Variegated Foliage Brightens Shady Spots

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Variegation contrasts nicely with dark green.

Up at high elevations and out in deserts, where sunlight is most intense, plants can actually get more exposure than they need. The bluish or grayish glaucous foliage of the Colorado blue spruce from the Rocky Mountains, and the century plant from the Sonoran Desert, is actually designed to reflect a bit of sunlight so that the foliage does not scald.

Plants from foggy coastal areas, and understory plants that naturally live below the canopies of larger trees, do the opposite. They are deep green to absorb as much sunlight as possible. This is why Monterey pine and Monterey cypress are the same shade of dark green; and why most ferns are such dark green. Only tree ferns that stand above lower plants are naturally light green.

This can make it difficult to brighten a dark spot in the garden, since most lightly colored foliage wants an abundance of sunlight. White or lightly colored flowers would theoretically work nicely, but generally are neither permanent nor abundant where shaded. Golden foliage, like that of golden elderberries, golden arborvitaes and golden junipers, is greener in the shade.

Variegated foliage is different. Even if the green parts of the foliage are greener where well exposed than where shaded, the variegated parts are always variegated. Some plants are variegated with white. A few are variegated with yellow. Those that tolerate shade can brighten shaded spots nicely, or at least add a bit of contrast to dark green.

Even if the big pastel flowers of variegated angel’s trumpets and variegated hydrangeas do not stand out as well as they would against deeper green foliage, the foliage provides its own contrast. A concern with hydrangeas, as well as variegated dogwoods, is that they are deciduous, so lack foliage through winter.

Variegated Pittosporum tobira and variegated euonymus have smaller evergreen leaves. Variegated ivies are nice ground covers. On a smaller scale, so is dead nettle. Euonymus, pittosporums and ivies will sometimes need to have more vigorous unvariegated stems pruned out before they overwhelm and replace variegated growth.

 

Horridculture – Major Improvement

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A bit of Boston ivy adds a bit of texture and color to the stone wall.

My rant for this week is that I was deprived of my rant. I went to a nearby landscape that had been trashed by the so-called ‘gardeners’ for many years, only to find some unexpected and major improvements. I do not know what happened. Although it will take some time for the landscape to recover from the prior damage, it is already starting to function as intended.

It is obvious that the landscape was very well designed. Although I know very little about design, I know what is horticulturally correct. The designer selected species that are very appropriate for every application, even though none were particularly trendy at the time. Those who were hired to maintain the landscape only interfered with its intended development.

I noticed several improvements, but got pictures of only two features that bothered me the most prior to this season.

Obviously, the landscape designer intended the trailing rosemary in the picture above to cascade over the stone retaining wall, not so much to obscure the appealing stonework, but to break up its expansiveness. Obviously, the Boston ivy was intended to climb up from below to do a bit more of the same, and provide a bit of color in autumn, without overwhelming the rosemary.

Until recently, the so-called ‘gardeners’ had shorn the Boston ivy into useless little globs at the base of the wall. If it crept onto the wall, they were sure to remove it just as it was starting to exhibit color for autumn. The rosemary was never allowed to hang over the edge, and typically got shorn just as it was beginning a bloom phase.

Now, the Boston ivy is allowed to climb the wall somewhat. I suspect that it will be partly removed through the year, just so that it can provide a bit of color by autumn, but without getting too overgrown. Also, the formerly shorn edge of the rosemary is beginning to take on a natural form, and will likely start to cascade through summer, hopefully with occasional thinning.

What bothered me even more than the glaringly bare wall was how this pair of flowering crabapples in the picture below got hacked back annually just as the flower buds were beginning to show the slightest bit of color. Seriously! Every little twig that could have bloomed was removed. The so-called ‘gardeners’ were weirdly punctual about this.

Well, the trees got pruned a bit earlier last winter. What I did not bother to notice earlier was that much of the unsightly stems that had been disfigured by what the so-called ‘gardeners’ did to them were pruned back to healthier growth, while much of the blooming stems were left intact to bloom now! All the damage can not be repaired in one season, but this a great start.

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Someone is putting serious effort into renovating these flowering crabbaple trees.

