Social Distance XIV – Self-Spreaders

We continue our exploration of ways to pursue  gardening while maintaining social distance.

Care for Your Garden

Last week’s column listed some basic landscaping concepts, one of which is “Plant in Groups.” As an expansion of that concept, we explore landscape uses of self-spreaders: plants that propagate by generating lots of seeds and plants that propagate by creating roots, stolens, bulbs, corms, or rhizomes. We could call these groups self-seeders and runners.

When we adopt the objective of planting in groups, we can regard the self-spreaders as botanical partners in landscaping. While it is quickest to develop plant groups by purchasing and planting multiple specimens of a selected plant, collaborating with these partners can require a few seasons of growth, but is considerably less expensive.

To begin planning for self-spreaders, acknowledge that they can appear in one of three broad categories: garden-worthy plants, thugs, and weeds. These categories are not botanically distinct. Instead, their membership in one category or another depends on their circumstances and the gardeners’ priorities. The landscape planner should be prepared to recognize which category to which an unexpected seedling belongs.

Many weeds propagate quickly, using either seeds or runners for the purpose. The most notorious in my garden include Bermuda grass ( Cynodon dactylon), which is a popular for lawns in southern United states, and Bermuda Buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae), which has no friends that I have encountered. Both are South African natives, and both might have been introduced to the United States through Bermuda.

There are countless other self-spreading weeds.

Gardeners can learn to recognizing weedy problem plants best through experience. It is not always important to know their common or botanical names, only to know them when you spot them. The best control is hand-pulling by their roots; effective inorganic approaches exist for both annual and perennial weeds, with each group needing seasonal control schedules.

At the other extreme of self-spreading plants are the garden thugs. These are plants that have appealing qualities, but that spread more vigorously and persistently than gardeners usually want. This is another large category. Examples from my direct experience include Bears’ Breeches (Ancanthus mollis), Spiny Bears’ Breeches (A. spinosus), California Wild Rose (Rosa californicus), Japanese Anemone (Anemone hupehensis and other species), and English and Algerian Ivy (Hedera species). With hesitation, I include the California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) because it pops up in unexpected spots presents cheerful blossoms, and then evolves to a mess. This is our state flower, but I would rather it would grow elsewhere.

Acanthus Blossom
Acanthus spinosus grows aggressively in the garden

Finally, we get to the garden-worthy. self-spreading plants. These self-spreaders can be genuine assets to the landscape, and still their propagation can be managed seasonally without great effort.

The strategies for working with these botanical  partners include first allowing them to go to seed. If you deadhead, you get more blooms; if you don’t deadhead, your get more plants.

A second practical strategy is to manage the spread of these plants in the spring by removing misplaced progeny or transplanting them with care to a preferred location. Plants that propagate from runners can be moved quite successfully when the transplant includes a substantial amount of root. 

Happily, a large number of plants fit in this category. Examples from my direct experience include the following:

Winter Blooming Bergenia or Pigsqueak (Bergenia crassifolia).This plant was given to me about twenty-five years ago and has spread courteously in my garden. I have recently given away more than 100 gallon-size plants without creating a gap in my landscape.

Cranesbill/Hardy Geranium (Geranium x cantabrigiense). I installed this plant several years ago as a low-growing border. It has since spread slowly and methodically to create a  blanket about eight feet wide. It is an attractive plant, but one that must be reduction to share through the garden exchange or compost.

Four O’clock (Mirabilis jalapa). I started this plant two years ago from seeds shared by a friend and from selected seeds from Rene’s Garden. It  has been a reliable perennial that produces good flowers that bloom late in the day, dies to the ground, and returns vigorously in the spring. The seedlings are easily controlled to manage its spread.

Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

All plants propagate themselves one way or another, and many are garden-worthy selections or weeds or garden thugs. There are far too many to list here, advance you familiarity with each of these categories, make systematic observations in your garden, search your local library or bookstore of online book seller, or search the interne for “self-seeders” or “plant runners.”

Enrich Your Gardening Days

As you work patiently with your garden’s botanical partners, you will gain considerable satisfaction in developing your landscape in a well-managed and very inexpensive manner. This easy process is at the core of real gardening nature.

Keep your emotions positive and your viruses negative and enjoy your garden.

