Cockscomb

80822Not all annuals last as long as petunias do through summer, or pansies do through winter. Some fill in for the in between seasons, or if longer term annuals do not last quite as long as they should. Cockscomb, Celosia plumosa, blooms best now that it is about halfway through summer, and then finishes as weather gets too cool for it in late autumn, not so much more than two months later.

The common name of cockscomb is actually derived from another species, Celosia cristata, which blooms with oddly stunted and flared blooms that supposedly resemble the combs of roosters, but the most popular varieties are so stunted that they actually look more like little fuzzy brains. Celosia plumosa blooms are more feathery, like those of pampas grass, but only three inches long.

The red, orange, yellow and pink blooms are as brightly colored as a pinata. Mixed colors, which might include softer pink, are the most popular for six packs and seed. White is notably lacking from popular mixes, and is only rarely available separately. Some varieties have bronzed foliage. Cockscomb lasts more than a week as a cut flower, but blooms on rather short and stout stems.

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Kashmir Cypress

70809Plants are usually well suited to the climates that they are native to. Glaucous (slightly reflective grayish) foliage is more common in harsh climates where darker green foliage might get cooked by the sun. Pendulous growth is more common among plants that want to shed heavy snow efficiently. Kashmir cypress, Cupressus cashmeriana, has both, but is from a tropical monsoonal climate.

It is a stately tree that can eventually get taller than fifty feet. Within its native range in the eastern Himalaya, old trees can get three times as tall! Limber stems might hang downward several feet. The minute scale leaves are neatly set on limber stems arranged in flat sprays, similar to, but more defined than those of arborvitae. Foliage is silvery grayish green, and perhaps slightly bluish.

Mature trees do not need much water, but would probably be happier if watered occasionally through summer. Kashmir cypress is unfortunately susceptible to the same diseases and insects that afflict Leyland cypress. That is a serious risk to consider before planting prominent specimens. Incidentally, Kashmir cypress is also known as Bhutan cypress, and is the national tree of Bhutan.

Phlox

80815Those outside California sometimes envy our ideal climates and soils. More of a variety of plants can be grown here than in most other places in America. There are not many plants that can be grown elsewhere that will not grow here. However, phlox, Phlox paniculata, is an example of a plant that can do well here, but for some reason or another, is much more popular everywhere else.

Phlox is native to much of the eastern half of North America, and has naturalized in other areas where it escaped cultivation in home gardens. Locally, it needs to be watered regularly to bloom on time in late summer. It is quite happy out in the open but might prefer a bit of partial shade in the afternoon here where summers are warm and dry. Powdery mildew can sometimes be a problem.

Bloom can be various hues of pink, purplish pink, red or white. The inch wide flowers are neatly arranged on conical terminal panicles about four to six inches wide. Blooming stems stand almost three feet tall and spread almost as wide. The somewhat narrow leaves are about four inches long. Phlox is mostly grown from seed, and can be propagated by division of perennial basal growth.

New Guinea Impatiens

70802Good old fashioned busy Lizzie is hard to find nowadays, if it can be found at all. The nasty mildew that kills it so quickly might not be prevalent everywhere, but happens to be a serious problem where most of the bedding plant farms are located. Now, the formerly uncommon New Guinea impatiens, Impatiens X hawkeri, which is somehow resistant to the mildew, is becoming popular.

The two specie have distinct personalities though. Busy Lizzie dazzles with cheery cartoonish colors, and bloom profuse enough to almost obscure the light green foliage. New Guinea impatiens has bigger and bolder flowers of white, pink, red, magenta, lavender, purple, apricot and reddish orange, but does not try to hide its rich green, bronze, purplish bronze or gold variegated foliage.

New Guinea impatiens are more expensive, and are not available in cell packs like most other bedding plants are. They are most popular in four inch pots. They do well in pots and tolerate partial shade, but want rich soil and regular watering. Mature plants can get more than a foot wide, and might get as tall if crowded. Although grown as annuals, they can survive as short term perennials.

Epiphyllum oxypetalum

80808The common names of ‘Dutchman’s pipe’ and ‘queen of the night’ are not much less awkward the the Latin name of Epiphyllum oxypetalum, which might be why the Latin name is more common than the common names are. Some know it as ‘white ephiphyllum’ or even more simply as ‘white epi’. It is one of the more popular of the epiphyllums; and it is the most popular with white flowers.

The nocturnal flowers appeal to nocturnal pollinators. What we see simply as luminescent white is actually outfitted with exquisite patterns that are only visible to those who can see ultraviolet light, like nocturnal moths. Bats are as blind as . . . well, bats, but can follow the richly sweet fragrance if they choose to. Sunlight disables fragrance immediately, and causes flowers to close soon after.

In the wild, sprawling primary stems can cascade almost twenty feet. Of course, they are much shorter in home gardens. The more pendulous secondary stems that bloom get about a foot long, and perhaps three inches wide. Flowers bloom in summer, and can be half a foot wide and a foot long. Epiphyllums naturally hang from trees as epiphytes, so will do the same from hanging pots.