 

African Daisy

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African daisy excels as bulb cover.

They are more than just shrubbier and more colorful versions of the formerly stigmatized trailing African daisy. Modern African daisies are actually various hybrids of several other species. Extensive breeding complicated their lineages enough for them to be known by cultivar names rather than by species names. To one degree or another, most are probably related to Osteospermum ecklonis.

These fancier modern hybrids of African daisy grow as annuals in harsher climates. If planted just after the last frost date, they bloom splendidly for early spring, and continue to bloom sporadically through summer. If they grow and bloom a bit too well, they may like to be trimmed back to bloom some more. Locally, they persist through winter as short term perennials, to bloom as winter ends.

Bloom provides pastel hues of yellow, orange, pink, ruddy pink, lavender, purple or white. Early spring bloom is most profuse, particularly for fluffy plants that were not trimmed back over winter. The biggest sprawling plants should get trimmed back after bloom. Subsequent sporadic bloom, mixed with random profuse phases, is inhibited only by warm summer weather and cool winter weather.

African daisy wants full sun and regular watering. Mature plants get about two feet deep and broad. If pressed into the soil, outer stems can develop roots to grow as new plants, as the original dies.

Deadhead To Eliminate Fading Bloom

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Deadhead finished daffodils to conserve resources.

The need to deadhead so early in spring is one of the few minor consequences of spring bulbs. Long before it becomes necessary to deadhead zinnia, canna and rose, the first flowers to bloom as winter ends are already finished. Many are those of spring bulbs. Their lingering deteriorating bloom can be slightly unappealing. What is more of a concern, is that some will likely try to go to seed.

The process of producing unwanted seed consumes resources that could otherwise sustain more useful growth. However, for spring bulbs that have finished blooming, production of seed for a new generation is more important than their own survival. That is why it is helpful to deadhead bulbs and many other plants after bloom. If deprived of seed production, they divert resources elsewhere.

Deadheaded narcissus, daffodil, freesia, lily and tulip store more resources into new bulbs, which they generate to bloom next year. Snowdrop and grape hyacinth cultivars that get deadheaded are not likely to get overwhelmed by their own feral seedlings. (It is neither practical nor necessary to deadhead crocus or big naturalized colonies of snowflake, feral snowdrop or feral grape hyacinth.)

While it is important to deadhead most spring bulbs after bloom, it is also important to not remove deteriorating foliage prematurely. After all, the foliage produces the resources that are necessary to generate healthy new bulbs for next year. Such foliage starts to slowly deteriorate immediately after bloom, but may linger for many months. Bulbs will shed their foliage when they no longer need it.

Until then, bedding plants or low perennials can obscure deteriorating bulb foliage as it falls over. Trailing gazania and dwarf periwinkle work nicely for shorter bulbs. If they get shorn low for winter, trailing plumbago, common periwinkle and African daisy can work nicely for taller bulbs.

Viability

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Oldies but not likely goodies.

31,800 years or so ago, busy arctic squirrels of northeastern Siberia stored more campion seed than they could consume. Of a store of more than 600,000 such seed, which were found deep below permafrost, three immature seed contained viable embryos. These three embryos were extracted and grown into plants that bloomed and produced new seed as they would have 31,800 years ago.

A 2,000 year old date palm seed, which was found in the palace of Herod the Great on Masada in Israel, is the oldest known intact and mature seed to germinate. It was approximately 29,800 years younger than the miraculously viable embryos of the Siberian squirrel stashed campion seed, but is ridiculously older than the oldest of the old seed in my partly neglected collection. There is hope.

Some of the seed that I saved is not dated because, at the time, I figured that they would be sown during the following season. A few of those that are dated are embarrassingly from five years ago. I know that canna seed lasts much longer than that. So do seed of some of the most aggressively invasive exotic species, such as broom and Acacia dealbata. Vegetable seed are not so fortunate.

However, I cannot discard them without giving them a chance. If they do not germinate on schedule, replacements will be sown immediately.

