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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.

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!

Join us in Paradise – Kate’s Frey’s Open Garden!

8 Jun

Don’t miss a fantastic opportunity to visit an incredible garden! Our beloved friend, the fabulous and outrageously talented designer Kate Frey and her master builder husband, Ben, will open their vibrant and life-filled garden in Hopland (inland Mendocino County on Hwy 101) for a workshop and tour on June 17.  The event is in conjunction with The American Garden School, Kate’s (and business partner Christa Mone’s) new garden school. Read on for details and stunning photos of Kate and Ben’s inspiring gardens below!

By Kate Frey
Special Contributor

Profusely planted (and all organic), full of colorful flowers, bees, bird song, and rustic structures created from wood Ben has resuscitated, our garden has many places to explore as well as seating areas to take in the profuse beauty and delicious fragrances. Visitors call it an instant sanctuary and sometimes refuse to leave. It is a garden of life with colorful plantings that support a world of insects and birds as well as delighting our eyes and senses. There are many floral borders, a vegetable garden, unique rustic structures, a hermit’s hut, chicken palace (with the cutest chickens ever), bar, wood library, Swiss Chalet house, and whimsical massive wood columns. Surprises abound! 

Two workshops (9:30-10:45 and 11:00-12:15, see bottom of page) will cover garden design, developing healthy soils, efficient irrigation systems, plant care, and some great plant varieties. The garden is open for touring 10:30 until 2:00. We will be available to answer questions. Bring your lunch! 

What is a garden and what is it for? The answer announces itself again and again when I go into my garden, into what was just a bare, flat rectangular acre under an often-blasting sun. Now, dueling hummingbirds, the quiet melodies of goldfinches, iridescent bluebirds, courting titmice in the arbor, battling tanagers, velvet upholstered bumblebees, and Osmia bees in the Phacelias greet a garden stroll. The perfume of daphne, osmanthus, akebia, roses, coffeeberry, buckeye, honeysuckle, and mock orange follow one through the seasons and is everywhere.  Plants and flowers drape and embrace rustic structures. In the vegetable garden, brilliant chards and deep blue kales beckon in the cool mornings, and a rainbow of tomatoes decorate the hot afternoons. Everywhere is sensation, scent and life. Nature has woken up and it resides in our garden, marching forth until the frosts of November render a quiet landscape.

 I used to judge the merit, interest and beauty of a garden by the structure of the design and the composition of form. Now my goal is to create healthy, dynamic gardens that create a moving and inspirational experience for all who visit: gardens that act on our senses with the layered forms of plants, flower color, scent, and that are filled with life. 

The wildlife that visits the plants and flowers is an integral part of the beauty and vitality, a tangible aspect of it that can’t be separated from concepts of design. Pollinators are a main focus of our home garden and much of it is planted for their needs. A profusion of flowering plants offer pollen and nectar resources over a long growing season.  Pollinator gardens are necessarily flower filled gardens, delighting us while supporting bees, but also beneficial insects, butterflies, hummingbirds, and birds that fed their nestlings insects.

 Our garden is densely planted, and the plants form an impressionistic froth of form and color. Foliage intermingles and provides a profusion of ever-changing bloom.

The east side of our house, a protected space from the hot sun and full of plants that need afternoon shade. 
A green Victorian door and Millie the garden dog guard the vegetable garden and the Hermit’s Hut, and is surrounded by a haze of bronze fennel, perennial sunflowers, old-fashioned roses, crimson Salvias, mauve Teucriums, Oreganos, California Fuchsia, and the orange Kniphofia ‘Yellow Cheer”.
Vegetable gardens should be surrounded and guarded by flowers. Ours in May.
 Ben’s famous hermit’s hut.
 The arbor in summer.
The garden in September with Louie and Millie the garden dogs expecting some excitement amidst the resident hummingbirds and finches.

Please come and visit us June 17, 2017!

Session 1: 9:30- 10:45 Workshop: RSVP on website

Session 2: 11:00-12:15 Workshop: RSVP on website

10:30-2:00 Open Garden: RSVP on website 

Make it a day!

