Spring Bloom in Fall--It's a Problem

In today's SF Chronicle (January 1, 1917), I wrote about plants that bloomed last fall in San Francisco that ought not to have been blooming until spring, caused by continuing climate change.

While it's true that we typically have our warmest "summer" weather from mid-September to mid-October, this weather has been lasting longer than usual. Last fall, the warm days and mild nights lasted until near the end of November. We celebrated time spent outdoors in nice weather, but some of our garden plants reacted by blooming and leafing out as if it were spring. This is a problem for the plants, which put energy and physical matter into doing this, so that when spring really does come, they have less stored matter and food energy to do it all again. This weakens the plant, leaving it more susceptible to all kinds of setbacks.

Case in point is my apple tree, which has borne bountiful crops of delicious apples for 30 years. But recently it has been trying to bloom in fall. Then, because winters aren't quite cold enough, it blooms later than usual in the spring. And, because of the energy it used up in fall, it blooms more sparsely. Two years ago, it had practically no fruit.

Last year it did better, though not as well as it used to do. The photo below, which I sent to the Chronicle, but they didn't use in the paper, shows my tree last November, with a few last apples and last leaves till hanging on while blooms and new leaves opened all around them. Now, on January 1, all the new leaves have succumbed to cold, wasting all that effort.

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If you are growing other temperate plants in the Bay Area, such as cherries and plums (ornamental or fruiting), magnolias, lilacs, or azaleas, you may be having the same kind of problem. What's to be done to save our plants? Obviously continue to work against climate change, a movement in which California in general is doing well.  But we can also join an effort to record the changes, in which our regional data will provide extremely valuable evidence.

More data about how climate change is affecting plants in our region is especially important so that we are represented in a system that has so much more data from cold-winter regions.

There are two organizations that are seeking citizen science data. One is the National Phenology Network (www.usapn.org/), sponsor of the National Phenology Project. It studies both plant and animal species. Another, Project Budburst (budburst.org), is studying only plant responses. Phenology is the study of what plants and animals do in response to seasonal changes.

Sending records to these databases is easy to do online. Log in, choose a plant, and tell them what it is doing on various dates. Children can do it at home and school classes can do it. Both web sites have curriculum information to help teachers fit the work into classes. It teaches observation, appreciation of plants, climate science, ecology, and how science is done

So as our new, and rather unnerving, year begins, please help observe and record what is going on with nature. Your reports will be powerful.


A Shout Out for Nichols Garden Nursery Seed Company

               When I first arrived in San Francisco, many years ago, living in a rented flat, wanting to plant a few vegetables in a neighbor's yard. I discovered the Nichols Garden Nursery herb and rare seed catalog. They had everything I needed to try out my new climate and microclimate. They are still there, still carry old and new favorites, and now, of course, they are also on the web.  

               Located in Western Oregon, the nursery is experienced with cool summers, especially with cool summer nights. In their catalog I discovered many varieties that were to become staples over the years. They had purple-podded bush beans, which are your best bet to grow regular garden beans in near-coastal microclimates because they germinate well in cold soil. If those worked in a particular location, then I tried 'Roma II', a bush romano bean, the kind with broad, flat pods and a buttery texture. If the garden was too chilly for the purple bush beans, then I knew I had better plant Scarlet Runner beans, because they are, as the Nichols catalog states, "an excellent cool weather variety." If I had great success with the Roma II beans, it was time to try some regular pole beans, like 'Goldmarie', a yellow-podded pole romano or old standby 'Kentucky Wonder Pole'.

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Left to right: Scarlet Runner climbing bean, 'Royalty Purple-Podded Bush Bean, and 'Goldmarie' yellow-podded pole Romano bean.

               Nichols still carries all of these bean varieties, all open pollinated, all heirlooms, and many more. And they still carry 'Early Sunglow' corn, a variety listed at 62 days to maturity. It succeeds in milder San Francisco neighborhoods, taking 90 days due to the cool microclimate, but still allowing two plantings a summer--one in May and another in July. That second planting comes out in mid-October, right before the usuals start of the rainy season. The stalks are short, but bear 2 ears. The ears are smaller than supermarket corn, but worth it for the chance to eat fresh, fresh, corn-on-the-cob.

               They also still carry overwintering cole crops like 'Purple Sprouting' broccoli, the beautiful and the delicious 'January King' cabbage. And many kinds of kale, including two packets of kale mixes that let you see the wonderful diversity of this nutritious leafy green.

