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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.

Winter Veggies NOW!

20 Sep

Meet Anni Jensen – seed propagator here at Annie’s and devoted vegetable gardener. She and her wife, Carol, harvest something delicious from their small Richmond garden nearly 12 months out of the year. What’s this dynamic duo up to right now in the garden? Well – read on!

Carol under a pile of the last ‘Costata Romanesco’ zucchini.

Fall has crept up on us, and we now find ourselves enjoying the crisp air and the warm sun as we survey our late Summer gardens: the last berries, Summer crops producing but slowing down, our ever-challenged tomatoes still trying to mature. We note what we tried this year that worked, the things that did not quite work and how to make 2013 an even better garden year.

Note to self …

We are also busy: the apples and pears are getting ready, and we naturally swing into eating, harvesting and preserving mode. We are not the only ones who like fresh produce.

Raccoon proofing the ‘Emeryville Pink’ grape.

The apple tree needs support hose – to keep pesky critters from harvesting the fruit before we do.

We have made a lot of jam using the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, and we now understand why those little jars are pricy: it takes a lot of fruit to make jam like that. But it is so good. Soon the food hydrator will be humming, full of apples slices and tomatoes. So when I say: plant your Winter vegetables NOW, you may protest. You are not done with Summer yet.

This is the paradox of living in Northern California, so unlike the scenarios that many of us grew up with. We used to clean up the garden and then put it to rest for the Winter. Yet, the moment when we are wrapping up Summer, we have now to unwrap our memories of the incredibly bountiful Winter gardens we can have in the San Francisco Bay Area. In many ways, it is easier to grow vegetables here during the Winter than during the Summer. The Winter rains will take care of them and all you really need to do is to go out and harvest. But before you can do that, you will have to plant them. And there is the rub… you have to do it now.

Most Winter vegetables need to be planted early and grow strong before the days get short and cool. If they don’t get to do that, they will not do much for you. The broccoli heads will be puny, the tatsoi will not become a foot wide, the cabbages will disappoint you. And then they will bolt in February, as they are naturally meant to do, leaving your plates wanting and you wondering what went wrong.

So I slather a slice of bread with that incredible jam and take it out to the garden. I take a bite and then a fresh look at the garden beds. This is the moment when I often feel conflicted because the beds still seem full of Summer vegetables.

The Summer vegetable garden in its full glory.

However, I am kept strong by visions of steaming bowls of soup with young leeks and peas, heaping piles of thinly sliced kale or chard sauteed with garlic, crunchy coleslaw, salad bowls full of greens so fresh you can’t buy them like that at the farmer’s markets. I am comforted by memories of clear frosty mornings when the broccoli and lettuces are edged with hoar frost, as pretty as any Summer flower garden.

Hoar frost on Mustard ‘Ruby Streaks’.

My desire for the Winter garden takes over and I decide where I am going to grow my Winter vegetables. I get some compost and rejuvenate the areas; many of the Winter vegetables like rich soil. If no compost is available, I can temporarily get away with adding some blood meal under the seedlings as I plant them. I will compost later; perhaps some buy grape compost at Annie’s. Then I look for plants.

Even though I have been told that most people have not thought of their Winter garden yet, we have lots of vegetables waiting for you at Annie’s. I made sure they were ready earlier than usual because I really want you to have them at the right time. Some of them are classics, mainstays of my Winter garden because they have proven themselves worthy. Some are recent discoveries that I want to grow again.

Heirloom ‘Russian Red’ Kale remains a staple in community gardens today.

The ‘Red Russian’ Kale, sweet, and tender with knock-out wavy-edged red leaves is a true heirloom, brought to Canada around 1895 and now found in every community garden I have visited. Many gardeners passionately refuse to grow any other kale. Myself, I also like dinosaur kale, an Italian heirloom with dark and gloriously buckled leaves like imaginary dinosaur skin. Together they really give you something striking to look at in the garden, as well as being quite versatile in the kitchen.

If you tried to grow broccoli during the Summer, you may have decided it was way too much trouble. Aphids, cabbage loopers – usually not a happy plant. But broccoli really shines during the cool season and becomes a different creature in the garden. ‘Waltham’ is new to us and is bred especially for Fall planting. ‘Apollo’ gives you less of a head but more totally delicious broccolini florets.