Additionally, The Garden Conservancy is having a Garden Open Day in Mendocino County on June 17th, and there are a number of unique and bucolic gardens to visit 50-55 minutes away in Anderson Valley.  The GC event is completely separate from ours, so please buy tickets on their website or at individual gardens on the tour: 

https://www.gardenconservancy.org/open-days/open-days-schedule/mendocino-county-ca-open-day-2

Top 10 Reasons to Love Verbascums!

25 Jun

Do you grow Verbascums? If you haven’t yet, it’s totally understandable as you rarely see them in front yard gardens, you never see them in garden centers, they’re not sold by the branded plant companies, they don’t bloom in 4″ pots and are rarely sold in gallon containers. Under-recognized, they are often the unsung heroes of my gardens and one of the first plants I recommend to beginning gardeners as well as long-time gardeners.

In my opinion, everyone should grow Verbascums, common name “Mullein”, and here’s why!

1) They’re so EASY my dog could grow them.

AUGIE & Verbascum 2 NO HAT

If Augie Doggie can grow Verbascums – so can you!

You can grow most Verbascums anywhere – from sun to shade and they’re not fussy about soil. Growing in infertile soil to loamy, compost-rich soil, they’ll even grow in clay with no complaints. Deer don’t eat them, snails don’t eat them – they’re completely pest free.

2) They’re DROUGHT TOLERANT requiring little water once established.

3) They provide that often neglected but so important vertical accent to your garden. And some do it fast, blooming just a few months after planting.

4) They are LOVED by bees! Bumblebees, honeybees, you-name-it bees.

Verbascums are positively irresistible to bees of all stripes!

5) Verbascums self-sow! Not hideously but just the right amount to complete the garden. They just seem to know where to plant themselves to make your garden look more interesting and feel more garden-y. And hey, free plants! Now I know that some folks complain over self-sown volunteers. Here’s what I say: A: They’re a cinch to remove if you don’t want one in that spot and B: well, you’re already weeding your garden, right? What’s a few more volunteers?

Self-sown Verbascum nigrum ‘Album’ growing out of rock wall.

6) There are so many different varieties to choose from! There are perennials and biennials (biennials bloom the fastest – within a month or two here in California, like annuals). What’s so rewarding about the perennial Verbascums, especially here in long growing season California, is that they are “cut and come again” or repeat bloomers. After blooming for up to two months, you just cut the spent flower spikes down to the foliage and they’ll soon bounce right back with more gorgeous bloom spikes.

7) They never look bad. You’d really have to try hard to make them look bad.

8) They combine so well with so many – they look great in cottage gardens, rose gardens, understated gardens, drought tolerant and rock gardens.

8.5) Did I say they self-sow? If you love them as much as me, know that you’ll never have to do without the surprising charm they bring to your garden.

9) They’re medicinal and aha! You can smoke it! 

10) And my favorite thing about Verbascums is that when they bloom (and they bloom a lot), you feel so successful and happy with your garden, even though you’ve done nothing to maintain them!

Now, let’s highlight some of our favey-faves:

Verbascum nigrum ‘Album’ – This one’s perennial, living for many years, happy in sun or shade, creating a lovely, robust rosette to 30″ across and featuring felty, rich-green, spade shaped leaves. Not long after planting from 4″ size, they’ll begin to bloom with numerous erect spikes to 3′ tall or up to 4′ tall in shadier conditions. Densely studded spikes of creamy white 1″ blooms sport surprisingly flashy fuzzy bright caterpillar-like violet stamens ending in neon-orange anthers. Repeat bloomer! Hardy to USDA zone 5.

Verbascum chiaxii Album Habit ADJ CROP

Verbascum chiaxii album  My garden 06-15 ADJ .jpg

Verbascum chiaxii ‘Wedding Candles’ – Much like V. nigrum ‘Album’ above, except that it creates these outrageous candelabras. May not live more than 2 years but self-sows reliably. Repeat bloomer! Hardy to USDA zone 5.

