Euonymus fortunei

Euonymus fortunei can be shrubby or vining.

Like ivy, Euonymus fortunei creeps along the ground while juvenile, then climbs as a clinging vine where it finds support, and finally produces shrubby adult growth that can bloom and produce seed when it reaches the top of the support. Most cultivars (cultivated varieties) are juvenile plants that make good small scale ground cover that will eventually climb and mature to adulthood if not contained. As vines, they work nicely on concrete walls, but should not be allowed to climb wooden walls or painted surfaces that they can damage with their clinging rootlets. Cultivars that are grown from cuttings of adult growth are strictly shrubby.

The finely serrated, paired leaves are about three quarters to two inches long and about a quarter to one inch wide. The most popular cultivars of Euonymus fortunei that are grown for their variegated or yellow foliage do not grow too aggressively or get too large. Those with green, unvariegated foliage can slowly but eventually climb more than three stories high. Docile variegated plants can sometimes revert to unvariegated and become more aggressive. (Reversion is mutation to a more genetically stable state.)


Mixing Things Up

Annuals are nice, but so are a few more substantial or perennial plants.

Large pots, urns and planter boxes filled with ridiculously colorful blooming annuals are certainly nothing new. However, more small perennials and even a few small shrubs and trees are being planted along with the annuals, and allowed to stay indefinitely as fewer annuals get replaced around them as the seasons change.

These plants only need to be tolerant of confinement, regular watering and the comings and goings of the annuals around them. Upright plants should go in back, behind the lower annuals. Cascading and ground cover type plants should go in front.

Small forms of New Zealand flax and trunkless dracaena palms (Cordyline spp.) add texture, form and motion to large planters, but may eventually get too big if not properly pruned. Larger shoots can be pruned out to allow smaller shoots to take over. Alternatively, overgrown plants can be removed and put out in the landscape when they get too big.

Hollywood and Rocky Mountain junipers have striking form if pruned to show it off, and are easier to contain with selective pruning than reputed. Even without the interesting branch structure of junipers, arborvitaes are appreciated for their similar finely textured foliage and their rich green or yellow color. ‘Blue Rug’ juniper, a grayish ground cover juniper, cascades nicely from large planters.

Large succulents that tolerate water, such as good old fashioned jade plant and various aeoniums, offer bold texture and form in the background. They are easy to prune as they grow, and do not have aggressive roots. Low clumping aloes do the same in front.

Euonymus fortunei, English ivy, various iceplants and other ground cover plants do well cascading over the edges of large planters.

There really is not much limit to the variety of perennials and small shrubs and even trees that play well with others in planters of blooming annuals, and do not mind the confinement and regular watering. Annuals are still the best for flashy floral colors. Yet, the other plants excel in form, texture, foliar color and motion in the breeze.

Horridculture – Plastic Is Forever

Unfortunately or fortunately, environmentalism is part of my work.

Tony Tomeo

P00513 Ah, the memories.

Horticulturists are environmentalists by definition. Whether we grow horticultural commodities, install such commodities into landscape, maintain such landscapes and associated trees, or design such landscapes, the vegetation that we work with affects the environment. Many of us should take our innately significant environmental responsibilities more seriously than we do.

We should also be realistic about our environmentalism. For example, there is no problem with designing a landscape that attracts butterflies for a client who enjoys butterflies in the garden. However, we should not promote butterfly gardening as something that benefits the environment and ecosystem by distracting insects from native flowers that rely on them for pollination.

I have never been one of ‘those’ extreme environmentalists. I do not want to save all vegetation. Some trees are too hazardous to those in the landscape below. Some exotic species are too aggressively invasive within a natural ecosystem, and therefore…

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Pincushion Protea

Pincushion protea is most certainly distinctive.

Proteas seem to be as happy locally as they are within their native range in South Africa. The Mediterranean climates there and here must be similar. Like most species from such climates, they are quite undemanding. They enjoy sunny and warm exposure with good drainage. They dislike fertilizer and frequent irrigation. Occasional irrigation is tolerable.

Pincushion protea, Leucospermum cordifolium, is the most popular protea here. Bloom can begin between late winter and early spring, and lasts for weeks. Many are presently blooming. Most are orange. Some are yellow or red. They are excellent cut flowers, both fresh and dried. Each rounded and four inch wide bloom contains many narrow flowers.

