Monday, November 22, 2010

Progress on "Progress" update!

Wow!  Say what you like about bureaucracies but my city acts fast.  The parkway garden was finished yesterday.... this morning I sent an e-mail to let the city know it was completed... and this afternoon I got a message to say that they like the garden and will be sending payment.

Yeah... uh... wow!

Plant of the week: Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails'

It's funny how we can love a plant and then somehow forget about it.  I learned about Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails'  maybe 7 or 8 years ago,  and time went on and I just forgot about it.  But then this spring I pulled a sad 4" plant out of a dumpster of a local nursery. I gave it a bit of a haircut and plunked it in the ground for observation.  Within a month it had grown almost to full size and was blooming. Of course the timing was good but this plant really performed. And with that kind of growth you might think "jeeze this plant is going to take over the free world", but you would be wrong. It just sort of grew to a point and stopped. It wasn't even affected by that 100 degree heat we had.  

Because it's such a tough plant I decided to plant it in my hellstrip.  Growing about 2' wide and 3' tall,  I think it will make a lovely meadow in the end.  What I love about P. "Fairy Tails" is the charming wands of flowers it has, which like so many grasses are alive with even the slightest breeze. The flower spikes are erect so it is set apart from the common fountain grass. A good dark green foliage will fool you into thinking it takes more water than it actually does.  And then the last great thing is that it's clumping and I believe sterile so it's well behaved while pretending to be a bit wild.

I cannot wait until the parkway is a bending with thousands of creamy wands.  As the weather cools I have already come to accept that I will probably have to wait until spring for such a display.   But it is gardening after all that has taught me patience.

Progress on "Progress"

Well, as promised, I have taken some photos of the parkway AKA hellstrip.

Friday, November 19, 2010


I will have to admit I really have made the most of government programs.   I bought the house knowing that I would get 8000 buckaroos back from Uncle Sam.   Thank you very much.   Yes, that money is all spent.   Now I move on to the garden.  We have a growing water shortage, everybody knows that.  And many municipalities have incentives to take away lawn and replace with drought tolerant alternatives.  I signed up online during the FIRST FIFTEEN MINUTES that the enrollment was open.  A month later I found out I was 90th on the waiting list, of course the reason being that you can be reimbursed for up to $2500!

Time passed and I had assumed that the program had been so popular that it was all tapped out.  And then I got my second letter saying that I had 45 days to submit a design. Out it went and I got my third letter telling me that I had 90 days to complete the garden as designed.   Guess what?  That day comes Monday  (procrastinators unite!),  so sunday I will be making a garden in the large parkway in front of the house.

The parkway is often affectionately called a "Hellstrip" for the conditions can be quite hellish.  Here you have a lack of control,  possibility of theft, traffic, litter, dog and cat #$%& (possibly human too in my hood, but that is certainly another story for another time) and so on.

I live on a very wide street which I think is pretty nice to have, and the parkways are like little parks in so much as they are really deep!   My parkway is 11 feet deep and something like 45 feet long.   OK,  so this is what I'm planning:   cool overlapping circles of decomposed granite,   loads of Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails',  Salvia clevelandii 'Winifred Gilman',  Eriogonum giganteum, Cotyledon 'Long Fingers', Verbena 'De La Mina' and maybe some Eschschlolzia.   It has occured to me several times that it would be really nice to have a bench out there too.  I don't want to attract riffraff, but this neighborhood could really use a little love.  So, I think I can stick my neck out a little and set a nice example.

Here is the freshly cleared parkway with materials just waiting to be used.

Of course I will be updating.

plant of the week: Russellia equisetiformis 'Tangerine'

Here's another case of a huge improvement with just a change of color.  Already love Russellia equisetiformis? Me too,  but the red flowers are not everyone's cup of tea.  I am a huge fan of orange in the garden, and actually despite the name, R. 'Tangerine' is more a muted color, maybe a sorbet or something pastel.  I like those softer tones as they play well with others.