Verbascum chiaxii 16 candles my yard ADJ  06-15

Verbascum 16 candles - Ploygonum orientale & Brugmansia Charles 06-15 ADJ

Verbascum nigrum – Long-lived like the white variety V. nigrum ‘Album’, this one’s an especially pleasing bright primrose (not golden) yellow with the same cool violet and orange eyes. Repeat bloomer! Hardy to USDA zone 5.

verbascum_nigrum

Verbascum nigrum my Garden B   06-15   ADJ

Verbascum nigrum & JapananeseSilverleaf Sunflower OCT 13b ADJ

Verbascum ‘Southern Charm’ – Probably our most popular Verbascum because it comes in such sophisticated shades of chamois, dusty rose, soft primrose and apricot centered with fuzzy purple eyes. Grows from 2′ to 30″ tall, it’s almost ever-blooming if you cut spent spikes. Prefers sun to half-day sun here along the coast. Lives 1-2 years generally, but self-sows. Hardy to USDA zone 5.

Verbascum Southern Charm CLOSE PRETTY CROP

verbascum_southern_charm_rose1
Verbascum Southern Charm  & Garden angle  BEST  ADJ & CROP

Verbascum olympicum – The grand marshal of Verbascum-land! You want drama, we got drama. This one grows up to 8-10′ tall with a positively immense candelabra of golden yellow spikes easily 3′ across. Huge foliar rosette of wavy, gray-green, felted foliage to 3′ or more across. Thrives in poor soil. Not a cut and come again Verbascum but blooms for months. Traffic stopper extraordinaire!


VERBASCUM OLYMPICUM HABIT SHOPPED CROP

Verbascum olympicum FOLIAGE

Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Arctic Summer’ – Speaking of traffic stopping, this drop dead gorgeous Verbascum creates a basal rosette up to 5′ across with stunning large silvery leaves that are wavy-edged and coated in a soft down. Wonderfully tactile and a bold garden statement plant! Loads of branching spikes 3-5′ tall – up to 20 at a time – emerge blanketed in a snowy white fleece from which large bright yellow 1.5″ blooms appear. This one requires good drainage, best on the edge of a bed or in a container, and prefers (which means it will die without) very low water.

verbascum bombyciferum_close

Verbascum arctic sumer FOL ADJ & CROP

Wigandia & Verbascum 'Arctic Summer' CROP

Verbascum sp. ‘Cotswold King’ – Probably our second most popular Verbascum. Considered a biennial, it’s our fastest-to-bloom, flowering within a month to month and a half if planted in Spring or Summer, so really it acts as an annual here in California because it will die after blooming. But what bang for the buck! Growing quickly to 4-5′ tall, it has the largest and most amusing scented flowers. To 2″ across, bright lemon yellow and cartoon-like, they remind me of Yosemite Sam! Each plant bears up to 10 erect spikes and blooms for several months. You’ll be glad this one’s a reliable self-sower as it really brings a fun and cheerful quality to your garden.

Verbascum Cotswold  CLOSE 04-11-14  ADJ jpg

Verbascum Cotswold  ADJ

Papaver Orange Chiffon - Verbascum Cotswold & Delphinium HORIZ     ADJ & CROP  05-15

So go forth my gardening friends and do try one of these good natured, effortless garden accents. They’ll tolerate neglect and give so much back. But ha, of course it’s me talking, so what will I say to make your Verbascums grow perfectly (all except for V. ‘Arctic Summer’)? Yes, compost! Side dress with a 1/2″ to 1″ of some good compost after planting and each Spring thereafter for extra robust growth and flowering. And yes, even if you’re planting them in a low-water garden.

Thanks for tuning in!

Annie

True Romance!

25 Jul

Introducing John Barrington’s Deliciously Fragrant Heirloom Carnations

dianthus_queen_of_hearts

Glowing in the garden, Dianthus ‘Queen of Hearts.‘  Thank you John Barrington!

