English Daisy

70419Once it gets into a lawn, English daisy, Bellis perennis, can be very difficult to get rid of without leaving bald spots. The thin but tough rhizomes creep along the ground, producing rounded leaves that get no longer than two inches. Mowers barely scratch the surface. English daisy seems to prefer partly shaded areas to drier sunny spots. Although invasive, it can be pretty in informal lawns.

The inch wide white flowers with yellow centers bloom in phases throughout the year. They are least abundant during cool winter weather, and most abundant about now, as weather gets warmer in spring. Garden varieties have more clumping growth, and slightly larger white, pink or rosy red flowers, all with yellow centers. Some have plumply double flowers. They are grown as flowering annuals, but can perform for a few years as light duty perennials.


Queen Victoria Agave

80425Although a relatively small agave, the Queen Victoria agave, Agave victoriae-reginae, is also one of the most striking. Mature plants form dense foliar rosettes that are between only a foot, and a foot and a half tall and wide. What is so striking about them is the abundance of stout succulent leaves that can be so densely set that some older plants look like big, round and green pine cones.

Genetic variability within the species is considerable though; so not all plants will be so well rounded. Some resemble dark green aloes while young. All are adorned with distinctive white stripes on leaf margins, and wherever the leaves were touching the margins of other leaves before they unfurled. At least one cultivar is also variegated with white, and another is variegated with yellow.

Queen Victoria agave is bold either in the ground or in a large pot. Wherever it goes, it wants full sun exposure, and should be out of the way. The terminal foliar spines are very sharp! It does not need much water, but prefers occasional watering. Old rosettes might bloom with tiny pale white flowers on dramatic three or four foot tall spikes, but then die as they get replaced by basal pups.

Onion Weed

70412What an unappealing name! That is probably why so many of us know it simply as ‘wild onion’ or ‘allium’. Few of us bother to get sufficiently acquainted with it to know it by the species name of Allium triquetrum, which is actually not much more appealing than ‘onion weed’. It is not really wild, but has naturalized as an invasive exotic, or in other words, ‘weed’. At least it is a pretty weed.

The foliage might not be much to look at as it emerges from formerly dormant bulbs late in winter. Each bulb produces only two or three leaves that get only about half a foot tall, and are only a bit wider and glossier than grassier weeds. Then the three sided flower stalks grow up as much as a foot above the foliage, and bloom with as many as a dozen small and pendulous white flowers.

The half inch long flowers are individually no more interesting than their foliage; but collectively, they briefly brighten unrefined or neglected areas of the garden with wispy soft white drifts of bloom. They can bloom through shallow weeds or groundcover, and tolerate considerable shade. Yet, as resilient as they are, they are not too drought tolerant. Onion weed is edible, but not very flavorful.


80418It is not easy to forget annual forget-me-not, Myosotis sylvatica. Even if it dies back early in the heat of summer, it will probably throw plenty of seed to regenerate through next winter, and bloom again by next spring. It can easily naturalize in damp or riparian areas, and might be considered to be a weed; but like nasturtium and foxglove, it is a polite weed that is not aggressively invasive.

The tiny blue flowers start to bloom while winter is still cool, and then get a bit more abundant as the weather warms in the beginning of spring. Some modern garden varieties bloom with pink or white flowers. Tender leaves are about two or three inches long, and less than an inch wide. Soft stems creep laterally, but do not get far. Mature plants are less than a foot tall, and two feet wide.

Between autumn and early spring, seed can be sown directly where plants are desired. Because they are so tender, plants are not often available in nurseries. Forget-me-not is a nice understory plant to larger rhododendrons and up-pruned shrubbery, or covering for daffodils, freesias and other spring bulbs. They want regular watering and rich soil, and can be happy in cool partial shade.

Pot Marigold

70405Just before the weather gets warm enough for real marigolds, and after the weather starts to get too cool and rainy for them, pot marigold, Calendula officinalis, is at its best. It can bloom at any time of year, depending on when it gets planted, but prefers cool and humid spring and autumn weather. It is not so keen on frost in winter, or the arid warmth of summer that real marigolds enjoy.

They are just as versatile as real marigolds are, and work nicely in pots, but they are known as pot marigold because of their history as culinary herbs. They also have medicinal applications, and can bu used for dye. Mature plants do not often get bigger than a foot tall and wide, with somewhat coarse light green foliage. The two or three inch wide flowers are bright yellow or orange, and can sometimes be double.


80411It is a shame that forsythia is not more popular here. Years ago, there was a commonly perpetuated myth that winters were not cool enough for it, as well as lilac. We now know that both lilac and forsythia are happy to bloom here. Now, some might insist that there are so many evergreen shrubs that bloom nicely right through winter, that there is no need for deciduous blooming shrubbery.

