Monday, December 27, 2010

Anise-Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum

Agastache foeniculum

Flowering now, this metre high short lived perennial herb is familiar to many who keep bees as it is a great source of nectar over the summer. It is native to the United States and Canada and is much loved for the aniseed scented leaves which are suitable for use as a herbal tea, and for the tall spikes of lavender blue flowers. It is an easy plant to grow and is not troubled by pests and diseases and not particular as to soil or water. A Dutch raised hybrid between this species and the Korean A rugosa is worth looking out for as it has up to 120 spikes of flowers on each plant. It is called 'Blue Fortune'.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bay Leaves and Garlic

Street seller of bay leaves and garlic
18th century print by Delpech after an original by Vernet
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A ghost from Christmas past and a tough way to make a living... I have a crop of garlic planted which is still green but I will dig some soon as it is good to use fresh. I have a small bay tree which is a plant I can't live without. Garlic and bay leaves , essential ingredients for a great meal and Christmas fare.

Gaillardia 'Arizona Sun'

Gaillardia 'Arizona Sun', Blanket Flower

The blanket flower is so called because the flower colour resembles native American woven cloth and the original species G. aristata is indigenous to the dry plains of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. This cultivar is a real winner because it stays dwarf and compact and flowers for all of summer if deadheaded regularly. It prefers soil on the poor side and does better in sandy soil than clay. I don't have any pest and disease problems in growing it. Propagation is from seed or cuttings in late summer.
2017 update: I am currently out of stock.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Monarda citriodora, Lemon Beebalm

Monarda citriodora
 Lemon Beebalm

This is another native American plant found from California to Florida and Nebraska to Texas. I have grown it in my community garden plot as a companion plant and one to attract beneficial insects. The other species Monarda didyma is difficult to grow here as it gets powdery mildew on the leaves and I just don't think it gets cold enough for it. It is commonly called Bergamot or Oswego Tea and is said to be a flavouring ingredient of Earl Grey tea. Luckily I photographed the Lemon Beebalm last week as sadly today after some gale force winds, yes that crazy weather again, it blew over and split from the middle with all the stems broken. I am hoping it will regrow from the base before summer is over.
2017 update: I no longer grow this.

Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea purpurea 
 Purple cone flower

Echinacea, which is flowering now, is indigenous to the dry open woodland and prairies of central North America.The American conservation organisation, United Plant Savers has listed Echinacea spp. as at risk, becoming rare mainly through over-harvesting or loss of habitat.
 It is a herbal ingredient, the roots are used, in a range of products including toothpaste, cold remedies, face creams and shampoo. Long before its current popularity it was used by Native Americans as a cure for infections and snakebite, hence the origin of one common name 'Kansas snake root'. According to Bartram's Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, it was from the medicine men of the Mohawk and Cherokee Indians we obtained our first knowledge of the plant.
In Australia, it is mainly the purple and white flowering forms which are grown. It is an easy care perennial, not demanding of special growing conditions or soil. It goes to ground over winter and sends up its tall metre high flowering stem in early summer. A more compact dwarf form is available which goes by the name of 'Knee High'. However the plant breeders at Terra Nova Nurseries have produced the most exceptional cultivars in an extraordinary range of colours and forms. It is worth checking them out at their website. Love the "Mac n Cheese" golden flowered one and the red "Tomato Soup", clever names for brilliant flowers.

Bull's Blood Beetroot

This is new variety of beetroot I have grown for the first time. The leaves are dark metallic purple and as a micro-green are excellent for adding to salads or using as a decorative garnish on a plate. The root itself is neatly round and well formed growing quickly to just the right size.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


First Zinnias of Summer
The zed/zee sound of mosquitoes droning around my head just after the lights get switched off at night or the sound of me snoozing during afternoon siesta on a hot day..... The Z flower, Zinnias are just starting to flower. I like their bright colours, the coarse raspy texture of their leaves and their smell like old library books........

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cosmos sulphureus

Cosmos sulphureus
  You gotta love this summer flowering Cosmos. It self seeds and comes back every year if the conditions suit it. I am using it as an edge planting to winter planted Asparagus crowns which are sending up lots of feathery plumes and growing very nicely. It will be a couple of years before I can enjoy the tender spears however.

Cosmos and Asparagus

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Lemon Cucumber

This is the first time I have grown this variety of cucumber. As it matures the skin turns a bright yellow and looks exactly like a lemon. From the first harvest, I made pickled cucumber by slicing it thinly, placing it in sterilized jars and pouring over a vinegar sugar mix with some added dill seeds. I used it after a few days and will have to make more as it is delicious on salad sandwiches.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Marvel of Peru, Mirabilis jalapa

Mirabilis jalapa, Marvel of Peru or Four o'clock flower

I quite like this plant even though it has the reputation of being a bit of a weed and is rarely available in nurseries. The fused trumpet shaped flowers are sweetly scented and open late in the afternoon over summer or during the day if it is cloudy. It is a shrubby plant to about 90cm growing from a large underground tuber. It produces lots of viable large seed so it is a case of once you have one plant you will have it in your garden for life come drought or flood. There are some interesting variations in the flower colour, with yellow and white forms and ones which are curiously splashed and variegated or neatly blocked with half the petals one colour and half the other, two tone really. It grows easily from seed or division, will tolerate coastal sea spray, poor soil or a difficult garden site in semi shade or full sun. It can be cut back hard after flowering or just run over with a mower if you are pressed for time.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The blue balloon, Platycodon grandiflorus