If any of you follow my ramblings over the past several decades, you know that I am enamored with the genus Dianthus. Now, not those silly, boinky, dwarfed, sadly scentless and die-really-fast ones you get at the box stores and garden centers, but the cottagey-perennial, divinely fragrant and long lived prolific bloomers of my gardens here at the nursery.

Interestingly, our most popular Dianthus has been the strange and fantastical (but not intensely scented) Carnation type Dianthus ‘Chomely Farran.’ As far as I can tell, it is the last remaining (at least in the US) of a huge group of Carnation types called “Bizarres” that were very popular prior to 1830. Looking for any information on “Bizarres” and another category of lost Dianthus called “Flakes’ I came across a reprint of Thomas Hogg’s 1839 book, “A Practical Treatise,” which lists well over 200 named varieties of ‘Bizarres.’ How exciting!

Dianthus 'Chomley Farran' in hand

Nearly perfect and oh-so-psychedelic ‘Chomley Farran’, why can’t you be more fragrant?

Wondering if there could be any of these heirloom Dianthus still alive somewhere in the world led me to Google every named variety listed in Hogg’s book until ding-ding! A hit!
Vintage plane blue sky

Off I flew to the UK – to the house and nursery of Carnation fanatic and devotee John Barrington in Somerset, England. Tucked away on a 200-acre farm in the middle of what seems like nowhere, John is passionate about recapturing the long stemmed, ever-blooming Carnations of old and has devoted his life to bringing romance – and most importantly FRAGRANCE – back to this heirloom favorite.

Walking through John’s greenhouses, packed with hundreds of varieties in tidy rows, was like waking up on Christmas morning! So welcoming and kind-hearted, John was delighted to share the delicious scents we had only dreamed of! It was like I had found the Holy Grail of Carnation-kind!

John_Barrington's_ greenhouse

Row upon row of heirloom Carnation inspiration!!

As I thrilled to each new scent, he excitedly bounced around taking cuttings of all the varieties I liked the best. To meet someone so obsessed with one particular plant – and so dedicated to saving and recapturing an important piece of horticultural history – made this my favorite plant hunting experience ever! If you ever find yourself in the UK, you must visit him. I guarantee you will love him as much as I did!
Annie_Holding_Carnations1

Now, after two years of increasing our stock, we are thrilled to be able to finally share these enchanting heirlooms with you! Almost non-stop blooming (year-round here in our mild climate), strongly perennial and vigorous – we’re offering the prettiest and most fragrant of the bunch. Among them is a legendary “Flake.”

dianthus JB #12 'Cheshire Cat'

The purrrr-fect “Flake”- introducing ‘Cheshire Cat!’

dianthus JB #33 'White Rabbit'

‘White Rabbit’ boasts the most fragrance of all!

dianthus JB #29 'Queen of Hearts'

Off with its head! ‘Queen of Hearts’ makes a fabulous cut flower.

Check out all our Perpetual Carnations HERE!

Our obsession with all things Dianthus runs deep – check out all of the wonderful and heirloom varieties we offer!

Combination Nation!

21 Mar

A garden is more than just the sum of its parts. It’s about getting some of the sum to party together at the same time!

Over the years, we’ve come across some pretty dependable – and dependably pretty – bloom-at-the-same-time plant combinations. And each year, it seems we discover new ones! For us, that’s a huge part of the fun of gardening – and of course, we love to share our tried-and-true, can’t-go-wrong favorites with you!

Our Springtime gardens wouldn’t be the same without our  favorite California wildflower and #1 stunner , Nemophila menziesii “Baby Blue Eyes.” Once you’ve edged your Spring garden in this little slice of sky-blue heaven, you’ll be hooked! Which is fine because it looks great with everything, especially other natives that bloom at the same time. Here it looking perfectly perky with Malcolmia maritima and  fellow natives Platystemon californicusNemophila menziesii ‘Snow White’ and Limnanthes douglasii “Meadow Foam.”

