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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?


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

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.

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:


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.

Our Favorite Tomatoes!

15 Apr
Though we work in relative harmony here at “Annie’s” there are some things we don’t always agree on. Most of the time, we can work through our differences, but when it comes to important topics like tomatoes, we square off. We’ve grown all of the tomatoes we offer and have selected the best ones for our cool-Summer climate. Here are our top picks! (My choice is the fourth one down – just skip the others and read it first since my tomato is CLEARLY the best!).
Currant tomatoes

Red Currant tomato. Photo courtesy Scott Ashkenaz on Flickr.

Tomato ‘Red Currant’
Annie Hayes “The Boss”

I grow these extraordinarily prolific wild cherry tomatoes in 2 half barrels in my driveway, so when I get home from work I’ve got an awesome snacky pick-me-up before i even hit the front door. Also, I eat a lot of salads and I love how I don’t have to slice these little guys – just toss ’em in. At never more than 1″, they’re just the right size! Unlike typical cherry tomatoes that are just simply sweet, ‘Red Currant’ bestows a real tomato flavor overlaid with a hint of sweetness – totally delicious! What’s more, I think they bear longer than any other tomato starting early and lasting through November. You’ll get zillions of them and even if you miss a few, you certainly won’t worry about it – they just keep coming and coming. You may even have to come up with new tomato recipes (cherry brownies maybe?) if you want to eat them all. Interestingly, they are a different sub-species from all the other different cherry tomatoes. Indeterminate, they’ll grow to 5′ so use a cage or stakes to hold up all those fruit-laden stems!


Big juicy acidy tomatoes are attainable in our cool-Summer climate! (Heavens part, angels sing!)

Tomato ‘Thessaloniki’
Annie Hayes – “The Boss”

I remember way back in the early 60’s, on hot Summer afternoons, my mom serving us kids the most absolutely delicious sandwiches that we kids would eat out on the back porch. They were stuffed with large, fat slices of tomatoes that tasted like heaven. Up until a few years ago I never again tasted, grew, or bought a tomato that matched my memory of this “Holy Grail” true acidy “Summertime” flavor until I grew my first ‘Thessaloniki.’ And lo and behold it hails from the town my dad was born in! A huge, vigorous indeterminate variety, it bears a great number of beautiful large red fruits that take forever to rot or go mushy when left for a long time on the vine. No splitting either and it’s very resistant to blight. It does make a lot of dense foliage (to protect against the intense Greek sun and heat), so I just pull off leaves that block the sun from hitting the fruit here in Summer-foggy Richmond, CA. I do pinch out the suckers for bigger sized tomatoes. If you’re looking for a big, productive, easy to grow old-fashioned tasting tomato, I highly recommend this one and I’ll bet you grow it every year from now on!

BWPS (Big White Pink Stripe) is neither white nor striped. Go figure. Photo courtesy Kelly Kilpatrick

Tomato ‘Big White Pink Stripe’ or ‘BWPS’
Claire Woods – Production manager

The all around winner in my failure of a vegetable garden last year and not just because everything else tanked. Though this tomato is neither pink nor striped, it is by far the most interesting and delectable tomato I’ve tried. It’s sweet with dense flesh, good smooth texture and rich fruity flavor – if ever there was a dessert tomato, this is it! I’ve never had another tomato like it and my plant produced fruit when no other did in last year’s over-cool summer. Fruits are big – like the size of a juicy peach, but squat and irregular shaped. They’re roughly peach in color, too, with a wee bit of mottling on the skin that I guess someone decided was enough like stripes to add “Stripe” to the name. Like a lot of lighter colored tomatoes, it’s very low acid, which for me is perfection. Though Annie likes ‘em tart, she can have her ‘Thessaloniki!’ More ‘Big Pink White Stripe’ for meeee!

Sandwich seduction: Black and Brown Boar from Wild Boar Farms

Tomato ‘Black and Brown Boar’
Elayne Takemoto – Marketeer

No one loves tomatoes more than me, which somehow doesn’t match well with how notoriously lazy I am when it comes to taking care of my tomato plants. I don’t baby them, I don’t fertilize and half the time I end up planting them where there’s room – not where they’ll do best. Well, last year, my urge for the perfect BLT was strong – I was motivated. I cleared all of the plants out of the deep planter between my concrete driveway and a low brick wall – the warmest, sunniest spot on my foggy, cool property. The soil was nice and friable, I added compost and I watered on an every-other-week schedule until the fruit set. I kept weeds at bay, I doted, I waited. If you were around for last year’s notoriously cool “Summer,” then you’ll know that I waited well into August before I got my first tomato – but boy was it worth it! This luscious, juicy, slightly tart beauty was ‘Black and Brown Boar’ from Wild Boar Farms. It was a tomato that tasted like a TOMATO – all caps! I sliced up some fresh sourdough, grilled up some facon (fake bacon – highly recommended), gave it a generous swipe of mayo and dusting of salt and cracked pepper and voila! Pure heaven. You bet I’m growing it again. Indeterminate. 65-75 days.

Big, bold Pink Berkeley Tie Dye from Wild Boar Farms. Photo courtesy Kelly Kilpatrick.

