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


Spring Gardens Report Card

7 Jun

So, here’s the update on how my Spring blooming combos worked out this year. A lovely year all in all with a nice early bloom show for our Spring Party in mid-April and a perfect peak show just in time for our Mother’s Day Party.

SMALL Spring Garden U BED  left side full bloom

Papaver commutatum - Nemophila menziesii  & Agrostemma Ocean Pearls for blog

Here is the final result for the always popular mixed planting of Papaver commutatum “ Ladybird Poppy” with California native Nemophila menziesii “Baby Blue Eyes” and tall, white, cottagey classic annual Agrostemma githago ‘Ocean Pearls’ or “White Corncockle”. A fool proof-slam dunk Springtime combination – just imagine these plants repeated in groups over a larger space!

Papaver commutatum , White Cal Poppy & Nemophila 04-12 c GOOD

Here it is a month earlier before the Agrostemma started blooming and when the white California poppies, Eschscholzia californica ‘Alba’, were just coming into flower. Here along the coast in the Bay Area, I plant all these annuals in early February for a maximum bloom-at-the-same-time April – May show. You folks in Southern California would generally plant them in November – December for a late February – March bloom. Basically, they take 2 months from their 4” pot size to burst into all their glory. I plant them pretty darn close together – about 10-12” apart as you can see in my last blog, where I tried to show what they look like just after planting. This helps them fill in fast, look super co-mingly and prevents unattractive bare space (and weeds!).

Big thrill for me! My first-time experiment pairing EASY South African bulb Ixia ‘Buttercup’ and new-to-me Southern California purple California native Phacelia minor was a success! They did bloom at the same time!

Phacelia minor-Ixia Buttercup & Thomas Church

I planted the Phacelia in early March and it worked out just right. Wonderfully rich colored bells were displayed so showily atop quite handsome low foliage. A swell contrast with the Ixia, which has been in the ground for 2 years. And notice the rather perfect purple and yellow bicolored Lupinus regalis ‘Thomas Church’ in the background, making a picture perfect harmonious vertical accent. The Lupine is a perennial and so is the Ixia, which spreads politely in your garden to make a patch of bright primrose prettiness each year. The Phacelia is a bee-magnet extraordinaire and will self-sow for a repeat performance each Spring.

Lupinus Thomas Church & Ixia Buttercup bb ADJ

As I mentioned in my March post, I try to make the front bed as you enter the nursery as romantic as I can. Not everything worked out as I had imagined it (a really common occurrence!).
U BED Spring Garden Elayne ADJ & CROP

This spot is under partial shadow of a tree and I always forget that sun loving plants take longer to bloom with less sun, so my white poppies, Papaver ‘Bridal Silk’, bloomed late and you can only see one bloom on the right side of this photo. Luckily, the white columbine, Aquilegia caerulea ‘Krystal’ took its place. Still pretty, though, don’t you think? Here is a close-up of always beautiful, long lived and long blooming Dianthus ‘Pinkerton’ and “Baby Blue Eyes”.

Dianthus Pinkerton & Nemophila

Lastly, this was the first year I’ve tried this lovely new apricot colored Calendula ‘Bronzed Beauty’ in our gardens.

Calendula  Bronze Beauty  side  NICE

Calendula Bronze Beauty close PERFECT

The gentian Ajuga genevensis I had planned for the front of the bed bloomed late this year, so I added in some quick flowering Viola ‘Bolwes Black’ along with the blue Delphinium bellamosum, peach foliaged Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ and Bellis perennis “English Daisy”. And here’s how it turned out for these photos – I think pretty nice!

Calendula  Bronzed Beaury Viola Bowles Black 7 Heuchera Marmalade nn

Calendula Bronze Beauty  SIDE GOOD  ADJ & CROP

That’s one thing I have learned from my years of gardening. You can never quite count on perennials, like the Ajuga, to behave the same way each year or to bloom at the exact same time – that’s one important reason to accessorize and fill in with annuals. You pretty much know what you’re gonna get and that it’s gonna look great. Besides, they self-sow for free plants every new season.

