Monday, July 27, 2015

Succulent Gardens

The Succulent Gardens located in 2133 Elkhorn Rd, Castroville, California is a remarkable destination for any gardener.  It functions as a nursery and demonstration center but it also boasts beautiful and mature succulent/cactus gardens.  I had the pleasure to take pictures and buy a few plants during our visit there earlier this year.  


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ruth Bancroft Garden: A Garden of Austerity

Planted with water-wise plants, the Ruth Bancroft Garden exemplifies an austere garden.  It is not the typical lush and colorful garden where everything is provided and all challenges are eliminated to optimize the performance of plants. In this garden, the plants are those that can live on less water - it is not that they do not need more water but that they have a deeper tolerance to drought.

Here are pictures of some plants I saw:

1.  Prickly Pear (Opuntia ficus-indica)

2.  Agave peryii - starting to bloom

3.  Agave havardiana

4. Echinopsis huascha

4.  Probably a Stenocereus_eruca

5.  (Help me name this plant)

6.  (Help me name this plant)

Visit your local public gardens to expand your imagination.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Peaches are Ripe Again

It is that time of the year when we are flooded with peaches.  What this means is that peaches will be served every meal for a couple of weeks and I will be busy preserving the ones we cannot consume or share with our neighbors.  Sometimes it is hard to decipher whether this is a blessing or burden.  One thing is sure - it starts as the former and ends as the later. :)

The tree has a sad history.  The tree has suffered severe cases of  leaf curl (Taphrina deformans) in the past years drastically reducing the canopy cover not only for purposes of photosynthesis but for shading.  The location of the tree can get very hot in the summer - the sun exposed portion of the trunk can crack and separates from the cambium layer.  At present the bark on half of the trunk's girth is peeling off. We pruned the tree last year with the intention of eventually removing it.  In fact, already I bought a pluot tree to take it's place (close to the plum tree). But this year's peach crop tells me to delay the process.

Plant a fruit tree this year for the enjoyment of many 
generations to come. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Tanacetum parthenium

Tanacetum parthenium (L.)
Common name:  Feverfew; Wild Chamomile
Other Names: Chrysanthemum parthenium
                        Leucanthemum parthenium
                 Pyrethrum parthenium 
                 Matricaria parthenium
Family: Asteraceae
Origin:  The Balkan Peninsula

Tanacetum pathenium (feverfew) is a perennial plant that is traditionally cultivated for its medicinal properties. Extensive studies throughout the ages have shown that the flowers and fruits are known to contain parthenolide which accounts for the medicinal potency of this plant.  However, beyond its therapeutic uses, tanacetum parthenium is also an important ornamental plant in landscapes.  Dainty white flowers with yellow center rise above the canopy of the plant in the summer and fall - making it an excellent plant choice for mixed borders.  

In my garden, feverfew came as a volunteer plant - in other words, it is a self-seeding plant.  Over the years it has spread and I had to deliberately contain it on the eastern side of the patio providing an added visual interest in that area. This plant requires very little to thrive. In our Zone 9 area, it is almost evergreen but I cut it back every year in the winter to give it a clean fresh growth for the spring.  

Suggested Reading:  Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium L.): A systematic review

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Beyond Fern Fronds

Fig. 1   Fern fronds

A fern that has a flower is not a true fern and anything that resembles a flower on a fern is not a true flower. Ferns are not flowering plants but they are capable of reproduction through spores. The purpose of this article is to point out where this flowerless-reproduction takes place.

New fronds on ferns start out plain green (Fig. 1).  While some fronds are sterile, some are fertile for reproduction which can be differentiated by inspecting the under-side of the fronds as they begin to develop sori - the reproductive structure in ferns (Fig. 2).   

The sori  start out as rows of two dimentional dots (Fig. 2) and as they mature they turn increasingly three-dimensional resulting in an embossed appearance on the fronds. At this point, the sori are enclosed in a thin flap of tissue called indusium.  

Fig. 2.  Sori (singular: sorus) on the underside of  fertile fern fronds.

The indusium at first covers, the entire sorus (Fig.2).  However, as the sori mature, the indusia slowly recede to unveil the growing sporangia (Fig. 3) - each sorus containing clusters of sporangia. Eventually, the and finally detaches from the sorus leaving a velvety house of spores (Fig.4). 

Fig. 3   Indusium slowly revealing the sporangia as they mature.

Sporangium  (Fig. 4) is a receptacle in which asexual spores are developed.  Ferns are flowerless and seedless plants - therefore, they do not undergo sexual fertilization where a male cell unites with a female cell to form a new embryo.  Instead, they have sporangia that are like tiny packages containing multitudes of spores - all potentially capable of cell division to produce a multi-cellular organism - a new plant.  Minute as they are, spores are designed to survive and dispersed - they remain viable for a long time until favorable conditions are met.

