Horridculture – Good Design / Bad ‘Maintenance’

P90227From a distance, this landscape does not look so bad. It seems to have been only recently installed, and features the sort of material that was likely intended to not necessarily obscure the sleek architecture of the building behind it, but to eventually soften the starkness of it.

Let’s analyze the landscape. A glossy privet hedge in back should grow up into an informal screen to provide some substantial green against the wall, but with a bit of proper pruning, should not become too obtrusive. A lower hedge of variegated tobira (Pittosporum tobira ‘Variegata’) in front can be pruned into a semi-formal hedge to obscure the bases of the trunks of the glossy privets, which will undoubtedly shed lower growth as they mature. The lightly colored variegated foliage of the tobira contrasts nicely against that of the dark green privets. The blue festuca in front of the variegated tobira hedge provides even more contrast of color, as well as contrast of form, and also ties in with the same blue festuca elsewhere in the landscape. The only two ‘intentional’ interruptions of the simple sleekness of this landscape is where a pair of grapevines flanking a doorway await the installation of an arbor, and a single ‘Icee Blue’ yellowwood is expected to provide additional contrast of form and color in front of the glossy privets. Both features are well situated, and balanced within the symmetry of the landscape. Yes, it is all quite well designed.

And yes, this is Wednesday; the day for my ‘Horridculture’ rant. So, let’s look closer.

Firstly, this is not a new landscape. It has been here long enough to mature better than it has so far. The so-called ‘gardeners’ know that allowing the material to grow means that they will need to put more effort into maintaining it. They would prefer to just keep the glossy privet hedge down low where it does not produce much debris, rather than allow it to grow most of the way up the wall, where it should be by now. A row of cinder block painted green would work just as well, and not need to be shorn at all. The ‘Icee Blue’ yellowwood should likewise be larger than it is now, and looking like a small and neat but informal tree. It actually seems to be growing slowly, which is no fault of the so-called ‘gardeners’.

The pair of grapevines have the opposite problem of the privet hedge. They are not being contained enough. Without the arbor that has yet to be built, they have no place to go, so are just being pruned as rampant and fat shrubs that will fall over as soon as their old stakes rot at the ground. If an arbor is ever built, all that congested and disfigured growth should be cut to the ground in winter, and started over from the ground up. However, it is unlikely that the so-called ‘gardeners’ would maintain them any better on an arbor than they do with them within reach; so it is probably just as well that they are in the ridiculous situation they are in.

That low spherical shrub in the front and center of the landscape, which is just to the left of the lower center of the picture, and is the unintentional interruption to the simplicity of the otherwise well designed variegated tobira hedge that I alluded to earlier, is a variegated Pittosporum tenuifolium. It is so ridiculously shorn and abused that I can not identify the cultivar. I can only guess that it is the common and overly popular ‘Marjorie Channon’. Apparently, one of the variegated tobiras died and needed to be replaced. Hey, it happens. A so-called ‘gardener’ knew that the necessary replacement plant needed to be variegated. He also knew that it needed to be a pittosporum, which is probably more than most so-called ‘gardeners’ could ascertain. The problem was that he went to a nursery and grabbed the first variegated pittosporum that he found, which, as you can plainly see, does not match the tobiras. It assumed a different form, flopped forward as they often do when shorn in such an inappropriate manner, and continues to be shorn into the ‘shape’ seen here now . . . as if it is somehow an asset to this otherwise well designed landscape. The blue festuca that it landed on gets shorn right along with it.

