Next Year’s Roses

Water your roses during the hot summer to keep them happy and blooming!

A month ago I recommended deadheading re-blooming roses to promote another cycle of blooms. Now, as the end of June approaches is the time to deadhead one-blooming roses, not to extend the season, but to support formation of the greatest number of new buds for the next season.

Roses respond predictably to seasonal attention.

One of my roses that should be deadheaded now is the prolific producer, Rosa mulligani, shown during its recent peak of bloom.

Rosa Mulligani

If my schedule includes deadheading this plant during the next couple weeks, it will provide an even greater cascade of blossoms display next year.

This time of the year is also a good time to contemplate roses in your landscape.

The traditional time for such reflection is late fall and early winter when bare-root roses appear in local garden centers. These are often bleak days for the landscape when avid gardeners hunger for a burst of color in the landscape and respond eagerly to the enticements of dozens of rose photographs.

That’s a good time to add roses to your garden, but not the best time to re-think the role of roses in your landscape.

Many gardens include three or more (perhaps many more!) shrub roses, clustered primarily for ease of maintenance. In other words, there is a rose garden.

The most popular varieties are hybrid tea roses, which cross Rebloomers and tea-scented roses from China, and modern English roses, which cross old roses with hybrid teas. The English roses, notably those by David Austin Roses in western England’s Shropshire County, combine several of the most appealing qualities of roses: hardiness, durability, and fragrance.

The gardener cannot go far wrong by collecting English roses. If you are enjoying your rose garden as it is now, that’s fine.

Still, consider fresh looks at your garden to explore new ideas and your evolving priorities. This approach can inspire creative challenges and new interest in gardening.

Here are a few possibilities.

  • Clustered plants. A popular recommendation is to plant roses in groups of three, to increase visual impact. This approach counters the familiar use of single specimens, which favors variety over garden design.
  • A color-oriented theme. This could be a single color, e.g., white, different shades of a single hue, e.g., pink, or a combination of two or three colors that work well together. A bi-color combination of climbers on a trellis or arch can be striking.
  • Touring rose varieties. Roses have been grown in temperate climates throughout the world for over 5,000 years. A long list of interesting varieties awaits your exploration. Begin an absorbing online research by entering “Wikipedia garden roses.” You could soon be on your way to comparing the common and uncommon varieties in your garden.
  • Combining 0nce-bloomers and re-bloomers. The once-bloomers introduce a different rhythm to the rose season. Some are single-flowered, with just five or seven petals, offering an entirely different look in comparison to the lush varieties with as many as 100 petals. Sometimes, less is more!

We have access to many fascinating varieties within the genus Rosa, even before exploring the ever-expanding universe of hybrids. Your gardening experiences can be enriched by adventuring through the genus.

Eco-culture at The Garden Faire

The Garden Faire, now in its 11th year, originally focused on the best practices of organic gardening, conserving our finite water supply and protecting our watersheds from chemical contamination.

The Garden Faire spreads out on Skypark's playing fields-300

Click to enlarge

The Faire continues to deliver these messages and has added broader perspectives that emphasize the overarching notions of sustainability and stewardship of the environment.

Another, more recent theme in the Garden Faire’s evolution focuses on the nutritional and healthful aspects of our food. Edible gardening predates ornamental gardening by thousands of years, and responds to our fundamental needs for sustenance, while ornamental gardening feeds higher levels of our consciousness. Edible and ornamental gardening are complementary and each is indispensable within its respective sphere.

The Garden Faire continues to change. This year’s theme, Cultivating an Ecoculture, explores ways that humans already partner with Nature and opportunities to strengthen that critical relationship.

To appreciate the timely importance of ecocultural ideas, consider the development of academic pursuits. At some early point in history, scholars categorized knowledge with the disciplines: natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and arts. They sub-divided each discipline into the numerous subjects we now encounter in formal education and splintered them further into courses within each subject.

The division of knowledge into academic disciplines responds to the human interest in managing and controlling nature and yields certain conveniences. Scholars can pursue specializations, schools can be organized into departments, courses and books can be labeled in ways that are widely understood.

Such arbitrary and artificial divisions also can lose awareness of the connectedness of biological and cultural diversity, and, indeed, of everything comprised by the diversity of life.

