified. Many modern cultivars (cultivated varieties) were intentionally bred or hybridized for more compact growth and profuse bloom.
Old fashioned varieties of Iochroma are occasionally seen as large rampant shrubbery or even small trees in old established landscapes. Modern cultivars are more compact and manageable. For the fullest and most vigorous growth in summer, they can be pruned aggressively as winter ends, but should otherwise be pruned only for shape and confinement. They should never be shorn.
If Iochroma resembles angel’s trumpet, it is because they are related. The foliage is very similar, although the leaves are smaller. The narrowly tubular flowers are much smaller and clustered. The hummingbirds who like them so much do not even need to reach their beaks all the way in. Bloom is purple, blue, red, pink or maybe white or yellow. Iochroma happens to do well in partial shade.