Water Lily

Water lily bloom emerges from the depths.

The fragrant flowers of water lily are unreal! They either float on the surface of the water, or hover just above. Abundant pointed petals radiate outward from central tufts of pronounced stamens. Most flowers are soft hues of yellow, pink, blue, lavender, peachy orange or white. Some are brighter yellow or pink, or richer shades of red or purple. Some open in the morning. Others open in the evening.

The rubbery leaves that float on the surface of the water are nearly circular. Some are symmetrically cleft to the center, like Pac-Man or a pizza with a slice taken out. The thick rhizomes that the foliage and flowers emerge from stay buried in pots or mud under the ponds that they live in. Rhizomes can be divided to propagate, but take a year or so to recover and bloom.

Ponds Cannot Conserve Water

Aquatic plants provide shelter for goldfish who eat mosquitoes.

During a drought, there really is no way to use less water in a garden pond. Aquatic plants can not survive without adequate water; not to mention fish! Pumps that circulate water must stay submerged to operate properly, and to not get damaged by operating without water. Some degree of water needs to be added regularly to compensate for evaporation.

Water does not evaporate from below the surface of the water. Therefore, depth is irrelevant to water loss. The area of the surface of the water is more important. Sunlight and wind accelerate evaporation. So do fountains or pumps that broadcast water through the air for circulation. Aquatic plants that stand above the surface of the water lose water to evaporation from foliar surfaces.

Yet, most of us who enjoy gardening cannot resist growing aquatic plants if a pond is available. Not only do they provide distinctive foliage and bloom, they also provide shelter for goldfish or minnows that control mosquitoes. They keep water clearer by competing with algae.

Submerged aquatic plants, like anacharis, do everything in the water. Some do not even need soil to root into. Because they do not come above the surface of the water, they do not affect evaporation. None of the floating plants, like water hyacinth, water lettuce and duck weed, have any use for soil either, although some of the leafiest sorts can accelerate evaporation.

Water lilies and lotus are emergent aquatic plants, which naturally live in mud on the bottom of ponds, but develop foliage and flowers that emerge and float on the surface. Although they have the potential to affect evaporation, most are more likely to inhibit evaporation by keeping water shaded. In garden ponds, they must be potted, and should be under at least a foot of water.

Relative to other aquatic plants, bog plants such as cattails, aquatic cannnas, and blue or yellow flag iris consume the most water from saturated soil at or just below the surface of a pond. They produce the most foliage that stands well above the water. Like water lilies and lotus, bog plants need to be potted, but with the tops of their soil barely below the surface of the water.

Pots should be low and wide, and obviously do not need drainage holes. Unnecessary holes only spill a bit of soil, and allow roots to escape and grab onto the bottom of a pond. Good old fashioned soil (yes, dirt from the garden) is fine. Good quality potting soil merely floats away.

Horridculture – Solar Power

This gives a new meaning to ‘shade tree’.

Leaves are the original solar panels. They collect solar energy, and convert into useful resources. Some of those resources get converted into other resources that are good for human consumption, such as fruit, vegetables, lumber, firewood and oxygen. However, one resource that leaves do not produce is electricity.

That is why the big solar array pictured above was installed over a big parking lot. There are a few of these arrays in this parking lot, and more in other nearby parking lots. Many trees were cut down to accommodate them. People who work nearby can use the electricity more than they could use vegetation, or anything that vegetation could produce within this area.

Shade trees are nice over parking lots, but are not necessary over a parking lot that is shaded so thoroughly by such big solar arrays. After parking during rainy weather, an umbrella is only necessary between the solar arrays and the adjacent office buildings. There are no more fallen leaves to clean up. Pavement and curbs will no longer be displaced by growing roots.

The red gum that is also pictured above, under the solar array, is not so impressed. It likely grew from a root of a red gum that was removed so that the solar array could be constructed. Sadly, it must be cut down again, not only because it is under the solar array, but also because it is against the sidewalk. It has clearance problems both above and below.

It is rather ironic that even after all the trees that formerly shaded this parking lot were cut down for the installation of this solar array, this young red gum that is so determined to survive can not stay. I can not help but wonder what this young red gum thinks of green energy.

Shiny Xylosma

Shiny xylosma should get more respect.

As a backdrop for more interesting plants, shiny xylosma, Xylosma congestum, may not get the respect that it deserves. If it seems to be a bit too common in some big landscapes, it is probably because it is so practical. It can function like the strictly shorn hedges that were popular decades earlier, but is a bit more adaptable to modern landscape styles. It can be formal or quite informal.

