Too Much Oregano

Herbs should do so well in an herb garden.

Vegetation management after several weeks of neglect has been . . . interesting. While we were unable to work, and during their most active growth of the year, weeds proliferated more than they had ever gotten away with before. As most get cut down by weed whackers, I pull those that mingled with desirable plants that weed whackers must avoid. It is a tedious process.

One of the more tedious of these projects, and perhaps the most tedious so far, required the removal of abundant weeds from a dense row of carpet roses. Fortunately, it was not as bad as I expected it to be. They young man who weeded this area during winter had done a remarkably thorough job, and eradicated most of the dreaded oxalis and tougher perennial grassy weeds.

The weeds that I pulled were big and impressive, but pulled out relatively easily. A few thistles were unpleasant to handle, but even they came out easily. Mock strawberry between some of the roses was still in good condition after the weeds that mingled with them were gone. I realize that I do not adequately appreciate all the weeding that happens here that I am not aware of.

Besides mock strawberry, another species that gets to stay in parts of the area that it spreads into is some sort of oregano. It seems to be common Italian oregano, but also seems to develop leaves that are slightly larger than they should be. It is too docile to be a problem for the roses, but occupies space that would otherwise be taken by weeds. Besides, it is nice to have around.

Even oregano needs to be managed sometimes. Quite a bit of it got pulled from the roses along with the weeds. I suppose it must be dried now.

While You Were Out

It’s a jungle out there!

Our work is the sort that could potentially continue as essential. Distancing is not a problem for us, since we generally work individually, and there are no guests here. However, work needed to be discontinued due to lack of revenue. A conference center can not generate revenue without big groups of guests. Even when groups can return, many potential guests can not afford to.

The chronology of this situation should have been documented more efficiently. We had been unable to work here for several weeks. I do not remember how long it had been. Work resumed two weeks ago, and can continue for six more weeks, for a total to two months. We will start no new projects during this time, but will primarily try to catch up on what was neglected earlier.

Salvage and preparation for resumption of neglect are presently the priorities. This entails vegetation management after weeds had been left to grow wild during their most active season. It is extreme. Most weeds either had dispersed their seed, or did so as they got removed. This is not much of a problem for areas that are not landscaped, but will be trouble within landscapes.

Weeds in areas that are not landscaped get cut down by weed whackers, and mostly left where they fall. Roots that remain within the soil, and debris dispersed over the surface, should limit dustiness later in the summer. Weeds in landscaped areas and where weed whackers can not get into must be pulled. We do not want young desirable plants to be ruined by weed whackers.

It is discouraging that no one is here to enjoy the landscapes that we put so much effort into while we can work. It is also discouraging to see how easily the landscapes can fall into disrepair.

Horridculture – Jumpin’ Juniper!

This is the backside of some of the better junipers!

Junipers have a bad reputation. They earned it at a time when they were too common. Too many were installed into situations that they were not appropriate for. As they grew, they were unpleasant to handle. If not handled enough, they became overgrown and shabby. Once that happened, there were nearly impossible to prune back into confinement without being ruined.

I was never one to completely subscribe to that bad reputation. There were just too many junipers that I really liked, particularly the Hollywood juniper and the Hetz blue juniper. There were a few that I disliked, and I still loath the common tam juniper, but they were in the minority, and happen to be the same sort that are becoming more scarce.

For landscape situations that they happen to conform to, there really is no reason for junipers to be any less appropriate than any other genus is. They are happy with local climates and soil types. Once established, they do not need much water at all, and many need no supplemental irrigation. They last for a very long time. Best of all, they need only minimal maintenance.

However, even some of the best junipers are not perfect. I know. I just needed to work with some that were installed in 1980, and, except for getting pruned back around the edges, were completely ignored. After days of trying to tame them, I can not longer deny that some of what I have not wanted to believe about them is very true.

Besides all the trash and road debris that had been dumped into them during the past four decades, they were thickly infested with Himalayan blackberry. Removing the bramble was not only wickedly unpleasant, but it exposed bare spots where juniper foliage had been shaded out. Removal of a few junipers that had been overwhelmed and died left even more bare spots.

Well, I could not just leave all the dead twiggy growth under the bars spots, so tried to remove some of that too. That only exposed more of what what under and behind it, and caused the well foliated stems above to sag into the whole mess. In the end, the junipers are an unsightly mess, and I know that they will stay that way for a very long time.

Removal of all the bramble and dead junipers exposes a lot of bare branches.

Poppy And Periwinkle

Even though I know they are slightly purplish, periwinkle look blue to me.

Clearing space for a new small vegetable garden is more work than it will be worth. It took more than a day to remove the thicket of bramble from a triangular area that is only about forty feet from front to back, and not much more than twenty feet wide. After so many years of getting trash dumped on top of them, the brambles were unusually prolific with gnarly root burls.

