Okie Mowers

P80120They are excellent at weeding and vegetation management too, particularly where brambles are too thick to get through. They also convert unwanted vegetation into useful fertilizer. Goats are remarkably versatile and useful machines around the garden.

The goat in this picture is no ordinary goat. She is a pygmy fainting goat. Her kind were bred to faint when startled, in order to keep a predator occupied instead of eating other more desirable livestock in their herd. What a strange job description! When we went to Oklahoma a few years ago, we stayed on a farm with quite a herd of these small and pleasantly mannered goats.

It was winter while we were there, so there was not much to do in regard to vegetation management or gardening. There were a few blackjack oaks near the homes that I pruned up for clearance and just to neaten them up a bit. The goats came over to watch what I was doing, and seemed to know to stay back when branches fell. Nonetheless, the commotion of some of the larger branches falling was enough to cause some of the closer goats to faint and fall to the ground. They would get back up within a few seconds and proceed to eat the twigs from the branches. By the time I was finished pruning, only the larger stems remained to be dragged off and staged next to a burn pile of other debris that had accumulated earlier in the year.

Late one evening, my friend Steven decided to burn the burn pile. ( https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/11/19/oklahoma/ and https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/12/13/birthday/ ) I do not know why Steven thought that it would be a good idea to burn it in the dark. The neighbors off in the distance were probably wondering the same thing. Once it was started, there was no point in extinguishing it for a more convenient time. I went out to help him finish the job.

The initial pile flared up pretty well, and then took some time to die down. All the goats who happened to be in the main pasture at the time came over and gathered around to watch. They all seemed to be so interested, and formed a very neat and uniform circle around the fire. Their happy faces glowed like those of a really big troop of Boy Scouts.

It took a while, but the fire eventually died down enough to start throwing on the staged limbs of the blackjack oaks. The goats did not seem to mind as Steven shooed a few of them aside to get a nice hefty limb. From a few feet back, Steven innocently dropped the limb onto the fire.

The limb went down.

The flurry of sparks went up.

The entire herd of goats went down.

Neither Steven nor I saw much of what happened after that. As fast as the goats got back up, we both went down, laughing too hard to stand. The neighbors must have thought we were crazy. The goats were more certain of it. By the time we recovered and got back up, all the goats were gone . . . off into the distance and the darkness of that cool winter night in Oklahoma.

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Litter Box

P80120+++++Perhaps I should elaborate on the ‘litter boxes’ in the ‘Six on Saturday’ post earlier this morning. As I already mentioned, they are in the same parking lot as the Leo and Leona sculptures. They were formerly inhabited by Italian cypress trees that would now be like those nearby if they had survived.

This is no joke. Someone really selected the tree that provides the least shade for hot pavement, and attracts the most birds to do what birds do on parked cars.

Because they were installed as large boxed specimens, and were watered generously enough to maintain swampy conditions in the surrounding soil, most of the cypresses could not disperse their roots fast enough, and consequently got blown over onto parked cars in their first or second winter. The survivors took many years to get established, and were bound to big and unsightly lodgepole stakes for years.

Rather than getting outfitted with ‘shade’ trees or perennials, . . . or anything, these litter box planters remain as blank and uselessly small rectangular lawns, requiring regular mowing, edging and lots of watering. Incidentally, many of us around town let our lawns die to conserve water. Brown is the new green.

Because they are in such a high traffic area, and sometimes get run over by cars, the sprinkler heads are always in need of adjustment. They are quite generous with sharing their water with the surrounding pavement and any cars that might be parked there early in the morning, which makes the waste of water more blatant. The curbs are tripping hazards.

So, what are these litter boxes good for? Are they reserved for grave sites? ‘Very’ miniature golf perhaps? No one knows. This is not exactly a nice spot for a picnic or a game of volleyball.P80120k

Six on Saturday: Cat Walk in the Kitty City

P801201. What have we here?

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2. Oh, directions.

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3. Oh my! What is THAT!

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4. Another one!

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5. Meet the parents.

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6. These must be their litter boxes.