The two cans of seed to the left in the picture above are for two unknown varieties of pumpkin, and might have been three years old last autumn. Butternut squash seed to the upper middle is about the same age. Hyacinth bean seed to the lower middle is perhaps a year older. Blue dawn flower seed to the upper right is at least five year old. Parsley seed to the lower right was packed for 2015.

Out Of Step

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Watch your step . . . while there is one to watch!

This is . . . odd. It is like something of the Winchester House. It seems that these steps in the picture above should go down to a lower deck, but there is no indication that there had ever been such a deck down there. The steps are well maintained and swept mostly clean of forest debris, so whatever happened to whatever should be down there must have happened recently.

Actually, these steps are for what is above rather than what is not below. The picture below shows that there is a deck associated with these steps, but that it is a considerable distance away, and that the only way to get there is by the cable that extends to it from the upper right corner of the picture, over Zayante Creek. The deck is rather sloped to facilitate arrival.

The cable that extends in the same direction from the middle of the top of the picture is somehow associated with the collective infrastructure, but I do not know how or why. Heck, I do not know how or why anyone would put such a deck so far away while there is plenty of space right here for a luxuriously spacious deck! Apparently, this whole setup is part of a short ‘zip line’ tour.

I don’t get it. It must be fun. It looks terrifying to me. I think that if I were to try something like this, I would rather be terrified someplace with more appropriate scenery, like between the skyscrapers of downtown San Jose! Now that would be RAD . . . and terrifying! In this particular location, I would not want to speed past all this interesting flora without slowing down or stopping to appreciate it.

The lower right quadrant of the lower picture shows young alders. Above and beyond, to the upper right, there are young redwoods with some Douglas firs mixed in. Just to the left of them, at the upper center, is an exemplary bigleaf maple. Most of the vegetation to the left is bay laurels, with some tanoaks, and perhaps madrones mixed in. The undergrowth the lower left is filberts.

I am certainly in no hurry to try this ‘zip line’ tour, and if I do, I seriously doubt that I will be noticing the surrounding flora; not just because of the speed, but because of the terror!

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Oh, . . . so that is where these steps lead to!

Six on Saturday: Greens

 

There are no vegetables in the garden yet. It is so shameful. Work had been so overwhelming that I am only now renovating a small vacant space into a new vegetable garden, and only because I am unable to go to work at my most time consuming job. I needed to remove our berry canes to do it!

Until the garden becomes productive, and perhaps to avoid the supermarket, I have been getting much of my produce from the surrounding forest and landscapes.

1. mustard greens – are the most abundant of the greens growing wild around the perimeter of the abandoned baseball field. Similar wild radish and turnip greens are even better, but not abundant.P00328-1

2. dandelion – grows in the outfield of the same abandoned baseball field, mostly past third base. They are not my favorite, but are an alternative to the other greens. These are dirty from heavy rain.P00328-2

3. dock – is more randomly sporadic. It grows amongst the other greens and elsewhere, although not in significant colonies. The tough midribs are supposed to be removed. I just chop them up fine.P00328-3

4. miners’ lettuce – is the only native of these greens. Most leaves are circular with tiny white flowers in the center. These vegetative leaves are supposedly better. Like lettuce, they do not get cooked.P00328-4

5. stinging nettle – must be cooked to stop stinging. This is my favorite of the greens. It is like spinach that I do not need to tend to. I get it from along the trails where it should be eradicated anyway.P00328-5

6. Rhody – is not even remotely relevant to greens; but everyone wants to see him. Someone suggested that I write exclusively about Rhody, as if my horticultural topics are insufficiently interesting.P00328-6

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/

Sweet Box

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Foliage of sweet box outdoes flowers.

While bloom cycles of most plants are accelerated by the unusually warm winter, sweet box, Sarcococca ruscifolia, seems to be blooming a bit late. It should have bloomed sometime in winter, and finished a month ago. The tiny pale greenish white flowers are certainly nothing to look at, but they produce a remarkably rich fragrance that seems like it would be delicious with coffee.

The foliage is very glossy and dark green, like that of English holly, but the leaves are small and lack spines. Red berries sometimes develop, but are only abundant enough to be notably colorful on plants that are distressed. Sweet box may take a few years to get established and grow to only about three feet high and wide, although it can slowly get a bit larger.