I hope my experiments lend some inspiration. Do stay tuned, as we filmed some nice videos of our Spring gardens this year, featuring more of my favorite “bloom-at-the-same-time combos” in all their fabulous glory! And hey, Happy Gardening everybody!

What I’m Doing in the Garden

29 Mar

People are always asking me when they come in the nursery what I’m doing in the garden right now. They want just a few simple new plant combinations that they can try at home.

Here at the nursery, the goal for me is to get everything to be in full bloom for our SPRING PARTY on April 14 & 15. Each year, I try to do something new so that when people come in, it’s fresh and exciting. It’s thrilling and creative for me and folks are always happy and inspired to see something new. Plus, it’s fun!

This is the first demonstration bed you see when you enter the nursery. I want it to feel romantic, Springy and welcoming as visitors walk through the front gates.

center bed newly planted

Filling in the space around established Cephalaria gigantea, “Giant Scabious” – which won’t bloom until Summer – are exuberant Spring favorites Nemophila menziesii “Baby Blue Eyes”, Papaver commutatum ‘Ladybird’ and Agrostemma githago ‘Ocean Pearls’. FYI: the white speckles covering the soil is Sluggo, my favorite non-toxic snail bait. NOTICE THE AMOUNT of Sluggo I’m using here. It’s been raining for the last three weeks straight – and that means its super snacky time for resident slugs and snails. I’ll re-apply it every five days while it’s raining to make sure my baby plants are safe.

Click to see a larger view of this garden!

Here’s an example of this combo with Orlaya grandiflora stepping in for Agrostemma ‘Ocean Pearls’. Pretty!

Super popular in the garden last year was Ixia ‘Buttercup‘. This year I’m trying it with purple flowered California native Phacelia minor in hopes that the pairing of bright purple and yellow will look exciting together. Will they bloom at the same time? Let’s see what happens! (In case you’re wondering about the orange stuff on the soil surface, I’ve added a light layer of lava rock. Because we top-dress with compost several times during the year, we add the lava rock once a year to maintain optimum drainage).

Click to see a larger view of this garden!

Ixia hybrid 'Buttercup' close-up

Ixia, meet Phacelia.

Phacelia minor

Phacelia, meet Ixia.


It’s a month before the Spring Party and here I am adding in the quickest to grow and bloom annual – Malcolmia maritima. I looove Malcolmia with “Baby Blue Eyes” and just about any Dianthus. Last month, I planted the Delphinium and Papaver. The Dianthus are from last year – they remain my favorite long-lived, long blooming, old-fashioned, fragrant, perennial stand-bys for the edge of the garden.

Click to see a larger view of this garden!

Here’s a peek at at how sweet and wonderfully SPRINGY this combo looks.

Last year I was enamored with this new two-toned peachy-ruby Calendula, ‘Bronzed Beauty.’ So this year, I planted it near the entryway.

Photo courtesy the lovely Floradora Gardens.

Here, I’m just adding bright gentian blue Ajuga genevensis in the foreground and Delphinium ‘Bellamosum’ in the back. Bouncy white English daisies (Bellis perennis) will fill in any emtpy spaces. For foliar interest, there are a few grasses plus harmoniously peachy Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ and ruby-ribbed Rumex sanguineus.

Click to see a larger view of this garden!

So there you go! With just a few well-chosen Spring bloomers, you can make great combinations that will delight your eye and make you and your garden feel so totally successful!

Succulent Container Madness!

9 Dec

You can shove succulents in anything!

Hi all!  Megan here to show you some fun gifty ideas with succulents. I’ll shove a succulent in almost anything, whether it be a grill that nobody’s used for years, or an old wagon I picked up for five bucks at a garage sale.  The possibilities are endless! First off,  I want you to know that in many cases these are not permanent plantings (this is especially true for terrariums). Several months or even years down the road, depending on how quickly the succulents you plant grow, it’s extremely likely that your creations will benefit from a little fluff. I redo the wagon & the grill once or twice a year. Think of your succulents like sculptural elements & have fun. It’s not like you’re deciding where to plant a tree that you’ll have to live with for many a year.

