Oregano

80627It is considered to be an Italian herb, but since it was popularized in America in the late 1940s, oregano, Origanum vulgare, has become more popular in Italian-American cuisine than it is in Italy. It is now the traditional ‘pizza herb’ for American style pizza. Oregano happens to be one of the few herbs that is preferred dried rather than fresh. Only foliage is used, either before or after bloom.

Prior to bloom, foliage is low to the ground, on wiry stems. Blooming stems stand vertically as tall as two feet, with more foliage and tiny purplish flowers that are not very flashy. The flavor of the foliage on the upright blooming stems is distinct from that of the prostrate vegetative stems. The opposite leaves are only about an inch long, or slightly longer. Flavor can be variable with weather.

Flavor is also variable by cultivar. Some are spicier than most. Some are more bitter. Some cultivars were marketed to be more visually appealing in the garden than flavorful in the kitchen. ‘Nana’ is a dwarf. ‘Aureum’ is variegated with yellow. The famously flavored ‘Greek Kaliteri’ has compact growth, with atypically thick and slightly fuzzy leaves that are dark on top and purplish underneath.

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Blue Dawn Flower

70614Even within its native range, blue dawn flower, Ipomoea indica, can be a problem. There are not many other plants in some coastal regions of Peru that can avoid getting overwhelmed by the aggressive wiry vines. These vines grow roots where they touch soil, so can spread indefinitely over the ground. Vines that succumb to frost over winter regenerate as if nothing ever happened.

Three inch wide flowers are rich purplish blue when they open at dawn. They then fade through the day, only to be replaced by fresh new flowers the following morning. Bloom continues from spring until autumn, and can get profuse at times. The lush rich green leaves are cordate (heart-shaped) or lobed (with only three lobes). Too much fertilizer promotes growth but inhibits bloom.

Blue dawn flower’s main weakness is a dependency on water. If it gets too dry briefly in summer, it can die back like it does with frost, and then recover once it gets water, but it will not survive for very long if it stays dry. As aggressive as it is, it should not spread very far from landscaped areas or riparian areas where summers are too warm and dry for it.

Annual Gazania

80620Why would anyone want to grow annual gazania when perennial gazania that is popularly grown as ground cover lasts for several years? Well, as long as the weather stays warm, annual gazania blooms with an impressive abundance of bigger and more brightly colored flowers. Perennial gazania blooms less profusely and only in midsummer, with simpler and somewhat smaller flowers.

Flowers are warm shades of orange, red, yellow, pink, beige and white, typically with intricate patterns of stripes and spots of other colors of the same range, as well as chocolatey brown. Each upward facing daisy flower is as wide as three inches or maybe four. They close up at night and during cloudy weather, and stay closed briefly in the morning until they warm up a bit in the sunlight.

Mature plants typically do not get much more than six inched deep, but can get twice as deep if crowded. They have no problem getting nearly a foot wide though. Foliage is only slightly bronzed; not quite bronze, but not rich green either. The pretty gray undersides of the leaves are obscured from view by the density of the foliage. Gazania needs full exposure, and is quite tolerant of heat.

Western Azalea

70607We think of rhododendrons and azaleas as being from cooler and moister climates. After all, that is where they do best. Yet, there does happen to be a native western azalea, Rhododendron occidentale, that lives in the Sierra Nevada and coastal ranges from San Diego County to just southwest of Portland, Oregon. (Azalea and Rhododendron are varied specie of the same genus.)

Bloom is mostly white, with pink, pale yellow or golden orange. Some of the fancier garden varieties bloom clear white, or with more vibrant color. The lightly fragrant, two inch wide flowers bloom in groups of two or three on open conical trusses. Each truss produces as many as a dozen flowers in sequence, so a new flower replaces a fading flower for a bit more than a week each spring.

Western azaleas plants are unfortunately not much to look at after bloom. They grow somewhat slowly and irregularly to about three to five feet tall. The two or three inch long deciduous leaves that can turn yellow and orange where autumn is cooler are more likely to turn an unimpressive grayish brown here. Foliage can fade prematurely if the weather gets too hot and arid through summer.

Verbena

80613This is one of those warm season annuals that we do not hear much about. Verbena looks something like lantana, but rather than maturing into a nice shallow ground cover or low mounding shrub with a bit of staying power, verbena lasts only until frost next autumn. The blooms are a bit larger. The leaves are a bit greener. They stay lower than a foot, and get only a few inches wider than tall.

Floral color was already impressive decades ago when it was limited to white and rich hues of blue, red, purple and pink. Even more hues and shades are available now, as well as peach, rose, lavender and many bicolored varieties. The tiny flowers are arranged in small and dense trusses, with the outer flowers opening and fading to lighter hues before the inner flowers opening darker.

Bloom is best in full sun exposure. A bit of partial shade should not be a problem for those that cascade from planter boxes up against a wall, or pots that hang from eaves. Verbena is popularly grown as a cascading component of mixed plantings in large pots, urns and elevated planters, often in conjunction with more upright plants. Verbena works nicely for small scale bedding as well.

