Four O’ Clock

40910Not only does it start to bloom late in summer, but as the name implies, four o’clock, Mirabilis jalapa, blooms late in the afternoon to attract nocturnal moths for pollination overnight. By morning, the white, yellow, variable pink or rarely pastel orange flowers are closed, and their yummy fragrance is gone. Individual flowers often display irregular stripes or blotches of alternate colors, and can be divided into zones that are shaped like slices out of a pizza. Plants get nearly three feet high, but then die to the ground with the first frost. They regenerate from big tuberous roots as winter ends, and can seed profusely.

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Waxleaf Privet

90918Here on the West Coast, privets had traditionally functioned like hollies had in the East. They are conducive to shearing into the big formal hedges that were popular during the Victorian period. Since then, as gardening space became more limited, the common glossy privet became less popular than the more compact and complaisant waxleaf privet, Ligustrum japonicum ‘Texanum’.

Since it does not get much higher than ten feet, and typically stays less than eight feet tall, waxleaf privet is proportionate to urban gardening. As a formal hedge, it can be shorn to stay less than two feet from front to back, although taller hedges look better if allowed to get bulkier. As an unshorn informal screen, it should not get much broader than six feet, with an appealingly billowy form.

Foliage is evergreen and remarkably glossy, sort of like that of holly, but without the prickles. Regularly shorn hedges should not bloom, but might produce a few trusses of tiny white flowers inside of the shorn surfaces. In sunny situations, unshorn glossy privet blooms profusely enough to be mildly fragrant in spring. Bloom sometimes produces floppy clusters of tiny but messy black berries.

Black-Eyed Susan

40903A flower that is so prominent in American culture should have a more appealing name than black-eyed Susan. Even the Latin name, Rudbeckia hirta, sounds bad. Is Becky really so rude? Did she hirt Susan? Well, black-eyed Susan is good enough to be the state flower of Maryland, and is one of the most popular of flowers for prairie style gardens of the Midwest. After all, it naturally grows wild in every state east of Colorado. Here in the West, it is a light-duty perennial that is more often grown as an annual. As a cut flower, it can last more than a week.

In the wild, the three inch wide flowers of black-eyed Susan are rich yellow with dark brown centers, and can stand as high as three feet. The typically smaller but more abundant flowers of modern varieties can be orange, red or brownish orange, on more compact stems. Gloriosa daisies are fancier cultivars, with larger flowers that are often fluffier (double) or patterned with a second color. Individual plants do not get much wider than a foot, with most of their rather raspy foliage close to the ground. All black-eyed Susans bloom late in summer or early in autumn.

Western Sword Fern

90911Within its natural range on the West Coast between the southern extremity of Alaska and the southern extremity of California, Western sword fern, Polystichum munitum, is the most common of the native ferns. A few disjunctive wild colonies live as far inland as the Black Hills of South Dakota. Yet, with few exceptions, Western sword fern is difficult to cultivate outside of the natural range.

A fern that is so resilient and undemanding seems like it should be more adaptable. Although foliage is fuller and richer green with regular watering and occasional fertilizing, established plants do not need much at all. They survive in the wild here, with naturally limited rainfall, and just go dormant if they get too dry. Symbiotic soil microbes might be their limiting factor in foreign regions.

The dark evergreen and pinnately compound fronds get about two or three feet long, but can get more than four feet long in damp and partly shady situations. They form thick mounds that mostly obscure lower old fronds that die after their first or second year. Since it is naturally an understory species, Western sword fern prefers somewhat rich soil, partial shade and shelter from dry wind.

Paris Daisy

60831If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. In the 1960s and 1970s, such accessorizing with Paris daisy, Argyranthemum frutescens (which was at the time, Chrysanthemum frutescens), was a fad. The white flowers with yellow centers were about two or three inches wide. Modern cultivars have smaller flowers that might be light pink or pastel yellow.

Bloom continues in phases from spring through autumn. Light shearing as each bloom phase fades promotes fuller bloom of the subsequent phase. However, if conditions are right, bloom may be nearly continuous, without much pause between phases. Unlike the tougher yellow euryops daisy, Paris daisy wants rich soil, regular watering and maybe a bit of fertilizer for best performance.

Individual plants can get three feet tall and twice as broad, but live only a few years. Lower stems that develop roots where they touch the ground can be left to grow as new plants when an original plant dies. If they do not get roots on their own, lower stems can be pressed into the soil and held down with rocks (with their leafy tips exposed) to grow roots before the parent plant deteriorates.

