Ghost of Weddings Past

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Easter lilies are still my favorite of the lilies!

Weddings are normally common at the small historic chapel at work. This is normally the busiest season there. Since the chapel is presently unused, and it will likely remain unused for quite a while, we have not replaced the white pansies, that were out front through winter, with new white blooming warm season annuals for summer. The minimal landscape seems a bit emptier.

A colony of white hydrangeas to the left of the chapel happen to be blooming late this year, as if they know there is no rush. The smaller hydrangeas in the foreground of this colony were not original to the landscape, but were added as they were left behind after weddings. (Florist hydrangeas are innately more compact.) Blue and pink hydrangeas went to blue and pink colonies.

Our chrysanthemums were left behind after weddings too. They were originally fancy potted mums that provided more color than white. They are not as prolific with bloom in landscapes as they were originally, but they seem happy to adapt, and perform as short term perennials. It is better than going straightaway to the compost pile or greenwaste. They are appreciated here.

A pair of potted Easter lilies that were left behind with other potted blooming plants after a wedding last year were not installed into the landscape, so remained in the storage nursery. They were not expected to regenerate efficiently after their primary bloom. Surprisingly, they not only regenerated, but bloomed about as spectacularly as we want to believe they are capable of.

Rather than put them out into a landscape where there are few people about to see them, we left them to bloom here where at least those who work here can appreciate them for a few days. They will go to one of the gardens this autumn.

Hanging Planters Need Extra Attention

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Some plants cascade nicely from pots.

With few exceptions, plants dislike confinement of their roots. They prefer to be in the ground where they can disperse roots freely. Houseplants stay potted because of a lack of other soil inside. Some plants live in pots for portability. Some plants just happen to look good in pots. Plants in hanging planters conform to any combination of these and other reasons. They serve their purpose.

Most hanging planters are simple pots suspended by three wires, chains or strands of plastic, jointed at a hook or loop. The hook or loop hangs from a hook affixed to a ceiling, eave, rafter, beam or tree limb. Hanging baskets are pot-shaped mesh or metallic baskets outfitted with fibrous lining to contain the medium within. Small plants or cuttings can grow from holes cut through the lining.

Of course, hanging planters for houseplants are generally pots instead of baskets, which are too messy for inside. They are likely also outfitted with big saucers for drainage. Hanging planters just happen fit well into spaces that are not useful for much else, such as up near a ceiling in a corner. Many of the most popular houseplants just happen to cascade splendidly from hanging planters.

Portability is another advantage of potted plants. Hanging planters that contain frost sensitive plants outside can spend winter in sheltered situations. Orchids and epiphylums that are prominently displayed during bloom can return to less prominent spots when finished.

Hanging planters are popular mostly because some plants simply look better in them. Cascading houseplants like Boston fern, pothos and spider plant, might look a bit mundane on flat surfaces. Many low growing bedding plants are more impressive if suspended at eye level than they are in the ground. Some bedding plants and small perennials excel at cascading from hanging planters.

However, hanging planters are very different from the ground. Because of limited root dispersion, potted plants rely more on regular watering than those in the ground. Because they are exposed to open air, they dry out fast, so crave more water.

Finally! A White Cymbidium!

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This is what a simple white Cymbidium orchid should look like.

Cymbidium orchids have been popular here for as long as I can remember. Back when horticultural commodities were still more commonly grown around the San Francisco Bay area, many genera of orchids, particularly Cymbidium, were grown in acres of greenhouses in the hills of South San Francisco. They are still grown near the coast of San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties.

In home gardens, they are often pampered under the shelter of lath, where they are protected from frost and direct exposure to sunlight. Some Cymbidium orchids live and bloom for many years or decades, and sometimes get divided into more as they get overgrown, just like lily-of-the-Nile. Some live longer than those who originally grew them, and go live with someone else.

I never pampered my Cymbidium orchids. I grew all of them out in the garden, with only a bit of partial shade from larger trees. I never once potted any of them into the coarse fir bark that Cymbidium orchids supposedly need. I grew most in dirty and uncomposted oak leaves. I put some in rotting stumps to accelerate the rot. They were happy, and bloomed remarkably well.

None of mine were purchased. They were all acquired from neighbors, clients or colleagues. Of the many Cymbidium orchids that I have grown, none were white! Yes, I wanted a white one. I just do not admit to it.

