In the deep midwinter, we warm our hands at the hearth of horticultural comradery, all thanks to our generous host, The Propagator.
1. Fig tree. The sap has sunk away from the tree’s shivering extremities, and once again the time has come to contemplate pruning. Last year witnessed a wholesale editing of all branches deemed non-normative. This year, the gardener promises anyone listening a gentler, more subtle approach. The problem is that I know little more than I did last year about how to apply the principles of pruning to fig trees generally and this wayward specimen in particular. Any advice from the readership would be most welcome. In particular, should I keep any of the suckers?
2. Compost. I’ll spare you a picture of this one. Upon taking possession of the cottage, my highest priority was to establish a receptacle for compost. With some prompting, J obtained wood prised from pallets by a local entrepreneur and constructed this box, with removable slats to facilitate access/meddling/harvest. Yet, these many months later, harvest remains purely hypothetical. The pile has grown, but has not, apparently, prospered. Carbon-nitrogen ratios became imbalanced, the pile dried out, the scraps bucket became infested with maggots. When originally established, the compost heap was stocked with worms acquired from the local Worm Woman and from the internet. Given subsequent mismanagement of the bin, the fate of these friends is unknown. Fear (of finding no worms, uncovering a clutch of maggots, etc) has, thus far, prevented me from investigating further.
3. Invasive plants. Here in the Northwest, we have a long list of noxious weeds and invasive plants: Himalayan blackberry vines, English ivy, holly, vinca, bamboo, Scotch broom, just to name a few. Most of these species were introduced intentionally, whether because of their ornamental qualities, their perceived usefulness, or their nostalgic value. Some of these plants are so ubiquitous in our region that, growing up, I considered them definitive of the landscape. I now make a point of eradicating them, to the best of my limited ability, from any space that I have a claim to. In my garden, I have begun battling both the vinca and the ivy. The ivy was removed from the trunks of trees it was smothering, but still covers one of the slopes leading down to the stream that runs through our property. I have dedicated hours to smothering and uprooting vinca, with some success, though the task is far from complete. I’m afraid that eliminating the bamboo is at present not feasible, as it appears to be holding the stream bank together. However, I have hired our neighbor, who specializes in habitat restoration, to underplant with a variety of shrubs, groundcovers, and a few trees, that I hope will eventually serve this function and allow us to reduce the bamboo.
4. Moss. I love moss. While on a recent nature walk, I collected some clumps of moss that had fallen to the ground, dislodged by the wind or perhaps by an animal. Having obtained a glass cloche from a thrift store, I have kept the moss covered and moist. To my delight, a number of ferns and other plants (identity unknown) have been sprouting from the mound.
5. Opuntia. I have developed a real appreciation for this tough cactus, that thrives in dry patches and is undeterred by winter cold. My collection includes a couple of unidentified varieties. One, with rather narrow, elongated paddles was obtained from an eccentric man who I found via a craigslist ad, who proudly showed me his encyclopedic collection of exotic fruit trees and bushes. This cactus, thus far, has demonstrated a tendency to spread rather than gaining height. When cold, it hunkers down close to the ground. Its flowers are yellow. The middle opuntia’s identity is known. It is Opuntia “Sapphire Wave,” though it is not looking particularly blue in this picture. The spines are quite dangerous looking and a lovely wine color. The third was acquired on a neighborhood walk. These generous paddles were observed lying on the ground next to the biggest, most beautiful opuntia I have seen in these parts. With permission from the friendly owner, the paddles were collected and wrapped in dog bags, through which the needles penetrated. My arms still bear scars commemorating this cruel encounter. The paddles were subsequently potted up and have been left to root over the winter. Not sure how long they need?
6. Dasylerion wheeleri (Desert Spoon). This plant is a delight. It has a lovely, yucca-like form, with serrated, silvery, slightly twisted leaves. My research indicates that this asparagus relative is native to northern Mexico and the southwestern US. Apparently it can grow 6 ft tall and 6 ft wide, with a trunk. The fermented inner core is used to make sotol, a drink that I have never tried. This plant requires very little water and prefers good drainage. It appears to be enjoying its current situation in a bright spot near the fence. I am tempted to acquire more.