The Cat Walk is a rather ingenious exhibit of several concrete cat sculptures displayed in various street trees on the two main streets of downtown. The locations of these sculptures are cited on a map available to anyone who wants one. Most of us prefer a light duty challenge of trying to find all of the sculptures without the map. Some are hidden better than others, but all are easily visible from the sidewalk. What a fun way to utilize our otherwise unremarkable downtown street trees! Unfortunately, some of the sculptures have been dislodged from their original positions, which is why the two pictured here in opposite sides of the same holly oak seem to be be out of sorts. I am sorry for the bad quality of the pictures, especially #4.

The parents are not sculptures of the Cat Walk, but are modern reproductions of the famous and historical ‘Cats’ flanking the driveway of the old Wood Residence. No one knows which one is Leo and which one is Leona. The only difference between the two is that one has his or her eyes closed, and the other has his or her eyes open. They flank the driveway of a shopping center just north of Highway 9 on North Santa Cruz Avenue.

The sixth picture of the grassy ‘litter boxes’ is included as an almost funny example of really bad landscaping. They are in the same parking lot as the Leo and Leona sculptures, and formerly contained Italian cypress trees like the the one in the foreground and the two in the distance.

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/

Winter Coat

P80117Wire haired terriers know how it works. They wear wiry hair through summer to shade their skin while allowing cooling air circulation. Their softer and fuzzier undercoat that develops in autumn provides better insulation from cold weather through winter.

Beards are not naturally so adaptable, but can be manipulated to function better. Thick beards might insulate and deflect wind through winter. Short beards may not work as well in that regard, but might absorb warmth from sunlight if still darkly colored. As weather gets warmer in spring, beards can simply be removed to optimize cooling air circulation, and eliminate the extra insulation. However, long and gray beards can provide shade without absorbing much warmth from sunlight.

Have you ever noticed that plants that live near foggy coasts or in the lower levels of shady jungles and forests are the darkest green? They want to absorb all the sunlight they can get. Monterey pine, Monterey cypress, coast redwood and the many ferns that live on the ground below them are classic examples.

Plants that live in exposed situations or high elevations are lighter green. Some have glaucous foliage that is shaded gray or blue to reflect a bit of sunlight. Colorado blue spruce, silver leaved mountain gum, century plant and silver sage exemplify this technique. The old man cactus actually shades itself with weirdly elongated spines that resemble gray hair.

English walnut, maple, apple and pear have sensitive bark that would get burned if too exposed during summer. Yet, they are all deciduous and bare through winter. They do not mind, because the intensity of the sunlight through winter is inhibited by the low angle of the sun. By the time the sun is higher in the sky, and the sunlight is more direct (passing through less of the atmosphere at the higher angle), the sensitive bark will be shaded by new foliage.P71019

Vasona

P80114Only a few bits and pieces of natural native vegetation can be found on the floor of the Santa Clara Valley. They are primarily in spots that were not useful for some sort of development. Almost all of the big coast live oaks and valley oaks that lived in the flat areas are gone. Riparian vegetation still survives on the banks of creeks, and in adjacent areas where it has not yet been cleared.

Vasona Lake Park is a Santa Clara County Park situated around the small Vasona Reservoir just north of town. Although much of the natural vegetation was cleared a very long time ago, and exotic vegetation was either added or naturalized, several big native trees remain, including several California sycamore trees.

Because these grand sycamores were more common here than anywhere else in our childhood world, and we did not know what they were, my younger brother knew them simply as ‘Vasona’ trees. They were tall and gnarly, with big holes in their bulky leaning trunks. The lowest branches were far too high for us to reach, so we cold not climb them. The leaves were not clean and smooth like maple leaves, so we did not mess with them too much.

Unlike most deciduous trees that drop their leaves within a limited time in autumn, California sycamores drop their leaves whenever they want to. Most leaves fall in autumn. Some linger into winter. If the summer is exceptionally dry or warm, many leaves fall very early. Anthracnose can make the first spring leaves fall almost as quickly as they develop.

Somewhere along the line, my younger brother learned that catching a falling leaf before it reaches the ground is lucky. Consequently, we often ran after leaves that we saw falling from high up in the sycamore treees, if they were falling slowly enough for us to get to where they were going before they did.