Anemone Clematis

70531Like Ginger and MaryAnn, choosing between the flashier hybrids of clematis and the anemone clematis, Clematis montana, might not be so easy. The fancier hybrids have the bigger, bolder and richly colored flowers that the genus is known for. Anemone clematis has smaller and more subdued flowers in soft pastel hues, but is more prolific, more vigorous, and blooms for nearly a month.

The simple spring flowers look something like those of dogwood, except that they are on wiry deciduous vines that are already outfitted with new foliage. Most are soft white with only four petals and prominent yellow anthers. Some are blushed, pale pink, rose pink or pinkish mauve; and some have more petals or fluffier ‘double’ flowers. The largest flowers are a bit wider than two inches.

The vines are more vigorous than those of clematis hybrids, but are not as aggressive as most other vines or winter clematis. With pruning, they can behave on small gate arbors, although shorter trellises would probably be too confining. If vines escape confinement, they can eventually climb more than thirty feet. The distinctively lobed trifoliate leaves are olive drab, and handsomely rustic.

Rose Campion

80606Rarely planted but often found where the wildflowers grow, rose campion, Silene coronaria, has a way of sneaking in like California poppy or sweet alyssum do. It is so rarely planted that young plants are rarely available in nurseries. Seed is somewhat more available in nurseries, and quite available online. Although they self sow freely if allowed to go to seed, they are not really invasive.

The velvety gray foliage is pretty alone, and becomes a perfect backdrop for the surprisingly bright magenta, regal red or pure white flowers that bloom through early summer. Most of the foliage forms low mounds not much more than a foot wide, while flowering stems stand almost twice as tall. Flowers are ideal for cutting. Hummingbirds enjoy magenta and red flowers more than white.

Individual plants can last for a few years as short term perennials, but because they seed profusely enough to replace themselves annually, they are often grown as annuals, and pulled up before new seedlings appear. Those who last for a second year should probably be groomed. If seedlings are crowded, some can be pulled up and relocated while young. Rose campion wants full sun.

Clematis

70524There are so many different specie involved with the extensive breeding of the modern cultivars of clematis that they are not even assigned full Latin names. They are simply known as ‘clematis’ (without a specie name), with a respective cultivar name. Clematis X jackmanii is the oldest known hybrid, so the name is often applied to other hybrids, whether or not they are actually related.

The big broad flowers are abundant and spectacular this time of year, but unfortunately do not last long. Bloom finishes before the weather gets much warmer, leaving unimpressively rustic foliage on wiry vines. The vines might reach ground floor eaves, and are just the right size for small gate arbors. If necessary, old plants can be lightly groomed of twiggy growth while bare through winter.

Flowers are rich shades of blue, purple, red, pink or white. Many are bi-colored, and some have ruffled centers. During full boom, there may be more flowers than foliage visible. Foliage is a dark shade of olive green, with a dull matte finish, which is actually a perfect background for the rich color of the bloom. Roots like rich, moist and cool soil, while the vines climb into sunnier situations.

Cherry Laurel

80530There is a reason why the most popular specie for frequently shorn formal hedges have small leaves and finely textured foliage. Technically, a formal hedge of cherry laurel, Prunus laurocerasus, can be shorn as well, but should be shorn only once or twice annually, and then allowed to fluff back out. Otherwise, the big leaves get shredded as quickly as they recover from previous shearing.

If pruned more frequently, hand pruning works best, and is not as tedious as it sounds. Informal pruning is even easier, and is done primarily to prevent hedges from getting to deep (from front to back), and to prevent individual shrubs from dominating or subordinating. Pruning also eliminates most of the abundant summer bloom of upright trusses of thirty or so tiny creamy white flowers.

Cherry laurel is densely foliated and quite stout, even without shearing or pruning, and can eventually but rarely get thirty feet tall! The glossy evergreen leaves are about three inches long. There happens to be a few cultivars, including one that is variegated with light yellow, and others that are compact dwarfs. (Prunus caroliniana is different species that is also known as cherry laurel.)

Wax Privet

70517The pros and cons of wax privet, Ligustrum japonicum ‘Texanum’ might get it a rating of about 2.5 out of 5. It seems that every asset is offset by a liability. The profuse clusters of tiny white flowers are sweetly fragrant, but are also a serious problem for those allergic to pollen. The berries attract birds, but are also very messy, and contain seeds that can germinate in the strangest of places.

The dense evergreen foliage is prettier and actually glossier than that of the more common glossy privet. Growth is slower, and therefore easier to maintain as a shorn hedge. Regular shearing deprives wax privet of most, but not all of its bloom and seed. Glossy privet is more invasive if allowed to set seed, but less invasive as a shorn hedge deprived of bloom before producing seed. Without shearing, wax privet eventually reaches ground floor eaves, and gets about half as broad. It can be groomed into a small tree.

Unwanted feral seedlings should be pulled as soon as they are detected. If cut instead of pulled, they are likely to regenerate, and will be impossible to pull the second time around. Roots are rather greedy.