Horticulturists are by nature, nonconforming. I happen to find it difficult to conform to what makes us nonconforming. Trends are fleeting. Old technology that has worked for decades or centuries is still best. Although I am not totally against chemicals, I find that almost all are unnecessary for responsible home gardening. Pruning is underappreciated, and fixes many problems.
Flowers provide color and texture. So does foliage. What is less often considered is that the bark of many trees and large shrubbery can be aesthetically appealing as well. Bark is usually thought of merely as something to cover up the trunks and limbs of the plants that provide all the colorful and textural flowers and foliage.
Coral bark Japanese maple and red twig dogwood (and yellow cultivars, which are selectively bred varieties) turn color as they defoliate for winter. However, the color is limited to the twigs and smaller stems. Red twig dogwood often gets cut back at the end of winter so that it will produce more twigs for the following winter. Mature stems and trunks are not as interesting.
Palms and yuccas do not actually have bark, but are still texturally interesting. Giant yucca trunks are weirdly sculptural. Mexican fan palm can be ‘shaven’ to expose lean trunks with a finely textured exterior, but are more often adorned with the intricately patterned thatch of old petiole bases (leaf stalks). Windmill palm is uniquely shaggy with coarse fiber.
Arbutus ‘Marina’ is a madrone that was developed for home gardens. It is compact and symmetrical, with finely textured flaking bark that reveals strikingly smooth cinnamon-colored bark beneath. Larger manzanitas can be pruned up to expose similar bark on a smaller scale. Smooth Arizona cypress looks much like other cypresses, but with strangely smooth bark on vigorous stems.
The bark of almost all eucalypti is interesting for one reason or another. Even the notorious blue gum, which gives other eucalypti a bad reputation, peels away in very long strips to reveal smooth bark that fades from green to pink to tan to gray before peeling away to start the process over again. Some eucalypti have blotched bark. Red ironbark has rich brown bark that is uniformly furrowed.
Lemon gum (eucalyptus) and various birches have strikingly white bark. Lemon gum bark is smooth. Birch bark peels away like paper. Because the trees are so slender, they can be planted in groups so that there are more trunks to display the distinctive bark. These are only a few of the many trees that can impress with mere bark.
No other bloom is comparable to that of bougainvillea. It is often profuse enough to nearly obscure the foliage. The color is remarkably vibrant. Magenta is the most popular color. Purple might be the second most popular color. Other cultivars bloom in delightfully rich hues of pink, red, orange, yellow and white. Some bloom with double flowers. A few dwarf cultivars have variegated foliage.
Bougainvillea is a thorny vine that leans on its support, rather than cling to it. Like climbing roses, it must be tied or woven into trellises. Larger cultivars can mix with the branches of trees and big shrubs to eventually reach more than thirty feet high. Many cultivars stay much lower. Some grow slowly, and do not get more than three feet tall. The lush foliage is evergreen with regular watering.
However, bougainvillea does not want too much water, and actually prefers to get a a bit dry between regular irrigation. Excessive irrigation may promote vegetative growth while inhibiting bloom. Excessive fertilizer does the same. Sunny and warm exposure promotes fuller bloom. In late spring, the first and most profuse of perhaps a few bloom phases can continue for more than a month.
Grapevines that were not pruned aggressively enough last winter are tangled messes by now. Many grapevines that were pruned properly are tangled messes as well. That is their nature. Woody vines like grapevines grow rapidly and vigorously. They rely on other plants for support, and do what they must to get to the top. Woody vines are not concerned about the plants that support them.
Woody vines climb structures also. Some cling to stucco and siding with aerial roots or modified tendrils (holdfast discs), that ruin paint and promote decay. Woody vines with twining stems wrap around posts and beams, and then crush them as they grow. All sorts of vines can dislodge shingles, roof tiles, gutters, downspouts or window screens. Some sneak into basement or attic vents.
Even relatively docile woody vines can get out of control fast. Star jasmine performs well as ground cover, but can climb more than twenty feet up trees if neglected long enough. Pink jasmine, lilac vine and Carolina jessamine are tame enough for lattice, but get overgrown on top if not pruned down. American wisteria is much smaller than Chinese wisteria, but can still strangle small shrubs.
Woody vines are certainly worth growing. Chinese wisteria, autumn clematis, honeysuckle, bougainvilleas and various trumpet vines all have their attributes. They just require diligent maintenance and serious commitment. Most need more than just winter pruning. Some of the more vigorous sorts may need specialized pruning a few times annually. They also need serious accommodation.