               It was also the place I first found 'Stupice' tomatoes, early and tasty in cool summers. They carry 'Early Girl', 'Green Zebra', and 'Oregon Spring', all of which have borne fruit well in my Mission District community garden. And they have kept up with the times, now the sweet golden cherries 'Sungold', and offering late blight resistant 'Jasper' cherry and larger-fruited 'Mountain Magic'.

               There are many other choice varieties in this catalog that I discovered since I first saw it. They have sweet, orange cherry tomato 'Sungold', reliable and early 'Snow Crown' cauliflower, the choice color-mix 'Bright Lights' chard, striped and ribbed heirloom zucchini 'Costata Romanesco', red-splashed and long-bearing 'Flashy Butter Oak' lettuce, and 'Bull's Blood' beets, the red leaves of which seem not to interest leafminers in my garden.

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'Bright Lights' Swiss Chard

               They have also kept up with the issues of the day when it comes to garden seeds. They signed the Safe Seed Pledge, which promises they will not carry seed that is transgenic or genetically engineered. They have also joined the brand new Open Source Seed movement, offering many of the varieties that are pledged never to be patented, keeping seed these open-pollinated varieties available for seedsaving and further selection by gardeners and farmers.

               The first page that attracted me to Nichols was the "New and Unusual Vegetables" page. Here I found the uncommon crop, the surprises, unusual varieties and little-known crops. Many unusual crops are also in the rest of the catalog. They have 5 varieties of hops roots, 4 kinds of potato starts, walking onion bulbs, seed for the exquisitely flavored herb, Shiso, 'Lemon Gem' edible marigold, 3 varieties of Quinoa, miner's lettuce, magenta-leaved orach, and Tromboncino climbing summer squash.

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Walking Onion is a scallion (green onion) that propagates by stem-top bulblets.

I have only ordered seed from Nichols Garden Nursery, but they sell many other products, from essential herb oils, herbal teas, and 2 kinds of sourdough starters to ingredients and equipment for making beer cheese and wine.

               Nichols Garden Nursery is a family-owned business founded in 1950 by Nick and Edith Nichols and run currently by their daughter Rose Marie Nchols McGee. They are located at 1190  Old Salem Road, in Albany, Oregon. At their brick and mortar nursery, they sell herb plants and seasonal seedlings, including many specialty plants they don't sell through the mail. You just missed their annual Plant Day, with the traditional serving of Lavendar/Ginger ice cream, but it is the Saturday after Mother's Day, in case you are planning a trip through Oregon next spring.

               The website of Nichols Garden Nursery is nicholsgardennursery.com. Pay it a visit and discover a treasure for our west coast gardens.


Peppers Leafing Out After Winter

In the post I wrote about Peridot pepper, I said it was not leafing out again in spring, and that I thought it would not be a perennial plant in San Francisco. But perhaps I spoke too soon.

As background, I should say that even common garden peppers, the ones in the species Capsicum annuum, are perennials in a tropical enough climate. I have overwintered them in San Francisco. They lost their leaves, but did leaf out moderately well and bore a small crop the second summer. They were not as productive as in the first summer, and since in San Francisco, they weren't hugely productive the first year, I decided overwintering them wasn't worth the trouble.

One species pepper is fully perennial here. That is the rocata pepper, in the species Capsicum pubescens. It keeps almost all of its leaves over the winter, and, with moderate pruning of damaged branches, keeps right on going in the spring. The peppers are usually very hot, though some varieties have fruit that is milder when it is green. Plants are  shrubs, up to 6 feet tall in milder parts of SF.

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This is what Rocata pepper looks like. It keeps most of its leaves all winter, just needs light pruning in spring.

Peridot peppers are in the species Capsicum baccatum. They grow in the lower elevations of the Andes, where nights are cool, so they can bear a crop in cooler Bay Area sites. And they are a sweet pepper, with only a flash of heat now and then. (See earlier post on Peridot pepper for more photos and details.)

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Peridot Peppers bear in September and October then lose most of their leaves in winter.

I also grew a second variety of C. baccatum last year, which had long fruit, similarly mild, that ripened to orange. I thought it might be Aji Amarillo, the hot pepper often used in ceviche in South America, but apparently not. (Aji Amarillo seems to be a shorter pepper, in addition to being fiery hot.) From looking at web descriptions of C. baccatum varieties, I think I grew Peru Long Orange. The fruit reached 7 inches long, the plant was five feet tall, and it bore very late, into November and December. (It was great to have peppers in winter.)

