Breath Of Heaven

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Foliar aroma rather than floral fragrance.

Bloom may not wait until spring. Breath of Heaven, Coleonema pulchellum, can start to bloom late in winter if it chooses to. After another more prolific bloom phase sometime in spring, sporadic bloom can continue until autumn. The delightfully pale lavender pink flowers are tiny, but abundant during bloom phases. A few are likely to linger after the main phases, until another phase begins.

The straight species is not as popular as it formerly was. It gets to be approximately five feet tall and broad, or a bit bigger if crowded. Nowadays, most breath of Heaven are ‘Compactum’, which do not get much taller than three feet, with delightfully wispy light green foliage. ‘Sunset Gold’ has bright greenish gold foliage that stays lower than two feet. All have impressively aromatic foliage.

Breath of Heaven is best where it does not need much pruning for confinement. Frequent shearing compromises foliar texture and inhibits bloom. Partial shade likewise inhibits bloom, although it can also promote an appealingly sparser and wispier foliar texture. Unfortunately, breath of Heaven does not live for very long. Even the healthiest and oldest specimens may not last twenty years.

Winter Daphne

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Simple daphne flowers produce complex fragrance.

While winter weather is still cool and damp, winter daphne, Daphne odora, provides an alluringly fresh fragrance of spring. It is easy to dismiss the abundant but rather small domed trusses of tiny pastel pink flowers as the source of their formidable fragrance. Like so many fragrant blooms, daphne bloom is visually demure. Nevertheless, blooming stems are delightful with other cut flowers.

‘Aureomarginata’ is the most popular cultivar of daphne, and is the only cultivar available in many regions. The handsomely glossy evergreen foliage is variegated with yellowy white or light yellow margins. Mature plants get about two feet tall and about twice as wide, with a delightfully tame hemispherical form. They may get slightly taller with slightly less refined form where partially shaded.

Daphne prefers rich and loose soil, and with sufficient organic matter, will tolerate rather sandy soil. Partial shade might inhibit bloom somewhat, but is otherwise not a problem. Proper placement is important. Established daphne recover slowly from transplant. It is also important to be aware that even the healthiest of plants may live for only five years, and rarely live for more than ten years.

Horridculture – High & Mighty

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Camellias are pretty this time of year, but . . .

Camellias have been blooming for a while now. I typically get rather good pictures of them. The pictures are nothing too artistic, of course, and are intended to merely exhibit the floral color and form. A bit of the glossy foliage in the background is nice.

The picture above is not so useful for exhibiting much of the floral characteristics. Even the pink color is muted by the sloppy background and gray sky above. Zooming in would not have corrected the positioning of the flowers. I simply could not get close enough to do any better.

That eave in the lower right corner of the picture is above a two story building. That is where all the blooms of this particular camellia shrub are located. With so much of the lower growth shaded out and gone, this shrub is more like a small tree. The bloom is too high up to be appreciated. The picture below demonstrates what it all looks like without zooming in.

If there were windows facing this big camellia shrub or tree, I would likely prune it only a bit lower, just to keep it below the eave and within view of the windows. Without windows, I know that I really should prune the tall trunks back to what little lower growth remains, in order to promote more growth and bloom closer to ground level where it can be appreciated.

The difficulty I have with pruning it back is that this big camellia shrub or tree is so impressively big and sculptural, and all the glossy foliage looks so good in the foreground of the rich dark brown wall. I do not know what is more important here, the sculptural limbs and rich green foliage that lasts throughout the year, or the colorful but seasonal bloom.

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There is not much to see from this distance.

Seasonal Pruning Is Precisely That

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Some trees get pruned after bloom.

Seasonal pruning is just as the terminology implies, seasonal. It might seem as if it all happens in winter. Most of it begins after cooling autumn weather initiates dormancy. Most of it is completed before warming spring weather stimulates vascular activity and resumption of growth. That is why most seasonal pruning is referred to simply as winter pruning. Winter really is best for most of it.

However, most is not all. Plants that are damaged by frost should not be pruned immediately. Because pruning removes insulating vegetation, and stimulates new growth that is more sensitive to frost, such pruning is delayed until after the threat of subsequent frost. Birches and perhaps maples are popularly pruned in late summer or autumn because they bleed so much if pruned in winter.