The only feature in this well designed landscape that does not have a serious problem, except for its one member that was clobbered by the single disfigured pittosporum, is the blue festuca, and that is only because the so-called ‘gardeners’ do nothing to it.P90227+


Pseudodendron falsifolia

p90126kLatin and the other languages used to designate botanical names can make the mundane seem compelling, and the unpleasant sound appealing. ‘Nasturtium’ certainly sounds better than ‘nose twister’, which refers to the reaction to the unpleasant fragrance of the flowers. Horticultural professionals can use such language to our advantage, and for more than designating real genera and specie. ‘Necrodendron’ certainly sounds more interesting than ‘dead tree’, and is less likely to offend tree huggers.
‘Pseudodendron’ is a euphemism for ‘fake tree’. Brent, my colleague in Southern California, sometimes points them out in interiorscapes, or worse, in real exterior landscapes. We sometimes analyze them as if they are real. We both are amused to see fake bananas or fake pineapples, or both, hanging from fake cocoanut palms. Sometimes, someone who overhears our conversation feels compelled to inform us that the pseudodendrons that we are so intrigued by are fake. Sometimes, someone asks about growing them in their own gardens.
Of course, hassling Brent about his artificial turf never gets old. It is installed outside of his office to demonstrate how practical it is for clients who are considering it for their landscapes. It really does look great though. Brent probably gives it plenty of fertilizer, and waters it well.
By the time Brent finds out that there is something much worse in one of the landscapes that I work in, it will be gone. Now that it is late January, these fake poinsettias will be removed any day. I will not miss them. Even if they were real, they would still look silly. That is just too much red.
Unfortunately, these poinsettias are perennial. They will be put away until next winter, when they will come out of storage to go back into the same spot in the landscape.


p90120p90120+It seems that I have been negligent about writing about my colleague Brent Green and some of our crazy adventures in horticulture. I said I would do so when I started writing my articles here way back two Septembers ago. It is easy to get distracted from such topics, particularly since we do such different types of work. Brent is a renowned landscape designer and proprietor of GreenArt Landscape Design in Southern California. I am just a horticulturist and arborist who really should get back to growing horticultural commodities in Northern California. For all of our similarities, there just might be as many differences.

After posting that old video of the Birthday Trees yesterday https://tonytomeo.com/2019/01/19/birthday-trees/, I thought that I should also write more about what Brent does for the urban Forest of Los Angeles, which is probably more interesting than our crazy adventures. I really want to find the old news article about how he busted tree rustlers who were stealing mature Canary Island palms from the embankments of the Santa Monica Freeway, which is pictured above. It is still a sore subject because we know that it continues, and that the trees that were stolen were not returned as promised.

I could write a separate blog about the work that GreenArt does if I were more involved with it. I just do not enjoy design like Brent does. Actually, I am no good at it. I just work with the horticultural aspects of it, and growing material for it. In the future, I will probably be more involved with projects that are not directly affiliated with GreenArt, such as initiatives to maintain and protect trees in public spaces of Los Angeles.

For now I have only this brief and outdated video of the landscaping of Brent’s home, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2IwcuU3KEo .

Secret Lives Of Christmas Trees

90102thumbPeople really stress out over Christmas trees. Some do not want a cut Christmas tree because it involves killing the tree. Some do not want an artificial Christmas tree because it is . . . artificial. Some do not want a living Christmas tree because it is too expensive for a tree that is too small. There are so many myths and misconceptions about Christmas trees, yet everyone wants one.

As mentioned, artificial trees are . . . artificial. Obviously. They are not a horticultural commodity, so are not an appropriate topic for a gardening column. What can be said about them is that they are not a more environmentally responsible option to disposable cut real trees. Countless dinosaurs died to make the petroleum for the plastic that these non-biodegradable trees are made of.

Cut trees are still the most environmentally responsible option. They are not harvested from forests, but from plantations, just like any other cut foliage, cut flowers or vegetable crops. Many are grown from the branched stumps of previously harvested trees, by a process known simply enough as ‘stump culture’. It works like coppicing, and allows some stumps to produce for many years.

Potted living trees are the most misunderstood type of Christmas trees. There is nothing environmentally friendly about them. They are exotic (non-native) trees grown in synthetic media (potting soil) in vinyl pots. They get synthetic fertilizer, artificial irrigation and very unnatural pruning while growing within artificially regulated environments that are designed to promote efficient production.