After maintaining it for more than a decade, and bringing it from a former home hundreds of miles away, a colleague brought me this Cymbidium orchid. Although I did not want him to pass it along after so many years, I was pleased to take it, particularly since it blooms white. Then, it started to bloom, immediately after arrival! Ah, if only there were more people here to see it!

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I do not know why the individual flowers are so huddled together.

Wheat

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It is not as bad as it looks.

No, this is not wheat. It is the larger of the two Mexican fan palms that I dug and canned more than a week ago. ‘Wheat’ refers to the unpleasant phase that it is now going through. It is a long and awkward story about how it became known as the ‘wheat’ phase. All that anyone should know is that it refers to the color of the fading foliage. It fades from green to golden brown, just like ‘wheat’.

I say that the explanation is awkward because it involves an old skit by an offensive comedian on HBO in 1986, when the renowned landscape designer, Brent Green, was my college roommate.

Yes, we will just leave it at that.

Anyway, this is not at all unexpected. It is a normal process. I just wish it could be avoided. Every time I dig and can a palm, I hope that it will not happen; and I actually engage the associated palm as if it will somehow be different from the rest, and maintain all of its healthy green foliage. Some get through it more efficiently. Some start to produce new foliage before their old foliage dies off.

I actually relocated a mature windmill palm that somehow maintained the upper half of its canopy until it started to produce new foliage. That was all the fronds that were above a right angle to the trunk! I was impressed by that one. It was very different though. Most of the roots had already been damaged prior to relocation. Also, it was relocated in autumn, so had all winter to start recovery.

This unfortunate palm was dug not very long ago, just as the cool and rainy weather of winter was ending. Now that the weather is suddenly warming to around 80 degrees, the foliage is resuming vascular activity that the severed roots can not sustain. To compensate, it will shed this foliage that is now browning, while diverting resources into new foliage and roots. It knows what it is doing.

The new fronds that are still folded up in the middle are just fine. They will unfold into healthy new fronds as the palm recovers through summer. The first few fronds might be a bit stunted, but that is just part of the process. Newly relocated palms tend to accelerate foliar growth during such recovery, so, in just a few months, this cute little palm may look as good as it did when I canned it here.

Succulents Know Recycling and DIY

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Scraps of succulents can mix nicely.

There are all sorts of succulent plants, ranging from finely textured small stonecrops to huge suguaro cactus. Because aloes and agaves are succulents, the closely related yuccas, such as Joshua tree and Spanish bayonet, are commonly considered to be succulents as well. Even begonias and impatiens could be considered to be succulents.

Succulent plants are some of the most distinctive plants available. Foliage can be various shades of green, as well as yellow, red, blue, orange, purplish, gray, bronze, nearly black or variegated. Leaves may be thick and fleshy like those of jade plants, or thin and neatly arranged in tight rosettes like those of aeoniums. Cacti have no real foliage, but some have flashy flowers.

Except for the larger sorts of cacti and some yucca, most succulents are very easy to propagate. Jade plants and iceplants grow very easily from stems simply stuck wherever new plants are desired. Aloes and hen-and-chicks grow just as easily from pups (sideshoots) separated from parent plants. Technically, even leaves can be rooted, and will eventually grow into new plants.

Because scraps from pruning can be used as cuttings, there is rarely any need to actually take cuttings from desirable growth. Where more Hottentot fig (freeway iceplant) is needed on a freeway, it simply gets ‘plugged’ (as cuttings) from scraps of debris from where established growth needs to be cut back to an edge. There is much more debris than can be used!

Pots of mixed succulents are ridiculously easy to grow simply be filling pots with potting soil, and then plugging bits of various succulents. All sorts of contrasting colors and forms can be mixed. As plants grow, those that dominate can either be pruned back, or given more space by removing slower plants. The removed plants need not be wasted, but can be plugged somewhere else.

Small succulents are just as easy to plug into informal walls of stacked stone or broken concrete. Some small succulents actually stabilize loose stone. Their docile and finely textured roots are not likely to do any damage.

Horridculture – Slim Waists

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If I put a spider plant in the pot on the right, I may never get it out.

