The silly common name actually suits its plump rosettes of pale bluish succulent leaves. Mexican snowball, Echeveria elegans, forms small colonies that might resemble stashes of snowballs. Individual rosettes are circular, and a bit wider than tall. The widest are four inches or so across. The evergreen leaves are as neatly radial as scales of a pine cone.
Some may know Mexican snowball, and various other species of Echeveria and related Sempervivum, as hen and chicks. Big rosettes can produce so many small pups around their edges that they are reminiscent of mother hens surrounded by their huddled chicks. These pups are quite easy to separate for plugging into pots or elsewhere in the garden.
Mexican snowball is happiest in sunny situations with rather regular watering, but should tolerate a bit of shade and lapses of watering. For small trees in big pots, it can cover the surface of the potting media nicely. Pups plugged into crevices of stone walls might grow into clinging colonies. Tiny pink flowers with yellow tips bloom on wiry stems about now.
Lavender pink bloom in spring or early summer can be profuse in sunny situations. Individual flowers are like small daisies with yellow centers. They stay closed through most of the morning, then open by about noon. If the weather is conducive, they can be slightly fragrant. However, the evergreen foliage of pink iceplant, Oscularia deltoides, might be even more appealing than the bloom.
The plumply succulent leaves are a delightfully bluish hue of gray. With two sides and a flat upper surface, these leaves are triangular in cross section. Blunt foliar teeth provide a distinctive texture. Foliage is so dense that the relatively thin stems within are barely visible. Stems can blush with pink or purple. Bloom is better, and foliage is denser, with good exposure and occasional watering.
Mature growth gets at least half a foot deep, and can eventually get a foot deep. It slowly spreads about two or three feet wide. With age, outer stems develop roots where they lay on the soil, and spread even farther. New plants grow very easily from cutting. Pink iceplant cascades nicely from pots or over stone. It contrasts handsomely with richer or darker colors of other foliage or bloom.
Many plants are so easy to grow that they become invasive weeds. Butterfly bush, Buddleja davidii, has done exactly that in some regions, and is only controlled here by the arid climate. Yet, once established, it does not need much water at all, and can survive on rainfall in some spots. They only want good sun exposure.
Mature plants can get more than 15-feet tall and half as broad, with long arching limbs. Most garden varieties stay smaller, and some do not get much more than six feet tall. The evergreen foliage is sage green, grayish green or chartreuse. The paired leaves are about the size and shape of willow or eucalyptus leaves.
Conical trusses of densely packed tiny flowers that bloom in mid-summer can be various shades of blue, purple, red and pink, as well as dusty white. Some new varieties bloom soft orange or yellowish orange. The more compact and colorful modern varieties are not as fragrant as old classics are.
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.
These 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.
No, 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.
Those 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.
To 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.
Some 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.
It 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.