Stag Party

P80415Staghorn ferns are epiphytes. They cling to tree trunks, rocks or whatever they happen to grab onto. They can root into decayed wood if it is porous enough, but they are satisfied to just cling to the exterior. They do not need soil. They sort of make their own soil by collecting debris that falls from the canopies of trees above. In the jungles where they live, they get all the water they need from rain. They often live in the crotches of branches because that is where they happen to land. (The epiphyte I wrote about earlier was just a palm that landed in the wrong place, but is not really an epiphyte. )

In home gardens, staghorn ferns are often grown on wooden plaques so that they can be moved around like potted plants. Because it does not rain much here, they need to be watered occasionally. They do not grow very fast, but eventually need to be attached to larger plaques, or divided into smaller clumps that fit onto new plaques. Alternatively, they can be grown like plants in hanging pots, but without the pots. Even if they start out in pots, they may eventually envelop and obscure their pots, and form a big rounded hanging mass that only wants water and debris from above. A small bit of fertilizer might improve their naturally light color, but too much will roast leaf margins.

My colleague Brent Green acquired this humongous and well rounded specimen from a client who wanted it removed from an olive tree that it had grown too big for. It had been there for decades. Brent gives it a banana every month or so because it likes potassium. It does not get much debris from above in Brent’s well groomed garden.


Foliage Is Not Always The Answer

P80414KFoliar tapestries are impressive in the right situation. They work as nicely on exterior walls as conventional tapestries or paintings might work on interior walls. However, they require much more maintenance!

Trendy green walls are overrated. Their only real advantage is that they are pretty. They are not a ‘real’ solution to anything. They may keep the interior of a small building a bit cooler, but no more than light colored paint or a shade structure would. They do not save water, and actually use more water than plants grown in the ground. All that water is likely to rot the walls behind, or the decking below. They do nothing for melting glaciers or saving the planet. In a few more years, when they are no longer trendy, they will be more junk in the landfills.

Most obtrusive exterior walls can be obscured or partly obscured with less demanding plants that grow either up from below, or downward from above. Unpainted concrete walls can be outfitted with clinging vines if space is inadequate for upright shrubbery or a shorn hedge in front. Backfilled retaining walls can be outfitted with pendulous or ground cover plants that can cascade downward for a few feet.

A non-horticultural option is a good old fashioned mural. Yes, the sort that get painted on. They are about as expensive as foliar murals are, but once installed, they can last for years with only minimal maintenance, and no watering.

There is much more detail to the murals shown here. These are just close up pictures of little dogs who were memorialized in the murals. Incidentally, the only sweetgum tree in Felton Covered Bridge Park is a memorial tree that was planted for Charlie, the Boston terrier in the mural below.P80414K++P80414K+.JPG

Six on Saturday: Cherry on Top


The flowering cherry trees are like something from Washington D C. They are remarkably happy in our particular location. The air is a bit cooler and a bit more humid than in the Santa Clara Valley. The redwood forest protects them from wind. These pictures were taken last Monday. Bloom is finishing now. The trees in the first picture are already mostly green with new foliage. Bloom was excellent while it lasted.

Azaleas are still in full bloom in the same area. Some are farther along. Others still have buds opening. They seem to be a bit late this year.

The Dutch iris is interesting because it is so uncommon here. In other locations, it blooms well only once, and then does not get adequate chill to bloom the following year. These Dutch iris are doing quite well near the ‘Kwanzan’ flowering cherry in the third picture, and have been blooming reliable for several years.

The pansies, which are actually easy to grow here, did not do as well as other plants that should not have done as well as they did. A few bare spots are evident. However, because they are partly shaded and cooled by the redwoods, pansies can stay in this spot near the flowering cherries in the first and second pictures until the weather gets too warm for them in summer. In other places not so far away, they would have been replaced by warm season annuals already.

1. flowering cherry – Some know them as ‘Yoshino’. Others think they are ‘Akebono’. I really need to find out what they are so that we can add more before these deteriorating old trees get removed.P80414
2. flowering cherry – Double flowers are not my favorite, but the clear bright white is. Again, we do not know what cultivar this is.P80414+
3. flowering cherry – This one is obviously ‘Kwanzan’.P80414++
4. azalea – This red azalea should be easy to identify, but no one really cares what cultivar it is.P80414+++
5. Dutch iris – In our climate, this is impressively reliable bloom.P80414++++
6. pansies – Yes, I know they are cliché; but they happened to be blooming near the flowering cherries, so I could not just ignore them.P80414+++++
This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Onion Weed

70412What an unappealing name! That is probably why so many of us know it simply as ‘wild onion’ or ‘allium’. Few of us bother to get sufficiently acquainted with it to know it by the species name of Allium triquetrum, which is actually not much more appealing than ‘onion weed’. It is not really wild, but has naturalized as an invasive exotic, or in other words, ‘weed’. At least it is a pretty weed.

