Achieving Resilience in the Garden

I have written enthusiastically about the book Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes, by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West

To review my two recent columns about this book, visit “Designing Naturalistic Landscapes” and “Resilient Plant Communities.”

Regular readers will recall the “essential messages” of this book, as boldly summarized in this column:

  1. Good planting design results from harmonious relationships of plants to place, plants to people, and plants to other plants.
  2. Combine plants in interlocking layers, as they occur in natural plant communities:
  • structural/framework plants (10-15% of the total)
  • seasonal theme plants (25-40%)
  • ground cover plants (50%)
  • filler plants (5-10%)

I wanted to overhaul my own garden right away along the lines recommended by the authors.

After a very brief period of planning the next steps, I realized that putting these ideas in place would involve a good deal of thought and study. I had already written, resilient plant communities “require planning and knowledge of specific plants to put into practice.”

I was not alone in this assessment. The others who have read the book also praised its ideas and observed that they would not be easy to apply. In fact, several reviewers concluded that Rainer and West were not writing for home gardeners but for professional landscapers, especially those with exceptional knowledge of plants.

Thomas Rainer replied: “The book clearly acknowledges the complexity of creating plantings that function more like a naturally occurring community. But it doesn’t look at this complexity with despair, but instead, attempts to systematically describe how to do this in practical steps.”

He does recommend planting the four layers in four steps and provides practical advice about site preparation, but the missing pieces are lists of plants for each of the layers for each of the archetypical landscapes, along with knowledge of how plants look and grow together.

These are not small matters for home gardeners, for landscapers, and almost all garden designers.

Emulating Nature, it turns out, is not a simple matter. But one should not be discouraged.

The aspiring creator of a resilient plant community has access to very useful books. I previously recommended Designing California Native Gardens: The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Garden, by Glen Keator and Alrie Middlebrook, and Thomas Rainer recommends Garden Revolution: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change, by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher (Timber Press, 2016).

Garden Revolution

For the next step, we have Rainer’s tip: “Real design happens in the field. Take time there to get the layout right. Arrange all plants first, then go back and adjust location and spacing.”

I will report overviews of my progress from time to time, without, as they say, “getting into the weeds.”

The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days

The garden tour is a favorite activity of many garden societies, gardeners, and some garden owners.

Garden societies use tours to advance their goals to promote gardening and gardeners use them to gain practical ideas and inspiration. Garden owners want to share their success in the joint pursuits of horticulture and landscape design, and perhaps also their accomplishments in garden art and furnishings.

Volunteers are needed to support smooth and effective logistics, and garden tourists pay a small fee for the opportunity to explore the gardens. Such fees raise funds for the sponsoring group and cover expenses, e.g., publicity signage, plant lists, and refreshments.

These events generally are instances of homegrown Americana, but one group, the national non-profit Garden Conservancy, has significantly advanced the art of garden touring. The Conservancy is an organization that shares over 300 outstanding gardens each year through the annual Open Days program, which it describes as America’s only national garden-visiting program. It offers “a wide variety of gardens… representing the incredible range and definition of what a garden can be: expansive estates and small backyard oases, manicured hedges and wild country gardens, plant collections and outdoor art, edible gardens and gardens that support wildlife.“

The Conservancy’s annual directory demonstrates the national scope of the Open Days program. The book lists gardens by date and location—in most continental U.S. states plus Alaska and Hawaii. The directory is an efficient way to invite visits to one’s local gardens

For a given date and location, the directory lists one-day garden visits for a single garden or, as available, two, three or more nearby gardens.

Conservancy Olson-front door

Recently, I volunteered for Open Days, serving as greeter and ticket-taker for a well designed and maintained garden at a Palo Alto residence. The garden was designed about thirty years ago in Colonial Williamsburg style, and currently has an interpretation of the classic white garden theme, that Vita Sackville-West originated in the 1930s at the Sissinghurst Castle Garden, in the Weald of Kent, England. While the formal style of this garden is not my taste, I genuinely enjoyed seeing it and appreciated the gardener’s skill and dedication. Numerous visitors also indicated their pleasure with examining the garden and photographed highlights.

Conservancy Olson - dining

 

This garden was one of a cluster of five gardens on the day’s Open Days tour for the Palo Alto–Atherton area.