The academic disciplines are constructs, which depend for their existence on the minds of the persons who create them. They are not real objects, which are directly observable.

Today, as we are challenged by global issues of economic instability, resource degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change, our responses must be based on real objects, and on an integrative approach to conserving Nature alongside human culture.

In this pursuit, we can learn from the integrative approaches that indigenous cultures have practiced for millennia. These existing eco-cultures honor the unity of people with the rest of nature.

This brief article is not the place to enumerate specific eco-cultures of the world. For the present, it is sufficient to acknowledge that many groups, through many generations, have followed their instincts to achieve sustainability.

Working in harmony with nature is not a new idea. We see applications of that principle in gardening organically, conserving water wisely, consuming natural foods, exercising regularly to maintain body health. These are integrative practices that we can adopt readily as individuals.

As we increase the scale of human activities, however, and consider policies affecting groups of people, distractions and barriers come into play. The academic disciplines might not always support the connectedness of real objects, but they can serve as the basis of developing ecocultural practices. Indeed, many examples of cross-disciplinary and multidisciplinary initiatives can be cited. More would be helpful.

The work that lies ahead involves applying ecocultural concepts widely, in many (perhaps all) areas of human endeavor. The work includes adapting successful practices from the distant past to succeed in today’s fast-paced, complex society.

This work begins with individuals who grasp the concept and help to shape policies that will help to sustain life. It begins with you.

The world needs many conversations to advance the ecocultural perspective.

The Garden Faire supports one of those conversations for the Monterey Bay area, together with expert speakers on eco-culture, as well as gardening, water conservation, and nutrition. There’s much more: garden-oriented exhibitors, small farm animals, a krauting party, yoga and both familiar and exotic music.

***

IF YOU GO

What: The 11th Garden Faire

When: June 18th, 2016, 9:00 to 4:00, music continues to 9:00

Where: Skypark, Scotts Valley – free admission

Information:

The Garden Faire, now in its 11th year, originally focused on the best practices of organic gardening, conserving our finite water supply and protecting our watersheds from chemical contamination.

The Faire continues to deliver these messages, and has added broader perspectives that emphasize the over-arching notions of sustainability and stewardship of the environment.

Another, more recent theme in the Garden Faire’s evolution focuses on the nutritional and healthful aspects of our food. Edible gardening predates ornamental gardening by thousands of years, and responds to our fundamental needs for sustenance, while ornamental gardening feeds higher levels of our consciousness. Edible and ornamental gardening are complementary and each is indispensable within its respective sphere.

The Garden Faire continues to change. This year’s theme, Cultivating an Ecoculture, explores ways that humans already partner with Nature and opportunities to strengthen that critical relationship.

To appreciate the timely importance of ecocultural ideas, consider the development of academic pursuits. At some early point in history, scholars categorized knowledge with the disciplines: natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and arts. They sub-divided each discipline into the numerous subjects we now encounter in formal education, and splintered them further into courses within each subject.

The division of knowledge into academic disciplines responds to the human interest in managing and controlling nature, and yields certain conveniences. Scholars can pursue specializations, schools can be organized into departments, courses and books can be labeled in ways that are widely understood.

Such arbitrary and artificial divisions also can lose awareness of the connectedness of biological and cultural diversity, and, indeed, of everything comprised by the diversity of life.

The academic disciplines are constructs, which depend for their existence on the minds of the persons who create them. They are not real objects, which are directly observable.

Today, as we are challenged by global issues of economic instability, resource degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change, our responses must be based on real objects, and on an integrative approach to conserving Nature alongside human culture.

In this pursuit, we can learn from the integrative approaches that indigenous cultures have practiced for millennia. These existing eco-cultures honor the unity of people with the rest of nature.

This brief article is not the place to enumerate specific eco-cultures of the world. For the present, it is sufficient to acknowledge that many groups, through many generations, have followed their instincts to achieve sustainability.

Working in harmony with nature is not a new idea. We see applications of that principle in gardening organically, conserving water wisely, consuming natural foods, exercising regularly to maintain body health. These are integrative practices that we can adopt readily as individuals.

As we increase the scale of human activities, however, and consider policies affecting groups of people, distractions and barriers come into play. The academic disciplines might not always support the connectedness of real objects, but they can serve as the basis of developing ecocultural practices. Indeed, many examples of cross-disciplinary and multidisciplinary initiatives can be cited. More would be helpful.