Little Valentina amid ‘Magenta Sunset’ Chard. Photo by Catalina Castillo.

We have chard in various beautiful colors of red and yellow (‘Annie’s Mix’) or ‘Magenta Sunset’ (presented here by Valentina). The stems are usually braised and the leafy part is used like spinach – but if you harvest the leaves young, you can dice the stem, cut the leafy part into ribbons and cook them together. If you like chard, you can really get a lot of food out of a few plants. If you are not so keen on chard, try cooking it for 45 minutes with onion, cilantro, garlic and paprika. It will end up silky and fragrant and the dish will probably convert you.

Not only delicious and nutritious, beets provide beautiful foliage for the garden.

I love beets. We have ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets, sweet and tasty with metallic red leaves. If you pick the leaves small they are great in salads. Golden ‘Touchstone’ beets are very mild and will not color your prep hands red. And ‘Chioggia’ is beautifully banded inside  red and white. If that “too earthy” flavor bothers you in commercial beets, try eating your beets before they get big and you will probably be surprised. No need to pickle them to make them edible. Not that a beet lover minds pickled beets.

A pair of mini ‘Pixie’ cabbages tucked nicely in their beds.

Cabbages are often so difficult to find a space for in the small garden with their large leaves camouflaging a head somewhere in the center. ‘Pixie’ turned out to be a winner last year, small (it’s true, you can plant them 1 foot apart) with a head just the right size for a small household. But if you have the space and desire vats full of sauerkraut, ‘Filderkraut’ is the one for you. There’s nothing like a fresh and crunchy snap pea, straight from the vine.

The original ‘Sugar Snap’ was tall and did not hang on well to its trellis; it usually had to be tied to it. And then it got mildew. The first generations of healthier and more manageable snap peas were not worth growing, lacking the sweet ‘Sugar Snap’ flavor and I kept returning to the original, despite its faults. However, ‘Cascadia’ is good and I recommend it. It grows to 4’ tall, easy to reach and maintain. The challenge is getting peas out of the garden and into the soup or the sautéed veggie dish. They tend to be eaten in the garden, and if you share your garden with someone, you have to keep on your toes to get some.

You can grow salad greens all Winter long here in the Bay Area.

Then there are all the great salad greens you can pick at all Winter long. Lettuces, baby tatsoi, ‘Bordeaux’ spinach – I always have a little of all of them. If you only have space for one thing, try the ‘Provencal Winter Mix.’ It has a little of many kinds of greens and herbs. Parsley and cilantro? They grow very well in those dark corners that don’t get any Winter sun. Then take home some Calendula, Violas and Borage. Adding the flowers makes the salad look really pretty, almost too pretty to eat, but people get over it.

This all makes me very hungry, and I’d better get going. Time to get the gloves and clippers out and clear some space. Plant some winter veggies. We can do it.

Anni

P.S. If you want to see all of the vegetables available on the website right now, CLICK HERE.

Our First Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!

15 Oct
Here in the Bay Area, October is when we finally get a taste of Summer. The long days of overcast mornings and cool but sunny afternoons finally heat up and our Indian Summer begins. Right now, I’m thrilled about two super long-blooming low maintenance plants which reside in mutual affection here in a back corner of the nursery. 

Hibiscus cisplatinus

Hibiscus cisplatinus
Since so few gardeners know of this amazing Hibiscus, I am probably its number one fan in all the world! (and honestly, I think our staff is a little bit worried about this). Handy-dandy for filling in a large space, it will grow into a dense evergreen base-branching shrub 5’ x 5’ in its first year. Never showing signs of chlorosis like many tropical species here in the fogbelt, it is most vigorous *and* bloomiferous – bearing huge cotton candy pink flowers from May to December. Prominent and velvety cherry-colored stamens emerging from a rich ruby throat take its beauty ratio to a whole ’nother level! In Winter, I cut it down almost to the ground and each Spring it has bounced back bigger and better than ever.

