Oregano

80627It is considered to be an Italian herb, but since it was popularized in America in the late 1940s, oregano, Origanum vulgare, has become more popular in Italian-American cuisine than it is in Italy. It is now the traditional ‘pizza herb’ for American style pizza. Oregano happens to be one of the few herbs that is preferred dried rather than fresh. Only foliage is used, either before or after bloom.

Prior to bloom, foliage is low to the ground, on wiry stems. Blooming stems stand vertically as tall as two feet, with more foliage and tiny purplish flowers that are not very flashy. The flavor of the foliage on the upright blooming stems is distinct from that of the prostrate vegetative stems. The opposite leaves are only about an inch long, or slightly longer. Flavor can be variable with weather.

Flavor is also variable by cultivar. Some are spicier than most. Some are more bitter. Some cultivars were marketed to be more visually appealing in the garden than flavorful in the kitchen. ‘Nana’ is a dwarf. ‘Aureum’ is variegated with yellow. The famously flavored ‘Greek Kaliteri’ has compact growth, with atypically thick and slightly fuzzy leaves that are dark on top and purplish underneath.

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Herbs For Kitchen And Garden

80627thumbHerbs might be in our garden right now, whether we are aware of it or not. Trailing rosemary happens to be a popular and practical groundcover, and some varieties grow as low shrubbery. A few varieties of thyme also work as ground cover for small areas, or between stones. Various lavenders are popular low mounding shrubbery. Quite a few common landscape plants are also herbal.

It is important to be aware though, that some varieties of herbal plants are better for landscape applications, and others are better for herbal applications. All cultivars of rosemary can be used for culinary applications, but some happen to be grown specifically for that purpose because of superior flavor. Cultivars with the best flavor may not be as useful for groundcover or as low shrubbery.

The same goes for the lavenders. French lavender may be the best for culinary applications, but the various Spanish and English lavenders might be better options for landscape applications, cut flowers or for their aroma. California bay that grows wild as a big tree is actually a completely different genus than the shrubbier culinary Grecian bay, and can ruin a recipe if used as a substitute.

As if that were not complicated enough, once the preferred herbal plants are identified, it is important to know how to use them. Chive, cilantro, parsley, mint and most others are usually preferred fresh. Lavender and bay leaf are more often used dried. Rosemary, oregano and sage can be used fresh or dried, depending on the desired flavor. Almost any herb can be dried for convenience.

Drying herbs is convenient for those that are only available within certain seasons, even if they can be used fresh while in season too. For example, chamomile is not a foliar herb like most, but is unbloomed floral buds that must be harvested at a very specific time. They should be plump, but not completely open. Once harvested and dried, they are useful for herbal tea throughout the year.

Herbs can be flowers, seeds, bark or any part. Most are foliage of the family Lamiaceae.

Gemini

P80617Astrology is an interesting concept. It is amazing how accurate the various zodiacs are. In fact, they are so accurate, that all twelve of the zodiacs can apply to just about anyone, regardless of their respective birthday.

For example, Gemini people are gentle, affectionate, curious and adaptable. Well, who isn’t? If I told you that these traits applied to Leo, Aquarius or Sagittarius, would you believe me? The weaknesses of Gemini are nervousness, inconsistency and indecisiveness. We all of us experience these weaknesses at one time or another. Gemini people like music, books, magazines and strolling about town. What about Aries, Capricorn and Taurus? Don’t they? Are Gemini people unique in their dislike for loneliness, confinement or repetition? Probably not.

June 20 will be the end of Gemini. It will then be time for Cancer, with its set of distinctive traits, strengths and weaknesses.

Gardening according to astrology might seem to be just as ‘accurate’, but there is a bit more science to justify it. Back before calenders were commonly in use, the seasons were identified by the weather. Since weather changes like . . . well, like the weather, astrology provided another level of accuracy based on the time of year rather than on variable weather. For years when warm weather lingered into autumn, astrology dictated when cool season vegetables needed to be planted, even if the weather suggested that it was too early. Astrology was also used to forecast the last frost date, even while winter was still cold. It might have taken decades to compile enough data for the system to work, but it really was, and continues to be effective. After all, the calendars that we use now are based on the position of the Earth within the Solar System, or in other words, astrology.

