The Importance of Fall Planting and What to Plant Now.

15 Sep

As summer blooms start to wind down and the days gradually get shorter, many gardeners tend to step back from their gardens. But actually fall is one of the very best times to be active and planting in the garden. Perennials, be they shrubs or smaller plants, need a bit of time to get their roots firmly established before they fashion a new growth spurt. Getting shrubs, other perennials and early blooming CA native annuals started in the fall offers several advantages. Most importantly, the cooler weather and winter rains provide the perfect conditions for them to get established. Not only will that lead to more successful blooming in the spring or summer but it will often mean that they will bloom earlier than if planted in early spring.

Planting shrubs or other larger perennials in the fall also helps you with your garden layout. Once these ‘foundation’ plants are situated, it is easier, come spring, to plant smaller perennials or annuals in coordination with these shrubs. Fall is also an excellent time to add bark mulch to your planting beds, be that to established plots or to newly planted beds. This mulch will limit the growth of weeds, help to retain moisture and for frost tender shrubs, help to insulate the roots. We can roughly divide fall flower planting into 5 categories – shrubs for sun; shrubs for shade; grasses; ground covers and vines. I’ll give examples of each below.

Shrubs for Sun

There are a great many sun-loving shrubs that benefit from being planted in the fall. Buddlejas are one of my favorites. Known as butterfly bushes, they produce 10-14” long cones densely packed with tiny nectar-rich flowers. You can find four fabulous varieties at Annie’s. These include the compact ‘Ellen’s Blue’ and ‘Hot Raspberry’. These 3-4 high and wide shrubs attract an endless parade of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, with the former displaying purplish-violet flowers and the latter showcasing vivid magenta blooms.

Davidii ‘White Profusion’ is a full-size bush, 6-8′ H & W. The flowers are a pure white, making this plant a perfect addition to a Moon (white) Garden.

Three other shrubs benefit from being planted in the fall. California lilac (Ceanothus) can be a bit slow to establish so starting this California native evergreen in the fall has its benefits. You’ll find nearly a dozen varieties at Annie’s, with flower colors ranging from the palest lavender (‘Gloire de Versailles’) all the way to vivid purples (Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps’ or ‘Dark Star’). At home in sun or light shade, these Ceanothus are great foundation shrubs.

If pretty foliage is your goal, Chinese Fringe Flower (Loropetalum chinense ‘Plum Delight’) is a great way to add rich burgundy tones to your garden. Reaching 4′ high and spreading to 7′ wide, this durable evergreen produces unique, pink finger-like flowers in the late spring.

If on the other hand it’s flowers, and in particular exceptionally pretty blue flowers, are your thing, Blue Glory Bower (Clerodendrum ugandense) may be just the ticket for adding something unique to your garden. Sporting the palest blue butterfly-shaped flowers, each with a central vivid blue petal, this African native is quick to establish and equally fast to bloom. Easily reaching 7′ tall, with arching branches, it is a standout in any garden.

You can plant it as decorative meadow grass or use it next to a pond, since it likes some moisture. Where this Carex’s color is subtle, Orange New Zealand Sedge displays vivid coppery-orange foliage in the colder winter months. That color is best seen when this 2′ high grass is planted in sun but even in some shade, it is a great way to add contrasting foliage color to the greens and creams around it.

Shrubs for Shade

Two colorful shrubs for shade lead this group. We have available two species of Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia) – the slender golden trumpets of B. sanguinea ‘Inca Princess’ and the fatter, more classic bells of the white blooming B. ‘Wedding Bells.’ The latter’s blooms are an amazing 7” in diameter, with glossy yellow ribs. ‘Inca Priness’ loads up with 7” long cheerful golden blooms and when in full bloom, puts on a dazzling show.

Meanwhile, two white-blooming Hydrangeas offer part sun delights. H. arborescens ‘Annabelle’ produces huge heads (8-12” across!) of pure white flowers in spring. 4’x4′ mature plants are so prolific, you barely see the green foliage.

Dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’) gets to a similar size, with panicles of alabaster white flowers, offset by highly attractive, oak-shaped mint green leaves. Even when not in bloom, this hydrangea is a standout for a shady to part sun location.

Two outstanding shrubs for shade offer enticing scents. Heliotropium arborescens and H. arborescens ‘Alba’ each produce clusters of heady, vanilla-scented flowers, the former with purple and white flowers and the latter with all white flowers. Smaller shrubs, they each top out at 3’x3′.

Meanwhile, Mock Orange (Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’) offers clusters of pure white flowers that smell intoxicatingly of ripe oranges!

Grasses

Fall is an excellent time to start ornamental grasses. Pink Muhly grass sounds like an odd common name but Muhlenbergia capillaris is one the showiest grasses you will ever grow.

Its calling card is its vivid pink seedheads, which completely smother the plant in late summer. Forming an upright 3’x3′ mound of narrow, brownish-green leaves before its flowering, this drought tolerant, durable grass is also a valuable source of seed for local songbirds.

Two other Muhlies are worth exploring – the southwest native M. dubia and M. reverchonii ‘Undaunted.’ The latter features reddish-mauve seedheads and is likewise cold hardy, very drought tolerant and long-lived.

And how about growing the state grass of California?! That would be Purple Needlegrass (Stipa pulchra). Widespread, it forms 18” high clumps whose seedheads start out purple then age to a silvery color. Nodding Needle grass (Stipa cernua) is another durable native that reaches 2′ tall and produces unique ‘bending’ seedheads.

For great foliage color, there’s no beating New Zealand Wind Grass (Stipa arundinacea). Much sought after by west coast gardeners for its golden-ginger blades, it reaches 3-4′ in height. It looks fabulous when massed and equally showy when featured in a container. A real statement plant!

Vines

Vines occupy a particular place in a fall planting scheme as many actually bloom in the autumn. That shouldn’t preclude you from planting them now and one of my favorites is Passion Flower vine (Passiflora). Whether it is an edible type (P. edulis “Frederick’) or one of many ornamentals, this vine produces some of the most unique and colorful flowers in the floral kingdom.

Annie’s selections divide themselves roughly into two groups – those with pronounced filaments (P. actinia, P. ‘Blue Horizon’ and P. loefgrenii x caerulea) and those whose parentage includes P. manicata (‘Susan Brigham’ and ‘Oaklandii’) or P. parritae (‘Cocktail Orange’ andMission Dolores’).The latter passifloras showcase large orange, coral or red flowers, with few or no filaments. Whichever you choose, the flowers are bold, eye-catching and known to attract butterflies.

Several other vines offer their own treats, be that the fragrant flowers of Pink Jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum ‘Pepita’), the vivid purple flowers of Clematis ‘Polish Spirit’ or the blazing red fall foliage of Roger’s Red grape (Vitis californica x vinifera ‘Roger’s Red).

Ground Covers

While ground covers are often overlooked when it comes to fall planting, they too can benefit from a head start. African daisies (Osteospermum) are a great example, getting a head start on spring blooming when planted in the fall. We have 3 colorful varieties, ‘3D Double Purple’, ‘Compact White’ and ‘Zion Copper Amethyst.’ The 3D Double Purple is noteworthy for its flowers not closing at night, as is the case with most Osteos.

Our California native Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium) particularly benefits from a fall planting, leading to not only an earlier flowering but a more robust one as well. S. hybrid ‘Devon Skies’ not only flaunts the bluest flowers but some of the largest ones in the genus. S. bellum ‘North Coast’ has slightly smaller and more purple blooms while S. californicum offers cheerful yellow flowers.

Lastly, the curiously named Golden Pennywort (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) is a fabulous ground cover that can either spread out on level ground or cascade over a low wall. It benefits from a bit of shade and even though it loses a few leaves in winter, it fills out a gloriously gold come spring.

To Conclude

“The beauty of planting shrubs and other perennials in the fall is that you are rewarded with its benefits no matter what climate you live in, which particular plants you add or the plants being of a large size or small. So, time to get out that shovel and get going!”

Availability

Just so everyone knows, some of the Annie’s Annuals plants mentioned here might not be available on the week that you’re reading this blog article. Some of the plant varieties discussed are only available in our retail nursery in Richmond CA. This is generally due to us only being able to grow small crops or the fact that the particular plant does not ship well. A quick look at that plant’s page will let you know if it’s available. If not, just click the Add to Wishlist button and we’ll notify you when that plant is ready to take home.

Planting a Bird Garden

18 Aug

If you’re a birder and a gardener, you may have thought to yourself ‘Is there a way I can attract more birds to my garden?’ And the short answer is yes. Providing birds what they need – food, shelter and water – is easy, but some thought as to the way you plant your garden will increase both the frequency and variety of avian visitors. You will be attracting three kinds of birds – seed-eating songbirds such as juncos, warblers, wrens, sparrows and chickadees; birds that are primarily after fruit such as cedar waxwings, robins, mockingbirds, Western bluebirds and thrushes and lastly hummingbirds, which are fond of tubular flowers.