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This is the one I call Peru Long Orange, before the fruit turns orange.

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Here is how it looks in winter if you leave it on to ripen. Notice the leaves are becoming yellowish.

So now its spring. I left the plants in, to see what would happen. First, a fine, deep green shoot emerged at the base of the Long Orange plant. Then little shoots appeared here and there on that plant as well as on the Peridot. The best, most vigorous, shoots were often lower on the branches, not at their ends. I began a careful pruning program, cutting branches back just above strong shoots. That is, I was letting the plant leaf out first, to guide me as to where to cut. I also worked some aged manure into the soil near the plants (I had turkey manure.) to give them a boost.

By May the Peru Long Orange plant has become quite leafy, lots of big, dark green leaves. It is a foot or two shorter than it was, due to my pruning, but growing nicely. The Peridot shoots are not quite as vigorous (and I don't have a good photo of it yet). Perhaps the fact that Peridot bears fruit earlier in the season is related to its being slightly less able to recover from winter. However, it is too soon to tell whether either plant will bear a good crop this year. I'll let you know.

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Peru Long Orange leafing out in the second year, shown in late April.

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Close-up shot of Peru Long Orange leaves in second year, showing their healthy size and color, and a pruning cut (center)

I must say, however, that plants in a friend's garden are not leafing out as well. The Long Orange in that garden was cut back heavily, before it began to grow new leaves, so perhaps this was an error. The Peridot in that garden was allowed to hold onto much of its ripe fruit through the winter, so perhaps it used up too much energy ripening seeds to have much left for regrowing. (I ate most of my Peridot peppers green, finding the flavor nicer than when it was red, and took off the last fruits in about December.)

I have put in new plants of each, next to the old plants, and will be comparing their performance, to try to decide it is worthwhile to overwinter these plants.

Annie's Annuals anniesannuals.com, grew both kinds of C. baccatum this spring, and even offer Aji Amarillo. If anyone grows any of these plants and has new info to impart, please send a comment.


Peridot Pepper--A Mild Pepper for Coastal Gardens

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This week's Chronicle column, the one that ran on February 6, 2016, introduced Peridot peppers, a different species of peppers than the common garden peppers. Most of our peppers are Capsicum annuum, but Peridot peppers are Capsicum baccatum. These are South American peppers, and some of them are from higher elevations, in the Andes. At these elevations, the day and night-time temperatures are lower, so the plants are better adapted to our region's cooler summer temperatures. Peppers in this species range from mild to very hot, and share a flavor that is called "fruity, almost citrusy."

A famous Capsicum baccatum variety is the Aji Amarillo. a very hot pepper that matures to an orange color. Annie's Annuals offers plants of this variety. It is traditionally used in ceviche, a raw fish salad.

Peridot is not so hot, in fact it is quite mild if you remove the seeds and internal white ribs. Though I use hot peppers, I was delighted to be able to grow a mild one in SF. I enjoyed the flavor they added to a mixed salad and also used them in a Southwestern corn salad.

The fruits of Peridot are of an interesting shape, oval, but with several wide wings that make the pepper wider than long. The plants reach four feet tall, are V-shaped, or flaring, with 30 to 50 peppers per plant. They set late and ripen into fall. Because the plant is so large, it would be stunted by all but a very large pot, say 18" deep. My plant has survived into February, but does not look as though it will be able to recover and bear fruit a second year. That is, unlike Rocata pepper, Capsicum pubescens, I don't think it will be perennial here.

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 Annie's Annuals should have plenty of Peridot pepper plants this spring (2016). They sell at their nursery as well as by mail order from anniesannuals.com.

I didn't locate any commercial seed source for Perido peppers. I found seed for two varieties that are C. baccatum, and have similar-looking fruit, but both are probably hotter and they seem to grow on plants with different habits than Peridot. The seed I found was for Christmas Bell Hot Pepper, from Reimer Seeds (they say the plants grow to 20 inches tall) and Brazilian Starfish, from Baker Creek Seeds (said to grow on a weeping, almost vine-like plant).


