Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bush Morning Gloriousness

Is this not Glorious? Photo: George & Audry Delange

This month has been so busy, lots of Garden shows and activities. I almost didn’t make my plant of the month post. For March it has to be Convolvulus cneorum or Bush Morning Glory. They are blooming gloriously right now.

Clients always ask me about them in March. “What are those beautiful plants with all the white flowers”? I want to say, “Ask me again in a month”. But they won’t because the poor little Bush Morning Glory will be only a memory. It only flowers for about a month and turns into a humble little silvery ground cover in short order.

Then there is the issue of rabbits. Rabbits love Convolvulus and they love new Convolvulus the best. They will hop right by everything else in your yard. That’s not to say they won’t eat anything else, they just won’t miss your Bush Morning Glory. So as spring brings flowers to Bush Morning Glory and retail nurseries sell lots of them, the waskley wabbits get fed and the circle of life continues. Chicken wire and Blood Meal helps if you aren’t into the circle of life thing.

On the good side of the ledger for Convolvulus cneorum; It is definitely a low water use plant, and it loves full sun all day. It is a native to the Mediterranean, Sicily, Croatia, and North Africa and it thrives in dry, sandy, well-drained alkaline soil. Butterflys enjoy Bush Morning Glory. It will grow moderately to about 4’ wide and 2’ – 2 1/2’ tall with very little drop or litter.

Designers like Bush Morning Glory not for the flowers, but for the silvery foliage that it displays the other 48 weeks of the year. Plant BMG near anything purple like Leucophyllum, Reullia, or Lantana. It looks good under any of the darker Bougainvillea including the Torch Glow or other red-ish plants like Callistemon x 'Little John'. The silvery leaves and texture go very will with Olive trees and Sophora Secundiflora. It looks absolutely stunning as a short hedge under an Olive for a manicured Tuscan look, just make sure you place it out about 3’ – 4’ out from the trunk. Again in a Tuscan Garden, mix it with Myrtle of other greens for a dramatic silver accent. Try it in a Moon garden. The silvery leaves, not to mention the white flowers during March, make it a great choice. I'll be starting a Moon Garden design next week and BMG will definitely be included. By itself, you might want to consider massing to bring it into prominence.
It's a great little plant that doesn't get placed correctly very often so it usually goes unnoticed till late February and March.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Aloe in Bloom always says Spring to me!

Aloe Barbadensis just flowering.

They have been flowering from about the beginning of February here in the Phoenix area. I took some of these pictures a month ago, but thankfully I have been very busy with design work. The Aloe always reminds me of spring here. I can’t help but get excited when I see the stalks growing up and budding out Yellow and Orange all over town.

Aloe Barbadensis Buds

Some Aloe around town look really ratty. Burned tips, purple and grey tones and very little green they look like they need to be watered badly. They might, but chances are your looking at an Aloe planted in full sun. If you buy an aloe from a retail nursery the plant care tag may tell you, “Plant in full sun to part shade”. Don’t believe it. In Phoenix Aloe are happiest in part sun or filtered sun conditions. Mid-day and afternoon shade works well, too.

Aloe Vera - Aloe Barbadensis - Medicinal Aloe

Most Aloe is native to Africa, but I hear that some Aloe Vera – Barbadensis is native to Central and South America, the Cannary Islands, Jamaica mon (he he), and Bardados, hence the name. This is the medicinal variety that has been used by doctors, folk healers and clever mothers to treat burns, bites, inflammation, and to prevent infection. The Yellow Aloe Vera is the most effective, but Aloe Vera Orange works almost as well.

The height of the leaves is about 2’ to 3’ and the stalks can reach up to 5’. Aloe Vera clumps freely, so to keep it looking good (my opinion here) I pull off the little suckers and give them away.

Aloe Ferox, Cape Aloe, Tree Aloe

Aloe Ferox or Cape Aloe is very dramatic and can grow to 12’ or so and 5’ in diameter. It doesn’t clump so you can trim off the old dead leaves exposing and interesting tree form. It grows in a less upright form then Aloe Vera, but the stalk has an enormous amount of intensely orange flowers.

Most Aloe are cold hardy to the mid 20’s and are definitely a low water use plant. They do attract birds and our beloved humming birds enjoy them, too.

Plant them as an accent and keep them trimmed clean for a more dramatic effect just as you would an agave, just not in full sun, please.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

1st Annual Flower & Garden Show

Last weekend was the 1st Annual Southwest Flower and Garden Show. It was beautiful early Saturday morning when I arrived, the Sweet Acacia trees blooming and the parking lot empty so I could get a good spot. Left click the pictures to enlarge.

I usually avoid Home & Garden shows. I’ve never been a very aggressive marketer or salesperson and I think it helps at home shows. But, this show was to be different. This was to be the beginning of a real Flower & Garden show in Phoenix. I was hopeful. A few others were too. The Arizona Nursery Association teamed up with the Arizona Chapter of the ASLA to judge a container garden contest. A couple of nurseries had some very beautiful displays of flowering plants, Gardener’s Eden and one of my favs, Desert Gardens Nursery. The Phoenix Art Museum had an exhibit, too. Our group, the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, Arizona Chapter, planned to provide some simple Landscape Design consultations on Saturday morning and Sunday.

I arrived early Saturday because I also wanted to take some pictures. Here is our APLD area. The lavender, Bush Morning Glory and Blue Hibiscus got a lot of attention all day.

I’m glad we had a place to sit during the consultations. Some people brought pictures, others brought sketches, some people just asked pointed questions. The consultations were fun, but not physically being in the yard was difficult for me.

Desert Gardens Nursery put together a very nice display. Two waterfalls and some very interesting plants.

But by far the best part of their display were these two islands of succulents. What a beautiful arrangement.

Here is the front.

