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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. 

Heck Yeah Hellebores!

13 Oct

By Earl Nickel
Special contributor

We gardeners are always looking for something tough and beautiful for shade. But in the never-ending search for the “latest and greatest” we sometimes lose track of the tried-and-true classics – like beautiful, dependable, shade-loving Hellebores. Fall is an excellent time to plant these long-lived beauties, giving them time to establish for their Winter and Spring bloom season.

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Helleborus ‘Peppermint Ice’

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Helleborus ‘Peppermint Ice’

Mega-tough and tolerant of neglect, Hellebores can handle quite a bit of shade but they’ll be happy in dappled light up to full morning sun. No need to hide these beauties away in a dark corner – but if a dark corner is what you have, they’ll handle it with aplomb (if fewer flowers). I find that bright, indirect light or a bit of morning or late afternoon sun is ideal for these nearly evergreen perennials.

Infinitely useful, Hellebores shine in a variety of settings. They make great understory plants in a part shade bed, planted around Camellias, Azaleas or smaller conifers. They complement part shade bulbs such as the native Iris douglasiana or late Winter blooming Snowdrops. Massing them makes for a sophisticated and virtually effortless late Winter show.

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Helleborus ‘Yellow Lady’

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Helleborus ‘Yellow Lady’

Tender, mint green shoots in late December or early January develop into a handsome mound of dark green palmate foliage, followed by the first flower buds. Blooms appear late Winter through Spring – hence their common name “Lenten Roses” – looking for all the world like dew-sparkled jewels when few other plants are up, much less in bloom. Most varieties open into 2-3” five-petaled, saucer-shaped flowers that persist for weeks – making an extended late Winter show. As plants mature, they’ll gradually colonize to fill about a 2’ foot diameter area.

The world of “Lenten Roses” has expanded greatly over the last decade, thanks to breeders who have developed a fabulous selection of colors and forms. In addition to a kaleidoscope of pinks, reds, burgundies, apricots, yellows, whites and even blacks, gardeners can choose from a host of alluringly spotted singles and frilly doubles. Blossoms generally nod, to keep the pollen from getting wet in extreme Winter weather, but some new varieties sport outward facing blooms.

helleborus_onyx_odyssey_hand

Helleborus ‘Onyx Odyssey’

Three of my favorites are the brilliant pure red H. ‘Red Lady,’ looking almost so inviting you want to eat its flowers, and H. ‘Yellow Lady,’ a  shade brightening, vivid yellow orientalis hybrid whose flowers are especially large. And the double forms of ‘Peppermint Ice’ (featuring prominently pink-veined white flowers) and breathtakingly deepest wine-black ‘Onyx Odyssey’ are simply gorgeous.

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Helleborus ‘Red Lady’

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Helleborus ‘Red Lady’

Resistant to both deer and drought, these long-lived perennials are far from a flash in the pan. Once established, they use little water and in milder zones like ours here in the Bay Area, hold on to their foliage well into Fall. I suggest cutting them to the ground in November. This removes the less attractive older leaves, allowing plants to sprout fresh new growth in a month’s time.

True Romance!

25 Jul

Introducing John Barrington’s Deliciously Fragrant Heirloom Carnations

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

Show us your Echiums!

27 May

There’s just something about Echium wildprettii that makes people want to stand up and vogue! In fact, it’s the SEASON for Echium action shots, as “Tower of Jewels” everywhere reach for the sky and say “CHEESE.”

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These 8’ monsters in pink are in-spire-ational! (Photo courtesy Chuck B. http://back40feet.blogspot.com/)

We’ve been growing Echium wildpretii for over 15 years and consider it an old friend, but somehow this 6-8’ tall pyramid of flowers never ceases to drop our jaws. Even though it’s got a spectacularity rating of 10, it’s a 1 on the simple-to-grow scale. In its first year, plant it out in a sunny to partly shaded site (most soils except the soggiest are perfectly fine) and wait. Year one, it will make a pretty but understated rosette of leaves. After its first winter is when the plants will go up up up!

Our buddy Les and his best triffid Buddy in Berkeley, CA.

When we say that this plant can stop traffic, we mean it!! Bees and hummingbirds far and wide start circling in when it starts to bloom, but so do cars! If your Echium can be seen from the street, expect some curious visitors.

Carri from Sacramento looks a little bit dubious about getting snuggly.

Carri’s curbside Echiums have brought MANY people to her door. How many? Well, let’s just say that her husband is petitioning to install a sign out front to stop the friendly interruptions.

WHAT IS THIS THING?

Why, it’s an ECHIUM!

WHERE DID YOU FIND SUCH A THING?

Well, at Annie’s Annuals & Perennials, of course!

