Mirror Plant

90227Classic but simple mirror plant, Coprosma X kirkii, was a utilitarian shrubby ground cover for many years before all the colorful modern cultivars that are so popular now were invented. Individual plants can cover quite a bit of ground without getting any deeper than two feet. It is particularly useful in coastal landscapes, because it is so resilient to wind and exposure, as well as sandy soil.

Modern cultivars are remarkably variable. Some are variegated with white, yellow or bronze, either as foliar margins or blotches. Others are very dark purplish bronze. One cultivar is dark bronze with pink foliar margins. Most of these modern cultivars have nicely rounded and undulate leaves, although some have narrow leaves that are comparable to those of the now rare original cultivar.

The more colorful modern cultivars do not grow quite as large or as efficiently as the original, so are not quite as practical as ground cover on large areas. However, they should work just as well for smaller areas, and are even better in conjunction with other plants. Some types of mirror plant are shrubbier. Yet, others cascade nicely from terraces and big planters, and over retaining walls.


Colorful Foliage Needs No Bloom

90227thumbThere is no shortage of color for the garden here in our mild climates. If we want to, we can grow various flowers to bloom at various times throughout the year. If that is not enough, we can grow plenty of colorful foliage too. Evergreen sorts can stay fresh and resilient to minor frost all winter. A few deciduous plants and warm season perennials with colorful foliage will refoliate in spring.

Besides the various shades and hues of green, foliage can be variegated with white, cream, gray, chartreuse, yellow, gold, red or pink. Such variegation can be stripes, blotches, spots, margins or lacy patterns. New spring growth of some variegated plants is blushed with pink or red. Plants with blue, gray, silvery, bronze or purplish foliage are mostly monochromatic, without variegation.

Just as most popular flowers became less efficient at their primary function of attracting pollinators, as they were bred and developed to be bigger and more colorful than they naturally were, most colorful foliage is not an an advantage to the plants that produce it. After all, foliage needs chlorophyl for photosynthesis. Variegated portions of leaves lack chlorophyl, so are much less efficient.

In fact, many variegated plants originated as mutant growths, known as ‘sports’, that appeared on unvariegated plants, and were cloned. Many try to revert back to green by producing their own unvariegated sports. These green sports grow faster with more chlorophyl, so can overwhelm variegated growth if not pruned out. Monochromatic blue or gray foliage is not mutant growth, but is instead a natural adaptation to extreme exposures, mostly at high elevations, so is not prone to reversion.

English holly, English ivy, euonymous, silverberry, New Zealand flax, mirror plant and various pittosporums are some of the more popular variegated plants. Purple leaf plum, purple smokebush and a few cultivars of Japanese maple are popular plants with purplish or bronze foliage. Blue spruce, American agave, Arizona cypress and various junipers have exquisite bluish or gray foliage.


P90217Saint Joseph did not have it so good. He is still the most famous carpenter, and somehow got the most excellent city in the World named after him, but he did not work in a shop like this one. The most well outfitted carpentry shops back then lacked modern power tools, and the selection of woods that are now so easily imported from all over the World now.

The best lumber in this shop at the Conference Center (where I work in the landscapes part time) is actually not the exotic sort. Three very important timber crops, (coastal) redwood, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine, happen to be native. A few of the larger of these trees that need to be removed get milled into lumber that gets used here.

Much of the lumber shown in this illustration is recycled from old buildings that were built from local lumber at a time when it was not so practical to import lumber to such a remote location. The rack on the back wall, at the center of the picture, contains old doors that are ready to be recycled. Flooring and moulding were made from native oaks, which are not the easiest to mill, but happened to be the most available. Nowadays, most of the lumber used here is procured from the lumber yard across the road, but it is neither of comparable quality, nor very interesting.

What is most interesting about the carpentry shop is not seen in the illustration above. There are a few on the Maintenance Crew who are proficient with structural carpentry, and one who is a finish carpenter. The finish carpenter is as proficient with carpentry as arborists are with trees that produce lumber. He is very familiar with all the various woods, and what they are useful for. It is his expertise that will ensure that the old recycled wood, as well as newly milled wood, will be utilized accordingly.