For Seed Eaters

Seed eaters harvest this nutritious food in three ways – directly from shrubs and trees, from a variety of grasses and from seed that has fallen on the ground. Two excellent shrubs to plant for seeds are a variety of California lilac (Ceanothus) and Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii).

Both bloom prolifically, then produce copious amounts of seed that are harvested by a wide variety of songbirds. Buddlejas typically produce their seed in the early fall, while the many varieties of Ceanothus ‘seed up’ in the late fall, providing songbirds with valuable late-in-the-year nutrition. Most Ceanothus can take sun or shade, providing a welcome versatility, while Buddlejas want sun.

Another sturdy shrub beloved by seed eaters are Echiums. Whether it’s the Pride of Madeira (Echium fastuosum) or the ‘Tower of Jewels’ (Echium wildpretti), these profuse bloomers are great sources of seed from late summer through late fall. E. fastuosum forms a 4’x4′ bush, with purple flowers, while E. wildpretti forms a 2’x4′ basal clump, then sends up 4-8′ high towers filled with tiny pink flowers.

Two lower growing plants are excellent choices for seed-eaters. Pincushion plant (Scabiosa) is a charming and long blooming perennial that produces lots of seed in the fall. Whether it’s one of the many S. atropurpurea varieties (‘Florist’s Blue’, ‘Florist’s Pink’, ‘Scarlet’ or ‘Snowmaiden’) or the S. caucasica ‘Fama Blue’ or ‘Perfecta Alba’, these powerhouse bloomers provide lots of much sought after seed. Though they go deciduous, they return in the spring.

Three species of our native Lupine are also recommended for seed-eaters. Yellow Coastal Bush Lupine (L. arboreus) offers 6-8” stands of brilliant yellow flowers on sturdy 4’x4′ bushes in summer, attracting bees and hummers. Very similar, only with lavender fading to pale lilac flowers, Blue Bush Lupine (L. propinquus) offers more subtle flowers on 3’x3′ shrubs. Finally, two forms of the native Arroyo Lupine (L. succulentus) offer color-rich blooms and nutritious seed. Whether it’s the vibrant purple flowers of the straight species or the evocative two tone pink flowers of ‘Rodeo Rose’, this lupine is a must have for the bird garden.

Two ornamental grasses are excellent additions to a bird garden. California Field Sedge (Carex praegracilis) is a handsome 3′ high, clump-forming grass that can handle sun or shade. In the fall, it forms handsome seedheads that certain songbirds will enthusiastically graze. Or add a bit of warm autumn colors with New Zealand Wind Grass (Stipa arundinacea). It’s orangy-bronze blades make for a colorful stand, then come fall and winter it produces nutritious seed.

Hummingbirds

While it is well known that hummingbirds love Salvias and we at Annie’s have many wonderful choices, there are many other flowers that attract our colorful winged friends. Start with the aptly named Hummingbird Mint (Agastache). There are purple-flowering varieties such as ‘Black Adder’, ‘Blue Boa’ and ‘Heronswood Mist’, as well as pink blooming selections such as ‘Sangria’ and ‘Ambrosia.’

All are magnets for both hummers and bees and bloom over a long period in early summer and fall. Easy to grow and adaptable to different soils, they are one of the best ways to add low color to a bird garden.

Two small shrubs top the list for attracting hummers. Cupheas offer the nectar-rich tubular flowers that hummers seek out and Annie’s has four of the small tubular varieties affectionately known as Cigar plants. The aptly named ‘Hummingbird’s Lunch’ leads the way with its reddish-pink blooms, each tipped in burgundy. Forming a compact 2’x3′ shrub, come summer it’s bursting with countless flowers.

Likewise, ‘Blackberry Sparkler’ forms a dense compact shrub, soon filled with whitish flowers with dark purple throats. The inch and a half long ‘cigars’ seem to explode at all angles, putting on quite the show for us humans as well. The Cuphea hybrid ‘Starfire Pink’ makes a bigger bush (3’x3′) but with more petite all pink flowers. And when Cuphea ‘Strybing Sunset’ is back in stock, it features blazing orange tubular flowers, with tiny purple bat’s ears. All are hummingbird magnets.

Verbena lilacina ‘De la Mina’ is a California native that always seems to be in bloom. Quickly forming a 3’x3′ shrub, come spring it bursts into bloom, offering an endless supply of lavender-colored flowers. We love this shrub for its versatility, the fact that it’s a native and just how popular it is with bees, butterflies, hummers and, when seed forms, smaller songbirds.

You wouldn’t think at first that flowering maples (Abutilon) would be a hummingbird plant but in truth, they are one of the best. We see them harvesting nectar all the time from our nursery selections. These include the pure yellow ‘Canary Bird’, the lovely peachy-orange flowering ‘Victor Reiter’, the popular ‘Apricot’ and the heavily veined selection called ‘Redvein Indian Mallow.’ Abutilons are easy to grow – fast, reliable, long blooming and beautiful.


There are a number of vines that attract hummers and one of the best is Passiflora ‘Blue Horizon.’ There are many passion flower vines that will attract hummers but this one is especially vigorous and a real favorite for our hummer friends. A prolific bloomer, with lovely purplish-blue flowers, you can grow it on a fence, over an arbor or even on the side of a house if given support.

Treats for Berry Eaters
If you’re lucky, your garden will be visited by a variety of berry-eating songbirds. These include Cedar Waxwings, American robins, Hermit Thrushes, Western bluebirds, Northern Flickers and Mockingbirds. To encourage such visits, consider planting one or more berry-producing shrubs. Elderberry (Sambucus) is a favorite source for dark, late fall berries and our S. nigra ‘Thundercloud’ is an excellent choice for fruit. A fast growing shrub to 6-8′ tall, it also features nearly black foliage and lovely pink flowers. Another excellent choice is Roger’s Red grape (Vitis californica x vinifera ‘Roger’s Red’). Though the fall grapes it produces are less ideal as a table grape, our berry eating birds will gobble them up. It’s an easy vine to grow and offers blazing red foliage in the fall.

Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is one of the very best plants for attracting songbirds. A California native found throughout Northern California, come winter it produces heavy loads of tasty, bright red berries. Nearly every berry eater loves these fruits and trees produce a seemingly endless supply of them. Evergreen, very drought tolerant once established and easy to grow, this 8-10′ high shrub/tree is a valuable addition to any bird garden.

One dual purpose plant to consider adding to attract birds is one of the many varieties of our California native Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum). Whether it’s the popular pink-flowering ‘Claremont’, the slightly redder ‘King Edward VII’ or the soft pink-flowering R. sanguineum glutinosum, these plants’ flowers attract hummers while the berries attract a variety of the afoementioned berry eaters. Ribes like shade and some regular water, so they’re a good choice for a morning sun or bright shade location.
Now, you may ask, why can’t I simply put out a tray of berries for these birds? And the answer is, the birds only recognize them as part of their diet if they’re hanging from the bush or tree.
Though these selections are not yet in stock, please check back for their availability or add them to your Annie’s Wishlist and then we will email you as soon as they become available.

Final Tips
It is worth noting that planting shrubs for various songbirds also provides cover for these and other birds. This is important, as it will allow our avian friends to feel more protected. And I sometimes am asked “Is it bad to hang a hummingbird feeder for hummers (or a seed feeder stocked with seed) when I want my backyard birds to get their nutrition from my plants?” The short answer is no. Birds instinctively seek out nutrition from plants. Having one or more feeders as a supplement can only be a good thing, especially in winter, when fewer plants are in bloom.

Availability

Just so everyone knows, some of the Annie’s Annuals plants mentioned here might not be available on the week that you’re reading this blog article. Some of the plant varieties discussed are only available in our retail nursery in Richmond CA. This is generally due to us only being able to grow small crops or the fact that the particular plant does not ship well. A quick look at that plant’s page will let you know if it’s available. If not, just click the Add to Wishlist button and we’ll notify you when that plant is ready to take home.

Low Growing Succulents

14 Jul

Earl Nickel,
Curious Plantsman

The world of succulents is immense and varied but one of the most popular uses for these drought tolerant denizens is as a low ground cover. Whether they are used as a low growing plant to cover a sunny bed, as a sturdy and beautiful plant to spill over a low terraced bed or even to fill in empty spaces between paving stones, there are choices that cover the spectrum of color, texture and form. This blog focuses on three genera for such uses – Sedums, Delospermas and Lampranthus, with one Aeonium added for spice. They are all available right now, giving you a wealth of choices for that bed you have in mind.

Stonecrops (Sedums)

Sedums offer an astonishing variety of form and color for use as a low, spreading succulent. Corsican Stonecrop (S. dasyphyllum major) features tightly packed little nubbins that are typically a bluish-green.

Growing to no more than 2-6” high by up to 15” across, it erupts in a froth of delicate star-shaped white blooms summer through fall. Dark tones appear in winter. Low and dense, it’s perfect for a dry garden or for colonizing areas between pavers.