Pincushion protea develops stiff branches, but potentially wobbly roots. Sprawling stems that lean onto the ground improve stability. Pruning should remove undesirable stems at their origins, without leaving stubs. Shearing ruins form and texture, and inhibits bloom. Mature specimens can be about five feet tall and somewhat wider. Stiff evergreen leaves are about three inches long and half as wide.

Superbloom Highlights Local Mediterranean Climate

Rosemary can bloom longer with irrigation.

It does not happen often. The average frequency is about ten to fifteen years. However, it occurred in both 2017 and 2019, prior to this spring. That is enough for thirty to forty-five years! The current superbloom is only now finishing locally. It may continue through most of May near the coast farther North. The best bloomers enjoy the Mediterranean climate.

Climate is the typical and seasonal weather pattern of a region. The local Mediterranean climate is typically mild and somewhat arid. Almost all rain occurs between late autumn and early spring. Rain is otherwise rare. Winters are cool but not too cold. Summers are warm but not too hot. Native and some exotic flora knows how to exploit such climates.

Some exotic flora that prefers other climates also seemed to demonstrate a superbloom. Some merely responded to the unusually cool weather last winter. They appreciate more vernalization than they typically experience here. Some species enjoyed the unusually abundant rain last winter. Some species enjoyed both extra rain and extra vernalization.

Native species and exotic species from similar Mediterranean climates are a bit different. Their superbloom happens at the same time, and is also a response to earlier weather. However, it is also a response to later weather. They know that Mediterranean climates get warm and arid through summer. They are in a rush to finish blooming while they can.

Superbloom is how many species accomplish all their annual bloom within a brief time. They begin as soon as cool and stormy wintry weather finishes. They finish before warm and dry summer weather desiccates their flowers. Of course, such bloom may not be so spectacular after typical winters. It is only superbloom after exceptionally wintry winters.

Some species that exhibit superbloom in the wild bloom later for irrigated home gardens. This includes some exotic species from similar Mediterranean climates elsewhere. Such climates are present in small portions of Australia, South America and Africa. Obviously, most Mediterranean climates are around the Mediterranean Sea. Most exotic plants that are most adaptable here are from such climates.


As bad as this was three years ago, it is not as extreme as what came down this last winter.

Tony Tomeo

P00510-1 This is a bit more than just slightly inconvenient. The trail continues forward from here, with another trail up the stairs to the right.

It is that time of year. Warming weather accelerates vascular activity, which makes foliage heavier. If evapotranspiration is inhibited by humidity and a lack of wind, the foliage can get too heavy to be supported by the trees that produce it. All that increasing weight can bring down big limbs or entire trees at the most unexpected times. The process is spontaneous limb failure.

By ‘unexpected’, I mean that it happens when there is no wind. It is startling because broken limbs and fallen trees are typically associated with wind rather than a lack of it. Gentle wind actually accelerates evapotranspiration, which relives affected vegetation of some of its weight and susceptibility to spontaneous limb failure. Aridity helps too, by absorbing more moisture.

Of course, even…

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Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Well, . . . I have not seen any since this posted three years ago. It was good while it lasted. It could still be out there somewhere, and if it were to reappear, it would be more likely to become noticeable after this last unusually wintry winter.

Tony Tomeo

P00509K Where does this delightful columbine think it is?!

Columbine does not do well here. I do no know why. It does well enough in Colorado to be the Official State Flower there. Yet, the mildest of climates is Colorado are harsher than the climate here. It does not get too terribly warm in summer here. Humidity is minimal, but not as minimal as in much of Colorado. Nor does it exceed that of other regions where columbine does well.

We have certainly tried to grow columbine. It just does not work. Some of it succumbs to powdery mildew. Some succumbs to rust. The last batch just succumbed. Because it was expected, I did not bother to investigate. I got the impression that it was taken out by both powdery mildew and rust. Flowers that bloomed so delightfully when planted went to seed on their way out.