Gemini

P80617Astrology is an interesting concept. It is amazing how accurate the various zodiacs are. In fact, they are so accurate, that all twelve of the zodiacs can apply to just about anyone, regardless of their respective birthday.

For example, Gemini people are gentle, affectionate, curious and adaptable. Well, who isn’t? If I told you that these traits applied to Leo, Aquarius or Sagittarius, would you believe me? The weaknesses of Gemini are nervousness, inconsistency and indecisiveness. We all of us experience these weaknesses at one time or another. Gemini people like music, books, magazines and strolling about town. What about Aries, Capricorn and Taurus? Don’t they? Are Gemini people unique in their dislike for loneliness, confinement or repetition? Probably not.

June 20 will be the end of Gemini. It will then be time for Cancer, with its set of distinctive traits, strengths and weaknesses.

Gardening according to astrology might seem to be just as ‘accurate’, but there is a bit more science to justify it. Back before calenders were commonly in use, the seasons were identified by the weather. Since weather changes like . . . well, like the weather, astrology provided another level of accuracy based on the time of year rather than on variable weather. For years when warm weather lingered into autumn, astrology dictated when cool season vegetables needed to be planted, even if the weather suggested that it was too early. Astrology was also used to forecast the last frost date, even while winter was still cold. It might have taken decades to compile enough data for the system to work, but it really was, and continues to be effective. After all, the calendars that we use now are based on the position of the Earth within the Solar System, or in other words, astrology.

The Good Weed

P80616KOnce in a while, a stray seed of a plant that would normally be considered to be an invasive exotic species happens to grow in a spot where it happens to fit. Those of us who regularly pull up unwanted feral seedlings, are typically skeptical. We probably pull up many such seedlings merely because we do not trust them, or because we do not want them broadcasting their seeds elsewhere in the neighborhood. In our region, Acacia dealbata, blue gum eucalyptus, black locust, pampas grass, broom, poke berry and Himalayan blackberry get no consideration; and their seedlings should be removed as promptly as they are discovered. English ivy does not get much more consideration, but every once in a while, it happens to wander into a situation where it is allowed to stay.

Catalpa is one that we are not quite sure about. It is an exotic species that happens to disperse unwanted seed at times, but is not invasive enough to warrant prompt removal of all seedlings. Many seedlings appeared in the area several years ago, and most were removed because of where they were. However, if any other seedlings have appeared since then, they have been discreet enough to remain unnoticed. It was as if there was a very specific mating season. Catalpa had not been invasive prior to that, and has not been invasive since.

Two of the feral catalpa seedlings appeared on the edge of the parking lot at the Felton Presbyterian Church. One became disfigured and distressed, and finally died before being removed. The other just happened to be in the middle of a parkstrip, and in a location where a good sized shade tree had room to grow. Because no one could find a good reason for removal, it stayed. After only a few years, it is now a good sized and very well structured shade tree that blooms nicely this time of year. It may not last long, since catalpas are short lived, but for now, it is a nice component to the landscape. This weed gets a happy ending.

 

Six on Saturday: ROCK ON!

 

This might be the very first post in the history of Six on Saturday that lacks any plant material! There are certainly plenty of flowers blooming out there, but that was not what I was working with this week. The first two pictures were at a site where I was working earlier in the week. The other four pictures were at a larger landscape that is in the process of being renovated. Until this week, I had not seen much of the site, but heard about it daily. The work is behind schedule, so a whole bunch of us went to the site to help. Although we were very grateful for the help, and everyone was genuinely pleased to be of service, I can not help feeling guilty about my esteemed colleagues engaged in the unpleasantries of such dusty and dirty work, especially when they have so much of their own work to tend to.