Hibiscus cisplatinus habit
Echium gentianoides

Echium gentianoides spike

The perennial rebel of its family, Echium gentianoides blooms almost year around here in coastal California. Notoriously difficult to photograph, all who see its large bright blue flower spikes, fine form and complimentary smooth blue-grey foliage in person fall in love and take one home. Luckily, it’s easy and fast, reaching a manageable 4’ x 4’ within a year.

Echium gentianoides habit
Thank you to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day! It’s a lovely honor to participate.


September in Our Gardens

24 Sep
Fall Gardens

Well, here’s my first go at a blog!

I will try not to write too much as I am pretty chatty when it comes to gardens, but hey, isn’t this pretty! As you can see, I have packed in a bunch of plants and I think gardens look good that way. I love cottage gardens and I love them full of life. This shot is taken of one of the widest beds at our nursery – it’s maybe 8’ deep. To pull off a showy Fall garden like this, you have to plant quite a bit ahead of time, well except for the annuals like that gorgeous rosey-violet “Corncockle” – Agrostemma githago ‘Milas.’ Here’s a close up:
Agrostemma githago 'Milas'
I planted that about 6 weeks ago in early August. I was frantically planting late as the weather was so cool this Summer and my Spring plantings didn’t fade till mid Summer. Then we were hit with several days above 100°F and I think I lost one of the “Corncockles.” There a few more squished in there somewhere that should bloom in time for our Fall Party in early October – so all is well. To the left of the “Corncockle” is a ‘Golden Celebration’ Rose and Aster ‘Skyscraper.’

'Golden Celebration' Rose & Aster 'Skyscraper'


I’m very happy with ‘Golden Celebration.’ She blooms Spring thru Fall with no mildew or disease here in fog-landia. And she’s a nice size 4’-5’ tall, much more manageable than ‘Graham Thomas.’ I bought her at Berkeley Hort nursery 2 years ago and she has definitely passed the test and is very popular with our staff. And I think I have found her a fine partner with this Aster. It’s an excellent one with large blooms for 2-3 months or more (with dead-heading) and a good color, not too pale as others can be. It’s a good strong perennial, coming back bigger and bushier each year. Normally, ‘Skyscraper’ grows to 4’ or 5’ tall, but as I got it in late (August), it’s blooming here at only about 3’ (I think I pinched it, too, to help it bush out faster).

And there’s another annual – bushy ‘Italian White’ Sunflower just starting to bloom behind ‘Golden Celebration.’ I love how we can plant Sunflowers so late along the CA coast and have them in bloom for September and October. They just bring so much fun to a garden, don’t you think?

Behind the Sunflowers are red Dahlia coccineas coming on. Now that the huge Spring-blooming New Zealand Delphiniums have been cut back, there is space for them to grow.

Dahlia cocinnia
They give the garden its “spark,” along with the red ‘Altissimo’ Rose against the sky in the background. A lot of times a garden needs a “pop” of red or orange amongst all those soothing colors to make it come alive. Those pink fluffs in the background is the totally awesome ‘Grandmother’s Hat’ Rose. If you like Roses you must grow ‘Grandmother’s Hat!’

 

Rosa 'Grandmother's Hat' in full bloom 

Rosa 'Grandmother's Hat'
Another ever-blooming Rose with gorgeous girlified old-fashioned flowers and a absolutely heavenly scent. What’s more, it’s completely disease resistant in our gardens. You just can’t go wrong with her. In fact, some mean person once jumped over our fence and dug her right out of the ground the night before Mother’s Day – I’m pretty sure to sell the cut flowers – and I cried and cried. But she came back from a piece of the root left in the soil just as fabulous as before. That’s a tough girl! Yay!

Behind ‘Grandmother’s Hat’ is a super cool, tall background perennial that we don’t offer at the nursery anymore since no one ever bought it. It’s old-fashioned “Joe-Pye-Weed” or Eupatorium purpureum.