Only a few of the more compact types of living Christmas trees, like Colorado blue spruce and dwarf Alberta spruce, can survive confinement in pots for more than just a few years. Austrian black pine and dwarf limber pine need a bit of trimming as they grow, but also have the potential to work for a few Christmas seasons. The common small potted Christmas trees that are already decorated are Italian stone pine and Canary Island pine, which do not survive confinement for long, and get too big for home gardens.

Horridculture – Three Is A Magic Number

P81219We learned it young from Schoolhouse Rock. Those of us who studied Landscape Design were compelled to learn why, and assume that it is always true.
Well, I am not a landscape designer. I am just a horticulturist and arborist. I can see why three is the best number for groups of trees, and that five is probably the second best option for larger groups, followed by seven, and then nine, and so on. I sort of understand why two, four, six, eight and so on are not so desirable. However, these rules are not absolute.
When I was a kid, many suburban front yards were outfitted with three European white birch trees. Such groups were typically in a corner of the rectangular yards, just outside of the curvacious mowing strips that were designed to make the rectangular spaces seem to be more irregular than they really were. Individually, the groups of three birches were appealing. Collectively, they were cliché. They were supposed to look more ‘natural’; but there is nothing natural about contrived groups of three trees, especially when it is so prevalent. That is not how they grow in forests.
Now, although I am no landscape designer, I do happen to know that good landscape design is compatible with the architecture of the building that it is associated with.
Early American architecture really should be landscaped in the Early American style. This might seem to be simple, just because Early American landscapes are simple and utilitarian, with most of the plant material at a safe distance from the buildings. The difficulty is that such landscapes are very symmetrical, with paired shrubbery and trees, and several paired and evenly spaced trees flanking roadways. The left matches the right. That means quite a bit of twos, fours, sixes, eights and so on. Early American landscape design developed at a time when nature was something to be dominated and utilized in the most efficient manner possible. Not many landscape designers comprehend this philosophy, or would adapt to it if they did understand.
The group of three dwarf Alberta spruce in the picture below was not intended to be a rebellious expression of formality. As you can see, it really is a group of three. Yet, they are also evenly spaced in a straight row that parallels the adjacent wall. Without pruning, they will always be very symmetrically conical. Cool!P81219+

Plan Ahead For Coniferous Evergreens

81031thumbWe all know what autumn is for. Planting, of course. Yes, it is a recurring theme; but there are so many different things to plant. Dormant bulbs need to get into the ground before cool and rainy winter weather. Deciduous plants that should be planted while dormant prefer an early start if planted as soon as they defoliate in autumn. Believe it or not, most evergreen plants are no different.

Evergreen plants do not experience the degree of dormancy that defoliated deciduous plants do, but they too are significantly less active during autumn and winter than they are during warmer weather. Therefore, if possible, they should also be planted in autumn, so that they can begin to slowly disperse roots through winter, to be ready to resume growth as weather warms next spring.

All planting should be planned. This is more important for trees, big shrubbery and other plants that are difficult to relocate once they have dispersed their roots. Some broadleaf evergreens that get bigger than expected can be pruned into submission. However, most coniferous evergreens are notoriously difficult to contain if they get too big for the situations into which they get planted.

‘Coniferous’ plants are those that produce cones. Cypress, pine, fir, spruce, cedar and redwood are the more familiar coniferous trees. Most coniferous trees, except for most of the various cypress, have excurrent branch structure, with lateral limbs extending from a central trunk. They can not be pruned down without disfiguring their central trunks. Lateral limbs can be disfigured if pruned back. Such trees should therefore be planted where they can grow unobstructed to mature size.

Juniper and arborvitae are some of the more familiar of coniferous shrubbery. They can be shorn even into formal hedges, but only if shorn very regularly. Their dense foliage shades out interior foliage. If they get too big for the respective situations, they can not be pruned back into submission without exposing their bare interiors. Once exposed, bare interior stems may never recover.