Clay pots have been around for a very long time. It is impossible to know for how long exactly. It is logical to say that they have been around long enough to evolve into the perfect shape for their function. Although the dimensions and proportions are variable, the basic design characteristics of the simplest and best engineered clay pots can not be improved on.

Clay pots are circular from above and below for a few reasons. Such a shape is easily formed on a potters’ wheel. It is more structurally sound than a form with flat sides and more corners. The space within is evenly distributed around the vertical center, without more remote corners. Although roots will circle within, there are not so many corners for them to congregate in.

Drainage holes are at the bottoms because that is where water drains to.

Thick rims around the top edges of common clay pots enhance durability where it is most necessary, and also prevent pots of the same size from becoming wedged into each other when stacked. The weight of stacked pots rests firmly and vertically on such rims, rather than being diverted laterally to break wedged pots to pieces.

It would not be possible to stack clay pots if they were not tapered to be wider on top. Of course, they are tapered for a few reasons, just like they are circular and outfitted with rims for a few reasons. Tapered form fits the natural dispersion of the roots of most plants better. More importantly, tapered form facilitates the removal of firm root systems with minimal disruption.

So, after perhaps thousands of years of evolution to achieve the perfect form, who thought it was a good idea to taper pots inward at the top? The lack of a rim is not so important if pots are not so numerous that efficient stacking is a concern. Such pots can not be staked anyway. They do not get reused as much as common clay pots either, so do not need to be so durable.

However, that upper inward taper is a serious problem for plants that mature and develop firm root systems within. Such mature plants can only be removed from such pots only by tearing their root systems apart, or by breaking the pots apart. Such form is only practical for big pots that contain multiple small plants that, individually, do not get big enough to fill the pots.

For example, big urns of bedding plants or mixed perennials function more as planters than as pots. Bedding plants get removed and replaced seasonally, and even if the don’t, they can not get big enough to develop a solid root system that is wider than the inwardly tapered top of a big urn. Likewise, most perennials get removed from such big pots before they get stuck within.

Palms, agaves, yuccas and other more substantial perennials must not be allowed to live within an inwardly tapered urn long enough to develop a firm root system that can not be removed.

Ferns Are Made For Shade

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Ferns are famous for distinctive foliage.

Without color or fragrance of flowers, ferns provide some of the most distinctive foliage in the garden. They do not turn color in autumn. Only a few tree ferns develop sculptural branch structure. Yet, they do their job well, and many are happy to do so in spots that are a bit too shady for other plants.

Almost all ferns are low perennials that produce foliage that arches outward from the center. Some can get quite broad. A few tree ferns grow upward on trunks (although the trunks are merely tough roots that grow through decomposing stems). Australian tree ferns can get quite tall and broad where sheltered from wind.

The staghorn fern is a weird epiphyte that naturally clings to tree trunks or rock outcroppings where it collects organic debris that falls from trees above. In home gardens, it is popularly grown on wooden plaques or as a hanging plant. Hanging plants do not necessarily need pots, or sometimes engulf their pots as they grow.

Leaves of ferns are known as ‘fronds’, and with few exceptions, are intricately lobed or divided into smaller leaflets known as ‘pinnae’, which are arranged on opposite sides of leafstalks known as ‘rachi’ (or singularly as ‘rachis’). The staghorn fern has unusually branched but otherwise unlobed fronds. The bird’s next fern has has distinctively simple fronds without any lobes or pinnae.

Most of the popular ferns are naturally understory plants that grow below larger plants. Even most tree ferns grow amongst larger trees. This is why so many ferns tolerate shade so well. In fact, many prefer partial shade, and will actually fade or scorch if too exposed. However, it is also why so many ferns prefer rich soil with an abundance of organic matter.

Maidenhair, rabbit’s foot, bird’s nest, holly, Boston and a few other ferns are popular as houseplants. Because home interiors are a somewhat arid for them (lacking humidity), some ferns like to be misted daily. Ferns respond well to regular but light application of fertilizer. Too much fertilizer can roast foliage.

Because ferns are not expected to bloom, nitrogen (which can inhibit bloom for some plants) is not a problem. Ferns that are out in the garden can therefore get fish emulsion or a bit of the same sort of nitrogen fertilizers that keep lawns green.

Foliage Is Meant For Weather

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Lush foliar houseplants enjoy occasional rinsing.

