Edelweiss – Fail

‘Small and white, clean and bright’? They only got as far as ‘small’ and ‘clean’, but did not get to ‘white’ and ‘bright’.

Edelweiss, edelweiss, every morning you greet me. Small and white, clean and bright, you look happy to meet me. Blossom of snow, may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever. Edelweiss, edelweiss, bless my homeland forever.”

Why are there no corny songs like this about California poppy?

Although I never met edelweiss before, I always thought that it must be quite excellent. Those who are familiar with it where it grows wild in European mountains seem to believe so. It does not look like much in pictures, so must be much more impressive if experienced directly.

A colleague here who met it directly in Austria decided to grow some, and easily procured seed online. The seed was chilled in a freezer to simulate winter in the Alps, and sown just prior to the last of the rain as winter ended. They germinated, and the seedlings started to grow, but then mildewed. The potting soil that they were in was likely too rich and too damp.

After all, edelweiss naturally lives in limestone scree, where the climate is harsh. Such environments are less than hospitable to fungal pathogens that cause mildew. Rich and well watered medium that would be considered to be a good situation for so many other seedlings may not be what edelweiss seedlings are comfortable with.

There are already plans to try edelweiss again next year. Seed might get sown in sandier medium, and a bit later in the year, so that they are not so regularly dampened by rain. If they survive beyond their seedling stage, they will likely become more resilient as they get established in an appropriate landscape. There are a few situations here where sandy soil drains well.

Perhaps I will eventually experience edelweiss, and see what all the fuss is about.


Horridculture – Fake Media

P90911This is no way to get the dirt on someone. There is no dirt involved. If there were, it would be referred to as ‘soil’. ‘Dirt’ is a term used by those who do not know any better.

Anyway, this is about the media that plants are grown in. It might be called growing media, potting media, potting mix or simply potting soil. Some in the horticultural industries might say that, because it is assembled from a variety of components that do not naturally occur together, growing media is synthetic. Because it lacks real soil, most of us refer to it simply as soilless.

Now, I am aware that not all media are created equal. The medium that we grew citrus in was much sandier than what we grew rhododendrons in. It was purchased already mixed specifically for citrus, and ready for use. The medium for the rhododendrons was mixed on site, with more coarsely shredded fir bark (from local mills), less sand and a little bit of perlite.

What I was not aware of, was just how perishable potting media purchased from retail garden centers are. Rather than drive out to the farm for a bin or two of medium, I purchased a bail of common ‘potting soil’ from a garden center about two years ago. I just happened to be there to pick up something else. The cost seemed worth avoiding an extra trip to the farm.

It actually was worth the cost. It did what I needed it to do for a time. The problem I am noticing now is that plants that were not planted or canned up (into larger cans) soon enough are now lacking the volume of medium they need. They need to be stuffed, which involves sliding them out of their cans to add a bit more medium to set them on top of, back in their cans.

The potting soil decomposed too readily. It is as if it rotted into muck that was rinsed through the drainage holes with watering. I suspect that there was more to the medium that the typical simple components. It probably contained significant volumes of compost derived from recycled greenwaste. I certainly have no problem with that. I just would have liked to know about it.

This little American persimmon seedling can stay in this half empty can until winter dormancy. Once dormant, it can be canned into a #5 (5 gallon) can, to resume growth next spring, before it even realizes that it is lacking medium. It will get a happy ending.

Fiercely Local

P80624There are two terms that I avoid using within the context of my writing:

1. SILICON VALLEY – The name of the main newspaper group that I had been writing for since 1998, almost twenty years ago, is the Silicon Valley Community Newspapers. As much as I enjoyed writing for the small local newspapers of the group, I hate the name. I find the term ‘Silicon Valley’ to be offensive. It exemplifies that which destroyed the idyllic culture and lifestyle of the Santa Clara Valley, which is also known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight. I have never written the term until now.

2. BLOG – It is the contraction of ‘web log’. The ‘log’ in ‘blog’ is not what bother me. It implies a chronological journal, perhaps documenting experiences that are relevant to a designated topic. It is the ‘b’, or more specifically, the ‘web’ in ‘blog’ that is the problem. It implies that information posted on a ‘blog’ gets shared on the World Wide Web. The reason that I avoided sharing my gardening article on the World Wide Web for so long is that they are written very specifically for the Santa Clara Valley. Although some of them are rather universal to gardening, and some are relevant to regions with similar climates and soils, some are not relevant and perhaps inaccurate for other regions.

My gardening column started with the Silicon Valley Community Newspapers, which at that time was ‘fiercely local’. I always thought that was an odd term, but it makes sense. It means that each of the local newspapers features news that is relevant to their specified local communities. Los Gatos Weekly Times was for the news of Los Gatos. Saratoga News was for the news of Saratoga, and so on. When I started writing my gardening column, I wrote about gardening within our local climate and local soils. I could write about local gardening events and even the weather it it happened to be particularly relevant to gardening at the time.

