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Home Gardeners are NOT the Problem!

23 Apr
ShowerFinalSmall(1)

© Art by Lisa Crowther

Gardeners! Are you as confused as I was over whether we should just completely stop watering our gardens because of California’s “worst drought in history?” Even as I was seeing the greenest grass, the most wildflowers and more vernal pools filled to the brim than I had seen in at least 5 years on my morning hikes in the East Bay Hills, everyone was telling me how scary the drought was. Folks visiting our nursery would apologize for buying a few plants and for even watering their small urban gardens at all. I was away from the nursery one day when the final straw happened. I was taking a shower in the communal shower room after a swim at my local swimming pool. Picture me naked (lol, no don’t!), showering with 3 other ladies, when I bent over to pick up my shampoo bottle off the floor. This took me no more than 3 seconds. The lady showering across from me gave me the stink eye and said in her most disdainful voice “Looks like you forgot to turn off the water when you did that …” Really? I thought to myself “Are people just getting ruder these days or is this a new thing? Naked Water Police?”

surprised_showerer

© Art by Lisa Crowther

On my drive home, I thought about all I had heard about California’s drought while talking with random folks around town. I thought about all the fear-inducing news reports I had seen while watching network news shows with my TV-loving 82-year-old mom when she was in town last Fall. You’ve probably seen these headlines too: “Worst California Drought in History”, “Empty Reservoirs Everywhere!” and the scariest, “ONLY ONE YEAR OF WATER LEFT IN CALIFORNIA!” Whoa! Was this true?

I’m a flower-loving gardener and my business involves sharing my love and enthusiasm for all the joys and benefits of gardening. But now? I was getting a panicky feeling that any water I use on my garden was threatening the future survival of California residents. Was I really supposed to use water only for essential needs and let my garden die as my eye doctor told me he was doing, during my annual eye check-up? Should I stop gardening forever? I don’t want to hurt anyone or the environment!

more_bees

Read more about how to attract bees to your backyard HERE

Then I thought about all the good my garden provides my neighborhood, my environment – and me! Bees. Lots of organically grown flowers feed lots of bees and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s not only a joyful, beautiful thing, it’s important, too. Under a slew of threats, including habitat loss, flowerful urban gardens provide essential support for dwindling bee diversity and populations. Some say that bees are doing better nowadays in urban spaces as compared to rural areas. Then there are the butterflies; we all know they are in serious trouble. I’ve walked for many years in Pt. Pinole Regional Park, near the nursery, which also happens to be an overwintering site for Monarch Butterflies and I have watched their numbers shrink until this year … nothing. Short of our local civic leaders funding acres and acres of native Milkweed plants for our Monarch friends to lay their eggs on and whose leaves their caterpillars must eat to grow, our backyard Milkweed plantings offer islands of survival for these wondrous creatures. Add in a multitude of other pollinators and all manner of birds and I started think, where is the media interest, where are the conversations, defending gardens in all this? And who wants to live in an ecological desert?

butterflies

Monarch Butterflies May Join Endangered Species List. Read more HERE

So I spent the next few days doing some research, and after all I had heard, I was shocked to discover that residential water use is a mere 5%-8% of total water use in California and roughly half of that is going to watering lawns. 75%-80% of our water goes to agribusiness and another 15% goes to industry. Fracking in California currently uses 2 million gallons of water a day. A month later I was chatting with a visitor to our nursery who works for the Sacramento Water District. He scoffed at the media reports and confided in me, “Annie, if every domestic household in California stopped using water completely it would barely make a difference at all.” I tried to convince him to share his insider info with us by giving a talk at the nursery but he just laughed, “Public speaking gives me the willies” and was off with his carload of plants.

Next I called Scott Sommerfeld, EBMUD (East Bay Municipal Water District) water conservation representative and irrigation specialist. Scott gave a jam-packed talk here at the nursery in February on drought and the resilient garden and had some surprising things to say about managing water use. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, in fact, he’s a champion of beautiful, sustainable gardens and doesn’t believe for one minute that gardens have to suffer from lack of water. He works with cities, counties, developers and EBMUD customers to evaluate irrigation systems and provide efficiency recommendations AND he helped develop EBMUDs Lawn Conversion and Irrigation Rebate program.