More of my bragging about the Maintenance Crew can be found at: https://tonytomeo.com/2018/10/10/horridculture-lessons-from-motivational-posters/ .


P90216KToday’s episode is brought to you by the letter ‘T’.
This is not Sesame Street.
Nor is this freshly painted concrete ‘T’ a monogram that designates the garden as mine. Even I am not ‘that’ vain.
It is part of a sign at the train depot. There happen to be enough of the right letters for my last name. I suppose that with a pry bar and a shovel, I could be ‘that’ vain.
There is no ‘Y’, so my first name would not work, particularly in conjunction with my last name, which would take the only ‘T’ and ‘O’ available. Am I really vain enough to be putting this much thought into this? Oh my!
For right now, I should only be concerned with keeping the vegetation clear of the sign. The amaryllis foliage above barely flops into it. The overgrown photinia hedge behind the amaryllis was just removed. The arborvitaes that will be installed to replace the photinia hedge will not likely get wide enough to ever reach the sign. They will be set several feet back. We are still trying to decide what to install between the arborvitaes, which will be far enough from each other so that they will not become a continuous hedge like the photinia were.
You would not believe how many bay trees and valley oak trees were trying to grow amongst the photinia! They ranged in size from fresh seedlings all the way up to a nearly six inch wide coppiced stump of a valley tree that was cut down a few years ago. There are still a few small oaks that must be removed nearby. We want to remove them while we are working on the site, and before they get big enough to displace the concrete letters with their roots.

Six on Saturday: After The Storm


Contrary to popular belief, we do get a bit of wintry weather here. It is neither as cold nor as snowy as weather is in most other regions, but it gets sufficiently cool and rainy to let us know it is winter. In fact, here on the western slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains, we get the little bit of extra weather that does not quite get over the Summit into the Santa Clara Valley. Clouds must unload slightly in order to gain sufficient altitude.

There have been more storms so far this winter than there normally are, and this last week was particularly stormy. It is both a lot of fun, and a lot of work. Storms are innately wet, as well as messy. By the time we catch up from one storm, another arrives. The first few storms are something to be celebrated. The last few start to be rather bothersome.

1. Do you see the well kept shop buildings on the left and right? Neither do I. This is what I found when I got to work on Thursday morning after the electricity was put out by a wicked storm. The lights in the middle are those of a car out on the road. I managed to set up the coffee ‘machine’ to make coffee for the crew when the electricity came back on. I also put the leftover coffee that someone made late the previous night into a pitcher, so that if the electricity did not come back on in time for the crew to make fresh coffee, the first few to arrive could warm up the leftover coffee in the . . . . . . microwave. Okay, perhaps that was not such a good idea. The coffee was just swell cold.P90216

2. Many trees fell during the last few storms. Many more trees lost significant limbs. This unfortunate coast live oak is not as bad as it looks. Once the stub of the fractured limb is removed, it should be just fine. We try to identify potentially hazardous trees, and either work with them to make them less hazardous, or remove them completely. It is nonetheless impossible to predict all hazards. I would have not considered this particular subject to be hazardous prior to the damage seen here.P90216+

3. Artificial poinsettias were removed about a month after Christmas. https://tonytomeo.com/2019/01/26/pseudodendron-falsifolia/ They are no longer seasonal. Besides, this is the stormy season here, when these artificial poinsettias would be likely to get blown about the neighborhood if left out. If they were to survive the storms, they would fade in sunnier weather of spring. But hey; why must I justify their removal? They are tacky! They will stay hanging in the barn until after next Thanksgiving.P90216++

4. Pruning scraps from zonal geraniums that needed to be pruned back earlier in winter were just too tempting. Rather than discard them, I processed them into cuttings. I tried to give most of them away, but ultimately needed to plug some back into the landscape. They get plugged this time of year so that they get soaked by the rain as they disperse roots. Many went into situations where they will be without automated irrigation. If planted too late, they would just desiccate when the rain stops. These are in a neat row along the base of a stone wall separating a few roses from the roadway, so they will get a bit of water from the roses. So far, they ALL are doing well. Propagation can be such a bad habit.P90216+++