Gray stonecrop (S. pachyclados). From a distance this versatile sedum resembles masses of tiny green scalloped flowers frosted with blue powder. Likewise low (2-4” tall) and spreading to 12” wide, this attractive sedum looks great scrambling between rocks, cascading from a crack in a wall or filling out a low water mixed container planting. In summer, white star-shaped flowers emerge, their ephemeral form creating a stunning contrast to the bold architectural leaves. Deciduous in colder areas, it returns reinvigorated in the spring.

If dark tones are your thing, the velvety plum-purple foliage of ‘Plum Dazzled’ stonecrop (S. rupestre ‘Plum Dazzled’) is the cat’s meow. The glossy, lotus-like clusters give an eye-popping charm to any sunny bed. Dainty raspberry-pink, star-shaped flowers add to this stonecrop’s allure. Use this dark beauty anywhere you want to add contrast to more subtle surrounding colors. As with nearly all sedums, this stonecrop is stingy on water use. It stays low (2-6” high) but spreads up to 18”.

On the other hand, Tricolor stonecrop (Sedum spurium ‘Tricolor’) offers the loveliest subtle blend of greens and whites on spreading or cascading stems. But wait! In colder months, the small rosettes acquire a hot pink border, pumping up its dramatic appeal. Small, bright-pink flower clusters rise up above the foliage on short stalks for a showy summer display, perfect for attracting bees, butterflies & hummers! Give this and other stonecrops good drainage and a bit of occasional water for best results.

If quixotic charm appeals to you, then Jelly Beans stonecrop (S. rubrotinctum ‘Aurora’) is the perfect choice. They owe this common name to their charming plump and shiny leaves. An almost translucent lime green with rosy-red tips, they form tiny (4-8”) vertical clusters.

They are the perfect choice for covering a good-sized area, allowing the dazzling variation in color to create a pastiche of greens, pinks and reds. Tiny yellow summer flowers attract pollinators. It is easily propagated, readily growing roots from both stem cuttings and leaves.

Coppertone stonecrop (S. nussbaumerianum) offers bold coppery-orange foliage, its stubby fingers a bit larger than the other sedums mentioned here. It gets a bit taller (to 8”) and can spread out to two feet. It is best suited for spilling over a terraced bed or from a hanging basket. Its color is both striking and yet somehow soothing, perfect for adding contrast to nearby greens and grayish-blues. Clusters of lightly fragrant white flowers appear in spring. This hardy long lived perennial is also perfect for adding substance to any location and can be trained to spread out on flat ground or spill over an slightly elevated spot. It stays dense, making its vivid color all the more striking. Easily cut back to the desired size.

Ice Plants (Delospermas & Lampranthus)

There are a number of low growing succulents that have been given the common name ‘Ice plant’ but the two genera that are the most populous are Delosperma and Lampranthus.  Hot Pink ice plant (Delosperma ‘Hot Pink Wonder’) features wildly brilliant 1.25” flowers all summer. These rayed flowers display yellow centers surrounded by red petals tipped in magenta.

Easy, evergreen and very drought tolerant, this low grower (3-4” tall) makes the perfect ground cover or filler between paving stones. It gradually spreads to 2′ wide but is not invasive. Can be trimmed to use as edging too.

Love this plant but prefer red to pink? Delosperma ‘Red Mountain Flame’ produces a seemingly endless display of  2” daisy-like, intense scarlet red flowers, each with yellow centers and fringed in yellow. They perch atop a 2” high mat of gray-green, weed-suppressing foliage. Drought tolerant once established and virtually maintenance free, it can take heat, cold, salt spray, and attracts butterflies and bees!

The two Lampranthus selections we sell both offer brilliant color, from the incandescent orange of L. aureus ‘Orange Form’ to the blazing pink of L. species ‘Pink Kaboom.’ This ice plant is a bit taller (to 12”) but also spreads to as much as 2′. The spring into early summer flowers are even larger than those of Delosperma – a full 2.5 inches!

Drought tolerant and deer resistant, these selections are a great way to add eye-popping color to a sunny bed or for use in tumbling over a low rock wall. Its succulent foliage, comprised of slender, deep green ‘fingers’, is tolerant of neglect but you can make it a superstar in well-drained soil and an annual 1” side-dress of compost.

If anything, the ‘Pink Kaboom’ puts on a more dazzling floral show. Our specimen grew quickly into a dense and rounded, 2’x3’ mound, then in spring it exploded into an astounding mass of brightest pink daisies, completely blanketing it. For both selections, a bit of water until they are established is recommended.

One Houseleek

Houseleek may seem an odd name for a succulent but that’s the common name for the wide ranging genus Aeonium. Our Aeonium x ‘Jack Catlin’ (Aeonium tabuliforme x A. arboreum ‘Zwartkop’), offers leaves that are a stunning apple green, ringed with generous amounts of burgundy-red. Extremely vigorous with a higher tolerance for heat and frost than most Aeoniums, its collection of 6-8” wide rosettes eventually spread to form 2′ wide, ground-hugging drifts.

Exceptionally showy planted at the front of a bed, it contrasts beautifully with blue, silver or golden-leaved plants. Mature rosettes produce bee-attracting, conical yellow flower spikes held one foot above the foliage. 

Growing Your Spreading Succulents

Most of the above selections are super easy to care for. The main care comes in the beginning. Give them very well-drained soil and a little regular water. They don’t need much nutrition, though that won’t hurt them if they’re planted next to other plants that do require fertile soil. Once established, all of these selections are very drought tolerant and quite forgiving. They do want a good amount of afternoon sun and a bit of occasional trimming so they look their best but that is pretty much it.

Availability

Just so everyone knows, some of the Annie’s Annuals plants mentioned here might not be available on the week that you’re reading this blog article. In the case of veggies in particular, many of the more unusual varieties discussed are only available in our retail nursery in Richmond CA.  This is generally due to us only being able to grow small crops or the fact that the particular veggie does not ship well.  A quick look at that plant’s page will let you know if it’s available. If not, just click the Add to Wishlist button and we’ll notify you when that plant is ready to take home.

Grow Your Own Veggies!

16 Jun

There is no sweeter satisfaction than harvesting vegetables you’ve grown in your own garden. Not only do they often taste better than store bought veggies but you have the satisfaction of having nurtured your own edibles from tiny starts through ‘ready to pick’ maturity. Here at Annie’s, we keep adding new and interesting vegetables for you to try, everything from the latest and greatest basil, to one of the sweetest strawberries to rarities such as Itachi White cucumber, Squash ‘Ronde de Nice’ and Eggplant ‘Ping Tung.’ Many are available to purchase online or wherever our plants are sold, while some of the rarer plants are only found at our Richmond nursery. These are noted below by *** next to their title.

Veggies to Savor

Our group of perennial veggies is highlighted by two multi-use plants – ‘Richmond’s Pride Kale and ‘Glaskin’s Perpetual’ Rhubarb. Our Richmond kale, known as Purple Tree Collard, is a resilient, nutritious and delicious perennial veggie. This purple form was chosen for its sweet & tender leaves as well as its eye-catching color. A very long-lived kale, it grows to an amazing 6-10’ tall and 3’ wide. Its purple tones are enhanced by the cold and the sweetest leaves can be harvested during this time. Easily propagated by cuttings.

Our Glaskin’s rhubarb is tangy and just bursting with flavor. Growing 2-3’ tall, with big tropicalesque leaves, it is an early and heavy producer and is also reputed to be the sweetest variety. Plant it in a permanent bed or large container in full sun and let it grow for a season (clip off flowers if they appear).   You can pick some stems the second year but the big harvest is in year 3 and beyond (make sure to leave 4 stems per plant each year).

Want a great pepper for salsa? ‘Early Jalapeno’ has thick, juicy flesh and hot (but not too hot) flavor. It’s great for coastal CA gardens as it sets fruit under cooler conditions than other jalapenos. Vigorous 2’ tall plants produce an abundance of 2-3” long fruits. Pick them when green for a mild taste or let the color mature to red for muy caliente! Give this pepper lots of sun and heat and it will reward you all summer long.

Five veggies that are only available at the nursery in Richmond are tempting enough to have you come on out. That includes the always popular Lemon cucumber (***), as well as the rare but oh so delectable ‘Itachi’ white cucumber (***). The former variety produces lots & lots of always-fun-to-see yellow baseball-sized cukes.

Great for cool or short summer season areas, it doesn’t need a lot of heat to produce. And no need to peel the crisp, sweet, delicately-flavored fruit; just rinse them off, rub off the prickly bits on the skin & slice them up! ‘Itachi’ cuke may look odd, with its 10” long white fruit, but it is great tasting and highly productive. A sweet, crispy, bitter-free cucumber, Itachi holds up well to cooking and makes an excellent addition to any stir-fry. Trellising produces straighter fruit.

