Horridculture – Think Outside The Box

Goodness! This is one of the worse of the ‘Horridculture’ meme.

Tony Tomeo

P80912Straight out of college, I worked briefly for a wholesale nursery that grew landscape stock, which included boxed trees. We also recycled a few trees, particularly from the abandoned homes in the neighborhood around the nursery. (The neighborhood, including the nursery, were in the easement of the Norman Mineta Freeway, which in the process of being constructed at the time.) I had believed that the boxed and recycled trees were for ‘instant’ landscapes, the sort that were for clients who did not want to wait for things to grow. It made sense, particularly in our region where so few stay in the same home long enough for trees to mature.

Many trees were good candidates for growing in boxes. Some were naturally small trees. Others had fibrous root systems that did not mind the confinement. Japanese maple, crape myrtle, purple leaf plum, flowering cherry, flowering crabapple, magnolia and various specie…

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Barberry

Delicate foliage hides sharp barberry thorns.

It certainly looks innocent enough. The modern cultivars of barberry, Berberis thunbergii, barely get taller and wider than six feet. Densely dwarf cultivars might not get much taller and wider than only two feet. Columnar sorts are quite narrow with mostly vertical stems. Even the old fashioned types get less than ten feet tall. Barberry is not exactly imposing.

However, like an angry chihuahua, it has a nasty bite. Its finely textured foliage obscures thin but very sharp spines. These spines are numerous enough to be visually appealing while the thin stems are bare through winter. Where necessary, they are sharp enough to inhibit encroachment. Unfortunately, these spines are annoying to handle while pruning.

Most popular cultivars of barberry have richly reddish or almost purplish foliage. Few are variegated with white. Some have bright yellowish chartreuse foliage. Formerly common green barberry is now rare. The small and neat leaves are obovate, and may seem to be circular. They turn vivid reddish orange through autumn, prior to defoliation during winter. Tiny red berries are rare.

Thorny Vegetation Is Naturally Repellent

Black locust is painful to handle.

Roses might be more fun to grow and prune without their thorns. Blackberries are easier to pick from thornless canes. Thorny vegetation is simply unpleasant to work with. Some very desirable plants, such as roses and most blackberries, are innately thorny. The only alternative to contending with their thorny condition is to grow something totally different.

Thorns and similar structures are as diverse as foliage, with a few distinct classifications. True thorns are simply modified stems, like those of hawthorn. Spines are modified foliar structures or leaves, such as those of cacti. Prickles, such as those of rose, are modified epidermal structures. Spinose foliar margins, like those of holly, serve the same purpose. 

The purpose that thorny vegetation serves is defense. It intends to inhibit consumption of foliage, fruit or bloom. That is why some trees are thorny only while young and low to the ground, then almost thornless as they grow beyond the reach of grazing animals. Thorny trunks of honeylocust may protect seed pods from bears, so birds can disperse the seed. 

It is therefore no mystery that many of the thorniest plants are endemic to desert regions. The scarcity of edible vegetation in such regions increases the need for protection. Also, it is no mystery that most grazing animals are not too deterred by thorny vegetation to get enough to eat. Otherwise, roses and firethorn would be exempt from the ravages of deer.

Despite its intentions of deterrence, thorny vegetation inhabits home gardens for various reasons. Some produces desirable bloom or fruit, like roses and blackberries. Cacti and agaves develop remarkably striking forms. Such plants should be situated appropriately. Rose canes can be bothersome close to walkway. Agaves can be downright dangerous. 

Thorny shrubbery, such as firethorn, barberry, Natal plum and English holly, is a practical deterrent for unwanted traffic. Firethorn espaliered on the top of a fence is as effective as barbed wire, and is more appealing. Maintenance of thorny plants is more of a challenge than for thornless plants. Otherwise, thorny plants should be more popular than they are.