The foliage might not be much to look at as it emerges from formerly dormant bulbs late in winter. Each bulb produces only two or three leaves that get only about half a foot tall, and are only a bit wider and glossier than grassier weeds. Then the three sided flower stalks grow up as much as a foot above the foliage, and bloom with as many as a dozen small and pendulous white flowers.

The half inch long flowers are individually no more interesting than their foliage; but collectively, they briefly brighten unrefined or neglected areas of the garden with wispy soft white drifts of bloom. They can bloom through shallow weeds or groundcover, and tolerate considerable shade. Yet, as resilient as they are, they are not too drought tolerant. Onion weed is edible, but not very flavorful.

A Tree Falls In The Forest

70412thumbThe Great Basin bristlecone pine of the eastern Sierra Nevada can live more than five thousand years. The giant sequoia of the western Sierra Nevada can live more than three thousand years. The familiar coastal redwood from the Coastal Ranges can live more than two thousand years. Besides impressive longevity, one thing that they all have in common is that they all eventually die.

Most trees in home gardens do not live much more than a century. Some oaks can last a long time. Willows, poplars and acacias do not. Trees typically do not live as long in landscape situations as they do naturally in the wild because their life cycles are accelerated by watering and fertilizing, and also because watering promotes rot. Some trees get removed because they grow too big.

While trees are young and growing, they sometimes need help with structural problems. They might need pruning to eliminate limbs that are likely to break away and fall. On rare occasion, trees might need pruning to reduce weight and resistance to wind if stability becomes a concern. Falling limbs or falling trees are very natural in the wild, but can be serious problems around the home.

As trees age, they develop more structural deficiencies, which are increasingly difficult to repair or accommodate. Most big old hardwood trees have some degree of decay within their main trunks, even if no such damage is visible from the outside. Although perfectly natural, this decay eventually compromises structural integrity. Stability is slowly compromised as aging roots decay.

It is true that most trees that fall or drop limbs are more likely to do so while getting thrashed by winter storms. However, there are other factors that can bring down limbs or entire trees. Warming spring weather promotes growth of new foliage, which significantly increases the weight and wind resistance of structurally deficient limbs and destabilized trees. Warmth also accelerates decay. Even after winter storms, there are many other reasons to be aware of the health of trees.


P80411After all the years it was out there, someone, somewhere must have gotten good pictures of it. I never did. Nor did anyone I know. It was something of a famous landmark in Santa Clara.

First, I should explain these pictures that my niece sent from here Mid City Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles. As you can see, this is a well kept middle aged home with minimal setback from the sidewalk. It is in a delightfully tree shaded neighborhood of comparable homes.

What are those black and white silhouettes of city skylines on those two plastic panels in front, you ask? They are a fence. Seriously. There are several similar panels around the perimeter of the front yard, at the edge of the sidewalk, and up the sides. They depict a variety of familiar landmarks, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Space Needle, the Eiffel Tower, the Tower Bridge and so on. They are all jumbled together so that landmarks from cities that are thousands of miles apart can share the same skyline. Mount Rushmore is depicted on the gate, adjacent to a city skyline that features both the Gateway Arch and the Sydney Opera House. Someone actually paid a lot of money to get this fence constructed and installed around the front garden of their otherwise well tended home. But wait; there’s more.

The picture below shows what lurks behind the fence. It was actually worse before the fence was built, when it was in full view. As tacky as the fence is, at least it obscures it. ‘It’ is a fountain; but not just any fountain. This picture does not do it justice. It really should be viewed at night, when it lights up with disco lights and emits eerily illuminated water vapor. It sometimes plays music. Yes, someone really though it was a good idea to put this in the front yard, where, before the fence was built, it was visible to anyone in the vicinity.P80411+

Now, getting back to the mower. It did not work. It probably worked at one time. It was an old mower, from before the mid-1960s or so. The person who owned it apparently did not like using it, but did not want to get rid of it either.

He had it bronzed. Yup. Bronzed. The front garden of his mid-1950s tract home in Santa Clara was paved with exposed aggregate concrete, with a big pedestal in the middle, on which, the bronzed mower was proudly displayed. The concrete was of exceptional quality, and would have made a nice patio if it had a bit of landscaping around it. Instead, it was surrounded by only a simple but tasteful low iron fence with tan slumpstone pillars. The fence surrounded the perimeter of the front garden, at the edge of the sidewalk and up the sides. There was no plant material in the front garden. None.