 ‘Ronde de Nice’ summer squash (***) is an attractive French heirloom squash, with its oval shape and speckled light green form. It’s the perfect squash for people who like a tender fruit but one that still has excellent taste. Pick at tennis ball size for steaming and sauteing. Larger squashes are excellent for stuffing.

And if you want to dazzle your dinner guests, show them the fruits from your ‘Ping Tung’ eggplant (***). A wonderful eggplant from Ping Tung, Taiwan, fruits are a vivid purple and up to 18” long but ONLY 2” in diameter! So sweet and tender and superbly delicious, it is one of the best Chinese eggplants on the market.

Lastly, how about a great conversation piece and useful veggie? Egyptian Walking onion (***) creates bulbils that eventually bow the stalk to the ground, whereupon the bulbils root, thus making it seem as if this onion has gone on a ‘walkabout.’ It possesses a strong and spicy flavor and the bulbils can be used just as you would any other onion. Bulbs are usually harvested in late summer, while the greens can be used year round.

Fruits

Annie’s offers a diverse collection of unique fruiting berries and melons. Our favorite strawberry, Fresca ‘Elan’, is a vigorous Dutch hybrid with 2” fruits that are extra sweet due to a high sugar content. They also contain 30-50% more vitamin C than other everbearing strawberries.  Fruiting from Spring to Fall with many runners, you can even grow it in a hanging basket.

For something unusual, try the Ground Cherry (***). A delectable berry, the flavor is characteristically sweet/tart and very intense. Eat berries when they are golden and falling off the plant. The fruits can also be frozen for sorbet, cooked into jam or dried. If kept dry and cool and inside the calyx, the berries can be stored for months.

Two unusual melons are standouts. Melon ‘Ha’ogen’ (***) is an intoxicatingly fragrant green-fleshed muskmelon that ripens early in the season. This heirloom variety, also known as “Israel Melon”, was named for the kibbutz it was popularized at. It produces 2-4 lb. honey-flavored green-fleshed fruits on vigorous, productive vines. Well adapted to cooler climates. Meanwhile, Watermelon ‘Sweet Siberian’ (***) is a golden-flesh variety hailing from Russia and brought to Canada by immigrants. Juicy and delicious.

Lastly, we offer for you a local eating grape – Vitis ‘Emeryville Pink.’ Thanks to California Rare Fruit Growers and our own Anni Jensen, we present to you the best grape for coastal gardening. Sweetening right up here in our fog zone, this hardy variety bears an abundance of flavorful mid-size pink fruit with seeds so tiny, there’s no need to spit them out.

Herbs

Basil is so popular, we have to grow lots of varieties at Annie’s. One of our favorites is Basil ‘Emerald Towers.’ This robust Genovese basil is noted for its striking columnar habit, its lush dark green foliage and naturally, its great taste. Plants are taller (2-3′) than wider (1′), perfect for a container or squeezing in beside your tomatoes. Bred for resistance to downy mildew and fusarium. Fast growing and tidy, you’ll be harvesting leaves for yummy caprese salads, flavoring soups and of course for the best pesto ever! Basil ‘Thai Siam Queen’ (***) is the perfect choice for authentic Thai cooking. This basil has the anise undertones necessary to evoke authentic flavor in a variety of Thai dishes. And fresh picking your own leaves is the best way to ensure that the essential oils are at their most potent!

Not into cooking but still love the look of basil? Check out our new ornamental Basil herbalea ‘Wild Magic’ (***). Its purple-black foliage adds wonderful color to the edge of a garden. And its dense 18”x24” habit always seems to be in bloom and buzzing with bees. And unlike many edible basils, it holds its good looks, compact form and multitude of blooms all summer and into the fall.

Shiso ‘Britton’ (***) offers vibrant, yet refreshing. aromatic leaves that reward the senses with a complex fusion of basil, mint and cinnamon, with notes of cumin and cloves. Fast growing, it reaches 30” tall in a hurry. There are many ways to add shiso to your recipe collection. A few ideas include: using it to make delicious Japanese-style Shiso pesto; employing it as a wrap for tuna sandwiches; adding chopped shiso to fresh fruit (esp. plums); adding leaves to green tea for a little extra zest; frying the leaves in a tempura batter or even using shiso oil to drizzle over gazpacho.

Growing Veggies

To paraphrase that famous real estate maxim (location, location, location), when growing veggies it’s all about the soil, soil, soil. Whether in the ground or in a pot, give your veggies loose and good draining soil. Clayish & compacted soil is usually hard on vegetables so avoid that environment.  Many veggies are also heavy feeders. They need more nutrients in order to grow and produce crops quickly, so you will likely need to fertilize several times throughout the season. Although most veggies will want sun, check each veggie’s recommended sun and watering conditions. Most veggies will want a bit of regular water to get their roots established. After that, one can usually water more deeply but less often. 

Availability

Just so everyone knows, some of the Annie’s Annuals plants mentioned here might not be available on the week that you’re reading this blog article. In the case of veggies in particular, many of the more unusual varieties discussed are only available in our retail nursery in Richmond CA.  This is generally due to us only being able to grow small crops or the fact that the particular veggie does not ship well.  A quick look at that plant’s page will let you know if it’s available. If not, just click the Add to Wishlist button and we’ll notify you when that plant is ready to take home.

Best Plants for Cut Flowers

19 May

Earl Nickel,
Curious Plantsman

Although we love our flower gardens and take pride in their fullness and beauty, sometimes you want to ‘steal’ some of that splendor to bring indoors. Nearly every flower could make a welcome addition to a bowl or vase but here I want to highlight those flowers whose stems have some height to them. These are blooms ideal for fashioning fantastic mixed flower vase arrangements. You don’t need to be Martha Stewart to make wondrous bouquets but some advance planning is in order. Step one is planting a selection of these taller flowers, be they annuals or perennials. Here then are nine flowers that we have out on our tables, ready to find a home in your corner of paradise.

Cosmos & Bachelor’s Buttons

I think of these two colorful annuals together because they feature tall stately flowering stems, they both offer a range of colors and they both bloom so prolifically that bringing in a few cut flowers will barely make a dint in their outside floral show. Common Cosmos (C. bipinnatus) produce 3′ tall stems of daisy-like flowers in a variety of pleasing colors. There’s the delicious variety simply called ‘Apricot’; the hot pink of ‘Dazzler’; the saturated cherry hue of ‘Versailles Red’; the semi-double pinks of ‘Fizzy Pink’ and the rich coral-pink ‘Xsenia’ as well as two white-flowering varieties, the single ‘Versailles White’ and the fully double ‘Fizzy White.’ Each variety features an endless parade of 3” wide flowers and complementary ferny foliage.

Centaurea cyanus (Bachelor’s Buttons) meanwhile offers 3 varieties – the dazzling Blue Diadem, the rich burgundy Black Gem and the royal red of Red Boy. One feel of the ‘live’ flowers, where their papery texture is apparent, and you just know that the cut flowers will last forever. They do. They too sit atop 30-36” tall stems.

Corncockle & German Catchfly

Two other tall, wave-in-the-breeze annuals make excellent cut flowers. Corncockle (Agrostemma) produces masses of open-faced, 3” pink or white flowers, each with spotted lines radiating out from the center. ‘Milas offers the richest pink, offset by a white center, while ‘Ocean Pearls’ showcases pure white flowers and those hypnotic dotted lines that seem to disappear into the center as if into a black hole. A classic English garden flower, it brings a touch of class to any floral arrangement.

German Catchfly (Viscaria) offers up delicate five-petaled, inch and a half flowers in a lavender blue (‘Blue Pearl’) or vibrant red (‘Tall Red’). Swaying in the breeze on delicate 2′ high stems, it too produces an endless parade of whimsical blooms over a two month period.

Snapdragons & Sneezeweed

Like many plants that have been hybridized, the much smaller-sized snapdragons found in garden shops are a pale imitation of the original tall and vigorous species. Annie’s has introduced two wonderful snapdragon series – Chantilly and Double Azalea. The former sports 3′ tall stems of varieties with descriptive names – ‘Bronze’, ‘Peach’, ‘Pink’ and ‘Purple.’ The Double Azalea group includes Bronze and Red selections. Larger flowers, sturdier stems plus a much longer bloom season all make these time-tested flowers the far superior choice.

Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale ‘Red Shades’) may have a funny name but this cousin to Echinacea and Rudbeckia makes a sturdy clump of foliage in early spring. It then sends up a never ending collection of 3′ tall stems, each laden with many-petaled flowers in hues of red and/or gold. Like their cousins, they possess centers dense in pollen and thus attract endless bees and butterflies. As a cut flower, they add a blaze of color that lasts a surprisingly long time.