Nemophila menziesii scene

Yup, looks great with the fiery red of Eschscholzia californica ‘Red Chief,’ too!

Nemophila "Baby Blue Eyes" & Cal Poppy 'Red Chief'

“Baby Blue Eyes” looking extra fine with red hot Cal Poppy ‘Red Chief.’

Another knock-out and goof-proof duo we return to again and again is Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Blue Springs’ and Eschscholzia californica ‘Apricot Chiffon.’ You just can’t beat the alchemy between the radiant Poppy and the luminous, almost turquoise Penstemon. Not shy in the bloom department, these two will go to town for months! Deer and drought resistant, they’re fine in low fertility soil and even more bodacious in regular garden soil with some compost!

Cal Poppy 'Apricot Chiffon' & Penstemon heterophyllus

Cal Poppy 'Apricot Chiffon' & Penstemon heterophyllus
Okay, so say pastels aren’t really your thing. We can work with that! One of our favorite combinations pits primary gentian blue Anagallis monellii against the solar flare sunshine of Ursinia anthemoides. Throw in the peachy-amber foliage of Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ and you’ve got a fantasically contrastic combo that does great in low water gardens.

Anagallis monellii & Ursinia anthemoides

From left to right: Heuchera ‘Marmalade’, Anagallis monellii and Ursinia anthemoides. BAM.

Ursinia anethoides & Anagallis monellii

Dreamiest spikes of creamiest apricot-blushed-rose blooms make this properly 3′ tall Snapdragon a perfect companion to so many other Spring (and Summer!) bloomers. Here it is canoodling with the long-blooming frothy lace caps of Orlaya grandiflora “Minoan Lace.”

Antirrhinum 'Chantilly Peach' and Orlaya grandiflora

Antirrhinum 'Chantilly Peach,' Orlaya  grandiflora & Nicotiana 'Lime Green'
If we handed out awards to our favorite bloomers, Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’ would probably sweep the floor, winning “Most Congenial,” Most Stylish” AND “Most Versatile.” Easy and exceptionally long blooming, it gets along with EVERYBODY and looks chic and fabulous doing it.  Plant it in containers or in the garden, it’ll thrive in sun (along the coast) or shade, its lime green flowers providing the perfect foil for more vibrant bloomers like Agrostemma githago ‘Milas.’

Nicotiana 'Lime Green' & Agrostemma g. 'Milas'

Agrostemma githago 'Milas'

So there you have it, folks – some simple and stunning combos you can try at home. AND, since so many of these luscious lovelies self-sow, you’ll enjoy future generations of combinations next Spring and beyond!

Which Papaver Are You?

20 Feb

Here at Annie’s , we love our giant Papavers and we grow over 30 different varieties. Call us crazy, but we have a theory that there’s a Papaver for every personality and every garden!

Papaver ‘Drama Queen’

Papaver 'DRAMA QUEEN'

Crazy colorful and wild at heart, Papaver ‘Drama Queen’ isn’t afraid to say: “Don’t mess with me fellas! This isn’t my first time at the rodeo!” Beautiful, brazen and so far over-the-top, the garden falls into silence the minute one of its buds pops open. All of its Poppy friends hide their wire hangers when it comes over.

Papaver ‘Cupcake’

Papaver 'Cupcake'

So sweet and sunny and perfectly princess pink, pretty Papaver ‘Cupcake’ always sees the compost pile as half full. So dang upbeat, it’s infectious – it can even make people who hate pink spontaneously burst out into song.

Papaver ‘Venus’

Papaver 'Venus'

Like a gift from the Poppy gods, ‘Venus’ is a cross between a neo-classical goddess and a cheerleader on steroids. When it lifts its massive salmon-pink pom-poms skyward and shouts: “Give me a P!” the crowd goes wild. 

Papaver ‘Single Black’

Papaver 'Single Black'
Like Stevie Nicks in her witchy phase, Papaver ‘Single Black’ swirls around the garden in a cloak of deepest maroony-black petals. People rely on it to add a touch of danger and intrigue wherever it’s planted and it never disappoints. Naughty and nice planted with frothy white “Venus’ Navelwort” for maximum rock and roll!