They might not say so after seeing how spectacular forsythia is in bright yellow bloom as winter becomes spring. It uses the same tactic as the flowering cherries that bloom at about the same time, by dazzling spectators with profusion, before foliage develops to dilute the brilliance of the color! The flowers are tiny, but very abundant. Plump buds on bare stems can be forced indoors.

Forsythia X intermedia is the standard forsythia, although a few other specie and variations, including some compact cultivars, are sometimes seen in other regions. Mature specimens should not get much higher than first floor eaves, but can get twice as tall if crowded. The simple opposite leaves are about two or three inches long, and can turn color where autumn weather is cooler.

Algerian Ivy

70329+This is one of those plants that many of us have strong feelings about. Many of us who remember it from when it was more popular in the 1970s might consider Algerian ivy, Hedera canariensis, to be an aggressively invasive weed. Those of us who are less familiar with it might appreciate it as a vigorous and resilient groundcover that gets dense enough to exclude most other weeds.

Without regular pruning for confinement, Algerian ivy grown as groundcover becomes a vine to climb trees, fences, walls and anything else it can get into. As the vines mature and get closer to the top of their support, they develop shrubby adult growth. Algerian ivy can easily ruin the surfaces that it climbs, or overwhelm shrubbery and trees, but might not be so bad on bare concrete walls.

Well contained Algerian ivy might get about two feet deep. The glossy dark green leaves are about six inches wide, with three or five rounded corners. Leaves of vining or adult growth are smaller and more rounded. New plants are very easy to propagate from cuttings or by layering. ‘Ghost ivy’ is delightfully variegated with white, but usually loses variegation as new growth replaces the old.

Pink Flowering Currant

80404We tend to think of currants as being from Europe, Russia or Eastern North America. The pink flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum glutinosum, is actually endemic to canyons and riparian sites of the coastal ranges of California. Because it is an understory species that lives in the partial shade of large trees, it is quite tolerant of shade, and even prefers a bit of shade rather than full sun.

Mature specimens might reach first floor eaves, and get as wide as six feet. Aging stems of maturing plants should be pruned out to promote growth of new stems. New plants should probably be staked loosely until they disperse stabilizing roots. Although tolerant of drought, pink flowering currant is happier with occasional watering, and will actually tolerate poor drainage through winter.

Pendulous trusses of tiny pink flowers bloom like small wisteria flowers late in winter or early in spring. They are mostly done by now. Small and sparse currants get eaten by birds almost before they get seen. The deciduous foliage turns only soft yellow before falling in autumn. The handsome and slightly aromatic palmate leaves look and smell almost like those of a scented geranium.

Maritime Ceanothus

70322What ever happened to Point Reyes ceanothus? It is such a nice low growing shrub, with small holly-like leaves, and cheery blue flowers in very early spring. It was quite popular when it initially became available, but now seems to be rare. Maritime ceanothus, Ceanothus maritimus, from San Luis Obispo County, is a similar species that presently seems to be getting more attention.

‘Frosty Dawn’ is the standard cultivar of maritime ceanothus, although there may be at least three cultivars with the same name. The ‘correct’ cultivar gets about two feet tall and five feet wide, with rigid but arching stems, grayish half inch long leaves, and dense trusses of minute blue flowers as winter ends. Another cultivar gets taller with more open growth. Another has lighter blue flowers.

Once established, maritime ceanothus can probably survive without any watering, but it might be happier with occasional watering through summer. New plants will need to be watered until they disperse their roots. Compared to other ceanothus, maritime ceanothus grows relatively slowly, but lives longer. (Many ceanothus can be short-lived.) Also, it is a bit more tolerant of partial shade.

Baby’s Breath

80328You might think that such a popular flower would be easy to get a picture of. Baby’s breath, Gypsophila paniculata, is everywhere, and almost a standard component of the mixed bouquets found in supermarkets. However, the flowers are so small and so sparsely arranged on thin stems, that they do not look like much in pictures. This picture is a closeup of a tightly bound bundle of bloom.

As common is it is with other cut flowers, baby’s breath is quite uncommon in home gardens. It is not often available in nurseries. Seed should have been sown by about now. Baby’s breath grows something like a tumbleweed about three or even four feet high and wide. The stems look too delicate to stand so tall. The minute flowers are usually white but can be pale pink and slightly fluffier.

While blooming in summer, baby’s breath is so handsome that no one wants to cut the flowers. It is difficult to take just a few good stems to add to other cut flowers without ruining the symmetry of a well rounded plant. Some people who grow it prefer to put it out of the way, or grow it amongst other flowers to hide the disfigurement of harvest. Baby’s breath blooms better if crowded anyway.