Delphiniums & Marigolds

What was true for Snapdragons is also true for the Delphinium elatum hybrids. They are much taller, more vigorous and longer blooming than their garden center cousins. We love ’em so much, we grow a bunch of them. There are the vivid blues of ‘Blue Lace’, ‘Sunny Skies’ and ‘Cobalt Dreams.’ If purple pleases you, we have you covered, with the mauve ‘Morning Lights’ and the saturated deep purple ‘Purple Passion.’ Add in the rose pink ‘Dusky Maidens’ and the white with dark eye ‘Black-Eyed Angels’ and you have a dazzling array of choices. All bloom profusely, with sturdy stems covered in 3” flowers.

Not to repeat myself but the tall Marigolds that we sell seem like they’ve arrived from the land of giants! Whether it’s the two M. ‘Day of the Dead’ varieties – choose between ‘Golden Yellow’ or ‘Orange’ – or the dazzling bi-colored Harlequin or the burnt orange

‘Villandry’, these are tall and vigorous plants that produce dozens upon dozens of large colorful flowers. The ‘Dead’ flowers bear fully double 4” flowers while the other two selections have slightly smaller but especially vivid flowers. They all dry very nicely.

Butterfly Bush

Finally, I step outside my stated criteria to recommend one of the very best cut flowers for your kitchen or living room. Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii) produces 8” long cones of sweetly fragrant flowers that only seem to get more intense when you bring them indoors. These blooms are comprised of hundreds of tiny fragrant flowers, magnets not only to butterflies but to bees and hummingbirds as well. Though they don’t possess long stems, the bulk of their cones easily stay aloft in a mixed flower bouquet. Whether it’s the vivid purple of ‘Ellen’s Blue’ or the pure white bliss of ‘White Profusion’, these blooms fill the whole room with their delicious scent.

Fashioning a Bouquet

Once you have harvested your favorite cut flowers, you might want to add a bit of texture or greenery to your vase. Ferns add a frothy and verdant green complement. For a companion with a silvery hue, use Eucalyptus or Olive branches. The herb Bay offers a sturdy, darker green backdrop. And don’t forget to add a tablespoon of sugar to your vase water. That will extend the life of your cut flowers.

Availability

Just so everyone knows, some of the Annie’s Annual plants mentioned here might not be available on the week that you’re reading this blog article. A quick look at that plant’s page will let you know if it’s available. If not, just click the Add to Wishlist button and we’ll notify you when that plant is ready to take home.

Planting a Pollinators’ Garden 

14 Apr

Earl Nickel,
Curious Plantsman

One of the joys of gardening is seeing the many types of bees, butterflies, and birds that come a-calling to our bit of paradise. Many of these visitors are there to collect nectar, thereby pollinating those flowers. These pollinators play a pivotal role in our local ecology and there is renewed interest in adding plants to our gardens to attract these vital pollinators.

When enough city gardeners plant pollinator friendly gardens, it creates valuable ‘greenbelts’, providing enough food for pollinators to hop easily from one garden to the next in a given area. Now, with habitat loss still on the rise, and with our pollinator friends facing other environmental challenges, providing sources of nectar and a safe haven becomes all the more important.

Pollinator Plants

While it isn’t necessary to plant only California natives, plants naturally occurring in our local habitats will be high on the list of destinations for local pollinators. Annie’s is a great place to find a wide-ranging selection of California native plants. One of the best Northern California natives is Sticky Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus).

We grow a very local selection, Pt. Molate, first discovered in our Richmond headlands. It displays all the outstanding qualities of this type of monkey flower. It’s vigorous, very drought tolerant and long blooming. Better yet, it attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds alike. For something a bit different, let yourself be tempted by the bright pink flowering Monkey Flower (Mimulus lewisii x cardinalis).

Though not quite as drought tolerant and deciduous, it puts on an amazing floral show and attracts a steady parade of hummingbirds and bees. Mimulus bifidus ‘White’ is another excellent drought tolerant selection in the Monkey Flower family. Its large, ruffled white flowers are irresistible to humans and pollinators alike.

California Buckwheat (Eriogonum species) is one of the best plants for a pollinators garden. Not only are the flowers on such lovely species as Red Buckwheat (E. grande rubescens) and Seaside Buckwheat (E. latifolium) absolute magnets for bees and butterflies but the seeds are a valuable food source for local songbirds. Red buckwheat produces sprays of tiny, nectar-rich, rosy-pink flowers in summer. These flowers last well into the fall, gradually turning a golden brown. Low silvery foliage provides an attractive base.

Seaside buckwheat is just as attractive, with clusters of pale pink to white flowers that age to a rusty hue in fall. It is an important larval food plant for the Acmon Blue and Hairstreak butterflies, whose numbers are dwindling due to habitat loss. It sports an attractive 1’ x 2’ compact mound of softly felted, spoon-shaped gray leaves. Both species are tough, drought tolerant additions to any garden.

California fuchsia (Zauschneria californica) is one of the very best natives for attracting hummingbirds to your garden. They adore its plenitude of sparkling red tubular flowers. A prolific bloomer, it showcases an endless number of inch and a half, nectar rich flowers from late spring well into the fall. It first produces 18-36” tall stands of soft silvery foliage that slowly spreads out. Needing no summer water and not fussy about soils, this native is perfect to use as a high ground cover. It’s also a great solution for a problem area or a parking strip. Tough as nails, it only needs a good amount of sun to be happy.

Another great native for a sunny dry garden is the lovely Coyote Mint (Monardella species). One of the best varieties is the local M. ‘Russian River.’ Brought to us by the folks at California Flora Nursery, this selection has proven to be a great performer. When in bloom, it is nearly smothered in 2” balls of lavender-colored flowers. These blooms are magnets for bees and butterflies especially, making it a valuable addition to any pollinators garden.

As a bonus, the leaves have a minty fragrance and they can even be used to make an aromatic tea. This 2’x2′ native thrives under difficult conditions and though very drought tolerant, can still prosper where it gets regular moisture. It blooms all summer long and in milder zones, it can still be seen blooming late in the fall, providing much needed food for butterflies especially.

Speaking of minty plants, Hummingbird Mint (Agastache species) is another great selection to attract hummingbirds to your garden. Annie’s grows three wonderful selections.  A. ‘Blue Boa’ first forms a thicket of lightly textured leaves that exude a strong anise fragrance. In summer, foot high cones of deep purple flowers attract a bevy of bees and hummers.

‘Black Adder’ meanwhile produces slender spikes of purplish-blue flowers, with its foliage offering a delicious licorice fragrance. It too blooms well into the fall. And for pink lovers, there’s the lovely A. ‘Ambrosia.’ Featuring more finely textured fragrant foliage, its flowers offer a changing kaleidoscope of pink and orange hues. These selections top out at about 18” tall and are semi-deciduous.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is one of the great butterfly plants for a pollinators garden. This California native always seems to be in bloom and rarely without a butterfly perched on its flat top cyme of flowers. It is very adaptable but prefers rich, well-drained soil and lots of sun.

It develops a strong root system, allowing it to withstand less than favorable conditions. Colors range from the pastel pink of ‘Cameo’ to the burgundy-red of ‘Paprika’ and the fiery red of ‘Red Velvet.’

There is also the rich yellow flowers of ‘Little Moonshine’, the pure white beauty of ‘Sonoma Coast’ and the creamy pinks of ‘Salmon Beauty.’ Yarrows have a well-earned rep for sturdiness, beauty and for being one of the great plants for butterflies.

Lastly, we have the beauty of Beardstongue (Penstemon species). Two hybrid selections are of particular note. Penstemon x gloxinioides ‘Midnight’ and P. x gloxinioides ‘Thorn’ are surprisingly long-lived, very floriferous and attract both bees and hummers to their tubular flowers.

They each form a dense stand of slender bluish-green leaves and then come early summer, flower spikes arise above the foliage and are filled with flaring tubular flowers. ‘Midnight’ features rich purple blooms while ‘Thorn’ offers lovely, pink tipped white flowers. Thriving in part sun locations, these penstemons are the perfect combination of beauty and endurance.

Pollinator Resources & Websites

See Annie’s “Totally Useful Plant Lists” for our favorite plants for attracting bees and butterflies.  Our local friends at the Pollinator Posse offer two excellent online resources for information on adding pollinator plants to your garden including a wonderful pdf list of their favorite Native Pollinator Plants. The Pollinator Posses is a local resource run by frequent Annie’s speaker, Tora Rocha that works to promote the establishment of pollinator gardens in urban settings. Also, take a look at the Pollinator Partnership website for all kinds of ways to help out our local pollinators (www.pollinator.org). 

Layered Planting

10 Mar

Earl Nickel,
Curious Plantsman

Many Bay Area gardeners are working with small spaces, where it can be a challenge to find room each season for all the new plant varieties we want to try and grow. It turns out there’s an easy and nifty method for maximizing smaller spaces called layered planting. You may already be familiar with the idea of layering in beds, with ground cover plants in front, then a slightly taller plant behind it and finally a shrub or taller perennial in the rear. Layered planting uses that same principle but applies it vertically to a single small space and it works like this – one or more bulbs under the surface, a ground cover or short plant directly above and then a taller plant in that same space.