Bay Area Rose Pruning Clases January 2016

    I prepared the following list of rose pruning workshops for my January, 2016 column, which was to run on January 3, but it did not. Then it was to run on January 10, too late for Jan. 9-10 workshops, but at least helpful for the rest of the month. But it was dropped from my column. So here it is, in hopes that it might help at least a few people learn to prune their roses. While any pruning demonstration will help you learn the techniques you need, if you want some first-hand experience, note especially the hands-on pruning experiences, in San Mateo's Central Park January 16, and in the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden every Saturday for the rest of January and the first half of February.

Is Your Future Rosy?

Love roses? Learn rose pruning and care at classes or hands-on workshops taking place in January around our region. Free unless otherwise noted.

Berkeley: Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, 1310 McGee Ave., berkeleyhort.com, 510-526-4704; Rose Pruning Classes: Saturdays, January 9 and 23 at 10 AM.

Cupertino: Yamigami Nursery, 1361 S. DeAnza Blvd., yamigamisnursery.com, 408-252-3347; Winter Rose Care Classes: Saturday, January 9 at 10 AM, Sunday January 17 at 11 AM. (20% off coupon for day of class included)

Marin: Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Marin Rose Society, marinrose.org, 415-457-6045; Annual Pruning Demonstration: Tuesday, January 12, 7:30 PM. (nonmembers $5.00)

San Jose: Guadalupe River Park Heritage Rose Garden, 412 Seymour St., heritageroses.us/PruningLessons.htm, 510-526-4704 (Volunteer Coordinator Jessica Gonzales); Supervised Pruning: Wednesdays and Saturdays, January to mid-February, 8:30-11:30 AM. (Bypass shears and leather gloves provided.)

San Mateo: Central Park Arboretum, 50 East 5th Ave., sanmateoarboretum.org/classes-special-events/, 650-579-0536 x3; Rose Pruning Symposium: Sunday January 10, 1-3 PM, $15 ($10 for members, reservation required)

Help Prune Central Park's Rose Garden: Saturday, January 16, 10-Noon. (Instruction included--bring shears and gloves.)

San Francisco:

Rose Garden, Golden Gate Park, Pruning Demonstration by the S.F. Rose Society: Jan 9, 10 AM-1 PM (or January 16 in case of rain).  

Flowercraft Garden Center, 550 Bayshore Blvd, flowercraftgc.com, 415-824-1900; Rose Clinics: January 16 and 17, 11 AM-Noon, February 13 and 14, 11 AM -Noon.


About the Bidens Hawaiian Flare Series

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A number of readers wrote in to ask where they could purchase the Bindens varieties I wrote about in my August column. The one shown above is Bidens Hawaiian Flare series 'Red Drop'. It and other Hawaiian Flare Bidens varieties have been available to wholesalers for at least two years, but are not often to be found in local nurseries. When I saw this variety last summer at the Mendocino Botanical Garden, I asked them about it. They said their supplier was out. I neglected to find out its name, and without a name, I didn't have a way to search for it.

Then the manager of Flowercraft Nursery, in San Franciso, found it in a truck arriving from a wholesaler, thought it might be what I wanted and plucked some out for me. With the correct name, I could write about it, and with the proper name, we can ask local retailers to carry it.

A little research turns up the following information:Bidens Hawaiian Flare series was bred by Florsaika, a Japanese company see florsaika.com/bidens-hawaiian-flare/). It is available only from cuttings, and these are handled exclusively by Florexpo, a company based in Costa Rica that sells unrooted cuttings to brokers worldwide, but mostly to North America, Europe, and Japan. (See florexpo.net)  On the websites of both of these companies, you can see videos that explain their businesses.

From Florexpo, the cuttings go to brokers. Then a wholesale nursery buys them from a broker and grows the  plants up to the size retailers want. Finally, the wholesaler sends out plants, in some combination of what the retailer asks them to send and what they think a retailer will want.

Before I list a plant, I usually contact some local nurseries and make sure they are carrying it, so they won't be caught without it. But in this case, I think the plants are sleepers--great choices that have not become widely available. You might find them available locally, but if not, politely ask your local nursery for the plants by name. Tell them you'd like to have some Bidens Hawaiian Flare Series plants, now, if they can get any, next spring if they can't get them now. Then they will ask their wholesalers about the plants, and either get ones now or see if they can get a wholesaler to grow some for spring. (The nurseries that are most likely to carry these varieties are ones that buy plants from wholesalers, rather than ones that usually grow their own plants from their own seed or cuttings, since these plants have to be grown from purchased cuttings.)