Social Distance XIII: Landscape Design Concepts

Salvia + Achillea

This column’s garden photo shows a swath of the Friendship Salvia (Salvia ‘Amistad’) as background for Fernleaf Yarrow (Achillea filipendulina ‘Coronation Gold’). These plants have good traits in common: both are summer-blooming perennials, upright in form, and propagate each season by spreading. The Yarrow needs support while the Salvia stands on its own, but they work well together in multiple ways. This photo illustrates useful concepts in landscape design, which is the focus of this column as we continue to explore accessible and productive gardening activities while we are social distancing.

Care for Your Garden

Gardening by walking around can be worthwhile just for meditating on Nature’s wonders, but it can also be an opportunity to consider ways to refine your garden landscape.

Landscape design involves a multitude of issues and ideas and deserves college-level study and extensive reading, but a short list of basic concepts can support significant improvements in garden vistas.

This column addresses three concepts in aesthetic landscape design.

Concept #1: Place tall plants in back. This concept is primarily practical: it simply protects the visibility of shorter plants. The shorter plants might also hide the less attractive stems of background plants. This approach leads to installing a series of plant layers in the garden bed, providing an attractive display.

As with all landscape concepts, this rule can be broken. For example, some “see-through” plants such as Angel’s Fishing Rod (Dierama pulcherrimum) or Brazilian Vervain (Verbena bonariensis) could be placed in front of shorter plants without obstructing the view.

Concept #2: Plant in groups. Having multiple specimens of a favored plant provides visual continuity in the landscape. Too often, when gardeners see an attractive plant in a garden center, they purchase and install just one plant and the landscape develops an eclectic or scattered appearance. A more effective method from a design perspective is to install at least three plants in a grouping. Some plants, e.g., Salvia ‘Amistad’, will spread on their own through runners, and soon create an attractive cluster.

A related concept, repetition, also provides continuity in the landscape. A plant that grows well in the garden and reproduces over time could form a clump that is larger than wanted in its location. This situation inviting transplanting divisions of the plant within the garden, ideally within sight of each other so they are visually linked.

Concept #3: Arrange Plants by Form and Color. The garden landscape looks best when it has been arranged intentionally. When selecting plants, envision their intended location in the garden to consider whether the new plants will look relative to existing plants in size, color and form of foliage, or color and form of blossoms.

Size relationships go beyond the “tall plants in back” concept. A landscape generally gains visual interest from plants of various sizes, but adjacent plants should not differ greatly in height or width.

Also consider foliage texture and color: which can vary over a wide range. When a given plant is grown in a grouping, there will be continuity in the foliage, but when installing different plants together, the garden design often will be enhanced by juxtaposing different foliage textures and colors. For example, pairing a red foliage plant with one that has silvery foliage could provide a striking effect, while putting two different plants with similar foliage could look like a design blunder.

Blossom colors, which are often emphasized in garden design, present challenges and opportunities. Again, intentional combinations look better than randomness.

One of the world’s most famous garden designs is Vita-Sackville-West’s white garden at England’s Sissinghurst Castle. This landscape favors white shades in both blossom and foliage color.

A comparably monochromatic effect could be developed with any of several other colors, but the more popular approaches use analogous or complementary color schemes. Such design approaches could be applied to larger garden beds, or smaller vignettes of just a few closely positioned plants.

Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

Analogous color schemes typically involve three colors that are close on the color wheel, e.g., red, orange and yellow, while complementary color schemes involve two colors that are opposites on the color wheel, e.g., violet and yellow in this column’s photo. These schemes can expand into complex ideas for fine artists and fabric designers, but gardeners can accomplish effective displays by applying the basic schemes. Learn about developing this aspect of your garden landscape by searching the Internet for “analogous color scheme” or complementary color scheme” or “color wheel.”

Enrich Your Gardening Days

As you stroll by gardens in your community or public gardens, or search for “private garden tours,” look for examples or violations of the three landscape design concepts outlined in this column.

Look also for creative and successful departures from these basic concepts. Even the best rules can be broken!

Keep your emotions positive and your viruses negative, and enjoy your garden.

Social Distance XII: Garden Books

Our botanical highlight for this week is the Fernleaf Yarrow (Achillea filipendulina ‘Coronation Gold’). This native of the Mediterranean basin area grows well in the compatible environment of the Monterey Bay area. Its stalks grow up to five feet tall, and its large flowerheads are so tightly packed with individual blooms that the plant needs staking to keep from flopping. The bright colors are worth that extra management.