Formal hedges of shiny xylosma are typically no taller than eight feet, and a bit more plump than old fashioned privet hedges. They can get a bit sparse if kept too lean. Informal hedges are mostly lower and plumper, with casually irregular surfaces and no corners. Old shiny xylosma can grow as a small tree more than eight feet tall. Younger specimens are of the shorter cultivar, ‘Compacta’.

Established shiny xylosma is surprisingly resilient. Roots disperse impressive distances to reach moisture so that old specimens can survive without direct irrigation. Although, they prefer regular watering. Overgrown specimens can eventually regenerate nicely from coppicing or pollarding. The main disadvantage is that vigorous new growth will likely develop concealed but sharp thorns.

Nursery Cans Are Only Temporary

Nursery cans are not permanent pots.

Garden enthusiasts would understand the temporary nature of nursery cans better if they knew more about how plants grow in nurseries. Few plants actually grow in the retail nurseries that market them. They grow in production nurseries, where efficiency is a priority. Nursery cans, which retailers and consumers refer to as ‘pots’, are the most efficient means with which to contain the crops.

Most nursery cans are thin black vinyl. While plants are small, crowded ‘can to can’ arrangement shades the black vinyl so that it does not get too hot from sunlight exposure. Those on the western and southern edges of a crop might get shade from a temporary row of empty cans or a plank leaned against them. As plants mature and need more space, their growing foliage shades the vinyl.

As plants become marketable, they go from production nurseries to retail and wholesale nurseries. From there, they go to new landscapes and home gardens. Only then do they finally escape the nursery cans that they grew up in, to disperse their roots into real soil. The nursery cans have finished their job. Plants can not live in them forever, even if they continue to live in other types of pots.

Nursery cans are efficient, but not necessarily comfortable. By the time they are marketable, the plants that they contain are generally about as big as they can get within their cans. If they get any bigger, their roots will be crowded. If too exposed to sunshine, the black vinyl gets hot enough to cook the roots within. Plants prefer to be in the ground, or at least pots that are more comfortable.

Potted plants that will grow bigger should live in pots, planters or other containers that are bigger than the nursery cans that they grew in. Some will want even larger containers as they grow more later. Annuals and plants that will not grow much bigger are not so critical. However, all potted plants that will not shade their own pots appreciate containers that are better insulated than thin vinyl.

Clay pots, wooden planters and even concrete urns are as practical as they are appealing.

Bad Date

No one likes a bad date.

Date orchards that were displaced by the expansion of urban sprawl around Las Vegas in the 1990s were the source of the many recycled mature date palms that briefly became popular for large scale landscapes at the time. Most of the trees within the orchards were female, with only a few male pollinators. (Pollinators can live remotely, where they provide pollen for dusting.)

Male trees were undesirable anyway, at least in conjunction with female trees. They are taller and lankier, with less pendulous foliage, so are less visually appealing. More importantly, they pollinate female flowers so that they make fruit. Of course, in orchards, fruit is very important. In landscapes, it is just a mess. Without male pollinators, female trees produce no messy fruit.

Consequently, most male trees were not recycled. Some were installed singly, or in exclusively male colonies, in landscapes that were reasonably isolated from female trees. After decades of dutiful service, this is how they were retired, . . . or not.

During the brief date palm fad, a colony of exclusively female date palms at a mall near here produced a minor crop of dates during its second year after installation. It was not a major mess, but it was perplexing. Eventually, someone realized that a single relatively small male date palm lived just outside of the landscaped areas. It likely grew there from seed as a curb mongrel.

Even though the male tree was too remote to pollinate the female trees sufficiently for a major mess, it was removed. It was not much bigger than the short and clumping date palm pictured above. This tree seems to be a curb mongrel as well, since it was not likely planted there purposely. Furthermore, it will also likely need to be removed. It is too close to the building behind.


Although I can not be certain, I believe that this is prickly lettuce.

Pretty weeds do not get my attention like they do for others. They look too much like weeds to me. If I want to appreciate them, I must do so with intention. Sometimes, I do actually try. I did happen to notice these two weeds. However, now that I got their pictures, I have no use for either of them. Neither is readily useful for the gardening column. I will just share them here.

The yellow flower pictured above is most likely prickly lettuce. I really do not know. I know it as yellow chicory; but chicory does not bloom yellow. Some people think of it as dandelion, since the flowers are similar. These flowers stand much higher though, with only minimal foliage below. For the picture, I plucked this flower and stuck it in the ground to keep it still in the breeze.

The white flower pictured below is common bindweed. When I was a kid, I knew it as morning glory. In this close up picture, it looks like a fancier garden variety of morning glory, although the flower is much smaller. Real morning glory happens to look good in white, like this one does. If it is fragrant, I have never noticed. It tends to creep along the ground more than it climbs.