Trellises and supportive structures must be resilient to the destructive forces of particular woody vines. For example, Chinese wisteria deserves a trellis or arbor of posts and lumber that its heavy vines will not crush. Boston ivy can climb bare concrete retaining walls, but must not attach to painted or wooden surfaces. No vines should climb on roofs, chimneys, vents, gutters or utility cables.
Just as importantly, woody vines require enough room to grow without crowding or climbing into trees or other plants.
The Santa Clara Valley is the best place in the entire Universe for horticulture. Yet, few of the nearly two million people who live there now appreciate it, or realize that some of the area was still occupied by orchards only half a century ago. These pictures are from the garden where I lived before graduating from high school, and subsequently planting the peach tree #5 in 1985. Apricots and cherries were finishes quite a while ago. Peaches will be ready soon. These are not orchard trees, but they are happy to be here.
1. Garden Annie apricot – is, as the name implies, a garden variety rather than an orchard variety. With surprisingly minimal pruning, it stays compact and proportionate to a home garden.
2. Stella cherry – is likewise a garden variety. It was selected because it is self fruitful, so does not need a pollinator. It also has stayed relatively compact and proportionate to limited space.
3. Anjou pear – is also known as D’Anjou or Beurre D’Anjou pear. Pears and apples were not common in the orchards of the Santa Clara Valley, but were grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
4. Golden Delicious apple – is more commonly and more appropriately known as Yellow Delicious apple. It was selected as an all purpose ‘only child’ apple for baking, cooking or eating fresh.
5. seed grown peach – came here from a compost pile in Santa Clara in about December of 1985. The fruit is excellent. However, after all these years, I have never been able to propagate it.
6. Rhody – performs pre-emergent weed abatement by collecting large quantities of burclover seed. He does not enjoy getting them removed from his finely textured fur afterward though.
This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:
Santa Barbara was not exactly its first choice. Santa Barbara daisy, Erigeron karvinskianus, is not even native to California. It is actually from Central America. It just happens to do very well here, and can naturalize if conditions are right. It can be rather grungy through summer in the wild, but with a bit of watering, it can bloom nicely all year.
The thin stems can spread a few feet without getting more than a foot deep. If even shallower growth is preferred, older plants can be cut down or pulled up as they get replaced by their own offspring. The narrow leaves are quite tiny. The white or slightly pinkish flowers are not much bigger, less than half an inch wide, with prominent yellow centers.
Santa Barbara daisy is also known as Mexican fleabane, both because it is actually native to Mexico, and also because it is supposedly useful for repelling fleas. The problem with using it to repel fleas is that only its smoke is effective. There are probably other herbal alternatives that work just as well without being a fire hazard.
Fads are not necessarily bad ideas. Some evolve out of good ideas. Others are recycled old ideas that worked. The current popularity of stone, gravel and artificial ‘dry creek beds’ is probably the result of the drought. Yet, they were becoming popular before the drought. This is not their first time around either. They were popular through the 1970s and the 1950s as well.
Stone and gravel obviously do not need to be watered. Therefore, more area occupied by stone, gravel or dry creek beds equates to less area occupied by plants that want water. Such areas are not as useful as pavement or decking, but are more appealing where space does not need to be useful, and work nicely where the ground it sloped too much for pavement.
Stone around the trunks of mature trees works like an insulating mulch so that lawn grass and groundcover plants can be kept at a safe distance. Otherwise, the water needed to sustain the grass or plants against trunks can cause root or trunk rot. However, stone should not be piled so deeply that it holds moisture or interferes with aeration.
Stone is actually better than mulch in some situations. It does not decay. Stones and larger gravel are not likely to be blown or raked away, although small gravel can be difficult to separate from debris while raking. Since stone does not need to be replenished, groundcloth can be installed beneath it to prevent weeds from growing through.
Artificial dry creek beds do not need to be completely dry all the time. They can actually improve drainage in low spots that get saturated during rain. Stone on groundcloth drains better than soil or plants do. Artificial creek beds that are only ornamental should stay in low spots anyway. They look even more unnatural in high spots that water would not naturally drain to.
A few plants can go a long way in larger areas of stone or gravel, and particularly in artificial dry creek beds. If the stone is done properly and is appealing enough, the plants merely add a bit of color, form and texture, without completely obscuring the stone. Drought tolerant plants are of course more appropriate if the intention of stone is to conserve water.
Like last Saturday and Sunday, the post for today is recycled from more than three years ago. I will be doing quite a bit of this for at least the next month. This one complies with the ‘Horridculture’ meme for Wednesday.