Horridculture – Fake Environmentalism

P90515Fake environmentalism is a HUGE topic, so for now, will be limited to fake environmentalism as justification for the eviction of homeless encampments.
The yellow triangle in the picture above was the site of the Hero’s Camp, which was more commonly known as Ross Camp, and located behind Ross Dress For Less in Gateway Plaza in Santa Cruz. It is gone now. This satellite image was taken by Google Maps prior to the development of the Camp. I did not get pictures of the camp while inhabited, but you have likely seen enough other camps in the news to imagine what it looked like.
It really was as big as it looks, and really did exhibit all the problems that you hear about in the news, although not to such an exaggerated degree. Not everyone there used syringes to inject illicit narcotics. Not everyone there was an alcoholic. Not everyone was violent, from somewhere else, or a criminal. This is not about such issues anyway. It is about how the two hundred or so unhoused people who lived here affected the environment.
Was there trash? Of course there was. Was it more than what two hundred people who live in homes generate? No. Houseless people do not generate as much trash as the housed, simply because they lack resources to purchase the commodities from which so much trash is generated. The houseless certainly do not waste as much as the housed. Their trash just happens to be more visible for outsiders who do not know any better to see.
Furthermore, what is so typically described and perceived as trash is actually the belongings of those who live in such camps. Without closets, cabinets or furniture, our belongings would look about the same, except much more voluminous. When we take just some of the belongings that we don’t want or need and put them out in front of our homes, it is a garage sale, and likely amounts to much more than individual homeless people own.
The satellite image from Google Maps below shows the neighborhood where my grandparents lived in Felton, less than seven miles north of where the picture above was taken. Their old home is right in the middle of the picture. There were not so many other homes there when they arrived, just as World War II was ending. They lived a relatively modest lifestyle, on a small suburban parcel. They were not concerned about the environment.
Why should they have been? Even now, the people who live in homes here can generate as much trash as they want to, and no one will complain about it. They can fill their homes with their belongings, and put them neatly away in closets, cabinets and drawers. There are alcoholics in this neighborhood, as well as a few who are addicted to illicit narcotics. Some are criminals. Some are violent. Few are native. Again, this is off the main topic.
None of that is visible in this satellite image anyway. What it shows instead is how the lifestyles of those who live in homes are more detrimental to the environment than the lifestyles of those who lack homes. This picture is the same scale as the picture above, so you can see that only a few homes would fit into an area comparable to that in which about two hundred unhoused people lived. Only a few people live in each of these few homes.
What that means is that two hundred people like those who lived at the Hero’s Camp live dispersed over a much larger area, on land from which trees and vegetation needed to be removed. They all live in homes that are made of wood derived from trees that grew in forests. These homes are furnished with synthetic plaster, carpet, paint, glass, vinyl, metals and all sorts of materials that needed to be quarried, processed or manufactured.
It doesn’t end there. These homes consume energy for heating, lighting and whatever else that gas and electricity are used for. Cars driven by those who live in homes are also constructed from raw materials, and then need fuel to function. Water is consumed as if it were not a very limited resource. Much of it gets mixed with soaps and detergents before going back into the environment. Chlorine volatilizes from chlorinated swimming pools.
Then there are the landscapes and gardens, the parts of domestic lifestyles that we actually believe to be beneficial to the environment. They contain exotic (non-native) plants that compete with native species, and interfere with natural ecological processes. Irrigation of the landscapes stimulates redwoods and accelerated decay of oaks. Soil amendments, fertilizers and some of the pesticides change the chemistry of the soil and ground water.
Just compare these two pictures. As bad as the mess at Hero’s Camp was, the two hundred people who lived there were less detrimental to the environment and the local ecosystem than those who live in just a few of the homes visible in the picture below. Those who claim to be concerned about the environment should be more concerned about the ecologically detrimental lifestyles of those who live in homes than those who lack homes.P90515+


