A California native.
We were delighted this morning to discover a Monarch butterfly in the garden. We hadn’t been visited by one in several years, since the great decline. The Monarchs require Asclepias — milkweed — to thrive (the larvae absorb toxic steroids, called cardenolides, which protect them from predators), and Roundup has been killing all the milkweed. But more and more people in Northern California are, like us, now growing milkweed, and I hope this visit is a sign the butterflies are on the rebound.
Today’s butterfly was particularly interested in the Scabiosa anthemifolia. Though not a California native (it hails from Africa, Europe and Asia), its nectar is popular with all sorts of our local flying critters.
Not everything in the garden has to be obscure. ‘Charles Grimaldi’ is one of the most widely available cultivars of Brugmansia for a reason. It’s fragrant, attractive, and reliable. Today I enjoyed playing with photography of some of its large, trumpet-shaped flowers.
Mine is growing at the property line under oak and plum trees, as well as bottlebrush and other shrubs. This is an area that gets some morning sun but it is protected from the hottest and most intense sunlight. Under these circumstances the plant has grown tall, maybe twelve feet or more. I give it occasional water during our dry summer season, but not a lot, since it seems to manage pretty well on its own — though the flowers (which are about a foot tall) will wilt a bit in hot, dry weather (but generally recover in the evening, when the fragrance is greatest). It flowers pretty much continuously, year round in my location.
I’ve talked about Grüss an Aachen roses before. I don’t grow a lot of roses, but I like this one. The problem with modern roses is that they were bred strictly for flowers, and the plant and its foliage lack the nice bush form of old-fashioned roses. But after our wet winter this year, the Grüss an Aachen looks fine. It is blooming profusely, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Calandrinia spectabilis — the rare plant with no real common name (though some commercial growers are trying to brand it as Rock Purslane) — is native to the deserts of Chile. In does very well in our area. For one thing, it needs virtually no water. After five years of drought that’s a big plus, even if this last year set records for wetness. I mean, it doesn’t just manage for a while without water, it outright laughs at drought. So it’s a great plant to put in that corner that the garden hose is hard to get to.
This close-up of a poppy in Tom’s Garden clearly shows some of the components of the reproductive system of a flower, as well as some of the ways poppies are distinctive.
Crepelike petals account for the red background. In the center of the petals is the stigma, which is the outer element of the pistil, the female reproductive organ. (You can remember this by thinking of the yin/yang dichotomy: pistols are yang/male whereas pistils are yin/female.) The stigma is where pollen germinates.
Supporting the stigma is the style, which grows out of the flower’s ovary. The ovary is a melon-shaped element that forms before petals emerge (when it is covered with sepals, not shown). After fertilization the ovary swells. In opium poppies, this is where the latex is produced that, when dried, becomes raw opium. The stigma, style, and ovary together compose the pistil.
Surrounding the pistil are stalklike stamens (the stalks are termed filaments), capped by lozenge-shaped anthers. The anthers are where pollen is produced. These are the male organs. After pollination, they fall away, together with the wilted petals.
The stalk that supports the entire flower is technically called a pedicel.
Poppies are unusual in usually having just two sepals (many flowers have five) and in usually having four petals (again, more common is five). Likewise, while the most common number of flower stamens is again five, poppies are spectacularly immodest and produce dozens. The disklike structure of the poppy stamen is also distinctive.
Unsurprisingly, given the sedative properties of opium, in the Western tradition poppies are associated with peace, sleep, and death (but also rebirth). But in China, according to Terese Tse Bartholomew in her Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, the poppy is associated with wealth and honor. In part this is because one Chinese word for poppy, jinbeihua, which literally translates as “brocade blanket flower,” evokes the brocade (jin) that was often worn by ancient Chinese officials.
For this photo I was mainly interested in capturing some of the beauty of the flower in extreme close-up.
It’s April, and the northeast is covered in snow. But here in the Bay Area a heat wave is starting up, with temperatures today projected to be in the 8os. And the roses are flowering! This one is a Grüss an Aachen.
It’s a floribunda (Latin for “many-flowering”) rose – at least, it is for all practical purposes, but rose enthusiasts like to quibble over classifications. Floribundas are a type of rose created by crossing hybrid teas with polyanthas. From the polyanthas floribunda roses take profuse flowers, while the teas provide them with interesting flower color and form.
Grüss an Aachen means “greetings to Aachen” in German. Aachen is a town in western Germany near the border with the Netherlands. Charlemagne had his court there, and it was a coronation site for later kings. It was the location of the gardens of rose breeder Philipp Geduldig, who introduced this one in 1909. Many sources consider it the original floribunda. But according to the Rose Society of South Australia, it should be seen more as a precursor to the floribundas:
Grüss an Aachen has interesting parents, namely the seed parent white Hybrid Perpetual Frau Karl Druschki and its pollen parent, the forgotten Hybrid Tea, Franz Deegan. However, Grüss an Aachen has never accurately fitted into the Hybrid Tea category. This rose bush resembles a neat shrub-like Floribunda and even though it predates the Floribunda class by decades, it is often classified as a Floribunda rose in modern reference books. Some experts regard Grüss an Aachen as “an early precursor of the popular David Austin English roses”, but regardless of the category or classification, this superb heritage rose has over a century of history and many devotees.
