Horridculture – Turf & Surf

P00219No, that is not backward. It refers to a legendarily disastrous incident with artificial turf at the Morgan Hill Outdoor Sports Center. Prior to about 2010, while I was the only horticulturist on a big staff of a big so-called ‘landscape’ company that expressed almost no interest in horticulture, I was summoned to the site to investigate an ‘issue’. I was told nothing about artificial turf.

Upon arrival, it became immediately obvious that this was no horticultural issue. Wind was generating waves in the recently installed artificial turf that were taller than the unfortunate guy who was scurrying about in an futile attempt to nail the turf surf to the ground. I was dismayed. I know nothing about artificial turf. Why was a so-called ‘landscape’ company even involved?

I suppose I should not have been too surprised. It was not as if many of the rest of our collective staff knew any more about horticulture than artificial turf. They seemed to take me way too seriously when I joked about the special farm that grows the artificial seed for the yellow and white stripes and yard line numbers. Otherwise, I would have told them about blue Smurf Turf.

As much as I dislike it, I know that artificial turf is quite practical for particular applications. However, it is most certainly not a horticultural commodity. It is a synthetic turf substitute that works like carpeting for landscapes and athletic fields. So-called ‘landscape’ companies that maintain it should be qualified to do so, with at least some sort of relevant and practical expertise.

That being said, why is it all green? We all know it is fake, so why not have some fun with the color, like the colorful fake snow on flocked Christmas trees in the 1970s? Some of us might like penalty line yellow. Yard line number white would be my favorite color, but would look like snow, and be difficult to keep clean. I think iron oxide red might be nice, or perhaps simple brown.

Heck, why not mix it up a bit? Sky blue with white clouds might be fun. Black and white checkerboard? Purple swirled with orange? Why not make it resemble a made-in-China Persian rug, with patterns of all sorts of colors?! What about a Gothic cathedral labyrinth? Oh, a road map of Route 66! A map of Kansas might work nicely for a small space. The possibilities are endless!

Silk Tassel

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Pendulous blooms hang like delicate icicles.

With so many exotic species to enjoy in our gardens, it is easy to miss what might be growing wild just beyond. Silk tassel, Garrya elliptica, is endemic to coastal slopes within thirty miles of the ocean, between San Luis Obispo and Newport in Oregon. Yet, it seems to be more popular abroad than it is here at home. It is more adaptable to refined landscapes than most other natives are.

Silk tassel is more tolerant to supplemental irrigation than most other species from the same region are. It actually prefers to be irrigated at least occasionally through summer, particularly in drier and warmer climates. However, as a native, it is resilient to lapses of irrigation too. If necessary for form or confinement, awkward and obtrusive stems can be selectively pruned out after bloom.

Long and elegantly pendulous catkins of tiny pale grayish white flowers bloom late in winter or early in spring. After bloom, dried catkins linger prettily into summer. Garden varieties are male, with longer blooms. ‘James Roof’ can produce catkins nearly a foot long. Female plants in the wild bloom with shorter catkins. Glossy evergreen leaves are two to three inches long with wavy margins.

Weeding Earlier Rather Than Later

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Weeding is not much fun. Some of us might enjoy the relaxing monotony of productive weeding. Realistically though, most of us would prefer to do something else in the garden. There is certainly plenty of other chores that need to be done now, after earlier rain, and before the weather gets significantly warmer. However, such weather is why it is important to start weeding earlier than later.

By definition, weeds are weeds, because they are unwanted. They get to be unwanted by dominating space and exploiting resources more aggressively than wanted plants. Some innately grow faster and more aggressively than most other plants. Some are innately prolific with seed. Some employ multiple tactics to gain unfair advantages. Weeding is how we help our gardens compete.

Weeds grow throughout the year. Most slow down through the dry warmth of summer, and many die off then. However, there are always some weeds growing somewhere. When they die off, it is only after they have dispersed seed for their next generation. Some generate a few generation annually. Some are perennial weeds, or even shrubs, vines and trees, which survive for many years.

Weeding is more of a concern now because the majority of weeds grow so much more aggressively after the earliest rain of winter. Warming weather later in winter accelerates their proliferation. This is the time of year that weeds start to crowd desirable plants. If weeding is delayed for too long, weeds eventually bloom and toss seed. Some weeds extend stolons to disperse vegetatively.

The good news is that the same rain that promotes the proliferation of weeds also facilitates weeding. Weeds are easier to pull while the soil is still damp than they will be as the soil dries later in spring and summer. Also, while weeds are still fresh and turgid, they are less likely to leave roots or stolons behind in the soil. They are more difficult to pull intact as they begin to deteriorate later.

Furthermore, weeding should be done before weeds bloom and disperse seed for subsequent generations. Some are sneaky and quick.

Blow Out

P00216While strong Santa Anna Winds were blowing through Los Angeles four hundred miles to the south, and Storm Ciara was arriving in Scotland and Norway, we were getting some remarkably strong winds of our own. They were not nearly as strong as winds that were causing so much damage in Europe, and involved no flooding rain, but they were dangerously messy nonetheless.

