Horridculture – Metasequoia glyptostroboides

P90626The easier name is ‘dawn redwood’. I just used the big and fancy Latin name because that is how landscape designers with something to prove say it. If the big name does not impress clients, an explanation of how rare it is, and that it is one of only a few deciduous conifers, will likely do the job. Even back when it was still a fad, I got the impression that was its main function; to impress clients.
It is not even a particularly practical tree. If it gets too big for its situation, it is difficult to contain without disfiguring the canopy. Because the priorities for most were conformity to a fad and to dazzle a client, not much thought went into their appropriateness to their respective landscapes. Consequently, many went into landscapes that were not big enough for them.
Although deciduous, dawn redwood does not even get good color in autumn. It just turns rusty brown, and quite frankly, looks dead.
It is true that there are only a few deciduous conifers. However, the dawn redwood stopped being rare shortly after it became a fad. I mean, how rare can it be if every landscape designer with something to prove gets to plant one?! Isn’t that what happened to the formerly rare yellow clivia after it became a fad?
The only one that I work with now happened to be planted before dawn redwood became a fad. I suppose that makes it okay. It is quite tall now, and has plenty of space to mature. However, I can not help but notice how silly it looks with all the other surrounding coastal redwoods. Although very different, it is similar enough to look like a coastal redwood with some serious problems, especially when it seems to die every autumn.


Wild Radish

P90623This is why I do not bother growing greens in the garden just yet. Wild radish grows here wild; and there is way too much of it. Most but not all of it gets mown in meadows or cut down with weed whackers on the edges of roadways. There is no need to cut down that which is out of the way. Besides, we could not cut it all even if we wanted to. There is wild turnip and mustard too. All are prolifically naturalized and invasive exotic species.
These radishes do not make the distended roots that garden varieties of radishes are grown for. Nor to the wild turnips make distended turnip roots. They, as well as the mustard, do make good greens though. They may not be quite as good as fancier garden varieties, but I can’t beat the price, or get any other type of vegetable for such minimal effort. I only need to go grab what I want when I want it. There really is no cultivation involved.
Even though their seed is not sown in phases to extend their season, they remain productive for a long time, and only stop producing if they get too dry in summer. If I were to grow a garden variety of turnip green, I would sow a few phases a few weeks apart so that, as an earlier phase finishes, a later phase begins producing. Unlike other types of greens that must be gathered prior to bloom, wild greens can be taken from blooming plants.
Wild greens can be canned like collards, but are better if simply frozen. Unbloomed floral trusses are like tiny bits of broccoli. If gathered while still young and tender, thicker stems can be chopped and cooked like broccoli stalks, and can even be pickled.

Like Peas In A Pod

P90622KGenerally, that is how they are. Almost all perennial pea flowers bloom with the same bright purplish pink color of the bloom in the picture below. That is, of course, before their pods develop, but you get the point. We sort of know what to expect from them.

As I mentioned in the ‘Six on Saturday‘ post last week, from which the picture below originated, variants like the pink bloom in the picture above are sometimes observed. The rare clear white flowers are my favorites. There might be fluffier double flowers too; although, in my opinion, the single flowers are prettier and look more like pea flowers should look.

I also mentioned last week that, although perennial pea has a sneaky way of growing where it is not wanted, it typically does not grow reliably from seed sown intentionally where it might actually be desirable. I have tried. The seed just did not cooperate. I managed to get a few to grow, but only because I put out a few hundred to compensate for the expected minimal rate of germination.

Because I like the white so much, I took seed from a vine that had bloomed with single white flowers. I figured that they would be more likely to produce a few white blooming progeny. I would have been satisfied if only a single vine in a group of several bloomed white, but got only a few vines that all bloomed with the typical bright purplish pink. They were pretty nonetheless, but were ironically removed when the site was redeveloped.

I also collected seed from vines that bloomed with the common single bright purplish pink flowers, just in case the viability rate of their seed might somehow be better. They were sown into a different situation, so even if I happened to know how many of the seed that were sown germinated and grew, it would not be an accurate comparison. Regardless, I was no more impressed with the result. Perennial pea is best appreciated as weed.P90615+++++

Six on Saturday: Serious Weeds


The humongous perennial pea that I showed off last week was relatively innocuous. These six are some of the more prolific weeds. Actually, except for the first two, these are some of the most aggressive and problematic weeds in this region. All are exotic, which means that they are not native. Some were imported intentionally. Some were more likely stowaways. All except for #2 were found right outside here. #2 was found closer to town.