There is still significant work to do. I still need to condition the soil and groom the adjacent junipers before sowing seed for the warm season vegetables for this summer. Now that I can see that the junipers that were formerly concealed by brambles are worthy of salvage and grooming, I will need to clear a bit more garden space across the road, and cut back a few trees above.

When finished and producing, the garden will not produce enough. The four hundred or so square feet in the main part of the garden should supply enough for two people; but realistically, it would more likely produce enough for me alone, with a bit extra to can for when it is not producing much. There are about a dozen on our crew. They all have families. I need a quarter acre!

The math of it all is frustrating. So is all the work to get it started. It all seems so futile. I know we will appreciate the little bit that we get. I will still get plenty from the weeds that grow wild around the baseball field, so will not take much from the garden.

As simple as they are, poppies are still my favorite native wildflower.

For now, I try to visualize what the small vegetable garden will look like in production this summer, even if all that I see blooming are the poppies and periwinkle on the outskirts.

My illustrations are more technical than artistic. It looks like someone else took this one. Ignore the pickup in the background.

Six on Saturday: New Vegetable Garden


There is more time for a late start on a new vegetable garden now. I had planed to take this and next week off from most of my work, to tend to other neglected obligations. However, under the circumstances, I am still unable to tend to many of those obligations! Well, the crew wants a new vegetable garden.

1. Before, the area was overwhelmed with a dense thicket of Himalayan blackberry brambles, that had grown up into the joists of the deck above, and over the adjacent junipers to the right.P00321-1

2. After, it is not much better. This initial phase took me half a day!! I intended to remove most or all of the junipers, but as they become exposed, it is evident that they are worth salvaging.P00321-2

3. I already know I will be sowing seed for the warm season vegetables a bit late; but this wild cucumber feels compelled to remind me. It is already past the top of this seven foot high fence.P00321-3

4. This is just some of the debris that I removed. For comparison, the animal to the lower left is a buffalo. Okay, it is really just Rhody. The dumpster is as high as the cargo container though.P00321-4

5. Okay, so that was a bit of an exaggeration. The pile really is this big, but only the small portion outlined in yellow to the upper right is from the new garden, and is only about two feet high.P00321-5

6. While up on the bridge over the debris pile, I got this picture of most of the work trucks that are not at work where they belong. Everyone else writes about it; but I have not mentioned it.P00321-6

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Vegetation Exploitation

If a tree falls in a forest, . . . it might get recycled.

Exploitation of the vegetation here involves so much more than collecting seed from old bloom, dividing overgrown perennials, or processing cuttings from pruning scraps. It goes beyond the reassignment of lauristinus, canna, African iris, deodar cedar and perhaps others that I wrote about earlier. Flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs are mundanely obvious assets.

The landscapes and forests here do so much more than beautify and provide shade. When a tree falls in a forest (and makes a sound even if no one is there to hear it), it might get processed into firewood or lumber. Some of the foliage that falls in landscaped areas goes to the compost piles. Even debris that gets removed from here gets recycled as greenwaste somewhere else.

Of course, we can not recycle, reuse, repurpose or otherwise make use of everything that falls out of the forests and landscapes. There is simply too much of it. That is how the ecosystems of the forests recycle naturally. Exotic plants in the landscapes do not know that they are exotic, and try to behave as they would within their respective ecosystems. Nature is innately messy.

Trees that fall across hiking trails merely get cleared from the trails, and left to decompose out in the forests. Even potentially useful firs, pines and redwoods can not be extracted feasibly. Their big trunks might remain where they fell, with only a section cut out where a trail goes through. The forests do not mind. Their ecosystems know how to make use of such biomass too.

This fallen fir tree happened to land squarely on top of a few steps in a trail that is cut into a steep hillside. As you can see, it was not exactly cleared completely from the trail, but instead replaced the steps that it destroyed.

Six on Saturday: Poison Ivy


Poison ivy is not native here. Neither is English ivy. However, English ivy, Hedera helix, is an aggressively naturalized exotic species. Even after it had been designated as a voracious weed in the region, it was installed in some of the landscapes here many years ago. It is so common here now that we know it simply as the standard ‘ivy’. Algerian ivy was planted too, but it is not quite so aggressive.

1. English ivy grew up and over this abandoned building, and accelerated the deterioration of the old roof. It would be pointless to remove it now. The building will eventually be demolished.P00125-1

2. This building is not abandoned. No ivy was on this roof just a few days earlier. All this ivy did not grow up and over the building this aggressively since then, but fell from above. Surprise!P00125-2

3. The yellow pointer shows where the dead redwood trunk that supported all the ivy broke and dropped the whole mess onto the roof at the bottom of the picture. It is about thirty feet up!P00125-3

4. What a mess! This close up of the same broken dead redwood trunk shows another dead redwood trunk to the right, and a viable trunk with another dense ivy thicket in the background.P00125-4

5. Surprisingly, this is the worst of the damage. It was likely impaled by the rotten redwood trunk. The ivy likely stayed connected to the rest of the thicket long enough to slow the descent.P00125-5

6. Even after getting Ginsu with saws and shears, and getting bounce-house with debris, the pulpy redwood trunk and ivy was still a full load. That was a lot of weight to land on an old roof!P00125-6

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Poison Oak Tree

P91229From below, this looks like a shrubby deciduous tree. It is really just a Douglas fir, like those around it. All the defoliated thicket growth is overgrown poison oak. It has likely been climbing the fir tree since it was quite young. Poison oak is not very proficient at climbing bare trunks. It typically climbs into lower limbs, and then into higher limbs before the lower limbs are shed.

