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Best Plants for Cut Flowers

19 May

Earl Nickel,
Curious Plantsman

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

Cosmos & Bachelor’s Buttons

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

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

Corncockle & German Catchfly

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

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

Snapdragons & Sneezeweed

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

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

Delphiniums & Marigolds

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

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

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

Butterfly Bush

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

Fashioning a Bouquet

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

Availability

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

Layered Planting

10 Mar

Earl Nickel,
Curious Plantsman

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

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

Choosing the Plants

Bulbs

Gladiolus carneus and Glaucium grandiflorum

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

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

Low Growing Selections

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

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

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

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

Dianthus ‘Thea Mary’ & Geranium ‘Rozanne ‘

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

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

Taller Selections

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

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

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

Sidalcea malviflora ‘Purpetta’ & Agrostemma ‘Ocean Pearls’

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

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

Layered Beauty

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

NATIVES FOR THE NEW YEAR!

12 Jan

Native Shrubs

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

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

The Value of Natives

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

A Good Time to Plant

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

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

Salvias

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

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

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

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

More Native Shrubs

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

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

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

Colorful Lupines

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

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

Availability

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

We’re Crazy for Clematis

12 Sep

Earl Nickel
Curious Plantsman

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

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

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

Fall Bloomers

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

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

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

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

Spring & Summer bloomers

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

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

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

Growing Clematis

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

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

8 Jun

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

By Kate Frey
Special Contributor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please come and visit us June 17, 2017!

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

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

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

Make it a day!

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

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

Top 10 Reasons to Love Verbascums!

25 Jun

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

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

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

AUGIE & Verbascum 2 NO HAT

If Augie Doggie can grow Verbascums – so can you!

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

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

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

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

Verbascums are positively irresistible to bees of all stripes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verbascum chiaxii Album Habit ADJ CROP

Verbascum chiaxii album  My garden 06-15 ADJ .jpg

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

Verbascum chiaxii 16 candles my yard ADJ  06-15

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

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

verbascum_nigrum

Verbascum nigrum my Garden B   06-15   ADJ

Verbascum nigrum & JapananeseSilverleaf Sunflower OCT 13b ADJ

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

Verbascum Southern Charm CLOSE PRETTY CROP

verbascum_southern_charm_rose1
Verbascum Southern Charm  & Garden angle  BEST  ADJ & CROP

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


VERBASCUM OLYMPICUM HABIT SHOPPED CROP

Verbascum olympicum FOLIAGE

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

verbascum bombyciferum_close

Verbascum arctic sumer FOL ADJ & CROP

Wigandia & Verbascum 'Arctic Summer' CROP

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

Verbascum Cotswold  CLOSE 04-11-14  ADJ jpg

Verbascum Cotswold  ADJ

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

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

Thanks for tuning in!

Annie

True Romance!

25 Jul

Introducing John Barrington’s Deliciously Fragrant Heirloom Carnations

dianthus_queen_of_hearts

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

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

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

Dianthus 'Chomley Farran' in hand

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

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

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

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

John_Barrington's_ greenhouse

Row upon row of heirloom Carnation inspiration!!

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

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

dianthus JB #12 'Cheshire Cat'

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

dianthus JB #33 'White Rabbit'

‘White Rabbit’ boasts the most fragrance of all!

dianthus JB #29 'Queen of Hearts'

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

Check out all our Perpetual Carnations HERE!

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

Gone! Poof! Another beauty DISAPPEARED!

15 Jun

Antirrhinum Double Azalea Apricot garden

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

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

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

antirrhinum_double_azalea_pink_garden1

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

antirrhinum_majus_double_azalea_apricot

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

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

Antirrhinum majus 'Double Azaelea Apricot' with Celosia

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

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

antirrhinum_dbl_pink_cluster

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

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

antirrhinum_double_azalea_bokeh

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

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

Claire