Platycodon grandiflorus 
 Balloon flower

I bought this plant at a garden show last month and it had a label made from an old yogurt container which simply said "the blue balloon". The lady who sold it to me had a distinct Russian accent and I wondered whether it was a plant which was perhaps familiar to her from her earlier life in that country. This perennial is native to Russia ,east Siberia and other mountain meadows of east Asia. It has just started to flower now and the buds which are greyish blue are more hexagonal than balloon shaped. According to one of my garden books it requires a moist, well drained friable loamy soil and that established plants resent disturbance. Now I just have to find a spot for it and resist the temptation to divide it up for at least a few years. Hopefully it might set a bit of seed in the meantime.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Insect safety in numbers

I found these larvae today resting on some gum leaves just hanging around waiting to turn into a leaf eating beetle to strip one of my young eucalyptus trees bare. Approaching them they reared back their heads in unison, pincers held up in defence while squirting out a drop of eucalyptus oil. I usually call them "spitfires" as a common name. I don't know what species of beetle these turn into. They are not unlike the saw-fly larvae which are black and are often found hanging together around a stem or branch. Despite their destructive potential, I couldn't come at squashing them but left them out as a meal ticket for some creature who may not mind their oily taste. And I just had to photograph them sitting on a plate decorated with gum leaves.

Stokesia laevis 'Rosea'

Stokesia laevis 'Rosea', Stokes' Aster

This clump forming perennial is from S.E. USA and occurs in conifer woods on moist acid soil. It is an easy plant to grow, forming a clump to about 45 cm, in sun or light shade. Flower colour can vary from deep purple to lavender, pink or white and it is continually in flower over summer with long enough stems to make a good cut flower. I bought this one labelled as the variety 'Mischung' which is supposed to be lavender-blue in flower but I think this is just the pink form 'Rosea'.
2017 update: I no longer grow these.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mood Indigo: Salvia 'Indigo Spires'

Salvia 'Indigo Spires' with Mauritius Hemp (Furcraea foetida var. mediopicta)

Salvia 'Indigo Spires' with Yucca elephantipes ' Silver Star'

I like to grow this Salvia amongst my spiky plants as the long dark infloresences weave their way through the stiff upright stems for most of the year and make a great contrast against lighter coloured foliage. This is a hybrid between Salvia longispicata and Salvia farinacea and was discovered as a chance seedling at the Huntington Botanic Gardens in 1979.It needs no other care than a light prune at the end of winter and it is back to flowering non-stop.
2017 update: I am currently out of stock of this Salvia.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Oenothera speciosa var.'Rosea',an Evening primrose

Pink evening primrose

This perennial from south west USA and Mexico was once a popular ground-cover here and then disappeared but is back in the limelight again. I am not sure whether it fell out of favour because it became invasive somewhere or whether it was because, as it is a true herbaceous plant ,completely dieing down over winter, it can be difficult to sell to customers who don't want a bare spot at any time of the year.
I picked this one up at a garden show recently and it was given the cultivar name of 'Twilight' perhaps named before the vampire franchise but certainly redolent of a glowing evening sky in summer. This is one very hardy plant and can cover a metre or more. It is worth considering as a ground cover for a difficult site .

2017 update: I am currently out of stock.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

flower and foliage colour combos

Iris x germanica

When this Iris flowered last week, I thought of two things; the Hawthorn Football Club and that 70's cop show Matlock Police where it was possible to wear a brown suit with a canary yellow shirt and be considered the height of fashion. Fashions for particular colours in flowers and in garden design come and go and I am no longer sure what is in. For awhile there burgundy and black reigned supreme especially during the last decade when foliage colour allowed for year long interest in the garden, as opposed to the brief splash that flowers often supplied. Variegated leaves which were once considered of dubious taste are now celebrated for their unique leaf pattern. The gold and yellow variegation can still appear a little harsh and scream at you when placed in a sunny position but plants in that mode can light up a dull corner which is in in shade for much of the day. I am thinking here of the variegated Gardenia called 'Tropic Snow'. My favourite variegated plants are those which have silver and cream stripes with added pink tips to the leaves.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Achillea ageratifolia: Greek Yarrow

Achillea ageratifolia, Greek Yarrow

Flower detail

What do you do with miniature plants which are really at home growing in a rock crevasse covered in snow at this time of year.This is a delightful little plant and takes the form of a tiny silver grey cushion with stems of white daisy flowers at this time of year. I really need about fifty of it to make any impact in the garden but I have planted the one I have close to a path where I can keep an eye on it . To make it feel at home I have added some limestone chips to the soil trying to replicate its native habitat in the mountains of Greece and the Balkans. I just am not so sure how it will cope with the summer humidity here on the coast. Time will tell.
2017 update: I no longer have this plant.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hemerocallis 'Corky'

Hemerocallis x 'Corky'

This is one of the best Daylilies I have come across in a long time. It is a completely deciduous variety with very fine grassy foliage appearing after winter dormancy and forming quite a clump in a very short time. It is just starting to send up some pencil thick flowering stems which are tinged with purple and holding up to a dozen buds.The flowers are pendulous and have a stripe of reddish brown on the back of each golden yellow petal.I think it would need to be planted in a group of five for maximum impact or used to edge a pathway.