Friday, October 1, 2010

{Diatribe Alert} It's about balance....and I swear I won't be serious again for three more years.

Okay, I'm going to say something important now. Usually I try to say interesting things, or funny things; I try to be informative, but, if you're a gardener, this is a big thing. If you were in front of me, I'd put my hands on your shoulders and look into your eyes to get your attention. Because I'm going to suggest something that goes againt the common opinion. It's that sort of statement that we usually react to by nodding in agreement while we inwardly shake our heads in disbelief, waiting for a chance to get away, or at least change the subject. This is going to sound like one of those wild ideas, but it isn't. And I'm not the only person who believes this.

Pretend I'm shaking your shoulders and looking into your  eyes and telling you that this is important. "It's not better to grow plants on to 'get some size' before you plant them out into the garden". "Smaller is better in transplanting".Plants were designed, excuse me, evolved to  survive in less than ideal hydrological conditions. Most of them, almost all, can deal with a good bit of drought so long as their root system and their top growth are in correct proportion. Plants know, oops anthropomorphizing again, plants as biological systems evolved to deal with being dry. It was the main thrust of their evolution for a long long time. Faced with drought, they go through a whole sequence of steps before they die, all  designed to leave them in a condition from which the inevitable eventual rainfall can resurrect them. The first thing they do is close their stomates to decrease transpiration. Somewhere down the line they sacrifice leaves, easy for deciduous plants, more involved for evergreens, but not tragic or fatal. Farther down the line they begin to sacrifice significant parts of themselves: twigs, even branches. Still, they are set up to maintain that life force, that ability to revive when water finally appears. We don't need to let them go through all, or any of the stages but it's comforting to know that they aren't as delicately close to death as we often think.

I remember distinctly, hearing Dr. Baker say in Plant Propagation at the University of Maryland in 1977, that, "plants are totipotent". That means they can reconstitute themselves entirely from one single cell. Now I don't like to drive my plants down to their last cell, but again, isn't it nice to know that they don't go down easily; they fight to live. If they start out healthy with roots and shoots in good proportion, it takes a lot to kill them.

We can make them fragile, unstable, and we do. When we grow plants on in pots we pretty nearly always end up with a top that's too big for the root system in the pot to maintain.....unless we supply more water than the plant ought to reasonably expect. Then we create these upside-down monsters that are completely dependent. And we plant them in the garden and they're still dependent. If we're lucky, the root system eventually catches up with the top and everything's cool, but wouldn't it have been easier to have planted it out the first year after it germinated? When the root and ths shot were in harmony. The  second year of a plant when it typically goes into about a 1 gallon pot is when the top first begins to outgrow the root. It only gets worse the more a plant is bumped up, and the inevitable "weaning process" becomes longer and more complicated.

With the passage of time, it gets even better, or worse. Any given plant, like any given person, is a product of its genetic heritage combined with it's life history. It's not heredity versus environment, it's both. If we want to populate our gardens with ideal plants, and I hope we do, we want to start from a seed, or maybe a cutting, and transition it smoothly to maturity. That doesn't happen when we turn them into unnaturally dependents and then try to work backwards, weaning them away from an unnatural watering regimen.What we need to do is plant them small and pay close attention to them for their first year or so. I water only when a particular plant needs it. I know this flies in the face of tradition gardening practice, but I've grown plants this way for over 25 years and my plants match up favorably plant for plant with their counterparts in other gardens.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

It rained today.....heavily. As Tropical Storm Nicole moved northward, she carried warm wet air

It hit our cool air and bam. at home we got almost 4" and though we haven't yet measured at the Arboretum I'm guessing we got close to that. So this September will go in the books as a month with a little over average rainfall. Even though it pretty much all fell on the last two days of the month. Better late than never, I always say.
The rain lilies like it, but of course they would.  Of course we're all very happy about it. Now we can commence fall planting and transplanting. If you're going to put  down grass seed either for a new lawn or overseeding, go for it; now's the perfect time.
he only real downside to the whole thing was the fact that it no doubt filled these trenches with water. The "water people", it doesn't seem respectful enough to call them plumbers, they're so much more, weren't able to finish the last element of their 6 week? project. They're going to separate our irrigation water from our potable water so that we don't have to pay sewage fees on the water we put on the plants and gardens. That will save a lot of money. I know at home the water that goes through our "irrigation sub-meter" costs less than half as much as the water that runs through the house plumbing. I'm sure they'll be able to sort the muddy mess out and finish the job but it would have been easier if they rain had waited till Friday.

