Monday, January 31, 2011

Coast Silktassel

My acquaintance with this plant was very dramatic. I was walking across the parking lot at the beach looking back at my son (it is not a good idea not to watch where you are going), and I walked straight into it. Startled, I finally looked in front of me, and saw this:

My knowledge of coastal vegetation is still pretty slim (we live less than 40 miles inland from the Pacific, but our climate is very different). Even though we go to the beach quite often, I admit I have not noticed this plant before. Its botanical name is Garrya Elliptica, and it lives along the coast from Oregon to Southern California.

It is an evergreen shrub with rather coarse and uninteresting foliage, which only becomes striking when it displays its long flower tassels called catkins in winter.

Plants can be male and female, male catkins being longer and prettier.

It is useful as a dense screen, being salt- and drought-tolerant and not too well liked by deer. I find the contrast between coarse dark leaves and delicate, filigree-like flowers fascinating. I am glad I walked into it:-)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mme Berard

Mme. Berard is a Tea-Noisette (or climbing Tea) bred by Antoine Levet (pere) in France in 1870.  This rose is sometimes sold as Adam, (a climbing Tea bred by Adam in 1838), or President, an example of confusion surrounding identities of many old roses. This confusion stems at least partly from the fact that no reliably named specimen of a given rose with a proven link to its name exists any more and identification is based on circumstantial evidence, e.g. descriptions and paintings. The task is not made any easier by the changeability of bloom color of many Tea roses. Even in my small collection I have a few roses whose identity is nor reliably established, and in my case this mystery factor adds a lot of pleasure to growing these roses.

My Mme. Berard came from Vintage Gardens a few years ago (unfortunately I am not a good record-keeper). I chose it for its smooth canes (but the petioles have prickles as mentioned here) and beautiful blooms in shades of buff, copper, pink and yellow. It has a strong tea fragrance which is always a big selling point for me.

I have placed it where it can grow on a wrought-iron arbor against which its subtle beauty stands out very well.

I love the changes of color in this rose. This spring, the blooms were coppery-pink with a touch of yellow...

They changed to blush in the summer...

And ended with a stronger pink in the fall...

It is delightful to observe such variety of bloom color and shape in one rose. I often wonder at the fact that these very traits which fascinate old rose growers now are the very ones which people who grew these roses originally disliked, and which made Hybrid Teas (which have stable bloom colors and shapes) so popular. I do not prefer one class of rose to another and grow a lot of Hybrid Teas, and merely observe here the changes in fashion and taste. Indeed, tempura mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Mid-Winter Garden Tour-Part I

It is in winter that I appreciate the benefits of living in a Mediterranean climate the most. In summer, hot and tethered to the watering hose for hours on end, I dream of gardening in a gentler place farther North with a kinder sun and warm rain. But walking around my garden on a mild sunny day in mid-January, I am grateful for the variety of flowers around me. Will you take a walk with me?

Stepping out the front door is a little courtyard, a bit messy and overplanted, but glowing so gently now with the reflected winter sun and pastel colors of camellias, cyclamen and primroses.

 I did a post on my camellias recently, so I will only mention them in passing. Camellias are the only plants I know of that bloom when they are dormant.

Don't feed camellias in bloom!

Most of my camellias are early or mid-season, and their bloom is past peak.

I will miss them but the cyclamen are only just starting.

Fragrance is always very important to me, and lavender is one of my favorite plants. I must admit though that I usually admire it at a nursery because I have had very bad luck with it in my garden. Most of my garden is on sprinkler irrigation and lavender does not last long with so much water. I kept trying though, and finally found a spot for a few plants with just enough irrigation (a run-over from the neighbors' lawn) that it is happy. And so am I!

My sweet-pea shrub (polygala x dalmaisiana ) is easily 8'x8' (too big!). I have to prune it back but can't find the right time because there are always blooms on it....

With all this color I often overlook my little hellebore (helleborus), so unassuming, cheerful and generous with its flowers persisting long after the bloom period is over.

I was surprised to come out into the garden today and see this bloom on variegated hebe (H. x adersonii 'Variegata'). It does not usually bloom until much later in spring. I love the contrast of its fleshy white-bordered leaves and violet spikes of fragrant flowers. It is an easy shrub to grow here, it stays bushy and compact with pruning.