 

 

 

The Open Days program has an opportunity in September to broaden your garden visions by visiting a cluster of gardens in the San Jose area. Here are brief descriptions (excerpted from the Directory) of these gardens:

  • Garden of Cevan Forristt: reflects “his sense of the mysterious and playful” and demonstrates his skill in combining diverse symbolic objects—stone urns and animal troughs, deities and chains, giant ceramic vessels and delicate woodcarvings.”
  • Holden Garden: featured in Sunset Magazine (2003), “in the center of this garden a small waterfall cascades into a six-sided koi pond…each area of the garden is filled with interesting details that invite lingering looks.”
  • Woodford Semitropical Garden: “a twenty-year-old garden specializing in rare and unusual tropical and semitropical plants [featuring] rare palms (135 species) and cycads (twenty-five species), bromeliads, cactus and succulents and other companion plants.”

Visiting one or all three of these fascinating gardens could be a very nice day trip from the Monterey Bay area. (It’s really not far away!)

For more information about these gardens, browse to the Conservancy’s Open Days website, click on Open Days Schedule, and then search for “San Jose.”

I addition to sharing outstanding gardens through the Open Days program, The Garden Conservancy’s Preservation Program “assists outstanding gardens with the expertise they need to survive and thrive.” Its inspiration and first preservation project is the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, California. Today, that garden continues under the management of a non-profit corporation, providing and flourishing as a tribute to its founder as a resource for gardeners with interest in cactus and succulent plants.

The Conservancy welcomes contributions and memberships.

Gardeners can grow, too! Plan your Open Days visit.

The Bold Dry Garden

Book Cover

It’s not often that we see a new book about a garden that’s both famous and near enough for a one-day visit. We now have The Bold Dry Garden: Lessons from the Ruth Bancroft Garden (Timber Press, 2016), written by Johanna Silver, with historic photographs and excellent new photographs,

This is a three-acre garden in a residential neighborhood, packed with over 2,000 cacti, succulents, trees and shrubs. Visiting is not a sprawling and overwhelming experience, with too much to take in without camping out, or an extended visit. Instead, it offers a relatively compact display of a wide variety of succulent plants.

The book begins with the garden’s history. Ruth Bancroft developed this garden at her home in Walnut Creek, beginning in the 1950s. Like all personal gardens, it began tentatively, with the purchase of few small plants, and grew slowly as the owner’s interest deepened and her vision broadened.

By the early 1970’s, Ruth was ready to map out her future garden. She brought in garden designer Lester Hawkins, to draw the setting for a dry garden, and to recommend plants to add to her growing collection. The initial planting was accomplished formally in 1972, although Ruth had already collected a significant number of plants.

The plants grew in number and size, and the collection grew in sophistication and beauty. It deeply impressed, Frank Cabot, a nationally prominent gardener from the Quebec area, who became concerned about preserving the garden into the future. In 1989, he founded the Garden Conservancy with the goal to preserve exceptional private gardens, with preservation of the Ruth Bancroft Garden as its first objective. By 1994, the Garden’s site was officially transferred to a non-profit corporation, Ruth Bancroft Garden, Inc., dedicated to maintaining and improving the garden, and to make it available to the public.

Today, Ruth Bancroft is recognized as a dry gardening pioneer and innovator. She has reached the age of 107 and she maintains her love of her collection.

The longest chapter of The Bold Dry Garden, “Signature Plants of the Dry Garden,” describes and pictures garden’s diversity, organized in sections: The Smallest Players, Aeonium, Crassula, Echeveria, Haworthia, Sedum, Sempervivum, the Importance of Rock, Architectural Elements, Agave, Cactus, Yucca and Other Swords, Flowers and Foliage, Aloe, Euphorbia, Gasteria, Protea, Terrestrial Bromeliads, The Softer Side, California Natives, and Trees. Whew!

Reading this fine book can be a pleasant introduction to the world of succulent plants. Visiting this extraordinary garden is an opportunity to see many different forms of these plants, and to become inspired to develop your own collection…and to come again to the garden.

For more about this garden, and everything you need to prepare for a tour, visit the garden’s website.

The Garden Conservancy is both a preserver of private gardens and guide to seeing them through its Open Days program. Browse to the Conservancy’s website for more information.

The long-time curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden, Brian Kimble, is scheduled to speak at the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society on Sunday, March 19th. See the Society’s website for details.

The Bold Dry Garden is a good read for any gardener, excellent preparation for a visit to the Ruth Bancroft Garden, and a fine addition to any library of garden books.

Future Uncertainty

As the inauguration of Donald Trump approaches, we enter a historically extraordinary period in which a single political party controls the House, the Senate and the White House.