1. Vetch was most likely imported intentionally as a cover crop, forage crop or both. Because I do not know which vetch this is, I do not know why it is here. This is neither of the two species of vetch that are native here. It is a polite and pretty weed that never seems to become much of problem. Consequently, not much is known about it, or how it affects the ecosystem. Most of us just let it do what it wants to because it improves the soil.P90622

2. Queen Anne’s lace might have been imported intentionally because the young roots, young leaves and flowers are edible. It is, after all, a wild version of carrot. However, the small roots mature quickly and become too tough to eat, and often develop bad flavor. Furthermore, it is avoided because it it too easily confused with the extremely toxic poison hemlock! It can be a companion plant for attracting pollinators, but is mostly ignored.P90622+

3. Saint John’s wort was imported intentionally as a ground cover for landscapes, and escaped into the wild where it competes aggressively with native plants. It is toxic to grazing animals, so must be removed from where it appears in pastureland. Unfortunately, its wiry but tough stolons are extremely difficult to eradicate. This species is unavailable here, not just because it is invasive, but because it is so susceptible to rust. It never looks good.P90622++

4. Broom is one of the nastiest. Some believe it to be Scottish broom (which we call ‘Scotch broom’). Some believe it to be Spanish. Actually, it is most likely French. It doesn’t matter. It is terribly prolific and aggressive, with seed that remain viable and continue to germinate for many years after parent plants get removed. It was imported intentionally just because it is so pretty in bloom. So many of the worst weeds arrived here like that.P90622+++

5. Himalayan blackberry, like Queen Anne’s lace, might have been imported intentionally because it produces something edible. It happens to makes decent blackberries. However, it is neither as reliable nor as productive as garden variety blackberries. Berries might be sparse and of inferior quality, and are very difficult to pick because the canes are so very wickedly thorny! Canes are extremely vigorous and aggressive, and difficult to kill!P90622++++

6. Thistle was likely a stowaway. There is no realistic reason to have imported it. Nothing eats it. It is too wickedly spiny to handle. It does not work as a cover crop, although it does try to cover as much area as it can get its prolific seed into. There are other thistles that are more invasive, but none that are as mean as this one is with those formidable spines! I do not know for certain what species this is, but it is not one of the native thistles.P90622+++++

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


Horridculture – Security Clearance

P90619A well designed landscape should be an asset, not a liability. It should beautify and enhance the function of outdoor space, while harmonizing with associated indoor spaces. In order to continually do so, even a very well designed landscape requires maintenance so that it does not become so overgrown that it becomes unsightly and obstructive.
Some landscapes require less maintenance than others. There happens to be very few that can be allowed to grow wild, but only because their components are allowed the space they need to do what they do naturally. It is not fair to incorporate plants merely because they are appealing, and then expect them to conform to unnatural constraints without some degree of intervention.
As an arborist, I often see trees that must be pruned for clearance from roofs, gutters, walls, windows, lighting, utility cables and roadways. It is normal for trees and large shrubbery to encroach into such features. Furthermore, it should not be much of a problem if such trees and shrubbery are maintained properly.
The landscape in the picture above contains several desirable plants that could, with a bit of effort, be maintained within the very limited space; New Zealand tea tree, Chinese wisteria, golden bamboo, Heavenly bamboo (Nandina), star jasmine, Spanish lavender, fleabane, oxalis and a small juniper. Some of these might not have been identified correctly, and there may be more in there, but it is impossible to distinguish from this picture.
The golden bamboo and Chinese wisteria are probably a bit excessive. However, there is a nice arbor above that would be ideal for the Chinese wisteria if someone would be willing to put the effort into pruning and containing it. It takes serious commitment to contain golden bamboo, but it is possible, and might perhaps be justifiable to retain a more tolerable quantity of its handsome form outside the window that it is in front of.
One of the most obvious problems with this landscape is that it is so crowded that the various components are barely indistinguishable from each other, and lack the space to perform as they would like to. This is about clearance though. As you can see, the collective plant material has been pruned only to maintain clearance from around the lower part of the doorway, and from the pavement of the parking lot. So much more is needed.
Anyone getting out of or into a car parked next to this landscape must duck under the New Zealand tea tree or Chinese wisteria. The upper part of the doorway is not much better. Vertical clearance needs to be restored and maintained. The New Zealand tea tree seems to have some serious potential anyway, and would likely be very appealing if pruned to expose the main trunk and limbs.
Furthermore, there are windows behind all that mess! Unless someone really wants privacy and dislikes curtains, those windows should be exposed to allow sunlight in. All this obscuring vegetation darkens and cools the interior, which increases reliance on electrical lighting and some sort of heating. Besides, it just looks trashy.
Not only does the vegetation inhibit sunlight coming into the building, but it also inhibits light coming out from the building. The lighting that is barely visible at the top of the pillars flanking the doorway is there to illuminate the parking lot at night. Another doorway outside the left margin of this picture, is for ATM machines, so is outfitted with security lighting, which is almost inoperative because of the lack of pruning for adequate clearance.