If you don't know Russellia equisetiformis already you've been missing out.  I often describe this plant as hummingbird crack, since once they find it that won't leave it alone.  It's not for every spot with that 3' tall and wide mop-like growth, but it is great for raised beds, hillsides and pots etc.  It fills the large pot in the garden nicely.  The foliage is reminiscent of horsetail hence the specific epithet,  so it has a soft broom-like texture that can be used to good effect.

My experience is that Russellia is very tough and drought tolerant,  but if you give it regular water and occasional feeding you can expect flowers all year round.  The big display comes in late winter and early spring usually.

Anyway, if you don't have you one yet, get one.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Non-plant non-secateur: South African Brown Widow

With all the talk these days of illegal immigrants it's hard to understand why no one seems to be talking about this guy, the South African Brown Widow (SABW).  Latrodectus geometricus, for those who care about scientific names.  This guy has venom and may be taking bugs from American spiders... talk about your anchor babies, they're having gazillions.

I don't have a real strong fear of spiders, scorpions a little more and ticks a lot. We really don't have problems with spiders in this part of Southern California.  The Brown Recluse and its nasty wound are certainly cause for alarm but they aren't in the area that I know of.  And the Black Widow is not found in great numbers and is always in predictable places.  So, I just don't worry about spiders in the garden.

The preponderance of the SABW is a little bit troubling though. This weekend I wanted to grab a pup off of an Aloe I quite like, and there was a SABW,  I lifted a brick that was in the garden, there was a SABW, and I was cleaning up some 4" pots... there was a SABW!  Once I realized what I was seeing I began to find them everywhere.  They do have that very strong crunchy web like the Black Widow so you know by touch when you are in their web. And they look a lot like the Black Widow but they tend to be dark brown still with the red-orange hourglass on the belly.  And the one thing that is very clear is the weird spiky egg sack, it looks like it's studded.

I have been killing the little lady just out of principal.   But with so many of them in the garden I decided to investigate.  I mean should I be nervous?   What I have noticed is that the SABW is very passive, more passive than the Black Widow.   In my experience, If discovered she will drop into the fetal position.   So, when I picked up that brick and thought "what the...', I decided to see what she was made of.  It took, for the record, three strong jabs with a stick to get her to lash out. Apparently she is much harder on her mate, so I have read.  But it really seems that you have to have a lot of bad luck to be bit.

For now I choose to believe that I am still safe in the garden... even though I found a SABW in my laundry room... dun dun dun!

I want to know if anyone else is seeing them, tell me if you are.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Plant of the week: Aristolochia gigantea

I guess this plant follows nicely from my last post 'Halloween all year long' as it falls easily into the category of scary.  Finding the "real" Aristolochia gigantea was quite exciting,  as it seems to me that there is a mix up in the nursery trade in California.  The plant pictured below was labeled A.  littoralis and a plant I bought many years ago was labeled A. gigantea.  The A. gigantea (not in the new garden) has a large flower,  perhaps 6-7" long, impressive but not gigantic.  A. littoralis has a 14" long flower, now that's gigantic!   So, am I crazy in thinking that the names are mixed up in the trade?  They both have heart shaped leaves... the two plants look just the same but when that flower forms there is no chance you could mix them up.

Whatever the proper name, I love this plant. The vine blooms most of the year, although being tropical it tends to preform best in warm weather.  Due to the red and veiny nature of the flower I have anatomical references;  the unopened flower looks like a liver (maybe life size) and the open flower is like a  frontal section of the lungs.  It definitely attracts attention,  people are drawn to its strangeness and sheer size. The flowers feel like latex, and the unopened flower is inflated which is fun too. The Fullerton Arboretum has a huge plant that probably spans more than 200' growing on a chain link fence.  At the moment I have only upsized the vine to a 15 gallon container but I plan to plant it soon on the wall of the garage.

Pretty cool, right?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween all year long

Am I the only one who thinks scary has a place in the garden?  Shouldn't the garden be a place for all the emotions?   Just wait until an unprepared visitor stumbles on this.