I ignore them now. I notice the patterns of defoliation just because I am an arborist, but that is about the extent of it. However, I happened to see this leaf falling slowly from near the top of a massive California sycamore, and just had to catch it; my lucky Vasona tree leaf.

Anti-‘Environmentalism’

P80112++There will be no more updates after this last one for the dead box elders that had been leaning onto the historic Felton Covered Bridge. ( https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/135014809/posts/747 ) They are gone. A pile of logs and some debris are all that remain.

Because the area is a protected riparian zone, the remaining debris and logs may have been left there intentionally, as an important component to the ecosystem. Nearby dead trunks that will not reach the Bridge when they fall also remain, as well as many other larger dead box elders several yards upstream.

For now, the Felton Covered Bridge is reasonably safe from falling trees.

We can only hope it stays that way.

Environmentalism has a way of complicating things.

Environmentalism should be more concerned with prioritizing the natural ecosystem than preserving vegetation that is interfering with it. Much of the exotic (non-native) underbrush and even a few exotic trees should be eliminated to allow at least some of the displaced native vegetation to recover. Where necessary and appropriate, environmentalism must also make accommodations for safety within an innately hazardous natural setting that happens to be very accessible to the public. More of the dead box elders should be removed or at least cut down to reduce the risk of falling limbs to those visiting the adjacent Felton Covered Bridge Park.

Preservation of assets like the historic Felton Covered Bridge is also important. Trees that are likely to damage the bridge should not be salvaged merely because they are within the protected riparian zone. Because the Felton Covered Bridge is such a landmark for tourists, the view of the Bridge is an important asset as well. Vegetation that would obscure this view should therefore be managed, so that it does not eventually obscure the view as it regenerates within the area vacated by the now absent box elders. There is nothing unnatural about open spaces. Old photographs demonstrate how visible the Felton Covered Bridge had been in the past, and how the flood of 1982 eliminated much of the obscuring vegetation within the riparian zone in a very natural way.

In many situations, planting new trees to replace those that are now gone is actually more unnatural than natural. It certainly does not contribute to the efficiency of a natural ecosystem. The installation of new sycamores, coast lives oaks and bay trees adjacent to the nearby Graham Hill Road Bridge are superfluous to new tree seedlings that appeared naturally in the area vacated by fallen box elders. They were planted with soil amendment, fertilizer and a synthetic polymer gel to retain moisture, and then protected from deer with stakes and mesh cages. They require unnatural supplemental irrigation until they get established, and are so close to each other and other trees, that they will become an unnaturally crowded thicket as they mature. There is nothing natural about such installations!

Nor are such installations inexpensive! They require resources that could be more responsibly allocated to more practical projects.

Environmentalism is another one of those very important concepts that has been compromised by extremism.P80112+++04

Pebbles

P80113My little planter box downtown that I wrote about last week and earlier must be the weirdest garden that I have ever tended to. ( https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/11/04/my-tiny-downtown-garden/ ) I certainly enjoy it. There are not many horticultural problems that can not be remedied by simply removing plants that should not be out there anyway. The weirdness though is just . . . weird . . . and unique to the situation of a tiny garden in such a public space.

I have had weird neighbors before. Hey, I live where I do. Well, a resident of Nicholson Avenue saw me working on my garden one day and stopped to tell me what I should plant in it for compatibility with the color scheme of the front garden of her home a block and a half to the west. You see, she payed a lot of money for her home, and I payed nothing for my planter box that belonged to the town that her expensive taxes sustain. I just smiled and nodded my head until she drove away. I then continued to plant flowers that were compatible with the color scheme of Mike’s Bikes, the bicycle store that my planter box happens to be in front of.

