Join the Propagator and his bumper crop of gardeners for another Six on Saturday.
1. Botany for Gardeners. I am working my way through this book. So far, it has evoked fond memories of high school biology textbook illustrations. Fewer practical lessons for the gardener have been derived, I’m afraid. But I do feel suitably elevated by exposure to theory.
2. Mulches. Over the course of my admittedly relatively brief career as a gardener, I have experimented with many a mulch. Straw, bark dust, wood chips, cardboard, ground and unground leaves. “What have I gleaned from these not very scientific trials?” you may or may not ask. I like wood chips for those small (and ever-shrinking) areas in which I prefer that nothing grows, such as paths. Bark dust brings back memories that I prefer not to revisit and is thus shunned unless donated to the cause by an insensitive, but well-meaning soul. Dyed bark dusts are doubly shunned, regardless of intentions of would be donors. I feel that I may safely pass over synthetic mulches of all kinds as unmentionable. Leaving us with straw and leaves. Spoiled straw may be acquired at a deep discount from the local agricultural coop and is therefore tempting. I admit that I find it aesthetically acceptable, even pleasing. Despite warnings re: herbicides, I have detected no deleterious effects on the plants that I am trying to grow, while I have observed excellent weed suppression. I recognize that straw is usually thought suitable only for the homely kitchen garden, but I ask whether this is the product of careful consideration or purblind prejudice. Whole leaves are accessible once a year in great abundance, presumably untainted by herbicides, and have the added recommendation of serving as nature’s mulch – at least in forested areas. Two concerns present themselves: are the unchopped leaves smothering whatever is underneath? And something once read and vaguely understood about the distinction between soils in which the fungal element predominates vs those in which the bacterial reign supreme. So, chopped leaves are a ready remedy to the one concern. As regards the other, I appeal to my learned and largely imaginary audience, “Are leaves contraindicated as a mulch for plants that thrive in soils where bacteria are dominant?”
3. Seed and Scion Exchange. It was everything that I dared not hope for, and more. Hosted by a nonprofit based in Illinois Valley, situated on a remote farm dotted with the requisite handbuilt-from-scrap-materials outbuildings, frequented by the vaguely pagan, possibly somewhat ill-informed, sprouted grain bread-breaking denizens of my dreams. Vegetable seeds were in abundance. Ornamentals somewhat less well represented, but the selection delightfully unpredictable. Starts were given away by a lovely, older, long-haired couple who reported that the poppies had been grown from seeds harvested from the man’s parents’ garden. The scions were largely, if not entirely, from countless heirloom varieties of apple, the root stock also available for grafting. Having neither the skill nor the space to undertake this project, I confined myself to the roots and shoots of sundry herbs on offer – comfry, marsh mallow, borage. I left feeling more hopeful than I have in some time, after the added delight of identifying a local plant with a remarkably agave-like appearance and slightly contorted leaves, previously glimpsed on a remote hike and thus left respectfully untouched, growing freely in the parking lot across the street from the farm. I shall return.
4. The first buds of Ceanothus “Blue Jeans.” The leaves are rather yellower than I would like. Brief research suggests that no supplemental feed or water are required or desired by this plant and that full sun is required for it to maintain its form. Have I perhaps overwatered or overfed? The yellowing suggests stress, though the flower buds appear prolific. Any ideas?
5. Analogies. How do you use analogies and contrasts in color, form, size, leaf shape in your planting schemes? The below analogy (bulb fennel and Cape Restio) was unintentional. Redundant and detracting from the striking impression that would otherwise be created by either plant’s feathery and lime green foliage? Or does it suggest the emergence of a rhythm, the possibility of a commentary on convergent evolution or the deepseated kinship of all things? I haven’t decided. I am hoping that the maturation of plants situated between the two will provide a foil that will render their similarities pleasing, even intriguing.
6. Ornamental asparagus (above) continues to struggle in its new situation. Evidently stressed (dead and discolored foliage) and with no evidence of new growth. Any ideas what I am doing wrong? Kniphofia (below) also seems unhappy. The orange to green gradient and crispy tips suggest a failure to thrive. The soil is well draining, the plant situated in full sun. Am I over or underwatering? All suggestions are welcome.