Crop Circles

P90616These are perfect conditions for crop circles. Even without any convenient grain crops, there is plenty of tall grass in unmanaged and ungrazed fields. All this grass needs is to be crafted into crop circles.
The first crop circles that I ever witnessed were made by cows. I was not much more than six, and my younger brother who found them was not much more than five. No one bothered to explain to us that cows were related to cattle who grazed nearby. Consequently, we had no concept of what cows were.
Earlier in the day, we had discovered what was described to us as a ‘cow pie’. Naturally, we were skeptical. It looked just like what cattle leave behind, which was not good. I was not about to try it, so got my younger brother to taste it. Apparently, it tasted about as bad as it looked. It seemed quite suspicious that a cow would made such an unappealing pie, and then just leave it out on the ground like that.
When we found the first of a few crop circles, our older sister and her friend told us that it and those we found afterward were made by the same cow or cows who made the unappetizing pie. Apparently, cows like to lay down in long grass. Although we did not know what a cow looked like, we ascertained from the sizes and shapes of the crop circles that the cows who made them were quite large and somewhat circular.
Furthermore, since we did not see any trails leading to or from the crop circles, we deduced that the the cows who made them flew in from above. We were very intelligent kids.
Of course, since then, I found that baby deer make small crop circles; but because they have such long and lanky legs, they do not leave such obvious trails leading to and from such crop circles either. There is no need to fly in from above.
Rhody made a very small crop circle, and because he is so lean, did not leave much of a trail coming or going. He is not tall enough to step over the grass, but is narrow enough to get through it without disturbing it much.P90616+

Pink Trumpet Tree


This is why I do not often use pictures that my colleague, Brent Green, sends to me. He frequently tells me what I should feature in my gardening column, and sends me what he considers to be good pictures for such topics. This picture would have been good for writing about the sky over Los Angeles, or the neighbors’ driveway, since those are two of the most prominent features here. Where did all the smog go?

Chimneys in Los Angeles seem silly to me. Even if the weather got cool enough for a fire in a fireplace, there is no firewood to burn. The chimney to the far right certainly seems to be original to the house, but how did it survive all the earthquakes since the house was built, probably in the 1940s or 1950s? There have been a few moderate earthquakes since then.

Those signs that warn potential criminals of non-existent home security systems are even sillier, and just cluttering otherwise nice landscapes. There is nothing official looking about them. There are bins of them for sale in the local big box stores. Shouldn’t we all assume that since the home on the left is in Los Angeles, that it is outfitted with home security system that is more impressive than that silly, irrelevant and unwelcoming sign?

I would guess that what Brent really wanted to send a picture of was the big pink trumpet tree, Tabebuia heterophylla. After all, it does happen to be sort of in the middle of the picture. It really was spectacular while blooming late last winter. However, even if Brent had sent a good picture of it, I would not have featured it. Most of those who read my gardening column are not within regions where pink trumpet tree blooms like this.

Six on Saturday: Gophers and Weeds


Both have been very active all spring. Some of the sneakiest have been getting away with their activity unobserved.

1. This is a fifteen foot tall camellia, or what remains of it. For comparison, that is a six foot long bench it is laying on. It still looks green and healthy, but started leaning. Upon closer examination, I found that it was not rooted to the ground. It pulled right out! The roots were almost completely gone! There was no indication that there was a problem.P90615

2. This is what remained of the root system. Gophers ate through just about everything that was sustaining and supporting the big camellia above. No excavation or gopher mounds were observed. The area around the camellia was obscured by Algerian ivy. This all happened faster than the camellia could express symptoms associated with such damage.P90615+

3. ‘Kramer’s Supreme’. More specifically, “Award Winning – ‘Kramer’s Supreme’ – Camellia japonica – Trade Mark Registered”. Someone should have removed the label before it damaged the stem it was attached to. Actually, the long dead stem was stubbed just a few inches above the upper margin of this picture. It doesn’t matter now anyway.P90615++

