Transvaal Daisy

Transvaal daisy is very popular within the floricultural industries.

After rose, carnation, chrysanthemum and tulip, the fifth most popular cut flower is the Transvaal daisy, which is also commonly known as the gerbera daisy, Gerbera hybrida.  The composite (daisy-like) flowers are typically about three to four and a half inches wide, in bright shades of yellow, orange, red, pink and white, with dark centers. They stand several inches high on bare stems, adequately above the lower, coarsely textured foliage. Transvaal daisies can bloom well for a month or more as potted houseplants in sunny spots, but rarely survive more than two months indoors. If planted in a sunny but not too harshly exposed spot in the garden as they begin to deteriorate, they can sometimes recover and continue to bloom as short lived perennials. They need good drainage but uniform moisture in organically rich soil.


Tree Houseleek

Tree houseleek can be dark bronze.

This must be one of the sillier horticultural names. Tree houseleek, Aeonium arboreum, is neither a tree nor related to leeks. The biggest cultivars can not stand much more than three feet tall. Above that, their succulent foliage gets too heavy for their fleshy stems and fine roots. They perform well as houseplants only within very sunny situations.

Formerly common tree houseleek, with simple green foliage, is not so common anymore. Almost all popular modern cultivars are variegated or bronzed, with wide foliar rosettes. Variegation ranges from bright lemony yellow to creamy white. Bronze ranges from light brown to very darkly purplish. Foliar rosettes are about four to eight inches wide.

Plumply conical trusses of tiny yellow or chartreuse flowers bloom for spring. They are neither numerous nor brightly colorful, but are weirdly interesting. Fresh spring foliage is most colorful and lush. It can fade and partially shed during arid summer weather. New plants propagate very easily from dragging stems or cuttings of pruning scraps.

Mixing Things Up

Annuals are nice, but so are a few more substantial or perennial plants.

Large pots, urns and planter boxes filled with ridiculously colorful blooming annuals are certainly nothing new. However, more small perennials and even a few small shrubs and trees are being planted along with the annuals, and allowed to stay indefinitely as fewer annuals get replaced around them as the seasons change.

These plants only need to be tolerant of confinement, regular watering and the comings and goings of the annuals around them. Upright plants should go in back, behind the lower annuals. Cascading and ground cover type plants should go in front.

Small forms of New Zealand flax and trunkless dracaena palms (Cordyline spp.) add texture, form and motion to large planters, but may eventually get too big if not properly pruned. Larger shoots can be pruned out to allow smaller shoots to take over. Alternatively, overgrown plants can be removed and put out in the landscape when they get too big.

Hollywood and Rocky Mountain junipers have striking form if pruned to show it off, and are easier to contain with selective pruning than reputed. Even without the interesting branch structure of junipers, arborvitaes are appreciated for their similar finely textured foliage and their rich green or yellow color. ‘Blue Rug’ juniper, a grayish ground cover juniper, cascades nicely from large planters.

Large succulents that tolerate water, such as good old fashioned jade plant and various aeoniums, offer bold texture and form in the background. They are easy to prune as they grow, and do not have aggressive roots. Low clumping aloes do the same in front.

Euonymus fortunei, English ivy, various iceplants and other ground cover plants do well cascading over the edges of large planters.

There really is not much limit to the variety of perennials and small shrubs and even trees that play well with others in planters of blooming annuals, and do not mind the confinement and regular watering. Annuals are still the best for flashy floral colors. Yet, the other plants excel in form, texture, foliar color and motion in the breeze.

Hair Grass

This is one of the more complaisant of ornamental grasses.

A rather sloppy style of the 1970s combined with a weird color of the 1980s might explain the resemblance of hair grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, to real hair. The lime otter-pop green color of the foliage, which looks so fresh in the garden, is actually quite dated for hair. So is the pleasantly soft texture. The sparse, fuzzy cloud of purplish pink bloom that hovers just above the foliage in autumn is extraordinary, although only slightly more contemporary for hair color. Happy hair grass plants that get plenty of water in sunny spots can get more than two and a half feet tall. Yet, the perennial foliage is so soft that it tends to fill in space between other sturdier plants instead of overwhelming them.

