Tag Archives: mediterranean plants

walk on by

Yellow, white, blue, lavender, pink…The front garden is crazy strident right now and I like it. The floral chaos is concentrated along the sidewalk in front of the house, where the plants present themselves at eye-level for anyone walking by.

If you were to check passports on the plants you’d find a number of California origin mixed in with others from Mediterranean climates. Here’s the gloriously sprawley Nuttall’s milkvetch, Astragalus nuttallii, from the California Central Coast, with a South African arctotis hybrid.

The deep violet chia, Salvia columbarae, hails from around here. The bright yellow Jerusalem sage, Phlomis monocephala, from Turkey. The chia is annual but reseeds itself efficiently. After the plant dies back, its seed heads stay attractive for several months. The phlomis starts to drop its leaves in summer’s drought but never goes entire bare. As it does that, the leaves turn more and yellowish- grayish-green in color.

To help control the floral chaos, I’ve planted incorporated a lot of each of these two plants, along with several of the milkvetch above.

The locally common bulb, blue dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum, with the salmon colored South African bulb, Homeria collina behind it.

A yellow crassula picks up on the yellow theme as you walk by.

A couple years ago I broadcast some seed of Southern California’s Phacelia parryi but never saw any make it to maturity. Just a week ago I noticed this, one of the last flowers on a small plant that has come up from that old broadcast. I probably would have missed it if it weren’t up at eye-level.

I tried shooting a walk-by encounter of the front garden using my cellphone’s camcorder feature. Unfortunately the result looks like it was shot with a, well, cellphone, and I’m too embarrassed to share it. Too bad. Gardens are best explored in time and space and not in still photos. Videos could give you a sense of exploration still photos can’t. Well, I love a project, and getting a decent walk-by sequence will be another item on my ever-growing punchlist.


This must be the year for my prima donna plants to finally decide to bloom. First it was the first bloom for me of the Agave attenuata over the winter. Now it’s this echium’s turn.

This is Echium wildpretii, which has gone from five feet tall two weeks ago to over seven and a half feet.

It’s also known by various common names, including tower of jewels, red bugloss, and–in Spanish–tajinaste. “Tajinaste”: what a gorgeous sounding name, way more musical than bugloss or “tower of jewels,” which sounds a little square to me, like a plant name from a 1927 seed catalog. Tajinaste is endemic to one Atlantic island, Tenirife, off the northern African coast.

This echium species is described as a biennial. Many plants described that way will put up leaves the first year and then bloom the second year from seed, after which the plants produce huge amounts of seed and then die.

Although it’s been known to flower in the second year, this plant’s usual interpretation of the term takes “biennual” literally as “two years,” keeping you waiting that long from sowing to flowering. And there’s one plant in the front yard that looks like it’s going to be taking an additional year. Biennial? I think not.

Still, worth the wait, don’t you think?

The plant grows in spirals. Here you can see the spiraling new flowers.

The central rosette of leaves just a few months before sending up the central bloom stalk.

During the two years you wait for it to bloom, you get to look at an attractive mound of lance-shaped coarse gray leaves, usually eighteen inches to twice that across during its second growing season. When nature withholds flowers you can always look at and photograph leaves. So here’s some of my little crop of Echium wildpretii plant photos.

Echium wildpretii leaves in soft focus

Some of the leaves develop these neat hook ends.

As you can see it’s an attractive plant even when out of bloom. It has low water requirements and looks clean until its final, spectacular exit. After a few months it turns from a big dramatic plant into a big dramatic dead plant with tendencies to topple even before its deep tap root decays.

Its reputation is that it’ll send seeds everywhere at that point, so this might not be the best plant if you live near the edge of a dry natural area. A related echium, pride of Madeira, (E. candicans) has established itself as a pest in some coastal areas of Southern California. I’ll get to see how bad it really is after these plants finally give out later this summer. I’ll worry about that later, but for now I’ll sit back and enjoy the plant.

bloom day–in 3d!

Get out your 3D glasses! Part of this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day posting comes to you in glorious 3D, inspired by the news that 3D television was the big news at the recent Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, and by past, current and future 3D movies (Avatar, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Alice in Wonderland).

This is one of my clones of Arctotis acaulis, which is just coming into bloom.

To view the 3D effect you’ll need a pair of glasses or a viewer that has a red lens over the left eye and a cyan (green works too) lens over the right. This image, what’s called an anaglyph, is pretty low-tech, more Black Lagoon than Avatar, but it works. I won’t detail all the steps for making it, but there are lots of explanations out on the web for how to do it in Photoshop. [ Here’s one. ] You can also use a good photo editor like Photoshop Elements that will let you adjust the individual color channels of the image.

You don’t need a proper 3D camera to photograph slow-moving subjects like flowers, but you’ll need two separate images, one for the left eye, and another for the right. Just take two images of the same subject, moving slightly left-to-right before you click the second image. If you have a camera with manual controls, you’ll get the best results if you focus and set the exposure manually.

This is the image pair I started with for the anaglyph above. You might even be able to view this raw pair in 3D. Some people are able to practice what’s called “free-viewing,” where the left eye focuses on the left image and the right eye on the right-hand one. You’ll eventually see three images, and the central one will suddenly pop into 3D.

This last pair shows the next-to-last step big step, before you layer the cyan image over the red one to create the final 3D image.

The rest of this post returns to stodgy old 2D. Sorry.

Winter is the big bloom season for many of the native plants, as well as for many plants adapted to Southern California’s mediterranean climate. Here are many of the plants flowering right now.

Here’s the agave I featured prominently in last month’s posting. It’s nearing its half-way point on the spike.

First blooms of the season on Verbena lilacina.

First blooms of the season on Nuttall’s milkvetch, Astragalus nuttallii.

The very first, brave bloom on another Arctotis acaulis clone, ‘Big Magenta.’

First flowering on another plant, likely Crassula multicava. The bed where this plant is will soon be covered with a dense mist of flowers for several months.

Another flowering crassula, Crassula ovata, your basic jade plant.

Black sage, Salvia mellifera, coming into bloom.

Santa Cruz Island buckwheat, Eriogonum arborescens, still blooming–the Energizer Bunny of buckwheats.

…some weird bromeliad. I have a likely name somewhere, but not stored in my brain’s RAM right now…

I was taking some pictures of this desert mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua, but was more captivated by the interesting damage patterns created by a leaf-mining insect.

And last but not least: What I’m certain will be the last paperwhite narcissus of the season. I keep thinking that, but another clump pushes up through the earth and starts to flower. I’m not complaining.

As usual, my thanks Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day! Check out what’s in bloom in other gardens around the world [ here ].

If you haven’t had enough of the 3D photos, check out a much earlier 3D garden blog post [ here ].

Now enough of this 2D indoors nonsense. Open the door, and go outside and enjoy your garden in the grand glorious 3D it comes in naturally.