African Daisy

African daisy hybrids are generally sterile.

Old fashioned trailing African daisy was becoming too common by the time it succumbed to the Big Freeze just prior to Christmas of 1990. Shrubbier and more colorful cultivars of hybrids with similar species, particularly Osteospermum ecklonis, are now more popular. Such hybrids mostly lack species designation because their lineage is very complicated.

Mature specimens do not grow much wider than two feet, so do not migrate as efficiently as old fashioned trailing African daisy. Since they are hybrids, they do not produce viable seed either. However, if pressed into damp soil, peripheral stems generate roots to grow as new plants that extend the collective width. They also replace deteriorating old plants.

Sporadic bloom may be almost continuous between a few profuse phases, with the most profuse phase between winter and spring. Only the coolest and warmest weather inhibit bloom. It can be difficult to shear overgrown plants between phases without ruining a few flowers. Floral color is pastel hues of purple, lavender, red, pink, orange, yellow or white.

Pansy

Pansy is one of the most familiar of cool season annuals.

All sorts of shades and combinations of yellow, orange, red, purple and blue, as well as white and monochromatic black can be found among the many varieties of pansy, Viola X wittrockiana. Pansy flowers are mostly about two inches wide, with a pair of overlapping upper petals, a pair of side petals and a single lower petal. Even though they stand only about half a foot high, flowers hover slightly above the foliage.

Here where winters are so mild, pansies get planted in autumn to bloom through winter, and then get replaced with warm season annuals in spring. They can survive through summer, but do not perform so well while weather is warm. Deadheading (removal of deteriorating flowers) promotes continual bloom. Related violas typically produce more profuse but smaller flowers, which are actually physiologically different.

French Marigold

Marigolds bloom with cozy autumnal color.

The Maya cultivated marigolds long before the French. After all, the ancestors of modern French hybrid marigolds, Tagetes patula, are endemic to Mexico and Guatemala. French horticulturists merely developed the hybrids that are now most popular. The largest might grow a foot high and wide. Otherwise, almost all grow lower as compact bedding plants.

Although many varieties of French hybrid marigold are available, their floral color ranges only through yellow, orange and red. Ruddy brown is merely dark orange. Creamy white is merely very pale yellow. Combinations of color within this minimal range are amazing nonetheless. White is rare only because richer traditional colors remain so very popular.

French marigolds are technically warm season annuals. With frequent deadheading and grooming, they can bloom from spring until frost. However, since they perform best while young, they are more popular as a shorter term annual. They often replace warm season annuals that finish a bit early, while the weather is still too warm for cool season annuals.

Ponytail Palm

In its native ecosystem, ponytail palm grows as a small tree.

Some succulent plants and their friends do not mind being grown as houseplants. Ponytail palm, Beaucarnea recurvata, is one of those rare friends of succulents that actually prefers to be inside, at least during winter when they can be damaged by cool weather and moisture. Plants that are houseplants through winter and get moved out to the garden through summer should be protected from harsh direct exposure since their foliage is adapted to the home environment. Otherwise, ponytail palm likes the sunniest rooms in the house.

The weird distended caudex at the base of the stem is the most distinctive feature of the ponytail palm, which as actually neither a palm, nor outfitted with ponytails. However, almost like a palm, pruning a solitary top down will likely be fatal. (Pruning the terminal bud off the top of a palm will necessarily be fatal to the affected trunk.) Unlike (solitary) palms, ponytail palm can eventually develop multiple trunks, which can be pruned off if absolutely necessary.

In their natural environment, ponytail palms can get to be shade trees with sparse limbs terminating with tufts of narrow strap shaped leaves. Yet, as slowly growing houseplants confined to containers, they rarely get more than six feet tall after many years. They really need good drainage, and prefer to be watered only about twice to four times monthly.

Radish

All parts of radish are edible.

Everyone seems to be familiar with radish, Raphanus raphanistrum subspecies sativus. It has been so popular with so many cultures for so long that its origin is now impossible to identify. It likely originated in Southeastern Asia at least two thousand years ago. After so many centuries, it has become remarkably variable in regard to flavor, form and color.

Radish are generally cool season root vegetables, although their foliage and flowers are also edible. They can be red, pink, purple, yellow, green, black or white, with white flesh. Their form might be almost spherical, cylindrical or tapered like a carrot. Small types are only about an inch to three inches long. Some daikon radish can get as long as two feet!

Because radish are typically smaller than most other root vegetables, they mature faster. Therefore, their seed can get started in their garden slightly later. If they mature too soon, warmth may cause them to bolt, which ruins their flavor and texture. Subsequent phases extend production, by resuming production as previous phases exhaust their production.

