Posts Tagged 'hortulus photos'

Don’t forget to remember rosemary *

Bay Trail, frontage road, and Interstate 80
My wife and I were taking a standard exercise walk along a section of the Bay Trail in Berkeley and I could not help but note the various plantings that had been done as part of creating this pathway. A number of plants had obviously not stood up to the constant wind, salt spray, and lack of irrigation or consistent care, testified by their corpses ‘decorating’ the edge of the walkway (note in the photo above, courtesy of Google Earth).

But there were several grouping that did seem to be surviving in spite of these harsh conditions. One species among the successful was Rosmarinus officinalis, the common rosemary. In one particular area, prone to blowing dust from a nearby area used to dump/store/move landfill, the rosemary look at first to be among the casualties until a closer look revealed new blue flowers opening through the caked mud coating each leaf and stem!

As long as I’ve been gardening, I’ve noticed rosemary plants would usually be among those plant remaining when a garden was left and neglected. Rosemary flower, by Manuel Ramos of Flickr Once established, this tough shrub seems more than happy to take our longer-than-the-Mediterranean summer dry period (about 6 months) and is generally unfussy about soil (except for sodden muck). A true workhorse.

Unfortunately, most of the time there are only a few cultivars planted – ubiquitously with deep blue flowers and good green foliage. As a species, Rosmarinus officinalis is one of the most variable in form, color, and eventual size. It is a real shame that we do not see more of this variety in gardens here in California, though many types are available through herb specialists and adventurous growers.

Rosemaries in Olivier's trial garden

Our friend, Olivier Filippi, in the south of France, runs a nursery devoted to all manner of Mediterranean native and mediterranean climate adapted species, and he collects rosemaries enthusiastically. The photo above is a mere handful of cultivars he grows in his trial garden. Note their compact shapes – this is only in part a characteristic of each cultivar’s habit – because he does not believe in watering (I mean, at all! ever!), all his plants grow more slowly and compact than they do in irrigated gardens, and they live longer and have better color/fragrance.

I especially like the white flowered plant in this shot (on the left; apparently from the Costa Brava in Spain). Also note the yellow-green foliage form – this is ‘Joyce de Baggio’ which I gave him from my garden in Oakland. There are many more type Olivier grows, some virtually flat growing, others enormously tall like yews! I find a grouping of various contrasting rosemary plants so interesting in a garden!

* “There’s rosemary; that’s for remembrance.
Pray, love, remember.”
~Shakespeare, Hamlet



Phlomis species in the garden

The trial garden at Pépinière Filippi (, Meze, France
In the above shot of the trial garden at Pépinière Filippi, Meza, France, many different Phlomis species still wearing their spent flower stems, contrasting nicely with the various shades foliage color. Phlomis was once planted extensively in California by gardeners wishing to decrease the water footprint of their gardens. On late I note that these plants seem to be seldom used, and indeed many type we once saw in California are becoming difficult to find.

I wonder what has caused the trend away from these interesting and useful plants? Like many plants in our horticultural trade, after an initial enthusiasm for a plant they are often considered passé. Possible this group merely fell off the radar and have not yet been taken up again by growers?

Relatively speaking, these are shorter-lived plants, needing to be renewed after a time in order to keep them looking their best. This is possibly exacerbated by the fact that California soils are far richer than those in the Mediterranean homelands of most of this genus, causing these perennial shrubs to grow faster, looser, and more untidy than they would otherwise. At the inevitable time of replacement, if these plants were not available in nurseries, perhaps they’ve been replaced now by others that were.

The plantings above are on lean, stony soil, and received supplemental water only upon planting (i.e. they get only rain falls on them or what moisture they can find deep in the soil) – note their compact form. While it is true that many parts of the Mediterranean do receive occasional summer rainfall, it is clearly not in the amounts that Californians dump on their gardens year-round!

With a renewed interest in creating gardens that are not heavily irrigated, I think Phlomis species should be considered. Their foliage alone can satisfy our current trends in composing foliar contrast, and their seasonal flowering (and spent flower stems as pictured) are also an interesting and unique counterpoint to many of the plants we currently grow in our gardens.


