Friday, May 22, 2015

"There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling."
~Mirabel Osler

Annie's Annuals and Perennials is having a Memorial Day weekend sale starting today. I've bought quite a few plants from her and am extremely happy with Annie's service and quality of plants.

Here's a vendors list of milkweeds thoughtfully supplied by Monarch BTW: the Container Butterfly Garden is listed as a registered Monarch Waystation! So is the Alta Laguna Park Butterfly Garden, but that is a different story... Unfortunately, the site is temporarily down for maintenance at the moment.

Ahhhhhh... the Scabiosas, or pincushion flowers.

I've come to love these Grand Masters of nectar producing, dainty dandy darlings of the garden. Right now, the Container Butterfly Garden is home to two species and three varieties. A surefire addition to a butterfly garden, there's always room to be found for at least one somewhere in a sunny little pocket or in a nice little pot. Colors range from white to yellowish, pinks and reds, into blues; blue hues being the most prevalent.










Somewhat variable in flower shape and growth habit, they do adhere to a basic form factor; the various species, crosses, and varieties are readily identified as belonging to the same close knit family. All excel at enticing butterflies into the yard, coaxing them to explore and linger.

Some of the smaller varieties can be used as a perennial border plant and feel right at home in a rock garden or alpine setting; all do well in containers.


'Butterfly Blue' is the daintiest of the pincushion flowers in the container garden. A constant bloomer, these plants offer up flowers almost all year round. The only months I don't see flowers is January and February. A prolific bloomer, 'Butterfly Blue' is guaranteed to festoon itself continuously with bluish lavender colored blooms. Seed heads are sterile. Divide crown every three years if one wishes to propagate more plants for the garden.


I found 'Mariposa Blue' when scouring around a local independent nursery close by and instantly became enamored by its vigorous good looks. The flowers are a bit larger, though fewer than 'Butterfly Blue' and are of a deeper color. The plant itself is a bit beefier and more compact looking than 'Butterfly Blue'. It doesn't flower as long a season, the first buds arriving in late March to early April here.

My impression is that 'Mariposa Blue' is stronger and hardier than 'Butterfly Blue', being less prone to powdery mildew than its sibling. I had one of each overwintering side-by-side in the garden that became quite shady as the winter sun dropped lower in the sky. 'Butterfly Blue' developed powdery mildew, whereas 'Mariposa Blue' remained pest free. I placed each plant in a sunnier spot, whereupon the mildew eventually vanished after several months. Since the Container Butterfly Garden only experiences a couple of carefully picked and applied chemical pesticides, no fungicide was applied to the affected plant.

I do use Roundup sparingly in the never ending battle against weeds, as my back and knees literally don't bend to my will as they did in days of yore. The other pest potion used very sparingly in the garden is insecticidal soap, an environmentally safe alternative to harsher chemical sprays.

I use Safers brand, but if one is industrious, there are online recipes for homemade brews. I only use the soap early in the season when soft bodied Oleander aphids first appear and minimal numbers of caterpillars are present. A direct spray effectively dispatches them. If a cat did come to eat some of the sprayed plant, it may suffer a bad case of indigestion, but wouldn't necessarily die. Insecticidal soaps are contact sprays, not systemic, or internal sprays.

I don't even attempt to spray Large Milkweed bugs; they are fast, and carpet bombing with harsher chemicals is about the only solution. I have my doubts that soaps would even work on them, for their bodies may not be quite as soft as aphid bodies. I've sprayed them before with Safer's, only to have them drop and hide out of sight. Does it kill them? Don't know; they freak and skedaddle off out of sight so fast. For bugs, I use a jar half filled with water and a few drops of Dawn dish detergent added to make the water "wetter", allowing the water to drown these pests faster and more humanely.


'Fama Blue' is stunning in bloom. Unfortunately, it's not a prolific bloomer as the two previous Scabiosas mentioned. Oh well, the brevity of bloom makes one appreciate it even more. It's big, it's bold; you know when 'Fama Blue' is around. And the color is to die for!