As the gardening column was added to other newspapers in other regions, I was no longer able to write about local events or weather. I was very fortunate early on that all of the newspapers that used the column happened to be within the same climate zones. However, when it was added to the Canyon News of Beverly Hills (in the region of Los Angeles), and a bit later to the related San Francisco News, it became necessary to modify some of the articles to accommodate for differences of climate. Articles that were universally applicable needed no modification. However, those that were too specific to our local climate needed to be edited for the other two climates. For example, when writing about bare root fruit trees, I deleted discussion of apple and pear trees from the copy of the article that was sent to the Canyon News, and replaced it with discussion of bare root plants that are popular and appropriate in that particular region.

Over the years, I realized that my articles became too available online. Not only were they posted within the context of the online versions of the newspapers that had access to it, but they could be inadvertently opened from other related online newspaper . . . or just about anywhere. Someone in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Australia or anywhere in the World could click onto one of my articles just as easily as a local article, and could do so without knowing that it was written for a completely different climate or hemisphere!

I explain in my ‘About’ section that the articles are written for the Santa Clara Valley, but I doubt that means much to those who find the articled without seeing that explanation. I will continue to write my article for the newspapers that still use them, and will continue to post those articles, as well as ‘elaborations’ articles on my ‘blog’. Like so many other gardening articles that are out there nowadays, they will be inaccurate for some regions. Those reading them will need to use their own discretion.

What is sad about all this is that I started writing my garden column precisely because I was so frustrated with what was being published in the San Jose Mercury News at the time. It was typically written quite well, and by professional writers, but was very often very inaccurate because those writing it were either writing for other regions, or simply knew nothing about horticulture. I was so pleased with the opportunity to write accurate information about gardening for our region. Yet, after all these years, I feel like I am now doing exactly what I found to be so frustrating twenty years ago.

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:


Change Of Scenery


Hollywood is the Capital City of the entertainment industry because there is such a variety of scenery within relatively minimal proximity to Southern California. Before Hollywood, silent movies were made mostly in Niles, located about halfway between San Jose and Oakland, for the same reason. Snowy mountains, foggy forests, arid deserts, idyllic beaches, open prairies, placid lakes, and wild rivers can all be found within only a few hundred miles. California really has it all. The Santa Clara Valley alone has more climate zones than the entire state of Kansas.

I have not moved around California much. I spent a few summers in San Bruno and Montara, went to school in San Luis Obispo, and sometimes work in the Los Angeles area, but otherwise lived in the two adjacent counties of Santa Clara and Santa Cruz, just a short distance from the homes of my ancestors. Los Gatos is actually in both counties. Technically, most of my gardening has been within Sunset Zones 15 and 16. However, my garden in the Santa Cruz Mountains gets more than two feet of rain, which is about twice what the western side of the Santa Clara Valley gets, even though it is in the same zone!

That is not the only difference. Instead of homogeneously rich alluvial Santa Clara Valley soil, I work with a variety of strange soils; sometimes filled with pulverized sandstone, sometimes sand under a thin layer of forest duff. I do not know what I will find until I start to dig. The Santa Cruz Mountains are such that I might have less flat area dispersed over nearly nine mountainside acres than friends in the Valley have on a single flat suburban lot. Much of it is shaded by tall coastal redwoods. The deer in the Mountains eat more than the gardeners in the Valley can steal.

This all makes it very challenging to grow many of the plants that I enjoy so much and acquired from the Santa Clara Valley. Some adapt quite nicely; but many of the most important ones really want to be back in the Valley. The rhubarb from my great grandfather’s garden looks great, but seriously lacks flavor. I just want to keep it going long enough to find a sunnier and warmer spot with richer soil to relocate it to. The two quince trees that were grown from cutting from an old tree in western San Jose seem to be fine, but much of the fruit gets taken away by rodents before it develops.

Then there are the fig trees. There are fourteen of them! About half are copies of the first fig trees I ever met when I was a kid. Some are black figs. Some are white. I think that only one is a honey fig. They are all very important to me. I am very fortunate to be able to grow them. However, like the rhubarb, they need a sunnier and warmer spot. If they make any fruit at all, it is bland and pithy. My objective with them now is to grow them in the cool and partly shaded spot where they are presently located so that they can provide cuttings to plant when a better situations becomes available. In that regard, they are actually doing just fine!

I really wish I could do my gardening in the Santa Clara Valley; but if I had to do it the other way around, it would be just as difficult. I mean that if I had a big garden in the Santa Clara Valley, and had to give up gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains, many of my favorite plants would not like the transition. The Mountain grown apples that I have always taken for granted would never be as happy in the Valley. Neither would Douglas firs or bigleaf maples. Redwoods are common in the Valley, but are not the same as they are in their natural range. There’s no place like home.