26 February 2007

The science of potting

A woman named Sue Bergeron in Ontario did a little experiment on drainage:

Therefore, in these two experiments, coarse 'drainage' material in the bottom of the pot resulted in the potting mix above it staying wetter per cup of medium than in a container of potting mix alone.

This is so frequently misunderstood that you need to read the whole thing. Also see Paul Cumbleton's reply [Feb. 23 entry in Jim Shields's unpermalinked blog]:

As we learned earlier, small pores hang on to water more strongly than large ones. Because of this, when you have a medium with smaller pores above one with larger pores, the water has difficulty crossing the boundary. There is insufficient "strength" in the larger pores to pull the water out of the smaller ones above where they are held more strongly by capillary action. So instead of the water draining evenly from the pot, it drains to the interface between the two layers then slows down or may even be stopped altogether until a sufficiently large hydraulic head has built up again to force it across the boundary. This of course means when the compost above is completely saturated! Since the stated goal for using a layer of coarse material is to improve drainage", it is ironic that this practise actually causes the very state it is intended to prevent!

Help translating the latter (and, indeed, all UK garden writers) is to be found in this entry from Ian Young, who explains, among other things, the various meanings of compost, and what exactly grit is.

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22 February 2007

Greener grass and other monocots

Last year, I was trying to describe gardening in California to my mom, and she said, "Oh, I bet you can grow Agapanthus too" in a tone normally reserved for something like Vanilla planifolia. I had to pause to make sure I was thinking of the right plant, because it is literally a parking lot median plant here.

STOP Agapanthus

Christopher C. reminded me of this the other day, which in turn reminded me of an overused Agapanthus relative blooming now, also likely to be exciting to people who can't grow it: Chasmanthe:

Chasmanthe floribunda

Here it is planted on the sidewalk with, yes, Agapanthus, Juniper, and something else...


Even I'm still impressed that we can grow Clivia outside.

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21 February 2007


I've never followed Ian Young's SGRC Bulb Log because of its annoying lack of an RSS feed, but Daniel Mosquin reminded me to check it today, and it's worth the effort to remember to check it every week. This time of year it's a little heavy on the Narcissus for my taste, but the Crocus more than make up for it.

Crocus biflorus isauricus photo by Ian Young

Also see Ian's article on Bulbs from seed, which seems, thankfully, very similar to what I'm doing this year.

Daniel's other link, to Paul Spracklin's Adventures in Mexico, is also interesting if you're into Agavaceae.

Update: Paul sent me the links to his first two Mexican excursions, which I was incapable of finding myself. And if you're a serious Agave nut, you're no doubt already aware of the crazy swiss/austrian agavaceae people already.

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20 February 2007


Bilbergia nutans
If not actually sprung, Spring is at least gathering itself here, thanks to unusually warm temperatures after the last rains. All of the bulbs that I can think of are up now, including Tulipa linifolia, which I have been quite dubious about. Blooming is another matter, I suppose. Come to think of it, there is one straggler: Fritillaria meleagris.

The Bilbergia that was threatening to bloom sometime in December was definitely slowed by the frost, but seems no worse for the wear. The pomegranate has leafed out, there are nascent buds on the Distictis buccinatoria and the Brugmansia has almost recovered all of the leaves lost in the frost. All we need is a little more rain.

The seeds are starting too: Calochortus catalinae germinated in about 18 days in the fridge, C. kennedyi 10 days later. The crunch is going to come in two weeks, when I'll have to plant out the first batch en masse.

Away from the garden it was a horticulturally eventful weekend, with the Pacific Orchid Exposition (not really my thing) and a CalHort talk on Calochortus (great slides, not so much info). I learned of an amazing plant that I had to have, which, thankfully, turned out to be a myco-heterotroph. Cross that one off the list.

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12 February 2007

Crack Kills

I was waking from my nap on Friday, contemplating a delightful evening of my patented "moroccan chicken" and Ribiera del Duero, and listening to my wife wash something in the sink. I heard her turn off the water -- and I heard the water continue to flow.

Did you know FUCK can be a six syllable word?

The water, we discovered 17 hours and several hundred dollars later, was gushing from this tiny pinhole in an elbow between floors [the crack noted above refers to what people were smoking when they decided that galvanized steel was a suitable material to deliver your water supply.]

Since Saturday was devoted to plumbing, Sunday was spent on the painting we were supposed to do Saturday, and gardening did not happen, despite an auspicious break in the rain yesterday.

I did have time to note a few developments, primarily monocotyledonous:

  • Calochortus catalinae has started to germinate in its ziploc in the fridge. I should probably start checking these things at the beginning of the weekend.
  • The rains persuaded Dichelostemma ida-maia to finally send up some leaves. Possibly Erythronium californicum too. Keep your fingers crossed: it lives almost directly under the site of the unfortunate PVC cement incident of September '06.
  • Speaking of shame, the asphodel is shooting up virtually from the grave of the Deppea splendens, because I was totally unable to locate the former when I planted the latter in a location it obviously wanted nothing to do with.
  • Other excitements include the emergence of some hybrid tulips; various flowering succulents -- including one that is going to BLOW YOUR MIND, as soon as I figure out what it is; and approximately 100 gazillion Nigella seedlings in the lawn. Maybe they'll slow down the bermuda grass.

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