Ode to Plants in February

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Here in the Bay Area, spring arrives in late winter and nature shouts yellow to wake us up from the grey doldrums of rain. Yellow is everywhere, bringing the sun and the Acacias. Daffodils open their trumpets and the Euryops daisies shine.

February brings an awakening of the senses and the unnoticed plants of winter dazzle the eyes with forgotten color. Primroses (the best of the season in a myriad of colors), Sweet Alyssum, Violas and Forget-me-nots perfume the warmer air. And guess what? The yellow Primrose smells the sweetest! Perennial borders come alive.

In the shade, Heuchera, Clivia (orange and yellow), Helleborus, Violets and Bacopa make magic. Heucheras, and their cousins the Heucherellas and Tiarellas, are noted for ease of growth and colorful foliage of mauve, purple, chartreuse, magenta and amber. Even the green-leaved varieties show some speckling of white or pink. Long stems of delicate bell-shaped flowers froth above the foliage in pink, rose and white.

Helleborus are self-maintaining and well adapted to dry shade. So many new varieties are available now, from Ivory Prince with greenwhite flowers to Lady in Red, which is a very rosy pink. In the sun, gray-foliaged plants shine with their silver leaves – Artemesia, Cerastium, and California poppy. The showy white display of Iberis is perfect as an edging for walkways or shady garden beds. Euphorbia with their chartreuse flowers look grand! They will seed themselves freely in sun or light shade. Foliage ranges from burnt red to green-blue.

All this orchestrated unfolding of spring seems to happen so quickly. Clematis armandii, one of the fastest growing vines (and deer resistant), is lovely for fences and walls, exploding into clouds of fragrant white flowers. Deciduous Magnolias, the aristocrats of the garden, open their fuzzy buds, revealing teacup-sized blooms of purple, pink and mauve. The Lady Banks Rose, a sprawling, shrubby vine, blossoms only in the early spring. Look for her in white or yellow.

The monstrous purple blue spikes of Echium begin to elongate. Look for these plants later in March. They certainly are showstoppers and the number one plant inquired about by visitors to the Bay Area. A short road trip from Sausalito to San Francisco’s Presidio and Golden Gate Park will attest to their stature. Our native Ceanothus burst into a haze of blue in every shade. Concha, Dark Star, Julia Phelps, Frosty Blue, Ray Hartman and Yankee Point are just a few of the varieties you will find in our stores.

The flowering Quince greets the new year in prestigious orange-red. This plant thrives on neglect and will do fine in an unirrigated shrub border. While nondescript in leaf, having blossoming branches to cut and bring into the house makes it worthy of attention.

The winter-flowering Australian natives offer late winter’s first foods to the hummingbirds: Grevillea with red or orange spider-like blossoms, Correa with bells of ivory, salmon and red, Metrosideros and Leptospermum in an array of pink, rose and red. They are all low maintenance, deer resistant and drought tolerant.

Hardenbergia, with its clusters of purple flowers resembling miniature sweet peas, seems to appear as if by magic on an arbor or gate. This vine will bloom in sun or light shade. Nemesia, lovers of cool weather, shine in white, blue, pink, peach and cranberry. They’re great in containers too. Rosemary and Spanish Lavender are in full bloom. Spanish Lavender blooms in the cool weather months, finishing its bloom just as the English types begin to spike in May. Rosemary comes in all shapes and habits from tall and upright to sprawling. Use them as an informal hedge or for erosion control on a bank.

The Coleonema are clothed in hundreds of tiny pink blossoms. Coleonema, which is related to citrus trees, has fragrant lemony foliage. It is at its best when sheared into tight globes. Not only is it available in a greenleafed form, there are also chartreuse-toned varieties such as Danny’s Gold Sport and Sunset Gold that will add interest to deer resistant gardens.

By mid-February, all the Plums are appropriately pink. Fresh Azaleas are just starting to bud; Japanese Maples are starting to leaf out. There are annual flowers for pots and walkways. Ranunculus and Anemone are bright in gold, red, pink, orange, yellow, white and blue.

Though there still may be a frost or a rainstorm, these hardy plants will perk right back up when clouds blow away.

Here at Sloat Garden Center we offer all this and more…come take a look!

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