“Control” should be taken with a grain of salt, because little is absolute in our nation’s capital.

While absolute control doesn’t happen in Washington, the political arena does have constants. During the past several years, a great constant has been the confrontation between opposing perspectives.

Under the new administration, that confrontation focuses on the struggle over the separation of power written into the U.S. Constitution. The incoming political majorities seem determined to reduce the power of the executive branch of government, meaning to constrain the president’s ability to use executive orders and the authority of administrative offices to write and enforce regulations based on legislation.

The lobbyists are out in great numbers, speaking on behalf of either public or private interests.

There are many issues on the table. A recent report in the New York Times observed, “The most powerful and ambitious Republican-led Congress in 20 years…plans to leave its mark on virtually every facet of American life…”

With that in mind, we examined the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s December 2016 report, Free to Prosper: A Pro-Growth Agenda for the 115th Congress. This 193–page report addresses many aspects of American life, and consistently calls for the reduction of federal regulation with the intention to “unleash America’s entrepreneurial, wealth-creating potential.”

In this column, we focus on issues related to gardening, a topic that easily includes food, so we will comment on only this report’s section, “Food Drugs, and Consumer Freedom.”

Due to space limits, we can only list the report’s food-related objectives:

  • Ensure consumer access to genetically engineered (GE) foods
  • Streamline (“fast-track”) regulation of (GE) plants and foods
  • Repeal the national standards for labeling GE foods
  • Oppose overregulation of food additives (particularly trans fats)
  • Oppose recommended limitation of sodium (salt) content of foods

This section also contains objectives to reduce or roll back federal regulation of (a) drugs, medical devices, and treatments, especially the new and experimental, (b) tobacco substitutes, (c) soft and pliable plastics (phthalates), (d) flame retardants (organohalogens), (e) online gambling, and (f) sports gambling.

Finally, this section recommends federal defunding of “activist research,” such as research on the safety hazards of BPA (bisphenol a) lining of metal food containers.

These are industry-sponsored objectives, not actual legislation. Their basic message is expressed in the report’s title, which translates to Make Money.

At the same time, consumer groups are vigorously organizing their defense of regulations that are intended to protect public health and safety. In California, the governor and attorney general are prepared to resist federal actions that would obstruct the state’s progress on several important issues.

The debate over the appropriate balance between public and private interests will continue during the coming four years, with an opportunity at the mid-point of this period to review the actions of some of our elected representatives.

Meanwhile, the political environment must be regarded as unsettled at best.

Planting for Fall Color

Experienced gardeners know that the early fall is a very good time to install new plants. This timing anticipates our Mediterranean climate’s rainy season, during which Nature provides the moisture that new plants require, and the winter months allow time for them to establish their roots in preparation for above-ground growth in the spring.

It is quite natural in this season for gardeners to plant with spring flowers in mind, with their greatest interest focused on spring bulbs. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, especially when gardeners explore the lesser-known geophytes, as well as the always popular spring- and summer-blooming bulbs.

Still, this season is the ideal time to plan for next year’s fall season. This planning begins with a critical look at your own garden. Is it visually exciting and beautiful during the next few weeks, or does it appear tired and eager to enter dormancy? If it could be more pleasing to the eye, plant now to ensure a better look a year in the future.

An easy and reliable way to find plants to add fall color to your next-year garden is to take a walk through your neighborhood to spot attractive plants that look healthy and vigorous. By scanning gardens with growing conditions like yours, this approach automatically directs your attention to plants that are likely to do well in your garden.

Another productive strategy is to ask at your favorite garden center about plants for fall color. A trustworthy garden center will be ready to point out such plants and recommend winners for your garden setting.

Research also can identify good candidates. The Sunset Western Garden Book lists several trees, shrubs, and vines for fall color, and provides details for each in its Western Plant Encyclopedia.

Here are a few popular selections.

Trees

Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nattallii) A spectacular tree that can grow to 50 feet tall. It flowers white or pink in the spring and again in the summer> In the fall it displays yellow, red and pink leaves and clusters of decorative red fruit.

Maidenhair Tree (Ginkgo biloba ‘Autumn Gold’) An ancient, actually prehistoric genus that can reach 30 feet tall. It produces gold-colored leaves that drop quickly in the fall to produce a golden carpet.

Flowering Crabapple (Malus hybrids) Small trees (usually 20 feet tall) that flower in the spring then hold their attractive fruit through the fall. Many varieties are listed in the Western Garden Book.