The work that lies ahead involves applying ecocultural concepts widely, in many (perhaps all) areas of human endeavor. The work includes adapting successful practices from the distant past to succeed in today’s fast-paced, complex society.

This work begins with individuals who grasp the concept and help to shape policies that will help to sustain life. It begins with you.

The world needs many conversations to advance the ecocultural perspective.

The Garden Faire supports one of those conversations for the Monterey Bay area, together with expert speakers on eco-culture, as well as gardening, water conservation, and nutrition. There’s much more: garden-oriented exhibitors, small farm animals, a krauting party, yoga and both familiar and exotic music.

***

Tom Karwin is president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, president of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999-2009). Visit ongardening.com for links to information on this subject, and send comments or questions to gardening@karwin.com.

IF YOU GO

What: The 11th Garden Faire

When: June 18th, 2016, 9:00 to 4:00, music continues to 9:00

Where: Skypark, Scotts Valley – free admission

Information: http:/ /thegardenfaire.org

Landscape Uses of Plant Containers

Plant containers are popular as decorative elements in the garden. A well-placed large pot can provide a focal point, and a strategically arranged series of pots can lead the eye throughout a planned tour through the garden.

The color of a container can also contribute to the aesthetic of landscape by complementing plants in or near the container or by creating a visual exclamation point in a primarily green environment. Many containers in the garden marketplace are neutral in color, but bright hues are readily available as well, and color patterns have been appearing in recent years.

Containers provide familiar artistic forms in the garden, and can also support plant growth. Empty containers can stand alone as artworks, as well. Containers of all sizes can function like sculptures at more affordable prices.

Gardeners also experiment with other low-cost alternatives to sculptures: bowling balls, wine bottle trees, farm equipment, and porcelain accessories of the home have been striking and even unforgettable sights in some gardens.

A novel use of plant containers could be as elements of a thematic landscape.

In these columns, I have from time to time advocated a thematic approach to garden design. Many possible themes could provide an identity for some or all of a garden, and thereby support a rationale for plant selection.

Garden themes oriented to a single plant genus, e.g., roses, irises, dahlias, are quite familiar. Other themes emphasize a color combination, or one color, like the historic white garden of England’s Sissinghurst Castle.

My garden has several thematic beds. The largest beds are dedicated to each of the world’s five summer-dry climates: the Mediterranean basin, South Africa, southwestern coast of Australia, the central coast of Chile, and coastal California.

These beds might need to be identified for visitors, because most will not immediately recognize the origins of plants. I have considered placing an identifying sign in each bed, but would rather avoid that institutional look.

Another method for identifying a geographically defined bed might be to place in the bed a large container from that part of the world. Assuming that the visitor will recognize the container’s country of origin, it might serve to identify the bed.

To date, that idea has succeeded in exactly one instance. A Talavera pot now marks a bed of succulent plants from Mexico, which is not one of the world’s summer-dry climates.

The accompanying photo shows this pot with a young specimen of Agave applanata ‘Cream Spike’, from Mexico.

Cream Spike Agave

Many garden centers have at least a few Talavera pots. Authentic Talavera pottery comes only from the very old city of Puebla, in southeastern Mexico, but many products come from other sources. Regardless of authenticity, Talavera pottery is strongly associated with Mexico.

A fairly good marker for the bed of plants from the Mediterranean basin is a terra cotta container that suggests a Mediterranean style, confirmed by an image search of the Internet. The casual visitor, however, might find its message to be ambiguous.

Garden centers offer a good variety of plant containers, but few refer clearly to a country of origin. For example, the city of Pomaire, south of Santiago, is famous for its pottery, but when taken out of context, the pots do not identify as Chilean.

My search for thematic plant containers has yielded information about the world’s pottery traditions, and concluded that there is no good substitute for a sign. My next step is to try hanging clay nameplates on the pots. I’ll report on that approach in a future column.

Gardening can lead us in unexpected directions!

Garden Exchanges, Alstroemeria

My recent garden exchange experience generates thoughts about the ways in which gardeners share plants and other garden items.

In some Monterey Bay area communities, garden exchanges are infrequent occasions. There are successful events in Monterey and Seaside (and perhaps other communities) that local groups organize once a year. Santa Cruz has a low-key monthly exchange that is popular during the growing season.