John from Downey, CA got this Echium for his birthday last year. Watch out for the hummingbirds - they don't like to share!

“Tower of Jewels” is the common name for E.wildprettii, but it could just as easily be called “Tower of Bees” or “Tower of Hummingbirds.” It does a magnificent job of advertising its wares and the payoff is HEE-UGE!

Alex - Queen of the Jungle! Everyone reach for the sky!

Echium wildpretii "Tower of Jewels"

Here's another cutie!

Rough soil? Harsh site? Full, baking sun? Echiums don’t care! See below: this gaggle seems perfectly at ease on a vacant lot.

Glenn Park posted this photo of E. wildprettii growing happily in an empty lot in Lompoc, CA.

Pots are also *generally* a no-no (a confined space makes Echiums suffer and sometimes go kaput) BUT we’ve now had a number of experimental gardeners prove to us that it *can* be pulled off. If you try it, a big container is prefereable.

Echium wildpretii "Tower of Jewels"

Megan and Matti from the Far Out Flora blog grew their Echium in a pot, and lo! It did just fine.

Megan from Far Out Flora suspects that their amazing specimen might be growing through the bottom of the pot, but even so, it seems like containers (BIG CONTAINERS) are worth a try – especially if it’s the ONLY way you zonal denial folks can make your Echium dreams come true.

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Master mugger Matti for scale.

After blooming, these towers of loveliness will pass on into the great garden in the sky BUT they almost always leave behind a few seedlings to carry on another day. If you must relocate the babies, do it quickly when they are still very small.

Eunice in San Francisco attributes her Echium's vim and vigor to a bucketful of mop water (no soap) every other week and plenty of sun.

echium wildpretii curve

Are your Echiums in action? Post it to our Facebook page! Special points for dressing it up in a baseball cap and sunglasses, giving it a moustache or maybe a Hawaaian shirt. We’d be all for that.  Echiums, away!!

It’s starting to happen!

28 Apr

Looks like the gardens will peak just in time for our Mother’s Day Party on May 7 & 8! Get all the deets HERE!

Everything is blooming about a month late because of the cold and the rain and the hail (and the rain an the hail and the cold). We didn’t know if this year’s gardens would end up a complete disaster after an unusually brutal Winter but once again, Mother Nature is delighting us with her magic.

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Lupinus 'Thomas Church' and Aquilegia v. 'Blue Barlow' looking spiffy!

The California natives seem to be especially slow, with California poppies yet to bloom and Nemophila menziesii “Baby Blue Eyes” growing in slow motion. But, the Lupines are earlier than ever and thriving!

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Omphalodes linifolia provides a delightful white skirt to our boy 'Thomas.'

Layias were one of the CA natives not affected by the rain and it didn’t seem to mind the cold. Some of them did get a little beaten down by the hail, but they’re sure bringing their rays of sunshine to the beds right now.

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Layia platyglossa "Tidy Tips" and Penstemon pseudospectabilis with Campanula glomerata.

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Layia glandulosa makes the perfect partner to Nemophila menziesii "Baby Blue Eyes."

We’re LOVING the true form of Layia glandulosa. Everybody loves blues and whites in the Spring garden, but you need soft yellows to balance it out and bright pinks to make it pop. I’m so excited because this is the perfect soft yellow to go with all of our Spring bloomers!

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Gladiolus carneus "Painted Lady" and Glaucium grandiflorum make odd bedfellows.

Every year is different and full of surprises. I’ve never seen these two plants bloom at the same time before, hence the unusual color combo! That’s Gladiolus carneus, a South African bulb, returning for another year and Glaucium grandiflorum (orange), blooming much earlier than it usually does for us. Both require no Summer water.

Just coming into bloom is Delphinium belladonna ‘Cliveden Beauty’, Sidalcea hendersonii and ultra-blue CA native Phacelia viscida. The Sidalcea is one of my favorite perennials, I use it everywhere because it blooms Spring thru Fall and is so very reliable, becoming bigger and bloomier every year.

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From left to right: Delphinium belladonna 'Cliveden Beauty,' Sidalcea hendersonii and Phacelia viscida.

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Bumblebee magnet Phacelia viscida how we love you!

Believe it or not, there are a whole lot more plants still to bloom in this garden. I think they should hit their peak just in time for our Mother’s Day Party on May 7 and 8. How cool is that? You should definitely come – bring your Mom AND your camera! MORE ABOUT THE PARTY HERE!

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Carnival colors: Greek poppies (red), Layia platyglossa (yellow), Cheiranthus allionii (orange), Eschscholzia caespitosa (shortie yellow) and Aquilegia c. "Rocky Mountain Columbine" (light blue in background).