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Archive for February, 2014

Plants are Smart

“It’s pretty spectacular what plants do. The more I work on them, the more I’m amazed.” Ted Farmer, University of Lausanne

I’d already heard about a lot of the research referenced in this video, but it was nice to see the concepts illustrated with sharpies. There’s also an article at Wired about essentially the same thing and a longer article by Michael Pollan in the New Yorker Magazine giving the research his unique pop science treatment. Also, when the article came out, he was on Science Friday for those who prefer more of a podcast format. A lot of this research seems like confirmation of things that gardeners intuitively know, but it’s great to see science giving evidence of some of the latent genius of the plant world.

Bloom Day, Early for the Show

Happy Bloom Day. This is an unusual bloom day for me because I have mixed feelings about seeing my plants in bloom. I haven’t mentioned it on this blog before, but I’m doing a display garden in the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show next month and a lot of the plants in bloom are things I want to still have in bloom four weeks from now for the show. A few are long-bloomers that I expect to keep going, but a couple are in danger of finishing too early. The biggest question is probably my two native annuals, Meadowfoam and Tidy Tips. Both of them began blooming a month ago, so I have been pinching off all of the flowers as soon as they appear. So far it seems to be working, but two months is a long time to suppress their bloom.

These are a couple of meadowfoam plants that I have given up on and am letting bloom unchecked. I have other meadowfoam plants that aren’t as far along, and the slowest ones are probably going to be the best at show time. My biggest concern is to make sure they also keep producing foliage as well as flowers.

The Tidy Tips is actually looking a lot better because of all the pinching. I decided to let this leggy specimen bloom, but most of the others are nice bushy little plants that will bloom as soon as I let them. I think the flowers will be smaller from all of the pinching, but there should be a lot of them. I keep telling them to wait; hopefully they won’t give up on me.

Other plants in the garden are doing well. Sidalcea is blooming nicely; I think it will keep going until show time. I deadheaded a Solanum today, the first time I’ve ever bothered to deadhead one of them; it should be prime in another month. Asarum caudatum is blooming, but with all respect to them, there is no way their brownish flowers will show up under the strange garden show lighting, so it doesn’t matter if they bloom or not. Mahonia repens will probably finish too early, but they’re left over from a project rather than something I intended for the show. Non-natives like the Hellebore and the Daffodils aren’t earmarked for the show, so I have no mixed feelings about seeing them in bloom. I’m not deliberately trying to exclude non-natives from the display garden, but I do want to make sure that the natives are well represented and that’s mostly what I’m growing for the show. Back in the fall when I agreed to do the show, I looked back at several years of March bloom day posts from here and from other California bloggers like Town Mouse and Country Mouse. Natives always look really good in March; even when they aren’t blooming yet, their foliage is usually at its best. This has been such a strange year, though, that I’m not confident that I know what will be happening a month from now. It feels a little ridiculous to worry about plants finishing before mid-March, but it’s better than the usual problem of speeding them up to get them ready for the show. Strange year.

I’m not sure what I have to say about doing the garden show itself. Anita and I did it once before, in 2008, though at the time we had never actually been to the show and really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves in for. We got plenty of work afterwards, so in that respect it was a success, but we finished with the feeling that we could have been smarter about it if we’d had a better idea what to expect. It’s such a strange artificial creation, and we could have done it more smoothly and efficiently if we had understood the differences between show gardens and real ones. We’ll see in another month if I actually manage to be smarter, smoother, and more efficient, but so far I’d say I’m having more fun this time. I’ve also lined up final homes for most of the plants and materials we’re using in the show, so there shouldn’t be much waste involved, though a few things like the annuals will get discarded after the show and some of the bulbs won’t be usable until next year.

The show has new owners this year who want to shift the focus of the show more towards sustainability. Partly as a result of that, we decided to conceive of the garden as a lawn conversion project. Lawn conversions are something we do pretty often, and with the crazy drought this year, a lawn to garden display seems even more appropriate than ever. It’s a little contrived to make a garden that is supposedly built on top of a lawn that never existed, but we’re going to have a sheet-mulch demonstration that should be interesting. People are often confused and intrigued when they see us covering a lawn with newspaper mulch as if we’re doing some sort of crazy landscape paper maché, so it should be fun to talk about.

The garden plan shows the concept we submitted to the jury, though the final design will end up somewhat different. I created the original concept with a partner who decided to drop out due to time constraints. I’m now doing it with a different partner, Sha-Khan Starks of Deep Rootz Design, so some of the elements designed with my initial partner are going to change as Sha-Khan and I move forward and actually build the garden. Essentially, the yoga/meditation deck and the walk-thru reflecting pool were the domain of my first partner, so now that he is out of the picture, we’re changing the big water feature into a smaller stone/water element that is more water-conserving and closer to what I personally tend to do in gardens. There are also a few other stone elements that I’m fabricating on my weekends. I’ll probably post about them fairly soon. I don’t know how interesting the garden show is to people, but it will be dominating a lot of my attention and probably this blog as well for the next month or so. In the meantime, check out May Dreams Gardens for lots of proper bloom day posts full of flowers. I have a list of what’s in bloom in my garden below.

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Cerritos Beach, Baja

Happy New Year. I took a bit of a blogging break there. I’ve been busy with projects and a vacation down to Baja. I should probably comment on this crazy drought we’re having or this evenings blessed rain, but my head is still in vacation mode.

These watercolors are all from Cerritos Beach on the Pacific coast north of Cabo San Lucas. I was staying in a palapa on the beach, but there’s an upscale hotel, Hacienda Cerritos, on the bluff overlooking it. I’m not usually interested in resort architecture, but this one is done really well, with beautiful detailing, including hand-carved doors, carved stonework, colorful tiles, custom wrought-ironwork, a diaper pattern in the brick dome, and lots of other grand touches. I would describe it as tastefully ostentatious, if that makes sense. There’s a video tour if you click thru to their website, though I recommend first hitting mute because there’s an audio track that cheapens it. While I was painting in the courtyard I heard a few different groups of people go through, and everyone gave out some form of ‘wow’ as the entered the space.

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