The Best display of the show was by local Landscape Architect and Contractor, Chad Robert. Hats off to him and his company "Exteriors", for putting forth the effort to create a very interesting display. Obviously Sustainability was a big part of his message as many of the materials were recycled.

Interesting meandering path of used concrete (Urbanite) lined with lots of succulents.

The Presentation boards were great, but the light conditions and my meager camera skills prevented a good closeup. Notice the retaining walls.

The Aloe and Fescue in front of that blue wall is great. Like I said, succulents everywhere. This would be a very low water use landscape.

Here is the main entrance below. The sculpture just behind the awning was made from found materials as well I believe.

His use of used concrete with glass bottles placed here and there with lights tucked inside no-less show what you can do with recycled materials and little imagination.

I have to admit, I don’t know what his retaining walls are made of. Again, inserting the bottles sure made it interesting. I don’t think I could have passed up the opportunity to put lights inside those bottles though, but I’m obsessive that way.

Can you make out the bottles poking out of every other hole in the wall?
You might be thinking YUK! That looks rediculous! Step back a sec. Remember that a realistic display is not the goal. Realistic displays are a dime a dozen at virtually every home show and Phoenix has a lot of home shows. The idea here is to express concepts and new design asthetics, not realisim. They are supposed to stimulate your imagination and show off some of the designers talent. He integrated water conservation, recycled materials, innovative lighting, art in the landscape, and leading edge plant materials (all important design elements and challenges right now) into a beautiful space. Like I said, hats off.

As far as the show, there was diffinately space left open and traffic was probably slow for the "Slicer-Dicer and Miracle Cleaners" people. However, I think we should recognize this will take a few years and a better economy to grow into a really great Flower & Garden Show; we in the industry should join in and support the process. If we do support it, the show will grow and mature in quality. I found out about this show a little late this year. However, I am excited about putting together a display project for next year. Hopefully the economy will come around some, as well. I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The great Pennisetum debate

About a week ago Jenn, of Garden Djinn posted a question to me, “As a professional landscaper in the phoenix area, do you plant fountain grass, Pennisetum setaceum, and if you do, can we talk about it? It is considered an invasive plant.”

Here is the culprit above.
Pennisetum setaceum - 'Green' Fountain Grass

A native of South Africa, it seeds numerous times during the year and crowds out or own native species in sand washes and creek beds.

Well I recognized the name and I had planted some Pennisetum setaceum – Purple Fountain grass last year. What the heck? This had me worried. I got on the phone with a couple of the growers I buy from including Mountain States Wholesale Nursery, and this is what I’m told:

Above are three of the plants local growers are selling:
Pennisetum setaceum – 'Purple' Fountain Grass.

Yup. They are both called Pennisetum setaceum. But they are different cultivars. There are actually more then two, in fact Mountain States grows there own version called Pennisetum setaceum – ‘Eaton Canyon’, or ‘Red Dwarf’. The red and the purple don’t seed as prolifically as the green fountain grass and most of the seed produced is sterile. How do they know this? They tried it with a test group of 'Purple' and 'Eaton Canyon' before they ever sold a single plant. I did find out however, that if there are some green Fountain Grasses near by, the purple and the red can cross pollenate and make more green fountain grass.

I do have one more call to make, a guy from the Arizona Native Plant Society. I'm saving him for last. I wanted to hear what the local growers were saying before talking to anyone from AZNPS. If I find out anything new, I’ll post it. I the mean time, git yer hoes and dig up some Green Fountain Grasses. Thanks Jenn for your question.

Here is a closer look at a Pennisetum setaceum - Purple Fountain Grass.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Chihuly! The Nature of Glass

We have a unique opportunity to experience one of the most amazing glass sculpture artists work in the world. Dale Chihuly’s The Nature of Glass exhibition at the Desert Botanical Garden. This exhibition has toured numerous world class museums and botanical Gardens all over the world and now it’s here. I think it’s a must see and besides, March is an awesome time to visit the Garden.
You can read a Bio of Dale Chihuly here and some info on the show here.

Here my wife and children pose near the entrance.
I think it is interesting to note that Dale Chihuly studied Interior Design and Architecture at University of Washington Seattle in the 60’s but became captivated with the process of blowing glass. I think all Landscape Designers and Architects love Sculpture. Many of us practice some sort of art as a hobby and since sculpture is three dimensional, maybe it feels more familiar to us. We all love to incorporate art and sculpture into our designs and this exhibit has some great examples to learn from.

His works displayed at the Desert Botanical Garden are all very organic and vibrantly colorful. Chihuly’s works are alive with energy and movement. You will be awed at the scale of some of his works like, “The Sun” (just above) in the Ottosen Entry Garden. Some works compliment the natural surroundings while being the focal point, others are meant to be radical contrasts that introduce a completely new meaning. Chihuly says, “Over time I developed the most organic, natural way of working with glass, using the least amount of tools that I could. The glass looks as if it comes from nature”. He also says many of abstract flower and botanical forms are reminiscent of his mother’s garden in Tacoma.

I’m sure one or two are tongue-n-cheek, but I’m not telling which. You’ll have to discover them for yourself. The only thing that had me worried was the boats. Yes boats, old wooden row boats full of stunningly beautiful glass globes. I’m sure boats have a more important meaning in the Pacific Northwest then they do in the Sonoran Desert. So although I think the boats should have been left on the trucks, the glass is amazing. Don’t miss it.

The Chihuly exhibit will continue thru May 31st, but March is an amazing time to tour the Garden. The spring Butterfly event starts on the 7th, too. So that the Garden doesn’t become over crowded and your experience is more enjoyable, you will need to make a reservation before attending. Now that it is warmer, I’m sure the evening shows will fill up fast, too. Enjoy your trip to the Garden.