Fernleaf Yarrow

As we strive to keep our emotions positive and our viruses negative, we continue our exploration of accessible and productive gardening activities.

  1. Care for Your Garden

Seasonal maintenance tasks provide plenty to keep gardeners involved while sheltering in place. Unless you have a special strategy, weeding is likely to be on the “to-do” list.

A longer-term weed management method is to remove large weeds from an area, cover the area with a layer of cardboard, wet it down, and then cover the cardboard with three or four inches of organic mulch. This will smother weeds while the cardboard deteriorates.

Cardboard in rolls can be purchased for this work, but recycling cardboard cartons is less expensive and good for the environment. It is necessary, however, to remove any packaging tape, which doesn’t deteriorate.

Previous columns in this Social Distancing series describe various ways to care for your garden during these difficult times. If you wish to review those columns, browse to my “ongardeniing” website. Here’s a list of topics:

  • Chelsea Chop
  • Moving Plants
  • Seasonal Care of Rose
  • Garden Photography
  • Walking the Neighborhood
  • Gardening Curriculum for Kids
  • Gardening by Walking Around
  • Readiness for Wildfires
  • Gardening with Kids
  • Garden Maintenance

2. Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

3. Enrich Your Gardening Days

Gardeners can both advance their gardening knowledge and enrich their gardening days by reading garden-related books.

Gardening interests, fashions and tools evolve from year to year, but the basic concepts have been with us for generations. The best books on gardening continue to be informative and enriching, even decades after their original publication.

The Society’s annual Book Award Program began in 1997 with a list of 75 Great American Garden Books. Each year since then, a distinguished committee of garden communicators selects the award recipients from among the year’s new books submitted by publishers. Books are judged on qualities such as writing style, authority, accuracy, and physical quality.

Here are the award winners for 2020:

  • Fruit Trees for Every Garden:  An Organic Approach to Growing Apples, Pears, Peaches, Plums, Citrus, and More. by Orin Martin with Manjula Martin  \
  • The Melon by Amy Goldman; photographs by Victor Schrager
  • The Scentual Garden: Exploring the World of Botanical Fragrance by Ken Druse; botanical photographs by Ellen Hoverkamp

The American Horticultural Society is also an excellent online source of information on earlier high-quality books about gardening. Browse to the AHS awards webpage and click on the link to 75 Great American Garden Books. Then scroll to the bottom of the page to the link to List of Previous AHS Book Award Winners.

A good plan to draw from your choice of these thoughtfully selected books begins by creating a comfortable reading nook in the garden, for occasions for rest and reading between weeding sessions. Find the book or books of your interest in a local, reopened library or bookstore, or through ever-present

Enjoy your garden.

Social Distance in Gardening, Part XI: Chelsea Chop

This week’s botanical feature is the large white crinkled blossom of the California Tree Poppy (Romneya coulteri), also called the Matilija Poppy (referring to a canyon in Ventura County, where it is abundant). It was once a contender for state flower, but the California Poppy was given that title. The California Tree Poppy grows six feet tall, and once established will spread to eight feet or more. We cut this plant to the ground in the early spring, and it is now back to its full size and flower.

California Tree Poppy

While we are social distancing, gardening keeps our emotions positive, and our viruses negative. Thinking about these objectives, we continue our exploration of accessible and productive gardening activities.

1. Care for Your Garden

Right now, late May, the “Chelsea Chop” is a useful gardening practice. This technique gets its name from Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show, held around this time of the year. This exemplifies very British gardening, but it also works quite well for us colonists.

The Chelsea Chop helps control the size, shape and flowering time of certain summer-flowering plants. It applies to herbaceous perennial plants that flower in the early summer and particularly those that tend to flop.

The Chelsea Chop involves pruning back all the stems on a clump, which delays all the flowers by four-to-six weeks, or just half of the stems, which extends the plant’s flowering period further into the summer. Full pruning could be accomplished by shearing the perennial clump, while selectively pruning the clump could be done best with garden clippers.

This method encourages the production of a greater profusion of flowers. After “chopping,” fertilize the plants and provide a thorough watering.

Here are some of the herbaceous perennials that benefit from this treatment: Achillea; Asters; Campanulas; Echinacea; Heleniums; Helianthus; Nepeta; Penstemons; Phlox; Rudbeckias; Salvias (herbaceous species) and Sedums. Your garden could include some of these or other plants that would respond well to being “chopped” in late May.  