Initially, your bed will have the shorter plant – it is best to choose somewhat airy plants for this purpose – and possibly the taller plant planted in the space at the same time (though this can be added later). Then, in spring or summer, the bulb(s) you’ve planted in the ground will surface, pushing up through the shorter plant above it. This layered planting mimics nature, where bulbs or corms naturally push their way up through the plants above them. Most bulbs bloom for a 2-month period and then they’re done for the year. But during this time, you have a dense and wonderfully floriferous planting in a very small area. After they’ve finished blooming, you can fold their leaves down to the ground and rubber band them to keep them in place, until they naturally yellow. At this point, they’ve finished putting nutrition back into the bulb and the leaves can be cut off.

Choosing the Plants

Bulbs

Gladiolus carneus and Glaucium grandiflorum

Although early season bulbs such as daffodils and tulips should already be planted, there are many late spring or summer bulbs left to use in our layered planting scheme. Harlequin flower (Sparaxis) offers a multitude of dazzling colors and has the added benefit of naturalizing in your garden. Annie’s grows two fabulous ones – S. elegans and S. tricolor. One of the most popular spring bulbs is Freesia. Easy to grow and quick to naturalize, they come in a variety of splendid colors. Plus they are possibly the most fragrant bulb ever! All of which means that they are one of the most ideal bulbs for a layered planting scheme. Dutch or Japanese iris are showy bulbs that return every year, with the Dutch iris flowers showcasing purples, gingers, yellows and white while the Japanese species display a range of purple and lavender shades. Gladiolas are another early summer bulb that adds a handsome vertical element, whether you choose the species kind, such as the pretty G. carneus ‘Painted Lady’ or one of the great many hybrids.

For a lower growing bulb, I recommend several varieties of the California native Blue-Eyed grass (Sisyrinchium). S. ‘Devon Skies’ produces exceptionally lovely, one inch purple flowers from late spring through the end of summer. Only 6” tall but slowly spreading to one foot across, it can also be used as a low plant in this layered planting scheme. Sisyrinchium ‘Quaint & Queer’ meanwhile boasts colors that range from mauve and maroon to chocolate and apricot, with pretty yellow ‘eyes’. Both varieties are easy to grow, deer and rabbit resistant and attract butterflies and beneficial insects.

Low Growing Selections

For those plants that you want to stay low, there are three groups – ground covers, low annuals and prostrate perennials. One of the best ground covers is Sun Rose (Helianthemum). Annie’s offers, Helianthemum ‘Belgravia Rose’, which produces a mass of pink-splashed, one-inch flowers that resemble small single form roses. These cheerful blooms seem to float on a bed of small grayish-green leaves that hug the ground but can each spread out to cover a three-foot area. Tough as nails, drought tolerant, and evergreen, it makes the perfect ground cover for a sunny spot.

One of the prettiest ground covers you’ll ever grow is the lush green ‘Little Ears’ (Falkia repens). Hailing from South Africa, it forms a dense mat of 1” glossy green leaves that are lightly cupped, and in summer, sprouts a bevy of small white flowers that bees dig. It likes a little regular water but isn’t thirsty and makes the perfect green understory for taller plants.

For something a bit different, how about selecting a strawberry as a ground cover? The remarkably vigorous Dutch hybrid ‘Elan’ strawberry is extra sweet due to a high sugar content and contains 30-50% more vitamin C than other everbearing strawberries. It fruits spring through fall with many runners, allowing it to spread out and be especially prolific.

 For a beautiful low-growing annual, how about California poppies? Annie’s offers a dazzling selection, from the clean white flowers of Eschscholzia ‘Alba’ through the color spectrum of golds (‘Golden Chiffon’), peachy tones (‘Apricot Chiffon’), vibrant reds (‘Red Glow’), rich pinks (‘Rose Chiffon’) and even a pinkish-purple (‘Purple Gleam’). California poppies are easy to grow, and they have a loose habit, making it easy for bulbs to push up through. They also often self-seed. They’re stingy on water too.

Dianthus ‘Thea Mary’ & Geranium ‘Rozanne ‘

Two perennial options are Dianthus (“Carnations”) and Geraniums. Dianthus species or varieties are incredibly tough and long blooming, Lovely white-flowering varieties include ‘Hercules’, ‘First Scent Coconut’ and ‘Georgia Peach Pie.’ Or, if pink is your thing, then ‘Electra’ and ‘Bumbleberry Pie’ are fabulous additions. Most “Carnations” form a low mat of bluish-green, fine-textured foliage, with the flowers thrust above.

Three Geraniums make our ‘beautiful but ever so useful for layering’ list. G. pyreniacum ‘Bill Wallis’ has lacy foliage 10-20” tall and wide, with small but beautiful purple flowers, while G. ‘Orion’ has larger (2”) bluish-purple flowers and a loose foliage habit. Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is so popular we can hardly grow enough of it. Lovely bluish-purple flowers smother the plant all summer long, inviting regular visits by bees and butterflies. All three selections are drought tolerant, with little care required.

Taller Selections

Veronica longifolia , Geranium ‘Rozanne’ & Agrostemma g. ‘Milas’

For the taller selections, you’ll want to choose plants that possess a vertical stature but also display an airier habit. This allows the bulbs and lower plants in your layered spot to get enough light and air circulation. There are many annuals to choose from but 3 easy and beautiful options are Agrostemma, Cynoglossum and Phacelia. “Corncockle” (Agrostemma) is an English garden favorite and one look at its satiny pink or pure white flowers will make you swoon. The 2” flowers sit atop swaying two foot stems, providing a perfect (way) to add verticality to any sunny spot. “Chinese Forget-Me-Not” (Cynoglossum amabile) meanwhile offers up an endless parade of robin’s egg blue flowers, blanketing the upper portions of a 3′ high multi-branching plant. The simple half inch, 5-petaled flowers on this tall forget-me-not will indeed stick in your memory long after it’s done blooming. If darker blue flowers are your thing, Sticky Phacelia (Phacelia viscida) offers intense, Gentian blue flowers from mid spring through early summer. This California native also has a multi-branching form, growing to 30” x 30”. The saturated blue 1” flowers also feature an intricately patterned center nectary, making it one of the prettiest flowers you will ever grow.

Three perennial selections are led by the many types of taller Speedwell (Veronica). Whether you’re choosing Spike Speedwell (Veronica ‘Perfectly Picasso’ or Veronica ‘Purpleicious’) or Garden Speedwell (Veronica longifolia ‘Bushy Boy’), these purple flowering beauties add hummingbird friendly pizzazz to any location. Ranging in height from 2-3′, their multitude of flower spike-tipped branches and vibrant green leaves offer a bit of (purple) heaven.

Sidalcea malviflora ‘Purpetta’ & Agrostemma ‘Ocean Pearls’

 Where the speedwell offers lavender-like flower spikes, Checkermallow (Sidalcea malviflora ‘Purpetta’) displays round and ever so rosy-pink flowers to the lucky gardener who finds a place for this bee and butterfly plant. Related to hollyhocks and other mallows, this 4′ tall perennial is a long blooming and carefree plant to grow. Though a bit shorter, Henderson’s Checkermallow offers the same cheerful open-face pink flowers, on straight as an arrow upright stems.

Finally, there is the aptly named Blue Milkweed (Tweedia caerulea ‘Heaven Born’). Related to the milkweed that is the host plant for Monarch butterflies (Asclepias speciosa or A. fascicularis), this hardy, often evergreen perennial produces the dreamiest star-shaped blue flowers imaginable! It blooms nonstop from early summer through fall and is a food source for many kinds of local butterflies. It takes a mostly vertical form, though its slender branches may wander a bit. It’s all part of the charm of this unique beauty.

Layered Beauty

The great thing about layered planting is that you can choose any number of plants to achieve this effect. Annie’s has new plants coming available every week so gardeners will have endless choices for fashioning their own miniature artistic statements!

Tips for a Healthy Garden

16 Feb

Gardening in our mild Bay Area can be a year round endeavor and late winter/early spring offers the opportunity to ready your garden for spring. The experienced gardener knows that having a successful flower garden is more than planting and watering and the winter period is an excellent time to do much needed jobs such as clean up, amending your planting beds or adding bark mulch. And the period of relative rest also is an excellent time to envision a new gardening scheme for your garden.

Winter Prep

One job common to almost every gardener is the need to do some valuable winter clean-up. This can involve refreshing evergreen shrubs or perennials by removing spent blossoms or seedheads, a bit of light pruning to achieve the desired shape and pruning off any weak or dead branches. This minor pruning not only improves the appearance of these plants but invigorates them as well.