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© Art by Lisa Crowther

Though concerned over our recent less-than-desirable rain pattern, Scott certainly did not seem panicked. When we asked him about the headlines that claim California only has one year of water left, he put it into perspective for me. In a normal year, EBMUD has only two years worth of water stored in its primary reservoir and doesn’t have the capacity to store more than that. One year of storage was not an anomaly. Drought is nothing new to California, Scott said. “There are more dry years than wet years in California,” he said. “37% of the last 80 or 90 years have been dry or critically dry.”

Scott’s main concern isn’t the headlines – it’s lawns. Lawns are a high water use groundcover that don’t fit into a sustainable landscape, especially now. His mission is to promote sensible water use – and discourage the watering of large residential lawns, especially in hotter areas.

“It is an immense challenge to change the way people think about lawns,” Scott said. “If the only time you walk on your lawn is to mow it, you probably shouldn’t grow it.

“Most people overwater their landscape [read: mostly lawns] a lot – especially when they have a drip irrigation timer. Auto-timers can be your best friend of your worst enemy. They water their landscape whether it needs it or not.”

Whether you have a lawn or not, and you’re using an irrigation timer, Scott says it’s essential to water deeply. Look for a “cycle and soak” function on your water timer – it promotes deep rooting by watering for a couple of minutes, then pausing to let the water soak into the ground. It will maximize deep root watering, minimize runoff and reduce how much water you’ll use. Or, you can always hand water, which allows you to water only when the garden needs it, which varies depending on the weather and time of year.

Finally, here was first hand, true information about water usage for home gardeners. This is what I learned from Scott: If you don’t have a large lawn in a hot Summer area, YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. If you’re growing a sensible mix of low and average water use plants YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. Home gardeners who are growing healthful fruits and vegetables or flowers for joy, beauty, and to support and enjoy our birds, butterflies and bees ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. You don’t have to stop watering your beautiful plantings – just be smart about it.

 

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© Art by Lisa Crowther

“Our landscape is so important to our quality of life, so we’re not advocating no landscape,” Scott says. “If you’re doing everything you can do to conserve water, then you shouldn’t feel guilty about gardening. There’s enough to use, just none to waste.”

So folks, let’s do our best to sustain and support California’s natural resources including our wildlife as well as our water. I think organic gardening is a terribly important part of the whole picture. To alter an old hippy motto: “Gardening is Healthy for Children and Other Living Things.” And finally, let’s hope for more activity on the part of gardeners, politicians and hey, even the media, to advocate better long-term, sustainable water resource management in California; to create and promote more small to mega-scale ways to recapture the rain that does fall. To protect the Delta and California’s waterways and eliminate destructive industrial and agribusiness practices that threaten the future of this beautiful place we call home.

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© Art by Lisa Crowther

Be healthy and excellent to each other,

Annie

More links:

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!

The Majorcan Peony Cometh!

28 Feb

They say patience is the art of hoping, and even if we aren’t very disciplined in the former, we here at Annie’s are experts at the latter. Such is the case with our very FIRST seed grown crop of this unspeakably gorgeous creature!

Paeonia cambessedesii

Drumroll please … Paeonia cambessedesii!

Our adventure began in 1998, when Paeonia cambessedesii was only a twinkle in Annie’s eye. She was on the hunt for a Peony we could grow here in our mild Mediterranean climate – one that needed no Winter chill. To her delight, she found what she was looking for in an English seed catalog and promptly sent off for a small packet of seed.

Paeonia cambessedesii

You are getting very sleeeeepy …

From that first handful of seed, we were able to grow perhaps three or four plants just for fun, one of which resided in a container at propagator Anni Jensen’s home in Richmond, the others in containers here at the nursery. It took five more years before those plants set seed and when they did, we didn’t let a single seed roll away.

Pantyhose on Peony seed

Paeonia cambessedesii wearing its seed-collecting support hose. (We see you little seed nestled in the foliage. You can’t hide from us.)

Paeonia seed

Our pioneering plants thrived in regular, well-drained soil with average to low water and didn’t mind an occasional top-dressing of compost. They went dormant in Summer and faithfully returned – bigger and better – each January.

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A flame red bud emerges in February.

Each February, as our seed-mothers in the nursery came into their full and bloomiferous glory, anyone who wandered close enough to see their mesmerizing deep rose blooms and smell their hypnotic cinnamon-allspice fragrance wanted this plant. Ahem, NEEDED this plant. In fact, if we had a dollar for every time we chirped “Put it on a WISH LIST,” we could probably afford to fly to the Balearic Islands to see this endangered beauty in the wild for ourselves.