Tomato ‘Pink Berkeley Tie Dye’
Kelly Kilpatrick of Floradora Garden Design

As a gardener living in a cool season locale, I always thought that big ol’ hunky tomatoes were unattainable, needing more heat to mature than I could provide. After growing lots of the cherry-sized varieties I decided to give ‘Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye’ a try. What ensued could only be described as a tomato love fest! A sturdy girl with surprisingly robust stems, she’s not one to be caged and quickly outgrows any boundaries, best grown up a tall stake or trellis. The hefty fruits have lovely pink flesh, the skin of which is a beautiful rose streaked with gold. Produces LOTS of tomatoes that are wonderful as thick slices on sandwiches or lightly sauteed with olive oil, garlic and basil for a true Summer of love.


Small to medium sized but Mighty in old-fashioned flavor: Stupice!

Tomato ‘Stupice’
Marti B. – Wholesale assistant extraordinaire

After too many disappointments trying to grow a tasty tomato in our foggy neighborhood, including the variety tauntingly named ‘San Francisco Fog’, I gave up and swore off tomato growing. Then one day at the nursery I saw we were growing  ‘Stupice’ and I remembered years ago a neighbor had given me a start for this plant. Even after over watering, planting too early and just about every other novice mistake I could make, it produced the most yummy, acidic and old fashioned tasting tomato I’d had in years. So I got back on the tomato wagon with ‘Stupice’ and my reward was an abundance of perfect tasting, completely non-mealy, tangerine sized tomatoes. In foggy zones, late planting (harvest will be late Summer) and brutally witholding water once fruit sets are the keys to the tastiest, non-mealy tomatoes.

They’re coming VERY SOON, add any variety to a WISH LIST to get an automatic email just as soon as the crop comes available. 

Prickly New Plants

7 Mar

Check out my super cool shirt!

Hi all! It’s Megan blogging at ya from the sign department here at Annie’s. Part of my super cool job as sign-maker is putting new plants online. I’ve also been known to pose with a chicken in my hand while modeling a sweet t-shirt.

Agave parryi hanging at Huntington

This week I’m bringing you two of my favorite new prickly plants. I’ve been a fan of Agave parryi after first laying eyes on it in the succulent section at the SF Botanical Garden, but this past December I made my first trip to Huntington Gardens (succulent junky heaven on earth) where they have an entire posse of them planted amongst the ginormous barrel cacti.

Agave parryi

Propagator Claire Woods describes it best, “I think Agave parryi looks like it was designed rather than grown. Beautiful symmetry & form, compact size, plus those grey blue leaves & black thorns?” Bonus points for drought tolerance AND deer resistance! They stay relatively small (1-3’ wide and high) compared to many of the big honking Agaves out there. Shortly after moving to California from Agave-less Wisconsin I made the mistake of planting an Agave americana I found free on craigslist, having no idea they could grow up to six feet tall, and 10 feet wide. Oops! Click here for more info about Agave parryi.

Ribes speciosum hummingbird party (photo courtesy of marlin harms)

Want the neighborhood hummingbirds to party like rock stars in your garden? Ribes speciosum will have the hummers raging on its sweet fuchsia like flowers as early as January through late-Spring. Its pokey thorns serve to protect the partiers from birdy hunters (kitties, we’re talking about you).

Fabulous fuchsia-like flowers

This California native is typically found growing in Coastal Sage Scrub, Chaparral, and isn’t the least bit finicky about soil. Got clay or sand, no problem! It’s even drought tolerant! Check it out on our site here. Stay tuned for more new plants next week!



The Great Honking Smokin’ Hot Gargantuan Poker Plant of Annie’s Blooms Again!

2 Oct

Kniphofia multiflora showed up at the nursery a few years ago, as a solitary seedling, alone in its tray. Not very promising for propagatability, but a plant with this magnitude of awesomeness? Sometimes one MASSIVE POKER PLANT is enough! We were pretty thrilled with our crop of one, feeble though it was. Our wee seedling spent a few months in the back of the greenhouse, and then was transferred to larger quarters where it began to grow… and GROW… AND GROW! Last October it sent up its first flower spike for our Big Fall Party (Timing plus! Sweet of it to mark the occasion, don’t you think?) and acquired many new admirers. Now again, just in time for our big event, our glorious mama plant is putting on another big show!

Jen, for scale

The plant has doubled in size since last fall, and added a few spikes to its floral display. If the amount of growth it’s put on this year is any indication, next year we might have to throw IT a party. It’s getting to be one of the most awe inspiring specimens in the nursery.
Up Up Up!
Lucky us (and lucky you!) we pulled off a small crop this year! There are a modest sum of plants available to mail order folks, and some larger specimens for sale at the nursery – IN BUD!! Too big to ship and a good reason to get into the nursery early this weekend if you’re able. They’re crowded around our original specimen, looking oddly like mini-monster babies of the big mama in the huge pot.
Kniphofia multiflora friends
Though this species is from wetlands, ours has thrived with average water in a (HEEUGE) pot of good soil. We top dress with compost once a year when the plant is in growth (it goes deciduous in Winter, which I fretted over the first season for no good reason – it grew like mad once warm weather returned) and try to keep it out of the way of excessively harsh weather.

Hello world!

17 May

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