Exchanges generally focus on plants as cuttings, bare-root specimens, seedlings (also called “starts”) in four-inch plastic nursery pots, and larger plants in one-gallon (or even five-gallon) pots. Empty pots and sometime other garden items also appear occasionally.

Most gardeners have plants that they could bring to an exchange simply because many good garden plants reproduce naturally and sometimes vigorously. While all plants that grow in a given area can be exchanged, this practice began with “passalong plants,” which are thought of as botanical heirlooms that have survived for decades primarily by being handed from one gardener to another. These plants might not be easily found in garden centers because they reproduce so easily that commercial growers choose not to compete with nature.

One example of such a plant is the Alstroemeria, commonly called the Lily of the Incas. This plant is also called the Peruvian Lily, although they are native to either central Chile (winter-growers) or eastern Brazil (summer growers). Central Chile, as you my recall, has a summer-dry climate very much like that of the Monterey Bay area, so these plants thrive locally.

Alstroemeria

Alstroemeria in bloom

The Alstroemeria reproduces by creating clusters of small tubers that are easily shared and grown. Plant the tubers horizontally, about eight inches deep.

This plant’s blossoms are available in many shades of red, orange, purple, green, and white, flecked and striped and streaked with darker colors. It produces long flower stalks and is a very good cut flower. To stimulate blossoming, tug the flower stalks instead of cutting them. They release easily.

The Alstroemeria produces large numbers of tubers, so many that it can be difficult to dig into a long-established bed. This growth habit exemplifies the passalong plant: desirable and prolific.

Steve Bender and Felder Rushing wrote Passalong Plants (2002), in which they describe 117 plants that have been shared for many years in the southeastern states. There are at least as many plants that are traditionally shared by coastal California gardeners, including both natives and imports.

I collected two free plants at last week’s garden exchange:

  • a seedling Tree Tomato (Tamarillo), a native of Chile that is a fast-growing tree that produces egg-shaped edible fruits with exotic appeal. It could grow quickly to fifteen feet, but can be limited by pruning. I’ll try it in my Chilean bed.
  • Mother of Millions (Bryophyllum delagoense), a succulent plant with interesting leaves. It is native to Madagascar that “escaped” to Australia, where is it considered a noxious weed. Each plant produces small plantlets along the edges of its leaves that detach and form new plants. This makes it difficult to eradicate. It is also toxic to humans, pets and livestock. I will not add this plant to my garden. Or share it.

Visitors to the garden exchange also presented a wide variety of other popular plants. These examples suggest that both interesting and troublesome plants might be available, so a brief inquiry on the Internet research is always appropriate before adding an unfamiliar plant to the garden.

The next Santa Cruz Garden Exchange will be at the Eleventh Annual Garden Faire in Scotts Valley, Saturday, June 18th. For information, visit http://thegardenfaire.org.

Acanthus: Love & Hate

Aside

There are plants that most gardeners hate and other plants that most gardeners love. It is a rare plant, however, that provokes both love and hate in the same people.

The Acanthus is one of those rare plants.

Let’s consider why it generates strong reactions, both positive and negative.

The genus Acanthus includes twelve species. Various species are native to Europe and the Mediterranean basin, Africa. South Asia, and Australasia.

Three species from the Mediterranean basin are cultivated in many American gardens: A. mollis, A. spinosus, and A. balcanicus and are popular in Monterey Bay area, where the climate resembles the plant’s native environs.

Acanthus spinosus

Acanthus spinosus (click to enlarge)

These popular species are similar in appearance, with differences primarily in the lobes of the leaves: some have more deeply cut lobes than others. Generally, Acanthus is a clump-forming perennial plant that is grown for its attractive foliage and bold flower spikes. It works best placed behind smaller plants, to provide a lush backdrop for the landscape.

Given a favorable climate and adequate drainage, the Acanthus adapts to various soil types, and is usually pest- and disease-free, except for an occasional snail that tries to nibble the plant’s hard and glossy leaves. It prefers partial shade, but in our moderate climate also does well in full sun. It will grow in one season up to four feet high and wide, with some flower spikes reaching above the leaves.

At the end of the season, the flowers fade and the leaves wilt, and new leaves spring from the base. It’s time to cut the old growth to the ground and welcome a new cycle of growth.

