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.
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.
This . . . was a ball field. It might eventually be one again. The old backstop at the upper left corner of the picture is almost completely obscured under a thicket of blackberry brambles and a fallen boxelder. It would need to be replaced. So would the decommissioned irrigation system, all the bases, the basepath, the turf . . . and everything else that goes into a functional ball field.
The turf had naturalized and overwhelmed the basepath long before last year. I collected wild mustard, radish and turnip greens from around the perimeter last spring and summer. By the time they were finishing, the blackberries were ready. I got stinging nettle from the bank of Zayante Creek in the background of this picture. Dock is already regenerating off to the far right.
There are naturalized wildflowers here too. I got pictures of perennial pea, purpletop vervain, Saint John’s wort, four o’clock, calla, narcissus, teasel, common thistle and California poppy, all within the perimeter of this ball field. Native trees include Douglas fir, California bay, California buckeye, bigleaf maple, white alder, cottonwood, coast live oak, canyon live oak and redwood.
The ball field looks like the moon now only because a construction company used it as a parking lot for trucks and machinery. We dumped excess soil removed from landscapes on the infield, where it was evenly dispersed by the machinery before it left. A low mound of road debris remains just past the foul line in the background. Firewood gets stocked out of view to the far left.
Restoring this meadow to a ball field would be like starting from scratch. The only salvageable asset is the flat space. Even though turf would be the most substantial feature of a finished ball field, a restoration project will involve more engineering and construction than horticulture.
The seed is not really bad. At least I do not think that it is. It is merely misunderstood. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is simply unidentified. I really do not know what it is. I do not say that very often, especially about seed that I bother to collect to sow elsewhere. I believe that it is of American bellflower, Campanula americana. If not, it is very closely related.
It appeared in part of one of the landscapes at work. Because it looked like some sort of campanula, we left it to see what it would do. It got quite tall, but never started to look like something we did not want to take a chance on. We were rewarded for taking the risk when it bloomed with these elegant spikes of small sky blue flowers. That was a little more than a year or so ago.
No one bothered to deadhead it immediately after bloom. It was only a few plants on the back edge of rather relaxed landscape, so was easy to ignore. By the time the dried floral stalks were noticed and removed, the seed had already been tossed. Consequently, there were many more of them through this last season, both in the same area, and in adjacent parts of the landscape.
In fact, there were too many to ignore when their floral spikes had finished blooming. I deadheaded them myself so that I could collect the dried floral carcasses in a small bucket. Some seed had already been tossed for next year. Nonetheless, there is enough dust-like seed in the bottom of the bucket to share with other landscapes. I intend to sow it just prior to winter storms.
So, this unidentified seed should be an asset to the landscapes.
Compared to extensively bred garden varieties, wild roses are not much to look at. Their tiny flowers do not get much wider than two inches, and may not get much wider than those of blackberry, with only about five petals. Flower color ranges only between pale luminescent white and pale pink. Bloom is typically rather brief in mid spring. Only a few healthy specimens bloom again later.
The main advantage to wild roses is that they are ‘wild’. Once established, they do not need much more water than they get from annual rainfall. Without pruning, canes of larger varieties develop into intimidating thickets that bloom annually. Smaller types stay short, but are intimidatingly thorny nonetheless. The deciduous foliage is not bothered too much by mildew, blackspot or insects.
Some types of wild roses appreciate a bit of pampering that might be offensive to other wild plants and most natives. Winter pruning, occasional summer watering, and perhaps a bit of fertilizer improve bloom. Alternatively, pruning after spring bloom may stimulate a second phase of bloom. Long canes can grow roots where they touch the ground, and grow into new spreading plants.
There were barely enough blue elderberries left this late in the season for the blue elderberry jelly that should have won the blue ribbon at the Harvest Festival. It’s a long story.
After the main supplier of blue elderberries was removed to widen the driveway that it was next to many years ago, I started collecting blue elderberries from other wild shrubs on roadsides about town. At the time, the berries were very abundant. No one else was collecting them, and the doves did not come down to eat them until later in the season.
A friend eventually asked me why I was collecting the berries. I informed him that they could be used just like the black elderberries that grow wild in Eastern North American and Europe. He decided to make wine and booze with them, and payed others for whatever they could harvest. The berries were much more scarce the following season, not because they had been any less prolific, but because others were collecting them as quickly as they ripened. They became comparably scarce elsewhere as well, seemingly since the blue elderberry jelly started winning second place annually at the Harvest Festival. https://tonytomeo.com/2017/10/01/blue-ribbon/
This year, the elderberries were collected faster than I could get them. Even the berries at work that were out of reach of those collecting berries closer to town were taken by the doves who arrived early, and could not get enough to eat around town. Some of my friends insisted that they could find berries for me, but by the time I asked one of the them to do so, it was just too late in the season. She found barely enough for the two half pints of jelly needed to enter into the competition at the Harvest Festival. I was pleased with that much. It would have been all that I needed for my blue ribbon. However . . .