Shrubs, Perennials

Cotoneaster varieties (e.g., C. lacteus, C. franchetii) This shrub, native to China, comes in various sizes from groundcover to twenty feet tall and wide. Produces bright red berries in the late summer followed by fall.

Windflower (Anemone x bybrida) The popular Japanese Anemone (A. japonica) produces white, pink, or rose flowers on arching stems up to four feet high, followed by unusual cottony seed heads.

cotoneaster-anemone

Cotoneaster & Anemone

Aster (Aster x Frikartii ‘Monch; Symphyotrichum spp.). Only the European and Asiatic species are still called Aster officially; North American species have that long new name. Hundreds of varieties are available to produce an abundance of flowers from white to pale blues and pinks to deep scarlet and purple.

Vines

Chinese Wisteria (W. sinensis). This vine, the most common wisteria in the west, produces clusters of violet-blue, slightly fragrant flowers that open all at once in the fall.

Roger’s California Grape (Vitis californica cultivar ‘Roger’s Red’) A central California native often grown as an ornamental plant grows so vigorously that gardeners can boast of their green thumbs. Many American and European varieties are available for table grapes.

There are many more plants that can beautify your garden environment in the fall with colorful flowers, foliage or fruits. Plan and plant now, as we enter the planting season, to set the stage for attractive seasonal displays in future years.

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Architectural Plants in the Garden

A current project in my garden involves relocating a specimen plant to a more prominent site, to take advantage of its current and anticipated appearance.

The plant is Giant Cabuya, a member of the Agave family (Agavaceae). In English, Cabuya means Agave, but it might also mean fibre. The plant’s botanical name is Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta’.

Native to the Caribbean area and northern South America, this succulent plant is widely grown as its variegated leaves can create a five-foot wide display and a spectacular presence in the landscape.

Brazilian Plant

Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta’

It will produce a 25 feet tall flower stalk on an apparently unpredictable basis. The inflorescence is unremarkable in appearance but reportedly strongly fragrant. The specific epithet, foetida, means “stinking.”

Once the presents its great flower stalk it will die. Like other monocarpic plants, e.g., the Century Plant (Agave Americana), it will propagate itself by generating adventitious shoots, or “pups.”

The plant’s strongest points are its colorful leaves, which first attracted my eye. Because it was labeled as native to Brazil, I brought it into my garden as a plant familiar to a Brazilian graduate student who was staying in my home. (He recognized it, but was more interested in his studies of microbiology.)

I put the Giant Cabuya in a large terra cotta pot, where it grew well for more than a year, and spread about three feet wide. I learned that it would reach its maximal spread only when grown in the ground.

I had recently renovated an overgrown cluster of Peruvian Lilies, and reshaped the planting bed into a roughly circular form. The new bed, currently without plants, needed redesigning, with a focal point. A dramatic sculpture would be appropriate but not in the budget, so a large plant with architectural character could serve as the purpose of a focal point.

This was to be the new home for the Giant Cabuya.

The bed was large enough for the plant to grow to five feet wide, and eventually to throw up its malodorous flower stalk.

A short list of plants can be useful as focal points in the landscape. Large succulent plants, particularly those in the Agave family, have good qualities for this purpose. This is a matter of individual preference of course, but long, sturdy leaves can form a roughly symmetrical display that is readily perceived as sculptural.

For an interesting overview of architectural agaves, visit the website of succulent expert Debra Lee Baldwin, navigate to Videos and look for “Six Great Agaves for Your Garden.” In this video recording, renowned agave hybridizer Kelly Griffin casually demonstrates agaves that would work well as focal points in the garden.

In addition to the larger agaves, several other plants have architectural value. If your garden could benefit from an eye-catching, prominently placed plant, look for candidates when you visit your local garden center. A dramatic feature could add interest to your landscape.

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.

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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)

 

Landscaping with Succulents

As we await El Niño rains, the Monterey Bay area’s familiar rainy season is already late in starting, and we feel the pull of long-term perspectives on gardening.

Let’s consider landscaping with succulents plants, which are gaining appeal for their interesting foliage forms and colors, ease of cultivation and propagation and of course drought tolerance.

Many succulent plants can hold their own in the garden as specimens or aesthetic statements, but when we group several plants, they relate to one another in various ways and we have a landscape, either by design or by chance.

Tiered Succulent Display

Tiered Display of Succulents in Sidney, Australia

Landscaping by chance is often popular, but with a little planning, gardeners can succeed with more deliberate methods.