Annie from Annie's Annuals and Perennials sits beside her plot of flowers, with 'Fama Blue' nestled in the middle. The container garden is home to several of her online offerings. Annie's plants always arrive healthy, full, securely packed, and are guaranteed fresh or your money back. Ships from the Frisco Bay area.


Scabiosa caucasica, 'Fama Blue'

 Caring for Pincushion Flower

Non demanding plants, scabiosas like full sun to part shade, but be careful in shadier environments, as they tend to develop powdery mildew. This will rectify itself once they are brought back into a sunnier spot in the garden. Give afternoon shade in hotter, interior regions.

Those that originate from Mediterranean climes are more water thrifty than ones from wetter, cooler places. All can get by with average watering schedules. Scabiosas aren't necessarily hungry plants, but will bloom more profusely with a monthly feeding during blooming season.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

"To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves."
~Mahatma Gandhi

Forsooth! A gauntlet has been cast. Now is the time to pick up the cause!

"In order to support monarch butterfly conservation, I have planted (or will be planting) milkweed or nectar plants to support monarchs this growing season. #SaveMilkweedSaveMonarchs has great information about how to participate. I challenge the five people tagged in this post to help in this effort by planting monarch-friendly plants, tagging their five friends, or by donating to the Monarch Joint Venture. Include the information in this paragraph and the hashtag in your post! #SaveMilkweedSaveMonarchs" 
~ from #SaveMilkweedSaveMonarchs
The Container Butterfly Garden is home to several milkweed species and is in the process of germinating a milkweed relative, Calotropis procera as a host plant for Monarch cats; commonly known as Sodom Apple, amongst other names. C. procera is native to many parts of Africa and the Middle East, its range extending into Asia and Indochina.

Very drought and salt tolerant when established, it makes an excellent candidate for water starved SoCal gardens with some space to offer it. Calotropis forms a woody trunk and stems, creating oodles (yes, oodles) of thick, leathery leaves fit for any self-respecting Monarch caterpillar to munch on.

Growing up to 15 feet tall, and this being a container garden, I don't know how successful such a large plant will thrive in even a largish pot. This is one milkweed that needs a bit of dedicated space to grow in. As of this writing, I have 10 healthy little seedlings, some of which I'll offer to the Parks Gardener at Alta Laguna Park in Laguna Beach, California, for the butterfly garden there; the rest I'll offer to you if you think you'd have a good place for them in your garden. Needs full sun. Think about it, and take a good look around your yard. They won't be ready to give away until spring of 2016.

Calotropis procera; Sodom Apple flowers

© Andrew Kliss Photography

C. procera seedlings growing along with seedlings of Pentas lanceolata, 'Butterfly' series. (See 4/25/2015 blog post on Pentas.)

Here are the other milkweed species currently growing in the container garden:

© Andrew Kliss Photography

Asclepias curassavica; Tropical, or Mexican Milkweed

© Andrew Kliss Photography

Gomphocarpus physocarpus; Balloon Plant

Photo by Charlotte Masarik

Asclepias eriocarpa; Indian Milkweed

Photo by Charlotte Masarik

Karen Schwager pointing to A. eriocarpa naturally growing out Laguna Canyon Road inside the Laguna Greenbelt.
At least that's what I think she's pointing to...

Both photos above of A. eriocarpa were kindly submitted with permission by their author via Karen Schwager, who subscribed way back when to the now defunct newsletter showcasing the Alta Laguna Park Butterfly Garden and the local butterflies visiting Laguna, when I took care of it as Parks Gardener for the city of Laguna Beach, California.

The Container Butterfly Garden has some A. eriocarpa struggling to grow in pots, but from what I've read, it resents not being in the ground. Hopefully what I do have will grow sufficiently to the point that I'll be able to donate it to a friend of mine who owns some acreage in the mountains above Murrieta, California, where I assume it will thrive, as there are patches of A. eriocarpa growing within relatively close proximity to his land.

This milkweed would be an excellent addition to a xeric garden or a yard bordering a greenbelt area where hopefully, if successfully grown, would produce viable seed that disperses into the greenbelt. Being a native, introducing it to a local native greenbelt area would not be a Bozo no-no, and in fact add to the biodiversity of the greenbelt. We like diversity. Diversity is so PC.

