White Hydrangea

P90907KWhat ever happened to the formerly common white hydrangea? It used to one of the three standard types of hydrangea; and the other two were really variants of the same sorts of ‘pink or blue’ hydrangea that I wrote about in ‘Horridculture – True Colors‘. The few hydrangeas that are white nowadays are lacy, flat-topped, blushed . . . or anything but simple classic white.

This old fashioned simple white hydrangea is just as elegant now as it has always been. It is always white, without pretense of blue or pink. There is no point of giving it something it does not really need just to change its natural color (like those of us in the Santa Clara Valley do to make pink hydrangeas blue; or those of us in the Tualatin Valley do to make blue hydrangeas pink).

The bulky and almost spherically rounded form of this floral truss distinguishes this old fashioned type as a ‘mophead’ hydrangea. Nowadays, ‘lacecap’, ‘mountain’, ‘smooth’, ‘panicle’, ‘oakleaf’ and ‘climbing’ hydrangeas are the more popular types. There is certainly nothing wrong with contemporary types, but there is nothing wrong with the old fashioned ‘mophead’ types either.

When it is time to prune the hydrangeas this winter, we might take cuttings from this particular specimen, in order to grow a few copies of it. Pink and blue hydrangeas, which get fertilized accordingly (to maintain their desired colors), happen to suit the landscapes very nicely here, but a few more white hydrangeas would brighten the rich dark green of the forest splendidly.

Besides, the old fashioned simplicity and elegance of this old fashioned white mophead hydrangea seem to be more compatible with the old redwoods and other mature forest trees than the relative flashiness of modern cultivars that were popularized only in the past few decades.

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Mellow Yellow

P90427KThis picture of a yellow Pacific Coast iris probably should have been incorporated into the Six on Saturday post earlier today. I omitted it because I was not so impressed with how the color showed up. It is really more yellow than it looks. In this picture, it looks more like a discolored version of the white Pacific Coast iris. This sort of variation, that might have been normal for old fashioned photography, is not expected of digital imagery.
It sort of reminds me of how some insects and other pollinators see flowers so differently with infrared or ultraviolet. Are infrared or ultraviolet faded in digital imagery as well? It would make sense, since there is no need for normal cameras to record colors that we can not see. Nor is there need for computer monitors to display such invisible colors. Ironically, modern technology can modify color to make that which in invisible to us visible.
Modern technology is always improving the quality of stored data, and the presentation of such stored data. Perhaps there really are ways to take pictures that record infrared and ultraviolet, although I can not imagine why there would be a use for such technology. Video is good about recording and presenting motion. Audio records and presents sound. Regardless, none of it is good enough to keep us from actually enjoying our real gardens.
Pacific Coast iris blooms in all sorts of weirdly bright colors now. Modern technology has certainly had its way with them as well. The flowers are bigger and bolder than they naturally were. The foliage is greener and fluffier. Yet, to me, the best are still those that grow wild and bloom on the coast of San Mateo County, with unassuming flowers in subdued shades of greyish blue, like faded denim.

Horridculture – Pale Clivia Syndrome

P90417Back in the good old days, Kaffir lily, Clivia miniata, which is probably most popularly known simply as ‘clivia’, bloomed with big round trusses of exclusively bright reddish orange flowers. It was such an excellent color that no one thought to change it. Flowers of feral plants that sometimes grew from seed were potentially more orange and less red, but were flashy nonetheless. There was no need, and minimal potential, for ‘improvement’.

Then the allure of the ‘rare’ happened. Yellow Kaffir lilies had previously been so rare that very few had seen them. Once the rest of us became aware of their existence, many of us wanted them, only because they were so rare. However, after seeing them, some of us came to the conclusion that they were rare because no one wanted them when the species was first introduced, and cultivars with the best color were selected and perpetuated.

Regardless, yellow Kaffir lily suddenly became a fad. Traditional bright reddish orange Kaffir lilies became passe. All the while, those subscribing to the fad seriously believed that yellow was better and more desirable than reddish orange simply because it was so very rare. All the while, yellow became increasingly popular, increasingly available . . . and no longer rare. All the while, reddish orange became unpopular, uncommon . . . and rare.

So now what? Why is yellow more popular than reddish orange now? Yellow is insipid and pale. Reddish orange is vibrant and bright. Furthermore, yellow is so dreadfully common. Reddish orange is quite rare. According to the previous justification for the popularity of insipid pale yellow Kaffir lily, bright reddish orange Kaffir lily should be popular now, not because they are so much more colorful and appealing, but because they are RARE!P90406++++

These are in Brent’s garden.

