Erica diaphana

Have I talked about Erica diaphana before? I can’t remember.  I love it because it is the first woody plant I have ever grown from seed. The seed was like dust, the seedlings so tiny that I ended up keeping them in a Ziploc baggy under lights for at least six months, so I am thrilled that I had several plants survive and even more thrilled that they lived long enough to bloom. I purchased the seed from Silverhill Seeds in South Africa and sowed them on 1/13/2012.

Erica diaphana

I have three of them in my plant ghetto which has become really overgrown. I just didn’t have the time to deal with it in spring and by summer everything had grown huge and rooted through their pots into the ground. I didn’t really want to dig things up while they were blooming so I kept putting it off. Now it is a jungle and plants are crushing each other so I already set up some new drip line and I am going to try to start salvaging plants. I hope I am able to save these Ericas and pot them up into larger pots without killing them.

Erica diaphana

I love that the flowers are sort of shiny and greasy looking. Beautiful but there is something a bit off about them too. Flowers that look like shiny plastic are neat.



Well at least that is over with…sort of.

I woke to the sound of knocking at my front door at 8:00 am this morning and leapt out of bed. I knew it could only be bad news.  Sure enough when I opened the front door there were two guys digging plants out of the mediterranean garden and the foreman was there to let me know the lateral was going in earlier than expected.  I ran and got a shovel to help them remove plants. In 15 minutes all the plants in the center of the garden were out and the excavator was in place.  I tried to take out my more beloved specimens myself because of course the construction guys were not as careful about getting all the roots out as I was.  We’ll see what makes it and what doesn’t.  I’m guessing it may be something like 50/50 or worse.

This is just not the sort of thing one wants to see in their garden.

Here are my plants all piled up on top of each other.  That Lavandula pinnata var. buchii has been in full glorious bloom since last summer and all through winter but sadly one of the guys got to it before I could and not it has no roots. It may survive if I hack it way back.

It doesn’t help that today and tomorrow are going to be the hottest days in the past two months. It got up to about 73 today.  Everything was looking very droopy.

I was hoping I would have the weekend to carefully remove each plant myself.

Salvia africana-lutea stayed in place and was just out of the danger zone.  It was a risk and it did get a ton of stray sand dumped on it as the excavator bucket went back and forth but I think it will be OK.

I’m just so fried at this point.  Remember my pictures just a week or two ago on how far the garden had come in a year?  Back to square one.

In goes the lateral pipe. That white pipe across the top of the hole was the original irrigation. It is a damned good thing I never got around to installing drip in this garden.  One less hassle to worry about.

They were really careful not to hit the gas line (the gas pipe was just beyond the guy laying the lateral).  Big relief as I didn’t really need another headache to worry about.

Once the pipe was laid they filled the hole back up. Sort of. A lot of the soil is still on the street.  And of course my good compost is gone and now I have a mess of Los Osos sand. Blargh. Well at least this is a garden of drought tolerant plants that want good drainage.

And the final view. Compare that to last weeks pictures.  It looks like my garden was attacked by an army of plant hating fiends. And Gabe’s Bobcat is in the repair shop. I was hoping he would be able to come over and contour a little soil for me. I guess I’ll be doing it by hand.

This has been a terrible week but at least it is over. And while the sewer construction continues on my street for at least another two months at least they finished my side street (I hope).

One bright spot was that my free seed allotment from the Mediterranean Garden Society arrived in the mail today.  So maybe there will be a bit of new life on the way to make up for all the plants that won’t make it.

Annual Garden Transitions

The spring annual garden is more or less over.  The California natives actually performed really well despite all my fretting that they didn’t get enough winter rain this year.

The Layia platyglossa was the last remaining California native annual last weekend.  I collected a huge envelope of seed (Not so easy to do on a windy day! As you can see in the photo above the achenes of Layia are very much like dandelion fluff).  I collected some seed from Lupinus succulentus as well.  I may do some sort of seed exchange later in the year.  Check back this fall or winter and maybe if I have collected enough seed from interesting plants I’ll set something up or have a contest or something.

I could have left a few of the Layia but decided to make a botanical garden inspired clean sweep of things.  Of the early spring bloomers only a few Ursinia and perennials remain in the front beds.  The rest was removed, weeded, and cleaned up.