Succulent Roos

The ultimate key to succulent happiness in the great outdoors (sorry folks in freezing locations) is drainage. Non-draining containers + rain = rotty mush. Pick up a ceramic bit & you can drill through almost anything so that the water can flow. These kangaroos came from Goodwill & after a quick meeting with the drill they drain perfectly. When it comes to drilling holes, higher quality ceramic items tend to be more challenging to drill through & glass is the trickiest, but it’s all possible if you’re willing to take the risk of a stray break here & there. Load up on inexpensive containers at your local thrift store. I’m a big proponent of succulent potting mix  to achieve ultimate drainage.  To create the roos above all I did was drill holes in their booties, fill with cacti/succulent mix & stick cuttings.  Easy, peasy. These cuties would work inside in a bright location, too!

Graptopetalum paraguayense paradise

One of my all time favorite succulents for containers are the creamy pinkish blue rosettes of Graptopetalum paraguayense. Gardening in almost pure sand, two blocks from Ocean Beach in nearly frost free San Francisco means lots & lots of succulents are happy campers in my backyard. Okay, it’s succulent heaven, but before moving to California I actually grew a wide array of succulents in my living room closet with lights. Taking cuttings is easy. Just snip, snip & you’re done. If you’re a rule follower, snip your cuttings at least a day in advance so the cuts have time to dry out & heal over, preventing bacteria, etc … I normally don’t do this due to patience issues & things seem to turn out fine.

Oscularia deltoides & Satureja douglasii

Another one of my favorite succulents for cutting is Oscularia deltoides. It seems to benefit from a little haircut now & then anyways. Here it is escaping the border with a San Francisco native that smells like heaven, Satureja douglasii.

Aeonium simsii

Aeoniums seem to put up with indoor action fairly well & Aeonium simsii is one of the highest rated of the bunch for indoor happiness. Love the eyelashes on the leaf margins.

Succulent Assortment

Over the past few years of putting together succulent containers & terrariums, I’ve found that often times less is more. I used to shove ten different succulents in an itty bitty container & let them battle it out. The results were often scraggy & sad.  I tend to go for lower growers that form a dense mat, or splashy bigger rosettes.

Vintage Succulent Containers

A couple holes in the bottoms, some dirt, plants & they’re ready to go! Since these were taken as cuttings they have no roots, which means they have nothing to take up water with. Don’t fret, the water stored in the leaves will hold them over until they pop out new roots from the stems jammed in dirt. No fancy rooting hormones needed! I  don’t even water containers composed of cutting based succulents for the first two weeks or so, to let them root out a bit. A sunny to part sunny spot is all they need. Indoors, they like a bright window.

Graptopetalum paraguayense Dino-land

Terrariums are all the rage these days, but I’ll tell you upfront – they’re a little trickier to keep happy. The key to keeping a container with no drainage is water control. Overwatering is a sure fire way to rot the roots out & keep a fungus gnat family happy, but if you’re using glass it’s pretty easy to keep an eye on how much moisture is making it to the bottom of the container. I like to use a spray bottle. I’ll spray a bunch then wait a couple minutes to see how deep the water seeps in and spray more if needed.

Ornament Fun

Many hardcore succulent folks think it’s cruel & unusual punishment to put plants that like free draining soil & low humidity in glass, but I’ve had numerous successes with succulents in non-draining situations. They’re very forgiving. Planting wise, it’s easy. I like to use pretty rocks or gravel on the bottom for a wee bit of drainage space, plus it looks cool. Some folks add a sprinkle of horticultural charcoal in for good measure before adding the succulent potting mix in. I don’t. The next step is getting the plants in there. I like using rocks as a topdressing not only because they’re pretty, but they help keep the plants where you want them. If your container is small, it’s handy to have a pair of chopsticks for nudging stuff around.

Succulent Swan

Wishlist alert! I couldn’t resist showing ya’ll this adorable little newbie Echeveria amoena. It’s still a baby here at the nursery, but it will be available down the road. I absolutely LOVE this plant.  It’s adorable with or without blooms & loves life in containerville. I’ve got plenty more ramblings about stuffing succulents in things on my garden blog Far Out Flora & am happy to answer any questions you may have, just post a comment.

