Zonal Geranium

60525New and improved is not always better. Modern garden varieties of zonal geranium, Pelargonium X hortorum, with bigger, fuller and more profuse blooms, are more colorful than the relatively weedy classic varieties, but they are considerably more demanding. In fact, because they are so unhappy through winter, they are often grown as warm season annuals instead of as perennials.

They are certainly worth growing though, and are reasonably easy to propagate from cuttings. Flowers can be red, pink, white, peachy orange or almost purple. Bloom is almost continuous. Each rounded dark green leaf might be adorned with a darker halo about halfway between the center and the outer margin. Mature plants do not get much more than three feet tall, and not much wider.

Old varieties might get twice as tall, with smaller blooms, and lighter foliage.

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Columbine

90529Colorado is another state that was able to designate one of the most excellent wildflowers of North America as the Official State Flower because it happens to be native there. Rocky Mountain columbine, Aquilegia caerulea, however, did not contribute as much to the breeding of the many modern hybrid varieties of columbine as did common European columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris.

Most are short term perennials that are more often grown as biennials or, if they do not continue to perform through the dry warmth of summer, as spring annuals. Seed can be sown directly earlier in spring, but new plants may not bloom until the following spring. Plants that are grown in a greenhouse through winter, as well as self sown plants that grow though winter, should bloom in spring.

The famously spurred flowers can be just about any color; white, blue, purple, red, orange, yellow, pink and even pale green (fading to white). Most are combinations of two colors. Some varieties proudly bloom with frilly double flowers. The thin flower stems stand about a foot tall, with flowers facing slightly downward. The trifoliate and delightfully lobed leaves are like big lacy clover leaves.

Wild Roses

60518Compared to extensively bred garden varieties, wild roses are not much to look at. Their tiny flowers do not get much wider than two inches, and may not get much wider than those of blackberry, with only about five petals. Flower color ranges only between pale luminescent white and pale pink. Bloom is typically rather brief in mid spring. Only a few healthy specimens bloom again later.

The main advantage to wild roses is that they are ‘wild’. Once established, they do not need much more water than they get from annual rainfall. Without pruning, canes of larger varieties develop into intimidating thickets that bloom annually. Smaller types stay short, but are intimidatingly thorny nonetheless. The deciduous foliage is not bothered too much by mildew, blackspot or insects.

Some types of wild roses appreciate a bit of pampering that might be offensive to other wild plants and most natives. Winter pruning, occasional summer watering, and perhaps a bit of fertilizer improve bloom. Alternatively, pruning after spring bloom may stimulate a second phase of bloom. Long canes can grow roots where they touch the ground, and grow into new spreading plants.

Coast Live Oak

90522The valley oak of the Sacramento Valley, San Joaquin Valley, and coastal valleys to the west, is the grandest oak of North America. Within the coastal half of that range, and extending down past San Diego, the coat live oak, Quercus agrifolia, is a nearly comparable second grandest. The biggest subjects may be as tall as seventy feet, and nearly as wide, with trunks wider than ten feet!

However, there is significant variability. Trees in forest situations do not get as big, and may stay lower than twenty five feet, with shrubby branch structure. While the biggest can get older than two centuries, smaller trees may not live half as long. The canopies of exposed solitary trees might reach the ground, while more social or sheltered trees are likely to shed lower growth with maturity.

Coast live oaks are typically pretty gnarly, and many have multiple flaring trunks. The dark evergreen leaves are only about an inch or two long, and half as wide, with bristly teeth on convex edges. The narrow inch long acorns can be messy. Roots are very sensitive to excavation and excessive irrigation. Sudden Oak Death Syndrome prevents new trees for getting planted in many regions.

Scented Geranium

60511Window boxes were supposedly invented in Venice to contain aromatic plants that repelled mosquitoes (and probably because garden space was so minimal in Venice). Hanging plants like nasturtium and ivy geranium are traditional window box plants because they do not obscure scenery or sunlight. Scented geraniums are also popular because they are be so strongly aromatic.

Scented geraniums are of the Pelargoniuim genus, so are related to ivy and common geraniums, but are a mix of a few different specie and hybrids. Their foliage can smell like rose, lemon, orange, apple, strawberry, ginger, mint or other herbs or spices. Specialty geranium growers may have nearly a hundred varieties to choose from, which is less than half of the known varieties.

Not many scented geraniums bloom with impressively colorful flowers. However, many have interestingly textured, colorful and lobed foliage that might be velvety or even raspy. The more compact varieties stay less than a foot tall, and spread laterally very slowly. Others have longer but limber stems that lay low as they spread like sloppy ground cover. A few stand upright as tall as five feet.

Wax Begonia

90515Oh, how breeding complicates things. Many years ago, there were only six basic types of wax begonia, Begonia semperflorens-cultorum, with three choices for floral color, and two choices for foliar color. Bloom was white, pink or red. Foliage was either green or dark bronze. Although these choices have not changed, some modern hybrids are difficult to distinguish from other species.