We live and work among dense forests of coastal redwood, the tallest tree species in the World. Beyond the upper edge of the redwood forests are more forests of huge Ponderosa pine. Huge Douglas fir are mixed throughout. Their understory includes trees that would be considered to be massive anywhere else, such as coast live oak, tanoak, Shreve oak, bay laurel and madrone.

Such big trees drop big limb, and in abundance. Furthermore, limbs that fall from such great heights are significantly more dangerous than those that fall from smaller trees that are closer to the ground. They gather major inertia on the way down. They do not necessarily fall straight down either, but can get blown significant distances to where falling limbs may not be expected.

While the winds were blowing through, I could hear crashing of falling limbs and entire trees from the mostly deciduous riparian forest outside. I know that many of the big cottonwoods, box elders, willows, alders and sycamores are deteriorating, but did not expect so many to be blown down while bare. I suspected damage would be worse among the bigger and evergreen trees.

The pile to the left in the picture above is just the debris that was collected last Monday (while I was conveniently not here to help). It is more spread out but at least twice as voluminous as the pile on the right, which is pruning debris that took me several days prior to the wind to collect. The green cargo containers in the background demonstrate how big the piles of debris are.

More debris was collected on Tuesday (while I was still doing other work). The mess was not the worst of it. The roofs of a few buildings were impaled by falling limbs. Some of the damage is significant. Fortunately, the only big trees that fell did so into forested areas where there are no buildings, and electrical service was disrupted for less than a day. No injuries were reported.

Daphne

P00215KJeepers!! As Daphne Blake’s colleague, Fred Jones, might say, “Looks like we’ve got another mystery on our hands.” What got into this Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’?! It rarely performs so well here, particularly so soon after being planted into a new landscape. This particular specimen, and about three others nearby, were planted as they finished bloom less than a year ago.

Since their season began, I have been commenting to those who share pictures of theirs, that such healthy and prolifically blooming daphne is enviable to those of us who do not live within a climate that is favorable to such performance. I know that this diminutive floral truss is not exactly exemplary compared to those of other regions, but for this region, it is almost spectacular.

The aroma is exquisite! It is everything that the rest of us grow daphne for, and is enhanced by the delightful but unseasonably clear and warm weather. Surroundings forests dampened by rain almost a month ago maintain just enough humidity for the fragrance to disperse. If it were not such a distinct fragrance, I would be wondering where it is originating. It is so unexpected.

Those in other regions believe that we can grow a more extensive variety of species here where winters are relatively mild. For some, that might be true. However, there are many climactic factors that limit what can be grown in every region. Species that require sustained chill in winter are not very happy here. For daphne, minimal humidity might be what they dislike locally.

Perhaps daphne happens to be happy in the particular location, next to a stream that enhances humidity much of the time when there is not much breeze. Perhaps the weather happened to be be conducive to such a performance. Perhaps it will remain a mystery.

Six on Saturday: Pretty In (Mostly) Pink

 

There was no theme for these six. I just took a few pictures of what happens to be blooming presently, and most just happened to be pink, or at least some variation of pink. The first picture of the bloom of the understock of flowering plum is my favorite this week, because it looks something like apricot bloom . . . in pink.

1. Flowering Plum – The flowering plum that was here first got cut down years ago. This tree grew from its understock. It is too pretty to cut down. The fruit is like apricots that never ripen.P00215-1

2. Rhododendron – Not many are blooming yet. This one is typically one of the earliest, but typically does not look so good. It tends to get battered by rain. There has been no rain in weeks.P00215-2

3. Camellia – Most that are blooming now happen to be simple pink like this one. None of the white ones are blooming. The few red ones that are blooming seem to be of just a single cultivar.P00215-3

4. Primrose – This one seemed to be more rosy magenta pink when I took this picture. (I don’t even know if that is a real color.) It certainly looks red here. All of their colors are pretty now.P00215-4

5. Corsican Hellebore – There is nothing pink about this one. It is just as sickly greenish white as it looks. I can not understand the allure. This is the only hellebore that does well for us here.P00215-5

6. Hellebore – Common hellebore is not at all happy here. Many were planted years ago. Many ferals grew from self sown seed. Only this grungy pink one inexplicably blooms so abundantly.P00215-6

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

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Ornamental Pepper

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Colorful but not flavorful ornamental pepper.

The red, orange, yellow, purple, white or almost black fruit of ornamental pepper that naturally develops in summer can be seen at any time of year because the plants are grown in artificial greenhouse environments. The peppers are usually small and narrow, and stand upright above their glossy rich green foliage. Some are narrower. Others are a plumper. Technically, the fruit is edible, but it is not as flavorful as peppers grown for culinary purposes.