Everything about the plant seems fine, right? Let’s look at the sources of ill will.

Firstly, a relatively minor concern is the plant’s prickliness. The genus name comes from the Greek word akantha, which means spine and refers to the edges of the leaves. When we encounter A. spinosus, we have the addition of the Latin term for spine, and a plant that might be called “Spiny Spiny.”

Actually, the Acanthus’ common name is “Bear’s Breeches.” I have not found an explanation for that odd name.

Secondly, the Acanthus propagates too readily. It develops creeping rootstocks and drops seeds, and has been considered invasive in some agricultural areas, but the progeny are really not difficult to control in a garden setting.

Thirdly (and this is the big negative), a well-established Acanthus is very difficult to eradicate. The smallest piece of root left behind will sprout into a new plant. Gardens change by the gardener’s design or by Nature’s plan, but the Acanthus is forever.

Given the excessive persistence of the Acanthus, we might have mixed feelings about the introduction of a new hybrid form of the plant. But the recent appearance of Acanthus ‘Whitewater’ has generated enthusiasm. This plant has variegated leaves and blossoms in white and cream, aging into pink. A mature clump of this plant in the right setting could be a knockout. (The ‘Whitewater’ photo is from Terra Nova Nurseries.)

Acanthus 'Whitewater'

Acanthus ‘Whitewater’

I have struggled to eliminate A. mollis and found A. spinosus to be better-behaved, so I’m hesitant to plant ‘Whitewater’ in my garden. It’s striking appearance, however, invites a compromise: container planting. The pot should be large enough for the roots, the right proportion for the largish plant, and in a color that complements green and white with a touch of pink. I have begun looking!

Rose Care: Deadhead Repeat-bloomers Now

This has been a really good year for rose blossoms. Gardeners who have roses in their landscapes have enjoyed excellent displays that might have resulted from the combination of drought conditions followed by timely rains. Perhaps botanists and meteorologists will collaborate to track the progression of weather effects and rose blooms.

The notorious “some people” have announced that the challenges of rose cultivation exceed the value of these plants in the garden, but there are still plenty of dedicated fanciers of the rose and public rose gardens to defend the genus. The vigor of the American Rose Society demonstrates the continuing appeal of roses.

Hybrid tea roses are enduring favorites for most rose lovers, but value can come from comparing examples of different species. For example, compare rebloomers, mostly modern roses, with once-bloomers, many of which are ancient roses, e.g., Gallica, Damask, Alba, Centifolia, Moss, China, Portland, Bourbon and Hybrid Perpetual Roses.

Numerous roses bring seasonal color to my garden. Most are hybrid teas, including several David Austin roses.

Rose Graham ThomasMy favorite among these is ‘Graham Thomas’, a yellow classic climbing rose, selected by and named after the English rosarian and author of several books on roses. This vigorous repeat bloomer occupies a prominent spot next to my house.

 

 

 

 

Another favorite is ‘Dortmund’, which is a highly rated climber that produces dark, glossy foliage and clusters of single, white-eyed, red flowers, borne freely from summer to autumn. This plant grows on a gate under a very large pittosporum; the rose does well but surely would do better in full sun.

Rosa MulliganiAmong my once-bloomers is Rosa mulligani, one of the largest climbing/rambling species that was the center of Vita Sackville-West’s iconic white garden at Sissinghurst Castle, in England. This rose, growing on my backyard fence, produces a cloud of white blossoms, with branches reaching up to twenty feet to the left and to the right. Roses, like apples, produce blossoms and fruit best on horizontal branches, so this is fine placement for any climber.

It is now time to deadhead the repeat bloomers, to stimulate the development of a second flush of blooms. This should be done soon after the blossoms fade, to maximize the time for new growth and, incidentally, to deny nesting opportunities for certain insects, e.g., earwigs, sow bugs, thrips.

Rosa Graham Thomas deadheaded

Rosa Graham Thomas deadheaded

Deadheading generally is done just above the first set of five leaves. It could be done lower on the stem, to the second five-leaf set, or even to a seven-leaf set, when the plant needs shaping. After all the blooms are spent, leave the plant to develop rose hips for winter display.