I have a little planter by my kitchen window filled with our version of winter color (in my case, cyclamen, stock, and pansies). I chose them in my favorite colors (white, pink and lavender-purple). They are planted in shade and last a long time.

Finally, the plant I am enjoying the most now, winter daphne (daphne odora).

It is a tidy open evergreen shrub with long glossy leaves and nosegay clusters of intensly fragrant flowers. Mine has variegated leaves (daphne odora aureomarginata) and grows in half sun with plenty of summer water. I sometimes bring the branches inside to enjoy the fragrance that fills the house.

I hope you have enjoyed this little walk around my winter garden. I have some more beautiful plants to talk about, but this will have to do for now.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pink Princess (and Pink Pearl)

I can never pass by a pink rose. Especially one with a strong fragrance and a muddled shape to the open bloom.

It stopped me in my tracks when I went to the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden this past spring, and I remembered it long enough to make an order this fall. My little band will arrive soon, and yet another rose-growing adventure will begin.

Pink Princess is a Hybrid Tea of the Sub-Zero Series bred by the Brownell Family in 1939. When I was finalizing my rose purchases this year, I really wanted to get Pink Pearl instead (I like softer blush pink better) but it was not available. However, I was consoled by reading in the Vintage Gardens catalog that the two roses are so similar that the nursery offered Pink Pearl as Pink Princess for awhile before they realized their mistake:-). I guess that's close enough for me. Here is a picture of Pink Pearl for comparison:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"...The Sweetest Rose Hath His Prickel...

...And true it is that ... in all perfect shapes a blemish bringeth rather a liking every way to the eyes than a loathing any way to the mind. " John Lyly, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit.

And so with hands bleeding after hours of pruning, I will still write about the beauty of a rose.  But not today. The beauty will not awaken until spring, but the blemishes stand out in all their viciousness. And while I can see them so clearly I thought I would go through the best and the worst in my garden.

For the bloodthirstiest, nastiest prickles I turn to my rugosas.

 This is Purple Pavement, the epitome of aggression, with thin needle-like prickles sticking straight out looking to make deep piercing holes in my flesh. If you want to deter wildlife, wayward urchins or untoward neighbors, look no further.
And the canes aren't all. This is the underside (petiole) of an old leaf. Still those long sharp epee-like prickles.

Can it get worse? Yes! This is Basye's Purple Rose, with the same prickles facing straight out, except bigger and more. I remember reading once (but can't find the source anymore) that Dr. Basye discarded this rose because it came too far from his original goal of hybridizing thornless roses....

My personal award for the gentlest and smoothest caned rose goes to Crepuscule, a Tea-Noisette and one of my favorite roses.

Not a prickle anywhere on my two plants, canes or leaves. 

I should have more of them...

Second place goes to 'Sophie's Perpetual', a found rose, maybe Bourbon, maybe China.

Not a prickle on mine.

Zephirine Drouhin, a beautiful bourbon rose that I grow as a climber, deserves honorable mention.
There are thorns on the canes occassionally, and it mildews and rusts a bit, so I can't really say it is my favorite despite gorgeous blooms and an overpowering fragrance.

Speaking about climbers, my thorniest is Joseph's Coat. A beautiful rose...

 ... with prickles on the old canes...
 ..and the new...
 ...on the undersides of leaves (petioles)...
...and on bloom necks. That's a lot of prickles. It has drawn enough blood from me so that I am giving it away this winter. I hope its new owner will enjoy it more carefully and painlessly than I.

One of the reasons I like Teas so much is that there are enough of them with smooth canes that I can enjoy the blooms without my skin being torn to shreds.

 This one is a young Amazone (Soncy). Only a few prickles so far.
 Souvenir de Victor Hugo. None so far.
 Rosette Delizy - a few but widely spaced.

Mme. Berard is a wonderful rose...

... and frequently mentioned as thornless.

It is true that its canes are smooth. But look at this:

While I am writing about my Tea-Noisettes, I have to mention Marechal Niel, not the rose with the most prickles by any means, but the one with the most vicious hooked thorns which grab, sink in and hold.

Finally, an honorable mention: Mme. Caroline Testout, Climbing. I was really taken by those sivery-pink cabbage-like blooms...

I got a few years ago as a harmless 3" long twig and put it by my front door.

What was I thinking? Not only are they huge, but they come in pairs too:

And it grows canes easily 20' long, and lots of them. I am thinking of weaving them into a No soliciting sign.