5. This was NOT my idea. I am none too keen on Japanese maples. Yet, this one works very nicely for the particular landscape it is in. I am impressed by the vibrant red color because this particular tree is somewhat sheltered and partly shaded. (Exposure to sunlight and cool wintry weather enhances color.) It looks great among the redwoods.P90216++++

6. No, I do NOT grow ANY of the snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, or any of the hybrids. ‘Snowflakes’, Leucojum vernum, are only here because they naturalized on the riverbank, likely from seed or bulbs that washed in from a garden upriver. They are spreading quite nicely, and are pleased to bloom in this unirrigated spot after soaked by a few storms. I could have gotten a picture with more flowers in it, but most are already deteriorating. I got these as a closeup instead. I know they are not really snowdrops, but I can brag about them anyway.P90216+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:



60217Avocado trees, Persea americana, grown from seed need to be about five years old to produce fruit that can be considerably different from the fruit from which the seed was taken, although such fruit is almost always quite good. Some trees need to be twice as old to produce. Grafted trees from nurseries are specific varieties that can start to produce their specific fruit immediately.

Fruit production is notoriously variable. Some healthy trees may be unproductive for a few years, and then suddenly produce more fruit than the limbs can support. Trees that are very reliable and productive may sometimes be unproductive or significantly less productive for a season. It is nearly impossible to determine which environmental factors inhibited bloom and fruit development.

Mature trees can be more than forty feet tall, with awkward branch structure. The lush dark green leaves are about four to eight inches long. The tiny yellowish green flowers barely get noticed until they deteriorate and fall to the ground like corn meal. The dark green and pear shaped fruit is quite heavy. It develops on the tree, but then ripens after it falls or gets picked and brought inside.

Warm Weather Confuses Dormant Plants

60217thumbClimate is what makes gardening so excellent here. It is just warm enough in summer for plants that like a bit of heat, but not too unbearably hot for too long. It is just cool enough in winter for plants that like a chill, but not cold enough for hard frost or heavy snow. The climate is also comfortable for us while out in the garden! Yet, even local climate is neither perfect nor predictable.

El Nino is still out there, and likely to deliver an abundance of rain. The rain last month was great while it lasted. This presently dry and warm weather in between has been excellent, but is likely to cause serious consequences. Some deciduous plants that are normally bare through winter are being deprived of adequate dormancy. Some are blooming prematurely, and may foliate soon.

When the rain resumes, it will ruin some of the premature bloom. This is generally harmless for most fruitless flowering trees like the various acacias, flowering plums and saucer magnolias, but compromises their most alluring feature. It can be more dangerous to flowering pears (including evergreen pear) and flowering crabapples, because wet blossoms can be infected with fire blight.

The more serious problem is that rain ruins blossoms and juvenile fruit of various deciduous fruit trees. Stone fruits such as almonds, apricots, cherries, plums, prunes, peaches and nectarines bloom first, and do so with delicate blossoms. If the blossoms do not get knocked off by rain, the juvenile fruit will rot if it stays damp too long. Many fruit trees are likely to lose all fruit this year.

Apple and pear trees should be safer because they bloom later, and bloom with more substantial flowers. (However, like their fruitless relatives, their wet blossoms are very susceptible to fire blight.) Persimmons and pomegranates bloom even later, and with even tougher flowers, so should be safe. Figs are in a league of their own, and should be fine if summer is warm.

Fortunately, destruction of bloom and fruit, although disappointing to us, is harmless to the affected trees.

