Catmint

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Catmint is mellow like old denim.

Not to be confused with closely related catnip, catmint is a resilient perennial for sunny and warm spots. Nepeta faassenii had always been the more familiar catmint. Modern varieties include a few other specie and hybrids. The various catmints work like the various lavenders or trailing rosemary, without getting so shrubby.

Unless they lean on something or climb through shrubbery, stems do not often get any higher than a foot as they spread to two or three feet wide. A few stems around the edges can grow roots through winter, to spread more the following year. New plants are easy to propagate by division of some of the rooted stems before spring.

The diagonal flower spikes that bloom most profusely as weather warms in spring are the color of faded blue denim. Some catmints bloom white or pink. The finely textured foliage is grayish green, although some varieties of catmint have chartreuse or greener foliage. Spent bloom can get shorn off to keep new foliage neat.

Silver

P90713KThese are two pictures that did not make the grade for my ‘Six on Saturday‘ post this morning. That post featured bronze and gold foliage. Actually, of the six, only two were bronze, and only one was truly gold. One that I passed off as bronze was more purplish. Two that I thought were gold were just variegated with yellowish green and white.

I am none too keen on bronze or gold foliage anyway. The only exception that I can think of is the old fashioned bronzed ‘Schwedleri’ Norway maple. It was planted as a street trees on a few streets in the Santa Clara Valley in the 1950s.

Bronzed cultivars are less vigorous than their greener counterpart.

Gold cultivars are even less vigorous, and susceptible to scorch.

The best quality about bronze and gold is that they make silver look so good.

Olympic medal designations really should be reconsidered.

I only featured bronze and gold foliage earlier because I liked the contrasts between two different cultivars of each of the three species that were featured. Ironically, none of the three pairs compared bronze to gold directly. One compared purple to gold. The other two compared bronze to variegation that was barely yellow. Oh well.

There are neither bronze nor gold cultivars to compare to the silver foliage of the two species shown here.

I do not know what species of agave this is. There are not many distinguishable features visible in the picture above. The color and texture of the foliar surface might be identifiable to an expert. The little snail does not seem to be at all concerned.

The Eucalyptus cinerea in the picture below was pruned aggressively last autumn, both to contain the disfigured canopy, and also to stimulate more vigorous new juvenile growth. It is now strikingly silver.P90713K+

‘Icee Blue’ Yellowwood

90313No, it is not an oxymoron. ‘Yellowwood’ is the common name for a few specie of Podocarpus. The evergreen (or ‘everblue’) foliage of ‘Icee Blue’ yellowwood, Podocarpus elongatus ‘Monmal’, really is as silvery grayish blue as the name implies. It can be as striking as some cultivars of Colorado blue spruce. It grows slowly in narrow columnar form to only about fifteen or twenty feet tall.

The finely textured evergreen foliage is ideal for both formal hedges and informal screens, although it takes a while to fill in, particularly for larger hedges and screens. Tip pruning of lanky growth of informal screens improves density. The narrow leaves are about two inches long. Fresh new foliage may be lighter and very slightly greener, which can contrast nicely with more mature foliage.

‘Icee Blue’ yellowwood will tolerate a bit of partial shade, but exhibits the best color in full sun. It prefers to be watered somewhat regularly while getting established. As it matures, it becomes less reliant on watering. Like many other Podocarpus, it is susceptible to infestation by scale insects and the ants that cultivate them. Scale produce sticky honeydew which blackens with sooty mold.

‘Little Ollie’ Olive

60302Those of us who appreciate olive trees for their fruit production or distinctively gnarly trunks probably would not understand the popularity of the Little Ollie olive, Olea europaea ‘Little Ollie’. Not only is is completely fruitless, but it lacks sculptural trunks and limbs. It is instead a short and and shrubby plant that gets only about three or four feet tall, with very dense grayish green foliage. Only the narrow evergreen leaves are recognizable as those of an olive tree.

Little Ollie olive behaves something like boxwood, and does not grow much faster. It can even be shorn as a hedge or topiary. It is quite resilient to heat and harsh exposure, and once established, it does not need much water. Because it is so compact, and has such resilient roots, it is popularly grown in large urns or planters. The grayish foliage is a nice backdrop for more colorful annuals and flowering perennials.

Blue Festuca

90220To avoid confusion with dwarf fescue blue turf grass, Festuca ovina glauca is more familiarly known as blue festuca. If planted close together and left to spread as a small scale ground cover, it is much lumpier and mounding than uniformly spreading turf. It is a clumping perennial that is more popularly grown as distinct tufts of finely textured blue gray foliage that looks like gray sea urchins.