Annuals Should Match The Weather

P80317Pulling out cool season annuals that are still somewhat colorful is never easy, even if they are already deteriorating. There is always the desire to stretch their season as late as possible until they succumb to warmer weather. Only a few can perform all year, or get cut back to hide below other taller plants until the weather gets cool enough in autumn for them to regenerate and bloom again.

Regardless of all the resistance, removing the annuals of a previous season relinquishes space for annuals that are appropriate to the next season, whether cool to warm season, or warm to cool season. Even if new annuals are initially wimpy relative to the older annuals that were removed, they should proliferate and bloom better than lingering unseasonable annuals would if not removed.

Timing is somewhat important. There is no point in removing cool season annuals too early if the weather is still too cool for warm season annuals. However, there is no point in planting too late either. Delayed planting only delays growth and bloom. Some warm season annuals, especially those grown from seed sown late in winter, prefer to get established while the weather is still cool.

French marigold is probably the most traditional warm season annual for bright yellow, orange and bronze. Lobelia contrasts excellently with rich blue and purple, and can also be purplish rose or white. Petunia can do even more with brighter and more variable colors. Cosmos provides pastel pinks and white on taller plants. Cockscomb colors rival those of marigold, and can also be red.

Pincushion flower, annual statice and zinnia are popularly enjoyed as bedding plants, and also work well individually, behind lower bedding plants, or in planters of mixed annuals or perennials. Verbena and moss rose cascade nicely from such mixed planters. Sadly, brightly colored and formerly popular busy Lizzie (impatiens) are either rare or unavailable because of a mold disease.

Nasturtium and alyssum are warm season annuals that are often grown through winter as well. Where they are allowed to naturalize and bloom throughout the year, deteriorating old plants might need to be groomed out as they get replaced by self sown plants. New nasturtium should be sown as seed, instead of planted as seedlings from cell packs. Alyssum grows well by either means.

Some Plants Impress With Bark

P80805Lemon eucalyptus, ‘Marina’ madrone, cork oak and all sorts of melaleuca trees are known more for their interesting bark than for their foliage or flowers. It helps that their distinctive trunks and branch structures are ideal for displaying their unique bark. Color and texture of bark is remarkably variable, and tends to get noticed more in winter while blooms and foliage are lacking.

Bark of sycamores, birches, elms and crape myrtles that had been so handsome throughout the year is more visible now that it is not partially obscured or shaded by the deciduous foliage that is associated with it. Trunks and limbs of European white and Jacquemontii birches are strikingly white. ‘Natchez’ crape myrtle has distinctively blotched bark, (although the white flowers are pale.)

Because of their other assets, English walnuts, figs and saucer magnolias are not often grown for their bark. Nonetheless, their pale gray bark shows off their stocky bare branch structure nicely, especially in front of an evergreen backdrop of redwoods or pines. The smooth metallic gray bark of European beech is much more subdued, but is what makes big old trees so distinguished.

A few deciduous trees and shrubs get more colorful as winter weather gets cooler. Instead of white or pale gray, their bark turns brighter yellow, orange or red. Some plants, like sticks-of-fire, do not need much cool weather to develop good color. Others get more colorful in colder climates, and contrast spectacularly to a snowy landscape. Locally, they should be well exposed to chill.

As the name suggests, the coral bark Japanese maple (‘Sango Kaku’) develops pinkish orange bark. It can get ruddier in colder climates, but may get yellowish here. Unlike other Japanese maples that get pruned to display their delicate foliage and branch structure, the coral bark Japanese maple sometimes gets pruned more aggressively to promote more colorful twiggy growth.

Osier dogwood is a shrubby dogwood that lacks colorful bloom, but compensates with ruddy brown, brownish orange or pale yellow bark in winter. (Dogwood bark . . . There is a pun there somewhere.) Because it lacks colorful bloom, it can be pruned aggressively after winter. Older canes that do not color as well can be pruned to the ground as they get replaced by new canes.

Colorful Berries Linger Through Winter

51125thumbJust as many flowers attract pollinators with color, some types of fruit employ color to get the attention of birds and other animals. Just as many flowers reward their pollinators with nectar, fruit is its own reward to the animals that eat it. The only catch is that those who want the fruit must disperse the seed within. For both the hungry animals and the fruiting plants that lack mobility, it is a rather equitable arrangement.