It was Young Choe's absolute final last day at the Arboretum today so we had brownies and ice cream

And Young got her Arboretum mug. She said she wouldn't cry....
But stuff happens and a little crying isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Young first started as a volunteer in the Bonsai Penjing Museum. That was long ago, well anyway, it was before Amy worked in Bonsai. For the last year, Young has been our official propagator, and, seemingly largely self-taught, she has excelled to the point where we are overflowing with rooted cutting and small plants. That's not a bad problem to have!
 It isn't a coincidence that Young seems most relaxed making adjustments to this kusamono. She loves plants and she is masterful with their arrangement. I marvel at her sense of line and balance and the total harmony that defines her designs There is an intuitive basis to her compositions that will be very difficult to duplicate.  We will all miss Young and her work.

Of course I will be able to visit her when I'm in Florida as she is moving to a spot an hour and a half south of the Florida garden. I hope she will come back and visit us but if she doesn't I'll see her in January!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Arisaema heterophyllum....the fruit are so heavy they pulled themselves down to the ground

Cool nights, heavy dew, late sunrises....I noticed a pumpkin has appeared on my front steps. Colorful fruit, even fruit you can't eat, is a wonderful part of our fall season.

P Nerine Bowdenii x Belladonna....this is another one of the FONA pots flowering a completely different color

Both Nerine bowdenii and Amaryllis belladonna  (fall flowering South African geophytes) are a bit beyond the northern end of their hardiness range here in Washington (USDA Zone7) so nothing more than blind optimism would suggest that their hybrid offspring would make it through the winter. Still....lots of us like to push the limits and I have ordered A.belladonna  and several Nerines, neither of them bowdenii. I take what I can get. Reviewing the RHS Manual of Bulbs, I was pleased to see that they recommend the same siting I have been arguing for years. To wit, under a southern overhand in well drained soil. I did plant both Hippeastrum x johnsonii and Rhodophiala bifida in that sort of condition at my parents house this past Mother's Day. The latter ought to be flowering any time now.

In the UK many species, hybrids, and named selections of these taxa are available. I expect the milder climate more suits both these bulbs, but, the truth be told, in the USA we have a lot larger geographic area with appropriate growing conditions. Telos Rare Bulbs in Ferndale, California (one of Chris Carley's past ventures), does sell a variety of these bulbs but we could still use another grower/retailer or two to step up to the plate.

Loropetalum 'Petite Delight'....hmmm....French pornography???

Remember the early days of search organs when it didn't matter what you searched for, porn sites constituted a significant percentage of your results? Well I had a flashback this morning. I was trying to make size-wise sense out of the many cultivars of Loropetalum. I have the feeling that some rearrangement of ours might be in order if I only had an idea of their relative ultimate sizes. I read Dirr who, helped a bit. Then I Googled a few cultivars. One, 'Ron's Black' doesn't even seem to exist. I moved on. 'Petite Delight' is one of a series of cultivars so I figured I'd get a useful hit or two among the drek. First I tried just "Loropetalum Petite Delight'. Much confusion and many irrelevant sites. So I searched the exact three word phrase; I put it in quotes: "loropetalum petite delight". WOW! My French is not good. I get petite, and, I think petalum (though even in English there occasionally a sense of thinly associated sexual reference). Hey delight speaks for itself but it's that prefix loro that must have done the trick: Four pages of results and every one was a pornographic site????