A tough, dependable fern

Nephrolepis cordifolia, Southern Sword Fern, at the De Young Museum in San FranciscoTough and dependable might seem unusual adjectives to use when describing a fern, but this guy’s adaptability is almost legendary. Because it can take such a large amount of abuse, it is often subjected to same, looking worse for wear by hanging on none-the-less.

Given half a chance, Nephrolepis cordifolia, Erect Sword Fern, will reward you with its handsome, 2-3ft (60-90cm) foliage and ask for little in return.

The upright nature of the fronds also makes a nice compliment with modern architecture (here it is against the wall of the new De Young Museum in San Francisco). I’ve often planted them en masse in rectilinear beds bordered by a patio or an impenetrable edging, which they fill over time.

There is a handsome cultivar called ‘Lemon Buttons’, whose leaflets are very short and almost round. Its overall height is shorter, reaching about 1ft (30cm). ‘Duffy’ is another dwarf cultivar.

An occasional topdressing of compost and trimming of older, untidy fronds will keep a patch of fernyness going strong year after year.

Curiously, the actual origin of this species is uncertain, and is considered ‘pantropical.’ This species is occasionally listed as invasive in wetter, more humid climates (but not recorded as invasive in summer dry mediterranean regions). In the US, it is specifically causing a problem in Hawaii, Florida, and southern counties of Georgia and Alabama, which is spreads rapidly, becoming intertwined or even displacing other understory plants. It is confused with the Florida native species, Nephrolepis exaltata, which it greatly resembles. Identification by laymen is easily made by examining the rhizomes – N. cordifolia has small, round tubers and its Floridian cousin does not.


Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’

Many years ago, I first happened upon Sedum rupestre growing happily in the garden of a bed & breakfast where my wife and I were staying. When I commented on how interesting the arched flower spikes were, the garden owner, who did not know the species name, encourage me to take a few pieces home.

At the time, I was growing Sedum reflexum ‘Blue Spruce’, a cultivar that looks very similar, so I was careful to plant this new introduction some distance from the other. Out of flower they are very hard to tell apart, and both have yellow flowers. It is the flower spikes themselves that makes identity easy (S. reflexum flower spikes are upright from start to finish).

Subsequently, we came to plant this golden form on S. rupestre in the raised planter you see here, topped with a rusty iron grate, the golden-green color making a nice contrast to the dark iron as well as the darker foliage all around. You can see the normal gray form of the species in the foreground. I was pleased to see the flowering this spring – a means to verify that ‘Angelina’ is indeed a cultivar of S. rupestre (it is sometimes listed erroneously as another species).


‘Gilva’ vs. ‘Gilva’

'Gilva' and 'Gilva'The main succulent in this photo should be familiar to those of you who have seen my garden. It is a hybrid Echeveria I’ve grown for many years under the name ‘Gilva’ (discovered and described by Eric Walther in 1935 and presumed to be a E. agavoides × E. elegans cross). The plant habit is very similar to E. elegans, offsetting freely and quickly making a nice ground cover. The arching (like E. elegans) flower spikes branch dicotomously (into two equal parts – unlike E. elegans but like E. agavoides).

Notice the potted plant in the left foreground. This is being distributed currently by Succulent Gardens as E. ‘Gilva’. The rosettes are strikingly similar, perhaps larger, seemingly slower to offset, and decidedly flushed pink at their tips (the plant above NEVER flushes pink – instead turning yellow when stressed). it also produces many more flower stems per rosette, which are un-branched and whose flowers are a bit larger, with a more distinct yellow tip to the petals.
Echeveria 'Gilva'I’ve been growing these side by side for some time now and while it is sometimes hard to tell them apart, when they reach this stage it is clear they are different plants. I still prefer the original (to me) ‘Gilva’ as it makes a much more effective ground cover and there are always lots of offsets to start new colonies or give away. The pinker ‘Gilva’ is certainly a good pot specimen, perhaps better than the former which quickly outgrows any pot.


A blog by Seán A. O'Hara

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Flickr Group: mediterranean climate garden