Ornamental Grasses

Pampas grass was once appreciated for its appealing foliar texture and strikingly elegant bloom.

Lawns are among the most useful of landscape features, but are also the most horticulturally incorrect. They require such constant maintenance and so much water that they give grass a bad reputation. Yet, the turf grasses that are used for lawn are actually a minority among grasses. There are so many more grasses, including a few turf grasses, that can add color, texture and the seldom considered asset of ‘motion’ to the landscape.

Most grasses move nicely in a breeze. Old fashioned pampas grass, with remarkably limber and long leaves, is one of the best for motion. As if the elegant foliage were not enough, billowy white flowers on tall sturdy stalks nod gracefully in season. (However, pampas grass gets quite large, has potentially dangerous foliage that can cause nasty paper cuts, and in rural areas, can escape into the wild to become an invasive weed.) Red fountain grass does the same on a smaller scale that is more proportionate to suburban gardens.

Red fountain grass also provides striking brownish red foliage. Blue festuca and larger blue oat grass, although insensitive to a breeze, provide really excellent pale blue foliage. The most popular variety of miscanthus grass is variegated with white. Hair grass is a weird yellowish green that resembles that of a rubbery fishing lure.

Besides the odd color, hair grass also has an oddly soft texture that allows it to spill over the edges of retaining walls and pots, with delicate autumn flowers that hover above like a swarm of gnats. Mexican feather grass seems somewhat coarse up close, but has the uniform texture of wheat at a distance. Switchgrass has a more rigid texture, and stands more vertically than other softer grasses. Feather reed grass does both, with flowers that stand vertically above the soft billowy foliage below.

There are as many different kinds of grasses as there are variations of color, texture and motion. Only a few are annual. Almost all are perennial. There are a few in between; perennials that die out in a few years. Most grasses are only a few feet tall. Some never get taller than a foot. Yet, a few get several feet tall.

Most grasses are at their best if they get cut to the ground every few years or even annually. However, some need no maintenance except only for watering. If satisfied with watering, some grasses can sow their seed to cover the outskirts of a landscape, and can be an appealing alternative to ground cover. There are even a few grasses that will naturalize without watering.

Pride of Madeira

Pride of Madeira blooms through spring.

This is most certainly something to be proud of. Pride of Madeira, Echium candicans (or fastuosum), can bloom perfectly blue. Varieties that bloom white or lighter lavender blue are rare locally. Feral specimens might exhibit such floral color variation though. Bloom occurs only annually, but can last through spring. Butterflies and bees are very fond of it.

Pride of Madeira occasionally self sows, but is not too aggressively invasive. It performs exceptionally well within coastal climates. Feral specimens on inaccessible coastal cliffs are only briefly scruffy after bloom. Deadheading within home gardens is tidier and limits seed dispersion. Moderate watering enhances foliar color. Excessive watering rots roots.

Small new specimens of pride of Madeira grow fast, but perform for only about five years. They generally get about six feet tall and eight feet wide. Cool or foggy coastal weather promotes taller and more vigorous growth. Warm exposure might promote more compact growth. The narrow and grayish leaves are rather raspy. ‘Star of Madeira’ is a variegated and compact cultivar.

Kaffir Lily

Kaffir lily brightens a shady situation.

Kaffir lily, Clivia miniata, and lily of the Nile seem to be similar but are very different. Both develop densely evergreen mounds of arched strap shaped leaves. Both bloom with many funnel shaped flowers in spherical umbels on upright stems. Even their thick and rubbery rhizomes and roots are similar. However, they are related neither to each other nor to lilies.