Wax begonia can be either a cool season annual or a warm season annual, depending on when it gets planted. It can be grown as a short term perennial if pruned back in both early spring and early autumn. By spring, winter growth is tired of the cold. By autumn, summer growth is worn out from warmth. Exposed plants can get lethally frosted in winter or roasted by sunlight in summer.

Therefore, wax begonia prefers to be somewhat sheltered. It is more tolerant of full sun exposure in summer if mixed with other annuals or perennials. Too much shade compromises bloom. Wax begonia expects richly amended soil and regular watering, and is just as happy in pots as other annuals are. Potted plants can be moved to sheltered spots when the weather gets too hot or cold.

Santa Cruz Island Ironwood

60504A few years ago, it was known as Santa Catalina Island ironwood. However, the rare subspecies native to Santa Catalina Island lacks the distinctively angular foliar lobes of the Santa Cruz Island ironwood, Lyonothamnus floribundus ‘aspleniifolius’. The evergreen compound leaves are about five inches long and four inches wide with three or five narrow leaflets, and look like chicken feet.

Young trees can grow at an impressive rate, but rarely get to thirty feet tall, which is only half as tall as they get in the wild. Most stay rather narrow, and shorter than a two story house. They work nicely in groves, but not as symmetrical groupings. Each tree has a unique personality and form, and some stay smaller than others. The finely shredding bark fades from cinnamon brown to gray.

Six inch wide trusses of tiny white flowers bloom late in spring or early in summer. These circular trusses are flattened, similar to those of toyon but larger. They fade to brown and can hang among the foliage for years. Older trees bloom more than vigorous young trees do. Deteriorating older trees can be cut to the ground and allowed to regenerate with fresh new growth from their stumps.

Clustered Bellflower

90508Do they seem to be early this year? Clustered bellflower, Campanula glomerata, typically waits until the end of spring to bloom. Once the initial and most prolific bloom phase finishes, sporadic bloom should continue almost through summer. Blue is their most popular and traditional color. White is their second most popular option. Bluish purple and purplish pink are still somewhat rare.

Vegetative growth stays relatively low and unassuming through autumn and winter, and then starts to stand up and get noticed just before spring bloom. Short varieties might bloom without getting even a foot tall, while tall varieties can get two feet tall or a bit taller in partial shade. Each blooming stem supports a dozen or so five-pointed flowers that are about thee quarters to an inch wide.

Clustered bellflower looks neater and probably blooms a bit better as the season progresses if stalks are pruned out as they finish bloom and start to deteriorate. However, a few stalks of some varieties might be retained after bloom to produce seed to scatter elsewhere. Some of the fancier or newer varieties do not produce many viable seed, and such seed may not be true to to type.

Agave attenuata

60427Agaves are innately tough and undemanding. The main reason that they are not more popular in home gardens is that they are outfitted with nasty foliar spines. The worst of these spines are the distal tips of the large succulent leaves. Most agaves are also armed with shorter recurved spines on the margins of their leaves. Gardening with such well armed perennials can be dangerous.

A complete lack of foliar spines is what makes Agave attenuata such a deviant. The relatively pliable foliage forms big grayish rosettes that can get as broad and tall as four feet. Groups of these rosettes can slowly cover quite a bit of area. The plump stems below may eventually become exposed as they shed old foliage, but are they usually obscured as newer rosettes develop and grow.

The cultural preferences of Agave attenuata are also somewhat unusual. Unlike other agaves, it wants occasional watering and a slight bit of shade. If too exposed, it can get frosted in winter, or roasted in summer. Agave attenuata is also known as foxtail, lion’s tail or swan’s neck agave because its fluffy yellowish flower stalks curve downward, and maybe up again, to about six feet tall.

Bleeding Heart

90501There is something about the delicately intricate bloom and foliage of bleeding heart, Lamprocapnos spectabilis (formerly Dicentra spectabilis) that suits informal woodland gardens splendidly. Not only to they look like natural companions to small coniferous evergreens, but they are also quite tolerant of the acidic foliar debris, and to some extent, the shade that most conifers generate.

The small and distinctively heart shaped flowers hang vertically from arching limber stems in May or June. They can get as high as three feet if crowded, although they prefer to stay about two feet tall. The most popular varieties bloom with red or pink ‘hearts’ with white tails. ‘Alba’ blooms with white hearts. The palmately compound and lobed leaves are like soft light green anemone leaves.

Bleeding heart not only tolerates significant shade, but it prefers at least partial shade as the weather warms in spring. As the weather gets too warm and arid through late spring and summer, it is likely to defoliate and go dormant until the end of the following winter. Bleeding heart wants rich soil and regular watering too. The tender foliage is intolerant of traffic, so is best in the background.