Much of the fruit that uses this technique ripens in autumn, and linger through winter, when there is not much other fruit. It is available to migratory birds and animals that want to fatten up for winter. Unlike nuts and large seeds that get buried locally by squirrels, the tiny seeds of winter berries typically get eaten and ‘dispersed’ more remotely. Some actually need to be scarified by digestion before they will germinate.

Because they put as much effort into attracting vectors to disperse their seed as flowers put into attracting pollinators, fruit and berries can add significant color to the home garden. Oranges, mandarins, lemons, grapefruits and other citrus are quite colorful, even though they do not expect to be taken away by birds, To attract crows, persimmon fruits get as colorful for winter as their foliage was through autumn.

Firethorn (pyracantha) is probably the most colorful and profuse of the ornamental berries. Various specie and cultivars of cotoneaster produce similar berries, but not quite so prolifically. They are popular for their resiliency. Toyon, which is the native ‘California holly’ that Hollywood is named for, is a bit too finicky for irrigated and refined gardens, but can be quite colorful with berries in wild or casual landscapes.

Firethorn, cotoneaster and toyon, as well as English hawthorn, all produce similar ‘pomme’ fruits, which are actually more like tiny apples than real berries. They are so popular with the birds that they are not very messy; although the birds may be if they loiter. English hawthorn is a small deciduous tree, so yellows and defoliates as the bright red fruit ripens.

Annuals Change With The Seasons

50930thumbLike it or not, the warm season annuals that were so flashy all through spring and summer will eventually need to be replaced with cool season annuals to provide color through winter. It is always unpleasant to pull up the annuals of a previous season while they are still blooming, even if they are already getting scruffy and discolored. It is actually easier if they got roasted by recent warmth.

Some warm season annuals last longer than others. Many are actually perennials that can be overplanted with new cool season annuals as they get cut back or go dormant through their ‘off’ season. Some cur back perennials may not survive through winter; but those that do can regenerate next spring, just as the cool season annuals that obscured them all winter are finishing.

Wax begonias, for example, are warm season annuals that can continue to bloom until they get frosted. Where sheltered from frost, they only need to be cut back because partial defoliation exposes knobby bare stems. If they can be hidden by pansies or violas through their bare phase, they never need to be removed, and some will be happy to regenerate in spring.

Conversely, cyclamen, sweet William, chrysanthemum and some primroses are cool season annuals that have the potential to survive under the lush growth of warm season annuals next summer; but that is a topic for later. (Some people are allergic to primroses like poison oak.) Iceland poppy and ornamental cabbage and kale are not so perennial, but are quite colorful through winter.

Alyssum and nasturtium really are annuals that do not survive much more than one year. However, they can perform through summer where sheltered from heat, or through winter where sheltered from cold. In ideal situations, their self sown seedling replace deteriorating older plants, so that they can perform throughout the year. Nasturtium should be planted as seed, not from cell packs.

Calendula is a popular cool season annual early in the season, but may not last through the end of winter. Yet it is popular because it is so excellent through autumn. Chrysanthemums are even flashier, although they are often replaced as soon their first bloom phase finishes.

Different Time Zones

P80901KIf the flower on the left is a four o’clock, is the flower on the right a five o’clock, or perhaps a three o’clock? Is one a.m. and the other p.m.? What about the flower of the same species that I featured twelve hours ago? What about those in another picture that I will share next Saturday?
Of course, only the colors are different; not the name . . . or the time.
What is odd about these two seemingly different flowers is that they are on the same plant. In fact, they are on the same stem, separated only by a few inches.
Four o’clocks can be odd that way. Individual plants typically bloom with exclusively pink, red, white, yellow or orange flowers. The shades and hues of these colors are variable, but are typically homogeneous throughout each entire plant.
Some plants bloom with flowers of one color that are spotted or variably striped with another. Their flowers are not as homogeneous as those that bloom with only one color, so some of their flowers might be uniformly one color or the other, without spots or stripes. Some plants bloom with a few different colors!
Distinctly bright pink (but not light pink) flowers seem to be the most fragrant and the least variable, typically devoid of spotting or striping. They may be more closely related to the wild species, as it would have been found in its natural range in the Andes, prior to breeding for more interesting colors. Perhaps, after enough generations, other four o’clocks would eventually revert to the same characteristically fragrant bright pink flowers, just like many varieties of nasturtium eventually revert to standard bright orange and yellow. It is hard to say now, while naturalized four o’clocks have yet to do so.