Since it is naturally an understory plant, sweet box prefers at least a bit of shade. Harsh exposure fades foliage. Because of its tolerance of partial shade, as well as its low and dense growth, sweet box is ideal for obscuring foundations. After the first few years, it does not need too much water. It gets established more efficiently in rich soil.

Good Looks Are Not Everything

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Less color can mean more fragrance.

More flowers bloom as winter becomes early spring than at any other time of year. For many flowers, bloom is significantly accelerated this year because winter was so very warm. Flowering cherry, purple leaf plum and most of the stone fruit trees (such as almond, cherry, apricot, nectarine, peach, plum, prune and all their various hybrids) have already bloomed.

Color is what gets noticed first. After all, that is what all the flashy colors are intended for, to get the attention of pollinators. Yet, there is more to the indirect mating strategies of flowers than color. Because flowers lack the mobility to pollinate each other, they do what they must to attract others to disperse their pollen for them. Some use fragrance.

Generally, flowers prefer one tactic or the other. This is why the most colorful flowers lack fragrance, and the most fragrant lack color. Gardenia (which is not easy to grow locally), star jasmine, honeysuckle, Pittosporum tobira, Pittosporum undulatum and night blooming jasmine are not exactly colorful while blooming. The powerfully fragrant flowers of sweet osmanthus and sweet box barely get noticed.

Pink jasmine and mock orange (Philadelphus spp.) are flashier, only because their blooms are so profuse. Southern magnolia has spectacularly big flowers, but they are mostly obscured by dense foliage high above view. Cereus cactus and moon flower are likewise spectacular, but bloom at night to attract nocturnal moths for pollination.

Only a few flowers are both colorful and fragrant. Lilac and wisteria are among the more familiar. Both bloom early in spring, with a similar color range of lavender, blue, pink and white. Lilac is shrubby. Wisteria is an aggressive vine. ‘Charles Grimaldi’ angel’s trumpet is a big shrubby perennial that blooms rich yellow, but may only be fragrant at sundown.

Freesia, hyacinth, lily and bearded iris are flashy and fragrant flowers grown from bulbs, although hyacinth and most lilies rarely bloom a second year, and many lilies and bearded iris lack fragrance. Sweet alyssum is a mildly fragrant annual that blooms white, pink or lavender.

Unused Pictures

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I believe that this azalea is ‘Phoenicia’.

Okay, so I felt slightly guilty about not posting anything of any horticultural interest today. Okay, perhaps a bit more than slightly. Okay, perhaps guilty enough to post a few pretty flowery pictures . . . and the last one, which some might find objectionable.

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‘Coral Bells’ is not one of my favorite azaleas, but is reliable and profuse.

I will not put much effort into this. I did not even take these pictures for any particular article.  I am only sharing them here and now because I have no use for them, but did not want to just file them away unseen forever. Hey, these flowers work hard to bloom!

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I have no idea what this azalea is, but I am impressed.

Actually though, except for the last picture, all are about a month old. The last picture is half as old, and the bloom that is shows continues. Otherwise, the other blooms are already finished. Although colorful, none are particularly remarkable or interesting.

This odd camellia seemed to grow from the base of a bigger and older specimen, as if it is a sucker from understock. However, there is no indication that the original specimen is grafted. Nor is there any reason why a Camellia japonica should be grafted. The odd camellia could have grown from seed. It is rare but not impossible for Camellia japonica to produce seed here. It is not crowding anything, so remains.

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This odd camellia looks like it could be an extra on the Muppet Show.

I really should eradicate this pampas grass. However, it has been here for many years without becoming aggressively invasive. We have observed no seedlings nearby. Besides, even if we did eradicate it, there are herds of more just over the ridge. I can not explain why it is not migrating inward, but I am not complaining. I happen to like the bloom.

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This is not just any pampas grass. It is the dreaded Cortaderia jubata.

These pictures are, of course, not nearly as awesome as the pictures of Rhody that posted earlier. They just happen to be more relevant to what should be a horticultural blog.