Blank Slate

This tank could use some greenery . . . or maybe not.

The scrub palm incident should have reminded me that there is such a thing as too much of good thing. By the way, I do intend to grow every single seedling that germinates and somehow find homes for them all. I suspect that almost all will live in my own garden, but at least I know they will live in a good home. I have grown surpluses before, and I actually plan to do it again.

For examples, that big herd of cedar seedlings that was partly reassigned into landscapes is just too numerous for all seedlings to be accommodated. Most of what remains will get canned to be installed into landscapes later. Since we planted about as many as we possibly can here, most will likely go to Los Angeles, and installed onto embankments of the Santa Monica Freeway.

That is too many cedars; but I just can not bear to discard them as I should. Nor can I leave them to grow into a crowded and likely rat infested grove. They should be happy in Los Angeles.

Anyway, I was asked to grow a few copies of Boston ivy for a pair of concrete columns that support a pedestrian bridge. Two specimens were already planted on two other concrete columns of the same pedestrian bridge, from which English ivy had been removed. Two other specimens grow on a concrete retaining wall from which Algerian ivy gets removed ahead of its advance.

I should have just plugged a few cuttings into a can, and then separated them and plugged them directly into the landscape as they rooted. Instead, I plugged cuttings into a flat. Well, I could not just plug a few, and leave the rest of the flat empty. I filled an entire flat with a hundred cuttings. I expected a high mortality rate, but alas, almost all of the cuttings are doing quite well.

Now we are finding all sorts of concrete retaining walls and other infrastructure where we can plant Boston ivy. We are also realizing that there is a difference between ‘can’ and ‘should’. As I was dumping greenwaste, I noticed how austere this big water tank looks. Boston ivy would really appreciate all that surface area! There is enough to plant all the way around the perimeter!

Then, I thought of all the reasons why clinging vines are not allowed onto water tanks. They deteriorate the paint, which allows the tanks to rust. They allow rodents to climb up to the top of the tank, which is really not a good place for rodents. They need maintenance, which is not justifiable for landscape features that serve no practical purpose. They need (ironically) watering.

If the tank were in a more prominent location where it should be obscured, it would be best to plant dense evergreen trees, such as cypress trees, around it. Such trees would be planted at a distance, to maintain reasonable clearance. Really though, the tank is in a secluded place, where not many of us see it. It needs no landscaping, so will remain as austere as it has always been.

But, what about the cyclone fence around the water tank? All those surplus grape vines could most certainly make good use of it as a trellis! Okay, I get it. It would take too much work, and there is too much potential from problems . . . rodents, maintenance, watering, damage to the fence, and half of all the grapes would be locked inside where only a few of us could get to them.

Fence or trellis?

Orange Clock Vine

It is time for orange flowers.

Since it rarely gets cold enough here to freeze the foliage and stems, clock vine, Thunbergia gregorii, provides very orange flowers throughout the year, and will bloom more profusely in summer. It is very similar to the more traditional black-eyed Susan vine, but the flowers lack the prominent black throats. Relative to most vines, orange clock vines is rather docile. The wiry vines are happy to climb to the height of first floor eaves, but do not go much farther. Without support, the vines grow as small scale ground cover.

New plants prefer full sun exposure, even if they later choose to spread into partial shade as they grow. Shade inhibits bloom. Once established, orange clock vine does not need much water, and can actually survive in abandoned landscapes. Overgrown or neglected vines can get weedy in spots, especially if not regularly watered. Fortunately, they are easily renovated by severe pruning at the end of winter. Even if pruned almost to the ground, vigorous vines regenerate very efficiently.

Keep Vegetation Clear From Chimneys

51028thumbFireplaces simply are not what they used to be. Building regulations in many municipalities do not allow for the construction of new fireplaces, except only for pellet stoves. Fireplaces that get damaged by earthquakes are commonly removed instead of repaired. Now that urban sprawl has replaced so many of the rural areas and defunct orchards, firewood is more expensive, even if purchased from a tree service. When a tree needs to be cut down, no one seems to have the time to cut and split the wood.

Modern heating systems are so much more reliable, efficient and just plain easy. Their fuel can actually be less expensive than firewood, and is not nearly as polluting. There is no smoke to offend the neighbors. There are no potentially dangerous sparks. There is no dirty chimney that needs to be cleaned. There is no need for firewood occupying space in the garden. Yet, with all the advantages of other heating systems, many of who still have fireplaces like to use them now that the weather is getting cool.

Because so much heat and a few sparks go out through the chimney, it is extremely important to keep trees and vines away from the top of the chimney. Cypress, pines, cedars, large junipers, eucalypti and fan palms that are not groomed of their dried old leaves are very combustible. Vines like wisteria, bougainvillea, creeping fig and Boston ivy are not unusually combustible, but have a sneaky way of overwhelming chimneys and accumulating debris (and sometimes rat or bird nests!). Any vegetation will be combustible if it gets hot enough. Sparks from burning foliage above can easily ignite old fashioned cedar shingles.