Once-bloomers need not be deadheaded as soon as blooms fade because that won’t produce additional blooms. Deadheading once-bloomers in late June, however, will maximize the time the plant has to produce many new buds for the next season. If you like to see colorful rose hips in the garden, leave the once-bloomers on their own through to late winter.

 

Deadheading your roses now is a timely investment for a rewarding yield in the next season.

***

IMG_0604You can see a fine collection of eighty old garden roses and shrub roses at the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival’s “Music in the Garden” fundraiser on Sunday, May 22nd. This exceptional event offers opportunities to enjoy a majestic private garden in Soquel and performances by harpist Jesse Autumn (shown) and Anak Swarasanti’s Gamelan orchestra, and to support the ongoing contributions of the Baroque Festival.

For information, visit the website of the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival.

Controlling Weeds, Enjoying Volunteers

Recent sessions of not-really-much rainfall have greened our gardens and, inevitably, inspired weeds to grow.

If you are not already familiar with the “weed bank,” you must recognize that most garden soil has a hidden store of weed seeds waiting for the right conditions to germinate. Those weeds seeds do not demand a lot, just sun and moisture.

The rains provide the moisture, but the seeds must be close to the surface to gain access to sunlight. This condition can be met easily when weeds drop their seeds, winds transport them from faraway places, or birds drop them while fertilizing the Earth.

Some weed seeds are well below the surface, having been buried by soil tilling or erosion. They can survive long periods (the longevity varies with the species) until they are unearthed one way or another.

That’s one justification for “no-till” gardening, by the way.

Evidently, my garden had a shallow weed bank, because the rains brought an abundance of vigorous weeds in every area of the landscape.

When one experiences a seasonal burst of weed growth, the appropriate response is to weed the garden promptly, before the weeds set their seeds. One characteristic of weedy plants is that they reproduce enthusiastically. An old bit of garden wisdom warns, “One year of seeding leads to seven years of weeding.”

Long-term prevention of weed problems always begins with mulch. A layer of three or four inches of organic material serves shields sunlight from promoting the growth of weed seeds.

Another approach is the use of a pre-emergent herbicide based on corn gluten, which is a pelletized byproduct of the corn milling process. As a seed first germinates, it depends on nutrients stored in the seed, but as it grows it must develop roots to draw additional nutrients from the soil. Corn gluten is a natural, non-toxic material that suppresses a plant’s root development. It is most effective at the earliest stages of plant growth and has minimal effect on established plants.

Corn gluten treats all seeds the same, so it should not be applied when planting seeds of plants that you grow purposefully.

The downsides of corn gluten are that it is only about 50% effective when applied correctly. It requires repeat application whenever weeds begin to sprout.

Another downside is that when wet it will smell pretty awful for a while. One gardener friend who used this weed preventer suspected she had a dead body somewhere in the garden.

Also, corn gluten is rather expensive, close to $2.00/pound, perhaps because of low demand.

Finally, because most corn crops use Roundup for weed management, corn gluten almost certainly contains a residue of glyphosate, the active ingredient of this chemical herbicide.

After best efforts with mulching or pre-emergent treatment, and weeds are still growing, the traditional advice has been to pull them out by the roots. That seems gratifyingly thorough, but more recent advice is to cut weeds down, leave their roots to decay in the ground, and use their tops for mulch or compost.

That approach is sound, but only if done before the weeds produce seeds. There are also some weeds. Such as dandelions, that will regenerate from their roots.

One more thought: some plants that appear unexpectedly and in unwanted places in the garden, are garden-worthy plants that could be called “volunteers” or “self-seeders” rather than “weeds.” Examples include Italian lords-and-ladies (Arum italicum), various poppies (Papaver spp.) and the California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), our state flower.

HieraciumOne attractive, not aggressive volunteer is the Hawkweed (Hieracium sp.), which I actually bought at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. This is a dandelion lookalike, with flowers very similar to the dandelion, but with unusual spotted leaves.

 

 

 

 

For more information:

Old Farmer’s Almanac: Common Garden Weeds

Fine Gardening: Six Tips for Effective Weed Control

Eartheasy: Corn Gluten Fertilizer (commercial product)

 

Rediscovering Eco-cultural Gardening

Gardening is a very old activity. The word “garden” has its roots in an Old English term meaning “fence” or “enclosure,” and the earliest enclosed outdoor space discovered was created about 12,000 years ago.