That should have been…

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Six on Saturday: Bearded Iris

Iris are blooming late but splendidly within the new iris bed. It is gratifying to assemble various bearded iris within their dedicated garden. #1 and #2 do not inhabit the new iris bed yet, but are tempting because they resemble cultivars that I crave. I purchase no iris. Doing so would be an egregious violation of my very discriminating standards. However, if I ever find it, the one cultivar of bearded iris that I would make an exception for is ‘San Jose’.

1. ‘Los Angeles’ looks just like this, although this is not exactly an exemplary specimen. I should get a copy of it, regardless of its identity. Perhaps an expert could identify it later. It was a few days old, but stayed on tables for a luncheon at Felton Presbyterian Church.

2. ‘San Jose’ looks almost like this, but frillier, with less veining of the purplish falls. This blooms in front of the White Raven coffee shop in Felton. I likely will not request a copy.

3. Purple intermediate iris is still the most abundant in the iris bed. It was recycled from a garden in Santa Cruz, where it was a bit too abundant. To me, it seems to be deep blue.

4. Feral yellow iris may not actually be so feral. Now that it inhabits the iris bed, where it is irrigated regularly, it has grown as tall and performs like the tall bearded iris cultivars.

5. Purple tall iris was a gift from a neighboring residential garden. To me, it seems about as blue as the purple intermediate iris. I have been assured that it truly is purple though.

6. Blue and white tall iris was also a gift from the same neighboring residential garden. I am very confident that this really is blue, rather than purple. This is the frilliest cultivar.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Hair Grass

This is one of the more complaisant of ornamental grasses.

A rather sloppy style of the 1970s combined with a weird color of the 1980s might explain the resemblance of hair grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, to real hair. The lime otter-pop green color of the foliage, which looks so fresh in the garden, is actually quite dated for hair. So is the pleasantly soft texture. The sparse, fuzzy cloud of purplish pink bloom that hovers just above the foliage in autumn is extraordinary, although only slightly more contemporary for hair color. Happy hair grass plants that get plenty of water in sunny spots can get more than two and a half feet tall. Yet, the perennial foliage is so soft that it tends to fill in space between other sturdier plants instead of overwhelming them.

Ornamental Grasses

Pampas grass was once appreciated for its appealing foliar texture and strikingly elegant bloom.

Lawns are among the most useful of landscape features, but are also the most horticulturally incorrect. They require such constant maintenance and so much water that they give grass a bad reputation. Yet, the turf grasses that are used for lawn are actually a minority among grasses. There are so many more grasses, including a few turf grasses, that can add color, texture and the seldom considered asset of ‘motion’ to the landscape.

Most grasses move nicely in a breeze. Old fashioned pampas grass, with remarkably limber and long leaves, is one of the best for motion. As if the elegant foliage were not enough, billowy white flowers on tall sturdy stalks nod gracefully in season. (However, pampas grass gets quite large, has potentially dangerous foliage that can cause nasty paper cuts, and in rural areas, can escape into the wild to become an invasive weed.) Red fountain grass does the same on a smaller scale that is more proportionate to suburban gardens.

Red fountain grass also provides striking brownish red foliage. Blue festuca and larger blue oat grass, although insensitive to a breeze, provide really excellent pale blue foliage. The most popular variety of miscanthus grass is variegated with white. Hair grass is a weird yellowish green that resembles that of a rubbery fishing lure.

Besides the odd color, hair grass also has an oddly soft texture that allows it to spill over the edges of retaining walls and pots, with delicate autumn flowers that hover above like a swarm of gnats. Mexican feather grass seems somewhat coarse up close, but has the uniform texture of wheat at a distance. Switchgrass has a more rigid texture, and stands more vertically than other softer grasses. Feather reed grass does both, with flowers that stand vertically above the soft billowy foliage below.

There are as many different kinds of grasses as there are variations of color, texture and motion. Only a few are annual. Almost all are perennial. There are a few in between; perennials that die out in a few years. Most grasses are only a few feet tall. Some never get taller than a foot. Yet, a few get several feet tall.

Most grasses are at their best if they get cut to the ground every few years or even annually. However, some need no maintenance except only for watering. If satisfied with watering, some grasses can sow their seed to cover the outskirts of a landscape, and can be an appealing alternative to ground cover. There are even a few grasses that will naturalize without watering.