Other milkweed species growing in the container garden:

© Andrew Kliss Photography

Asclepias fascicularis; Narrowleaf Milkweed

© Andrew Kliss Photography

Asclepias speciosa 'Davis'; Showy Milkweed 'Davis'

A. fascicularis and A. speciosa 'Davis' are excellent candidates for today's drought conscious gardens. Both are California natives. In fact, A. fascicularis is found growing naturally in coastal/intercoastal areas of SoCal, whereas A. speciosa 'Davis' is found growing in slightly higher elevations.

Because of our dearth of available water, these two, and others, merit serious thought for possible incorporation into ones' own gardens. They need full sun; can't tolerate much shade, although I've had good luck growing A. fascicularis under the dappled shade of Coast Live Oaks in Alta Laguna Park when I was Parks Gardener there. Both are very easy to grow, and once established, one can ignore them if wished. Both species slowly form clumps that can eventually be divided and placed in other parts of the garden, or gifted to friends.

They aren't easy to find in more traditional nursery offerings, but that may change, as people's gardening habits must change in order to adapt to the very real spectre of reduced landscape irrigation. In fact, here is a timely article appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle featuring both of these milkweed species:

Milkweed an airbnb for migrating butterflies in your garden

If anyone is seriously thinking of trying out some easy to grow, drought tolerant milkweed plants for their own gardens, please email me and I will respond with a list of links to various online mail order offerings of these plants. Please remember though, that they need full to almost full sun in order to thrive.


Asclepias incarnata 'Cinderella'; Swamp Milkweed 'Cinderella'

A. incarnata is a lovely blooming plant, the variety 'Cinderella' producing vivid pink flowers. Swamp Milkweed is not relegated to just swamps; it also grows along riverbanks and in moist meadows throughout its native habitat. Stuck in a pot or planted in the ground here in coastal/intercoastal SoCal, average watering keeps it thriving. It will even take a bit of drought if necessary.

© Andrew Kliss Photography

A.incarnata 'Cinderella' in the container garden

The above photo above illustrates a holistic approach to gardening utilizing I.P.M. (Integrated Pest Management) in action against oleander aphids infesting my A. incarnata milkweed plant. When I first spotted the aphis attack about a month ago, I was keeping them in check using Safer's Insecticidal Soap, making sure there were no Monarch caterpillars hosting on the plant. Last week I noticed ladybugs on its leaves whose adults and larvae prey on aphids. Also spotted was a predatory fly that also feasts on them. Hopefully, and not far behind, parasitic wasps will join in to balance the aphis imbalance.

If the plants were sprayed with chemical pesticides, I would certainly have stemmed the tide. And the ladybugs. And the predatory flies. And who knows what else. Oh yeah: the caterpillars!!! Frankly Scarlet, I don't give a damn if my plants look butt-ugly and have icky creepy crawlies living on them. I do care though that the container garden is healthy, vibrant, and a haven and home for a broad spectrum biomass.

Subscribed to Annie's Annuals & Perennials newsletter, this particular edition of Annie's should be of certain interest and concern to us here in parched and dry California. I bought several plants from her mail order business over the past two seasons, receiving healthy, vigorous plants in tiptop shape:

Garden Beautifully in Drought: A Primer

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Just received an email in my inbox this morning from Monarch Joint Venture about a milkweed planting challenge. I'm heading out the door here in a bit, but when I return, I'll certainly take up the cause!

I started some new to the Container Garden, species of milkweed from seed a while back that I'll use to satisfy a portion of this challenge. An update, photos, and commentary by the weekend. Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

"When I go into the garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

YAY! We've been blessed with a bit more rain so unseasonably late for this amount of the stuff! Our flora and fauna will much appreciate it too.

Here's some new garden tech that you can manipulate with your smart phone, both iOS and Android:

"Blossom hands-on: Control your intelligent sprinkler system with your smartphone. 
Summary: As water supplies are reduced and people look to save money, internet-connected devices like the Blossom can pay for themselves in no time. Matthew installed a new controller system in about 10 minutes."