Here is how Hawaiian Flare 'Red Drop' looks in my garden now (growing with blue annual Convolvulus tricolor and some chartreuse green nicotiana).

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The plants growing with them are Nicotiana in chartreuse and white and annual Convolvulus tricolor (blue).

Here is another Bidens Hawaiian Flare, 'Red Star', that I found in a nursery, not realizing at the time that it was in the same series as 'Red Drop'.

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It is growing here with some blue edging lobelia.

The advantages of the new Bidens varieties are, besides different colors and larger flowers than were otherwise available, that their more open, taller form allows them to drape and to mix with other plants in a border, and their height makes them more attractive to native bees and other beneficial insects.

Finally, here is a close up of the Bidens that used to be the main one available. The plant shown here is fairly young, so only has a few flowers, but when it grows larger, this plant will be a low mat covered with the one inch yellow flowers.

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It is growing under a taller feverfew plant that has similar, but larger, leaves.


Master Gardener Spring Sales--Mostly Tomatoes

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Master Gardeners will be holding spring markets in three Bay Area counties in April. As reported in my SF Chronicle Column of April 5, they will be as follows:

San Mateo/San Francisco Master Gardeners will hold two sales. The first is on April 11, 9-1, at Redwood High School, 1968 Old County Road, Redwood City. The second is April 18th, 10-2, at Central Park in San Mateo, and is part of an open house at the park on that day. For more information: 2015 San Mateo/SF Spring Garden Market Information

Marin County Master Gardeners are having two sales on the same day, April 18th, both 9:30-12. One is at the Bon Air Shopping Center, 50 Bon Air Ctr., Greenbrae, the other is at the Pini Market, 1535 S. Novato Blvd, Nave Shopping Center, Novato..For more information: 2015 Marin County Tomato Market Information

Santa Clara Master Gardeners are having their sale on April 11, 9-2 at History San Jose, 1650 Senter Road, San Jose..:For more information: 2015 Santa Clara Spring Market Garden Information

All of the sales include tomato plants galore and Master Gardeners on hand to answer questions and the  April 11th sales in Redwood City and in San Jose include other kinds of seedlings and garden talks, and  a "green elephant" sales.

Each of the Master Gardener Organizations have prepared lists of the tomato varieties they will be selling, with information on the qualities of each variety. Here are links to the three 2015 tomato variety lists:

2015 San Francisco/San Mateo Tomato List

2015 Marin County Tomato Varieties

2015 Santa Clara County Tomato List

 

 

 


Mendocino--Coastal Walk


This is part two of a plant photo report from our recent trip to Mendocino. The first shows some plant highlights from the Coast Botanical Garden. This one will show you some of the plants and views from a hike around the town of Mendocino on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. To take this walk, one usually starts at the south end of the town, crossing the last business street will take you down near the bluffs. Just find a trail, turn right, and start walking, pausing often for views and closer looks at the plants. If you keep walking you will pass around the West side of town and come out at the northwest corner. Then you can turn inland and walk south back down the main drag.

     The wide swath of weeds and wild flowers follows the coast. Below the bluffs are inaccessible beaches between rocky cliffs. Wild waves splash around the many rocks near the shore. There are natural arches and even a blow hole. This beach aster overlooks one of the vertiginous views. .

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   If you are a food gardener, one plant on the walk is instantly familiar. It's a cole crop, probably collards. These plants have escaped from cultivation to grow happily in this maritime habitat much like that of the European coasts where they evolved. The waxy coating on their leaves evolved to protect them from damp air. However, while these are definitely collards, when I collected seed, some years ago, to see what would grow, I discovered that they produced plants with rather tough leaves. They have probably drifted from the more palatable cultivated ones that farmers originally grew nearby and are toughened by the cold, windy location and low water.

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 If you know plants and have sharp eyes, you will see that it is growing amidst a stand of poison oak, which is also common near this trail--whatch your step if you take it!

We were there at the end of May, when several iconic coastal California natives were in bloom. One is California poppy, a mid-California coastal variant, which is yellow.

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Another is Sidalcia, or checkerbloom, a low plant with flowers like miniature pink hollyhocks.

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The plants I've shown so far (except for poison oak) are all ones that have been brought into gardens successfully. This last one, not so much. Castilleja, commonly known as Indian paintbrush, only grows where it can link its roots to another plant to share sustenance. To grow it you have to sow the seed next to a plant it can link to, possibly native bunch grass, or buckwheat. This isn't done often, but this wild specimen shows why it might be worth a try.