Horridculture – Ignoring Arboriculture

P81003There are too many different types of horticultural professionals to count. There are nurserymen who grow horticultural commodities. There are landscape architects and landscape designers who design the landscapes into which some of these horticultural commodities will go. There are landscapers who install such landscapes. Of course, there are gardeners who maintain the landscapes after they are installed. These are just a few of the more familiar horticultural professionals.
I will refrain from my typical ranting about the extreme lack of professionalism among almost all horticultural professionals who are not nurserymen or arborists (okay, and one landscape designer), but must point out something in the picture above. Do you see it?
It is not the fact that this once very well designed landscape was dismantled and mostly replaced with a cheap slapped together assemblage of cliché plants by someone who just needed work.
Nor is it the pointlessly disfigured shrubbery from the original landscape that was salvaged while the best features that could have been salvaged were removed.
Nor is it the fact that this process has been repeated a few times since the building was originally landscaped back in the 1980s, leaving a nicely maturing but weirdly non conforming crape myrtle in front of the queen palm that should be the focal point, as well as a new dogwood that will compete with both focal points.
It is the fact that despite all the effort that went into the installation of this garage sale style landscape, no one bothered to procure the services of an arborist to groom the queen palm. Do you see it now; all those dead fronds hanging from the canopy of the queen palm? It is like taking a pick up through a car wash while it is loaded with garbage.

Horridculture – Agave

06When they became a fad in the 2000s, it was one of the very few fads that was actually sensible for California. Agaves certainly are not for every landscape, and certainly do not suit everyone’s taste, but they are ideal for the climate here. In some regards, they are more practical than the more popular of the native specie that tend to be scrubby looking and short lived. Agaves really should have become trendy a long time ago.
The problem with the fad, like so many other fads, is that it caused the object of desire to be overly popular for a while. Many agaves consequently got planted into situations where they did not belong. Landscape designers often forced them into the gardens of clients who did not know what they were, or did not even like their bold style. To show them off most prominently, designers often put the agaves next to walkways, driveways and doorways, rather in the background.
Those who know agaves know that they belong in the background because of their nasty foliar teeth! Technically, they are neither thorns not spines, but they are so wicked that they are known by both terms. These teeth are remarkably sharp and stout. Next to walkways and doorways, they can inflict significant injury to anyone unfortunate enough to bump into them. Next to a driveway, they can puncture tires! The foliar teeth of agaves are so dangerous that they do not belong anywhere in the gardens of homes where children or dogs live.
What is worse about those that are too close to walkways and such is that they grow! Landscape designers are notorious for installing small agaves that grow large in tight spots, merely because they were so cute and innocent when they were small.P80822K

Six on Saturday: Infrastructure


There is so much more to horticulture than plant material. There is a lot of hard work, which is hard to get in pictures. There are a lot of materials. There is a lot in infrastructure.

Well, I do not have pictures from the farm to show how our horticultural commodities are grown. That would not be very interesting anyway. These pictures are merely odds and ends of what we work with in regard to landscape maintenance.