Flowers Might Be Getting Scarce

70830thumbIt makes sense for flowers to bloom in spring. Winter is too cool, windy and damp for both flowers and the insects that pollinate many of them. By summer, successfully pollinated flowers have faded, are busy making seed to disperse in autumn. Some plants produce fruit to get birds and other animals to disperse their seed. There are certain advantages to blooming early in the spring.

Native plants that are endemic to chaparral climates are quicker with bloom, so that they finish before the air gets too arid. Desert plants might bloom for less than a week. Some tropical plants might bloom whenever they want to because they do not understand the concept of seasons, but they are not the prominent plants in our gardens. Therefore, flowers get scarce this time of year.

Besides the few perennials and annuals that bloom as long as the weather stays warm, there are not many plants that bloom reliably so late in summer. Belladonna lily, which is also known as naked lady, might be one of the flashiest, as its bright pink flowers bloom on top of bare stalks before the low basal foliage develops. It was actually dormant through the warmest part of summer.

Billowy and bold pampas grass flowers bloom this time of year, but are uncommon. The boldest type of pampas grass is too big and difficult to manage for home gardens. The smaller type has dingy tan flowers, and is so invasive and weedy that it is unavailable in nurseries. Those of us who have it in our gardens did not plant it. Other grasses with nice late flowers are not very colorful.

Russian sage has become one of the more popular late blooming perennials. More traditional Japanese anemone, goldenrod, lion’s tail and showy stonecrop all seem to have lost popularity over the years. Mexican blue sage should bloom best late in summer, but often finishes sooner than expected. Yarrow often blooms later than expected, until summer ends. Marigold, blanket flower and some sunflowers bloom until frost. Chrysanthemums, whether grown as annuals or perennials, are just beginning late in summer.

Horridculture – Rose Colored Glasses

P80711

This article reminded me of a sore subject from back in about 1986 that continues today: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/7890212/posts/4888 You should probably take a look at it before you continue.

Back when my colleague and I were roommates in the dorms at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, we noticed how badly the photographs in bare root catalogs had been modified to enhance color. Years before modern digital editing, colored film was cut out to any desired shape and placed over a photograph to produce a new photograph with enhanced color. We looked at pictures of flowering crabapples with canopies that were entirely bright pink, including the stems, leaves and everything associated with the canopy of the tree. We could easily see the outline of the bright pink film that had been placed over the original photograph. It was done with blue fescue, hydrangeas, azaleas, callas and really just about anything that could benefit from a bit of enhanced color.

It certainly did not dissuade us from our interest in the plants that had been photographically enhanced. We liked them anyway. The poor quality of the enhancements that would be laughable by modern standards seemed to be more acceptable back then; like the idealistic pictures of the food available from popular fast food establishments. I mean, we all know that the food does not look like ‘that’ but it probably tastes like ‘that’ looks.

Three decades later, modern technology of digital editing of photographs (if they are still known as ‘photographs’) has improved the technique of color enhancement significantly. Most pictures in catalogs are now enhanced to some degree, not to be deceptive, but to eliminate minor glitches that might distract from the rest of the image, and perhaps to enhance color that is slightly compromised by the exposure at the time the picture was taken.

But of course, there are some images that are blatantly inaccurate and deceptive.

My colleague down south tells me that pink pampas grass can be about as peachy pink as cantaloupe is. It could possibly be more pink in other regions. I have never seen it more than simple pinkish tan here. I know of no one who has confirmed that it can be as bright cotton-candy pink as it is in the picture above. Is it inaccurate and deceptive? I do not know. I do not really care. If I wanted pink pampas grass, I would purchase it anyway, and just try to not be too disappointed when it blooms tan.P80711+This picture above is certainly interesting as well. It is such an appealing color. What is more interesting it that it is the exact same picture as the picture on top, but is merely a different color. I have never heard of a pampas grass doing that! It must be quite common though. Online, there are a few pictures of other pampas grass doing the exact same thing. These two below, for example, are the exact same picture in two different colors, and with slightly different proportional modification.P80711++P80711+++As amusing as these pictures are, they are not as downright KRAZY as the rainbow rose in the article that I posted a link to above is. It is certainly worth taking a look at.