Nierembergia

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When first created by Chrysler, the Imperial was considered to be so close to perfection that fancy colors were unnecessary. It was originally only available in black or white, and later red, like the Chrysler Imperial rose that was named for it. It took a while for other colors to become available. Perhaps perfection is the same reason why nierembergia is only blue or white, or maybe purple.

Nierembergia is most popularly grown as a warm season annual for color from the middle of summer to autumn. It can get half a foot high and a foot wide. As a perennial, it has the potential to get twice as high and wide after its first year, but it lasts only a few years, and looks rather shabby through cool winter weather. The small flowers are evenly dispersed over the finely textured foliage, lacking only on the shaded sides of the densely rounded plants.

Because it gets a bit deeper than most other annuals, nierembergia is a nice transitional plant between lower annuals that might cascade over the edge of a planter in front, and higher or more upright perennials or shrubbery that might obscure a foundation behind. It can work alone too, but does not cascade from planters, big pots or hanging baskets.

 

Busy Lizzie

80801In only a few years, busy Lizzie, Impatiens walleriana, went from being one of the most popular warm season annuals to being unavailable in nurseries. It is now making a slight comeback. Most of those planted during their planting season last spring are now so profuse with bloom that their rich foliage is mostly obscured. Although they can be perennial, almost all get replaced in autumn.

The problem associated with their unavailability was that a type of downy mildew that is resistant to common fungicides had become a temporary epidemic among the growers who supply the plants. The disease is still out and about, so can still infect busy Lizzie, but is not such an epidemic after a few years of scarcity of host material for it to infest. Nonetheless, busy Lizzie is still risky.

Bloom is clear and cheery hues of pink, red, magenta, peachy orange, pale lavender and white. The five petaled flowers are about an inch or two in diameter. Leaves are a bit bigger than the flowers. Foliage and stems are succulent and very fragile, so will not tolerate traffic, and will die in winter if exposed to frost. The biggest plants can get almost two feet tall and three feet broad.

‘Big Blue’ Sea Holly

70719This one is no fun to handle. It is just as prickly as it looks. Yet, it is the spiny foliage and blooms that make ‘Big Blue’ sea holly, Eryngium X zabelii ‘Big Blue’, so appealing. The knobby blue thistle flowers are centered on prominently flaring grayish blue bracts that look like metallic snowflakes. The intricately lobed grayish foliage contrasts splendidly with just about any darker green foliage.

Bloom begins with summer and continues almost to autumn. The first flowers are solitary on strong stems. As they fade, sideshoots from these original stems continue to bloom with smaller but more abundant flowers. They are excellent cut flowers, fresh or dried. However, cutting the first solitary flowers with long stems removes some of the sideshoots that would otherwise bloom later.

Mature plants can get three feet tall and half as wide. Shade, even part shade, causes irregular growth that can be quite weedy. Although perennial, ‘Big Blue’ sea holly might live only a few years.

Contrary to the appearance of the bristly thistle like foliage and flowers, sea holly is in the Umbelliferae family, which means that it is more closely related to celery and carrot than it is to artichoke!

Fountain Grass

80725It was probably a good idea when it was introduced to California, but fountain grass, Pennisetum setaceum, became too much of a good thing for a few temperate regions in which it naturalizes and displaces native vegetation. Although it now works to inhibit erosion where it grows wild on the embankments of highway interchanges, it must sometime be mown because it is combustible.

In home gardens, fountain grass is more appealing if shorn back at the end of winter, and watered occasionally through the warmest part of summer. If feral seedlings need to be removed, a few may be left if they happen to grow where more plants are wanted, or to replace aging plants. Fountain grass should not be planted in regions where it is likely to naturalize but has not yet done so.

Fountain grass has narrow leaves that arch upward and outward so that the tips of outer leaves are just touching the ground. They might sag lower; or they might stand more upright. The fuzzy tan or pinkish tan flowers that bloom in summer may stand as tall as three feet. Individual plants live only a few years. The cultivar ‘Rubrum’ has striking purplish bronze foliage, and does not self sow.

Blue Plumbago

70712The delightfully clear sky blue flowers of blue plumbago, Plumbago auriculata, seem like they belong with colorful annuals or in a tailored border of colorfully blooming perennials. However, the rampant canes of mature plants are really best in the background where they have room to grow wild. The canes do not climb like vines, but can flop over other shrubbery as high as fifteen feet.

Rounded trusses of small blue flowers begin to bloom sporadically by the end of spring, and continue to bloom in phases until late summer. Supposedly, each subsequent phase should be a bit more profuse than the previous; but not all plants are aware of this. They might bloom best in mid summer, and less profusely later. ‘Alba’ blooms white. Pale foliage indicates a need for fertilizer.

Blue plumbago is not as easy to work with as it seems to be. Once established, it can grow like a weed, and really seems to take care of itself, and it is probably better to allow it to do so. It does not like to be shorn into hedges or geometric shapes as it so often is. Shearing ruins the natural form, eliminates most of the outer canes that provide bloom, and exposes sparse interior growth.