Papaver ‘Falling in Love’

Romantic Papaver rhoeas 'Falling in Love'

Walking around with its head in the clouds, every day is Valentine’s Day for ‘Falling in Love’. Soft and bubbly, it loves surprises and rewards admirers with a loveable mix of bicolored pink and white, scarlet-orange, rose, pink or peach blooms. Sure, some of its less showy and more bitter garden rivals call it “Flailing in Love” but it doesn’t care. It knows life is too short to give your heart to just one suitor.

Papaver ‘Queen’s Poppy’

Papaver 'Queen's Poppy'

Do you like to wear capes? Do you keep your family jewels in a tower? Then most certainly ‘Queen’s Poppy’ is for you! Positively regal – and immense! – 5″ cherry pink blooms, conferred with a white Maltese cross at the base rise up and rule the garden in late Spring. Reseeds reliably so that successive generations can ascend the throne.

Check out all of the different varieties we grow! 

Watch a SLIDESHOW of all our favorite Poppies!

Gone! Poof! Another beauty DISAPPEARED!

15 Jun

Antirrhinum Double Azalea Apricot garden

So sad! One of these beauties is going bye-bye.

You know that feeling you get when you go to your regular grocery store to pick up the essential things that you buy RELIGIOUSLY and that thing, that THING you have come to love and trust and expect is just … GONE? Say, a certain kind of tea; the one that lives on aisle 8 on the third tea shelf in the round canister between the one with the green label and that other one in the orange box. Well, it’s not there. You ask a clerk if they’ve seen it and they say, “….oh… I haven’t seen that in a while. Let me check with my manager.” And they walk off, and you wait, and you wait, and then the clerk comes back and tells you the one thing you don’t want to hear, hoping you won’t be upset: it’s been discontinued. Gone! Not gone for today, but gone from the world. Poof! Disappeared.

Sorry folks, but that exact thing just happened to us. And we’re trying to figure out how to break it to you. One of the hazards of working with plants grown from seed is that sometimes a plant goes away and it never comes back. It is a less tragic thing than extinction, but still seriously sad, and we wanted to let you know gently, and then we might need a hug, because this is one of the biggest bummers we’ve ever encountered in terms of being left out in the cold by a seed company. Ready? Brace yourselves: The Double Azalea Snapdragons? Those fruity smelling ones that look like a bizarre confection from candyland? They’re going bye-bye.

antirrhinum_double_azalea_pink_garden1

Inhale deeply. That’s the fragrant tutti-fruity scent of obsolescence. 😦

antirrhinum_majus_double_azalea_apricot

BFF’s like Nigella hispanica ‘Curiosity’ are bummed, too.

Believe us, we know. It’s a tragedy. Every day one’s in bloom at the nursery their fan base expands. Their long, tall stems of sunset hued pink and apricot double frilled blooms smell sweetly spicy, make super fabulous bouquets, and grow and rebloom yearlong in milder climes. They’re fancy but still simple to grow and really very successful for even beginning gardeners. They’re easy in pots and in the ground and undemanding. Could someone please tell the powers that be that discontinuing this fine strain is a terrible mistake?

Antirrhinum majus 'Double Azaelea Apricot' with Celosia

But why?! ‘Double Azalea Apricot’ makes friends with everybody! Like Celosia argentea cristata ‘Cramer’s Burgundy’ for example.

Sure, we could still get the mixed color strain, but that’s playing Russian Roulette with your color scheme, and we’ve learned that’s the sort of adventure not everyone wants in their life.

antirrhinum_dbl_pink_cluster

We won’t forget your ruffly charm and upstanding character ‘Double Azalea Pink’. You were always there for us when we needed a dose of over-the-top girliness.