Trees should also be pruned away from roofs, gutters, fences and anything else that can be damaged by the abrasive motion of the stems and foliage in the wind. Stems of deciduous trees lose weight as they defoliate, and may even lift off of roofs that they had been leaning onto just a few weeks ago, but should be pruned accordingly anyway. Branches that have been leaning on a roof for quite a while may have accumulated a bit more debris than would be expected. Gutters and downspouts should be cleared of debris before the rain starts, and may need to be cleared again later where deciduous trees fill them up through autumn and winter.

Horridculture – Clinging Vines

P91113Ivy often climbs into trees, buildings and all sorts of other situations where it becomes problematic. It might have been planted intentionally. It might have grown from seed left by birds. When it gets into trouble, we can easily blame it on the ivy. Even that which was planted was intended to be mere ground cover. It only climbs out of control because that is what ivy does.


This Boston ivy that . . . ‘someone’ planted almost a year ago was actually expected to climb. That is what Boston ivy does. Even if it would be willing to grow as a ground cover, it would not work well as such because it is deciduous. As a climber, it covers freeway sound walls and any associated graffiti with vibrant green foliage that turns fiery orange and red this time of year.

The problem with it is that there are not many practical applications for it. Yes, it does well on freeway sound walls. It also does well on concrete parking structures, where it can not reach painted or wooden surfaces. There are a few unpainted reinforced concrete building out there that it would work nicely on, as long as it gets trimmed around windows, doorways and roofs.

It has no business on painted wooden surfaces, or even stucco. It clings with these weird ‘suction discs’ that never let go! (They do not really use suction, but an adhesive instead.) You can see a few to the right in this picture below. When vines get pruned back every few years, the suction discs remain attached. Although not a problem for concrete, they promote rot in wood.P91113+

What concerns me with the Boston ivy in these pictures is that it grew to the top of the pillars that they were planted on in less than a year. Even if they get pruned down this winter, they will grow farther next year, and will reach the wooden bridge above. It will be a lot of work to keep them pruned back from the bridge.

As you can see I the picture below, Boston ivy is quite pretty on the concrete. Fall color is delayed this year. P91113++

The Wrath Of Grapes

P91006Jocular reference was made to ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’ on our our backward version on the way to Oklahoma several years ago. We happened to drive through Salinas, where author John Steinbeck was from, and Bakersfield near Weedpatch, where the migration from Oklahoma in the story ended. From there, we literally drove the same route from Oklahoma, but in reverse.

I never read ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’.

I do enjoy growing the sort of grape vines that some of us grow in our home gardens for fruit that can be eaten fresh. (I loath wine grapes and vineyards, but that is another topic for later.) There happens to be a nice big unidentified grapevine at work that needed major pruning last winter. It was a sloppy and formerly unpruned mess, with rampant long canes strewn about.

Some of these canes developed roots where they had been laying on the ground long enough to do so. The process is simply and conveniently known as ‘layering’. It is actually a technique for propagation that is sometimes done intentionally to plants that are not doing it naturally, (Again, that is another topic for later.) After giving a few rooted canes away, there were a few extra.

Since last winter, seven copies of the original grapevine are still here! I really do not know what to do with them. I could give them to neighbors before the end of this winter, but would then worry about them not getting the annual pruning they need, and overwhelming the landscapes they inhabit, just like the original vine did. Even in their cans, they are already a sloppy mess.

Many surplus plants are accumulating here. Many will go into landscapes as rainy weather starts. However, there are a few that will not be so easy to accommodate.

Chilean Jasmine

90814This is not just another mandevilla. Well, maybe it is. Mandevilla laxa is special though. It is known as Chilean jasmine because, unlike other mandevillas, it is so delightfully fragrant, particularly on warm summer evenings. Some say the fragrance is similar to that of gardenia, but not as strong. Others say it has a bit of vanilla mixed in. Sporadic bloom continues through most of summer.

The two inch long pure white flowers flare out to be a bit wider than long, and are a bit more relaxed than the neatly tailored flowers of other mandevillas. They bloom sequentially in small groups, with new flowers replacing the old for quite a while. The glossy rich green leaves can get almost twice as long at the flowers. Foliage last better on the coast, but is mostly deciduous elsewhere.

Chilean jasmine grows fast in spring, especially if pruned well after winter, but is surprisingly tame. It can grow past downstairs eaves, but should not reach upstairs eaves. It is satisfied with a light duty trellis. If carefully pruned out and removed each winter, it is one of the few vines that is complaisant enough for lattice. Light frost can kill stems to the ground, but they usually recover in spring.


60803‘Alice Dupont’ mandevilla that was so popular through the 1980’s was already a cool vigorous but not too overwhelming vine, with big clear pink radial flowers. It grows rather vigorously to upstairs eaves, and tends to get bunched where it reaches the top of its support. Modern cultivars with red, white or bright pink flowers are more compact and tame, and can stay below downstairs eaves.