Foliage needs sunlight for photosynthesis. Foliage needs air for respiration. Roots need moisture to sustain foliage. Houseplants can technically get all of what they need from the confinement of their pots within the interiors of homes and other buildings. They only require sufficient moisture to be delivered to them, and sufficient sunlight from windows. The air is the same that we all utilize.

However, there is no substitute for nature. While hydroponics and synthetic light facilitate yet more deprivation of what is natural, the plants involved would appreciate more consideration. Without exception, domesticated plants are descendants of plants that grew wild somewhere. Those that dislike local weather would be pleased with the weather of their respective ancestral homelands.

Most of the popular houseplants that are grown for their lush foliage originated from tropical forests. Many were understory plants that prefer the shade of larger trees. That is how they tolerate the relatively shaded interiors of buildings. Now that they are here as houseplants, they appreciate shelter from frost. They probably miss rain, humidity, sporadic breezes and tropical warmth though.

Rinsing tropical foliage plants in the shower eliminates some of the dust that they accumulate where air stagnates. Rinsing them out in the garden is even better because it does not make such a mess in the shower. What is even better than both of these options is allowing a gentle rain to rinse the foliage. Plants only need to be moved to a windless spot prior to an expected rain shower.

The weather was much too cool earlier in winter. There will be no rain later in summer. This time of year, and again next autumn, the weather is safely mild; and eventually, a few showers are likely. Timing is critical. Plants should be brought out just prior to rain, and brought in before the weather gets sunny. Foliage that has always been sheltered is very sensitive to scald from direct sunlight.

Saucers and pots can be cleaned while outside. Crowded plant can be repotted.

Cymbidium Orchid

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Cymbidiums are the most familiar orchids.

Of all the many and varied orchids, cymbidium orchids are the most popular because they are the easiest to grow. They are naturally terrestrial, so can be grown in the ground if the media (soil) is coarse and rich enough. (epiphytic orchids that naturally grow in crotches of trees want coarse bark in well drained pots.) They are also more tolerant of cool weather than tropical orchids are.

Plants with slightly yellowish leaves tend to bloom better. If the foliage is too dark green, it may not be getting enough sunlight. Regular application of fertilizer may promote bloom, although some plants do not seem to be too demanding. Watering may need to be as frequent as every three days through summer.

The arching flower stalks that begin to appear over winter may bloom for two months. They can be three feet tall, so stand well above the strap shaped leaves that get about two feet tall. Each stalk has many waxy flowers that can be two or three inches wide, in almost any color but blue. Most flowers are pastel hues of pink, lavender, yellow, orange, chartreuse, tan or white, and are intricately spotted and blotched.

Orchids Have History In California

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Breeding has done wonders with orchids.

It is funny how so many different plants get here from all over the world, and then become so popular so far from their natural homes that they seem to have always been here. It is now hard to imagine that some of the more popular cymbidium orchids actually came from tropical and subtropical Asia and northern Australia. Other orchids are from tropical Africa or South America.

As the Nineteenth Century turned to the Twentieth, orchids were popularized by those who profited from industry in the east, and then moved west to escape harsh winters. They arrived in the Mediterranean climate of the Santa Barbara region with resources to spend on outfitting luxury homes with comparably luxurious gardens and exotic plants. Orchids were a natural choice.

At homes in Montecito and Hope Ranch, cymbidium orchids were grown is mass plantings, and maintained by professional horticulturists. The popularity of orchids continued for decades. As the extensive orchid collections of England were threatened by the bombing and fuel shortages of World War II, collectors and horticulturists in California brought them here to be safe and warm.

Many of these refugee orchids were bred extensively by Californian horticulturists to produce many of the countless varieties that are now available. Production of blooming potted orchid plants and cut orchid flowers have become major horticultural industries in California. To this day, the Santa Barbara region produces more orchids than any other region in America. Modern tissue culture cloning technology has made it possible to propagate and grow more orchid plants at a faster rate than ever before. This makes them more affordable.

Even though mass plantings of cymbidium orchids are now rare, orchids are probably as popular as they ever have been, simply because they are so available to more people who can enjoy them. They are not limited to fancy gardens of luxury homes. Cymbidiums are still popular potted plants for sheltered porches. Small but flashy moth orchids are among the most popular of blooming potted plants for homes and offices.