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Tips for a Healthy Garden

16 Feb

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

Winter Prep

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


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


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

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

Pruning

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

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

A New Spring Plan

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

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

A More Organized Garden

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

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

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

Finding Plants at Annie’s

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

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

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!

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!

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.

lupinus_thomas_church_garden

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!

lupinus_thomas_church_spiking

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.

LAYIA & PHYGELIUS CROP PRETTY ADJ  copy

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

layia_glandulosa_in_garden

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!

Gladiolus carneus "Painted Lady" & Glaucium grandiflorum GOOD copy

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.

Sidalcea hendersonii & Phacelia viscida Garden  copy

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

Phacelia viscida

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!

spring_garden

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).

In the Garden

9 Feb

The sun is shining and the birds are singing! Even though much of the country is still blanketed under snow and ice (brrrrr!), we’re pretty lucky here in USDA zone 10 to be able to  garden year-round (not that we’re gloating or anything).

mannequin bed

Each year, Annie completely replants our demonstration gardens to keep things fresh and exciting. It’s dramatic to see everything ripped out and a new garden taking shape from scratch, but new designs and combinations provide inspiration for both us and our visitors!

planting

Back in November, she turned over the soil, took out the spent annuals and cut the perennials down to the ground. She ditched the ugly plants, the unruly plants and anything that didn’t fit with the new planting scheme taking shape in her head. This made room for lots of new babies. The goal – and challenge! – is to have everything bloom at the same time for our Big, FAB Spring Party on April 9 and 10.

baby plants

November is also when she planted biennials like Digitalis and some varieties of Verbascums and Campanulas, along with perennials like Alonsoa meridionalis, Delphiniums and Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green.’ Of course, all of these plants can go in the ground right now for May or June bloom!

baby plants1

Right now, if you were to drop into the nursery, you would find her still planting a few perennials, as well as slower growing annuals like Orlaya grandiflora, Agrostemma githago, Omphalodes linifolia and Cynoglossum amabile. It’s also a good time to put in foliage plants like Heucheras, Rumex and grasses. We planted a few Sweet Peas in November and will plant some again soon, so we’ll have a succession of frilly, fragrant blooms from April to June – longer with deadheading!

planting

Very soon, the faster blooming annuals like Poppies and California native “Baby Blue Eyes” and Eschscholzias (Cal Poppies) will go in the ground – but remember – we’re shooting for early April bloom. So you can definitely plant them right now or anytime really until the end of March or beginning or April for later bloom.

Don’t forget to protect your little babies from slugs and snails! We use Sluggo, a non-toxic iron-phosphate based bait that is safe for pets and kids. Snails are ravenous and they’ll chow down on those delicious little CA natives until they are but stubs in the ground. You won’t be very happy if that happens – and neither will the plants.

lunaria_rosemary_verey

Even though the goal is to have everything bloom-at-the-same-time, sometimes the weather doesn’t get the memo. A cold and rainy Winter will slow everything down, while sunny weather in December and January can result in a massive bloom-a-thon in March. So we aim for the middle and hope for the best. And it usually works out pretty well!

spring is coming!