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Finally, we walked back to town, where the gardens include many old plants such as the ones mentioned in my book Wildly Successful Plants. This particular old cultivar of fuchsia shows no fuchsia mite damage at all, making it a good candidate for modern gardens or for breeding programs trying to bring back the old fuchsias lost to the mite.

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Gardening Up Close--Managing Self-Sowers, Plants with Runners, and Bulbs

Gardening: Up Close   What to do about plants that crowd eachother and themselves. 

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Garden plants do not just stand still and look pretty. Not only do they grow taller, but they also leap wildly from place to place, creep stealthily outside their allotted area, and sometimes bunch up until they are so close together they can barely breathe, let alone bloom. So one of the tasks of the gardener is to serve as a plant referee. This photo shows three plants that are competing for the same space. Not only that, but one of them is competing with itself! These plants also illustrate the three main ways plants reproduce: seeds, runners, and bulbs, and how a gardener might referee their competition.   

            The blue-flowered lobelia is an annual, a plant that grows only from seed, blooms in a couple of months, and dies in under a year. It spreads in a garden by dropping seeds. They might grow where they drop or may roll or be moved by water into new places. In my garden, dropped lobelia seed doesn't grow very often, resulting in only a few random plants a year, so it doesn't make a pest of itself. I watch for the  small lobelias with their first blue flowers, and either leave them unmolested where they choose to grow, or move them to a place I prefer. I left the one in the photo alone to grow where it voted to put down its roots. I thought it a nice touch at the base of the broken concrete retaining wall next to the creeping fern.

            Then the fern began to creep toward the lobelia. Its rhizomes crept forth, forming new plantlets every few inches. OK with me, since it makes a nice backdrop for the tiny sapphire blossoms. The fern is Blechnum penna-marina, a South American species that in cool moist locations, in mild winter gardens, makes a tidy perennial patch of low, leathery leaves.This one survived in a neglected corner of my garden for several years, just getting by, but has been growing happily in the new spot to which I moved it about five years ago. It has filled in its space and slightly enlarged the area it covered.

            As this past spring progressed, the lobelia got bigger, and then the fern began to creep under and past it, into the area where I have been growing some Babiana. Babiana is from South Africa, where it blooms after winter rains and can survive the  long dry summer. The leaves that emerge with my California autumn rains grow to about eight inches tall. Then in late winter flower stems reach a foot or so tall, each bearing about a half-dozen rosy-purple flowers. Very nice on an early spring afternoon with the sun shining through.

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            Spring passes, summer comes, I cut the browning flower stems, then the dying leaves. Soon there is only a tidy brown stubble, awaiting another chance to grow. The bulbs, or in this case, the similar structures known as corms, have stored up food enough to send down fresh roots when the rains begin again, to start the process over.

            Babiana has been the perfect choice for this tiny strip of rather sandy soil between the brick patio and the retaining wall. It turned out that strip was so narrow that it was very difficult to keep moist all through the summer, but since Babiana is dormant all summer, it needs zero summer water.             

            As the fern runners continue their reach, fern roots are going to tangle with the perennial Babiana corms. I have no way of knowing if the Babiana will survive this overrunning of its territory, so I must consider taking out some of the competing fern growth.

            Mediating further in the direction of fern control now is the fact that the Babiana corms, have been multiplying in their appointed spot for several years. This plant, as is the case with bulbs generally, doesn't move around, it just becomes more crowded. The plant is fighting with itself to find more room. There are more and more leafy plants each year. At first, the stand just produced more flowers, but in the past couple of years, the number of flower stems has held steady, or maybe even decreased. The Babiana is succeeding so well that it has begun to fail.

            At this point, I need to dig up all the corms and divide them. This just means separating them--they are loosely connected--and resetting the largest of the bulbs with a bit of room among them. If there are too many large ones for the space allotted, I'll have the choice of giving the planting more room or giving some of them away.

            There will also be small ones that won't bloom for two or maybe three years. These can be interplanted with the large corms in a larger area, or can be grown in an out-of-the-way place until they bloom, when you can decide where you want a new bed of Babiana. Or, they can be given to someone who wants to wait while they reach blooming size, or added to compost.          