This technique does not apply to woody perennials, which require different treatment. Roses, for example, should be deadheaded regularly at this time of the year to promote blooms.

2. Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

Assign yourself to a study one of your favorite plant genera and search the Internet for information to study.

Online sources are quick, easy and free. Wikipedia, for example, has detailed articles about roses and many other garden plants. To get started, browse to and search for “List of garden plants.” It’s impressive.

You could also get a book from the public library, a local bookstore, or an online shopping service, e.g., Amazon, depending on what is available in your community.

Depending on your level of interest, you could extend the study of your favorite plant genus by learning about other plants in the same botanical family. The Abelia, for example, is a member of the Honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae), which includes forty-two genera. Learning about your favorite plant’s relatives will broaden your understanding of its cultivation.

3. Enrich Your Gardening Days

Gardening can be an ideal pursuit while social distancing, but it is also a highly social activity, as evidenced by the hundreds of societies that gather like-minded gardeners to share ideas, experiences, and plants. These societies are now in hiatus, but in most cases their websites are running, and freely available for interested gardeners.

To locate a society for plants of your interest, search for your selected plant genus and “plant society.” For example, search for “rose plant society.” Other approaches start with the state, e.g., “California plant society,” or a plant category, e.g., “indoor plant society.”

A brief search could lead you to information from others who share your gardening interests. You don’t have to join a society to scan their online information. If the first search doesn’t yield helpful results, try a different search.

Enjoy your garden.

Social Distance X: Moving Plants

This week’s featured plant, Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’, is a succulent plant growing to 2 feet by 2 feet and producing clumps of rosettes to 8 inches tall by nearly 1 foot wide with broad bronze and pink leaves. This is a 1946 hybrid cross between Graptopetalum and Echeveria, both of which are natives of Mexico. The cultivar name honors one of the founders of England’s National Cactus & Succulent Society. It’s a beautiful and durable summer-growing plant that is a mainstay for succulent garden beds.

While social distancing, gardening keeps emotions positive, and viruses negative. With these goals in mind, we continue our exploration of appropriate gardening activities.

1. Care for Your Garden

We have advocated “gardening by walking  around” as a productive gardening activity while practicing social distancing. Today, we consider the value of “gardening by moving plants around” as another productive activity.

There are numerous reasons for moving plants within the garden. Providing more favorable growing conditions for the plant could be important. A plant might need more sun or more shade, or better drainage, or higher quality soil. Plants might have been planted in the wrong place, or nearby plants might have grown to block sunlight or crowd the plant in question. When a plant appears to be struggling to grow, consider moving it to more hospitable site.

Another reason for moving a plant is to keep it from crowding other plants or encroaching on a walkway. Too often, gardeners install a small new plant without considering its mature size.

Finally, moving a plant might refine the landscape design. A plant might be moved to relate better to other plants in terms of height, foliage form, blossom color, or overall size. A garden vignette might “come the life” after moving a plant from a background location to a starring role.

An old gardening aphorism states, “Plant after May, you better pray.” As with many generalities about gardening, this advice needs examination.

It really doesn’t apply to installing new plants, when done correctly. When a plant is moved from a nursery container to the garden, it benefits from gaining root room and (presumably) an appropriate growing environment.

Moving an existing plant in the summer, however, could challenge the plant’s health because transplanting an established plant unavoidably disturbs its root structure. The usual recommendation is to transplant during the early spring or late fall, rather than during the heat of the summer.

Still, if you have been gardening by walking around and seeing a plant that really must be moved, following good practices that could result in a successful move. The primary goal for most plants is to minimize loss of moisture. This is less of a problem when moving succulent plants, which store moisture quite effectively.

Gardeners in the Monterey Bay area’s temperate climate have a clear advantage over gardeners in California’s central valley, where summer heat makes transplanting problematic. Here are good practices.

  1. Schedule the move for the evening or a cool, overcast day.
  2. Water the plant thoroughly the day before the scheduled transplanting.
  3. Dig the hole for the plant‘s new location and fill the hole with water before proceeding to lift the plant.
  4. Water the subject plant again, to keep the roots intact.
  5. Lift the plant and install it promptly in its new location. Use a tarp to move a larger plant.
  6. Fill the hole halfway with water and let it settle, then fill the hole with soil and tamp it lightly around the transplant. 
  7. For the next several days, shield the plant from direct sunlight and water regularly. 

2. Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

Gardeners have ready access through the Internet for advice and demonstrations, when they are necessary or helpful. We can all learn from a quick search through Google or YouTube before tackling a significant gardening task. Phrase your inquiry with natural language and the Internet will interpret your interest. If you don’t get the results you expected, try restating your inquiry.

3. Enrich Your Gardening Days

Here’s this week suggestion for an entertaining garden-related online resource.

Laura Eubanks’ website offers photos of her designs and installations of succulent gardens in southern California. The homepage also includes a link to her many “Succulent Tip of the Day” video recordings on YouTube. She gardens with confidence and enthusiasm, and thus encourages bold gardening.

Enjoy your garden.

Social Distance in Gardening, Part IX: Seasonal Rose Care

Rosa ‘Iceberg’

Roses are in a fine display at this time. They received just enough rain earlier in this season to develop nicely. The rose featured in today’s column is a long-time favorite, ‘Iceberg’, bred in the 1950s by Kordes in Germany. This rose produces large clusters of double-white flowers and has earned many awards, including the World’s Favorite Rose (1983).

We continue our exploration of three categories of gardening activities that are suitable under social distance constraints and rewarding to the gardener.

1. Care for Your Garden

During short trips in the community, I’ve observed many healthy roses in bloom. Given the season’s pleasing growth of roses, today’s garden care notes have a timely focus on roses.

Roses need routine attention every year, but gardeners seeking worthy tasks while social distancing should consider fostering the growth and productivity of their roses.

During their spring growth, roses benefit from fertilization. Garden centers offer organic rose food mixes that are preferred over chemical fertilizers that can accumulate salts in the soil. About a week after an initial spring feeding, following package directions, some gardeners follow up by giving each rose a handful of Epson salts and a handful of Kelp meal. Your roses will thank you!

Regular irrigation is also important during this growth period. Roses grow best with two or three gallons of water for each plant. Whether you use drip or hose irrigation, provide adequate water each week.

Regular rejuvenation pruning of roses (weekly, perhaps) supports the gardener’s contemplation and encourages the roses’ productivity. This is a low-energy, low-stress activity (some call the rather grim term, “deadheading”) that improves the look of your rose plants and promotes new blossoms. It also provides opportunities to refine the overall shape of the rose bush. The basic practice is to remove old blooms to just above the first five-leaf or seven-leaf junction. With some plants, the first bloom to fade is between two buds; in those cases, prune the faded bloom and let the buds develop.

At this time of the year, you should also protect your roses from the Western Rose Curculio (Merhynchites wickhami). These pests are red and black, hard-bodied, snout beetles (weevils) about 1/4 inch long. They emerge from the soil in the spring and lay eggs in rose buds, preferring white and yellow roses. The eggs hatch and the larvae chew small holes in the buds. They are very damaging to beautiful roses! The pests eventually fall and bury into the ground, to emerge in the following spring.

Recommended management is to examine roses regularly for signs of the pest, and removal and proper disposal of the affected buds and blossoms. This can be done in the course of rejuvenation pruning.

Another approach is to hold a wide-mouth container of soapy water below where pest damage can be seen and shake the plant to drop the pests into the water, where they will expire. They are not tough customers.

2. Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

Gardeners who want or need more detailed advice for seasonal care of their roses should draw upon the Internet’s resources. A Google search for fertilizing, irrigating, rejuvenation pruning (or deadheading) roses will yield helpful recommendations. A search for Rose Curculio also will provide additional details about the life cycle of this pest, and methods of control. Toxic sprays are not needed; direct action is easy, safe and effective.

3. Enrich Your Gardening Days

The Internet also offers many enrichment opportunities for gardeners to explore. One category of these opportunities is comprised of blogs by garden designers. Deborah Silver is an award-winning designer in Detroit who is particularly generous in sharing her ideas, opinions, and examples through the Internet. Visit “Dirt Simple” to draw upon her design installation and garden accessory experiences. She describes very upscale projects, so she’s not about planting petunias, but there’s a lot on her blog site to see and appreciate, and a flow of ideas that any gardener could adapt. Enjoy your gardens and gardening and stay healthy.

Social Distance VIII

Our gardening by walking around continues. Today’s encounter is Rosa ‘Lady of Shallot’, a shrub rose with “striking apricot-yellow, chalice-shaped blooms.” David Austin introduced this rose in 2009, and it soon won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. It’s a good choice for the Monterey Bay area gardens.

Rosa Lady of Shallot

We continue our exploration of three categories of gardening activities that are suitable under social distance constraints and rewarding to the gardener.

1. Care for Your Garden

A natural accompaniment to gardening by walking around is garden photography. With very effective cameras included in our ever-present cellphones, frequent documentation of garden plants can be achieved with little effort.

Depending on individual interests, the gardener could pursue various objectives for garden photography:

  • Developing an inventory of plants in the garden
  • Following plant development (cellphone cameras record each’s picture’s date)
  • Showing parts of the landscape that look fine or that need change
  • Recording landscape vistas over seasons
  • Sharing digital garden photos with friends via email or social media
  • Printing photos for storing in an album or sending to friends (use a color printer and paper for glossy prints, available from office supply stores)
  • Creating artistic images

Currently available cellphone cameras, when used in the garden under common conditions, automatically produce photographs of very good technical quality. Here are five basic guidelines for achieving pleasing results: (1) fill the frame with your subject by moving in close; (2) position yourself with your back to the sun (but avoid shadowing your subject); (3) experiment with natural lighting effects shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset (noontime sunlight can be harsh); (4) take several different shots of your subject (multiple photos are essentially free); and (5) keep only the best.

Remember that guidelines can be ignored in favor of convenience or imaginative urges.

Also remember that your practice and regular critique of results will build your skills.

2. Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

While garden photography is an accessible pursuit without prior study or training, there is always more to learn. The first resource is the instructions for your cellphone camera. These might have been provided on paper with your cellphone, but more likely they are available online. Search the Internet for the make and model of your cellphone, then browse for “photography.”

You could also search the Internet or a local bookstore or public library for books on photography in general, or garden photography in particular.

A highly accomplished and widely published garden photographer, Saxon Holt, has self-published his “Think Like a Gardener” series of e-books on garden photography. I have previously recommended these inexpensive books for their guidance in conceiving and composing garden images.

For a wide range of other online opportunities to advance your gardening knowledge, visit Garden Design magazine and search for “online classes.” This magazine, which recently evolved into a digital publication, has provided an impressive array of fee-based short courses on several aspects of gardening.

3. Enrich Your Gardening Days

One of the many pleasures of gardening is the “butterfly phenomenon,” which is simply the natural spectacle of the colorful creatures flitting among the flowers. They truly enrich our gardening days.

If you have even a few flowering plants, you will probably see butterflies around them, but you have the option to further enrich your garden by growing plants that butterflies want, need, and will find.

Monterey Bay area gardeners living within five miles of the Pacific coast, should not plant milkweed, which would encourage butterflies to breed at the wrong season. Instead, select nectar plants that bloom from late fall to early spring. These months are the butterflies’ overwintering period when flowering plants are in limited supply. They will thank you for it by fluttering by.

For lots about the importance of California Milkweed (Asclepias californica) and the Western Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus), see a fine article by Hillary Sardiñas, Thomas Landis, and Jessa Kay-Cruz, posted by the California Native Plant Society.

Enjoy your gardens and gardening and stay healthy.

Social Distance VII

While thinking about today’s column, I walked through my garden to see what’s new, and found my favorite tall bearded iris in full bloom. This cultivar’s name, ‘That’s All Folks’, indicates the last introduction of highly accomplished hybridizer, William Maryott, who built upon the work of another highly accomplished hybridizer, Joseph Ghio, of Santa Cruz, California.

This iris was introduced in 2005. The American Iris Society describes its flower form as “bubble ruffled,” and it color as “brilliant gold standards; white falls with gold blending to wide muted gold band.” In 2013, the AIS honored it was its highest award, the Dykes.  Memorial Medal.

We continue our exploration of three categories of gardening activities that are suitable under social distance constraints and rewarding to the gardener.

1. Care for Your Garden

A previous recommendation from this column is particularly appropriate now: walking around the neighborhood. Walking has always been a good form of light exercise and is now categorized as an essential activity during the current sheltering at home program.

For gardeners, a neighborhood stroll provides very good opportunities to identify plants that the stroller might want to add to his or her own landscape. When the observer spots an appealing plant, the occasion has at least these two strong points:

First, assuming the walk is not far afield,  the plant’s environment is similar to that of the observer’s own garden. The climatic and soil conditions are likely to be a close match, although sun exposure might differ from the site the walking gardener has in mind.