No one has bothered to cut this poison oak out of the fir tree because it is not within a landscapes area. That dark margin at the top of the picture is the underside of a bridge, from which, not much of the thicket growth below is visible. The area from which this picture was taken is used for piling greenwaste and parking, where no one is concerned about wild vegetation beyond.

However, now that I sometimes park in that particular parking area, I am finding this mess of poison oak difficult to ignore. There was a similar but even bigger thicket of poison oak up in a redwood tree at the farm, from where it tossed seed into horticultural commodities below. The resulting seedlings added a whole new dimension to weeding the stock. The thicket had to go.

The problem with the thicket in the picture above, although not as serious, is that it too tosses seed into area where people work. Seedlings are likely to grow where greenwaste is processed, and where I sometimes park. Poison oak that grows on the far side of this fir grove will be uncomfortably close to the right field foul line of a ball field that will eventually be restored there.

I have no intention of cutting the poison out of the fir tree. I will merely sever the main trunk at the base, as seen in the picture below. As it deteriorates over several years, no one will mind if it is somewhat unsightly on the industrial yard side. The adjacent fir trees sufficiently obscure it from view from the ball field side. The priority will be preventing seed from proliferating.P91229+

X Marks The Spot

P91102KHorticulture is not all about growing things. If everyone was out planting trees, the World would eventually be overwhelmed with forest. It is sometimes necessary to cut trees down. There are several at work that we have been wanting to cut down for quite a while. Some are structurally deficient enough to eventually become hazardous, which is unacceptable in public spaces.

Even here among some of the oldest trees in the World, nothing last forever. Coast live oak, like that in the picture above, has potential to survive for centuries, but eventually succumbs to decay and disease. If fact, this particular specimen is doing it right now. If not cut down soon, it will eventually fall onto an adjacent building and a parking lot below. Its days are numbered.

Literally, it will be cut down on Monday morning, along with a few other coast live oaks and bay laurels in the neighborhood. The orange ‘X’ on the trunk is so faded from the delay of getting this done, that is it barely discernible. (Actually, the can of spray paint was empty.) The trunk and even the main limbs are so rotten that there will not be much firewood left to cut and split.

Cutting this tree down may seem to be unnatural, but so was pruning it for decades so that it would not fall down. It is impossible to say what situation this tree would be in now without past or present intervention. I am more concerned with how it and other trees interact with their surroundings, and the safety of everyone involved. We can not always let nature do as it pleases.

Forest fires are very natural components to our local ecosystems, but because so many of us live here, significant effort and resources are expended on containment!

Fire Is Part Of Nature

P81106Plants have very different priorities from those who enjoy growing them. The colors and fragrances of flowers that we find so appealing are really designed to guide pollinators. The appealingly aromatic foliage of scented geranium and other herbs is actually designed to repel hungry insects and animals. Many tasty fruits are designed for seed dispersion by animals who enjoy them too.

Pollination, dispersion of seed and self defense are all part of what plants do in nature. They must also know how to survive in their respective natural environments. Many plants survive cold arctic weather. Others survive arid deserts. Many native plants want a bit of water through winter, but know how to survive through long dry summers. Many or most natives know how to survive wildfires.

As unpleasant as it seems to us, wildfires are very natural here. Native plants lack the mobility to get out of the way, so use other techniques to survive. A few, such as the two specie of redwood, survive by not being very flammable. More know how to resprout from their roots after they burn. Even more simply regrow from new seedlings. Then there those that use fire to their advantage.

Monterey pine trees tend to accumulate combustible debris. They also produce more seed-containing cones as they age and deteriorate. When they burn, all the debris burns so hotly that most of the other competing vegetation gets incinerated. However, the dense cones of Monterey pine protect the seed within, only to open to disperse the seed afterward. It is a rather ingenious plan!

Ungroomed desert fan palms burn at least as hotly, but survive because the hefty trunks protect the buds within. Each technique works for the specie that use it, but is not safe for home gardens! This is why combustible vegetation needs to be managed around the home. The rules are different in urban areas than they are where wildfires are a concern, but they are important everywhere. Even the most combustible of native plants, as well as exotics, can be reasonably safe with proper pruning and maintenance.