Flowering cherry, plum, peach, crabapple and quince do not need the same sort of pruning that their fruiting counterparts rely on. Their exquisite bloom is the priority, rather than fruit. Pruning prior to bloom could diminish their potential. They can instead be pruned immediately after bloom, as new growth is emerging, or later in summer after soft new growth has become a bit more resilient.

Lilac and forsythia should likewise be pruned after spring bloom, but more aggressively than the flowering fruitless ‘fruit’ trees. If not pruned enough, they will produce fewer canes through summer to bloom the following spring. Older and gnarlier canes should be cut to the ground to favor younger and less branched canes. Old Oregon grape and Heavenly bamboo canes can be culled too.

Redtwig dogwood and cultivars of willow that are pollarded or coppiced for their colorful twigs can be pruned later too. There is no need to deprive them of their primary assets prematurely. They should be pruned as winter ends though, before their buds start to pop. Pussy willow is an exception that gets harvested after buds have fuzzily popped, but before new growth begins to develop.

Evergreen plants can be pruned late in winter, just before new growth develops to replace what gets pruned away.

Gardenia

40917It seems that everyone who has ever experienced the seductive yet powerful fragrance of gardenia, Gardenia jasminoides, wants to grow it, but very few actually can. Gardenias like warmth, but prefer more humidity than they get here, which is why they seem to be happier in partial shade, in atriums, or in urns that can be moved out of harsh exposure during summer. In such sheltered spots, aphid, scale and sometimes whitefly can be problematic.

Gardenias want their own space, where their roots will not be bothered by excavation or roots of more aggressive plants. They do not even want annuals around them, because annuals need such regular cultivation. Docile ground cover plants or simple mulch is best. Gardenias like rich soil and acid fertilizer or fish emulsion to be applied regularly as long as the weather is warm.

The creamy white flowers that fade to French vanilla can seem mundane relative to their alluring fragrance and handsomely glossy foliage. The largest flowers rarely get to three inches wide. ‘Mystery’, which can slowly get four feet tall, is the most familiar cultivar, even though it does not bloom so much after spring. ‘Veitchii’, which can eventually get three feet tall and twice as wide, has small inch-wide flowers, but is still blooming. Modern cultivars bloom just as late, but with larger flowers.

Horridculture – True Colors

P90821Bearded iris can bloom in almost any color. It is expected of them. There is not much they can do to surprise us.

Dahlias exhibit a remarkable range of both color and floral form. Only a few colors are beyond their range.

Roses, gladiolus, freesias, tulips, hyacinths, petunias, pansies, primroses and several of the most prolific bloomers are expected to provide many choices of color.

Other flowers are not so diverse. Forsythia blooms only in bright yellow, or perhaps a lighter hue of yellow. Mock orange blooms only in white, either single or double. Until recently, before purple was invented, the common species of lily-of-the-Nile were either blue or white. We tend to appreciate such flowers for their simplicity, and do not expect anything more from them.

Decades ago, hydrangeas were either white or pink or blue. I say ‘either’ because what seems to be three choices is actually only two. White hydrangeas were always white. Pink or blue hydrangeas were the same, but were pink in alkaline soil, or blue in acidic soil. Blue hydrangeas planted into alkaline soil turned pink. Conversely, pink hydrangeas turned blue in acidic soil.

In the slightly alkaline soil of the Santa Clara Valley, pink hydrangeas were common. Blue hydrangeas were fertilized regularly with aluminum sulfate or some sort of acidifying fertilizer.

In the more acidic soil of the West Coast of Washington, pink hydrangeas would have been blue without lime.

Some more recently bred cultivars of hydrangea excel at either pink or blue. It does not take much to convince them to exhibit their preferred color in less than conducive conditions. These cultivars made it easier to grow blue hydrangeas in the Santa Clara Valley, or pink hydrangeas on the West Coast of Washington.

Then breeding got ridiculous. Hydrangeas were bred to bloom reliably in rich shades of purple, red, or dark blue, with minimal sensitivity to the pH of the soil. They are appealing to those who like these unnaturally rich colors; but to those of us who expect hydrangeas to bloom in white or traditionally soft hues of pink or blue, they are just too weird.

Iochroma

90731It 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.

