This happens to be one of my favorite articles, from more than three years ago.
This happens to be one of my favorite articles, from more than three years ago.
After many centuries of cultivation, myrtle, Myrtus communis, has not changed much. It was one of the more traditional plants for formally shorn hedges in Victorian gardens. It functions somewhat like a drought tolerant boxwood. Unshorn plants can grow as gnarly small trees not much higher than the eaves. ‘Compacta’ gets only about three or four feet high and wide, even without pruning.
The finely textured evergreen foliage is very aromatic and darker green than boxwood foliage. Individual leaves are not much more than an inch long. Not many of the tiny white flowers that bloom in summer develop if plants are shorn regularly. Unshorn plants that are allowed to bloom can produce small bluish black berries which might be messy on pavement. Foliar density is best in full sun. Shade can cause bald spots. Established plants may not need watering, and might live longer than anything else in the landscape.
The statute of limitations allows me to discuss this now. It happened thirty years ago, in the spring of 1987. The famous landscape designer, Brent Green, was my roommate in the dorms at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. As the bearded iris started to bloom, Brent immediately noticed a bed of uniformly pink bearded iris off the edge of a lawn in the inner campus. He watched it bloom from beginning to end, and occasionally updated me on the progress. During the process, he convinced me that these iris were very rare. Neither of us had ever seen pink bearded iris before. We had no idea that they could easily be purchased from mail order catalogs or nurseries.
Late one warm spring night, Brent telephoned me from a landscape design lab where he had been working late. Back then, we answered a telephone when it rang. Before I could wake up enough to think about what I was doing, or just say “No.”, Brent convinced me to bring something that he needed from our room to the lab. Without thinking, I got dressed, grabbed his designated duffel bag and got on my way. I was sort of concerned that the duffel bag seemed to be empty. I figured that whatever was in it was very lightweight.
By the time I got to lab, Brent was in the lobby, and his associates were leaving. Brent did not seem to be interested in whatever was in the bag. He just thanked me for bringing it as we waked out as if to go back to the dorms. I was puzzled. As we walked, Brent explained that he only needed the bag, and confirmed that it really was as empty as I suspected. I was even more puzzled. I asked why he woke me up in the middle of the night to deliver an empty bag across campus. Well, in the few minutes it took for us to get this far into the conversation, we had arrived at the bed of pink iris. You can imagine what happened next.
Yes. Brent dropped the bag on the ground and began to stuff it full of all the bloomed-out iris rhizomes he could grab! Suddenly, I was very awake, and protested. He explained that now that the iris had finished blooming, they would be dug up and disposed of. What else could I do? I knew he was correct. I did not want to waste the iris. I also realized that panic would only draw attention, and that delaying the process would only increase the likelihood of getting busted. I pulled up as many rhizomes as I could hastily grab as well, and stuffed the bag until it was full. Brent was feeling rather satisfied as we walked back to the dorms. I was mortified.
The rhizomes got split and groomed, and eventually went into our mothers’ gardens. We each got about half. The following late winter and early spring, Brent would check in on his when he would go south for the weekend. I would check on mine when I would go north. They grew well, and fattened up to bloom. The stalks came up. The buds swelled. Then, finally, and with much anticipation, they bloomed! They were magnificent! They were glorious! They were spectacular! They were purple and yellow! WHAT?!?! Where was the pink? What happened? This is NOT FAIR! Wait a minute, . . . Could it be karma?
Thirty years later, we still grow these two bearded iris. They are known simply as ‘Karma Purple’ and ‘Karma Yellow’. We do not know their real names. A few years ago, they were joined by a nice tall ‘Karma White’, which was supposed to be a rusty red that I ‘borrowed’ from a neighbor. Neither Brent nor I have ever grown a pink iris.