The Jelly and Jam Competition at the Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest Festival was canceled for this year!
That too is a long story. There are not enough entries to make it worth the bother. A few years ago, there were only seven entries, and five were mine (which makes my ‘temporary’ lack of a blue ribbon even more embarrassing)! The competition will resume next year, and it will get more publicity. The Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest Festival is happening right now (until 6:30 this evening), but without the Jelly and Jam Competition.
For now, I made only one pint of elderberry syrup.
It is a common theme. Coreopsis was a much simpler group of only a few specie and cultivars in the 1980s. There are now too many hybrids and cultivars to keep track of. They have been bred so extensively that they do not produce viable seed like the old fashioned types that can self sow so nicely, and were more closely related to the unimproved specie that would be found in the wild.
Breeding did more than expand the range of floral color and form. It combined the more impressive flowers with the resiliency of the toughest of perennial specie. Because they are sterile, some of the modern hybrids may not need to be deadheaded like more traditional types. Although tougher modern hybrids can capitalize on the sustainability fad, they can not proliferate and naturalize.
Coreopsis blooms in summer and autumn. The small daisy like flowers can bloom yellow, orange, red or pink, but traditional bright yellow is still the favorite color. Most cultivars are less than two feet tall and wide. A few can get nearly twice as tall. The most compact cultivars are only about half a foot tall. Coreopsis wants good sun exposure, and will bloom less and likely mildew if shaded.
Not just any poppies; California poppies, the state flower of California.
So why the picture of an old cinder block wall on the edge of an unkempt and weathered parking lot behind the old County Bank Building? Well, right there in the middle of the picture, where the lowest course of block meets the edge of the pavement are a few weeds, and some of these weeds are poppies showing how resilient they can be.
California poppies are opportunistic. They grow fast and bloom when they can. For most, that means that they bloom as the weather starts to warm up at the end of winter. For others in irrigated gardens, they can bloom in phases through summer. Some do their thing quickly as soon as they get a bit of moisture from the first autumn rains or even dew. They know what time of year it is, and that the weather will not likely get hot enough to cook them; so they bloom and throw their seed for another generation in a few more months, or maybe many months from now. They adapt. That is how they live on the edges of forests of the Santa Cruz Mountain, to interior valley chaparral, to the Mojave Desert. They are a remarkable specie.
Remember the poppies in the Wizard of Oz? There are several theories about what those poppies represent, and why the put Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion and Toto to sleep without affecting Scarecrow and TinMan. Duh, Scarecrow and TinMan do not breath. They can not inhale the narcotic produced by the poppies. Even if they did, they lack the physiology to be susceptible to opiates.
There is a significance to poppies blooming today, the same day I wrote about the gingko, on December 13; but this ain’t Oz.
Is it coincidence that the Latin name of black-eyed Susan is Rudbeckia, or was Becky rude enough to give Susan her black eye? The dark center is something that all varieties have in common, and what distinguishes them from most of the related blanket flower varieties. The daisy flowers of black-eyed Susan are traditionally yellow. Modern varieties can be orange, reddish or bronzed.
Most Black-eyed Susan are perennials that bloom through summer and as late as the first cool weather of autumn. A few are annuals that bloom in their first year only through summer. They get about three feet tall, although some can get taller, and some stay quite compact. Flowers are about three inches wide. Some varieties have even larger flowers that fold backward like coneflower.
Black-eyed Susan appreciates an open and sunny spot with somewhat rich soil and occasional watering. Deadheading keeps them tidy, and for some varieties, promotes subsequent bloom. It also inhibits self sowing where that might be a problem. Modern varieties should not become invasive even if allowed to self sow. Mature colonies can be divided for propagation every few years.
Known more as a medicinal herb, and by its Latin name, coneflower or Echinacea, is a delightful prairie wildflower that works just as well in refined home gardens. It blooms in summer and again in autumn, although autumn bloom can be inhibited if plants are not groomed of deteriorating stems from the previous bloom. Like related gaillardia and rudbeckia, coneflower is a nice cut flower.
Flowers start out like any other daisy flower, but then fold back with the long ray florets hanging downward around the more rigid centers of darkly colored disc florets, forming cones. Flowers can stand almost three feet high, mostly on unbranched stems. Many popular varieties stay lower. Leaves and stems are somewhat hairy or raspy. Old varieties were mostly purple or lavender. Newer varieties can be orange, yellow, red, pink, white or green. Big plants can be divided after autumn bloom, or in spring.