Tag Archives: shade garden

California Native Currants and Gooseberries

16 Apr

California native currants and gooseberries (Ribes spp.) have in recent years become more popular with urban gardeners, and for good reason. They have lovely flowers, fragrant foliage, are loved by many birds including hummingbirds, and don’t need summer water once established. The deer don’t like them. They do well under oaks. You can even eat the fruit… what’s not to like?

The one I am seeing most frequently in my neck of the woods is Pink Flowering Currant (Ribes sangiuneum). This plant looks great in woodland gardens, with its pendulous pink flower clusters in late winter/early spring,  and delicate light green foliage. It reaches 8 or more feet in height, making it a good screen or background plant candidate. Its visual effect in the garden is light, airy and delicate.

Chaparral Current (Ribes malvaceum “Dancing Tassels”) is another favorite. It does well in sun or shade, and requires less water than some of the other Ribes. From December to March, this species produces large drooping clusters of light rose flowers that are a favorite for hummingbirds. Berries follow – they won’t knock your socks off but the birds go crazy over them.

Fuchsia-Flowering Gooseberry (Ribes speciosum) is favored by hummingbirds over other Ribes flowers, probably because its nectar has a higher sugar content. The flowers are very long and bright red. The leaves are deep green in color and shiny. It likes part shade, but can also be grown in full shade. This plant is very drought tolerant, going deciduous during the dry summer months.

Golden Currant (Ribes aureum gracillimum) has very straight branches and reaches 3-5 ft. in height. It produces lots of bright yellow 5 petal flowers during the rainy season, and then yellow berries that ripen to black. The berries are a favorite food of the California Thrasher as well as many other berry eating birds.


Two Wonderful Screen Plants for Tight Spaces

15 Mar

In Berkeley, where I live, most of the lots are small and the houses are pretty close together. So unless you have a particular interest in watching your neighbor prepare her morning toast, chances are you’ll be needing a few good screen plants to provide some privacy along the property line. Many of my clients are interested in screen plants for tight spaces – so here are 2 of my favorites.

Fern Pine (Podocarpus gracilior): This evergreen tree grows 12 to 25 ft. in height, but can easily be pruned as a 6 to 10 ft. hedge. It has delicate, almost lacy  (fern-like) soft gray or blue-green foliage on graceful, arching branches. The best thing about this screen plant is that you can prune it very flat against a fence or along the property line, so it only needs a foot or 2 of depth to make a wonderful screen. Plant them close together for a denser screen, or farther apart if you want to let more light in. Podocarpus can grow well in sun or shade, and even tolerates deep shade. It grows best with regular water until established. It is virtually pest-free.

Podocarpus is a genus of conifers, comprising 105 species of evergreen shrubs or trees. Gracilior is native to east Africa, but grows very well in California and is used extensively in landscaping throughout the state.

Pittosporum ‘Silver Sheen’ (Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘silver sheen’): This evergreen tree or shrub is native to New Zealand. In our area, it grows rapidly  to 15-20 ft., but is easily pruned as a lower hedge. Looser and taller than species, ‘Silver Sheen’ has beautiful black stems and contrasting gray-green, almost silver foliage that appears to shimmer in the breeze. Clusters of purple flowers bloom in late spring. This screen plant grows best in full sun, with regular water until established. This is an easy plant to grow; it tolerates wind and some drought, and can also grow in shade conditions. The branches are wonderful in flower arrangements.

Ferns for the Garden

20 Feb


Here is the fern’s frond, unfurling a gesture,

Like a conductor whose music will now be pause

And the one note of silence

To which the whole earth dances gravely

So begins Ted Hughes’ contemplation on the power of nature, and there is certainly no plant that gives the garden a more natural feel than the fern. With their frothy, graceful fronds and deep green hues, ferns add unparalleled richness and texture to naturalistic landscaping.

Ferns were one of the first plants on Earth, and fossil remains have been found dating back 450 million years or more. Ferns can be found all over the world, and were at their height during the Carboniferous Period (the Age of Ferns), so called because they dominated the plant world at that time. During this era some fern-like groups actually evolved seeds, later giving rise to the flowering plants. Most of the ferns of the Carboniferous Period subsequently became extinct, but some survived and evolved into modern fern species. There are about 12,000 species of ferns in the world today.

Unlike flowering plants, ferns reproduce from spores, those brown dots you can see on the underside of the fronds. Most ferns are perennial (they come back year after year) and can be either evergreen (maintaining their foliage year-round) or deciduous (shedding their leaves for the summer or winter months).

Ferns are typically found in four distinct habitats: moist, shady forests; crevices in rock faces, especially when sheltered from the full sun; acid wetlands including bogs and swamps; and tropical trees, where many species are epiphytes, growing directly on the trunks and branches of various species.

The Bay Area is an excellent place to grow ferns, and there are a number of ferns that are native to our area:

o    Five Finger Fern (Adiantum aleuticum) is an elegant fern that thrives in deep shade with regular moisture. Can reach 2.5 ft. in height.

o    Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum jordanii) has lovely delicate fronds like the leaves of a ginkgo. Likes part to full shade, and will go dormant under dry summer conditions.

o    Coastal Wood Fern (Dryopteris arguta) is an excellent evergreen fern with bright green lacy looking fronds. Very tough and easy to grow.

o    Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum) is a rugged, drought tolerant fern with an upright 2 to 4 ft. growth habit.

o    Giant Chain Fern (Woodwardia fimbriata) is a beautiful large fern that likes sun or shade with adequate water. Can reach 8 ft. in height.

There are also numerous non-native fern species that do well in the Bay Area. Here are a few of my favorites:

o    Australian Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium antiguum) is an evergreen fern that grows to 3 feet in height. Fronds are undivided, light green and somewhat ruffled. Likes light to dense shade and consistent moisture. Gives a light, airy effect.

o    Common Polypody (Polypodium vulgare) is a spreading evergreen fern with low compact growth by creeping rhizomes. Deeply cut dark green leathery fronds are attractive all year. Grow in light to medium shade. This one tolerates drought.

o    Tasmanian Tree Fern (Dicksonia Antarctica) grows into a small tree 15 feet in height over time. Evergreen with arching 3 to 6 foot fronds on top of a thick red brown trunk. Likes part shade to sun and consistent moisture.

o    Australian Tree Fern (Cyathea cooperi) is faster growing than the Tasmanian Tree Fern, with a narrower trunk. Fronds may be up to 10 feet in length. Both offer a lush tropical appearance to the garden.

Ferns look especially beautiful when combines with rhododendrons, azalias and other acid-loving shade plants in a woodland setting. For more detailed information about ferns, visit the website of the American Fern Society.

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