Unlike the common bird of Paradise that is grown for striking bright orange flowers, the giant bird of Paradise, Strelitzia nicolai, is grown for strikingly lush foliage. The big rich green leaves get nearly six feet long, and flare outward from leaning trunks that can eventually reach upstairs eaves. Foliage is healthiest if sheltered from harsh sunlight (such as hot reflected glare), wind and frost.
Bold white blooms with contrastingly delicate blue streaks are a rare surprise on older trunks. The navy blue floral husks with nectar dripping from them look like the beaks of drooling seagulls; but the flared flowers above look like the crests of parrots.
Several native species and varieties of poplar are known collectively as cottonwood. Not many are actually planted. They just have a sneaky way of appearing in well watered parts of the garden that are as damp as the riparian areas that they naturally inhabit. Only Fremont cottonwood, Populus fremontii, gets planted, rarely, and only in big spaces that can accommodate its grand scale.
Although too big and too thirsty for most refined landscapes, cottonwoods work well for shade or erosion control in big parks. However, they need to be in a lawn or irrigated landscape if they are not close enough to riparian areas to disperse their roots into soil that is somewhat moist through most of the year. Even in riparian situations, young trees need irrigation until their roots disperse.
Cottonwoods grow fast and big, with aggressive and potentially destructive roots. They should not be planted too close to pavement or septic systems. Vigorous trees might sometimes need to be pruned to reduce excessive weight. Big trees might grow to nearly a hundred feet tall, with wide canopies. Bark is handsomely furrowed with age. The deciduous foliage turns yellow in autumn.
We don’t put much effort into our compost piles. In the first pile, we dump horse manure, green waste from two cafeteria type kitchens, and a bit of the finer textured green waste from the landscapes. It eventually gets turned over into the second pile. By the time the second pile gets turned over into the third pile, it is almost ready for use. The third pile really does not last long. Neighbors take it as fast as we can.
We turn the piles when it is convenient for us and the tractor. There is no schedule. We incorporate the material as it becomes available. There is no recipe. Somehow, we get remarkably good compost from the process.
Besides the usual weeds that grow around the compost piles, there are all sort of vegetable plants that grow in the compost, from vegetable scraps and seed that were in the green waste from the kitchens. There are onions, potatoes, carrot tops and celery bottoms. For a while, there was even a pineapple top. Melons, cucumbers, peppers and squash sometimes grow from seed. Tomatoes are the most common vegetable plants out there.
All this random mix of vegetable plants started growing like weeds after all the rain last winter, but then slowed down after the rain stopped. That is why the tomatoes have not been ripening for long. Of course, we get no tomatoes. The raccoons an whatever other wildlife wants them tends to get them first. I am not so sure that I want tomatoes that seem to grow directly from horse manure anyway.
They sure look impressive though. It would be nice if tomato plants that were intentionally planted into vegetable gardens looked this good. There are actually a few just like this one scattered about where the compost gets turned. They sprawl over the ground, but are able to stand up enough to hold their developing fruit above the compost.
These are two pictures that did not make the grade for my ‘Six on Saturday‘ post this morning. That post featured bronze and gold foliage. Actually, of the six, only two were bronze, and only one was truly gold. One that I passed off as bronze was more purplish. Two that I thought were gold were just variegated with yellowish green and white.
I am none too keen on bronze or gold foliage anyway. The only exception that I can think of is the old fashioned bronzed ‘Schwedleri’ Norway maple. It was planted as a street trees on a few streets in the Santa Clara Valley in the 1950s.
Bronzed cultivars are less vigorous than their greener counterpart.
Gold cultivars are even less vigorous, and susceptible to scorch.
The best quality about bronze and gold is that they make silver look so good.
Olympic medal designations really should be reconsidered.
I only featured bronze and gold foliage earlier because I liked the contrasts between two different cultivars of each of the three species that were featured. Ironically, none of the three pairs compared bronze to gold directly. One compared purple to gold. The other two compared bronze to variegation that was barely yellow. Oh well.
There are neither bronze nor gold cultivars to compare to the silver foliage of the two species shown here.
I do not know what species of agave this is. There are not many distinguishable features visible in the picture above. The color and texture of the foliar surface might be identifiable to an expert. The little snail does not seem to be at all concerned.
The Eucalyptus cinerea in the picture below was pruned aggressively last autumn, both to contain the disfigured canopy, and also to stimulate more vigorous new juvenile growth. It is now strikingly silver.
Just like potted chyrsanthemums, azaleas, hydrangeas and poinsettias, potted specimens of Guzmania magnifica are popularly purchased while beginning to bloom, enjoyed as house plants through a long bloom cycle, but then discarded as bloom eventually deteriorates. They are rarely allowed to produce new pups that can be divided and grown into fresh new plants to bloom later.
The bright yellow, orange, red or pink bloom stalks, as well as their rich green basal foliage, are so glossy that they seem to be plastic. The colorful parts of the blooms are pointy strap shaped bracts that arch outward from upright stalks. The leaves below have the same shape, but are longer, and more densely arranged in neat rosettes. Tiny flowers are mostly obscured by the bracts.