Because these are F1 hybrids, if we collect our own seed the results could vary wildly and land us in a pickle of confused forms. If people are up for it, we just might try it, but more likely we’ll start growing small batches from cuttings, which is a way less convenient and desirable way to propagate this plant. But we do what we must (within reason!) to keep the plants we really love out in the world.

antirrhinum_double_azalea_bokeh

I guess this is adieu ‘Double Azalea Apricot.’ *Sniff* We’ll always have Paris.

Change! It’s hard for everyone, but hey, Flower Floozies, we’ll do our best. Stay tuned, and if you find a bucket of Double Azalea Apricot seeds just sitting around, CALL US!

Claire


Spring Gardens Report Card

7 Jun

So, here’s the update on how my Spring blooming combos worked out this year. A lovely year all in all with a nice early bloom show for our Spring Party in mid-April and a perfect peak show just in time for our Mother’s Day Party.

SMALL Spring Garden U BED  left side full bloom

Papaver commutatum - Nemophila menziesii  & Agrostemma Ocean Pearls for blog

Here is the final result for the always popular mixed planting of Papaver commutatum “ Ladybird Poppy” with California native Nemophila menziesii “Baby Blue Eyes” and tall, white, cottagey classic annual Agrostemma githago ‘Ocean Pearls’ or “White Corncockle”. A fool proof-slam dunk Springtime combination – just imagine these plants repeated in groups over a larger space!

Papaver commutatum , White Cal Poppy & Nemophila 04-12 c GOOD

Here it is a month earlier before the Agrostemma started blooming and when the white California poppies, Eschscholzia californica ‘Alba’, were just coming into flower. Here along the coast in the Bay Area, I plant all these annuals in early February for a maximum bloom-at-the-same-time April – May show. You folks in Southern California would generally plant them in November – December for a late February – March bloom. Basically, they take 2 months from their 4” pot size to burst into all their glory. I plant them pretty darn close together – about 10-12” apart as you can see in my last blog, where I tried to show what they look like just after planting. This helps them fill in fast, look super co-mingly and prevents unattractive bare space (and weeds!).

Big thrill for me! My first-time experiment pairing EASY South African bulb Ixia ‘Buttercup’ and new-to-me Southern California purple California native Phacelia minor was a success! They did bloom at the same time!

Phacelia minor-Ixia Buttercup & Thomas Church

I planted the Phacelia in early March and it worked out just right. Wonderfully rich colored bells were displayed so showily atop quite handsome low foliage. A swell contrast with the Ixia, which has been in the ground for 2 years. And notice the rather perfect purple and yellow bicolored Lupinus regalis ‘Thomas Church’ in the background, making a picture perfect harmonious vertical accent. The Lupine is a perennial and so is the Ixia, which spreads politely in your garden to make a patch of bright primrose prettiness each year. The Phacelia is a bee-magnet extraordinaire and will self-sow for a repeat performance each Spring.

Lupinus Thomas Church & Ixia Buttercup bb ADJ

As I mentioned in my March post, I try to make the front bed as you enter the nursery as romantic as I can. Not everything worked out as I had imagined it (a really common occurrence!).
U BED Spring Garden Elayne ADJ & CROP

This spot is under partial shadow of a tree and I always forget that sun loving plants take longer to bloom with less sun, so my white poppies, Papaver ‘Bridal Silk’, bloomed late and you can only see one bloom on the right side of this photo. Luckily, the white columbine, Aquilegia caerulea ‘Krystal’ took its place. Still pretty, though, don’t you think? Here is a close-up of always beautiful, long lived and long blooming Dianthus ‘Pinkerton’ and “Baby Blue Eyes”.

Dianthus Pinkerton & Nemophila

Lastly, this was the first year I’ve tried this lovely new apricot colored Calendula ‘Bronzed Beauty’ in our gardens.

Calendula  Bronze Beauty  side  NICE

Calendula Bronze Beauty close PERFECT

The gentian Ajuga genevensis I had planned for the front of the bed bloomed late this year, so I added in some quick flowering Viola ‘Bolwes Black’ along with the blue Delphinium bellamosum, peach foliaged Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ and Bellis perennis “English Daisy”. And here’s how it turned out for these photos – I think pretty nice!