Being in front of a bicycle store, the planter box collects quite a bit of discarded bicycle parts. Just about any part that can be purchased in the store and changed on the sidewalk out front has ended up in the planter box. I also find nice beer and wine glasses discarded by patrons of local bars. A worse aspect of the proximity to bars is that those who imbibe excessively sometimes barf into the planter box. Speaking of puddles, a contractor who was doing some tile work at Mike’s Bikes dumped a bucket of slurry from the mortar into my planter box, leaving a puddle of mortar that solidified into a round concrete disc about two and a half feet wide and an inch and a half thick. Cannas, housleeks, aloes and nasturtiums were all encased, and had to be removed with the concrete!

I prefer to grow flowers that are small and abundant rather than larger flowers that would be missed when they get taken. My bronze houseleek has been trying to grow as long as the green houseleeks, but gets broken off and taken as soon as it starts to look good. I figured that nasturtiums were too abundant to be missed if someone too a few. Yet, I noticed that so many were getting taken that the blank flower stalks were more evident than developing flowers. When I confronted someone who was taking them and putting them in a big plastic bag full of plucked nasturtium flowers, she told me that they are edible. So? I certainly do not mind sharing; but if anyone wants to eat THAT many of them, they should grow them in their own garden!

On another occasion, someone stopped to tell me that rosemary is a useful culinary herb, as if it were not something that a horticulturist would know about, and then yanked a huge chunk of it from the meticulously tailored rosemary that cascaded so nicely over the wall of the planter box before I could chase him away. Another chunk of rosemary was burned by the exhaust of a car that was left idling in the loading zone while a client of Mike’s Bikes was inside retrieving his bicycle from the repair shop. The drama just never ends.

But there is one oddity that I neither mind nor tamper with. It has not become a problem yet. On the north side of the planter box, adjacent to the backside of a park bench, pebbles and small stones have been gathering for a few months. Some disappear as new ones arrive, so that there are never too many at any one time. At first, I thought that they were just some of the detritus that someone flung aside after sweeping out their car while parked at the curb. Yet, there is no other trash or debris associated with the stones. They happen to be in the only spot that has been undefiled by discarded bicycle parts, glasses or barf. They seem to be placed quite deliberately in small groupings and patterns. They reminded me of those small stones that some people like to place in gravel Zen Gardens. I really do not know why they are there; but if someone is able to enjoy this little garden downtown in that way, than I probably should not interfere. The pebbles remain.P80113+

GREEN

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If my articles start to seem somewhat deficient, it is all Brent’s fault. Really. I will need to be spending more time with GREEN; Greening Residential Environments Empowering Neighborhoods. It is a much more important project than what I am doing because it involves planting more street trees and trees in public places in Los Angeles, maintaining trees of the urban forest, and enforcement of tree preservation ordinances within Los Angeles. Brent has been very active with GREEN since we were in school, and it has really make a big difference in the parts of Los Angeles that have benefited from it.

I will need to be writing for the website and other social media outlets for GREEN, and consulting with others doing the same. To make matters more confusing, I will be working on yet ANOTHER projects later in January as well, but I can explain that a bit later.

When I started my writing here, it was initially intended as an outlet for my weekly gardening column. After a while I started recycling articles from last year as well. The space in between is filled in with my ‘elaborations’, which are supposed to be related to horticulture, but are sometimes about other funny but unrelated topics.

I hope to continue in such a manner than no one notices that I am also working on other projects. In fact, I believe that the other projects might be interesting topics here, which means that the different projects may actually compliment each other. We will find out as we go along. I will post updates about GREEN, which will soon be known as something else. I am sorry that the Facebook Page for GREEN has been deleted while we develop a new one. Otherwise, I would post a link to it.

Snow

P80110It seems that almost all of us in the Northern Hemisphere are talking about it. Those of us who lack it can get to feeling somewhat deprived. It looks so pretty in pictures. It seems like such a natural part of winter. To many of us, it is a good excuse to take a break from gardening, stay inside, and write more compelling articles than the more technical sorts written when there is more activity in the garden.

In California, we get almost everything. Although most of the most densely populated ares lack snow, parts of the Sierra Nevada get more snow than anywhere else in the world. Californians can go to the snow to ski, hike, take pictures and do whatever people want to do in the snow; but we do not need to live with it at home like most people in other states do.