And so, patient and intrepid gardening friends – if you too are an expert in the art of hoping, the moment we’ve all been waiting for is upon us! We have finally made enough of these heart-rattling beauties to share. We hope you pick one up fast – because they are sure to sell out, and who knows? It may be another three years before the next crop is ready.

UPDATE: Even though we made a record number of these plants for sale, we are now sold out! If you didn’t get one and desperately NEEEEED one, ahem, put it on a WISH LIST and we’ll send you an email when the next crop is ready – hopefully in February 2014!

Which Papaver Are You?

20 Feb

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

Papaver ‘Drama Queen’

Papaver 'DRAMA QUEEN'

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

Papaver ‘Cupcake’

Papaver 'Cupcake'

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

Papaver ‘Venus’

Papaver 'Venus'

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

Papaver ‘Single Black’

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

Papaver ‘Falling in Love’

Romantic Papaver rhoeas 'Falling in Love'

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

Papaver ‘Queen’s Poppy’

Papaver 'Queen's Poppy'

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

Check out all of the different varieties we grow! 

Watch a SLIDESHOW of all our favorite Poppies!

Gone! Poof! Another beauty DISAPPEARED!

15 Jun
Antirrhinum Double Azalea Apricot garden

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

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

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

antirrhinum_double_azalea_pink_garden1

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

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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.

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


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!

Succulents Don’t Suck!

8 Jul

Succulent Junkie Alert!

Hello from Outer Sunset in San Francisco! It’s Megan (Annie’s plant sign-maker) blogging at you from the foggiest parts of the Bay Area. In celebration of Brian Kemble’s upcoming and totally AWESOME succulent talk on Saturday, July 9th I thought I’d show you what happens when you become succulent obsessed. A little less than four years ago I moved to San Francisco from Madison, Wisconsin and was immediately intrigued by the masses of succulents I saw growing OUTSIDE everywhere. Jade plants growing taller than me were the most amazing things I’d ever seen. I didn’t even know what most of  the succulents I was seeing were, as there’s not a lot of succulent options for the garden in Wisconsin.

Agave & Sweet Pea love

Since I started working at Annie’s my inner Flower Floozy has emerged, and I’ve been mixing it up. Flowery annuals and other non-succulenty plants can be friends with succulents. There’s no reason why you can’t have sweetly scented Lathyrus odorata ‘Cupani, California native Keckellia cordifolia AND a big honking Agave americana (I do not recommend this plant unless you have lots and lots o’ space) bunking up next to each other. Throw in a Euphorbia ‘Blue Haze’ for the heck of it, too!  I planted the sweet pea early, so the Winter rains would establish it before Summer, and since it almost never gets above 65 degrees next to the beach, it’s still covered in blooms – even in July! Pretty much everything in the garden gets watered once a week during the rainless Summers, and if that’s not enough, too bad.

Sunny Scyphanthus & Succulent Friends

Here’s a shot of the back fence with TONS of succulents. One of my faves is Aloe plicatilis (the big guy on the left), but I’ve got viney buddies Scyphanthus elegans and Eccremocarpus scaber ‘Cherry Red’ crawling up a homemade trellis for some flowery action everyone can enjoy from the patio. My Papaver commutatum ‘Ladybird’ is still pumping out flowers in a container, along with blue beauty Anchusa capensis ‘Blue Angel’. Hurray for flowery pops of color!

Mix of all kinds of stuff

This picture is from the “shadier” side of the garden (gotta keep an eye on those sneaky Fuchsias). I’ve found that pretty much all Aeoniums are just fine, if not even a little perkier, on this part shade in the Summer/full shade in the Winter side of the garden, so I stick them everywhere, even in containers full of Fuchsia procumbens (I think that’s Aeonium rubrolineatum poking out). One of best things about succulents is that even in January, most of them are still doing their cool sculptural thing. I encourage anyone thinking about going the succulent, dry garden route to give them a shot. For more tales of the succulent obsessed visit me on my garden blog Far Out Flora.

We’re covered in bees!

22 Jun
Box o' bees

Let us out! 3 lbs of bees in a box rounds out to about... errr... 10,000 bees?