Good news! An announcement about the new Monarch Program site in Bonsall, California. Included are some photos I took on a visit to the now defunct Encinitas location a few years back:

The Monarch Program that was located in Encinitas since its opening in 1990, closed down in 2013 after losing their lease. During the interim, it has been looking for a new home where it can once again resume serious Monarch butterfly research, and to offer exhibits and a butterfly vivarium for the public. Many San Diego North County school children went on field trips to the center, learning about and experiencing the delight and wonder of butterflies. They recently opened a temporary facility in Fallbrook, California until they find a permanent home.

These photos were taken in 2010 when the Monarch Program was still in Encinitas, California. The vivarium these butterflies resided in housed at least half a dozen species of local butterflies. They went gaga over the Pentas growing within the enclosure and absolutely loved the sugary watermelon bits offered them. A large plate full of watermelon, cantaloupe, and orange slices placed in the middle of the vivarium became the favorite gathering spot for these winged beauties.

© Andrew Kliss Photography

Monarch butterfly feeding on Pentas.

© Andrew Kliss Photography

Little boy holding watermelon slice, visited by Monarchs.

© Andrew Kliss Photography

Sipping watermelon juice off fingers.

Verbena bonariensis was a very successful nectar plant in the Alta Laguna Park Butterfly Garden. Not only did it attract butterflies, especially Monarchs and swallowtails, an added bonus was it attracted seed eating birds too, such as finches when I left seed heads on the plants.

V. bonariensis, or more commonly known as Purpletop Vervain (and a myriad of other names) is a tall, rather informal-looking plant that some would describe as rather coarse or rough. I like the looks of it. It fits right into more provincial style gardens such as English cottage, and informal SoCal styles.

-Google (caption mine)

Verbena bonariensis. Purpletop Vervain; Clustertop Vervain; Argentinian Vervain; Pretty Verbena; Tall vervain; Upright Verbena; yada-yada...


V. bonariensis flower head, or inflorescence, comprised of tiny florets.

A fairly prolific seed maker, you'll soon have plenty of seedlings up and running to plant in other parts of your garden and to give to appreciative friends. Don't worry about it taking over your garden though, as it pulls out very easily, and there aren't that many who volunteer to pop up and grace your garden. If one is afraid of being overrun with a myriad of young volunteers, cutting off the seed heads before they ripen will take care of that.

Because of its height, it's useful as a background plant. Serving double duty, V. bonariensis can be effective towards the front of a garden or in the middle. Being so light and airy, it doesn't obstruct the view of any plants or garden features behind it; perfect for adding a bit of drama.

Care and Feeding

An easy care plant, all it needs is sun and a tiny bit of room to grow in. Appreciative of water, once established, it can do with minimal irrigation. One caveat: those growing in the Container Butterfly Garden do show stress pretty fast if the potting soil is allowed to thoroughly dry out. In the ground, I didn't have that problem.

If your soil is fertile, a twice per year feeding should be all that's needed. Those with poor soils or grown in pots, a monthly feeding would be welcome.

V. bonariensis can be considered a short lived perennial. Allowing a couple of seed heads to ripen will give you plenty of seedlings to replace old and tired, or dead plants. Don't let the seedlings get too tall before transplanting. They produce somewhat of a longish taproot that when disturbed could put the kibosh on revival. It can be done, but you'll need to dig up a hefty amount of soil with it in order to preserve the roots.

A simple method of propagation is to cut off some ripened seed heads while holding them upright, and then turning them upside down and shaking the seed heads on a new spot in the garden or in a pot of fresh potting soil.

Don't overlook this plant as a candidate for your butterfly garden. IMHO, it's a highly desirable pick for its ability to attract both butterflies and seed eating birds, is pretty much pest free, and adds an air of... well, "airiness" to a garden. Relatively common in most major nurseries. There is a dwarf version of V. bonariensis named 'Lollipop', but I have no idea as to its butterfly magnetism. 

Buying a pack of seeds and starting your own is a good alternative if you don't know a person who is willing to share a plant or two with you.