It sometimes seems silly to me that others so easily notice how pretty weeds such as these are, especially while there are so many more flowers that are prettier. Then, I realize what others must think of what I consider to be pretty. For example, the pollarded blue gum with aromatic blue foliage that I enjoy so much, is the same species that gives all eucalypti a bad reputation.

Besides, these flowers were the prettiest in the otherwise bare meadow where I found them.

Bindweed looks like miniature morning glory.

Six on Saturday: Closeups II

This is the more foliar counterpart to the closeups for my Six on Saturday from last week. Some are closer than others. Some would be more easily identifiable without captions than others. All are quite random. All these subjects are in the storage nursery; but only #1 and #5 will eventually find homes in the landscapes here. The others will likely go into one of my own gardens. I have no idea of what to do with #2.

1. Agave pedunculifera – provided the most abstract picture of the six. The name is only a guess. Someone else might have been able to identify it as something else if more of it were visible.P00711-1

2. Eucalyptus globulus ‘Compacta’ – compact blue gum – was my second choice for juvenile blue gum foliage. It was easier to reach because it is more . . . compact. The other blue gum is tall.P00711-2

3. Cinnamomum camphora – camphor – is light yellowish green most of the time, and then gets slightly blushed with new growth late in spring. This young tree started late in partial shade.P00711-3

4. Trachicarpus fortunei – windmill palm – provided the second most abstract picture of the six. It is more recognizable though. Mediterranean fan palm is darker. Other fan palms are light.P00711-4

5. Picea sitchensis – Sitka spruce – was brought from Smith River, on the coast just south of Oregon. It does not seem to mind being so far from home. The happy new growth is impressive.P00711-5

6. Juniperus virginiana – Eastern red cedar – is my favorite this week because I brought it from Oklahoma. Cedrus deodara – deodar cedar – is the real cedar that provided the background.P00711-6

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


Million Bells

Million Bells look like small petunias.

Its name may be something of an exaggeration, but million bells, or Calibrachoa, certainly is profuse. However, although it is potentially perennial, it is usually grown as a warm season annual, so it  only has a few months from spring to autumn in which to bloom with a million flowers. Many plants combined might be up to the task.

The tiny flowers resemble petunias more than bells. Actually, the entire plant grows something like very compact petunias, which they are obviously closely related to. The stems are too limber to stand half a foot tall as they spread to about a foot wide. The small and unremarkably hazy green leaves are adequate backdrop for bloom.

The bloom is the remarkable part, displaying all sorts of shades and hues of red, yellow, blue, purple, orange, pink and white. There are not many colors left out. Just like petunia, million bells cascades nicely from pots. Unlike petunia, it does not benefit from deadheading (removal of deteriorating flowers). What is good for petunia is generally good for million bells, although a slight bit of shade is somewhat more tolerable. They want rich soil, regular watering and regular application of fertilizer. (Monthly application of common slow release fertilizer is probably as good as anything fancy.)

Pots Make More Out Of Less

Half barrels are a bit elevated, and seem to show off their flowers better.

With conservation of water being so important right now, annuals are not a priority. Many of us are trying to use as little water as possible, and only to keep the more significant trees, shrubbery and perennials alive until winter. Lawn and annuals are usually the first to succumb, mainly because they use more water than anything else.

They are also somewhat expendable. Lawn is certainly expensive, but realistically, can be replaced as soon as water becomes available. Hopefully, new lawns will be more conservative with water, like they should have been since the last “drought” (and the one before that). Annuals are planted annually (duh), so they get replaced anyway.

Annuals as bedding plants over large areas were already somewhat passé before the last few dry winters. Even the more indulgent landscapes used annuals merely as relatively modest borders around or in front of more substantial, but less consumptive, perennials and shrubbery. Pots and planters are already more appropriate.

Some of the trendiest big pots are so ornate that they do not need flowers to provide more color. Besides, with a few striking perennials for colorful foliage or form, there is not much space left for annuals. What matters with annuals is that fewer in a pot can be flashier than more in the ground. Fewer annuals mean less water is required.

Elevated planters may not be as ornate, but display flashy annuals just as effectively. Petunia, million bells, lobelia and alyssum can cascade over the edges, to be colorful both on top and on the sides. Marigold, zinnia, celosia and any interesting foliar or sculptural perennials get a bit more height. It all helps to get a bit more out of less.

Pots and planters are not necessarily less work. They just need less water than larger beds, because they are smaller. Relative to their area, they actually need more water, and must be watered very regularly to sustain the confined roots within. Hanging pots need the most water. All confined plants benefit from fertilizer.