Your clean-up may also involve discarding annual plants that have reached their end or deciding to toss a problematic perennial or two that has been struggling for some time. Winter is also the time to top dress any beds containing shrubs or smaller perennials. Though you can’t dig in compost like you can with empty beds, you can still top dress with nutritious compost products such as Double Doody compost and Heritage Organics Earthworm Castings, both available at Annie’s retail nursery. The nutrition will seep into the soil and help to bolster the plants for the coming year’s growth.


If you are fortunate enough to have one or more open beds, it is strongly advised to add nutrition to the soil. It’s also an excellent time to pull out any weeds above or buried in the soil in these areas. To paraphrase that real estate maxim (‘Location, location, location’), healthy plants first start with ‘soil, soil, soil.’ Speaking of weeding, it’s never too early to weed. If nothing else, most of us have that annoying, weedy oxalis up everywhere. You know the kind, with the bright yellow flowers. Try to pull the whole plant out and limit any unnecessary water from reaching the tiny bulbs buried in the soil. This is also the time of year to top-dress certain beds with bark mulch, to both limit weeds and to save on the amount of water needed in spring and summer.

And for those of you with a lawn, it’s a good time to aerate the soil (poking small holes throughout the lawn) and, if needed, to replant bald or problem spots. Most of our Bay Area lawns use a fescue blend so look for that at your local nursery. You may even want to over-seed your entire lawn. Consult with a nursery professional or landscaper about this. Better yet, why not consider replacing part or all of your lawn with drought tolerant plants? Both East Bay Municipal Utility District and Contra Costa Water will pay you to make this conversion. Check their websites for details.

Pruning

Winter is the best time to prune many shrubs and trees, especially those that are deciduous. That list includes deciduous fruit trees such as apples, pears, peaches, plums etc., as well as deciduous shrubs such as hydrangeashibiscus and philadelphus.

Winter is also the time to prune your roses. Though there isn’t space here to cover pruning techniques for the great variety of deciduous shrubs or trees, a little research or consultation will ultimately benefit your garden.

A New Spring Plan

Winter can be an excellent time to re-imagine your garden. This can be as simple as deciding on plants to be selected for filling in open spaces or as involved as rethinking your entire garden layout. It’s a time to look at your garden with ‘new’ eyes, and deciding bed by bed, sometimes plant by plant, what is working and what might need changing. Sometimes this is simply refreshing an existing bed and sometimes it affords you the exciting opportunity to do something entirely new, such as making one bed all California natives or a bed filled with plants that attract pollinators. The ideas are endless.

On a micro level, this re-imagining might involve tossing certain plants, whether due to them having fared poorly or because they don’t fit into the new design scheme. This is NOT a defeat but a creative re-imagining of your garden’s potential. I recommend a visit to Annie’s Annuals to talk to the friendly and knowledgeable staff about design ideas and valuable info on particular plants.

A More Organized Garden

Although everybody gardens in a manner that works best for them, I want to offer the idea that keeping track of the plants in your garden can be a useful tool for garden planning. This ‘accounting’ can be as basic as putting plant ID tags in a jar or as organized as creating a Word doc list of your plants and their locations. Because I have a ‘one-of-a-kind’ garden with hundreds of plants spread out in 20 or so planting beds, I do maintain such a list in my computer. It is a bit of work first entering that data but once it’s there, it’s very easy to add or subtract a plant. And noting the location for each can really come in handy.

Another useful garden planning tool is keeping a journal. This can be for your own pleasure (what’s new in the garden) or for keeping track of various developments in the garden, a list of projects for the near future and more.

Lastly, photographing your garden can provide more than just the pleasure of recording the fruits of your hard work. It can also serve as a snapshot or record of what your garden looked like at different times of the year. This can later be a helpful aid for planning the layout of your garden.

Finding Plants at Annie’s

Annie’s website is the best resource for finding out more info on Annie’s Annuals plants.  Some of the Annie’s Annuals plants mentioned here might not be available on the week that you’re reading this blog article. A quick look at that plant’s page on the website will let you know if it’s available.

On each plant’s page, if it says Add to Cart, that plant is available for sale now. If it says Add to Wishlist, that plant is not yet available. To use the Wishlist, just click that link to add any plant to your Wishlist and we’ll send you an email when it’s ready.  If you live nearby and want to know what is currently available in the retail nursery (which differs from what is online), check out the link to Retail Plant Availability on their homepage or click here for a pdf version.

NATIVES FOR THE NEW YEAR!

12 Jan

Native Shrubs

It is quite natural when thinking about California native plants to picture the great wealth of native annuals that populate garden center racks in spring. Blue flowering favorites such as Baby Blue Eyes, Desert Bluebells and Blue Thimble flower, cheerful yellows that include Tidy Tips, Meadow Foam and Cream Cups, as well as the great variety of pink Clarkias are always on our ‘Must Have’ list come spring.

Native perennials on the other hand have the great advantage of returning year after year, with many of them evergreen in our mild Bay Area climate. A great many of these selections are shrubs and that wealth covers a range of sizes, leaf appearance and of course flowers. Though we have yet to reach the bounty of spring selections, there are quite a few beautiful yet durable shrubs to take home this time of year.

The Value of Natives

California native shrubs have much to offer the local gardener. First off and perhaps most importantly, they are adapted to our local climate. For most of us, that involves wet winters but a long and dry summer season. Most are very drought tolerant and able to withstand swings in temperature. Equally valuable, natives attract local wildlife of all kinds. The flowers attract an array of local pollinators, such as native bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Many of these shrubs produce seed that is coveted by local songbirds, giving them valuable nutrition in the late fall and early winter. Lastly, many of these shrubs provide cover for small scurrying creatures, a safe place from predators.

A Good Time to Plant

Fall and early winter is an excellent time to plant shrubs. This ‘head start’ helps them get established by the time spring rolls around. The natural rains help young roots to strengthen and deepen, starting them on the path to being drought tolerant and durable.

Here then are nine native shrubs to consider adding to your garden this time of year.

Salvias

Native sages are one of the best and easiest ways to add long lasting beauty to your garden. One of the sturdiest is Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii). I especially like the variety ‘Winifred Gilman’. It is notable for the outstanding color of its flowers – stacking whorls of soft lavender to deeper purple hues – and for the earthy fragrance of its grayish-green foliage. Blooming from June all the way to late fall, the flowers on this musk sage are a magnet for bees and hummingbirds. It forms a sturdy 3’x3′ bush and is one of the most drought tolerant of all salvias. So much so that when I’ve spotted them in abandoned lots, they are still prospering. Plus, deer don’t like the smell so leave them alone. Just give it lots of sun and make sure the soil drains well. Hardy to 10 degrees F.

Another Cleveland sage relative, this one a cross between Salvia clevelandii and Salvia leucophylla, is Salvia ‘Pozo Blue’. Introduced by Las Pilitas Nursery, it combines all the enviable attributes of Cleveland sage but can handle somewhat wet conditions a bit better. It fills out to a sturdy 4’x4′ and produces light purple flowers in the same stacking whorls as Cleveland sage. This variety is most notable for being one of the great butterfly plants found anywhere. Seems our pollinator friends just can’t get enough of the nectar rich flowers! Hardy to 10 degrees F.

Another outstanding and distinctive Salvia selection is Salvia apiana, known as White sage. One of the most aromatic of all sages, it is the one chosen for use as as smudge sticks (burned in rituals to cleanse the space). Attractive, silvery white, lance-shaped leaves densely cloth  2-5’ tall stems. Very showy, arching 3’ flower spikes cover the shrub in Spring. Bees and hummingbirds love the small, nectar-rich blooms. Perfect for a ‘white garden,’ this species loves the heat and can prosper with very little water. A medicinal staple, a tea made from the leaves helps with a cold or congestion.

Love this sage but want something a bit smaller? Salvia apiana ‘Compacta’ offers all the charms of the regular white sage but matures at only 2.5-3′ tall and wide. Both plants are evergreen, providing a year round anchor for any sunny location. Both species are hardy to 10 degrees F.

More Native Shrubs

Sometimes a native shrub is the perfect choice for a problem area. Coyote Bush (Baccharis pilularis ‘Pigeon Point’) is a sturdy native that offers a variety of uses. It quickly fills out to 1-3′ high and 6-8′ wide, forming a high-ish ground cover. Given its dense foliage and tenacious roots, it is ideal for slope stabilization. It can prosper in a great variety of soils,  from clay to sand, as well as in dry or wet soils. This male selection avoids the seedy fall look of female varieties and looks good year round. Amazingly versatile, it can be kept short enough to mow as a lawn alternative or sheared as a topiary. It  is one of our very best habitat plants, providing cover for birds, yet is resistant to deer. Hardy to 0 degrees F.

Speaking of valuable low-growing natives, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus ‘Yankee Point’ is an excellent choice as a high ground cover or for adding beauty and purpose to a neglected area. This California lilac forms a dense evergreen shrub 2-3′ high and over time can spread to 10′ across. Glossy evergreen foliage yields to a blizzard of lavender-colored flowers in late winter and spring. These flowers attract a great many local bees and butterflies, while the seeds that form in the fall provide a source of nutrition for songbirds. This variety tolerates more water than some California lilacs, though good drainage is a plus. Tough enough to thrive under oaks, it has found to have even survived fires in the wild. Deer resistant. Hardy to 10 degrees F.