Second, the plant probably grows under normal garden conditions, resembling that of the walker’s own garden. Garden centers and mail-order nurseries offer plants that might be so artfully dosed with fertilizers or hormones to maximize their appeal that they falter when moved into a typical garden.

Take advantage of your neighborhood walks by setting a goal to identify two or three plants that look good for a specific spot in your own garden.

If you know the plant, you’re ready to acquire your own specimen from a garden center, printed catalog, or on-line nursery. If the plant is unfamiliar, consider asking the garden owner (from the correct social distance). Most gardeners are pleased to share knowledge about their plants, and many are also willing to share cuttings upon request.

If you can’t identify the plant in these ways, check the following section.

2. Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

Knowing a plant’s name leads to important information for its cultivation and care. Traditional plant identification resources began with an experienced gardening friend. More recently, we have access to various online resources, some of which have been mentioned in this column. One favorite has been the National Gardening Association’s Plant ID Forum, where an informal panel of experienced gardeners identifies plants from photographs emailed by the puzzled gardeners.

There have been online, computer-based plant identification services, but in my experience they have been unsatisfactory. It’s frustrating to have a mystery plant identified as “flower.”

We now have access to an online, powerful, and free plant identifier that uses artificial intelligence to link the user’s plant snapshot to an enormous database of plant information. This application is PlantSnap, which has been developed in partnership with American Public Gardens Association and Botanic Garden Conservation International. The application has a database of 600,000 plants and is easy to use on a cell phone. The curious gardener snaps a photo of plant and emails it to PlantSnap. After a very brief processing period, PlantSnap will identify the plan correctly 94% of the time and offer basic information about the plant.

The free, advertising-supported version of PlantSnap is available on the Apple App Store and on Google Play. Give it a try!

The premium, ad-free version is available for a small monthly charge. At this time, the premium version is available in exchange for a $20 donation to the public garden of your choice. To consider this option, browse to the PlantSnap web page.

3. Enrich Your Gardening Days

There are numerous YouTube channels on gardening. Here are two that I’m finding well-done and illuminating:

John Lord’s Secret Garden. Search for “John Lord’s Secret Garden.” The host is the head gardener for Ratoath Garden Centre, a small public garden in Ireland.

He provides brief, informal video talks about the plants in his garden, and generously shares his extensive experience and opinions about plants that could be found in many home gardens.

Monty Don’s BBC Programs. Search for “Monty Don.” “Britain’s favourite gardener” is the host BBC television programs about gardens throughout England, Europe, and elsewhere in the world. His commentary provides a cordial, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable introductions to a wide range of gardens.

Enjoy your gardens and gardening and stay healthy.

Social Distance V

We continue our exploration of three categories of gardening activities that are suitable under social distance constraints and rewarding to the gardener.

1. Care for Your Garden

Time-honored advice in business calls for “managing by walking around.” That practice helps the manager to stay in touch with the day-to-day work of the enterprise.

The same practice applies to gardening. The gardener should walk through his or her garden often to observe how plants are growing, what they need, and what improvements would improve the landscape.

Recently, I discovered another result of “gardening by walking around:” a surprise development.

As I enjoyed the orange blossoms of the South African Bush Lilies (Clivia miniata), which I wrote about last month, I was surprised to find new, nearly white blossoms.

An apparent natural mutation (sport) of the red-orange Clivia miniata

I had not planted such a variety! Clivia specialists noted the impressive range of blossom colors in hybrids of this plant: common orange, salmon orange, deep orange, to dark red orange, creamy pale yellows, pale pink, rich peach and pink shades, and green-tinted bronzy red.

They have not mentioned white.

My Internet search for “white clivia” revealed a Clivia relative, Cryptostephanus vansonii (no common name). This is a rare plant, also from South Africa, with both white and pink forms. Online pictures of this plant showed that it differs enough from the familiar Clivia that I suspected that my newcomer could be a “sport” with very pale yellow blossoms.

That’s my “walking around” reward for this week.

Another garden care activity that could reward your efforts is to propagate a shrub through cuttings. Roses are popular candidates for such propagation. Here’s how.

  • After the first flush of bloom in the spring, cut a pencil-thick, six-inch long piece of strong, healthy stem.
  • Remove all but one set of leaves from the stem, and the growing tip of the cutting.
  • Dip the bottom of the stem in rooting hormone and insert the cutting in a container of potting soil.
  • Keep the cutting in warm and soil moist and watch for new leaves in six-to-eight weeks.
  • At that stage of growth, you could transplant your young new plant into the ground,

Propagating several cuttings at the same time could yield a swath of your favorite plant to enhance your landscape. This real gardening process creates free plants and much enjoyment.

2. Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

You can find more detailed descriptions of these methods by searching the Internet for “propagation of [the plant of your choice].” Also, searching will provide brief practical demonstrations in video recordings. Keep in mind that there could be as many approaches as there are gardeners, so draw on more than one demonstration.

3. Enrich Your Gardening Days

As promised, here are more botanical gardens for virtual tours as part of your personal program of garden exploration. Botanical gardens have an educational purpose in addition to their commitment to research and preservation of selected categories of plants. This list of international gardens is drawn from recent recommendations from a British garden magazine, especially to “help beat the self-isolation blues.”

For the full list, browse to

Enjoy your gardens and gardening and stay healthy.

Social Distance IV

Social Distance in Gardening, Part IV

In this column, we continue emphasis on maintaining social distance while developing specific actions within three priorities for gardening during these difficult times.

We should commit ourselves to the eventual reduction of the coronavirus threat. This surely will happen in time, according to expert analyses, as long as everyone continues the mitigation measures that are being described by the media,

We can sustain and build our optimism by observing the ongoing natural development of our gardens. Our plants follow their seasonal growth patterns, and we can be assured that nature still functions despite this temporary disruption.

Our gardens illustrate this reality in many ways. One pleasing example is the emergence of apple blossoms, which signal the annual development of fruit.

A close up of a flower garden

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The blossoms of the Gala apple tree (Malus ‘Gala’) are much like other apple blossoms.

1. Care for Your Garden

Part of caring for your garden is reviewing and improving your home’s preparations for wild-fire season.

The patterns of recent history have included limited rainfall and dry plants during the period from May through December, and the occurrence of wildfire sin June, July and August. We are not predicting similar patterns for this year, but we will experience fire dangers depends in part on the dryness of the environment.

We are not predicting fire dangers, but we are recommending readiness. This could require time and effort, so now is a good time to begin the process.

If your home is within or close to a forested area, you are probably already quite aware of fire dangers. If your home is in a more urban area, but surrounded by trees and shrubs, you should be complacent. Vegetation around your home could become dry and flammable, and airborne burning embers could  travel a mile or more from a wildfire site.

In either situation, consider developing your landscaping to establish an adequate defensible space around your home and to include fire-resistant plants.

The good news is that a fire-resistant landscape can increase your property value and conserve water while beautifying your home. The following priority section includes online sources of information to support these developments.

2. Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

CalFire’s website offers detailed online information for developing a fire-resistant landscape.

Important steps toward this goal include choosing fire-resistant plants and landscaping materials. Many plants are fire-resistant while none are completely fire-proof. Good choices include succulents, which have high moisture content, and hardwood trees, which have low sap or resin content.

A group of universities in Oregon has compiled information on plant selection in a free online publication. Browse to and click on “fire resistant plants”

Additional recommendations for fire-resistant plant selection is provided by Pacific Horticulture magazine.

3. Enrich Your Gardening Days

While you are sheltering in place, visit virtually other places of interest to gardeners. Here are three botanical gardens in California that share their horticultural riches on the Internet, while inviting personal visits when that will again be possible.

  • The University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley. “The 34-acre UC Botanical Garden is one of the most diverse landscapes in the world, with over 10,000 types of plants including many rare and endangered species. Organized geographically, the Garden features 9 regions of naturalistic plantings from Italy to South Africa, along with a major collection of California native plants.”
  • The Huntington Botanical Gardens. Schedule enough time to absorb all of the impressive displays of this garden. “Explore living collections of orchids and camellias, a botanical conservatory, fragrant rose garden, children’s garden and more, in 16 themed gardens spread over 120 acres.”
  • The University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanical Garden. I must include the Monterey Bay area’s fine botanical garden, which “ maintains collections of rare and threatened plants of unusual scientific interest. Particular specialties are world conifers, primitive angiosperms, and bulb-forming plant families. Large assemblages of plants from California natives, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand are displayed on the grounds.”

There are more excellent public gardens in the United States, and several lists of the top choices. Conduct your own list by searching the Internet for “Best botanical gardens in the US.” We’ll plan virtual tours of the world’s best gardens another time.

Enjoy your gardens and gardening and stay healthy.