Horridculture – That’s Just Swale

P90424Building and environmental codes are so ridiculous. So much of what I would want in my home is now illegal. So much modern technology that I do not want is now required. Fireplaces and wood stoves are not allowed. Overly elaborate electrical systems to serve every room are necessary. I would prefer a technologically simple home comparable to those built more than a century ago, but am prohibited by law from ever constructing one.
The area outside of a home is no easier to work with. Dead trees inhabited by the wrong sorts of woodpeckers can not be cut down. Excavation can be prohibited if a particular beetle happens to be in the way. Even some of the increasingly combustible trees and overgrown vegetation have more rights on my land than I do. Now, I am a horticulturist; so I know more about vegetation management than the treehuggers formulating these laws.
Even some of the weather has more rights than people do. In some municipalities, rain that falls onto a property has the right to percolate into the soil. Rain water that drains from roofs and pavement must be provided with ‘swales’ or basins where it can do so. It can not be evicted into old drainage systems that drain into local creeks and rivers. However, such rain water must not be detained in tanks for use in the landscape through summer.
The picture above shows part of a new landscape in the middle of a new parking lot at a newly constructed building. It looks simple for a reason. It is a pair of swales. The meadow grasses conceal a pair of surprisingly deep ditches on either side of the central walkway. Rain water drains here to percolate into the ground. The soil below the walkway might have been replaced with coarse gravel to promote drainage into that area as well.
Do not park a car at the curb and try to step from the curb into a swale to get to the walkway! You could get hurt. As I mentioned, that grass is concealing ditches that are deeper than they look. It is safer to walk through the parking lot to a large paved patio like area that is out of view behind where the picture was taken from. The other option is to walk away from the building to the far end of the walkway, but really, who would do that?
Why is the walkway even there? I really don’t know. There are no curbs on it, so anyone in a wheelchair who feels so compelled to go to the far end to use it could get seriously hurt by tumbling off the edge while trying to get out of way of someone going the opposite direction! The swales are snares for walkers and baby buggies too. Perhaps the walkway is merely bait. What are the surveillance cameras really for? What sick entertainment!

Horridculture – Pale Clivia Syndrome

P90417Back in the good old days, Kaffir lily, Clivia miniata, which is probably most popularly known simply as ‘clivia’, bloomed with big round trusses of exclusively bright reddish orange flowers. It was such an excellent color that no one thought to change it. Flowers of feral plants that sometimes grew from seed were potentially more orange and less red, but were flashy nonetheless. There was no need, and minimal potential, for ‘improvement’.

Then the allure of the ‘rare’ happened. Yellow Kaffir lilies had previously been so rare that very few had seen them. Once the rest of us became aware of their existence, many of us wanted them, only because they were so rare. However, after seeing them, some of us came to the conclusion that they were rare because no one wanted them when the species was first introduced, and cultivars with the best color were selected and perpetuated.

Regardless, yellow Kaffir lily suddenly became a fad. Traditional bright reddish orange Kaffir lilies became passe. All the while, those subscribing to the fad seriously believed that yellow was better and more desirable than reddish orange simply because it was so very rare. All the while, yellow became increasingly popular, increasingly available . . . and no longer rare. All the while, reddish orange became unpopular, uncommon . . . and rare.

So now what? Why is yellow more popular than reddish orange now? Yellow is insipid and pale. Reddish orange is vibrant and bright. Furthermore, yellow is so dreadfully common. Reddish orange is quite rare. According to the previous justification for the popularity of insipid pale yellow Kaffir lily, bright reddish orange Kaffir lily should be popular now, not because they are so much more colorful and appealing, but because they are RARE!P90406++++

These are in Brent’s garden.

Horridculture – What’s The Point?

P90403In this situation, the point is that all those pointed tips of the leaves of this awkwardly floppy century plant, Agave americana, are extremely sharp, extremely rigid and EXTREMELY dangerous. Those shorter teeth on the margins of the leaves are just as sharp and rigid, and are curved inward to maximize injury to anyone trying to get away from an initial jab. With tips that impale, and marginal teeth that slash, this is one very hateful perennial!

Another point is that this big and awkwardly obtrusive century plant is on a patio at a Mexican restaurant. Yes, it is in a public place where people get dangerously close to it. On Friday and Saturday nights, this restaurant can get quite crowded. Some within such crowds are inebriated, so are more likely to stumble about and bump into things that are best avoided. Those concrete slabs to the left are benches where people are often seated.

The third point is that the only remedy for this ridiculously bad situation is to remove the century plant. Chopping the leaves like those that were over the bench on the left only removes a few tips and teeth, but does not make the rest of the foliage significantly safer. Nor does folding the leaves inward, like those that are next to those that were chopped. Such abuse only makes the whole mess uglier. Now it is both dangerous AND ugly.

Now, who thought that putting the most dangerous of all perennials available into this public situation was a good idea?! (Cacti with inward curving spines and other plants that are more dangerous are not even available in nurseries.) Century plants are dangerously nasty even when small and young, so even someone who knows nothing about landscape design should have known better than this!