Either individually, or in small herds, these resilient gray sea urchins mix nicely with brightly colored flowering annuals. They do not need too much water, but can tolerate as much as annuals want. Their color is best in full sun. Partially shaded plants are greener, with longer and more pliable leaves. So are feral plants that rarely grow from seed. Modern cultivars are bluer than classic types.

The evergreen foliage does not get much higher than half a foot, with thin and less impressive floral spikes that stand a bit higher in summer. It slowly spreads wider, but before it gets a foot wide, it will probably be going bald in the middle. Overgrown or balding plants can be dug and divided into new smaller plants in winter. Old foliage that gets shorn in the process is replaced in spring.

Deodar Cedar

81205Some of us may remember deodar cedar, Cedrus deodara, from the opening scene of the Andy Griffith Show. They were in the background as Andy Taylor and his son Opie skipped stones on Myers Lake near Mayberry in North Carolina. Those well established and naturalized trees and the pond are actually in Franklin Canyon Park in the Santa Monica Mountains above Beverly Hills.

If only it did not get big enough to shade most of a compact home garden, deodar cedar would be better than most other evergreen coniferous trees used in California landscapes. It enjoys the warmth and sunshine here, and does not require any more water than what most regions that are not desert get from rain. It eventually gets fifty feet tall and thirty feet wide, and might get bigger.

The glaucous grayish needle leaves are about an inch or two long, and are arranged either in tight terminal clusters on the tips of short and stout stems, or singly on longer and pendulous shoots. Ideally, trees develop conical canopies with horizontal limbs that droop at the tips. Some trees develop a few main trunks down low, or big structurally deficient limbs that curve irregularly upward.

Rocky Mountain Juniper

70222It is no coincidence that many plants with gray foliage are from mountains or deserts. Gray foliage is ‘glaucous’, which, like glaucoma, diffuses light. This helps to protect it from desiccation and scald when sunny weather is also hot, windy or arid. The glaucous foliage of Rocky Mountain juniper, Juniperus scopulorum, is what distinguishes it most from related North American junipers.

Garden varieties of Rocky Mountain juniper are even grayer than wild plants. Some are even silvery. Also, they tend to maintain a somewhat symmetrical form. Most are compact, with dense evergreen foliage. Some loosen up with age. All want full sun, and seem to enjoy warmth. They lean away from shade. Color seems to be better if plants get watered occasionally through summer.

‘Skyrocket’ is very narrow while young, like a small silvery Italian cypress that gets only about fifteen feet tall. ‘Blue Arrow’ is similar, and becoming more popular because it is more resistant to disease. ‘Medora’ and ‘Cologreen’ are more bluish green. All get plump with age. ‘Wichita Blue’ and ‘Moonglow’ are more conical. ‘Wichita Blue’ is more bluish. ‘Moonglow’ is more silvery gray.

Winter Coat

P80117Wire haired terriers know how it works. They wear wiry hair through summer to shade their skin while allowing cooling air circulation. Their softer and fuzzier undercoat that develops in autumn provides better insulation from cold weather through winter.

Beards are not naturally so adaptable, but can be manipulated to function better. Thick beards might insulate and deflect wind through winter. Short beards may not work as well in that regard, but might absorb warmth from sunlight if still darkly colored. As weather gets warmer in spring, beards can simply be removed to optimize cooling air circulation, and eliminate the extra insulation. However, long and gray beards can provide shade without absorbing much warmth from sunlight.

Have you ever noticed that plants that live near foggy coasts or in the lower levels of shady jungles and forests are the darkest green? They want to absorb all the sunlight they can get. Monterey pine, Monterey cypress, coast redwood and the many ferns that live on the ground below them are classic examples.

Plants that live in exposed situations or high elevations are lighter green. Some have glaucous foliage that is shaded gray or blue to reflect a bit of sunlight. Colorado blue spruce, silver leaved mountain gum, century plant and silver sage exemplify this technique. The old man cactus actually shades itself with weirdly elongated spines that resemble gray hair.

English walnut, maple, apple and pear have sensitive bark that would get burned if too exposed during summer. Yet, they are all deciduous and bare through winter. They do not mind, because the intensity of the sunlight through winter is inhibited by the low angle of the sun. By the time the sun is higher in the sky, and the sunlight is more direct (passing through less of the atmosphere at the higher angle), the sensitive bark will be shaded by new foliage.P71019