Horridculture – Cruel and Unusual Punishment

P90213This landscape is nothing fancy. It is out in front of a fast food establishment on Ocean Street in Santa Cruz. It is low maintenance, and starkly simple. It would be nice if the so-called ‘gardeners’ would cut back the African iris and English lavender a bit better, but they may have left them like this so that they are less likely to get trampled. The colored chips get replenished regularly, and the trash gets harvested quite efficiently. As I said, it is nothing fancy. The only remarkable feature had been this exemplary crape myrtle in the middle.
Only a few weeks ago, it was a perfect small specimen. Even though it is still quite dinky, the main stems were all at good angles, well spaced and aimed in the right directions. None of the stems were crossing over others, damaged or otherwise misshapen.
I can not explain what happened here since then. Are the so-called ‘gardeners’ trying to make more work for themselves by causing problems that will likely need their attention in the future? Do they just hate their work as much as this abuse implies? Is it possible that someone really believes that ‘this’ is somehow beneficial to the victim?
Each of the two fence stakes is sufficient to support a small tree, if such a tree needs it. If a tree, or in this case, a multi-trunked tree, does not need support, it should not be supported. Otherwise, it becomes reliant on the support. Besides that, these are fence stakes that are designed to be somewhat permanent. Now that they are there, they will probably be there forever. So-called ‘gardeners’ who do this sort of thing are not the sort to remove stakes.
The nylon straps are not flexible to accommodate the expansion of the stems they are tied around. If not removed, they will constrict, or ‘girdle’, the growing stems. What exactly are the straps doing anyway? The two closest to the bottom are tied to one stake, and pass the other to reach the respective stems that they are tied to, rather than tied between each of the two stems and the stake that it is closest to.
Someone certainly put a lot of effort into a whole lot of uselessness that will interfere with the healthy development of this formerly exemplary crape myrtle. Yet, with all this effort, no one bothered to prune it, or even so much as deadhead it. Yes, those are deteriorated floral stems from last summer.P90213+

Blue Festuca

90220To avoid confusion with dwarf fescue blue turf grass, Festuca ovina glauca is more familiarly known as blue festuca. If planted close together and left to spread as a small scale ground cover, it is much lumpier and mounding than uniformly spreading turf. It is a clumping perennial that is more popularly grown as distinct tufts of finely textured blue gray foliage that looks like gray sea urchins.

Either individually, or in small herds, these resilient gray sea urchins mix nicely with brightly colored flowering annuals. They do not need too much water, but can tolerate as much as annuals want. Their color is best in full sun. Partially shaded plants are greener, with longer and more pliable leaves. So are feral plants that rarely grow from seed. Modern cultivars are bluer than classic types.

The evergreen foliage does not get much higher than half a foot, with thin and less impressive floral spikes that stand a bit higher in summer. It slowly spreads wider, but before it gets a foot wide, it will probably be going bald in the middle. Overgrown or balding plants can be dug and divided into new smaller plants in winter. Old foliage that gets shorn in the process is replaced in spring.

Finish Transplanting Before Winter Ends

90220thumbAutumn is for planting; and for good reasons. It is the beginning of dormancy for almost all plants, including evergreens. It precedes cool and rainy weather that inhibits desiccation until new roots are able to disperse sufficiently to sustain new plants. Some plants need to be in the garden in time for winter chill in order to initiate bloom. However, not everything should get planted in autumn.

Winter is the best season for some plants. Many summer blooming bulbs get planted in winter because they are likely to start growing prematurely and get damaged by frost if planted in autumn with spring bulbs. Some perennials that are slightly sensitive to frost may get planted after average frost season so that they can bulk up enough to be more resilient to frost by the following winter.

Besides new plants that are purchased from nurseries to be planted in the garden, there are plants that are already established in the garden that might need to get dug, divided, and then planted back into the garden, or shared with friends and neighbors. Some might need to be transplanted because they are crowded or in the way of something. These present a different set of variables.

Once divided and transplanted, grasses, New Zealand flax, lily-of-the-Nile, African iris and other stoloniferous perennials (that spread by creeping stems known as stolons) are more susceptible to rot than nursery grown plants, because so many of their roots get severed. Even if aggressively pruned while getting divided and transplanted, shrubby plants, like lilac and forsythia, are more susceptible to desiccation than nursery grown plants, simply because they lack sufficient roots.

If divided or transplanted through winter rather than autumn, plants get a few weeks of cool and rainy weather to settle and disperse their roots, but do not have enough time to rot or desiccate before the weather gets warm enough for them to resume growth and recover resiliency. Perennials that get cut back in the process spend less time looking shabby before new growth develops.