Horridculture – All Wet

P90327Regardless of their individual innate requirements for water, new plants need to be watered very regularly immediately after they are installed into a landscape. As they mature and disperse their roots, the regularity of supplemental watering becomes less important, and ‘drought tolerant’ plants may not need to be watered at all. Maturing larger trees generally get what they need from the landscape around them.
Automated irrigation systems that are designed for new landscapes are designed for what the plants need while the landscapes are new. As the landscapes mature, the irrigation systems may need to be adjusted accordingly. Drip irrigation or bubblers that were needed to water new trees while they were young and confined should be moved farther from the trunks of the trees as roots disperse, and should eventually be removed and capped.
This is very important, since water applied directly to the trunks of some maturing trees will promote rot and other disease. For some, it promotes buttressing of roots that can displace concrete or other landscape features. If nothing else, it is just a waste of water.
Whoever installed the irrigation to this young London plane tree knew how to do so properly. The bubbler was likely over the confined root systems of the formerly canned tree just after it was installed. It is installed in such a manner that it could have been moved over as the tree grew, replaced with some sort of drip irritation hose to curve around the tree (if such a device had become necessary), or simply removed.
Now that the tree is as mature as it is, the bubbler should simply be removed, and the riser (where the white ‘L’ is) should simply be capped. The tree gets what it needs from the rest of the landscape around it, and really does not need much water anyway. It could probably survive without any supplemental irrigation at all. The bubbler is really just wasting water.
However, because so-called ‘gardeners’ are what they are, the bubbler remains, attached to an unsightly bit of exposed pipe, and wasting water on the base of the trunk of the sycamore. Because this tree and associated bubbler are right next to a parking spot in a parking lot, the pipe is very likely to get stepped on and broken every once in a while. In fact, the fresh Teflon tape on both ends of the pipe suggest that it was repaired quite recently, rather than removed.
Fortunately, the sycamore will not likely be damaged by water applied directly to the base of the trunk.

Nature For Sale

P90323KGardening is unnatural. Yes; quite unnatural. So is landscaping. It all involves planting exotic plants from all over the World that would not otherwise be here, including many that are too extensively and unnaturally bred and hybridized to survive for long even in the natural ecosystems from which their ancestors were derived.
Unless they grow on their own, even native plants are not natural. Those that are native to the region may not be native to the specific site. Many that are grown in nurseries are unnaturally selected varieties or cultivars. To complicate matters, much of what seems to be natural out in forests and wild lands are invasive naturalized exotics.
The weather above and most of the soil below are natural, but both are commonly enhanced for our gardens. We water our gardens and landscapes as if the weather is insufficient. Soil amendments and fertilizers compensate for what we perceive to be inadequacies of the natural soil. Insects, deer, raccoons and disease are all natural too, but we put quite a bit of effort into excluding them from our gardens.
Bees and other pollinators are all the rage now, even though many are not native or natural here. We provide them with weird and confusing new cultivars of flowers that likely produce nutritionally deficient pollen, and that distract them from naturally native plants that rely on them for pollination. It all gets so confusing!
These potted annuals and flowering perennials at the supermarket are pretty and might provide the illusion of bringing a little bit of nature closer to the home. Yet, there is nothing natural about them. They are all unnaturally bred and hybridized from unnaturally exotic plants, and were provided with synthetic fertilizers and artificial irrigation, while they were grown in synthetic medium, contained withing synthetic pots.

Horridculture – B & B

P90320B & B, formally known as ‘balled and burlapped’ nursery stock, was expected to be the next big ‘thing’ in nursery commodities here in California back in the late 1980s. As those outside of California know, it is field grown plant material that gets dug and marketed with its roots wrapped in burlap. It was more common in other regions, so was expected to become more common here as more nursery stock was to be imported from Oregon.
However, growers in Oregon started growing more of their stock in cans like we do in California, and then did not send as much of their B & B stock to California as predicted. Only certain slow growing commodities and large items are still field grown, and then dug and ‘balled and burlapped’ for export. Of these, arborvitaes, rhododendrons and various deciduous shade trees are the more commonly available locally.
B & B stock from Oregon is typically of exceptional quality. Horticulture is taken more seriously there.
Because B & B is still a foreign concept in California, it is typically canned to be more familiar to local consumers. It does not take long for it to root into the little bit of extra potting medium and fill out the cans. There is no need for the roots to be unwrapped, since the burlap decays as fast as the root disperse and expand. The now canned but formerly B & B arborvitaes in the picture above are exemplary.
Yet, they are not perfect. The problem with B & B stock here is that there are not many horticultural professionals here who know how to work with it, or even care to do so properly.
The picture below shows how shallow the B & B root systems of the arborvitaes are relative to the squat #15 (15 gallon) cans that they were purchased in. They obviously did not get enough time to root into their potting medium after they were canned. This is not due to a lack of horticultural expertise. This is either (and hopefully) a mistake in scheduling, or merely a lack of concern. But hey, no bother. They are still excellent specimens.P90320+
At least they seemed to be. A potentially serious problem was revealed when they were installed and the loose potting medium fell away from the burlap.
Many years ago, the burlap containing the balled root systems of B & B stock was bound with biodegradable jute twine. It rotted away before it could do any damage. Since then, nylon twine became more commonly used. Those who are familiar with B & B know to simply cut and remove the nylon twine before planting.
Whomever processed and canned these arborvitaes are either (and hopefully) not familiar with B & B, or just do not care. The nylon twine was still tightly bound and tied. If these arborvitaes had rooted into their potting medium and held it intact, this twine would not have been visible. Because it is wrapped a few times around the main trunks as well as wadded up burlap, it could have girdled the main trunks as they grew and expanded!
In a way, it was fortuitous that the potting medium fell away to expose the nylon twine, which was cut to allow for expansion of the main trunks. These exemplary B & B arborvitaes from Oregon should live happily ever after.P90320++

