Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Alternatives to Spring Annual Brights- Go Monochromatic

-Los Angeles, California

Here in southern California we are quite lucky to have a rainbow of plant life blooming all year 'round. Anything can grow here with little or no attention. Lately I noticed many unplanned or ill chosen locations for things like fig trees- either sprouting 10 feet high from the side of a palm tree (most certainly planted by a crow) or struggling in the dark shade under a scrubby old pine.

It's odd that many large nurseries and garden centers treat our Spring like we were in New Jersey or Massachusetts. Pink, Red, and Yellow, oh my. Hundreds and hundreds of little annual flowers in crazy bright colors cascading over every possible surface at the entrance. To me so many of them are all flash and no substance. Where are the leaves that will insure a healthy life for these plants? Often hidden beneath the over fertilized flower heads.

Some of us are looking for interesting perennials or other rare finds. Too often I strike out in this department- perhaps because it seems that so few Angelenos actually chose their own plants or do any gardening. Doing things for oneself is a bit out of fashion here if you can hire someone to do it for you. How odd that I found my latest inspiration not at any nursery but inside the new White Flower Farm catalog. And they are void of color but not attraction.

I am very aware that shipping live plants around in the dark on airplanes is not ideal for many reasons, but here are a few bare-root choices that would zip along the mail stream nicely in a paper sack.

The common reference is appropriately named the White Egret Flower. It is a new offering this year and is part of a terrestrial orchid family with smooth dark green leaves. They bloom mid to late summer. For warmer climates they need to be frozen - not just chilled (35° F or less) for three months to simulate their natural northern Asian climate.
Zones 6-10 S&W
12-15" Tall

Another plant named after a graceful bird, Great White Heron. Enormous flowers that can be up to 11- yes eleven inches across. This Japanese variety with tall stems can grow as high as 4 to 5 ft. and blooms late in June or July.
Zones 4-9S/ 10W

The photo speaks for itself- The almost black flowers of this Siberian iris should bloom in June. Standard height- no more than 18 inches tall.
Zones 3-8S/ 9W

Two other considerations in this black and white theme come in the form of seeds from Renee's Garden based in Fenton, California. Both should be planted right in the ground.

The Black Watchman Hollyhock needs its space. It can grow to 7 feet tall and is on the Monticello heirloom list left by Thos. Jefferson. One needs to be very selective about a sunny location that can handle such a giant that will reseed even under the roughest conditions.

Legend has it that Queen Anne, the wife of King James I, was challenged by her friends to create lace as beautiful as a flower. While making the lace, she pricked her finger, and it’s said that the purple-red flower in the center of Queen Anne’s Lace represents a droplet of her blood. Also called Wild Carrot (since Queen Anne’s Lace is the wild progenitor of today’s carrot), Bishop’s Lace or Bird’s Nest. Grows to 3 ft. tall with 4-5 inch intricate blossoms.

Images listed are shown left to right.



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