It’s a vigorous, compact, bushy rose. The foliage is deep green and a little leathery. Ours was severely damaged by deer but is recovering now that we have fenced off the whole back area. It’s a great rose for us because it does well in shady areas, and we have it naturalized in a part of the garden that receives shade from Victorian Boxes. (Nearby are salvias, penstemons, yarrow, and Shasta daisies, among others.) Online I read on some sites that it gets to two feet high, but ours is more than three feet and nearly as wide around.
The flowers are more or less flat, a bit more than three inches in diameter. The color of the flowers varies on the same plant from slightly apricot, salmon, or pink to nearly white. Sometimes it has some yellow undertones and reddish highlights. I think the color variation might be the result of changes in sunlight and temperature. (There is also a consistently pinker version sold as Pink Grüss an Aachen.) Whatever color they start as, they eventually fade to white. The flowers are sweetly fragrant, and they attract butterflies. The plant blooms profusely in the spring and then just slightly less profusely several times over the summer. This is the very beginning of its bloom season. The flowers pictured are the first this year.
I give it a little food once in a while, more or less alternating organic rose food with worm castings and crushed crab shell. It doesn’t need much. During our dry summer I give it a little drip watering. Beyond that it doesn’t require much attention. I’ve never had problems with pests, other than deer. It’s a pretty tough rose. And a handsome one.
This hummingbird loves the iochroma. Iochroma is a Central or South American plant unrelated to fuschia but similar in appearance. The flowers can be blue, purple, red, yellow, or white. It does quite well in our region.
The iochromas I have are Iochroma coccinea, which I bought as seedlings at Annie’s Annuals in Richmond. Annie’s says it comes from Peru and is “totally tropical,” but the American Horticultural Society says it is from Central America (if anyone can shed light on this please provide info in the comments). Annie’s also says it blooms spring through fall but this year mine stopped blooming sometime in July, possibly as a result of our terrible drought. I thought they might be done for the year, but as this picture taken August 19 (date of this update) shows, they are back now with another blooming season:
Annie’s charges about $10 for a seedling in a four-inch container. But the plant can be propagated from greenwood cuttings in late spring or from semi-ripe cuttings in summer. It should be top-dressed in spring. Pinching young plants will enourage bushiness.
This one is in a container, so it requires water once or twice a week in the dry season. I have another in the ground, which is larger — at least nine feet tall — and requires no maintenance at all.
All parts of the plant are poisonous. But not to hummingbirds.
This is a climbing rose that I have in a tomato cage for support. It’s a vigorous grower with dark green leaves and sort of striped pick and yellow flowers. It’s a repeat bloomer. So far it has required little maintenance.
The brugmansia has grown up quite tall, struggling to reach the light amid the surrounding trees. The ladder, placed there for pruning, gives a sense of scale. The large yellow flowers (called Angel’s Trumpets) are fragrant in the evening. This variety is called Charles Grimaldi, named, I think, for the grower, though the name always reminds me of the famous Victorian clown Joseph Grimaldi (he’s the reason circus clowns were called “Joeys”). This is said to be one of the best varieties of brugmansia around. My plant suffered setbacks from a few of our rare frosts when it was young, but it survived and has recovered nicely. This year I’ve started feeding it with tomato fertilizer, hoping to promote more foliage and flowering. We’ll see how that goes.
All parts of the brugmansia are poisonous. It’s related to datura — both are in the family Solanaceae — but is not exactly the same plant. Most daturas require more sun and less water than brugmansia, though there is a lot of variation among them. In the western U.S., some are known as “jimson weed.” Brugmansias tend to be woodier and taller — they are sometimes called “tree daturas.” You can read more about the difference here.
Here in the SF Bay area, our seasons occur on the cross-quarters. The equinox is more mid-spring than the beginning of spring. Our spring starts with the cross-quarter: Candlemas, Groundhog’s Day, Lunar New Year, Imbolc, whatever you want to call it. Where I live, plum blossoms and quinces announce the change in the season.
What actually inspired me to take this photo was the golden morning light on the grasses behind my library buildings.
Our garden lies in what Sunset calls “one of Northern California’s finest horticultural climates.” We are located in an area of wet mild winters and dry mild summers — a Mediterranean climate zone. It’s region with unique challenges and opportunities. I love gardening here.
Approaches to gardening are strongly determined by scale. Our garden is a small family garden. Its core was formerly a swimming pool. Often we might be growing just a single plant in a container, or a handful of plants, where a larger-scale gardening operation might be planting long rows of crops. Over time we have adjusted to find the right balance for our home garden.
All this new stuff goes on top
turn it over, turn it over
wait and water down
from the dark bottom
turn it inside out
let it spread through
Sift down even
Watch it sprout.
A mind like compost.
— Gary Snyder
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