1. The soil at the first job site is of exceptional quality, but is only about a foot deep! This now broken mudstone is what lurks below, but it is not broken down under. It is only broken in the picture because it needed to be pried up so that larger plants could go into the ground. It took all morning just to install a few #5 plants. The smaller #1 plants were planted much more easily on top of the mudstone.P806162. This sometimes happens when prying up mudstone.P80616+3. At the second and much larger landscape, the irrigation system and lighting needed to be installed before the rest of the landscape. There is now irrigation pipe and electrical conduit everywhere! It took some serious digging. Because so much excavation had already been done at the site for the installation of big wide walkways, much of the soil was being moved a second time. The soil is so loose and sandy that much of it needed to be dug a few more times from the ditches as the irrigation system was installed.P80616++4. A few big boulders were installed on the site. To avoid driving the heavy machinery on the new concrete, the boulders were installed early in the renovation process, before the new concrete was installed. Consequently, they were buried by the soil that came from all the ditches for the irrigation and lighting systems. They reappeared as the ditches were filled. I still do not understand the appeal of stone and boulders in landscapes. The mudstone that was encountered earlier in the week was not much fun.P80616+++5. Plant material has not yet been installed, so the landscape features only a few dogwood trees that were already there, and these few boulders scattered about in the dusty soil. It really is dusty! I cannot figure out why the dogwoods are so happy there. I can not figure out why the boulders are so happy either, . . . or if they are happy . . . or if they really care at all. I just do not know.P80616++++6. One of our soil science professors at school was emphatic about soil being ‘soil’. We were not allowed to refer to soil as ‘dirt’. Well, this soil happens to be better than it looks, and it is good enough for dogwoods, but it really is very dirty soil.P80616+++++This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Blue Dawn Flower

70614Even within its native range, blue dawn flower, Ipomoea indica, can be a problem. There are not many other plants in some coastal regions of Peru that can avoid getting overwhelmed by the aggressive wiry vines. These vines grow roots where they touch soil, so can spread indefinitely over the ground. Vines that succumb to frost over winter regenerate as if nothing ever happened.

Three inch wide flowers are rich purplish blue when they open at dawn. They then fade through the day, only to be replaced by fresh new flowers the following morning. Bloom continues from spring until autumn, and can get profuse at times. The lush rich green leaves are cordate (heart-shaped) or lobed (with only three lobes). Too much fertilizer promotes growth but inhibits bloom.

Blue dawn flower’s main weakness is a dependency on water. If it gets too dry briefly in summer, it can die back like it does with frost, and then recover once it gets water, but it will not survive for very long if it stays dry. As aggressive as it is, it should not spread very far from landscaped areas or riparian areas where summers are too warm and dry for it.

Annuals Just Might Be Perennials

70614thumbAnnuals come and annuals go. There are cool season annuals for winter. There are warm season annuals for summer. Really though, there are all sorts of annuals that are not annuals at all. Most are some sort of perennial that has the potential to last longer than a single season. Only a few popular ‘annuals’ would necessarily die after blooming and producing seed, within a single year.

To be clear, true annuals last only a single year. They probably germinate from seed early in spring, and grow quickly. They then bloom in spring or at least by summer, and subsequently produce seed. Once their seed has matured and been dispersed, their job is done. They finally die in late autumn or winter. Annuals from deserts are even faster because of the harshness of the weather.

Many large-flowered sunflowers are true annuals. They are finished once their seeds mature. They will not bloom again. Even if they wanted to, they would not survive through winter. Petunias should be annuals, because they also die over winter. However, it is possible for them to survive winter in a semi-dormant state, and regenerate and bloom again the following spring and summer.

Realistically, it is not practical to salvage petunias for a second year. It is easier and more efficient to plant new ones. Yet, it sometimes happens, particularly in mixed plantings where old plants can get cut back while cool season annuals dominate in winter. Alternatively, lanky old stems can get buried with only their tips exposed. These tips might grow as new plants the following spring.

Cyclamen are cool season annuals that have been dieing back for summer. They usually get removed by now. However, in mixed plantings, some of their fat tubers can survive through summer to regenerate next autumn. For what they cost, they are worth salvaging! Primrose, chrysanthemum, impatiens and the various fibrous begonias are all worth salvaging through their off seasons.

Fibrous begonias may not know what their off season is. Those that bloomed through winter might be looking tired by now. If pruned back, they could regenerate as warm season annuals. Those planted in spring might look tired by the end of summer. If pruned back early enough in autumn, and protected from frost, they might grow enough before winter to work as cool season annuals. Cutting them back and waiting for regeneration may not be much more effort than replacing old plants with new ones, and is less expensive.