After decades of deteriorating structural integrity, Quercus lobata of Felton finally succumbed to a need to prioritize public safety, and passed away at home in Felton Fair on June 20, 2017. His age is unknown, but may have been about three centuries. He was born in Felton before Felton was, and lived his entire life here. In the idyllic alluvial meadow between Zayante Creek and the San Lorenzo River, he was a simple forest tree for most of his career, and only became a distinguished shade tree when Graham Hill Road was built. Instead of retiring later in life, he became the most prominent tree in the parking lot when Felton Fair was constructed. In his spare time, he enjoyed feeding neighborhood squirrels. A tree of few words, or really none at all, Quercus lobata never complained about anything, even when cars crashed into his bulky trunk, and stripped away large portions of bark where decayed cavities later developed. His remains will be scattered as mulch,and used to warm homes throughout the region. Ashes will be scattered as stoves and fireplaces are cleaned. Rings will be counted privately. Quercus lobata is survived by an unknown number of children, countless squirrels, and countless admirers of various specie throughout Felton.
The obituary above was serious business when it was written. What it does not mention is that the deceased did not fall down or die completely of natural causes. It was cut down after dropping a very large limb onto a roadway, demonstrating how dangerous it could be. It would have gotten more dangerous if it aged and deteriorated more. No one wanted it to be cut down. It was just too necessary.
This is the part of the job of arborists that non-arborists do not seem to understand. We arborists love our work, and we love trees. However, that does not mean that we object to the removal of each and every tree. The people who live with trees are more important. Any tree that blatantly endangers people or property must be removed or made safe.
Unfortunately, valley oaks deteriorate and fall apart for many decades before they finally die. This particular tree might have survived for quite a while if it had not been cut down. It also would have continued to drop limbs.
Distinguished old trees are always the most difficult to condemn. No one is old enough to remember when they were not here. They witnessed more changes to their little part of the world than anyone. Without going anywhere, some of them here in California visited three different countries; Spain, Mexico and the United States of America.
In the end though, death is perfectly natural. The tree had spent centuries doing what it was put here to do. It was time for it to go. Behind the stump in the picture, one of its babies is already becoming a nice young tree. Another one is just to the east, just beyond the left edge of the picture. They might shade the road and driveway for a few more centuries. What history will they see during that time?
In the lower right corner of this picture, next to the fenced garden gate, and just beyond the mown grass and what appears to be a walkway, there is a small clump of bearded iris foliage. No one knows where these iris came from, or for how long they had been there when this picture was taken in the summer of 1969. They were growing in the garden of my great grandmother, in Hoot Owl Creek, just south of Red Oak in Latimer County of Oklahoma. It is unlikely that my great grandmother purchased such non-utilitarian plant from a nursery. It was probably acquired from a friend or neighbor sometime during the half century that she tended the garden prior to 1969. It could have been around even earlier, since my great grandfather’s family first developed the farm as Oklahoma became a territory.
The flowers are an alluringly soft lavender blue, on elegantly tall and lean stems. They are relatively small for bearded iris, and lack any fancy frills or ruffles. In fact, they are quite neatly tailored, with a simple sweet and fruity fragrance that resembles that of grape pop. This iris is probably one of the prehistoric specie of iris that was used to breed modern cultivars. Some of these sorts of iris were known affectionately as ‘grape pop’ iris, but it is impossible to know if or how this particular iris is related.
Many years ago, probably in the early 1980s, my grandmother brought some of these iris back to her home garden in Santa Clara in California. They proliferated enough to share with friends and neighbors. A few went to my mother’s garden, where they also proliferated and were shared with friends and neighbors. Now, my mother’s great granddaughters play in a garden where these same iris will bloom next spring; only a few months from now, but at least six generations from that well outfitted homestead garden in Hoot Owl Creek.
Where will these iris go from here? It is impossible to say. Younger generations are not very interested in horticulture. However, I really doubt that my great grandmother could have imagined that they would have gotten this far. What is funny is that these iris are probably more interesting now to current generations than they were to my great grandmother when she planted them.