Terrarium Fun Links: Going Glass Globe Crazy, Want to Win Succulents? (old contest), Totally Terrariums, Glass Jar Terrariums, Gardening in Glass

Succulent Container Links: Rearranging Rocks, Cranking Out Containers, Succulent Gardens Containers, Succulent Pots, Cool Creative Containers

September Bloom Day Bliss

15 Sep

Happy Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day ya’ll! A big thanks goes out to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting the worldwide monthly flower sharing fest. For more info about the plants below just click on the picture & you’ll be whisked away to our fine website for more info.  Here’s a little taste of what we’ve got blooming this September at the nursery:

Echinops ritro ruthenicus

Lotus jacobaeus

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Prairie Sun’

Nicotiana mutabilis

Fuchsia ‘Rys’

Zinnia peruviana ‘Red’

Musschia wollastonii

Mina lobata, Ursinia anthemoides and friends

 

Return of the Golden Fuchsia

10 Aug

photo: James Gaither

Few plants garner the cult following of Deppea splendens, the magnificent cloud forest plant that’s probably launched more insane bidding wars on ebay than any other. It’s almost iridescent leaves & delicate gold & maroon blooms suspended daintily from filament-like pedicels make a late Summer & Fall display that knocks some serious socks off.

Discovered & named in 1972 & the original collection was made by Dr. Dennis Breedlove in 1981 near Chiapas, Mexico. On a return visit in 1986, the canyon where the original plants were discovered had been razed & converted to farmland. There was no trace. It’s now presumed to be extinct in the wild, though there is more than one clone in cultivation today. Ours came from Strybing Botanical Arboretum in San Francisco, where the plant thrives. Those cool, foggy Summers are the perfect thing for a cloud forest dwelling rarity & keep its leaves lush & emerald green.

For many years the availability of this exquisitely rare plant has been scarce, but this year we have enough to not only offer it, but FEATURE it in our brand new and super pretty Summer catalog! Making a place for the plant in your own home garden can’t bring back what has been lost in the wild, but it can help encourage awareness of rare & endangered plants & ethics aside: aesthetics, folks – this plant is mad pretty. Who wouldn’t want to have a specimen of such copious beauty close to their domicile? Not all endangered plants are pretty, you know. I won’t go naming names because that’s just not nice.

What you need to know in order to get your Deppea to grow? Keep it out of the hot hot heat, please – your plant will sulk, drop leaves & generally pitch a fit. It can take a fair amount of direct light, but with too much sizzle you’ll find yourself the accidental killer of an extinct plant (which, really – no pressure. You’re not necessarily responsibly for the development that got it into this rarified position. Don’t fret.) Too much cold is a sure fire killer, too. Protect from all but the lightest frosts, or bring the plant in under cover.

Our plants in the nursery are currently growing in 10-20 gallon pots and are doin’ fiiiine. Heavy soils are ill advised, so amend for drainage & mound the soil up a leeetle bit. Average water should suffice, or regular if you’re somewhere with extremes less gentle than those of the Bay Area. This plant is a challenge. That much is true. It’s also more & more rewarding as it thrives & ages, with ever-heavier clusters of flowers & a beautiful form. When well grown, it can eventually be shaped to look like an elegant multi-branched tree. In cultivation it will achieve around 8+ feet in height (though it’s often much shorter) & stays more tall than wide – 4’ or so, but pruning will ultimately determine the plant’s footprint.

photo: Kelly Kilpatrick

It’s been yearrrs since we’ve been able to offer this plant. Last year we had a teensy crop and they all got scooped up fast. This time we’re sure we have a high enough count to really spread the joy of Deppeas to everyone far and wide (well, as far and wide as is appropriate to the plant’s needs.)

P.S. (Once more with feeling) have you seen the shiny new Summer catalog? It’s super swell!

 

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!

Let’s Play Favorites!

15 Jun

I’m about to make a very strong statement – please don’t be alarmed. My statement will be concerning my favorite Salvia – the Salvia I would choose over all other Salvias (and there could be around 900 of them, and that’s species, not cultivars) which, as a gardener, is a pretty difficult decision, know what I mean?