Flowering Maple

60622It is impossible to say who the parents were. So many specie were hybridized to develop the many cultivars of flowering maple that the Latin name of the collective group is simply Abutilon X hybridum, which means exactly what it looks like. They are hybrids of various and rarely documented species of Abutilon. The ‘X’ dispels any doubt. ‘Chinese lantern’ is another common name.

Flowers can be yellow, orange, red, pink or pale yellowish white. They look like small hibiscus flowers that do not open all the way, and some only open half way. Many hang vertically. Some hang at about forty-five degrees. Bloom is sporadic all year, and more abundant while weather is warm. The rather sparse evergreen foliage looks somewhat like maple foliage, with variable lobes.

The largest flowering maples do not get much taller than the eaves. Short types stay shorter than two feet. Stems can be awkwardly angular, even if pruned back to promote fluffier growth. Roots can be unstable, necessitating staking or pruning to lighten the load. Flowering maple prefers partial shade, and can tolerate significant shade, but can also do well in full sun if watered regularly.

The Other Rhodies

P90504KThere are countless species and cultivars of rhododendrons. Some have been in cultivation for centuries. Their big bold blooms are spectacular against a backdrop of their dark evergreen foliage. They prefer shelters spots, and some are happy to bloom in places that are too cool and too shaded for other flowers to bloom so well. They are so impressive that no one notices that they lack fragrance.

There is certainly a lot of variety among rhododendrons. Some are low mounding shrubs, while other can grow as small trees with open branch structure. Flowers can be white, pink, red, purple, blue or maybe even yellow or orange. Most flowers have some sort of pattern within the main color, but some are solid colors. Nonetheless, regardless of all the variety, we think that we can recognize a rhododendron when we see one.

Then there is Rhododendron occidentale, the Western azalea. The flowers are sort of recognizable as either big azalea flowers or lean rhododendron flowers, but are quite distinct from what we think of as familiar rhododendron flowers. The color range is very different too, with more white, marked with yellow, pink or orange. Even more surprising is that the bloom is quite sweetly fragrant!

Foliage is also very different from what is expected from a rhododendron. Not only is it deciduous, but if well exposed, it can actually develop soft yellow, orange or brownish red color in autumn. Individual leaves are rather narrow and papery.

We have only a few Rhododendron occidentale at work. They are not as tolerant of the partial shade from the redwoods as the more familiar rhododendrons are. However, they do happen to be blooming exceptionally well this year, while the bloom of the more familiar rhododendrons is less impressive than it has been in many years.

Six on Saturday: Rhody!!

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This is not really about Rhody, the terrier whom I work for. I just threw that extra picture in because, if you know who Rhody is, you were expecting to see his picture after reading the title. The six pictures below are really just rhododendrons that were blooming last week.

Last year was the best bloom of rhododendrons and azaleas in many years here. Those who have known them for many years can not remember a more spectacular bloom, with so many of different cultivars of the rhododendrons blooming so profusely in the same season.

The bloom this year is unusually sparse. No one can explain it. They have good years and bad years, just like anything else in the garden. Fortunately, even in their bad years, the flowers that bloom are spectacular.

1. Of the six this week, this is my least favorite. It is a vary pale pink, but not pale enough to be white. There are not many florets on the trusses.P90504

2. I refer to this one as ‘Taurus’; but I really do not know what it is. ‘Taurus’ is very susceptible to thrip. This one sustains only minor damage from thrip, while a few others nearby are are seriously damaged.P90504+

3. This one may not look much better than #1, but the color is pinker, and the trusses are impressively big with more florets when it is in full bloom. It grows as a tree nearly twenty feet tall.P90504++

4. I refer to this one as ‘Anah Kruschke’, but like for #2 above and #5 below, I am not sure about its identity. ‘Anah Kruschke’ should not be damaged by thrip as badly as this one is. I think my colleague grew this one.P90504+++

5. Of the three here that I have names for, this is the one that is most certainly not what I like to think it is. ‘Helene Schiffner’, which happens to be one of my favorites, is not blushed with yellow.P90504++++

6. I believe that my esteemed colleague grew this one as well as #4. I remember delivering a significant order of rhododendrons here years ago, at about the same time this and #4 were installed.P90504+++++

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

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/