            The questioning mind might wonder: If bulbs that grow from year to year crowd themselves up until there are few blooms, what happens in nature? In the case of Babiana, I have been told that they got their scientific name from the fact that baboons like to eat them. They dig up the corms and chomp them down, probably in the dry season when it is easier to wipe them clear of soil and they provide a welcome bit of moist food. I imagine baboons eat the biggest corms first, but miss some and especially miss the small ones, naturally thinning the lot.

            In some cases, as with Watsonias, the corms eventually form a large circular mound. If some animal begins to bite or kick out a corm here or there, and some that become detached might don't get eaten, they might roll off to a new location to start a new stand of Watsonias.

            The same goes for plants like my fern that grow from rhizomes or runners. Some foraging animal might break some off and not do a thorough job of munching all the broken plant bits, so some broken bits could roll or blow to a new place and send down roots.

            But a garden is not part of an intact ecosystem, with an equilibrium between animals and plants, so when plants are fighting it out, the gardener must step in. I now need to legislate the locations of the running fern and the clumping Babiana. Where do I want to let them be? And do I want to let the innocent lobelia, which grew from a randomly dropped viable seed right between the fern and the Babiana live out its short life in peace?

            First, I will dig up the part of the fern that has overtaken the Babiana bed, pot it up and save it for a friend who wants to grow some. Then I will dig up all of the Babiana corms and see what I have there. I will probably dig some fertilizer, a bit of earthworm compost, into the place they have been growing. Then I'll replant some of the larger corms 4 inches deep and 4 inches apart. (I looked the best depth and spacing up in a book.)  What if there are more large ones than I need for my tiny space? Hmm. Then a decision needs to be made.

            I will not disturb the part of the fern under the lobelia right now, because it is such a cheerful spot of blue! Only when it begins to fade will I decide if I have taken out enough of the fern.  

            But for a while longer, I will simply enjoy the battle, letting visitors to the garden think that this handsome plant grouping is an intentional and stable garden arrangement, created by nature and my careful planning.

I'll show that first photo again and if your eyes are sharp, you will see two other situations developing that will need attention one day.

IMG_7457 copy for blog

Did you notice the different kind of fern, the one with the larger fronds, at the base of the broken concrete, just above the lobelia? There seem to have been fern spores in the crannies of the used concrete we got through Craigs List, and some of them have germinated. Chances are this wll be a large fern, too large for the space. I may not be able to priy it out to move it either, so when it starts to overwhelm the spot, I may have to just rip it out. Sigh.

And arching up into the cracks of the concrete above and to the right of that fern, you will notice the leaves of some creeping campanula that has reached down from the top of the wall. Nice now; it made a few blue flowers that were very winsome in the wall in June. But if the wall were to be covered with it you'd lose the charm of the wall. You got it, more ripping out in the offing.

 


Mendocino--Coast Botanical Garden

At the end of May, we took a trip to Mendocino, where we visited the Coast Botanical Garden. It is always a treat, in part because the plantings are lovely, and in part because there are such a variety of environments. At the front, there is a perennial garden, then cactus and succulents, trees and shrubs, water garden, woodland garden, and if you keep on walking, you enter wild land that eventually leads to a tall grassy bluff over the ocean. Below there are rocks and waves. Above, native bunch grasses and wildflowers. One year there was a sea otter in the rocks below us. This year, no such luck, but I got this shot of the California native seathrift (Armeria maritima) at the very edge of the bluff.

Armeria maritima MG_7067 copy

I knew that this species was from near the ocean, from the "maritima" in the specific epithet, but I had never pictured exactly what that could mean-right over the water as it is.

It was also fun to see all the native succulents, the Duddleyas, that grew down the rocky slopes to the water, but not possible to climb down and photograph them.

In the perennial plantings of the garden, there are both native and non-native plants. And of the natives, both species and cultivated varieties of wild species. This wonderful California poppy variety is called 'Champagne and Roses'.

Chapagne & Roses IMG_7031 copy

And right in the front, in the window boxes of the cafe, there was this wonderful planting of bidens. Both cultivars have larger flowers than the species, and the rusty-orange one has purple leaves. I wanted it, but the nursery manager said she was not only out of it, but so were all of her suppliers! Darn!

Orange bidens IMG_7084 copy

 I was so busy taking photos that I forgot to ask the name of the cultivar, but I am hoping to find it again. Any reader happen to know what it is called?

Next post I will show some photos of plants in the town of Mendocino and the coastal trail around the city. The town is full of common and rare flowers and surrounded by a skirt of wild flowers.