30 November 2006


So cold. There was actually a frost advisory last night. What the fuck is a frost advisory? Are you Californians so weak you need the nanny state to hold your hand every time water might leave the liquid phase?

Well, yeah, we are. I've been pretty preoccupied with how cold I am for a few days. Wondering incredulously how I lived without central heat. The old days, when I was a kid in NE, and temperatures like this were cause to wear t-shirts and shorts, those don't really register anymore.

But now there's a garden: it's not about me anymore. I have responsibilities, which I fulfilled by covering my tenderest plants last night: Passiflora manicata and Deppea splendens. There were plenty more things I could have worried about, but I knew we weren't going to get a real frost: the nearest weather station (on the internet) didn't even fall below forty.

Still, it's an odd feeling, the sudden possibility that you could lose some plants overnight.

The only thing I'm really worried about are the nascent flower spikes on the Hedychium (we're up to 3 now), which I'm pretty sure are feeling considerably more petulant about producing actual flowers than last week.

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20 November 2006


Despite rain and fog, we've moved from the "second spring" into a kind of second summer. The lapageria has two flowers on it, and shockingly, I found a flower spike in the Hedychium I'd given up on. The neighbors' cannas were also sending up new spikes before being hacked senselessly to the ground.

On the other hand, we know winter's coming because the first Camellia flower appeared a week ago. And many precocious Aloe arborescens spikes are starting to flower around town. Interestingly, the massive, floriferous specimen with a south exposure that I pass every day hasn't done anything yet, while the spikes I've noticed have been on east- and north-facing plants. Hmmm, I wonder if I should put one in the front.

Harvested the pomegranates yesterday. One of them had split open so thoroughly that I decided, probably stupidly, to toss it, but I tried a few arils first. The flavor was good, although the sugar was too low, as feared. But that's a problem that can be corrected. With tequila.

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14 November 2006

The Order of Things

I'll spare you my more esoteric ruminations on systematics in favor of the following concise-ish points:

  1. It is amazing how accurately the Linnean system has been able to predict the actual genetic relationship between taxa.
  2. Its failures in this regard are increasingly apparent, however, as in the decimation of the family formerly known as Scrophulariaceae by molecular phylogeny, noted above.
  3. This is a failure not of the Linnean system per se, but of the attempt to conflate one system of representation (flower morphology) with another (phylogeny).
  4. But both systems are "true." The latter maps its categories onto the empirically verifiable genetic relationship between plants, so is perhaps more useful, or more revealing of the underlying processes of evolution. But the morphological similarity between, say Antirrhinum (moved to Plantaginaceae) and Verbascum (still in Scrophulariaceae) is still absolutely "true" (as long as it is stripped of its phylogenetic pretensions).
  5. Horticulturally, of course, this is neither here nor there. The categories relevant to gardeners more closely resemble Borges's (fictional) Chinese encyclopedia than either of the above: o. plants that remind me of something pleasant when grouped in a certain corner that I often neglect to water.
  6. This explains the historical reluctance of gardeners to deal with taxonomy. It's not just laziness, it's also because leaf serration, or water requirements, or, especially, flower color, all more or less excluded from the Linnean system, are vastly more important to them (us) than, say, the relative glabrousness of the peduncles.

That's all. Go read Borges again.

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09 November 2006

What is a Species?


These ambiguities, redundancies and deficiencies remind us of those which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into a. belonging to the Emperor b. embalmed c. trained d. pigs e. sirens f. fabulous g. stray dogs h. included in this classification i. trembling like crazy j. innumerable k. drawn with a very fine camelhair brush l. et cetera m. just broke the vase n. from a distance look like flies

Albach et al., "Piecing together the 'new' Plantaginaceae," American Journal of Botany 92 (2005): 297-315:

More later.

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06 November 2006

Now lie in it

The bed is made. Although planting things in it made me happy, I mostly found myself consumed with the kind of self-doubt that plagues the gardener -- or at least this gardener. Too much organic matter for the Calochortus? Gan the Agave attentuata and Leucospermum live together? And why did I buy that agave anyway? It would probably look better in a pot. Why do I so stubbornly refuse to chill the Tulipa linifolia? Ad naus.

Bulbs by their nature inspire these doubts, a leap of faith buried 6 inches under ground (of possibly incorrect composition), although I should probably worry more about seeds. I'll deal with that problem some other day.

[Not to burden with too much information, but the bed is divided into an acidic/sandy half, for the Proteaceae, and a neutral clayey half, for bulbs.

I also was able to remove the last patch of grass, grade out the lawn area, and -- against everyone's better judgment -- reseed it with fescue. It's probably too late to germinate, and even if it does the fear is that it will be overrun with bermuda, but I just didn't have the energy to deal with sod. Especially after an Orwellian trip to the stone yard, where I was informed that it was impossible to buy the pavers that I already bought for the path, and that therefore I can't buy any more of them to finish it.


I don't know what it says about me, but I was almost more excited to realize, when reading a book, that the agavaceous plant below, which I have long admired, is probably a Furcraea roezlii (= F. bedinghausii?). The internets make me less sure, though, so if there are any Agavaceae experts out there I'd appreciate confirmation/conjectures. The leaves are distinctly ensiform and minutely toothed, and this one is maybe 12' tall. It gets almost no direct sun.


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02 November 2006

Sleep like a champion today

The beauty of flickr is that even if you are a shitty photographer you can just find someone else's picture of a Fatsia japonica flower that doesn't suck. Thanks jam343!

These are the kind of flowers that garden books call insignificant, but that's wrong: the inflorescence, which may have dozens of these Nelson-clock umbels, is quite striking (even if the individual flowers are indeed insignificant). What they mean is that the point of the plant is the foliage, which is true in the case of F. japonica only insofar as one does not fancy Nelson clocks -- which I don't particularly. But I do like the leaves.

Anyway, I haven't had much to say mostly because of the endless construction projects, which exhaust me. (I am weak). The other day, a yard and a half of various fill was finally delivered, and I nearly killed myself getting it from the driveway into the raised bed. Miraculously, I felt only moderately crapulent the next day, an outcome I can only attribute to my rigorous sleeping schedule, leavened with a high dosage of non-pharmaceutical grade resveratrol, of course.

I actually get to plant things this weekend. I'm starting to get excited.

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© 2006