Helipterum roseum ‘Pierrot’ planted in the back of the annual bed is still looking pretty good. I’ll probably grow this from seed again next year.

Clarkia amoena ‘Aurora’ is a late spring bloomer.   It is in full bloom now.

The problem with using true annuals or doing any kind of seasonal bedding is you are always going to have some down time.

Luckily there are enough perennials and a few remaining annuals so it doesn’t look too bad.  The front of the mixed border is now planted with a mix of Convolvulus, different types of annual Rudbeckia, and Ageratum.  If all goes well in a month or two all that bare soil will be filled in and we’ll be back in full bloom.

The main annual bed has newly planted Convolvulus, a few Rudbeckia, California native Mentzelia lindleyi, Ageratum, Consolida regalis, and a few Calibrachoa that aren’t really doing that well. I’m not sure if they prefer warmer weather or what the story is with them but they look sad.  There are also some Scabiosa stellata ‘Stern Kugel’ and Didiscus caeruleus (aka Trachymene caeruela) that I started from seed in January and planted out in April. They both just take a really long time to bloom.

The first Scabiosa stellata ‘Stern Kugel’ flower is finally starting to open. These should have really amazing ornamental seed heads.  Easy to grow from seed but a bit slow.

Convolvulus tricolor ‘Royal Ensign’ were just recently planted but some are already blooming.  I’m curious to see how these do.  I’ve used them in containers before and they are wonderful spilling out and hanging over the sides.  Now I have them planted in the ground in the fronts of the beds to sprawl about.  Hopefully I’ll like the look.

This is probably more work than a lot of people want to deal with in their gardens.  This may actually be more work than I want to deal with in the long run.  Next year I may end up sticking some low maintenance shrubs in these beds.  But for now the novelty and excitement of having a garden after 10 years of apartment living is motivating me to try as many things as I can. So a few weeks of ugly should have a nice pay off in July or August. Look for updates then!

Weird Plant Tricks

One of the things I love about plant seeds is how remarkably resilient and interesting they are.  Some of them have complex requirements that must be met before they will germinate and start to grow.  They have evolved to give the plants the greatest chance of successfully surviving “birth” and reaching adulthood.  Many seeds have the ability to remain dormant in the soil until the perfect conditions are met that will increase their odds. This might be something as simple as moisture or as complex as double dormancy where two cold winters are required, the first breaks dormancy in the roots and the second in the shoots.

In mediterranean climates some plants have evolved to respond to fire and smoke.  I suppose the simplest explanation for this is that seedlings might have a better chance of surviving if all competing vegetation has been burnt away by dry season fires that sweep through California’s chaparral or South Africa’s fynbos.  The combination of heat to break tough seed coatings or the chemical compounds in smoke plus the first rains of winter start the new cycle of life.  In a year without fire those seeds might remain dormant in the soil patiently waiting for optimal conditions.

I have sown some seed from South Africa that is stubbornly refusing to germinate.  It is possible that the seed just isn’t any good but my success rate has been about 90% with succulents and 5% with herbaceous and woody South African plants.  Since I am not keen on starting even a small controlled fire in my house or garage I found another trick that seems simpler.

It seems kind of silly, no?  But apparently the smoke compounds in the liquid smoke used to flavor barbecue is enough to trigger germination in some seeds.  So I applied it at a rate of one tablespoon of liquid smoke to nine tablespoons of water to all my stubborn seeds.  Perhaps nothing will happen and the seed are just no good.  In the meantime my mudroom (where I have grow lights) and garage (where I have my largest heat mat) have a pleasant smokey barbecued scent now (I like it and I don’t even eat meat).

It all seems like a bit of a practical joke so I’ll let you know if I get any results.

Cool Plant of the Week!

Caulophyllum thalictroides fruit – blue cohosh

C. thalictroides is native to woodlands of eastern North America.  It has fern-like compound leaves similar to the genus Thalictrum which is where it gets the specific epithet thalictroides (Thalictrum like).  The flowers are sort of insignificant little yellowish-green affairs but they are followed by the beautiful blue berries pictured above. (ETA: I remembered today that they are not actually berries but are in fact seeds.  They push through the thin membranous fruit early in their development and ripen exposed to the elements.)

Caulophyllum thalictroides flower