The wiry twining stems neither root into their support like ivy does, not get bulky enough to constrict and crush their support like wisteria does. However, old vines might get thick enough to split lattice apart. New plants are greener in partial shade, although they will probably climb to where they get full sun exposure. The glossy evergreen foliage is surprisingly sensitive to even mild frost.

Mandevilla is tropical, so enjoys warmth, but not aridity (minimal humidity). Overly exposed foliage can get scorched by hot weather. Sporadic bloom continues from spring through autumn, with more prolific bloom phases in response to warm weather. Unfortunately, mealybug, aphid, scale and whitefly enjoy warm weather too. While pruning, the caustic white sap can be a toxic nuisance.

Vines Do Not Replace Hedges

90619thumbUrban homes are innately close to other urban homes. Newer homes are even closer to each other than older homes are, and are more imposing. Establishing or maintaining privacy can be a challenge, especially for high windows in narrow spaces. Even though home builders prefer to place windows strategically, some windows invariably face into neighboring windows or gardens.

Trellised vines are a popular but rarely effective remedy to this dilemma. The narrow spaces between houses and below the eaves can be dark enough to inhibit growth. Consequently, vines are typically sparse or bunched on top of their trellises. Their most vigorous growth is often awkwardly long shoots trying to find a way out of the shade. Vines are not exactly easy to work with anyway.

There are of course exceptions. With regular maintenance, some finely textured vines that are reasonably tolerant of shade can be effective for downstairs windows. (Upstairs windows are out of reach.) If shorn very regularly, English ivy on lattice works almost like a hedge. (Ivy does not fill in on more open trellises.) Trellised star jasmine is even better, but needs more depth (front to back).

Yet, with few exceptions, big evergreen shrubs or small evergreen trees that tolerate shade are more practical. They support their own weight, so only need to be pruned for confinement and clearance from the houses that they provide privacy for. Some shrubs and trees should be pruned to stay at the desired height, so that superfluous upper growth does not shade out lower growth.

The various podocarpus are some of the better small trees for narrow spaces between houses because they are are somewhat tolerant to shade, and are so easily pruned into shape. Some of the taller and more upright pittosporums work nicely in sunnier spots. Arborvitae tolerates more shade, and naturally stays narrower. Since some of these better options might grow slowly, they can be planted with faster growing shrubbery that can be pruned back, and eventually removed as the preferred plants mature.90619

Morning Glory

90807A landscape designer would have more fun describing both the modern and the good old fashioned varieties of morning glory. Their vivid colors are so resplendent. Their rich green foliage is so luxuriant. Their delicate vines are so elegant. Hey, perhaps this is not so difficult. Anyway, the popular garden varieties of morning glory are descendents of various species of the genus Ipomea.

Except for a few obscure types, and the perennial blue dawn flower, popular garden varieties of morning glory are surprisingly complaisant annual vines, which grow from seed sown at the end of winter. Without getting too invasive or weedy, they sometimes reseed where they get watered, although they might revert to a more feral state after a few generations, or after the first generation.

Some varieties of morning glory have the potential to reach single story eaves, although most stay a bit lower, and some varieties do not get much higher than a doorknob. They work well on small trellises, or even simple stakes, and are just right for picket fences. The simple two or three inch wide flowers are rich hues of blue, purple, red, pink and white, some with spots, stripes or streaks.

Docile Annual And Perennial Vines

90710Most of the familiar vines really are exploitative bullies. They shade the same trees and shrubs that they climb for support. Some will even strangle and kill those who make it possible to get where they want to be. If they do not find trees or shrubs to victimize, they are likely to climb walls and ruin the paint, stucco or siding. Their aggressive nature can be a problem in landscape situations.

Fortunately, there are several vines that are not so aggressive or destructive, such as mandevilla, lilac vine, star jasmine and Carolina jessamine. Other vines that are even more complaisant are light duty perennials and annuals that might grow like weeds while the weather is warm, but then do not have enough time to grow too big or do much damage before they die back through winter.

If flashy color is not important, vining vegetable plants such as pole beans, cucumbers and peas, can cover fences very nicely. On flat fence surfaces, such vines will climb string strung in a vertical zigzag pattern between a horizontal row of protruding nails at the top, and another similar row at the bottom. Unsightly cyclone fences are even better, but will need be harvested from both sides.

Although it is too late to sow beans and cucumbers, a new phase of peas can be sown in mid summer for production in autumn. Fragrant and subtly colorful sweet peas, which are grown for their flowers rather than as vegetable plants, take considerably more effort here. They get started in autumn for the following spring. Trailing nasturtium can get sown at any time, for summer or winter.

As the name implies, perennial pea is a perennial that can get almost rampant, but dies back by autumn.

Passion fruit vine can either be a perennial that dies back to the ground in winter, only to regenerate the following spring, or a somewhat woody vine with wiry stems that survive for several years. Those that retain their vines through winter can get cumbersomely big, or can alternatively be cut back severely late in winter, to behave almost like more docile types that die back for the winter.