I grew up without snow. It snowed only once in 1974. It was only half an inch deep. The snow fell overnight while everyone slept, and it melted by early afternoon. Because the turf in the schoolyard was not resilient to snow, we were not allowed out there until the snow was gone. I later saw snow only when we went to where the snow was, in the Sierra Nevada. Snow only rarely fell at my home near the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains above town, and it stayed for only a few hours.

I never had to live with snow until I went to Oklahoma at the end of 2012. Even then, it was minimal. The first snow fell only about three weeks before we left, and it never accumulated more than two inches or so. The difference from what I had experienced prior to that was that it lingered. It took a few days to melt. As minimal as it was, I could totally understand why people who live with snow dislike it so. I really can not imagine living with more accumulation of snow for months at a time.

First of all, snow is cold. It is very cold. It is, after all, frozen. That would not seem like much of a problem when the air is already cold, but snow is different. It sticks to the sides of boot and makes them cold inside. It seems to hold the cold on whatever it covers, including parked cars.

Also, snow is wet. Yes, as I already mentioned, it is is frozen, but it is frozen ‘water’, and it does not stay frozen when one is trying to get warm after being out in it. It gets clothing and everything else wet, just like a light rain. Frozen snow gets tracked in on boots and then melts just inside the doorway.

To go along with that, snow is messy. As cars drive through it, it becomes muddy, but does not necessarily melt right away. It becomes slushy mud that splatters onto otherwise clean cars.

There is actually quite a list of things to dislike about snow. It is dangerous on roadways. When it gets pushed off of roadways, it piles up around parked cars and on top of plants that happen to be in the way. I think that I prefer to see it in pictures of Switzerland, Minnesota, Ontario and Mount Hood as it looks from Portland.

Sometimes I think that it would be nice if we got a bit more of a chill here. We would be able to grow more varieties of apples, pears and other fruits. Perhaps peonies would do better, and autumn foliar color would be more spectacular. There are so many things that we can not grow or that do not perform as well as they want to in such a mild climate. However, all those frost sensitive plants that we can grow that others can not grow are nice too. Either way, I will pass on the snow.

Bill was mostly blind by the time we went to Oklahoma, but he could feel the snow on the ground well enough to determine that he did not like it either.P80110+.jpg

The Molting Of The Chrysler

P80108+The old Chrysler looks different this time of year. Like dogs, cats, horses and deciduous plants, it adapted to the weather.

That tan canvas structure above the cab is known as a ‘roof’. It was there all along, but folded up behind the back seat. It was merely unfolded over the top of the cab. The ‘roof’ comes in handy this time of year, not only for keeping warmth within the cab, but also for keeping things out of the cab. Allow me to elaborate.

You may nave noticed that the Chrysler is wet. This is a direct result of mysterious droplets of moisture that fall from the sky. We discussed them earlier. They are known ‘rain’, and are falling from the sky presently. The ‘roof’ keeps the ‘rain’ out of the cab. Otherwise, the cab and everything in it would be as wet as the ‘roof’ is now.

The yellow, orange and reddish brown things strewn about are sweetgum leaves. You may not recognize them now because they are not green. They change color when the weather gets cool this time of year, and then get dislodged by meteorological events such as wind and the presently observed ‘rain’. The ‘roof’ excludes them from within the cab of the car.

The two devices at the bottom of the windshield are another adaptation to ‘rain’ known simply as ‘windshield wipers’. When in operation, they pivot from where they are affixed just below the windshield to literally wipe the the wet ‘rain’ away. They are a rather ingenious invention, since ‘rain’ on the windshield tends to inhibit visibility.

Just as a thick coat on a dog or horse can predict an unusually cool winter, the molting of the Chrysler is directly related to the weather. Although it can not predict ‘rain’ as early as dogs and horses can predict cold weather, it quite reliably happens immediately prior to ‘rain’. It is a good sign for the garden.

The ‘rain’ that falls immediately after the molting is composed of water, which is very important and useful to gardens and forests after such a long dry summer. As we discussed earlier, some of the water gets into the aquifer where it is stored for later use in and around our homes. We are very fortunate to have a Chrysler who is so proficient at predicting the delivery of the water that we need so much of.