Delta Maidenhair Fern

90904Some of us might remember Delta maidenhair fern, Adiantum raddianum, as a houseplant that was popular for terrariums in the 1970s and into the 1980s. Although quite happy in terrariums, it eventually gets big enough to crowd other plants in such tight spaces. It prefers to be potted on a porch, or in a regularly watered and sheltered spot in the garden. It tolerates quite a bit of shade.

Regular watering is important to keeping the foliage well hydrated, particularly among potted plants that are unable to disperse their roots into surrounding soil. The stolons bellow the foliage are not so sensitive, so can regenerate new foliage if partly desiccated old foliage needs to be cut back. They want good rich soil or potting media, and appreciate occasional application of fertilizer.

Individual fronds (leaves) have the potential to get as long as a foot, and half as wide, although they are mostly significantly smaller, and might be only half as long. Each frond is intricately divided into many small leaflets that are almost triangular, except that their out edges are curved and scalloped. Foliage is lighter green than that of most other ferns. Rachi (leafstalks) are black and thin.

Bell Peppers

90320The weather here is excellent for growing all sorts of fruits and vegetables, but is not exactly ideal for bell peppers. Cool nights between warm days are comfortable for us, but limit production of even the healthiest and most robust of plants. Although they like warm nights, the fruit can be sensitive to hot days, and can even get scalded. Bell pepper plants like rich soil and regular watering.

Bell peppers lack capsaicin, which causes other peppers (‘chiles’) to be distinctively ‘hot.’ The fruits of the more popular varieties of green bell pepper are generally harvested while immature, but would otherwise ripen to red. However, most popular red bell peppers are different varieties that produce somewhat elongated fruits with milder flavor. Other varieties produce orange or yellow fruits. Uncommon purple, lavender, brown and white bell peppers are just . . . weird.90320thumb

Himalayan Blackberry

90828Of all the aggressively invasive exotic species on the West Coast, Himalayan blackberry, Rubus armeniacus, could be the nastiest! It seems to be impossible to kill. It forms dense thickets of wickedly thorny canes that develop roots where they touch the ground. Even if canes are cut to the ground, and the roots are pulled out, new plants regenerate quickly from remaining bits of roots.

Individual canes can grow more than twenty feet long in their first year! They may lay on the ground to creep under a thicket, or arch up and over other plants that are fifteen feet tall. These canes develop blooming and fruiting branches in their second year. By their third year, they are replaced by new canes. The palmately compound leaves are smaller for the fruiting second year canes.

Trusses of white or very pale pink flowers bloom late in spring. Dark purplish black berries that started ripening a few weeks ago are now being depleted. Some experts believe that Himalayan blackberries are bigger and sweeter than the fruit of most garden varieties. However, berries are only bigger among well cultivated canes; and keeping canes contained and pruned is not easy.

Barberry

60817It may not look too nasty, but barberry, Berberis thunbergii, is the sort of small hedge that one goes through only once. It does not have big strong branches to hold anyone back. In fact, the limber branches are quite twiggy. The tiny spines are not impressive either, and might go unnoticed by cursory observation. Yet, they are sharp enough and plentiful enough to make quite an impression!

Because it is so unpleasant to prune, barberry should probably be planted where it has room to grow as big as it wants to without bothering anyone. If it is too close to walkways, it will either offend whomever bumps into it, or whomever needs to prune it to keep it out of the way. Mature plants will unfortunately need to be pruned eventually, so that old deteriorating stems can be groomed out.

The most popular cultivars of barberry have dark reddish or purplish foliage. A few are variegated with white; and a few have golden foliage. Green barberries are now uncommon. The tiny leaves turn bright orange in autumn before winter defoliation. Densely dwarf cultivars may not get much taller than two feet. Taller cultivars might get taller than six feet. Some barberries are very vertical.

Naked Lady Amaryllis

90821From formerly dormant bulbs just below where their foliage shriveled in the warmth of last spring, the naked brown floral stalks of naked lady, Amaryllis belladonna, grow fast to about two feet tall. They bloom suddenly with a few or several garish pink lily flowers about three inches long. They are sneaky about it too. Without foliage, and prior to flashy bloom, the bare stalks are easy to miss.

Even though individual flowers do not last long, the collective bloom lingers a bit longer as newer flowers bloom to replace those that bloomed slightly earlier on the same stalks. They are nice as cut flowers. The minimal floral fragrance is usually unnoticed, so can be a surprise if the weather happens to be conducive to the dispersion of the light fragrance of exceptionally abundant bloom.

Foliage does not regenerate until after bloom, and should wait until after the first rain of autumn. Where winters are colder, it waits until early spring, only to die back before summer. The long strap shaped leaves resemble those of lily-of-the-Nile, but are a bit softer. If ruined by frost, they try again. The tops of the two or three inch wide bulbs are visible at the surface of the soil while dormant.