Calendula  Bronzed Beaury Viola Bowles Black 7 Heuchera Marmalade nn

Calendula Bronze Beauty  SIDE GOOD  ADJ & CROP

That’s one thing I have learned from my years of gardening. You can never quite count on perennials, like the Ajuga, to behave the same way each year or to bloom at the exact same time – that’s one important reason to accessorize and fill in with annuals. You pretty much know what you’re gonna get and that it’s gonna look great. Besides, they self-sow for free plants every new season.

I hope my experiments lend some inspiration. Do stay tuned, as we filmed some nice videos of our Spring gardens this year, featuring more of my favorite “bloom-at-the-same-time combos” in all their fabulous glory! And hey, Happy Gardening everybody!

What I’m Doing in the Garden

29 Mar

People are always asking me when they come in the nursery what I’m doing in the garden right now. They want just a few simple new plant combinations that they can try at home.

Here at the nursery, the goal for me is to get everything to be in full bloom for our SPRING PARTY on April 14 & 15. Each year, I try to do something new so that when people come in, it’s fresh and exciting. It’s thrilling and creative for me and folks are always happy and inspired to see something new. Plus, it’s fun!

This is the first demonstration bed you see when you enter the nursery. I want it to feel romantic, Springy and welcoming as visitors walk through the front gates.

center bed newly planted

Filling in the space around established Cephalaria gigantea, “Giant Scabious” – which won’t bloom until Summer – are exuberant Spring favorites Nemophila menziesii “Baby Blue Eyes”, Papaver commutatum ‘Ladybird’ and Agrostemma githago ‘Ocean Pearls’. FYI: the white speckles covering the soil is Sluggo, my favorite non-toxic snail bait. NOTICE THE AMOUNT of Sluggo I’m using here. It’s been raining for the last three weeks straight – and that means its super snacky time for resident slugs and snails. I’ll re-apply it every five days while it’s raining to make sure my baby plants are safe.

Click to see a larger view of this garden!

Here’s an example of this combo with Orlaya grandiflora stepping in for Agrostemma ‘Ocean Pearls’. Pretty!

Super popular in the garden last year was Ixia ‘Buttercup‘. This year I’m trying it with purple flowered California native Phacelia minor in hopes that the pairing of bright purple and yellow will look exciting together. Will they bloom at the same time? Let’s see what happens! (In case you’re wondering about the orange stuff on the soil surface, I’ve added a light layer of lava rock. Because we top-dress with compost several times during the year, we add the lava rock once a year to maintain optimum drainage).

Click to see a larger view of this garden!

Ixia hybrid 'Buttercup' close-up

Ixia, meet Phacelia.

Phacelia minor

Phacelia, meet Ixia.


It’s a month before the Spring Party and here I am adding in the quickest to grow and bloom annual – Malcolmia maritima. I looove Malcolmia with “Baby Blue Eyes” and just about any Dianthus. Last month, I planted the Delphinium and Papaver. The Dianthus are from last year – they remain my favorite long-lived, long blooming, old-fashioned, fragrant, perennial stand-bys for the edge of the garden.

Click to see a larger view of this garden!

Here’s a peek at at how sweet and wonderfully SPRINGY this combo looks.

Last year I was enamored with this new two-toned peachy-ruby Calendula, ‘Bronzed Beauty.’ So this year, I planted it near the entryway.

Photo courtesy the lovely Floradora Gardens.

Here, I’m just adding bright gentian blue Ajuga genevensis in the foreground and Delphinium ‘Bellamosum’ in the back. Bouncy white English daisies (Bellis perennis) will fill in any emtpy spaces. For foliar interest, there are a few grasses plus harmoniously peachy Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ and ruby-ribbed Rumex sanguineus.

Click to see a larger view of this garden!

So there you go! With just a few well-chosen Spring bloomers, you can make great combinations that will delight your eye and make you and your garden feel so totally successful!