Philodendron selloum

Philodendron selloum is unfamiliar with autumn.

There are all sorts of philodendrons with all sorts of fancy names. Yet, the biggest and boldest lacks a common name (at least one that is actually ‘common’), and is most popularly known by a Latin name that is not even correct. The proper name for Philodendron selloum is really Philodendron bipinnatifidum. It is a big awkward plant with big and deeply lobed leaves on long petioles (leaf stalks), and weirdly thick aerial roots. Well exposed plants can stand on wobbly trunks. Partly shaded plants can creep along the ground, and prefer to grab onto and climb tree trunks, fences or anything that they can get a hold of. The aerial roots are harmless to trees, and generally too slow to catch a healthy cat, but will take paint off of walls. All parts of Philodendron selloum are toxic.

Beard Tongue

Beard Tongue does purple well.

With such a weird name, beard tongue is probably less commonly known by its common name than by the Latin name of Penstemon. Of the thousands of cultivars (cultivated varieties) that have been developed over the decades, most of those that are popular for home gardens are known as cultivars of Penstemon gloxinioides, even though their actual lineage is generally unknown. In recent years, other species have become more available.

Spikes of red, pink, purple or white flowers stand vertically above the foliage. Yellow flowers are still rather rare. Individual flowers are bisymmetrically tubular, with two conspicuous lips and a fuzzy tongue. Some beard tongue have relatively wide leaves and plump flowers, like really big snapdragons. Others have narrow leaves and thin flowers. Mature plants get only 1 to 2½ feet high and a bit wider, although some of the rare specie can get significantly larger.

Canna

Most cannas have more billowy bloom.

It grows from dormant rhizomes like a few of the popular early spring bulbs do. However, the many garden varieties of Canna are actually late or summer bulbs. They will become available after last frost, at about the time that early bulbs bloom. Also unlike early bulbs that mostly bloom prolifically once, Canna bloom sporadically from late spring until frost.

Canna foliage can be as appealing as the bloom. The big and lush leaves can be green, bronze, striped or irregularly variegated. ‘Australia’ has strikingly dark bronze foliage with red bloom. ‘Tropicana’ is striped green, yellow, bronze red and purplish pink, with orange bloom. ‘Stuttgart’ is irregularly variegated with white, with ribbony peachy orange bloom.

Of course, the bloom can be quite spectacular atop all that foliage too. Flowers might be pink, red, orange, yellow, creamy white, or a spotty combination of two such colors. Most popular cannas bloom with big and floppy flowers. Some have narrower and wispy floral parts. Bigger cannas can get taller than eight feet. All growth dies back after frost though. New growth regenerates fast in spring.

Early Bulbs Start Even Earlier

Daffodils for next spring start now.

Crocus, daffodil and narcissus are among the earliest of the popular early bulbs to bloom at the end of winter. Hyacinth, tulip, freesia, anemone, ranunculus and some types of iris bloom shortly afterward. That process should begin in February or so, about five months from now. Early bulbs are seasonable now though. This is when they go into the garden.

Early bulbs, or spring bulbs, take commitment. While dormant, they are not much to look at. There is less to look at after their internment into shallow graves, where they disperse their roots secretly through winter. They will not make an appearance until they bloom in spring. Fortunately, their performance is more than adequate compensation for the effort.

Early bulbs go into the garden now because they take time to get ready for spring bloom. While dispersing roots, they also begin to develop foliage and floral stems. Such growth remains safe and invisible below the surface of the soil until the weather is warm enough for it to emerge. Until then, chilly and rainy weather helps bulbs adhere to their schedule. 

Whether they are true ‘bulbs’, or they are corms, rhizomes, tubers or tuberous roots, early bulbs are specialized storage structures. They contain what the particular plants need to grow to maturity and bloom within their preferred season. They should resume dormancy afterward, to repeat the process as perennials. However, few modern cultivars will do so. 

Realistically, extensive breeding for the development of the more extravagant of modern early bulbs has compromised their vigor. Consequently, some are not reliably perennial. Some simpler crocus, daffodils and narcissus can naturalize as perennial in comfortable situations. Otherwise, more of the later bulbs, like canna, cala and dahlia, are perennial.

Whether they naturalize or not, most early bulbs bloom just once annually. Planting them in phases prolongs bloom. Ideally, a subsequent phase begins to bloom as its preceding phase finishes. The length of bloom determines the frequency of phases. For example, if tulips bloom for a week, phases can be weekly. Winter annuals cover nicely when done.

String Of Pearls

Weird but elegantly pendulous string of pearls likes to hang around. It cascades nicely from hanging pots or tall urns.

It is difficult to see how string of pearls, Senecio rowleyanus, is related to much more colorful daisies and asters. The small, fuzzy and sickly white flowers are not much to look at, and only clutter the elegantly pendulous and oddly succulent foliage. The round leaves are light bluish green, so actually resemble peas more than they resemble pearls. The stems are so very thin and limber that they can only stand a few inches high, but can cascade to three feet!