We are still learning about gardening.

More accurately, we are rediscovering ideas that earlier gardeners understood thousands of years ago.

One of the earliest ideas, evidently, was that a fence keeps some hungry animals from the vegetables and (later) from the flowers.

The most basic principle for successful gardening is compatibility with Nature. We are advised occasionally that humans developed instinctive behaviors, e.g., Fight or Flight, at an early stage of our history, and evolved to thrive with a diet that consisted of a combination of foods that grew naturally in our local environment.

By the same token, plants and animals evolved over long periods to thrive in specific regions, together with each other. As a result of this co-evolution, we have interdependence between plants and animals that grow naturally within a specific environment. We even have interdependence between those plants and animals and certain aspects of the environment itself.

Ancient civilizations that understood these relationships intuitively gardened—and lived—in harmony with Nature. “Eco-culture” is today’s buzzword for the connection between ecological and cultural practices.

Some aspects of the environment appear not to interact with the plants and animals: the weather, elevation, and sunlight operate under their own rules, but the soil microbiota has close relationships with the flora and fauna.

Gardening is easiest and most successful when we recognize and respect these natural relationships. Good practices include gardening organically and growing plants that are native to the local environment.

The more recent history of gardening, however, has included many attempts to rewrite Nature’s rulebook. For example, as people traveled the globe, they added plants from exotic environments to their gardens and developed adaptive practices, including irrigation systems, greenhouses, and indoor gardening.

Also, as gardeners desired plants that would grow faster or larger, taste better, or look better, they developed hybridizing methods, fertilizers, and pesticides.

Such departures from Nature’s ways are often successful in achieving certain objectives, but they often have negative consequences, as well.

The clearest downside of attempts to “fool Mother Nature” is that gardening requires more time, energy and expense. If you find gardening to be burdensome, try converting to plants that are native to your environment.

When large-scale, commercial gardening (“agriculture”) adopts new technologies, the disruptions of Nature’s processes also grow larger in scale. Widespread applications of synthetic agricultural chemicals are damaging the soil biota, are poisoning the soil, killing birds, bees and butterflies, contributing to climate change and threatening our health.

Historically, ecological traumas began with the Industrial Revolution and accelerated in the 1940’s (with at the start of World War II), particularly in uses of synthetic chemicals.

Today, a growing number of non-profit organizations are sounding alarms about these practices and advocating alignment with Nature’s ways. Consumers increasingly demand organic foods, and intuitively resist genetically engineering foods. These groups and individual gardeners are rediscovering eco-cultural gardening.

Our roots are showing!

More to come: links to consumer-oriented non-profit groups related to eco-cultural gardening.

Here’s a related article (with an inappropriate title), “The dirty little secrets of a Native American garden,” from the San Francisco Examiner.

Basics of Low Maintenance

For many gardeners, as they create or recreate their gardens, their objectives include minimizing maintenance. Let’s consider the “why” and “how” of low maintenance gardening.

The motivation for minimizing maintenance requirements begins with the press—or the appeal—of other priorities, and the perspective is that gardening is drudgery that steals time from higher priority pursuits, and should be avoided whenever possible.

Some of us have unavoidable demands on our time, it’s true, but in reality, maintaining a garden does not require large chunks of one’s schedule.

In addition, gardening has unique rewards to be appreciated and even sought after: time for meditating, exercising a bit, and absorbing vitamin D, as well as communing with Nature and making an individual contribution to ecological balance.

Avoiding drudgery and securing those rewards requires both a positive attitude and a well-designed garden.

With those elements in place, gardening can be easy not burdensome, and satisfying rather than frustrating. Here are basic guidelines for creating a low-maintenance garden.

Establish Realistic Goals

The size of your garden should be manageable within your available time, physical capacity and financial resources. In this assessment, consider your gardening partner or partners, including family, friends and contractors.

Your horticultural knowledge and skill are also important, but because you can increase them, they are not limitations. If you have a large property, define an appropriate size of your garden, and leave the rest to Nature. If you have less space than you would like, develop an interest in container gardening, or community gardening.

If your gardening plan includes regular “mow, blow and go” assistance, it’s likely that you are not really gardening, and not gaining those unique rewards. Take another look at the design of your landscape, with a focus on eliminating the lawn.

