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.

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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/

Snowball Bush

90424Long before hydrangea blooms with its distinctively round floral trusses of abundant small flowers, the snowball bush, Viburunum opulus ‘Roseum’, shares its own unique version of similar bloom. Although the cultivar name suggests that the bloom would be pink or red, it is exclusively white. Hydrangea will bloom later, mostly in pink or red, with some in blue or lavender, and a few in white.

The snowball blooms of snowball bush are about thee inches wide, so are smaller than those of hydrangea, and do not last quite as long. They bloom early in spring, without subsequent bloom. The two or three inch long deciduous leaves might turn surprisingly vivid orange and red before defoliating in autumn. Mature specimens easily get taller than ten feet, and might reach fifteen feet.

Snowball bush eventually develops a relaxed and unrefined style that fits nicely into woodsy landscapes. Autumn foliar color is better with full sun exposure, but a bit of partial shades promotes a slightly more open branch structure that displays the spring bloom better. Pruning should be done after bloom. Snowball bush prefers somewhat regular watering and rich soil, but is not too finicky.

Charles Grimaldi Brugmansia (not a bio)

P90406KKWhen spelled like that, the whole thing looks like someone’s long name. ‘Charles Grimaldi’ really is someone’s name, and the particular cultivar of brugmansia happens to be named after him. Because no one knows who the parents of this hybrid cultivar are, the species name is omitted. It is therefore described by just the genus name followed by the cultivar name, as Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’; or simply ‘Charles Grimaldi brugmansia’.

After all that, some of us know it, as well as all other cultivars, even more simply as ‘angel’s trumpet’. They are more likely to be distinguished by floral color and form than by cultivar name. For example, Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’ might be described as a single yellow angel’s trumpet. There is also a single white, a double white, a single pink, a single pink with variegated foliage, and so on. Most are fragrant at least to some degree.

This particular specimen was not planned. As I mentioned in my ‘Six on Saturday’ posts earlier today, my colleague, Brent Green, planted it out in the back garden as a wimpy #1 (1 gallon) specimen many years ago. It grew like a weed and displaced a few other perennials that were too close to it. Brent coppiced it to the ground annually for a few years. It grew back and bloomed spectacularly and very fragrantly through each summer.

A few years ago, rather than coppice it back to the ground, Brent had me pollard it on a few tall trunks. Rather than regenerate as a big fluffy and obtrusive shrub that occupied too much of the limited space, it was able to spread out up and above the garden, while the tall and lanky trunks were pruned bare. The abundant and very fragrant flowers naturally hang downward from the upper growth.

Oregon

P90310KIf California is the most excellent state in the entire Unites States of America and surrounding Universe, and Oklahoma is the second most excellent, then Oregon might be number . . . hmmm . . . fourteen or fifteen . . . or maybe like twenty or something. However, in MY (very important) opinion, Oregon is like the third most excellent state, and almost ties with Oklahoma! That makes it even slightly more excellent than Pennsylvania, Vermont and Arizona! Yes, it is THAT excellent!
Even the state tree of Oregon is excellent. It is the Douglas fir, pseudotsuga menziesii. That is like the second most excellent of the state trees, right after the coastal redwood of California. If California did not claim the coastal redwood as the state tree, Oregon is the only other state that can claim it as a native, since the native range of coastal redwood extends ever so slightly into the very southwest corner of Oregon.
There was a time when redwood was the main timber tree here, but that was only because it was the most readily available. As the supply was depleted, it was reserved for fences, decks, structural lumber that is in contact with concrete foundations, or any other situation in which its innate resistance to decay was important. Douglas fir became the most common lumber, and is still what homes are built from now.
Besides all that, Douglas fir is one of the grandest of trees in North America.
Then there is the state flower of Oregon. Well, it is not so much to brag about, although it is still better than the state flower of Oklahoma, which happens to be mistletoe. (Okay, that is another subject for later.)
Oregon grape, Mahonia aquifolium, blooms late in winter with these bright golden yellow, but otherwise unimpressive flowers. The few small black berries that develop over summer are mostly taken by birds before anyone notices. The glossy and prickly dark green foliage is quite appealing, and happens to do well in partial shade, but this is the state flower, not the state foliage.

Pruning Late Might Be Justified

90313thumbThere may not be exceptions to every rule, but there are a few exceptions to the rule that winter is the best time for pruning. It is generally true that most plants are the most dormant through the coolest part of winter. It is also true that while they are the most dormant, most plants are less sensitive to pruning, as well as other horticultural techniques that interfere with their normal function.

However, certain ‘special’ plants get pruned later, either because it is healthier for them, or just because they are allowed to do what they do best in spring before getting deprived of some of what they need to do it with. Some get pruned rather soon after coming out of winter dormancy. Some should probably wait for their new spring growth to mature a bit. It is not as confusing as it sounds.

Evergreen plants that drop much of their older foliage through winter should probably be pruned late in winter or early in spring, essentially at the last minute, just before new foliage develops. If shorn early and deprived of outer foliage that should survive through winter, photinia looks scraggly as it continues to lose much of what had been inner foliage until new foliage develops in spring.

Red twig dogwood and some types of willows that are coppiced or pollarded to maximize production of their colorful twigs should be allowed to show off their colorful bark for as long as possible. Like photinia, they too can be pruned at the last minute, just before vascular activity resumes. However, red twig Japanese maple really should be pruned in winter so it does not bleed afterward.

Flowering cherry, plum, peach, crabapple and quince are grown for prolific but sterile bloom which is diminished by winter pruning. If they need it, they can instead be pruned after bloom, but before too much foliage develops, or after such foliage matures in late spring or early summer. They do not need to be pruned nearly as aggressively as fruiting trees that would otherwise produce too much burdensome fruit. Some may only need to have dead stems pruned out.

Coast Rosemary

51223Just like real rosemary, the coast rosemary can either be a low ground cover or a dense shrub. Lower cultivars can get nearly five feet wide without getting much more than a foot high. Shrubby types can get nearly six feet tall without getting much wider. Shrubby types are more popular than ground cover types, and are often pruned so that they do not get too broad.

The tiny leaves of coast rosemary are silvery or grayish green, and can be variegated. Small white or very pale lavender flowers bloom sporadically throughout the year, and can be profuse in spring. Established plants do not need much water, but are probably happiest if watered somewhat regularly through summer. Shade subdues silvery foliar color and inhibits bloom.

Shrubby coast rosemary makes a delightful low hedge. It can be shorn like any other formal hedge, but is best where it has space to develop naturally. If space is limited, but not ‘too’ limited, a coast rosemary hedge can be aggressively shorn once annually at the end of winter, and then allowed to grow wild for the rest of the year.