You’ve probably heard of it, but when was the last time you’ve seen it around? Maybe you East Coast folks can chime in, but I rarely see it out here in California. It is one valiant, long-lived perennial and I don’t think you could possibly kill it except maybe to douse it with poison or never give it any water. It’s fairly drought tolerant, heat and deer proof and returns faithfully each Summer – even when you forget all about it (like me) as it’s deciduous. I’m sure I’ve chopped its roots terribly in late Winter when I turn over the soil during clean up chores but it never seems to resent it. It’s just happy no matter what! It’ll grow 5’-8’ tall depending on crowding and makes a makes a loveable vertical background much adored by butterflies. The 6” flower clusters are sweetly scented of vanilla, too! You can find seed for it online -one company I like a lot is Easyliving Native Perennial Wildflowers.

In the background towards the right you can sorta see what looks like light yellow pom-poms. That’s one of my all time favorite (and cottagey) perennials Scabiosa ochroleuca. It’s major bloom for the buck, blooming Spring thru Fall pretty much non-stop (but of course you should deadhead it).
Scabiosa ochroleuca

Scabiosa ochroleuca closer upper
From the Mediterranean, it’s drought and deer resistant and just loves to grow on the edge of the bed where its roots appreciate the extra drainage. Its soft yellow color goes so well with blues and pinks and its stems bounce around in the breeze. If you grow it in your garden make sure you cut it back to the base in Winter so it looks fresh and clean when it bushes back out in Spring.

Those vertical white spikey things see you poking up here and there are another favorite perennial of mine – Verbascum chiaxii ‘Album.’
Verbascum chiaxii 'Album' in the garden

Pretty Verbascum chiaxii 'Album'
Actually, I didn’t plant them. They are all self sown volunteers – and, oh – I do love my volunteers! Really, no cottage garden should ever be without this Verbascum (common name: Mullein). Tough and simple, they are truly plant and forget. All I ever do is cut the spent flower spikes to the base and within a month, there’s another one springing up. Not fussy about soil, they’re adaptable to sun or bright shade, are drought and deer resistant and they self-sow so you’ll never have to buy a second one. You just get to enjoy the cool and smart places they appear in your garden, like that non-blooming one growing out of the rocks (yep, they’re that tough) right up front.

Speaking of volunteers, that’s an Agastache with the apricot flowers also growing out of the rocks up front. I think it’s ‘Apricot Sprite’ or probably ‘Coronado’ (which I like better).

The emerald green blobs to the right of the Agrostemma are very late blooming Aster oblongifolius. So late, they aren’t blooming yet. I really planted them too late. Usually, they start blooming in August and go thru September or October but here they probably won’t start blooming till October, when a cloud of lavender blooms will smother the foliage. Nice and dense of form, I thought they remained rather short but recently saw some extremely robust ones in a Santa Cruz garden that were 3’ tall. If you’ve got crummy, dry or clay soil, this native of the Midwestern prairies is so sturdy, it will thrive in it. And don’t worry when it goes deciduous in Winter.
Aster oblongifolius
I also have some Dianthus plumarius up front (with the bluish grassy foliage). They would be so pretty and blooming right now except that we’ve hacked at them severely to take cuttings so we can offer them as named varieties next year. We normally grow these “Old Fashioned Pinks” from seed and their colors are variable – but these particular seedlings were so lovely, we wanted to preserve them for other gardeners. We can only do that by taking cuttings. Here’s what they would look like if we hadn’t mauled them.
More Dianthus love

Our new Dianthus
I can certainly go on and on about these old school Dianthuses – but I will save that for another rant. Wait, here’s a quick peek at how they looked in the same garden in July.
Rose & Dianthus bed
In the first photo above, you can see Columbine (below the Agrostemma) waiting for Spring to bloom again. It’s Aquilegia ‘Blue Barlow,’ which looks contrastingly fab against the ‘Golden Celebration’ Rose. It’s just a little reminder to plant your Columbines in Fall if you want them to get big, bushy and truly bloomiferous come Spring. Remember, you want to plant your perennials ahead of the season that they are supposed to bloom.
Oops, I forgot the dark foliaged mounds. Most of you will know they are Heucheras and I know for sure that the one on the right is ‘Melting Fire’ – my current favorite red one. As much as I love masses of flowers in my gardens, I’ve come to really appreciate pretty leaves, foliar contrast and as they say “a place for the eye to rest.” Heucheras fill the bill are easy and long lived and then, well, they look extra lovely when they go into bloom in Spring!

~Annie