Trout and Cabbage

No, this is not an English Pub

Tony Tomeo

61012No; this is not a recipe. It is two brief stories about my first fishing trip and the first vegetables I ever grew.
My first fishing trip was at Silver Lake, past my grandparents summer house in Pioneer. I was just a little tyke. I think I had just a small cane with a hook on a string tied to it. I doubt that I was expected to catch anything with it. I sat on a bare granite shore with my Uncle Bill behind me to keep me from falling in, and my hook on a string in the water.
‘Fishy’ took the hook almost immediately. He was a slippery and shiny trout who startled everyone around with his eagerness to grab onto the hook in order to come home with us. I pulled him up so that my Uncle Bill could take him off of the hook. However, to…

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Dogs

Ah, a diversion from horticulture that is worth the bother. (Never mind the date. It did originally post on September 2, just three years ago.

Tony Tomeo

It is now September 2, the day after both the feastday of Saint Fiacre, patron saint of gardeners, and the first anniversary of this blog. It is also the anniversary of the only day in the last year that I did not post anything. Yes, the second day of the blog was the only day without a post. Early in those first few days, I posted the only article that was irrelevant to horticulture, and an explanation that I would not make a habit of doing so. I wanted to try it just once to see if I could do it like so many others do. It was overrated. Nonetheless, after almost a year since that naughty diversion from my self imposed discriminating standards, I want to try it again. After all, I have not yet posted a horticulturally oriented article on September 2 within the context of this blog…

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Six on Saturday: Naked Ladies And Neighbors

Naked lady, Amaryllis belladonna, is common beyond the landscapes here. Most live on roadsides, likely because that is where we relocate superfluous bulbs, and toss seed after deadheading. All the flowers of a big colony outside the gates at our industrial yard got harvested as they came into bloom this year! Another colony at the historic depot blooms most spectacularly, and was just deadheaded after I got these pictures. Since they were finished with bloom, and still lack foliage, there was not much to get six pictures of. That is why I got two pictures of their neighbors with a third picture of where former neighbors had been.

1. Sarcococca ruscifolia, which does not do well elsewhere, became an exemplary foundation hedge here on the historic depot. Why is it all gone now? A sewer to a septic system was replaced.

2. Echinacea purpurea continues to bloom on the front of the same historic depot. It is prettier than that recently exposed mud between the foundation and the driveway on the opposite side.

3. Amaryllis belladonna continues to bloom, sort of. The majority finished bloom a while ago. Their many bare stems are visible in the background. A few small colonies bloom distinctly later.

4. Amaryllis belladonna otherwise looks like this now. The stems that finished blooming are slightly taller than those that continue to bloom slightly later. Seed will get tossed on the roadside.

5. Amaryllis belladonna that bloom later have pale brownish stems. The five pale brownish stems in the foreground here continue to bloom. The greener stems in the background are finished.

6. Hydrangea macrophylla is unusually happy in front of the historic depot. This floral truss is about a foot wide. There would be more like this, but deer ate them and the roses before bloom.

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

Giant Chain Fern

Giant chain fern is remarkably resilient.

On the West Coast between British Columbia and Mexico, the largest native fern might be the giant chain fern, Woodwardia fimbriata. In sheltered and damp coastal forests, it can get taller than six feet, although it is typically about three feet tall and wide in home gardens. The lightly colored and almost yellowish green fronds generally stand upright and flare outward from the center. The foliage is doubly lobed and lacy, but quite substantial. The thick rhizomes spread rather slowly. Established plants are remarkably resilient. They can tolerate almost full sun exposure if watered enough. Those in partial shade can tolerate lapses of watering. However, they do not recover too readily from relocation or division.

Ferns Are For Distinctive Foliage

Rich green ferns provide distinctive texture.

Ferns are an odd group. They lack the color or fragrance of flowers, or the branch structure of shrubbery, trees or vines. Very few turn color in autumn. They provide only green foliage. Yet, as simple as this seems, the generally evergreen foliage that ferns provide is some of the most distinctive foliage that can be found in the garden.