Our bees arrived the day before our Biggest Event of the Year, but that wasn’t our trouble – our bees are docile sweeties and there was no chance the ladies would be interruptive to our big Spring fête – the trouble was that I forgot the marshmallow. The critical and all important marshmallow. And thus, dear readers, the Annie’s Annuals beekeeping adventure began with me making a mad dash in a funny white suit to the corner market, and inquiring of the clerk with some intensity where on the premises I could obtain a bag. The woman at the counter raised her eyebrows at me a little and pointed the way. There are no photos of this part of our installation process, so I’ll invite you to use your imagination. Lo, it was pretty hilarious.

GIVE US THE MARSHMALLOWS

I should have remembered the critically and all important marshmallow BEFORE the big install, but see, I was a bit busy being excited about the BEES, the many thousands of bees, that we (we being myself, Claire, and our accountant, Gina) were about to dislodge from their enmeshed box and let loose on the nursery.

Bee counter

Gina was eager for us to get the bee show on the road.

See, the packaged bees come with a queen, but the workers don’t know her – to allow for a gentle introduction, (and this is critical, because if they reject the queen you’re in trouble) you put her in a little cage, and this cage is corked. When you hustle the bees out of their package (by shaking them – with vigor!) into the empty waiting hive (and also into the surrounds – creating something of a bee-tornado) you also have to uncork your new queen, and stuff a marshmallow in the cavity of her little cage. Then you tuck her in between the frames and her workers set about chewing their way through to gain her freedom.

Her Highness!

Her majesty, all cooped up.

Insert marshmallow here

Insert marshmallow here.

Handoff

Ready.... Steady.....

Bee blizzard

PLONK!

Over the last several years there’s been a marked decline in the number and varieties of pollinators at the nursery – we encounter fewer in person (honeybees especially) and sadly we’ve also been having a hard time getting some of our cherished mother plants to set seed, so having a hive of honeybees on the grounds seems like an excellent investment! Honeybees aren’t going to pollinate everything (NOTHING will pollinate Lotus jacobaeus – SIGH) but you’d better believe they’ve been busy, and I expect that it’ll make a big difference!

Bees love a party too

"Baby Blue Eyes" and fuzzy friend

Eriogonum 'The Hub' and yellow pollen bee

All Eriogonums get 6 bee thumbs up.

Aquilegia 'Krystal' and honeybee

Loverly Aquilegia 'Krystal' gets a visitor

For the last few months, we’ve been noticed them getting busy on the Nemophilas, and now that the Echiums are going full tilt they’re really going to town. I saw one little working gal obsessing over our blooming crop of Salvia carduacea last week – her pollen sacs were a gorgeous orangey RED. And I’ve actually seen some of the ladies come home with turquoise green pollen in tow – AMAZING! I suspect the Gilias are at cause.

Green pollen bee

Pollen comes in some crazy colors!

Busy busy busy

Bees work FAST! After just a week we could see baby bees a' brewin, pollen, & honey.

Besides our selfish aims (MORE SEEDS, PLEASE!) we just plain old LOVE bees, and want to make a safe space for them in our gardens and in yours. We’re not in it for the honey, and frankly, I don’t really care if we even get to harvest from the hive at all – I just hope they stick around. To that effect, help us help them! We participate in the terrific “Yellow Dot Project” – all of our plants that are honeybee-magnetizing and delicious bear a cute little yellow dot with a smiling bee on the sign. Plant more “Yellow Dotted” plants everywhere, and the bees that *are* around will have a more diverse buffet to harvest from (eating one thing all the time? NOT FUN) and give them more habitat in our developed world.

Our gentle Carniolan came from the Marin Bee Company (who’s had a hand in hive installations at Google, the SF Chronicle and many other places – follow them on Twitter @marinbeecompany!) and are a really mild tempered bunch. I’ve peeked in on them many times without smoke or a veil and I’ve never been stung or felt like the bees were angling towards harm.

We still have a bunch of marshmallows left in the break room. They’re going a bit stale, now, because they’ve been sitting around for a few weeks, but SOMETIMES stale marshmallows hit the spot. No, seriously.

More honeybee adoration and adulation can be found in a SLIDESHOW from our visit to the Melissa Garden last year – Kate Frey’s marvelous Healdsburg honeybee sanctuary!

Claire

Check out ALL of our BEE magnet plants HERE!

Dwarf Madness!

