Plants you have never seen before are always a revelation. You experience a sense of reverence and renewal in their presence. Just when you thought you had seen everything, suddenly there is a leaf shape you had never glimpsed before, a flower scent you had never inhaled, a smooth bark upon which you had never rested your palm. Be advised that there are a quarter-million plant species on Earth so that if you decide to pursue plant watching in a serious way, you will never have a dull moment.
The wild parasol plant (Karomia speciosa) was a wonderful revelation to me. I saw it in the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens but it would be highly suitable for Valley gardens too. At peak bloom time, which occurs in the fall, large aggregates of paper-thin, lavender-pink star flowers are clustered at the ends of shoots.
Wild parasol plant, so named for the canopies formed by its flower clusters, is native to South Africa, a botanical treasure house that includes geranium, bird of paradise, gazania, lily of the Nile (Agapanthus) and fortnight lily (Dietes). The shoots of wild parasol tend to fall over, so it is best situated in a planter above a wall or balcony. Situated in this way, it will grow into a flowering drape that will take the breath away of those who pass by.
Speaking of clusters of star-shaped flowers, star clusters (Pentas lanceolata) really come into their own as the hours of daylight diminish this time of year.
I would say star clusters are a must for the fall flower garden, as opposed to the summer garden, when they tend to burn up on very hot days. Star clusters grow to around 3 feet tall and are evergreen as long as winter temperatures stay above freezing. Red, white, pink, lilac, lavender and purple are available.
Fall is also the time for plants in the potato family to show off their charms.
Blue potato bush (Lycianthes rantonettii) is at the top of the list of inscrutable horticultural wonders. Lately, it has gone into a fit of flowering madness. Although its foliage may lose color on and off during the year, the blue potato bush shows new life just when most plants have faded from the garden scene. To appreciate its full flowering potential, it should be allowed to grow to its full size of around 7 feet tall and wide. It is an excellent candidate for covering a chain link fence or block wall. Once established, it never needs to be watered more than once a week.
Other plants in the potato family (Solanaceae) are also blooming now. Iochromas show tubular flowers in red, blue or purple. Cestrum elegans produces slightly flared tubes of wine red, pink or violet, accompanied by handsomely cut, sea-green foliage. Brugmansias, also called Daturas or angel trumpets, sound off with enormous hanging flowers in colors that include peach, pale yellow, gold, pink and white.
Have you ever wondered about those ubiquitous yellow, pink, red and orange cactus balls sitting on top of 6-inch, green cactus trunks? They seem to occupy space in every succulent section of every nursery and go by the generic name of moon cactus. In truth, the colorful cactus balls are seedling variants of Gymnocalycium mihanovichii friedrichii.
On their own, without their grafted green trunks, the colorful cactus balls would die since they lack chlorophyll, the green pigment that traps light and enables plants to make sugar, their self-produced energy and food source. Yet by grafting the colorful yet chlorophyll-lacking seedlings onto a green cactus (usually Hylocereus) trunk, the trunk cactus can provide the food needed by the colorful cactus ball above.
This is the ideal windowsill plant, especially where light is marginal since moon cactus burns in too much sun. As with any indoor plant, wait until the soil is bone-dry before watering. In the small pots in which moon cactus is found, dryness at a 1-inch depth signals a need for water. Soak the soil until it is wet all the way through. One way of ensuring saturation is to put the moon cactus (or any other indoor plant) in a Tupperware type container that contains 1 inch of water. The moon cactus will soak up the water in the Tupperware through osmosis and capillary action. An advantage of watering in this manner is that water, which can cause fungus when it makes contact with leaves or stems, never touches the plant.
Keep in mind that cactus experiences winter dormancy, so you should water sparingly, if at all, once cold weather arrives. In any season, do not allow your potted plant to sit in water once its soil is saturated.
Tip of the week
Often, readers request referrals for various landscaping or gardening services. Could I recommend a tree trimmer, landscape designer, or drip irrigation specialist? There is an excellent referral service at www.yelp.com. In conducting your search, you enter the keywords of the service you seek along with your location. Names of companies or individuals who provide the service appear, together with customer testimonials. This seems like an excellent tool for finding prospective landscaping or gardening service professionals.