Horridculture – Fads

P90313This is why I do not grow hellebores in my own garden. The specimen in the pictures above and below are about as good as they get here. Most are quite a bit worse. Some put out only one or two flowers. Some do not survive their first year in the garden.
No one seems to know why they don’t do well here. It might be the lack of chill in winter, although they do better in even milder climates. It might be the minimal humidity, although they generally do no better in the damp redwood forests where the specimen in these pictures lives. Those that might get too much sunlight do no better or worse than those that get too much shade. They are simply not happy here.
My solution to this ‘problem’ is to not grow them in my own garden. I do not particularly like them anyway. Even those that look ‘good’ look like huge African violets dipped in paraffin. Those in the landscapes that I work with now are the colors of worn vinyl upholstery of 1970s Chryslers. Yup, I will pass on hellebores. ‘Problem’ solved before it happened.
That ‘solution’ does not work for everyone.
Some landscapers get what they can from the few growers who will grow them here, and plant them in all sorts of landscapes that they just do not belong in. Some will do it because they read somewhere that hellebores do well in shade, which is technically true, but only in regions where other environmental conditions are appropriate. Some do it because they saw pretty pictures of them, and read a nice article about them in some gardening magazine that features such articles about what does well where the respective magazines are published.
Sadly, many do it because hellebores are a fad here, and something that many landscapers with something to prove like to brag about. They are like dawn redwood and unusual varieties of Japanese maple that are so often installed into inappropriate situations just so the landscaper can add pictures of them to their portfolios. Fortunately, hellebores merely struggle or die without causing any other damage to the landscape.
There are a few kinds of fads, and some of them actually make sense, but good landscape designers should use fads responsibly and with discretion.P90313+

Horridculture – Ivy League

P90306English ivy, Hedera helix, is probably the nastiest and most aggressively invasive exotic species that I work with. It climbs high into redwood trees and overwhelms understory plants (that live below the trees). It invades many of the landscapes, and worst of all, it climbs building where it ruins paint and causes rot. It grows faster than we can keep up with it.

English ivy is actually a nice ground cover plant for refined landscapes. I grew it at my home in town. Contrary to popular belief, it does not root into and parasitize the trees that it climbs. Actually, it rarely overwhelms and shades out large trees. It prefers to keep them alive for support, from which it disperses its seed. However, it does promote decay in the trunks that it climbs, particularly where it retains moisture at ground level. Native trees are not accustomed to that.

We try to remove as much English ivy at work as possible, which includes removing it from trees and buildings. So far, with a few exceptions of small bits of ivy that broke off high in the trees that it climbed, I have been able to remove all ivy from the trees and walls that I have worked on.

Others were not so fortunate. When quick and efficient removal of ivy from the bases of as many mature trees as possible is the priority, ivy is more often severed down low, and left to die on the trunks of the infested trees. It looks shabby to say the least, and takes many years to deteriorate and fall away. In the picture above, dead ivy that was severed within the past few years is already being replaced by new ivy, which will also need to be severed.

The same technique happens with ivy on buildings. It gets cut at the foundations, but left on the walls to shrivel and turn brown. The dead ivy in the picture below was reaching upstairs eaves when it was severed, and remains there a few years later.

What annoys me so much about this technique is that it does not take much extra effort or time to tug quite most of the lower ivy from trees and walls. For most situations, all ivy can be dislodged, although tiny aerial roots remain. It is much easier to dislodge while fresh than after it is dried and crispy.P90306+

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+