With few exceptions, ferns are richly deep green. Only a few are lighter green or almost yellowish. The leaves, which are known as ‘fronds’, can be soft and papery, or coarse and tough. The fronds of most ferns are pinnately divided into neatly arranged leaflets; and many ferns have leaflets that are intricately lobed. Some ferns have leaves with more palmate symmetry. A few ferns actually have undivided leaves.

(Pinnate symmetry involves a central midrib or midvein to each leaf, or a central rachis that supports lateral leaflets. Radial symmetry involves multiple midveins or rachi that radiate outward from the centers of individual leaves.)

The Australian tree fern is the largest of the common ferns. It develops a broad canopy of long fronds on top of a trunk that can launch it as high as a two story home. Both the fronds and trunk of the Tasmanian tree fern are shorter and stouter. Other tree ferns are rare. The trunks are not really stems, but are thick accumulations of roots dispersed through decomposed stem tissue.

The staghorn fern is an epiphyte that naturally clings (nonparasitically) to trunks and limbs of trees. The flared upper fronds collect foliar litter that falls from the trees above to sustain the roots within. In home gardens, it is popularly grown on wooden plaques or hung like hanging potted plants, but without a pot.

Some ferns can be grown as houseplants like the classic Boston fern, which cascades softly from a hanging pot. Maidenhair fern is popular for intricate foliage on wiry rachi (leaf stems). Squirrel foot fern has lacy foliage and interestingly fuzzy rhizomes that creep over the edge of a pot.

Since almost all ferns are understory plants that naturally live on or near a forest floor below a higher canopy of trees, they are generally quite tolerant of shade. In fact, most prefer at least some sort of partial shade. This is quite an advantage for spots in the garden that are too shady for other plants. Also, many ferns can disperse their roots into soil that is already occupied by more substantial plants, even if the more substantial plants happen to also be making the particular spot too shady for other plants. In other words, they play well with others.

However, many ferns are more demanding than other plants are in regard to soil quality and watering. They perform best with rich and well drained soil, and regular watering. Sickly ferns generally respond well to fertilizer; but too much fertilizer can burn foliage. Old leaves may need to be groomed out if they do not naturally get overwhelmed by new foliage.

Horridculture – Drought

Although this is an excellent climate, it is not perfect, and this is not the worst of it.

Tony Tomeo

P80905It is a way of life in much of California. Many of us grew up with it, or at least believing in it. Many of us never heard the end of it. That is how it lost its meaning.
Drought is a weather condition. It might last one year or a few. Drought can even continue for several years. For us, it entails less than normal rainfall through winter, only because winter is when rain is supposed to fall here.
As a weather condition, drought is not permanent. There have been a many during the past few centuries of recorded history here, and a few of those have been in just the last half century that I can remember. They happen frequently enough that I can not remember the exact years that were drought years, although I can remember a significant drought in the middle of the 1970s. No drought…

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Boston Ivy

Boston ivy gets colorful before autumn.

It is the ‘ivy’ of ivy league schools. Nonetheless, Boston ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidata, is neither an ivy, nor indigenous to Boston. It is from eastern Asia, and is related to grape vines. It is related to Virginia creeper too, which is actually native to Boston, Virginia and the eastern half of North America. It has become popular locally for freeway sound walls. 

Boston ivy is an aggressive clinging vine that can climb to the top of a ten story building. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with that. It ruins wooden or painted surfaces, so can only climb concrete or masonry. It climbs over windows if it gets the chance. Thicket growth is difficult to remove if it is too high to reach. On rare occasion, mice can nest in it. 

Otherwise, Boston ivy works well on freeways. Although deciduous, its vines discourage graffiti. Even while bare, its texture helps to muffle sound. Its exquisite autumn foliar color might begin to develop as early as late summer, and lingers until frost. Boston ivy is quite resilient to neglect. Shabby plants generate fresh new growth after major winter pruning.