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Big rolling cases sit ready to hold the Library from the USNA Administration Building

It's going away for the duration of the rehab of the building. The books are going to the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville. We were asked, by email, not to check out or return books while this is going on. Amanda will have to go to Beltsville to return her books; that's okay because then she'll be able to see the plantings around the new sign.

Pelargonium inquinans, one of the two principal parents of the horticultural "geraniums"

Usually I turn to the Herb Garden's Pelargonium collection for color in the middle of the winter when there's not much else going on. Today I was drawn to the incredible glow of these "Scarlet Pelargoniums". I think you could see them in the dark. Though the leaves are nice and furry; they don't seem to have any scent, at least any good one. Since the collection is, I thought, scented Pelargoniums, I don't know where this leaves us. I guess it's worth growing for that color, fragrance or not.

If you look in the background of the second picture you can see various  other selections. I believe they, GrayC and cohorts (sic), are starting all the plants over this year and so have rooted cuttings and grown a few pots of each cultivar. They have over 100? The adult plants are living outside in the Herb Garden now in terra cotta pots. The army of new plants has made for a pleasantly fragrant summer in Greenhouse Room 8.

While the rest of us just took break Mariya and Jane Margaret cleaned seed from the South Dakota Trip

I sneaked a look at a few of the envelopes; I'm bot intrigued and excited. An orange-fruited elderberry can only be a good thing and I love our local Physocarpus and can't wait to see this Mountain Ninebark. More later.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Berberis thibetica arches nicely over the path in the middle of China Valley

The problem is those fruit, attractive though they are, are hanging about 4.5 feet above ground in the middle of the path. Even tall hobbits would have issues. The shrub is about 12' high and 10' across and it's planted about 2' from the side of the path. I don't know if it could be dug, divided, and successfully transplanted. I expect we'll root a handful of cuttings next year for insurance, then maybe give transplanting a shot next fall.

Joe says this is the most laid back black snake ever

Hey, who am I to argue. Just lays there calmly on the window of the vehicle. If Joe can train it to eat the BMMFSB's (Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs) that are piling up in our vehicles overnight, he'd really have a valuable commodity...They are really becoming an issue (the stinkbugs). I seem to sit on one every other time I get into the Mitsubishi. While the smell is unpleasant, it's not the horror that it's sometimes described as. Still, it's getting older and older every time I crush one.Pat describes his brother fillinng an entire vacuum cleaner bag this past Saturday. Carole, who was, after all, trained as an entomologist, tells us they're Chinese and she recalls seeing them in....well...large numbers on one of her trips to China. Oh my. It doesn't stop with the bedbugs.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Infinite regress, almost, in both directions. It must be interesting to live in the middle of a city block on Capitol Hill

I finished the design for this house (that would be the one you can't see) today; the front is a mixture of shade plants including a Camellia, Daphne odora, Mahonia fortunei, a Hydrangea and an assortment of perennials and bulbs. The back garden is dedicated to edibles. The owners have already installed a couple of raised beds for vegetables. I included the berry bushes they wanted. The back faces south and is relatively unshaded, so I added a few less common plants. Aronia melanocarpa, the native dark fruited Aronia, has been in the news lately for the produgious amounts of antioxidants it produces. We'll put is where it's a bit shaded; it bears a reasonable amount of fruit the second year after planting so that's nice. I also included a Chinese Datge, Zizyphus jujuba, because it's a very nice small tree and the fruits are interestingly attractive and tasty. I include also a Fig, Ficus carica, because fresh figs are wonderful and the heat that develops in this south facing space will both ripen figs and maybe allow for a set of flower buds to live through the winter thereby producing an extra generation of fruit every year. I threw in a banana, Musa 'Basjoo' because it's cool though this hardy variety won't produce edible fruit. The native Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata, has wonderful flowers and, if you wait till they're ripe, tasty seeds. Finally, there's a grape for fruit and screening along the west side of their back deck.