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. ( ) 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



P80113My little planter box downtown that I wrote about last week and earlier must be the weirdest garden that I have ever tended to. ( ) 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+

Sweet Pea Shrub

70111It may not always bloom profusely, but sweet pea shrub, Polygala fruticosa, blooms sporadically through most of the year. Even when not much color is evident from a distance, a few flowers can likely be found on closer inspection. For some reason, bloom seems to be quite colorful now. Bloom phases should be more profuse in spring and summer. The pea flowers are soft purplish pink.

Mature plants might only get to two or three feet tall and wide, but have the potential to get larger. They are usually a bit wider than tall, with a nice rounded compact form. The evergreen foliage is slightly grayish light green. Sweet pea shrub prefers full sun exposure, but can get roasted in hot spots. A bit of shade should not be a problem. Once established, it does not need too much water.

Big Trees Really Need Arborists

41203thumbStormy winter weather always reminds some of us that our trees need some attention. Wind can break limbs. If the weather gets really nasty, trees can be destabilized by strong wind, particularly if the soil is moistened by rain. However, the truth is that arboriculture, which is the horticulture of trees, is important throughout the year. We just become more aware of it when weather threatens.

Not only is arboriculture important throughout the year, but it is also the most important aspect of horticulture in most gardens that are outfitted with trees. After all, trees are the most significant features of such landscapes. Their shade affects the homes and garden spaces around them. If they drop limbs or fall, they can cause significant damage. Many get far too big for us to maintain.

This is why we need arborists, the horticulturists who specialize in trees. Arborists can evaluate the health, stability and structural integrity of trees, and prescribe any necessary arboricultural procedures. In order to issue a permit to remove a tree, most municipalities require an inspection and report from an arborist who is certified by the International Society of Arboriculture, or ISA.

ISA Certified Arborists have passed an examination of their arboricultural expertise, and maintain their certification by continued involvement with ISA educational seminars, workshops and classes. The ISA is the standardizing resource for the promotion of the most important arboricultural technology, and maintains discriminating standards. ISA certification is quite a commitment., the website of the ISA, is an excellent resource for anyone in need of the services of a certified arborist. The registry of arborists can identify and find an arborist directly by name, or regionally by city or ZIP code. The site is also useful for information about proper arboriculture and trees, for those of us who maintain our own small trees, or want to select new trees.

Trusting the wrong professional to maintain trees can be very risky. Even gardeners who are proficient at mowing lawns and shearing hedges may not be adequately knowledgeable about proper arboriculture. Instead of correcting problems, improper pruning can disfigure trees and limbs, and actually compromise their structural integrity. Sadly, it is not uncommon for otherwise healthy, stable and well structured trees to be ruined by those hired to care for them.



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.


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

Flame Vine

80117This is no timid vine! Flame vine, Pyrostegia venusta, is related to the lavender trumpet vine and blood red trumpet vine, and is just as vigorous. Although it can not be recommended for tight spaces or small refined gardens, it excels at obscuring concrete walls. It only needs wires or stakes to be convinced to climb. If it gets too big, it can be cut back after bloom to regenerate quickly.

Unlike the related trumpet vines that only bloom less but otherwise grow well in partial shade, flame vine really wants plenty of sunlight and nice warm exposure. Fertilizer can accelerate growth for new plants, but too much can inhibit bloom of mature plants. Occasional watering is all flame vine wants. Regular pruning may be needed to keep tendrils away from plants and painted surfaces.

Flashy drooping clusters of bright orange flowers bloom in autumn and winter, much to the delight of overwintering hummingbirds. Each floral cluster contains more than a dozen narrowly tubular flowers that are almost three inches long. The evergreen triofoliate leaves (divided into three leaflets) are quite lush through most of the year, but look a bit tired and sparse as they molt in spring.

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.

Bare Root Stock Is Here

80117thumbChristmas tree lots at nurseries come and go at a good time. Cut and live Christmas trees become marketable just as retail sales of other items is declining. Although autumn is the best season to plant many things, not many of us want to be out in the garden as the weather gets cooler. As Christmas trees get sold and relinquish their space, bare root nursery stock becomes available.

Smaller bare root plants might be available first, because they can be brought in before leftover Christmas trees get recycled after Christmas. These include grapevines, currants, gooseberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and perennials like rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries. Roses might be included too, but because they are so numerous, they often arrive with fruit trees.

Deciduous fruit trees are the majority of bare root stock. They include stone fruits, pomme fruits, figs, pomegranates, persimmons, walnuts and almonds. Stone fruits are of the genus Prunus, including apricot, cherry, plum, prune, peach, nectarine and almond. Pomme fruits are apple, pear and quince (pictured above). The flowering counterparts to some of these fruit trees may be available as well.