Though most California lilacs take a shrub form, the lovely Ceanothus hybrid ‘Ray Hartman’ grows into a handsome 15’x15′ tree. It is one of the faster growing Ceanothus, is amazingly drought tolerant, has some of the bluest flowers of all California lilacs and it attracts bees, butterflies and birds. Adding to that, it is heat tolerant, long-lived and the flowers exude a pleasing fragrance. Which is all to say, this is the perfect small tree for a sunny or part shade location. Hardy to 15 degrees F.

Colorful Lupines

Lupines take many forms but there are two California natives that take a shrub form. Yellow Coastal Bush Lupine (Lupinus arboreus) forms an impressive 4’x4′ mound of dense foliage arising from a stout trunk and then, come late spring, a multitude of branchlets are topped with 6-8” high spikes of deliciously scented, bright yellow blooms. These pea-shaped flowers attract a wide variety of bees and butterflies. Surprisingly tolerant of drought and neglect, it’s an excellent choice for dry gardens, parking strips and hillsides. Just give it good drainage and cut back to 3’x3’ in the late fall to promote a nice bushy shape. An excellent choice for a seemingly endless number of cut flowers! Deer resistant. Hardy to 0 degrees F.

If that sounds delightful to you but you prefer purple flowers to yellow, the Blue Bush Lupine (Lupinus propinquus) forms similar 6-8” spikes, its pinkish-lavender buds opening to pale lilac flowers. The older flowers at the bottom of each spike then age to almost white. Lovely! It likewise prefers well-drained soil and not much summer water. Its April through July flowers are also a must-see destination for bees and butterflies. Likewise deer resistant and a potentially long-lived plant, you may find baby plants sprouting up the following year! Hardy to 0 degrees F.

Availability

Just so everyone knows, some of the Annie’s Annual plants mentioned here might not be available on the week that you’re reading this blog article. A quick look at that plant’s page will let you know if it’s available. If not, just click the Add to Wishlist button and we’ll notify you when that plant is ready to take home.

We’re Crazy for Clematis

12 Sep

Earl Nickel
Curious Plantsman

No shrinking violets, Clematis are some of the most beautiful, hardy and heart-stoppingly gorgeous perennial vines in the world. Boasting a wide range of flower colors and shapes, they come in 10 different forms – everything from the large, four-petaled montana hybrids and showy large-flowered peony-type double forms, to those with narrower saucer or star-shaped petals and delicate nodding tubular flowers. Throw in colors that range from pure white to shades of pink, red and purple – even yellow – and you get an idea of how there can be over 250 species or varieties found nearly worldwide.

Many of us enthusiastic gardeners tend to think of Clematis as Spring blooming plants and indeed, there are many varieties that do bloom in Spring. But some species and their hybrids bloom as early as March and as late as December in mild climates, giving us Bay Area gardeners plenty of choices for our trellises, arbors and fences. The wide-ranging bloom times are also a boon to our fine feathered and winged friends, as Clematis make an excellent nectar-source for hummingbirds and all manner of bees and other pollinators.

Now is an especially good time to get Spring blooming varieties in the ground, giving their roots a head start and resulting in a more robust plant come April. If you plant Fall blooming Clematis now, you’ll be giving them nearly a full year to establish, virtually guaranteeing an excellent bloom show next Autumn.

Fall Bloomers

With extravagant wine-red flowers, Clematis ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ blooms over a long period in Summer and Fall, with large (3”) single flowers. This heirloom selection boasts quite possibly the richest red flowers of any Clematis, putting on a spectacular show in Fall. Reaching 8’ tall and 5’ wide, the fast-growing, lacy foliage looks especially nice twining up a trellis or scrambling over a fence. This beauty performs wonderfully in warm Winter areas where many large-flowered varieties refuse to grow. A pruning Group 3 variety, it blooms on new growth, so prune to about 1’ tall in early Spring for a bigger and better display every year! 

Speaking of show stoppers, Clematis texensis ‘Duchess of Albany’ offers up the loveliest pink flowers from mid-Summer to early frost. Featuring equally large (3”) five-petaled flowers that are cotton candy pink with deeper rose-pink ribs, this hardy selection dazzles in the Fall. Adding to its charm, flowers have tapered petals, giving the impression of five hearts bound together. An heirloom from 1890, this selection reaches a modest 10-12′ in height, making it perfect for a trellis or arch. No worries this climber will take over an area! Another bonus is that this Clematis can take more sun than many varieties. 

For those “Prince-ly” lovers of purple, there’s nothing more beautiful than the velvety purple tones of Clematis ‘Polish Spirit’. This C. viticella hybrid is a later blooming variety with saucer-shaped, luminescent violet-purple petals. During Summer and early Fall these large (3-4”) blooms nearly smother the mid-green leaves, making for a spectacular show. It fills out to a nice compact 10′ x 10′ size, usually in one season and year by year it adds more flowers, especially if it’s pruned to 1-2′ in Winter. This variety is ideally suited to mild climates, where some other species may not thrive. It’s also disease resistant and one of the easiest Clematis to grow.

Blessed with a deliciously heady vanilla fragrance, the aptly named “Sweet Autumn Clematis” (C. paniculata) bursts into a cascade of starry creamy-white 1” blooms in late Summer, practically smothering the foliage thru Fall and prompting curious friends to ask “Wow, what is that?” The cornucopia of flowers are followed by silky seedheads, prolonging its appeal. Vigorous and tough as nails, it can reach 20′ by its second year. Kept in a pot, it may top out at 8-10′. This herbaceous Clematis is perfect for covering an unsightly fence, trained up the side of a house or even climbing up into a tree. You’ll want to prune it hard, back to 1′ in late Winter, so any Fall foliage obscuring taller plants will be removed. You can even prune it mid-season before the flowers arrive to keep it smaller.

Spring & Summer bloomers

Some Clematis like to get a head start on the year and that’s particularly true with eye-catching Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blossom’. This selection carries the distinction of being one of the few evergreen species in this genus, with large leathery leaves that can reach a foot long and 4” wide. Leaves begin soft and bronze on color before maturing to a deep green. Climbing quickly via twining tendrils, this sweetly fragrant bloomer can shoot up almost overnight in Spring. Volumes of rose-colored buds soon open to pink-blushed 2” white flowers, attracting a vast contingent of bees and hummers. Given its rapid growth to 15′, its dramatic floral show and sweet vanilla fragrance, this is the perfect candidate for growing along a walkway, be it over an arch or up the side of the house. No problem pruning this vine to shape; it simply grows back right away!

Charm-incarnate is one way to describe the lovely and easy-going Clematis macropetala ‘Blue Bird’. Lime-green foliage in Spring soon gives way to an abundance of nodding periwinkle-blue flowers over a long period in late Spring and Summer. These open 3” bell-shaped flowers feature contrasting cream-colored stamens, making it a one-of-a-kind beauty. Its delicate semi-double flowers belie its toughness, as ‘Blue Bird’ isn’t fazed by extreme heat, cold, humidity or seaside conditions. Once the flowers are done, large silky seedheads (great in dried arrangements!) prolong the plant’s attractiveness. Though it can take a lot of sun, this species also tolerates shade. Throw in the fact it blooms on old wood (no pruning necessary) and stays a modest 12’ tall and you pretty much have the perfect vine.

Don’t let the funny name stop you – Clematis ‘Rooguchi’ is one of the longest blooming varieties, pumping out cute nodding purple bells from late Spring well into Fall. What the flowers lack in size (1.5”), this vigorous climber makes up for in volume. Each flared bell has a stiff, almost, waxy feel and the flowers are presented facing outward, adding to its charm. Though it possesses no tendrils, once you start it on a trellis or netting, it’s off and running. One plant can easily cover a 15′ x 15′ area in record time. Prune to the ground in late Winter and keep an eye out for new stems emerging in the early Spring.

Growing Clematis

All Clematis are cold hardy, with all of the above selections classified as USDA zones 4-10, with the exception of C. armandii, which is still a champ in USDA zones 6-10. In cooler climates you can plant these Clematis in nearly full sun or, if appropriate, part sun. In hotter areas, they’ll prosper best in morning sun and afternoon shade. The two exceptions are the sun-loving Clematis ‘Blue Bird’ and C. armandii ‘Apple Blossom’. Whether planted in the ground or in a large container, it’s advisable to cover the top of the soil with bark mulch to keep the roots cool. Choose a quality soil amendment to both add nutrition and to ensure good drainage. Root rot is an occasional issue with Clematis, so drainage is vital. Follow pruning guidelines as listed for the particular variety you’re growing and top dress with a nutritional compost in late Winter.