Because the plants are sensitive to frost, they are more often grown as houseplants than out in the garden. In the garden, they need shelter to survive as perennials. As houseplants, they need warm and sunny exposure in order to bloom and develop fruit. They should be watered regularly, but only as their potting soil is starting to get dry.

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Look but do not bother tasting.

Overworked Plants May Recover Slowly

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Some potted plants are real overachievers.

Landscaping and growing houseplants really is no way to bring nature closer to home. If it were up to nature, most of our gardens would be relatively bare. Most of the few native trees are less than ideal for home gardens. The few native annuals and perennials with colorful flowers bloom only briefly. Almost all native shrubbery is scrubby and not conducive to pruning. After all, most of us live in what would naturally be coastal chaparral.

This is why home gardens contain so many exotic plants from so many different climates and regions all over the world. These plants get pruned, shorn and mown in all sorts of unnatural ways. Most do better if watered unnaturally through naturally dry summer weather. Many crave unnatural fertilizer. Houseplants and a few others are confined to pots so that roots can not disperse like they want to.

Potted plants that are forced into bloom to decorate home interiors are the most unnatural of all. They are among the most extensively bred of plants. They are grown in contrived environments that coerce them to bloom whenever their blooms are needed. Poinsettias, lilies, azaleas, hydrangeas, kalanchoes, callas, miniature roses, chrysanthemums and some orchids are the more familiar of these sorts of plants.

They are certainly colorful by the time they leave the greenhouses they were grown in. By the time they come home, they are in the middle of full bloom. There is no work to get them to bloom. The work is in keeping blooms as healthy and as colorful as possible, for as long as possible. Most of these plants only want to be watered regularly, and are happy to keep their color for quite a while.

By the time they want fertilizer, blooming potted plants will have finished blooming. Sadly, at that time, most get discarded instead. Realistically though, such systematically abused plants can be rather ugly as they replace their greenhouse foliage with foliage that is better adapted to the garden. The process of forcing them into bloom is just too unnatural and difficult to recover from easily.

Yet, with enough patience and pampering, most blooming potted plants should eventually recover and adapt to a garden lifestyle. Lilies, callas and other bulb-like plants should be put aside in the garden while their foliage fades and eventually separates from the bulbs. The dormant bulbs can then be planted and allowed to grow into their new environments.

Horridculture – Artificial Turf

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Artificial seems to be no worse than the real deal.

There is no right answer. For lawns that is. Horticulturists who actually enjoy horticulture . . . and are not specialists of turf . . . loath them. (Yes, there are horticulturists who are specialists of turf.) We merely tolerate them because they are so useful for so many applications, and they do happen to be very visually appealing within or in the foreground of interesting landscapes.

After all, lawns are the vegetative green carpeting that covers otherwise bare ground without interfering with the flow of pedestrian traffic. For parks and other public paces, it is better than other types of ground cover, mulch, pavement or lowly mown naturalized weeds that would grow if nothing else were there to occupy the space. For athletic fields, there are no alternatives.

They are just so unnatural. Most plants in our garden are selected for their natural attributes, and because they appreciate our respective climates and soils. Lawns must be mown regularly because they would otherwise get too deep and sloppy. They must be irrigated very regularly and generously because they can not survive on seasonal rainfall or even moderate irrigation.

In fact, lawns are so unnatural that, to many horticulturists, they are no worse than artificial turf. All the plasticky infrastructure of elaborate irrigation systems, all the chemical pesticides and fertilizers, all the fuel consumed by mowers, all the water, and all the labor that goes into the maintenance of lawns is no closer to nature than artificial turf is. Strange but strangely true.

Artificial turf is no fun either. The plasticky texture is so blatant and unavoidable. Although it needs only minimal maintenance and last for many years, it does not last forever, and slowly deteriorates like carpet. Once replaced with more of the same sort of plasticky artificial turf, it must be disposed of like so much other used up plastic that the World should be using less of.

Redtwig Dogwood

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Colorful bark for the wintry landscape.

Most dogwoods are popular for spectacular white or pink spring bloom prior to foliation. Redtwig dogwood, Cornus sericea, is an odd one though. It is a ‘dog’wood that is appropriately grown for colorful twig ‘bark’. It blooms later than other dogwoods, and after foliation. The one to two inch wide trusses of tiny pale white flowers lack the flashy bracts that make other dogwoods so colorful.

Another difference is that, unlike more familiar dogwoods, redtwig dogwood naturally grows as a shrubby riparian thicket rather than as a small tree. Long limber branches can grow to more than fifteen feet high only by leaning into other trees or shrubbery. In home gardens, they typically get coppiced or pollarded just before foliating in spring, to develop twiggy growth for color next winter.

After a bit of autumn chill and defoliation, young stems of well exposed wild redtwig dogwood are a delightful glossy ruddy brown. Twigs of garden varieties are richer cinnamon red, rusty orange, soft yellow, orange blushed pale yellow, or yellowish green. Color is subdued by shade. Some cultivars have variegated foliage. Autumnal foliar color is more impressive in more severe climates.