Fig. 4    Sporangia all ready for dispersal.

Now that we know about fertile fern fronds that give rise to aggregates of sori that hold the sporangia which are the vessels that contain the spores, we can say that the fronds are not ordinary leaves.  Unlike the leaves of flowering plants which function mainly as sites for photosynthesis, the fern fronds perform dual functions - photosynthetic and reproductive. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dahlias in my Garden

Fig. 1   'Arabian Night' in the rain.

One of the year's new plants in my garden is dahlia. Dahlia is a tuberous tender perennial known to have originated from Mexico. Nowadays, there are many hybrids that have resulted from breeding and selection all over the world. As a member of the Asteraceae family, dahlia is related to daisy, chrysanthemum and the sunflower. Dahlias come in different colors and sizes. As a beginner, I selected four different varieties that featured large flowers but slightly inferior in size to the dinner-plate varieties.  

Fig. 2   Dahlia 'Arabian Night' has yellow stamens

1.  Dahlia 'Arabian Night'.  Introduced in 1951 (Weijers), this  variety has the looks of a classic dahlia with its gorgeous black red flowers with contrasting yellow stamens (Fig.  1 & 2) in the center.  Being a semi-dinner plate, the flowers are large but not so large - four inches in diameter. Great for cutting, the flowers remain intact when they fade.  Of all the dahlias I planted this year, this was the first variety that showed the first blooms.  

Fig. 3   Dahlia 'Stranger':  Spring Blooms

Fig. 4   Dahlia 'Stranger': Summer Blooms

2.  Dahlia 'Stranger'. It is a vigorous grower with dark green leaves.  This was the earliest variety to emerge from the ground.  The flowers are creamy in the middle radially shifting to pink with white margins on the petals.  The height of the plants was between 3-4 feet.  The flowers last for a week and then the petals begins to fall.  Unlike the 'Arabian Night', the flowers drop its petals as it fades. This variety started blooming in May.  It was also noted that the earlier flowers (opening when temperatures were averaging in the high 70s) were more yellow (Fig. 3) than those that opened during the hotter summer period (Fig. 4.).  

Dahlia 'Pom-pom Mix'

3.  Dahlia 'Pom-pom Mix'.  Apparently there were two varieties in this mix.  One was a  bright magenta with yellow stamens and not a lot of petals - relatively speaking.  The other one looks like a sunny side up - the center of the flower resembles an egg yolk against the creamy outer layers of petals (Fig. 5).  It was my observation that the plants in this mix lacked the vigor that was displayed by the other varieties I planted.  The plants are generally shorter; their stems and branches are thin and are prone to lodging. 

 Dahlia 'Lady Darlene' - Front view

Dahlia 'Lady Darlene' - Back view

4.  Dahlia 'Lady Darlene'.  Huge mop-heads of petals in a gradient of red-to-yellow color are the flowers of 'Lady Darlene'.  From the front view, the flower looks predominantly cream - the petals being edged with red. It has massive flowers of enormous size!  The stalks are huge and sturdy and the leaves are dark green.  This was the last variety that bloomed.  I observed that the first flowers were more yellow than the succeeding ones where the gradient in color was less clear.Thus, supporting my theory that some flowers tend to exhibit less intense colors under high temperatures. Considering that this is a summer blooming variety, I must resign to the fact that the flowers will be mostly the washed-out version of  'Lady Darlene' in my Zone 9 garden.  However, I would presume that the Pacific coastal gardens will show the fiery red/yellow rendering of this lady.

This is the first time dahlias are grown in my garden and so far, I am very satisfied with the result and experience.  There were many lessons I learned about them which I will talk about in the future.

Dahlias are low maintenance plants but they require a lot of water to show their best.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Pollinator Week 2015

"If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos." ~ E. O. Wilson

Bee on sage flower

Bee on radicchio flower

Mastering Horticulture has a few suggestions on ways to observe Pollinator Week 2015:

1.  Plant at least three kinds of perennial herbs.  One type is good but three is better.  Sage, rosemary and mint - for example, when allowed to flower are all bee magnets.  They bloom at different times of the year and thus providing a constant source of nectar for the bees.

2.  Allow annual leafy plants such as lettuce, cilantro, radicchio, radishes to flower.  Let the beneficial insects have a festival in your garden.

3.  Add a water feature in your garden.  Our pollinators work hard all day, they need an easy access to water source.

These are very simple steps that will surely keep the pollinators working in our gardens.  I'm sure there are other ways you can think of.  Share them so that we can all work together in keeping the pollinators around.

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