Designing with plants involves individual preferences and styles, which we always respect. There are, however, a few broad guidelines to consider.

The first of these is “taller plants in back,” which is about visibility. Take the time to learn the mature height of each plant. Here is information sheet from succulent expert Debra Lee Baldwin, listing popular succulent plants by height: Instant Gardens.

Another organizing guideline is to group plants by their watering needs. This technique, called hydrozoning, works with nature (always a good idea!) and makes garden maintenance easier.

Using this technique requires knowing the watering needs of the succulent plants in your landscape. All succulent plants need some water, particularly during their growth periods. They need much less during dormancy.

The two broad categories of succulent plants are the “winter dormant,” i.e., plants that grow during the spring and summer, and the “summer dormant,” i.e., those that grow mostly during the fall through early spring. Here is a link to winter dormant and summer dormant succulent plants.

The landscape designer also could group plants by county of origin. Such grouping is a step toward creating plant communities, which are combinations of plants that are found in natural settings. Such combinations reflect the plants’ common needs for soil, exposure, climate and other factors. Gardening in this way involves detailed cultivation methods. Grouping plants by country of origin is relatively easy, while respecting nature and developing an interesting landscape. The avid gardener can discover a plant’s country of origin from some books and plant labels, or by entering the plant’s botanical name in wikipedia.org.

Finally, consider combining succulent plants with grasses, which are another category of drought-tolerant plants. Grasses typically respond to severely dry conditions by going dormant, rather than by storing moisture, and grass-succulent combinations are seen in natural settings. The benefit of combining succulents and grasses is primarily in the aesthetic effect of contrasting the succulent’s fleshiness with the grass’s wispiness. To learn more about grasses, see the book, The American Meadow Garden (2009), by John Greenlee and Saxon Holt.

For more comprehensive guidance, Debra Lee Baldwin’s book, Designing with Succulents (2007), provides inspiring ideas for planning your own succulent garden area.

Preparing for long-term water shortages certainly includes defensive strategies, but your preparations can include landscaping with succulents as an absorbing and creative exercise.

Carbon Farming

Climate change has been described as the consequence of the Industrial Revolution, which introduced extensive burning of fossil fuels. This practice disrupts the natural balance of carbon in the soil, the atmosphere and the ocean. Plans to slow or reduce the process of climate often emphasize reducing uses of fossil fuels.

Recently, and all too briefly, we explored the relationship between gardening and climate change. We have learned that common agricultural practices generate about one-third of the surplus CO2 in the atmosphere, making commercial farming a substantial part of the climate change problem.

Prior to the development of modern agriculture, we had organic farming, which is generally compatible with natural processes. The practices we now call “conventional” farming include driving a tractor, tilling the soil, over-grazing, and using fossil fuel-based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

Similarly, farm animals once were raised in pastures, where they grazed on grasses and other plants. Today, cows, pigs and chickens are raised in tight quarters, provided grains and other feed that they work hard to digest, and must be dosed with antibiotics to maintain basic health.

These contemporary, presumably efficient methods are depleting the carbon stores in the soil, and reducing the soil’s natural ability to support plant growth and store moisture.

Soil scientists and environmentalists have been discovering land management strategies that can reduce the rate of loss of soil carbon, and even improve the rate at which agriculture can convert atmospheric CO2 into plant material and soil organic matter. When thoughtfully applied, carbon methods can add significantly to the rate of soil carbon sequestration, and actually reverse the climate change process.

Dozens of specific practices are included in carbon farming; all look like historical organic farming and common sense. The principal methods are composting, grazing by hoofed animals (ungulates), maintaining high percentages of organic matter in the soil (to feed the microbiota), supporting biodiversity, rotating crops and discontinuing uses of synthetic chemicals. The most effective practices orchestrate multiple methods in plans designed for specific circumstances.

Carbon farming, also called regenerative agriculture, should be part of the global response to the threat of climate change, but reduced burning of fossil fuels will still be important.

These promising methods for the management of agricultural lands can have substantial impacts when applied on a large scale, but they also have value when applied in residential gardens. In this column, we have advocated organic methods as beneficial to our flora and fauna. We find now that these methods also have long-term benefits to the health of the soil and the natural balance of carbon in our environment.

For more about this important topic, read Kristin Ohlson’s book, The Soil Will Save Us (2014), (which a reader recommended to me), and search the web for “carbon farming” and “regenerative agriculture.”

If you are growing plants and raising animals on hundreds of acres, try carbon farming. If not, by all means, garden organically!