Although evergreen, stems of outdoor plants can be cut back while dormant through winter to promote fresher growth in spring. The pruning scraps are very easy to propagate as cuttings. Roots are undemanding and sensitive to rot, so should be allowed to get nearly dry between watering. Bright ambient light without too much direct sun exposure is best. Incidentally, all parts of Senecio rowleyanus are toxic.

Six on Saturday: Recycling

It can become a bad habit in the garden, and migrate into neighboring gardens and landscapes, and even farther. My ‘Australia’ canna was acquired only a few years ago, so has not gotten too far, yet. The African iris (Morea iridioides) seems voluminous, but took nearly three decades to get like that. Montbretia and white violet really should not be recycled any more than they have been already though. They are just too invasive. Agapanthus and Amaryllis have potential to become habitual, but fortunately for me, have been manageable. Amaryllis are not overwhelming. Agapanthus have been useful since I started recycling them.

1. Canna indica ‘Australia’ is one of the very few plants that I actually purchased. A neighbor of my downtown planter box requested bronzed foliage. After a few years, it needed to be thinned.

2. Morea iridioides was another purchase, back in the 1990s. It was in a #1 (1 gallon) can back then. It got so overgrown than it needed to be removed, so will now get divided into many more.

3. Crocosmia masoniorum is probably the same common montbretia that grows as a weed here, but seems to have much bigger leaves. I found it growing wild at my Pa’s home in about 1980.

4. Agapanthus orientalis has been with me since 1978, when a neighbor had me remove it from her garden. These copies of that original were planted nearby years ago, and recently removed.

5. Viola sororia ‘Albiflora’ came from my Grandmother’s garden in the late 1970s. I still have copies of them, but might discretely allow them to go extinct. They are just too invasive to recycle.

6. Amaryllis belladonna is mundane and naturalized. However, these came from the garden of my great Grandmother in about 1980. I need no more here, but recycle these in my own garden.

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

Cyclamen

Autumn is not far behind cyclamen.

The advantage of cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum, is nonconformity. Bloom begins in autumn when there are not many other flowers to provide color, and continues until spring. Cyclamen then defoliate and go dormant through summer while most other plants enjoy the warm weather. Even their red, pink, white, purple or salmon flowers are inside out, with petals flared back. The flowers can stand as high as six inches, just above the somewhat rubbery foliage. The rounded leaves are mostly dark green with silvery or gray marbling

If used as annuals for one season, cyclamen are uniform enough for bedding. However, if later overplanted with warm season annuals and allowed to stay through summer dormancy, regeneration the following season is variable, with larger and smaller plants, and some that do not survive. As perennials, cyclamen therefore work best in mixed plantings, where variety is not a problem. Cyclamen should be planted with their tubers about halfway above the soil level, and should not be mulched. Soil should be rich and drain well.

New Zealand Flax

New Zealand flax provides bold texture.

Simple old fashioned New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax, has been popular on the West Coast for as long as anyone can remember. Big specimens are prominent in old pictures of Victorian era gardens. The upright and olive drab foliage gets as high as ten feet, and as broad as fifteen feet. Bronzed and variegated cultivars stay somewhat more compact.

Modern cultivars of New Zealand flax might be Phormium colensoi, or hybrids of the two species. They are generally even more compact, with more colorful foliage. Foliage may be olive green, greenish yellow, brownish bronze, rich reddish bronze or striped with like colors. Some bronze sorts are striped with tan or pink. ‘Yellow Wave’ has floppier foliage. 

New Zealand flax is a tough evergreen perennial. Its long and narrow leaves can be too fibrous to cut without scissors. These leaves grow as tall as they do from clumping basal rhizomes. Interestingly rigid floral stalks stand slightly higher than the foliage, with yellow or red bloom. After bloom, these floral stalks can be a delightful and bold dried cut flower, and work well with pampas grass bloom.

Japanese Aralia

The bold foliage of Japanese aralia is quite striking, whether kept low and dense, or suspended on taller lanky stems.

It may not grow too rapidly, but Japanese aralia eventually gets nearly eight feet high and wide, and commands a bold presence. The deeply and symmetrically lobed leaves can get as broad as a foot and a half, on long petioles (stalks). The foliage of ‘Vairegata’ emerges with a yellow border that turns pale white. ‘Moseri’ stays quite compact.

Plants grown for their foliage can be maintained by cutting the oldest stems to the ground as they begin to deteriorate, so that newer stems can replace them. Alternatively, lower growth can be pruned away as it develops to elevate the canopy and expose interior stems. However, individual stems do not last indefinitely, and will eventually need to be replaced by any convenient watersprouts.

Giant Chain Fern

Giant chain fern is remarkably resilient.

On the West Coast between British Columbia and Mexico, the largest native fern might be the giant chain fern, Woodwardia fimbriata. In sheltered and damp coastal forests, it can get taller than six feet, although it is typically about three feet tall and wide in home gardens. The lightly colored and almost yellowish green fronds generally stand upright and flare outward from the center. The foliage is doubly lobed and lacy, but quite substantial. The thick rhizomes spread rather slowly. Established plants are remarkably resilient. They can tolerate almost full sun exposure if watered enough. Those in partial shade can tolerate lapses of watering. However, they do not recover too readily from relocation or division.