1. Incarcerated stone. Yes, it is quite obvious that this prison is overcrowded. This is where they do ‘hard’ time. Incidentally, ‘Pet Rock’ was invented in Los Gatos.P80630
2. Half barrel. Back when there were more real wineries in the Santa Clara Valley, barrels such as this were cheap, and could sometimes be found left on the sides of roads for anyone who wanted to take them for kindling. At nurseries and lumber yards, they could be purchased already cut in half, perforated with a few drainage holes on the bottom, and painted with wax on the inside, for use as planters. They are more expensive now. This particular barrel came from France, so is not even made of local valley oak. See the fancy label at the top of the picture? The drainage hole on the left was not drilled through because the drill bit encountered something metallic in the wood. Check out the tips of my stylish boots at the bottom of the picture.P80630+
3. ErmitagE France. This metallic label on the wine barrel is so comically contradictory! The lack of an ‘H’ at the beginning, and the capitalized ‘E” at the end of ‘ErmitagE’ implies that the former contents of the barrel was something fancy, but is then followed by ‘France’.P80630++
4. NO DUMPING ALLOWED. This is a classic example of ‘Do as I say, not as I do’. We dump debris from landscape maintenance all the time. When we prune for road clearance, much of the debris gets thrown back out into the forest behind what was pruned. In some spots, it works like mulch to keep some of the weeds down. Larger bits must get taken away of course. This sign will be posted on a wide spot on one of the roadways where dumping had apparently been a problem. By the way, it is just coincidence that the two words ‘CHILD DUMPING’ lined up like that.P80630+++
5. White star magnolia. This was just moved to the new landscape of a newly renovated building. https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2018/06/16/six-on-saturday-rock-on/ We would have preferred to wait for it to defoliate in autumn before relocating it, but it was in the way within another recently landscaped area, and we really wanted to install it here in the new landscape before other material gets installed around it. https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2018/04/07/six-on-saturday-rock-concert/ It does not seem to know that it has been moved. I happened to grow these along with many other magnolias back in the late 1990s, and really did not like working with them in the nursery. We just were not set up for them. However, I really like them in the landscape. This particular magnolia grows like a large shrub, so will not get big enough to drop flowers onto all that pavement. That would have been a concern with larger magnolia trees that bloom with larger flowers that can be a slipping hazard when they fall onto pavement.P80630++++
6. Epiphyllum. This just happens to be in bloom at the shop. It belongs to the horticulturist who maintains all the landscapes here, so has nothing do do with the landscapes. With all the pictures of inert items and only one white star magnolia, I thought I should include something a bit more colorful. It does not get much more colorful than this.P80630+++++
This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:


Six on Saturday: ROCK ON!


This might be the very first post in the history of Six on Saturday that lacks any plant material! There are certainly plenty of flowers blooming out there, but that was not what I was working with this week. The first two pictures were at a site where I was working earlier in the week. The other four pictures were at a larger landscape that is in the process of being renovated. Until this week, I had not seen much of the site, but heard about it daily. The work is behind schedule, so a whole bunch of us went to the site to help. Although we were very grateful for the help, and everyone was genuinely pleased to be of service, I can not help feeling guilty about my esteemed colleagues engaged in the unpleasantries of such dusty and dirty work, especially when they have so much of their own work to tend to.

1. The soil at the first job site is of exceptional quality, but is only about a foot deep! This now broken mudstone is what lurks below, but it is not broken down under. It is only broken in the picture because it needed to be pried up so that larger plants could go into the ground. It took all morning just to install a few #5 plants. The smaller #1 plants were planted much more easily on top of the mudstone.P806162. This sometimes happens when prying up mudstone.P80616+3. At the second and much larger landscape, the irrigation system and lighting needed to be installed before the rest of the landscape. There is now irrigation pipe and electrical conduit everywhere! It took some serious digging. Because so much excavation had already been done at the site for the installation of big wide walkways, much of the soil was being moved a second time. The soil is so loose and sandy that much of it needed to be dug a few more times from the ditches as the irrigation system was installed.P80616++4. A few big boulders were installed on the site. To avoid driving the heavy machinery on the new concrete, the boulders were installed early in the renovation process, before the new concrete was installed. Consequently, they were buried by the soil that came from all the ditches for the irrigation and lighting systems. They reappeared as the ditches were filled. I still do not understand the appeal of stone and boulders in landscapes. The mudstone that was encountered earlier in the week was not much fun.P80616+++5. Plant material has not yet been installed, so the landscape features only a few dogwood trees that were already there, and these few boulders scattered about in the dusty soil. It really is dusty! I cannot figure out why the dogwoods are so happy there. I can not figure out why the boulders are so happy either, . . . or if they are happy . . . or if they really care at all. I just do not know.P80616++++6. One of our soil science professors at school was emphatic about soil being ‘soil’. We were not allowed to refer to soil as ‘dirt’. Well, this soil happens to be better than it looks, and it is good enough for dogwoods, but it really is very dirty soil.P80616+++++This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate: