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May 2007
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August 2007

Love those snap peas!

0299697r01012 The snap peas are in full production in the College garden now. These have to be one of the best crops for a home garden. They are immensely productive and so wonderful for eating out of hand that I doubt many of them get even as far as a salad. These are one of two pea types that have edible pods, the other being snow or sugar peas. But while you eat snow pea pods while they are still flat, before the peas form, you let snap peas fill out. You pick the nice fat pods and crunch them down peas and all. In fact, they are best when the peas are fully formed, since they are sweeter than the pods.                  

We planted seeds for these peas in late February, which should have been an OK time to plant them, but we didn't get very good germination. We replanted in mid April, filling in around the ones that came up. The first planting began to bear at the end of May, the second by mid-June, and both are going strong now.

Another good time to plant peas, and maybe safer inland, is in the fall. We can plant them as late as November here near the coast, and again in spring, since our weather stays cool most of the summer. If peas are growing in hot weather for too long, they decline and often get the fungus disease powdery mildew.

Besides eating snap peas on the spot, I like to chop the pods into 2 or 3 pieces and put them in a salad. They can also be used for dips.

The beauty of snap peas is that they increase the amount of food you can harvest from each pea plant. When you grow shell peas, a plant averages about 1/8 pound of peas. With snap peas, assuming you let the peas get big, you get them plus all the weight of the thick pod. So you get at least twice the weight of harvestable food from each plant, maybe more.

We grew bush peas, which reach about 24 inches tall. They don't absolutely need a trellis, but it is a good idea to run poles and string down the bed beside each row, or at least push branchy twigs into the ground all over the bed. These "pea sticks" need to be 3 or 4 feet long, so there is a foot or so to push into the ground and more than 24 inches above ground. (One of the best parts of gardening is finding uses for sticks and stones and other natural materials. Pea sticks do look a bit wild, but do the job very well.)


More Pacific Grove--Pelargonium cordatum?

Pacific_grove_507_025_4x6Pacific Grove, California, the town that is West of Monterey, is teeming with Wildly Successful Plants, including many kinds of pelargoniums (geraniums)--ivy, regal, scented, etc--that I wrote about in my book by that name. But one that I saw stopped me in my tracks, because the leaves looked more like begonia leaves than pelargonium leaves. Here is a photo. The plant was about 2 feet tall, and the leaves to 4 or 5 inches long. Notice the narrow lower petals, almost threadlike.

I looked at books with photos of pelargoniums, and finally saw one that looked a lot like it. It is Pelargonium cordifolium, a species that is native in the southern and eastern part of the Cape region of South Africa. The leaves are about the same, though the flowers seem a bit pinker. They do have the narrow lower petals though. The photo is in Volume I of the Random House Book of Indoor and Greenhouse Plants by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix.  The Phillips and Rix book says the leaves have an apple scent (I wish I had sniffed it) and that it is easy to grow in sandy soil.

Most of the pelargoniums in our gardens are hybrids among two or more species of South African plants. But once in a while, we see a pure species, or a plant that is alost a pure species, and this seems to be such a case.

Is it a new or an old planting? Don't know. Many of the houses in the neighborhood were built over a century ago, and bear placques to mark the date and the original resident, and many of the plants in gardens are cleary heirlooms. I don't know the date this particular pelargonium species was imported and sold here, but I sure do like it!


My Dad's Banana Tree/Post-Frost

  1. In November of last year I wrote about my dad, who was almost 100 years old, and about his banana tree, which had set a large bunch of bananas. Bananas take 18 months to ripen, and he was looking forward to eating them. During January, there was a big frost, which damaged many plants here in San Diego County, including the banana tree. When I got here at the end of January, for his 100th birthday party, or parties, the plant was entirely brown save for the green fruit. Things were not looking good for the banana.

Vista_6507_007_mod4x6_2Now here I am in June. Dad is still going strong and the banana tree is mostly recovered. The stem with the fruit on it has no green leaves, but other stems do. The bananas (see photo) are green and seem to be swelling. So we are in suspense, hoping that Dad will be able to enjoy another taste of homegrown bananas this year.

Vista_6507_008_mod4x6Here is a photo of the entire plant, taken this week, showing how many new green leaves it has. What I don't know is how much nutrition the leafless stem (which arches up behind green leaves on the right side of the plant, and then ends in the long, pendulous fruit stem) can get only through the photosynthesis on the surface of the green fruit, and whether this will be enough to let it ripen. We shall see.


The Tree Aloes of Pacific Grove

Dsc_0027_aloe_at_3x5_1_3Here is a winter image of the aloe in Pacific Grove. I believe that it is Aloe arborescens, which is the species of most of the old aloes in mid-California and the one featured in my book Wildly Successful Plants: Northern Califoria. (You can click on the image to make it bigger.)

(As you can see, I am finally feeling confident enough to put images on my blog, though I took this one when we were in Pacific Grove last November. I plan to have more current images on this blog in the future.)

Aloe arborescens is from South Africa, as are many aloes. Paging through a book about South African aloes in the library, I saw the inspiration for some of the fantastic plants that appear in the illustrations of Victorian children's books. There are tall aloes that are a single huge whorl of leaves topped with a candelabra of flower stems, and there is one that looks like a broad-crowned tree, with one thick trunk and a broad head of branches topped with leafy whorls, each with flower stems. "Arborescens" means treelike, but actually there are aloes more treelike than Aloe arborescens, which makes a massive mound of leaf whorls, but scientific names are not chosen with absolute accuracy in mind.

In South Africa, various aloes, from tiny "grass aloes" to the biggest tree forms, are used in ornamental landscape. Before Europeans arrived, Aloe arborescens was used to make kraals, or corrals, to keep wild animals away from domestic ones. They were planted on mounds, which made the barrier more formidable. The leaves of this aloe have been used medicinally, like those of the North African Aloe vera, to treat skin ailments.

There is a several-mile-long walk along the bottom of Monterey Bay at the north end of Pacific Grove that is studded with these aloes. In May, the aloes are out of bloom, and the ground is covered with pink iceplant. Just as well they don't bloom at the same time as the colors would be rather alarming in combination. The town used to be a resort for Methodists, late in the 19th Century and early in the 20th, I think. Much of the parkland design dates from that period.