The flowering counterparts are those that are grown for colorful bloom rather than fruit production. Flowering stone fruit trees, such as the famous flowering cherries, produce no fruit. Flowering crabapples produce small and potentially messy fruits. Flowering quinces are actually a different genus than the fruiting types. Most are fruitless. Flowering pears are not often available bare root.

While dormant in late autumn, bare root plants are dug and deprived of the soil that they grew in. They get planted into their new homes before they wake up in spring. Some are packaged in damp sawdust. Others get heeled into damp sand. The advantages of bare root stock relative to canned (potted) stock are that bare root stock is less disfigured, lacks disfigured and circling roots, gets established in a new environment more efficiently, is easier to transport, and is significantly less expensive.

My Internship Was NOT In Australia

P80106Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were the hip and trendy places to do internships in horticulture back in the late 1980s. Everyone who was anyone was doing it; which is sort of why I was not that interested in doing what everyone else was doing already, even if I could have afforded to go to any of those exotic places. I did my internship in Saratoga.

All I knew about Australia was Olivia Newton John, Helen Reddy, eucalyptus trees, and that it is the place where summer goes when it leaves here.

Since writing online and learning a bit more about horticulture in Australia, I incidentally found that Australia is stranger than I would have imagined.

There are no Pontiacs in Australia! Seriously! When someone asked about what to do with a surplus of peaches that were too overripe and squishy to can, I suggested that they get thrown at the neighbor’s Pontiac. It was such a fun tradition among kids in the Santa Clara Valley back in the 1970s. I did not expect to be taken seriously; but I did not expect to be informed that there are no Pontiacs there! How totally primitive! I did not even ask about Buicks. If they lack Buicks, I REALLY do not want to know about it. I did happen to ask if cars were driven on the left side of the road, which they are; not that it matters. Without Pontiacs, who cares?P80106+

Then there are these terrifying animals known as wallabies! They look like humongous rats! They come out early in the morning and again in the evening, when their victims are most vulnerable. They always stare at whomever is taking their picture, as if plotting revenge. They aim their ears too, in order to hear everything that is being said. They are watching and listening right now!P80106++

The middle of Australia is known as the Red Center, which sounds rather like Oklahoma. Uluru is a huge red rock at the center of the Red Center. It really is the color of Oklahoma, and sort of shaped like the 1979 Pontiac Bonneville in the other picture above. You should have seen the pictures that another blogger posted of this fascinating place, and nearby places! The geology alone is fascinating, and mixed with it are all sorts of eucalyptus trees just growing wild. I mean wild, as in they are native there; not exotic like they are here. It is weird to see them out in their natural environments, like valley oaks and coast live oaks here. Wallabies do not seem to bother them much. Most of Australia seems rather flat. There are not many high mountains, and they are not really all that high.P80106+++

Queenslander is an architectural style developed for the climate of Australia. It is named for the northeastern state of Queensland; so has nothing to do with slandering an unpopular queen. I did not know that it was all that different from the Ranch architecture that is common here until someone explained that the homes are up off the ground to allow for air circulation underneath. Some are up high enough for another story to fit below. I suppose that the lower floor could either be at ground level, or elevated as well. Unlike Ranch architecture, Queenslander can be either one or two stories. Also, they tend to be somewhat bisymmetrical, with the front door and steps in the middle, and the left side matching the right side. Some have extra rooms, such as a solarium, on one side. Porches extend at least across the fronts of the homes. Many extend around the sides as well. Simple Queenslander homes tend to be rather square, with only four sides. Their roofs are also rather square, sloping toward all four sides, instead of just sloping to the front and back like roofs of common Ranch architecture often do. One advantage over Ranch architecture is the hood over the steps to the porch. It diverts rain to the sides if there are no gutters. Queenslander homes do not seem to have prominent garages visible from the front, perhaps because Australians lack Pontiacs of other cars that are worth showing off.P80106++++

Australia is less populous than California is, and almost everyone lives near the coast. That is something that I was sort of aware of. What I did not know is that there are FIVE cities that are more populous than San Jose! BOTH Melbourne AND Sydney are more populous than Los Angeles! How are there enough people left over to live anywhere else? Adelaide is one of the five major cities, and also has a climate remarkably similar to that of San Jose. It even sort of looks like San Jose, with the East Hills in the background. It does not look as big as San Jose though. Adelaide seems to be a bit more centralized, with more high density development, and less urban sprawl. This might be a result of a lack of Pontiacs or other nice cars to drive to suburban areas. Perhaps people just prefer to live closer to town because wallabies live on the outskirts. Queenslander homes seem to be on suburban parcels that are probably on the outskirts, but they are also outfitted with those distinctive fences.