Thursday, March 3, 2022

Neat vs. Messy


The collection of leaves among the base of the aster stalks from last season

I’m being a messy gardener this year. Recently I read in a magazine a comment from a renowned gardener who, when asked what he wished he could get gardeners to stop doing, said something like “Stop using wood mulch. Plants didn’t evolve to grow in wood chips. Wood chips don’t occur in the wild. Plants evolved to grow in their own waste.” It’s a fascinating truism that has stuck with me. Trees shed their leaves, which form a layer of mulch, which holds in moisture, and decomposes adding nutrients to the soil, which the trees can re-use. Can you imagine how that could apply to humans? Could we thrive in our own bodily waste? I think not. Our bodily waste has to go into another system to be re-used, and that is the world of plants. Plants other than trees do the same thing, particularly the perennials. They shed leaves, flowers, stems, and these accumulate under the plants year after year. So this year, I’m not cutting back my perennials quite as neatly. I’m leaving the accumulated duff under them, as well as the leaves that have blown into them. It’s natural after all. But there is some fallacy to this theory. Plants have evolved to live in their own waste, and wood chips don’t occur in the wild. Cultivated plants aren’t in the wild. They were bred (a form of enhanced evolution), to live in a garden (by definition, not the wild). So in a sense, their recent evolution was to live not in their own waste, but in a mulch of wood chips. I’ve read that leaving a plant’s own debris allows diseases to overwinter and to damage the plants the following year. This includes insects. I’ve also read that leaving a plant’s own debris allows for overwintering of beneficial insects, which will reduce the harmful insects in the following year. There is probably some truth to both statements, neither of which are likely true on their own. I suspect that there are both beneficial and harmful insects overwintering. The beneficial insects might even be surviving through the winter by eating some of their overwintering prey.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

gardeners are a hopeful kind


The act of planting is a gesture of hope. Whether seed or root, shrub or tree, something that will produce food, or a plant that is purely ornamental, there is no certainty that what is planted will grow and succeed. True, there are some things that are more likely to succeed and some things that are more likely to fail, but whether likely or unlikely, it is still a hope that inspires the planting. I’ve been following the Instagram feeds of some rose breeders. Rose breeding is truly an act of hope and love, especially as a hobbyist. David Austin Roses plants about 300,000 seeds a year, and from these, only one to three of the resulting plants are considered suitable for release. One seed of 100,000. That’s a lot of seeds to plant for a home gardener. And even with these odds, and with extensive testing for 13 years before the chosen ones are released, there is no guarantee that these plants will succeed. There are many, many David Austin releases that have been discontinued, for various reasons, but most likely reasons such as poor growth in the very different and varied climate of the United States compared to the UK, or lack of market popularity (usually due to poor growth, since beauty of the flower is usually not a question). Orchid breeders have an even tougher time of it, since some orchids take an average of 7 years from seed to bloom, and those 7 years can be a total bust if the cross does not achieve the goals of the breeder. That’s even assuming one can get the dust-like seeds to germinate and grow, a process that in artificial conditions requires precise sterile conditions and the inoculation of specific fungi that help the plant survive without killing the embryonic orchid. In the wild, the success of one seed in a million growing to adulthood would be high success. Those breeding fruit trees can wait many years to see what results. Those plant breeders working with easier to grow plants, plants with seeds that are easy to germinate, plants and seeds that are of a size that are easier to handle by human hands, and plants that grow from seeds to adulthood rapidly, are much more likely to see the success from their labors, but even they have no guarantee of success. It is a process of hope. But even if we are planting a product of their success, that result of 13 years of growing and hoping, the result of planting carefully nurturing 300,000 seeds to bloom, is no guarantee of success. It is still a process of hope. At this time of global discord, it is my thought that this is hope that we need. So I encourage you to go out and plant something. Especially if you are down about recent events. Nurture a seed, a root, a shrub or a tree. Plant some hope.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

'La Paz'

 'La Paz' is my favorite hippeastrum. I think. Can you see why? But 'Quito' may vye for my attention, being a more striking color.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

‘La Paz’ is starting


First blooms on ‘La Paz’ this year. It’s funny that this one bulb started this stem well before the other ‘La Paz’ bulbs in the same pot. It has started a second stem, and it is a little behind the other bulbs. Go figure. 

Monday, January 31, 2022

Thorny roses

‘Alnwick Castle’
Although I do have some roses without thorns, I also have some roses that are wickedly thorny. As the canes age some get more thorny. Some are wicked from the start. It’s not just the number of thorns that make the most evil ones. It’s the hooked curved thorns that grab and don’t let go that cause the most bodily damage. 

‘Radio Times’

‘Abraham Darby’

‘Munstead Wood’

‘Bishop’s Castle’

‘Bishop’s Castle’

‘Radio Times’


And one to show how some roses have no thorns at all. This one is ‘Windermere’. Of my other roses, ‘Annie Laurie McDowell’ has no thorns. ‘Nahema’ and ‘Marie Pavie’ have very rare thorns. 

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Neofinetia falcata ‘Shutenkaku’

 Neofinetia falcata 'Shutenkaku' is a pink form of the Japanese Wind Orchid. It smells just as good as the wild form, a delicious vanilla orange blossom scent at night. It took me a long time to find this pink form, many years ago, but now they are easier to find. It doesn't bloom as much as the wild forms that I have, but I still love it.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Rosemary removed!

Almost the "before" photo. The last of the rosemary hedge to be removed. 

Lots of roots

Digging up the watering line

Who put in this crazy serpentine line anyway. Right in the middle of the planting zone.

There, that's better.

Almost done! At least done for the day.

When I removed the rosemary hedge that was against the house, one friend thought it was because I had gotten tired of it and wanted something new. I was called heartless. Another friend thought that I had removed it for artistic purposes (flattering, but not true). The truth is, I removed it because the rosemary had gotten too big. It grew much wider that this variety was reported to grow. I didn’t have the time to shear it twice a year to keep its size and pruning it back hard would leave dead stumps of branches since rosemary doesn’t tolerate pruning below where there is active growth. The rosemary had grown over the path and I had walk into the gravel to the left to get around the rosemary. The rosemary, being about 9 years old had also become a fire hazard with all the dry resinous fallen leaves and the plants themselves with high oil content. This is the normal fire cycle of its native environment. So over the last 4 or 5 weekends, I've been removing the hedge. Today I revamped the watering system and double dug the ground. Of course the planning is already done, but I’m not saying what’s going in.