The mower debuted sometime about 1970. The kids of my generation do not remember it not being there, so it was there as long as any of us can remember. Some of our parents believe it might have been there as early as 1964. The home and paved front yard were always impeccably maintained.

Tacky? Yes, of course.

Crazy? Maybe.

It gets worse.

In about 1995, the home sold. It actually sold rather quickly because it was in such good condition. Everyone thought that whomever purchased it would remove all the pavement and the mower, and landscape the front garden. But no. They moved in, painted the home a different color, and maintained the front garden as it had always been maintained. What is the point of living in such a nice home in such a nice neighborhood with such nice soil and in one of the best climates on in the World if the garden is paved?!

Only a few years ago, the home was sold a second time, and those who purchased it finally removed all the concrete and bronzed mower, and outfitted the home with a simple but presentable landscape that is more compatible with the rest of the neighborhood.

The funny thing is that everyone in that neighborhood had lived with the bronzed mower for so long that it was somewhat saddening to see it go! We all knew why it needed to go, and that the home looks so much better without it, but it was familiar. It was cool in a weird sort of way. It was defiant. It certainly was unique. It was environmentally responsible, and about as drought tolerant as it gets.

It is still impossible to imagine that the black and white plastic ‘city skyline’ fence and steamy disco fountain within will ever be so appreciated; but who knows?


80418It is not easy to forget annual forget-me-not, Myosotis sylvatica. Even if it dies back early in the heat of summer, it will probably throw plenty of seed to regenerate through next winter, and bloom again by next spring. It can easily naturalize in damp or riparian areas, and might be considered to be a weed; but like nasturtium and foxglove, it is a polite weed that is not aggressively invasive.

The tiny blue flowers start to bloom while winter is still cool, and then get a bit more abundant as the weather warms in the beginning of spring. Some modern garden varieties bloom with pink or white flowers. Tender leaves are about two or three inches long, and less than an inch wide. Soft stems creep laterally, but do not get far. Mature plants are less than a foot tall, and two feet wide.

Between autumn and early spring, seed can be sown directly where plants are desired. Because they are so tender, plants are not often available in nurseries. Forget-me-not is a nice understory plant to larger rhododendrons and up-pruned shrubbery, or covering for daffodils, freesias and other spring bulbs. They want regular watering and rich soil, and can be happy in cool partial shade.

Bulbs Foliage Lingers After Bloom

80418thumbDaffodils, freesias, lilies, snowdrops and the various early spring blooming bulbs and bulb like perennials will be finishing soon if they have not finished already, leaving us with the annual question of what to do with the foliage after bloom. The plants will not bloom again until next year, and the remaining foliage might be unappealing without bloom. Much of it slowly deteriorates into summer.

Bulbs that were forced have probably exhausted their resources, so are not likely to recover. Formerly forced daffodils and narcissus can go into the garden, but after the foliage dies back, they will probably never be seen again. Regeneration is possible though. Forced hyacinths and tulips are not likely worth the effort. They do not get enough chill here to bloom reliably in spring anyway.

Daffodils and narcissus (and for those who insist on growing them, hyacinths and tulips,) that bloomed out in the garden will need to retain their foliage long enough to sustain regeneration of new bulbs that will bloom next spring. As long as the foliage is still green, it is working. When it withers and turns brown, it is easy to pluck from the soil, leaving new but dormant bulbs in the soil below.

Some of us like to tie long daffodil, narcissus and snowdrop foliage into knots so that it lays down for the process; but this only makes it more prominent in the landscape than if it were just left to lay down flat. Freesias are experts at laying down, which is why they might have needed to be staked while in bloom. The foliage of many early spring bulbs is easier to ignore in mixed plantings.

It is even easier to ignore if overplanted with annuals or perennials that are just deep enough to obscure the foliage. Shallow groundcover might work for some of the more aggressive bulbs. Bulb foliage will need to be tucked under. Flower stalks should be pruned away from bulb foliage, not only because they are the most unsightly parts (if not concealed), but also because developing seed or fruit structures divert resources from bulb development.


P80408Wildlife and domestic animals seem to follow me everywhere I go. When Brent and I lived in the dorms at Cal Poly, our room was known as the Jungle Room, not only because of all the greenery, but also because every little bird that got knocked out while trying to fly through the big windows at the dining room was brought to our room to recuperate. A baby squirrel that weaseled into my jacket while I was out collecting insects for an entomology class lived with us for a while. There were two baby ducks that need a bit more explaining.

