Chilly day garden

And we told to expect a heatwave. Hah!


I'm starting to get fall pruning urges...


I've had just about enough of the Madia elegans for 2009. But if it goes away, what will the beneficials do? The only thing close to having as many flowers is good ol' Cosmos.


The dahlias are too small, and they're about to crap out. Love the color tho'.


I don't think I mentioned that I'm taking color theory at City College. It's taught by the same woman I took plant ID from. I really like her. Like me, when it comes to color, she seems more interested in flowers than foliage.

I mean I like foliage, & I get why many gardeners prefer to design with foliage in mind...but it's just not that exciting to me personally. Garden vignettes that appeal to me the most tend to be about size and shape and form.

(And by now you may know that I'm very specimen-oriented. Scenes built around one plant, or one kind of plant, like tree ferns or manzanitas, really excite me. What else do you need if you have a forest of tree ferns? Just a place to sit.)

Anyway, back to foliage, I think the most important aspect for me is probably texture, and the surrounding textures. I have a problem with fine texture--I'm hooked on it. But I know too much fine texture creates a busy, restless, anxious garden. It's definitely a problem I struggle with.

I have a few big leafed, coarse-textured plants. Three are giant asters from the cloud forest--Bartlettina sordida (one of the first things I planted), Montanoa grandiflora (new this year), and this one that you're getting to know, Senecio cristobalensis.

Senecio cristobalensis

(The Fuchsia behind it is medium, I would say)

And I have the buckeye, Aesculus californica. But it only has leaves for about 7 months. The rest of the time, it's like this:


Fine texture overload! Even the agaves I like are fine textured! There are two more coarse textured plants in this picture, the fig (Ficus carica) and the Tower of Jewels (Echium pininana). Those are all new this year. So I am getting better at managing texture. (Yay, me!)

Anyway, all a digression. I was going to talk about flower color--because I'm taking color theory--and show you this Passiflora citrina that I recently got at Filoli. Isn't it nice? So yellow!


Note: compare it to the "Passiflora citrina" I bought on EBay last year:

GBBD; 2009-07-14; Passiflora citrina

Quite different, isn't it? So frustrating because the whole point of getting P. citrina in the first place was to run it up the Tibouchina urvilleana. Because, complimentary colors..!


I can see how someone might not like this particular pairing of purple and yellow, but I will be curious to see how it plays out in my garden.

Tibouchina urvilleana IMG_3916

Now we can go back to talking about foliage color for a minute. I was given two black plants this year, including this Ceanothus 'Tuxedo' which is settling in nicely.


There is always a risk with dark foliage that it will recede and disappear. It's almost happening in that picture. But I'm relying on this plant's eventual size to keep it from vanishing in my small garden.

I also got this Phormium 'Black Adder' which is quite a departure for me because I have this whole thing about phormium and dietes...


Don't plant it if you're not prepared to dig it up every few years to divide it. Because they get terribly ugly when they're congested. Anyhow, I think I'll be able to keep on top of it.

The problem I want to talk about in the picture above is the juxtaposition of Phormium with the fine-textured gray plant yousee mounding above and behind the phormium, Island Buckwheat (Eriogonum arobrescens).

The pairing is a turn-off. Which is heartbreaking because I grew that plant from seed and it's a personal favorite. But it's just not working out and I'm not sure what to do. I don't have the heart to tear it out--yet. I'm frozen with indecision. How can I rip out a beloved California native for an upstart, laboratory-bred Phormium?

Alas, this is the pain of gardening in a small space. Do you feel my pain?

Time to talk about other things? Happier things? Like caterpillars?


We have three!



Michelle said...

That passion flower is a gem! I do like strong pairings like that, I tend to put orange and purple together. I'm with you on Dietes, it's all over my front garden and I've not yet had the time or fortitude to dig it out. Your babies are so not cute but they are lovable, can't wait to see them all grown up.

Les said...

The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one, and I glad you are working on your fine texture problem (although,I am not saying you have one). I have issues with variegation, as in putting suitable distance between variegated plants. With all the shade I have I look for variegation to give me a little extra light, and I have often over done it.

anna maria said...

Yup, they started telling us over a week ago it was supposed to be sooo hot and it wasn't, then they told us again, and it isn't. And you live in a sunny neighborhood, while I'm in a foggy one. Oh well.
Your flowers and critters are beautiful though.

Christopher C. NC said...

I have given your fine texture problem some monsooon thought. This statement from you is key,"Garden vignettes that appeal to me the most tend to be about size and shape and form."

The fine texture is not the problem so much as they have no backdrop or structure to play off of. Adding big leaved plants won't help because there still is no overall structure. The fence as a backdrop doesn't work even if you painted it because it acts as a negative space bringing attention back to the fine texture.

What you need is repeated substantial form. A starting point to mull over is the idea of placing the same evergreen shrub in the four corners of the garden like a columnar juniper or cypress, holly, boxwood something like that. This will give structure, form and mass to play against the fine texture throughout. Rigid formality may not be necessary as long as you get the repeated dense form in the garden.

That's my one dollar design idea.

chuck b. said...

Excellent points, Christopher! I will address them in my next blog post.

Swampgardener said...

I have a fine-texture problem too! My first garden books were by Piet Oudulf, so now my garden is dominated by grasses and fern-like foliage...and I couldn't put a finger on the problem until you said it. And I totally like looking at single specimens rather than swaths of plants. Never knew I had a problem until today.

Jenn said...

Oh, Chuck. It's so funny how tastes in a garden can vary so much. I like the buckwheat/phormium combo. So much that I would put the phorium right inside a planting of the buckwheat. (if the buckwheat is the one I think it is, the brown twigged fine leaved plant?)

That's a nice combo, it just needs to be much cozier!

Frances said...

Oh that Christopher, he is so right! The columnar evergreen type things in the corners, or perhaps on a curving path would add so much. I am feeling the urge to prune too. You should see the cobaea, it has engulfed the 10 foot high 16 foot long 8 foot wide arbor and even doubled back on itself. From a seed in one season, loads of flowers and no end it sight. It will be a sad day when a hard frost turns it to toast. What a plant!

Unknown said...

Don't hate me but I love Phormium AND Dietes. I have both of them EVERYWHERE in my garden. But I am pretty good at splitting it up when it needs to be- and sharing with friends. The Dietes is nice in the winter when nothing else is green- and in the summer when we have 115 degree weather here- I still don't even have to water it! But, I recognize it can get out of control. I went all out with grass type plants at first, and am slowly starting to add some of these other textures in. I'll get there someday!

Annie in Austin said...

Hi Chuck,
I love the yellow passiflora, too - guess that's what I was trying to do by planting yellow bulbine with Salvia 'Black & Blue'?

Christopher's idea sounds pretty good. I've planted small evergreens, hoping they'll grow up to add solidity & structure. That may mean sacrificing nearby flowers as they grow. When so many things refuse to grow or die outright here, it's really hard to dig up anything that lives and blooms, even it they don't fit.

The phormium 'Black Adder' looks wonderful. The Island Buckwheat looks like it wants to go on vacation. How would it look in a big container up on the roof, hair blowing in the breeze?

Annie at the Transplantable Rose