Horridculture – Satellite Dish

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Satellite dishes, tater tots, fish sticks, soldiers, flat tops, gobstoppers, corks, oil tanks and trip hazards are just some of the many but less objectionable names that my colleague down south and I have developed for what should be good shrubbery, trees, vines or whatever that so-called gardeners got to with their hedge shears. Tater tots are usually Heavenly bamboo shorn into stout cylinders. Fish sticks are the same, but taller, narrower, and often composed of Podocarpus macrophyllus. Corks are commonly breath of Heaven, but could be just about anything shorn to be somewhat cylindrical, but narrower down low, and wider on top. Trip hazards are ground cover plants like creeping California lilac or creeping cotoneaster, shorn into absurd low hedges next to sidewalks. Gobstoppers could be just about anything, but tend to hang over the curbs in parking lots, ready to impale a radiator grill with a gnarly stub. You can use your imagination for soldiers, flat tops and oil tanks. You probably can not conceive anything more absurd than what my colleague and I see on our job sites.

‘Garage sales’ are probably the worst. They are a variety of plants that were probably intended to function as a practical landscape, but instead got shorn collectively into a large thicket of mixed foliage that rarely gets the chance to bloom. Bougainvillea, New Zealand flax, jade plant, pampas grass, wisteria, fruit trees and even the occasional century plant; anything goes! If the so-called gardeners can reach it, they will shear it.

The original satellite dish was a carob tree in Westchester. I first saw it in the early 1990s, when some homes that had a bit of space to spare were still outfitted with huge parabolic satellite dishes, before the much smaller ones that can be mounted on roofs were invented. This tree had a normal trunk that went up into a remarkably flat ceiling under which no foliage was allowed to hang. This ceiling was only about seven feet above the lawn below. Above that, there was a remarkably symmetrical but low dome of very tightly shorn foliage that looked something like a downward facing satellite dish. This dome was perhaps twenty feet wide, but less than four feet from top to bottom. So, with seven feet of clearance above the lawn, the entire tree was no more than twelve feet tall, barely higher than the eaves of the home behind it. I really wish I had a picture to share. Who puts so much work into ruining a tree?! Maintaining it properly would have been much less effort.

Earlier, we discussed renovating overgrown shrubbery as small trees. https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2018/05/21/overgrown-shrubbery-becomes-small-trees/ . The satellite dish was the exact opposite of such useful procedures. What is the point of planting trees and then not allowing them to develop as anything more than abused shrubbery?

The pair of satellite dishes in the picture above are Japanese maples. Their canopies are about the same depth as that of the carob tree in Westchester, but are only about half as broad. What is the point of planting Japanese maples if they are not allowed to look like Japanese maples? They look ridiculous. What is worse is that someone puts significant effort into making them look so ridiculous. They would be so much prettier if pruned only very rarely, and only for clearance above the driveway and away from the building behind. Such pruning would have been less work than shearing these disgraced trees just once.

Even more effort goes into humiliating the plants in the picture below. The fish stick to the upper right is a wisteria vine that is not allowed to bloom or climb onto the trellis that was built for it (which is not visible in the picture). The trip hazard to the lower left is some sort of lavender that is not allowed to spread out over the bare soil as it was intended to do. The cork in the middle is a New Zealand tea tree that can never develop the gracefully irregular canopy and sculptural trunks that it would be pleased to display. It is just a cork.

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Annual Gazania

80620Why would anyone want to grow annual gazania when perennial gazania that is popularly grown as ground cover lasts for several years? Well, as long as the weather stays warm, annual gazania blooms with an impressive abundance of bigger and more brightly colored flowers. Perennial gazania blooms less profusely and only in midsummer, with simpler and somewhat smaller flowers.

Flowers are warm shades of orange, red, yellow, pink, beige and white, typically with intricate patterns of stripes and spots of other colors of the same range, as well as chocolatey brown. Each upward facing daisy flower is as wide as three inches or maybe four. They close up at night and during cloudy weather, and stay closed briefly in the morning until they warm up a bit in the sunlight.

Mature plants typically do not get much more than six inched deep, but can get twice as deep if crowded. They have no problem getting nearly a foot wide though. Foliage is only slightly bronzed; not quite bronze, but not rich green either. The pretty gray undersides of the leaves are obscured from view by the density of the foliage. Gazania needs full exposure, and is quite tolerant of heat.