Kaffir lily bloom is rich orange, fiery orangish red or yellow. This is opposite of the pastel blue or white floral color range of lily of the Nile. While lily of the Nile requires abundant sunlight, Kaffir lily tolerates significant shade. Kaffir lily leaves and bloom are more stout and less pliable than those of lily of the Nile. Kaffir lily foliage is generally darker green.

Individual leaves of Kaffir lily can be three inches wide and about a foot and a half long. Mounding growth of old colonies can get more than two feet high. Bloom hovers barely above the foliage. A few round and bright red berries can develop after bloom. Individual seeds within each berry may be genetically variable. All parts of Kaffir lily, particularly the rhizomes, are toxic.


Geum has rustic appeal.

Old fashioned geum (or ‘avens’), Geum coccineum, was popular in rock gardens of the 1970’s because it clings to stone, and cascades somewhat. In modern gardens, it works just as well in large pots or planters, mixed with other perennials. The fuzzy foliage forms compact mounds about half a foot high and wide. The bright orange flowers with fuzzy yellow centers stand about twice as high, and bloom from spring through summer. Removal of fading flowers promotes continued bloom.

Six on Saturday: Skooter Approved

Rhody, Carson and I finally left on vacation. Although this trip was planned a year ago, it was delayed weekly since February. I had intended to leave prior to March. I finally realized that the timing would never be convenient, so left anyway, after midnight on Wednesday morning. We arrived in Ilwaco on Wednesday night, and went to Skooter’s Garden at Tangly Cottage Gardening in the morning. Of course, we stayed later than intended, ate cookies with coffee, and arrived in Silverdale later than we should have on Thursday night. The first four of my Six here are gifts from Tangly Cottage Gardening, so are approved by Skooter. The last two were at the Port of Ilwaco.

1. Canna ‘Stuttgart’ is tall and elegant, with small peachy orange flowers and irregularly white variegated foliage. I requested a copy of it shortly after leaving without it last year.

2. Iris X Louisiana ‘Black Gamecock’ is the most popular Louisiana iris, with dark purplish blue bloom. I requested some of it when it was removed from Skooter’s Gaden. This colony will divide into many individual rhizomes. I expect to get significant mileage from them, and I know they will multiply efficiently.

3. Iris unguicularis, Algerian iris was s surprise. It was split after my arrival, directly from a healthy colony within Skooter’s Garden. I had been impressed with the sky blue bloom, but could not justify trying it. Now, no justification is necessary. We will likely put much of it within the Blue Garden. I know that this colony is not very impressive in this picture, but the rhizomes are the important parts.

4. Sambucus racemosa, red elderberry grows wild in Skooter’s Garden. I had been wanting this for a while, but did not think to request it last year. I requested it this year, so got four good wild seedlings.

5. Muscari armeniacum ‘Album’, white grape hyacinth inhabits the landscapes at the Port of Ilwaco. I got copies of this last year because I had been wanting it for a while. I know that blue is the most traditional color for grape hyacinth, but white is my favorit color. It may go into the White Garden at work.

6. Muscari armeniacum, grape hyacinth is quite abundant at the Port of Ilwaco. I did not request any of it because I already have a small colony of it for my own garden, and I do not want any others to mingle with them, regardless of how similar they seem to be.

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

Richmond Begonia

Richmond begonia is very easy to propagate by cuttings.

It is difficult to say whether Richmond begonia, Begonia ‘Richmondensis’, is grown more for unusual waxy pink flowers that bloom throughout the year, or rich glossy green leaves with bronzy red undersides. Perhaps it is the distinctive combination of both characteristics. Perhaps it is because Richmond begonia is so easy to grow in partial shade near porches or atriums where other flowering plants would want more sunlight. It only wants relatively rich soil and regular watering, and is quite happy in pots. Mature plants eventually grow to two feet tall and broad. Lanky branches that get cut back to promote dense growth can be rooted elsewhere in the garden.