When I moved south of town, where my roommates boarded horses, the horses worked diligently to open their gate to come to the house to eat my rare plants. The neighbor’s cattle sometimes did the same! When it rained, creepy crawdads came out of the ditch at the railroad tracks and up to my porch.

When I moved to Los Gatos, it seemed that every stray dog in town eventually arrived at my home. In fact, my home was ransacked by the FBI just because their bloodhound who was supposed to be pursuing a suspect of a crime wanted to come by! Again, that takes a bit more explaining. Birds flew through freely. A pair of some sort of small bird nested in my shower, and before I realized it, started to raise a family . . . and finished. Pigeons tried to nest repeatedly in the same spot on top of the refrigerator, but got evicted. A squirrel moved into the guest room, and refused to leave. It sometimes tried to join me for breakfast.

Then, at my second home, there was Timmy the baby deer, two feral cats, skunks, coons, squirrels and more neighborhood dogs than I can remember, as well as Bill the little terrier who actually lived there. I could go on.

Squirrels are a common denominator. They are everywhere.

My home in town was in the Live Oak Manor district, which, as you can guess, was dominated by huge old coast live oaks as well as comparable valley oaks. The valley oak next door was supposedly the largest in the Santa Clara Valley. Squirrels were everywhere and very well fed!

The east facing window over my desk would have had a good view of Mount Hamilton if the view had not been so cluttered with utility cables. The wildlife that used the cables could get annoying at times. Crows made their annoying noise. Pigeons just stared at me stupidly. Squirrels scurried by with bits of fruits and vegetables that they stole from the garden, and sometimes stopped to cuss at me. I sometimes cussed back, but also reminded them to be careful as they jumped from the high voltage cables into the tops of the neighbor’s hedged redwood trees below. The redwoods sometimes grew dangerously close to the high voltage cables between clearance pruning.

As you can imagine, the unimaginable but obviously predictable happened. I do not know if he was coming or going, but I would guess that he was jumping from the tree to the cable. I only heard a loud ‘ZAP’ and subsequent ‘FIZZLE’. By the time I looked out, the unfortunate squirrel was a swinging charred carcass with a death grip on the cable he was reaching for. The death grip was impressive. He stayed there for a long time, swinging in the breeze. Silent sparks could sometimes be seen at night, where his tail brushed against the tip of the redwood shoot. I do not know if a crow finally got him, or if he just fell into the neighbor’s yard. Either way, he did not get a proper burial.



Dogs and humans have been in a symbiotic relationship longer than history can document. Dogs naturally became more domesticated as humans did, and have been more or less selectively bred for a few thousand years.

Dingos are different. No one knows for certain how domesticated they were when they first came to Australia. They probably had been domesticated enough to come on boats with the first humans to migrate to Australia. After arriving in Australia, they became feral, although still symbiotically migrating with humans. They are now considered a native species of Australia.

Many species of plants have lived symbiotically with humans as well. As long as humans have been living with dogs, they have been domesticating and breeding plants. As plants were more extensively bred, they became more dependent on humans for their perpetuation. Some are so overly bred that they are sterile and unable to perpetuate without human intervention to propagate them vegetatively. Others, although unnaturally productive in regard to what humans want from them, are too weak or otherwise inferior to survive in the wild.

However, there are some extensively bred plants that escape their domestic lifestyles, and perpetuate feral descendants who retain some of the domestic characteristics of their extensively bred ancestors. They are not quite like naturalized plants that were merely imported in a more or less natural state from other regions, or those that naturalize and revert to a natural state. Characteristically, they are between wild plants and extensively bred and selected domestic plants. They have developed their own stable but feral lineage that can perpetuate in the wild.

For example, the purple leaf plum has been developed as an ornamental tree for a very long time. Several vegetatively propagated cultivars are now available. The ancestors were likely discovered as mutants with darker bronzed foliage. These primitive mutants were more or less genetically stable, and were likely able to perpetuate naturally. It is difficult to say for certain. From these ancestors, seedlings with even darker foliage were selected, and bred to find more seedlings with even darker foliage, and so on. Because of this selective breeding, purple leaf plum trees grown as domesticated ornamental trees now have darker foliage they would naturally in the wild. They are propagated vegetatively because some are so overly bred that they are sterile, and seedlings from those that can produce viable seed would be likely be more genetically stable, and therefore less genetically ‘developed’. This is why feral seedlings from purple leaf plums that can produce viable seed are not as dark purplish bronze as their parents. Seedlings from the seedling trees are even lighter bronze. They may never be completely green, but they will not be dark purplish bronze either. They are feral purple leaf plums, like dingoes.