Fiddle Leaf Fig

Juvenile growth is almost never seen locally.

What a weird tree! Fiddle leaf fig, Ficus lyrata, is an uncommon but familiar large scale houseplant that we might not welcome into our homes if we knew how it behaves where it grows wild in the lower rainforests of Western Africa. Although it can grow upward from the ground like almost all other trees do, it often germinates and begins to grow as an epiphyte, within organic debris that accumulates in the branch unions of other trees. While suspended, it extends roots downward. Once these roots reach the forest floor, they develop into multiple trunks that overwhelm and crush the host tree as they grow.

The bold foliage is typically dark drab green, like the shades of green that were so popular for Buicks in 1970, with prominent pale green veins. Individual leaves are about a foot long and potentially nearly as broad at the distal (outward) ends, often with randomly wavy margins. Like fiddles, they are narrower in the middles, or actually more often narrower at the proximal (inward) ends. When pruning becomes necessary, the caustic sap should be soaked from fresh cuts with paper towels so that it does not drip and stain.

Garden Phlox

Pictures can not share the fragrance.

More than a dozen species of Phlox are native to various ecosystems of California. They are generally uncommon within refined home gardens though. The more popular garden phlox, Phlox paniculata, is native east of Kansas. It naturalizes in some regions, such as the Pacific Northwest. Locally, it might self-sow only where it gets water through summer.

Garden phlox can get as high and wide as three feet. Some modern cultivars should stay a bit more compact. Individual flowers are only about an inch wide, but bloom with many others on dense panicles that are as wide as six inches. This richly fragrant bloom is red, pink, white, pastel orange or pastel purple, and continues for almost a month of summer.

As its potential for naturalization suggests, garden phlox is not particularly demanding. It appreciates good exposure, but can tolerate a bit of partial shade. It enjoys richly organic soil but can survive within soil of mediocre quality if it is not too dense. Regular watering sustains bloom, but established plants can survive with minimal watering after blooming. Propagation by division of large or overgrown plants while dormant through late winter is very easy.

Garden Phlox

Garden phlox is more popular in other regions than it is here.

In eastern North America where it grows wild as a native, garden phlox, Phlox paniculata, is modest but classic perennial that gets more than four feet tall with pinkish lavender flowers from late summer through early autumn. Modern garden varieties are mostly somewhat more compact with pink, red, light purple or white flowers. Many have fragrant flowers; and some have flowers with lighter or darker centers. Butterflies and hummingbirds dig them all.

Locally, garden phlox probably looks best with slight shade or among other lush plants, only because humidity is so minimal. Otherwise, it would be just as happy out in the open. In well watered gardens with rich soil, it sometimes self sows a bit, but rarely naturalizes continually enough to revert to a more natural (wild) state like it can in gardens on the west coast of Oregon and Washington. Garden phlox can be propagated by division of mature plants either after bloom in autumn or in spring.

Thread Agave

Agave generally excel in chaparral climates.

Many species of Agave and Yucca should probably be more popular here than they are. Several are endemic to desert or chaparral climates. Once established locally, they may survive without irrigation. Occasional watering through summer only improves their foliar color and vigor. Except for gophers that might attack from below, not much offends them.

The primary deterrent to their popularity is their dangerous foliar spines. Many species of Agave and Yucca grow too large to not become obtrusive within compact home gardens. Consequently, their striking but hazardous foliage can be difficult to avoid. Fortunately, a few species such as thread agave, Agave filifera, remain proportionate to home gardens.

Thread agave develops rounded foliar rosettes that are less than three feet wide and two feet tall. Evergreen leaves retain silvery impressions of adjacent leaves. Although growth is generally slow, vigorous floral stalks may grow rapidly to ten feet tall during summer, to bloom during autumn. Pups begin to replace original rosettes prior to monocarpic bloom.

Naked Lady

These naked ladies are not shy.

While so many flowers are finishing their bloom and leaving their drying foliage behind, naked lady, Amaryllis belladonna, is just beginning to bloom, naked of any foliage. Clusters of a few to several bright pink flowers stand on bare stems about two feet tall. Individual flowers are about two and a half to three and a half inches long, and resemble lily flowers. Foliage only appears after flowers deteriorate, and lasts only until weather gets warm late in spring. The strap shaped leaves are about a foot to a foot and a half long. Through summer, the two or three inch wide bulbs are dormant and bare, and seem to be dead with their tops visible at the soil surface, but retain fleshy roots below. They should therefore only be dug and divided if they get too crowded or need to be moved.