Never Forget the Valley of Heart’s Delight

As I mentioned yesterday, I will be recycling old articles for at least the next month. This was one of the earliest articles on this blog.

via Never Forget the Valley of Heart’s Delight

Six on Saturday: Nursery Schooled

Horticulture can be such a bad habit. (Where have I heard that before?) Once one learns how to grow horticultural commodities, it is difficult to stop. Pruning scraps get processed into more cuttings. Self sown seedlings get relocated instead of discarded. Extra pups (divisions) get salvaged as if the garden can accommodate more. There are several acres of landscapes here, but it is not enough for what we could grow.

1. While dividing a bunch of Morea bicolor, I found a single shoot of Morea iridioides. How did that get in there? I should have discarded it. Perhaps it will grow to become something useful.P00725-1

2. Pruning scraps of zonal geraniums got plugged as cuttings, but then did not get separated as they grew. There may be a dozen in there. They are nice, but we really do not need any more.P00725-2

3. When composting just is not good enough, plug cuttings instead. There may be a dozen Ponderosa lemon cuttings here. One is too many. They are not grafted, so will be on their own roots.P00725-3

4. Boston ivy is fortunately not as abundant as I thought it would be. We wanted four, so I plugged a hundred cuttings. It seemed to make sense at the time. Most did not survive. Plenty did.P00725-4

5. This self sown bigleaf maple is not in the nursery, but I want it to be. It should not remain where it is. I may dig and can it this autumn, as if there is a situation into which to install it later. P00725-5

6. These summer squash are not from the nursery, but from right downstairs. They are happy with all the runoff they get from above. Neighbors have been getting many pounds of squash.P00725-6

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

Elephant Ears

The origin of taro is vague.

Taro was grown as a vegetable in ancient Egypt. It was grown in India before that. A few hundred varieties were cultivated in precolonial Hawaii. Taro was likely native to southeast Asia, but has been in cultivation for so long that it is difficult to know where it originated from. In modern American gardens, it is known as elephant ears, Calocasia esculenta, and grown for its striking foliage.

The big and broad leaves are held as high as six feet on long petioles (leaf stalks), and flare out as broadly as three feet, although many varieties get half as tall and broad. Some varieties have weirdly dark foliage. Others have green leaves with colorful veins. A few are simply jade green. Any of the deciduous foliage that lingers into winter should be cut back before spring.

Since they are naturally bog plants, elephant ears likes very rich potting soil and plenty of water. Muddy clay soil that will not float away works fine for pots submerged in ponds. (Ick!) Partial shade is important. Leaves can get roasted if too exposed. To propagate, corms can be divided while dormant in winter. All parts of elephant ears are toxic until cooked.

Some Edible Plants Start Out Toxic

Pokeweed is both edible and toxic.

Early American settlers from Europe had a lot to learn about the plants of North America. After their first harsh winter without much food, many were eager to eat the first fresh greens of spring, which was sometimes the very poisonous jimson weed. Those who were not lethally poisoned right away might have hallucinated and told their friends that they could fly, and consequently got burned as witches.

It should be no wonder that some early Americans were hesitant to try tomatoes, which are related to jimson weed. Potatoes are also related, and their fruit, foliage and stems actually are toxic. Pokeweed (unrelated) was probably riskier, since the same young shoots that can be cooked as greens become toxic as they mature. Their poisonous berries, which were used as ink back then, look delicious.

There were other potentially dangerous edibles brought from Europe and other places as well. Rhubarb, which makes such great pies, is petioles (leaf stalks) for toxic leaves. Both American and European elderberries are slightly toxic before getting cooked into jelly or pie. Elderberry juice must be cooked and then given yeast to make wine. Figs and mulberries can be eaten right off their trees, but their sap is caustic enough to be irritating to the skin.

The seeds of apples, pears, peaches, nectarines and apricots can be toxic if too many are eaten. They are not a problem only because they are not eaten. However, apricot kernels can be roasted and eaten like almonds because the cooking process denatures the toxins. Separating the small kernels from the hard shells is much more work than it is for almonds, but they supposedly have great flavor.

Just like for apricot kernels, pokeweed and elderberries, the heat of cooking makes taro edible. The foliage can be eaten as stewed greens. The big and starchy corms (bulb-like stems) are something like potatoes. All parts of taro are toxic while raw. There are actually a few toxic plants that are edible once cooked. For a few others, it is important to know what parts are edible, and what parts are toxic.

Horridculture – Dumpster View

Location – Locations – Location

Rather than addresses, most of the guest cabins at the conference center where I work for part of the week, have delightfully horticultural names; such as Camellia, Lupine, Holly, Dogwood, Huckleberry, Strawberry and Cottonwood. Others have names that are suggestive of idyllic locations, such as Meadowbrook, Creekwood and Rustic Dell. Then, . . . there is ‘Dumpster View’.

Dumpster View is not actually a guest cabin, or a lodge, or any building that any of the guests would ever see. It is part of our maintenance shops buildings. Although large, these building are outfitted with only a few windows. The largest building has only a single window for an office. The smaller building has only four windows. Two of the windows have a view only of dumpsters.

The picture above shows the view from the window in the galley. It was what I saw as I made coffee for the crew in the mornings back when we all were still working. As many as fifteen big dumpsters have congregated in that herd, right outside, beyond the spider plant. Because the area is a paved driveway with significant traffic, I can not even plant a tree to obscure the view.

No amount of houseplants bigger than the spider plant can obscure this view without becoming obtrusive. Hanging pots outside the window might detract from the outer scenery, but would require more attention than I want to devote to them. Curtains would be the most practical solution, but would get grungy in this particular situation. Besides, no one else here really notices.