4. This big mound of greenery is all a single big weed, perennial pea. I put it next to the wheel for comparison of size. It grew in a newly landscaped area where we did not expect such big weeds to grow so quickly. It did not seem to be as big as it is, so was easily ignored. Why didn’t gophers eat this instead of the now dead camellia above?!P90615+++

5. As you can almost see in the bad picture, perennial pea is not an unsightly weed. It also lays low and fits into the landscape in such a manner that it is easy to ignore while targeting more obtrusive weeds elsewhere. That is how the specimen in the picture above got so big. This one is not nearly as big, but overwhelmed a few smaller perennials.P90615++++

6. Perennial pea flowers are quite pretty. If possible, I like to let them bloom before pulling them up. Most look like these. Some bloom with fluffier double flowers. Some are lighter pink. A few are darker purplish. White is quite rare. As prolific as they are where they are not wanted, they are surprisingly unreliable from seed sown where actually desired.P90615+++++

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


Horridculture – Pesticides

P90612‘Cide’ as a suffix that designates something to be killed. ‘Insecticide’ kills insects. ‘Miticide’ kills mites. ‘Molluscicide’ kills molluscs such as snails and slugs. ‘Herbicide’ kills herbaceous plants, which are presumably weeds. These examples and other chemicals that kill things that are considered to be pests are collectively known as ‘pesticides’. Many are potentially useful in the garden, since that is where so many familiar pests are problematic.
Most modern pesticides are designed for physiological characteristics that are unique to the targeted pest. They therefore kill only very specific pests, but are generally harmless to other organisms. For example, horticultural oil, which is one of the simplest of all insecticides and miticides, kills insects and mites by obstructing the exoskeletal pores through which they respire. It is harmless to those of us who conduct respiration by means of lungs.
In fact, most (although not all) commonly available pesticides, if used properly, are relatively safe for those who are not the targeted pests. (Rodenticides that remain toxic to predators who eat afflicted rodents are some of the exceptions, but that is a topic for later.) That is why I have no compunction about using such pesticides. When necessary, I would use them on the farm, in the landscapes that I so often work in, or in the home garden.
However, such pesticides are almost never necessary. Seriously. I would not refrain from using them, but the need for such use almost never presents itself. Insecticides and, to a much lesser extent, miticides are sometimes applied on the farm (although I have not been there to apply any in a few years). I applied a minor fungicide for rust on English daisies in a landscape more than a year ago. Otherwise, pesticides are almost never necessary.
It is not that there are no pests. There most certainly are. Roses get aphid. Rhododendrons get thrip. Snapdragons get rust. We just deal with such pests without much pesticides.
There are so many alternative horticultural techniques to use instead. We prune roses so aggressively in winter that they regenerate faster in spring than the aphid can keep up with. We prune rhododendrons to eliminate much of the congested and sheltered inner growth where thrip tend to proliferate. Snapdragons are so susceptible to rust that we probably will not grow them again. Pests are not eradicated, but are reasonably controlled.
All too often, the problem with pests is not the pests at all, but improper horticulture.

A Bee See

P90609They were impossible to miss. They came at a weird time too.
As guests were arriving for a big event, a fire alarm was activated, and compelled everyone to leave the building that they were gathering in. The swarming bees met the guests as they came outside. The bees just happened to show up in the same place and at the same time as the guests were forced outside. Fortunately, no one seemed to mind, and some found the swarming bees to be compelling enough to stop and take pictures.
Initially, all the bees were flying in a big swarm. Those closest to the middle of the swarm were flying fast, sort of like angry wasps. No one saw the queen that the swarm was centered around, but she apparently landed on this redwood limb about forty feet up. The swarming bees slowly collected in this mass around the queen. By the time I took this picture, almost all were attached to the mass, with only a few still flying about.
At least three swarms started to establish new hives in buildings near here last year, and needed to be removed by beekeepers. One hive started to develop where another had just been removed. Another swarm was removed before establishing a new hive.
Bees seem to be attracted here. Perhaps they appreciate all the flowers in the landscapes. It is unfortunate that they can not stay where they typically try to move in. Most of us really like them.
This swarm was still here when I left, so I do not know what happened to it afterward. Hopefully, it either left the area, or at least moved into a place where it will not be problem, such as in a rotten tree trunk out in the forest where bees belong.