Guzmania magnifica, likes bright ambient sunlight without direct sun exposure, and can tolerate significant shade, especially if grown for only a few months while blooming. They seem to like misting, but probably do not not need it. They should be watered only weekly to every two weeks, when the surface of the soil seems to be getting dry. Too much fertilizer might scorch the foliage.
This is not the dreaded aggressively invasive Saint John’s wort that has naturalized in other regions. Nonetheless, creeping Saint John’s wort, Hypericum calycinum, does precisely as the name implies. It creeps, and has naturalized to a less aggressive degree in many spots near the coast. Its vigor is an advantage to many landscapes, but might eventually displease adjacent neighbors.
Creeping Saint John’s wort is a somewhat rustic perennial ground cover that does not need much water once established. It naturalizes in coastal climates because it gets all the water it needs from annual rainfall there. Although evergreen, it looks best if mown as winter ends. It happens to be susceptible to rust, and mowing removes much of the old foliage the the fungus overwinters in.
One to two inch wide bright yellow flowers, with five petals and prominent stamens, start to bloom in June and continue into September. By that time, the paired leaves might be getting tired if not watered, or infested with rust, but should stay presentable until mowing at the end of winter. Crowded plants might get three feet high. Otherwise, growth does not get much more than a foot deep.
Epiphyllum oxypetalum was my very first epiphyllum. A friend’s mother gave me three long cuttings, which were cut in half to make six cuttings. They grew like weeds, and I was quite pleased with them. At the time, they were the only epiphyllum that I wanted. The wide nocturnal flowers are strikingly pure white and nicely fragrant, and stay open late into the morning if the weather is right. Since white is my favorite color, I craved no more.
Then I got bits of another epiphyllum from one of my clients. I do not know if it really is a species of epiphyllum, but it grows just like one, with the exception of the bloom. Rather than only a few huge nocturnal flowers, it blooms with many smaller pink flowers that remain open all day. It lacks fragrance. It is not as impressive as Epiphyllum oxypetalum, but it is colorful for a longer time. Besides, now that I got it, I must continue to grow it.
Shortly afterward, I acquired a bit of another epiphyllum from another client. I expected it to bloom with a bright red flower, but it did nothing. In fact, it sat around for a few years without doing anything. Finally, it bloomed for the first time this year. That is the surprise.
This red epiphyllum that bloomed last year is not mine. It belongs to a colleague who hangs it in public garden at work while it is blooming. This is what I expected mine to look like. I sort of believe that it happens to be one of the more popular cultivars of epiphyllum.
What I got instead was these intriguing pink blooms! I don’t know what to think. The clear whit Epiphyllum oxypetalum is still my favorite, and I really like the rich red, but these pink flowers are totally rad too!
The Nile River floods annually, inundating everything in its floodplain. Lily of the Nile, Agapanthus africanus, survives by hanging on firmly with a thick network of rubbery roots. It grows and blooms in warm weather as floodwater recedes, and then survives through a long, warm and dry season until the river floods again. It tolerates both drought and flooding, although it prefers more stability.
The blue or white blooms resemble fireworks, and happen to bloom in time for the Fourth of July. The small tubular flowers are neatly arranged in big and round trusses on top of slender and bare stems that stand about two to four feet tall. ‘Storm Cloud’ has darker blue or purplish flowers. Other purple varieties have larger and more pendant flowers (that hang downward from their trusses.)
The dense evergreen foliage is quite luxuriant, and is just as appealing as the bloom is. The rubbery leaves are up to two feet long, and arch outward from basal rosettes. Deteriorating lower leaves are typically obscured by fresh new foliage above. The thick rhizomes can be divided for propagation. Plants known as Agapanthus orientalis may have bigger blooms and wider leaves.
Whether it is grown intentionally, or considered to be a common roadside weed, there is no denying that perennial pea, Lathyrus latifolius, knows how to brighten some of the wilder parts of the garden with brilliant purplish pink bloom. Some garden varieties bloom either pale pink or white, just like a few random feral plants do. Bloom resembles that of sweet pea, but without fragrance.
By their second year, the potentially six foot long vines might be a bit too rampant for more refined situations. They happen to work nicely to climb over wood piles and otherwise unsightly chain link fences though, even if only temporarily until they die back to their fat subterranean taproots by the end of summer. They will be gone before the firewood they conceal becomes useful again.
New bluish green growth regenerates vigorously at the end of winter, but does not bloom until early summer. The compound leaves are comprised of only a single pair of narrowly oblong leaflets with a branched tendril in between. Each leaflet is about two inches long and less than half as wide. Stems and petioles are winged. Once established, perennial pea can be difficult to eradicate.
It is fair to say that garden verbena, Verbena X hybrida, is a reliable warm season annual. It gets planted in spring to spread out and bloom through summer with bright pink, red, purple or almost blue, or softer pastel pink or pale white. It is commonly replaced with cool season annuals by late autumn. However, garden verbena is actually a short term perennial that can survive winter to bloom for a few years.
Perhaps individual plants do not last long enough to be practical as permanent ground cover. Yet, if mulched just so, the thin branches can root where they touch the ground, and then grow into new plants to replace the original plants before they die out. Stems do not spread or cascade much more than a foot from where they are rooted. Nor do they stand more than six inches deep.