Friday Flora & Fresh Air

Bird of Paradise 4Two stunning birds of paradise stopped me dead in my tracks yesterday morning: this perfect Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) floral specimen …

Bird of Paradise 6

and one angry little hummingbird who read me the riot act for crowding his flower.

Bird of Paradise 2

I was on my morning walk when I noticed a glimpse of orange in the center of a giant clump of those distinctively enormous oval leaves.

Bird of Paradise 5

As I composed these images, a much smaller and more vocal bird of paradise swooped right up into my face and told me to buzz off.

Bird of Paradise 3I’m so glad I stopped to take a closer look.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Isn’t she lovely?

Pittosporum 'Marjorie Channon' close up 1“She” being my Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Marjorie Channon’ of course.

Pittosporum 'Marjorie Channon' close up 2How can anyone resist those lovely dark stems and creamy white leaf margins?

Pittosporum 'Marjorie Channon' with shadows 1And tell me, who can resist soft light and the interesting shadows?

Pittosporum 'Marjorie Channon' close up 3Besides having attractively variegated leaves, ‘Marjorie Channon’ is prized for ‘her’ billowy informal shape and relative slow growth. Naturally good looking and low maintenance … that’s my kind of woman shrub.

Pittosporum 'Marjorie Channon' in context 2Shown here paired with French thyme, rosemary and three types of Phormiums, I love how Marjorie’s color and natural shape (never once pruned or trimmed) stand out against the dark brown exterior of my house. To help you gauge growth rates, it may help to know that I planted this Pittosporum shrub (purchased in a 5 gal pot) in August of 2011 and give it only occasional irrigation.

Pittosporum 'Marjorie Channon' in context 3

This is how the garden looked in June of 2012.  In addition to the companion plants mentioned above, I also tried a Green Globe artichoke (delicious!), black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) and fuzzy lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina); but over time, the artichoke grew too large and had to be transplanted, the lamb’s ears grew out of control and had to be removed, and the black mondo grass sadly died. Remember, gardens are always evolving. Gardening is all about experimentation and every gardener – even those with “green thumbs” – occasionally kills a plants or two.

Pittosporum 'Marjorie Channon' with Phormium tenax 1 I love how the small, variegated oval leaves of Pittosporum ‘Marjorie Channon’ contrast with the long, bluish-bronze sword-like leaves of my Phormim tenax ‘Atropurpureum’. Our forty-five year old Pyracantha shrubs – arching under the weight of their orange fruit – are visible in the background.

Pittosporum 'Marjorie Channon' with Phormium tenax 2Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty that comes from interesting foliage combinations. Don’t get me wrong, I love flowers, but in this part of the garden, I wanted something a bit more quiet, creative and long lasting. By limiting my color palette and layering plants with different leaf shapes, sizes and textures, I was able to create greater visual interest and depth.

Pittosporum 'Marjorie Channon' with shadows 2

Rather than a riot of color, I wanted something subtle and contemplative.

Pittosporum 'Marjorie Channon' in context 1

I’d like to think I was successful.

If you’d like to add Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Marjorie Channon’ to your garden, keep in mind that this evergreen shrub (native to New Zealand) is only hardy to 15-20 degrees F and thus, suited only to mild climates – USDA Zones 8b to 10. If you like to find out which USDA plant hardiness zone you live in, check out this map. Here in northern California, this drought tolerant shrub performs wonderfully in partial shade with only occasional irrigation (of course, you should water regularly until the shrub is established). Best of all, this relative slow grower tends to top out at 8 to 10 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide. It’s dense, billowy growth looks best left in it’s natural shape, so please don’t plant this shrub if you intend to sheer it into a formal hedge.

Pittosporum 'Marjorie Channon' close up 4

If you’d like to learn how to artfully combine garden plants to achieve greater depth, as well as a longer period of visual interest, I highly recommend Foliage: Astonishing Color and Texture Beyond Flowers written by Nancy J. Ondra, with exquisite photography by Rob Cardillo.