Sunday, August 25, 2013

oklahoma vs. texas

At TMH, I took out a ton of dying and unhappy aspen, and those that were poorly sited (oh my poor back!). Aspen are beautiful, but what water hogs! And those invasive roots! Then I had to choose what to replace them with. I thought about redbud (Cercis), but I knew I didn't want eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) which doesn't have very rich colored flowers in this climate, and the leaves shred in the wind. The intensely colored redbuds would be much better, and from what I knew, were closer to being native. My on-line research showed various names, C. reniformis, C. canadensis texensis, C. c. ‘texensis ‘Oklahoma’, Oklahoma redbud, Texas redbud. From my readings, these were all names for the same tree. This being the fall of last year, the nursery I went to had one Texas redbud in a 15 gallon, and one Oklahoma redbud in a 5 gallon. I figured they were the same, and since I needed two trees for my courtyard, I bought both. I discovered that these are different trees. Although flower colors are similar, leaf shape and texture are very different, and growth is very different. If you ever wondered what the difference is, here you go.

Oklahoma redbud flowers

Texas redbud flowers

First the flowers. I’ll discuss Oklahoma first, but only because it is alphabetical. Oklahoma redbud has richly colored magenta flowers, on the cool side of the color range. Texas redbud has warm colored magenta flowers. The flowers are very similar in size and shape. Although the photos show very similarly colored flowers, in the landscape, the contrast between cool and warm magenta is apparent. If you’ve ever seen warm reds against cool reds, it can be jarring. I think that the magenta is less jarring than the cool vs. warm reds, but that’s just my opinion. So far, there does not seem to be a difference in how floriferous they are.

Oklahoma redbud leaf

Texas redbud leaf

Although when I purchased them, the leaves looked similar, in growth they are different. Oklahoma redbud has thick glossy leaves that are distinctly round (reniformis = "kidney shaped"). Texas redbud has matte leaves, that are round-ISH, but not nearly as round. They are in fact primarily heart shaped, especially in the leaves formed early in the season, or not drought stressed (most of the leaves have a point, like the one on the left of the photo - not so reniformis).

Oklahoma redbud growth

Texas redbud growth

The biggest difference between the two is that the growth of the two redbuds are dramatically different. Oklahoma redbud put out about four inches of growth from the top shoots, about 12 inches on the lowest branches, and then stopped. When the summer monsoons arrived, no new growth occurred. It is a very compact grower so far in its first year, and the branches are primarily horizontal, with no dominant upright leader.  Growing in the same area, Texas redbud has not stopped growing since it leafed out in the spring, and still has new leaves forming as of today. It has put on about 6 feet of growth (that’s right, feet), which is primarily vertical, although the branches become more horizontal as you go down the tree, so that the lowest branches at ground level are horizontal.

So there you have it. Similar flowers, but dramatically different leaves and growth.

garden at the modern house

When I moved to a new house a year and a half ago, it was goodbye to Casa Coniglio. I had just gotten the garden to about where I wanted it to be (a garden is NEVER “finished”), and I had assembled a collection of my favorite plants, some of which were collections of my own seed-grown plants, or hybrids, such as Echinocereus triglochidiatus (Claret Cup Cactus), which I grew from a packet of seeds from Plants of the Southwest, and were just becoming large enough to have a good display of flowers.  It should have been no surprise to me that I fell into a funk when I moved to The Modern House, which has none of my choice plants. It does have a much larger garden space (0.45 acre, which might not seem like that much to some people, but compared to my previous 0.16 acre, it is luxurious). Most of the last 18 months has been working on fixing broken things such as repairing damaged walls, repainting, fixing the heating system and plumbing fixtures. The garden is slowly moving along, after having removed a number of dead and dying trees. Anything new requires first the removal of the old. I’m finally starting to get in some plants that I like. But Casa Coniglio is now long gone, and now I’m working on The Modern House Garden (TMHG).

We call it The Modern House because of the dozens of houses we looked at in this land of Pueblo-style homes and Territorial style homes, this house had distinctly modern features. It certainly is not Modern as you would imagine Modern style, and it is far from being as Modern as other houses in this neighborhood. It does not have steel doors and aluminum window frames. If this house were in Los Angeles, it would be considered an adobe, or maybe a modernistic adobe. But for identification purposes, during our house hunt, we called it The Modern House, and now I can’t think of it as anything else. Perhaps I should call it The Semi-Modern House, or The Modern Adobe House. But no, TMH it remains.

The style has been a dilemma for me. My preference leans heavily toward Mediterranean, especially Italianette, hence Casa Coniglio, and this would not do at TMH. Not only did two households have to combine into one, but I had to figure out what to do about the furniture, most of which did not match each other or the house. I have learned to appreciate modern furniture (but I still don’t like Mid-Century Modern).

Which brings me back to the garden. How to design a garden for a modern house? I’ve been researching this since before we moved in, and there seems to be two camps. One is to make the outdoors just like the indoors. Strict lines. Lots of paving. Very limited plant palette. Just about no flowers. Devotion to form, structure, texture. Did I mention a very limited plant palette? I do love this look, for example the gardens designed by Marmol Radziner brought me to a standstill, with my mouth open. But given that I am a plant freak, and that Casa Coniglio had over 100 species in just the postage stamp front yard, how happy do you think I’d be with a structured garden of just 4 species? I showed my partner a picture of one of these gardens and said I wanted to do this. I was rewarded with full out laughter, which I must admit, hurt my feelings a little. Sigh.

However, these stark structured gardens were not the only ones that I found in my research. Many houses looked like they were plunked down, a space ship in the middle of a natural landscape. Others had massing like the prairie style Oehme Van Sweden gardens. Some had the dense perennial plantings like Piet Oudolf designs. There were even modern houses with cottage style planting, albeit with strict geometry of the hardscape. I realized that any of these would work, and any of these I would love. Given that the builders of TMH made swoopy curvy areas in the garden as well as big square concrete pad walkways the more structured garden would require a complete restructuring, tearing down and rebuilding the hardscape/irrigation/drainage. This would be out of my budget even if I wanted a strictly modern design garden. Nope, I'll give in to the beast. Let the plant collecting begin!