20 May

What in the world has happened to garden center plants, people? Sunflowers and Asters in bloom at only  4” tall? Nicotianas with no scent and Dianthus that die a month or less after planting? Yes dear gardeners, this nasty trend which started more than 10 years ago is accelerating quicker than you can squash a bug. Last February, in front of my neighborhood supermarket, I felt super horrified as I noticed the African Marigolds on display by the front door. They were in full bloom (in 6 packs!) at no more than 5” tall. Gadzooks!

African Marigolds? Or tennis-balls-on-a-stick?

DOD MARIGOLD HABIT 55

Ahhh, that's better. Day of the Dead Marigolds growing to a proper 3' tall.

African Marigolds are supposed to be huge. To 3 or more feet tall and 3 feet across. If you’re a young gardener, you may not even remember them being so grand and fabulous with their bushy multi-branching form and loads of 4”-across, extra double, dense blooms fantastic for cutting. Here at the nursery we call them “Day of the Dead Marigolds” as they are still grown in Mexico and South America to create altars and stunning displays for the holiday.

How incredibly fabulous is this? The red flowers are Celosias! Many more gorgeous Marigold images at http://flavorsofthesun.blogspot.com/2010/11/images-from-day-of-dead.html

So you can imagine my chagrin to see what the nursery industry has done to them, all in the name of being able to serve the customer what they say we want – 6 packs and 4″ pots in full bloom. And for heaven’s sake it was February ! Umm … freezing! Obviously, they were greenhouse grown, so now you can watch them die in your yard from the cold which they are so not fond of.

I know that “each to his own” and I’m glad when anybody gets outside and digs their hands in the earth, but don’t you think it’s sad that taller varieties, with all their grace, lovely form and charm are being pushed out (and forgotten), only to be replaced with squat, charmless blobs of color? What can you do with them? Line them up like orange and yellow tennis balls just like at the gas station? Nice.

What can we say? We have no words.

More and more plants are being sold all dwarfed and squatty. Many of our seed sources are dropping the taller varieties across the board and it has become harder and harder to find original proper sized species.

Here’s another calamity :

Wait a minute, what's going on here?!

Photo courtesy Karen Cairone. http://lifeamongtheleaves.blogspot.com/

Okay, you gotta give the person who designed this carpet bedding some points here for being creative with what they had to work with. But wouldn’t you prefer your Ageratums to look like this?

Ageratum Blue horizon in pot   2

Ageratum houstonianum growing to its rightful height of 3 feet.

To 3’ tall and 30” across, Ageratum houstonianum ‘Blue Horizon’ has big, fluffy, butterfly enticing, sweetly scented flower clusters – great for cutting. That’s a 15 gallon pot you see here and those blooms lasted for months. When dead headed they go on blooming all summer! That’s another big problem with those boinky dwarf plants. The bloom time is very short, especially when they’ve been blooming at the growers and then at the garden center before someone comes along to buy them.

Okay, one last depressing example. Dianthus. Dianthus is one of my all time favorite, awesome and reliable perennial standbys. They’re in full bloom in my back yard and at the nursery right now and they are really, really showy. They totally make my gardens pop with their profuse bloom and romantic colors and fragrance.

dianthus pinkerton purpleton

Dianthus 'Pinkerton' blooming its heart out at the nursery.

Truthfully I don’t think you can even find them at many nurseries or garden centers any more. Because they’ve been replaced with this:

Boink-o-rama!

These are Dianthus sinensis. Squat, die-pretty-darn-fast, scentless and disappointing annuals (which are often sold as perennials!). They grow to 6” tall at best. You’ll never see them bloom like the one plant of Dianthus plumarius ‘Pinkerton.” Nowadays, I’m afraid a lot of folks think I’m delusional when I tell them how much I love my Dianthus. Our beloved “Pinks,” (Dianthus plumarius and D. gratianopolitanus) are one of the oldest of all cultivated perennial plants and they are in danger of becoming so obscure and hard to find that they may soon be banished to garden memory oblivion. It makes me sad that up and coming young gardeners may never discover how great they are.

Lastly, a great garden includes plants of varying heights, forms and textures, of course. But with these “box store” offerings, everything ends up being the same size! Well, that’s not very fun. And I don’t think it’s as aesthetically pleasing – or rewarding enough – to really draw folks into the wonders of gardening.