By no means is this my favorite plant – don’t even go there!

Ok, ready? (is there a drumroll I can put here?)

Salvia pomifera

Salvia pomifera looking its best for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

Salvia pomifera. Yep – Salvia pomifera, I’m calling you out. You’re the one for me.

There are other honorable and distinguished and beautiful Salvias & I love a good number of them (shout outs to Salvia carduacea, clevelandii & semiatrata – I LOVE YOU GUYS) but Salvia pomifera is my lasting favorite & has been for many years. It’s preposterously gorgeous in flower, not monstrous in size, super tolerant of drought & it’s useful. Stir these fine qualities together and add whatever sentimental attachments I’ve made to the species, and you have the one Salvia. There’s some skill involved in growing it, but I’m going to tell you all of that here and now, so no big deal. By the time you leave this blog you will be a Salvia pomifera PRO and you can take one home without any anxiety over potentially killing The Salvia that Claire Would Choose Above All Others.

salvia_pomifera_mid

Somehow this dear sage is both handsome & frilly all at once.

No pressure. I’m a firm believer in pushing the envelope – if a plant grows like a weed that can be delightful, but there’s also a joy in taking on a plant with a little bit of challenge. It’s not always true that the effort expended is rewarded in kind, and my compost pile tells of many sad failures, but success can be sweet!! I believe that the key lies in the following three things.  Here goes:

1.       This plant can drown. Most plants can, but this one’s particularly sensitive to it. What that means is that you should water it carefully – watching that things aren’t overwatered particularly, and keeping the soil on the dry side – plant it on a mound, or at the edge of a bed, as increased drainage will help protect the plant against The Soggy Death. Got a slope? Well drained soil?

2.       Once it’s established, STOP WATERING. This should be after the first winter. You’ll know if the plant is failing to take because it will shrivel and die. Really, that’s the symptom. Once the plant gets to that rotten point, there’s a very good chance it won’t revive. Sorry. It’s true. It’s very similar to a lot of the woodier Mediterranean sages. Once the plant is established you can just let it run wild, with occasional deep watering *maybe* – but in these first few seasons, it helps to keep a careful eye.

3.       Grow it lean! Nutrient heavy soil is going to do you no favors, so don’t plant it in the vegetable bed. Overfeeding will cause weak growth and more breakage, and more breakage=unhappy plant.

Now you know!

Salvia pomifera

Say AAAAAAAHHH!!

In addition to huge purple blue glowy flowers, a long season of bloom, the showy bracts that stay on the plant well after bloom and keep things interesting, the silvery leaves, the LONG SEASON OF BLOOM (did I mention the long blooming?) and the plants resistance to drought & deer, there’s also this fascinating bit that I haven’t been able to appreciate in person: there’s a wasp that has a special relationship with this plant. The wasp isn’t here in CA, it’s back in Greece, Salvia pomifera’s original stomping grounds, but this wasp makes big wooly galls on the plant that are preserved in sugar and eaten as a delicacy. We’re not about to import the wasp to try to replicate this ourselves, but it sounds potentially delicious, and definitely curious. Not much is known about the herbal properties of the plant hereabouts, but it’s said to be similar to our common friend Salvia officinalis, but stronger. Hrmmmm.

I hope that some of you out there in the blogosphere take it upon yourselves to attempt this amazing sage! It’s been one of my favorite things (again – that word – “favorite” – but I do mean it!) that we’ve grown in the last few years, and I would be downright tickled to start seeing it out in the world more!

Claire Woods
Propagator 

As always, big ups to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day! See what’s blooming on other folks’ gardens this June!

Show us your Echiums!

27 May

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

IMG_7505

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT IS THIS THING?

Why, it’s an ECHIUM!

WHERE DID YOU FIND SUCH A THING?

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

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

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

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

Echium wildpretii "Tower of Jewels"

Here's another cutie!

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

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

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

Echium wildpretii "Tower of Jewels"

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

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

Gardening

Master mugger Matti for scale.

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

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

echium wildpretii curve

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