Work with Nature

This core idea reaches into all aspects of gardening. Gardening and landscaping amounts to imposing on Nature, which has powers that are not be denied. For this reason, gardening should be pursued in ways that are compatible with, and supportive of, Nature. Those who challenge Nature must commit to high-maintenance gardening., but will, in the long run, lose.

Gardeners could challenge Nature in many ways, beginning with the selection of non-native plants, especially those that have evolved under significantly different environments. Choose plants that have evolved under your garden’s conditions, including climate and precipitation, elevation, soil type, wildlife habitat, etc.

Another strategy for challenging Nature is the monocrop, i.e., limiting large sections of the landscape to a single kind of plant. In residential gardens, the most familiar monocrop is the lawn. Such landscapes do occur in Nature (think of Midwestern prairies) but lawns are inhospitable to wildlife, and costly to maintain in acceptable condition. Mixed plantings work better, can be very attractive, and are easier to maintain.

A related issue is the use of synthetic chemicals in garden maintenance. This practice might seem to mimic Nature, but truly natural ways to feed the soil and the plants are based on the growth and decomposition of organic materials. The use of synthetic chemicals leads to the accumulation of inorganic salts that eventually poison the soil. Short-term impacts from chemicals may be welcome, but organic compost yields the best results in the long term. In addition, the birds and the bees will thank you.

There are more ways to achieve low maintenance gardening. These two basic guidelines are a good start.

Enjoy your garden!

A Primer on Succulent Plants

California’s recent drought, which promises to stick around in future years, has inspired a surge of interest in succulent plants, which, as a group, grow nicely with limited moisture. If you already know all you want to know about succulent plants, you can skip this column, but if (like many gardeners) are just becoming interested in such plants, here is a primer.

Gardeners who explore the world of succulent plants soon discover that these plants have more to offer than drought tolerance:

  • They bring a great range of forms, foliage colors, blossom colors, and sizes
  • Some grow well in bright sun, while others thrive in filtered light
  • There are are winter dormant varieties (“summer bloomers”), and summer dormant varieties (“winter bloomers”).

These characteristics make succulent plants terrific for landscaping and container gardening.

Cream Spike Agave

Cream Spike Agave, from Mexico

Cream Spike Agave - cu

A closer look

The world of succulents includes some ambiguities to get used to, as follows:

First, the term “succulent” refers to the plant’s biological ability to store water during dry spells, and does not indicate a botanical category. The succulent characteristic occurs within about sixty different plant families. Succulence is a variable trait: succulent plants differ in their needs for moisture.

Second, some definitions of succulent plants exclude geophytes, which are plants that store water underground structures called bulbs, pseudobulbs, tubers, corms, rhizomes or other terms. Interestingly, plants that store water in a caudex (a modified stem that might be partially underground) are considered succulents even when geophytes are not.

Third, all cactuses are succulents, but all succulents are not cactuses. Cactuses are in the plant family Cactaceae. All plants in this family have specialized structures called areoles, a kind of highly reduced branch that produces spines, which are highly modified leaves.

Fourth, except for the cacti, succulent plants do not have spines, but some have leaves with hazardous sharp points or spiked edges, intended to discourage predators.

Always the best way to learn about plants is to grow them. Hands-on experience and regular observation are the best forms of education.

There are faster ways, however. The Internet contains vast informational resources about succulents, accessible by searching on any plant name or botanical term in this column. Very helpful Internet resources for this purpose include Wikipedia for botanical information, Pinterest for photos of succulent plants, and YouTube for video clips on all aspects of growing and displaying succulent plants.

Another very good strategy, especially for Monterey Bay area gardeners, is to join the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society (http://mbsucculent.org/). This non-profit group has monthly meetings in Watsonville, with expert presentations, a fine lending library (listed on its website), and public shows and sales in the spring and fall. The shows at these events include displays of a great variety of expertly grown and often extraordinary succulent plants. The sales present a vast number of small and not-so-small plants in great variety and for attractive prices.

If You Go

What: Spring Show & Sale of Cacti and Succulents

Who: Monterey Bay Area Cactus and Succulent Society

When: Saturday, April 23, 9:00 to 5:00 and Sunday, April 24, 9:00 to 4:00

Where: Community Hall, 100 San Jose Avenue, San Juan Batista, California

Admission and Parking: Free for all visitors