Horticulture is not for everyone, and can not fix everything. No one stays in the shops buildings long enough to notice how horrid the views are anyway. We all leave to go to work in scenery that others vacation in.

Bigleaf Maple

A maple with unusually big leaves.

Its natural coastal range extends from the extreme southern corner of Alaska to the southwestern corner of California. Another inland range occupies foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Bigleaf maple, Acer macrophyllum, is the most common and prominent native maple here. However, it prefers the seclusion of forested riparian situations at higher elevations locally. It is rare in urban gardens.

Bigleaf maple is best in the wild anyway. It dislikes the aridity of most of the urban and suburban areas of California. (San Jose is in a chaparral climate. Los Angeles is in a desert climate.) Roots of bigleaf maple are potentially aggressive, especially if irrigated generously. They easily displace pavement. Nonetheless, where climate and circumstances allow, bigleaf maple is a grand tree.

Wild trees grow as tall as a hundred fifty feet within forests where they compete for sunlight. Well exposed suburban trees should stay lower than forty feet, while extending their canopies broader than tall. The big and palmately lobed leaves are mostly more than six inches wide. Foliage turns yellow in autumn, and is abundant as it falls. Self sown seedlings often grow under mature trees.

California Native Plants Exemplify Diversity

Redwoods are the grandest native trees.

California native plants are logical options for the gardens and landscapes of California. It is only natural. They are already happy with the climates and soils here. They do not need to adapt quite as much as plants from other regions and climates do. After all, they lived here long before anyone else was here to water and maintain them.

Unfortunately, it is not that easy. California is a very diverse place. There are more climates here than there are within many other states combined, over a much larger area. Plants that are native to the Mojave Desert would not be happy in a rainforest of the Siskiyou Mountains. Coastal plants would be no happier high in the Sierra Nevada.

Within reason, California native plants for landscapes and home gardens should be either locally native, or native to similar climates. Plants from very different climates within California are about as exotic as plants from other continents. Just like foreign exotic plants, they may require special accommodation, such as irrigation, to survive here.

All plants need irrigation when first installed. Irrigation can be slightly complicated for plants that are native to climates with long and dry summers. They certainly need irrigation until they disperse their roots. However, a bit too much can rot their roots. California native plants can be sensitive like that. After all, they do not expect to be moist through summer.

Then, once established, many California native plants do not want frequent irrigation. Many want none at all. Chaparral plants like oak, manzanita, toyon, ceanothus and coyote brush tend to rot with too much watering. Plants that are native to riparian or coastal regions, like redwood, bigleaf maple, willow, cottonwood, elderberry and ferns, tolerate more irrigation.

Most California native plants that are from chaparral or desert climates do not perform well within the confinement of pots or planters. They prefer to disperse roots very extensively and directly into the soil, just like they do in the wild. Once established, they do not transplant easily.

Bad Wine

I believe that this is a young Chilean wine palm, although I am not certain.

Italian Americans, particularly Californians, are expected to be experts in regard to wine. I am not. I can not explain it. I dislike wine, especially the best of it. It smells and tastes like rotten grapes. When I learned that Chilean wine palms were, and might still be, decapitated for the collection of their sap, from which wine is made, I learned yet another reason to dislike wine.

This little Chilean wine palm, Jubaea chilensis, pictured above, lives just a block or so away from the bad date palm that I wrote about last Sunday. No one here will try to make wine from its sap. The utility cables that seem to be too close in the background actually pass with plenty of clearance to the right, so will not be a problem in the future. This young palm should be safe.

Although I have encountered too few of the species in my career to be completely certain that this little palm is a well bred Chilean wine palm, it is very convincing. I see no indication that it is a hybrid of another species. About half of the Chilean wine palms that I encounter are hybrids. Most of these are hybrids of queen palm. Others are hybrids of pindo palm. Both look weird.

Of course, well bred Chilean wine palms are not much better. The specimen pictured below demonstrates that, regardless of how bold and striking they are, they are still rather weird palms. That is probably why they are so rare now. They were rare even during the Victorian Period, when weird species were trendy. Yet to many, their distinctive weirdness is part of their allure.

I can not help but wonder where this Chilean wine palm came from. Someone must really appreciate it to put it here.

Chilean wine palm is not a good houseplant.

Fine China

Before: There was not much hope for the Chinese maple underneath this mess.

It will be just fine. The Chinese maple that I mentioned earlier this morning sustained surprisingly minimal damage when part of a bay tree fell onto it. The situation initially seemed hopeless prior to the removal the heavy debris that was pressing the diminutive Chinese maple downward. Yet, the little tree somehow regained its composure, and is expected to recover.

The little Chinese maple was always rather sparse in the shade of the surrounding forest. Also, it exhibited an asymmetrically sculptural form. That is likely normal for the species within its natural environment, where it lives as an understory tree (within the shade or partial shade of larger forest trees). The distinctive form and open canopy were part of its allure.

As the debris was removed, most of the stems of the Chinese maple sprang back into their original positions. Only two major limbs were fractured and needed to be pruned away. Some of the minor twiggy growth was groomed in the process. The main trunk was somewhat destabilized, but not too detrimentally so.

It probably should be no surprise that the little tree was so resilient to the altercation. It is, after all, an understory tree. Within its natural environment, it likely contends with the same sort of abuse. Chinese forests are likely just as messy as forests here are. Gravity pulls all that mess in the same direction.

The little Chines maple may not look like much now that it has been groomed and pruned to be even more sparse than it originally was, but it should be fine. By this time next year, foliar density should be comparable to what it was prior to the incident. The form will remain sculptural, as it grows away from the shade of the forest, and out over the stream below.

After: After a bit of grooming, this little Chinese maple is not so badly disfigured.