25 October 2007

The grass is actually browner

Gardeners always imagine that some other place is better. "One (or ten) zones warmer and I could grow x..." I grew up in zone 6 (in a good year), so I very much understand the impulse, even though I never paid much attention to gardening there.

all the leaves are brown, and the sky is grayBut even here, there is always a plant that makes you wish you lived somewhere else. Many tropicals make me dream of Hawai'i; more frequently, I hesitate over plants that are a little too marginal here, and think: if only we lived in Santa Barbara, or San Diego... but this last week has reminded us what the drawbacks are.

Of course, we must pay for the "idyllic" climate. We get a bit more rainfall than SD here, and the winds are a little less dramatic, so our burn cycle is every hundred years, not every ten. But make no mistake: what just happened there will happen here; we're overdue. This is not something that can be controlled by human intervention.

This is not photoshopped
wow, you can grow palm trees!

South Escondido Boulevard by prgibbs

On a shorter cycle, try to imagine 6 months without rain. In a good year. Last year we got about 12 inches, total, spread over 6 months. Less than average, but not "abnormal." This is not a drought, it's a Mediterranean climate, which also specifies that the rain disappears in summer, when plants need it most. Fly into to SFO -- or any major airport in California -- from May to October, and you will see how brown the grass is on the outher side.

So yes, we can grow many plants here that would not survive in the northeast, either because of our mild winter, or because of our dry summers. We can also grow many of the plants that do well on the east coast if we water the hell out of them all summer. This is just as unnatural (and presumably, equally pleasurable) as growing exotics in a greenhouse, though most people don't realize this yet.

But they will. The latest Pacific Horticulture (they have a shiny new website) brings word of a drought in Adelaide so sever that there is no watering of the yard, period. It won't be long until this happens in San Diego. This news helped me to appreciate the philosophy of one extreme gardener in Colorado who reported heavy losses to an email list recently because he doesn't water his garden:

The only way you can determine what's drought tolerant in your garden is not to water it during drought. I understand that this is a radical statement that makes some people go completely crazy, but I think it's true. In 2002 we had one inch of precipitation in eleven months. I did nothing, and lots of plants died.

I'm not smart enough to garden like this yet, but soon I'll have to.


I should mention one decidedly less catastrophic limitation of gardening here that is seldom appreciated by outsiders: chill hours. It does not get cold enough to grow, among other things, lilac, peonies, and many fruit trees. Conversely, at least where I live, thank god, it doesn't really get hot either, which a whole other class of plants find unpleasant... all I can think of right now are tomatoes and gardenia. I know this seems like a small price to pay -- boo hoo, your gardenia is chlorotic! -- but the limitations are exactly analogous to wherever you live. Just, perhaps, less oppressive, until the fire comes.

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15 October 2007

Hope falls eternal

The first rains mean work, lots of it. I had to make time in a weekend of college football apocalypse to plant the last bulbs, cut back almost everything (or cut down: I put the final monster pelargonium out of my misery), and, especially, to start seeds. Half of these are the things I started last spring, the other half I ordered mostly from Silverhill before realizing how poorly I did with the first batch. Hopefully nature will do a better job than I did.

Sowing these seeds I ordered six months ago, I had to wonder: what the fuck was I thinking? 5 Romuleas? I have no idea. On the other hand, it made sense to order those from Silverhill, since they are unusual and hard to come by, unlike Ornithogalum. It's a mystery.

Babiana villosaSilverhill
Erythronium californicum 'White beauty'paintbrush
Freesia alba x purple stripepaintbrush
Freesia refractaSilverhill
Geissorhiza splendidissimaSilverhill
Hesperantha coccineaSilverhill
Lachenalia orchoides var. orchoidesSilverhill
Ornithogalum maculatumSilverhill
Lilium bolanderiAlplains
Romulea amoenaSilverhill
Romulea hirsuta var. hirsutaSilverhill
Romulea monadelphaSilverhill
Romulea sabulosaSilverhill
Romulea unifoliaSilverhill

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12 October 2007

It's the water

Table Mountain flowers (9) by Mark CT
It's always a bit of a shock when it really starts to rain again. After a few months of summer the mind rebells at the concept of precipitation. You can tell who's a gardener today: everyone else is frowning.

Anyway, the first rains here mean springtime in the Southern hemisphere. There are many ways to suffer vicariously through the cruelest antipodean month; start with a flickr search for Table Mountain.

Table Mountain Stream by Modest Al
Among other things, that search revealed the awesome picture to the right, which finally explains the mythically paradoxical "free-draining and moisture retentive soil" that they always tell us about. Also, the secret of success with Disa among other plants.

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10 October 2007

News you can't use

1. Today BPOTD featured my Haemanthus albiflos picture, undoubtedly the apex of my photographic career.

2. We got almost an inch of rain last night. This is news you can use, if you are trying to grow California natives elsewhere in the Northern hemisphere: it was our first storm (I don't think that little Sept. squall counts).

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09 October 2007

Disco lily

Nerine sarniensis, naturalized on the Channel Island of Guernsey, supposedly after a Dutch ship full of bulbs wrecked on the coast, hence commonly called a Guernsey lily. Because of the awesome metallic gold sparkles, my wife has decided it is to be called a disco lily.

Imagine a (sparkly) scarlet-red Agapanthus, but deciduous like Amaryllis. I think I'll be planting more of these next year.

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03 October 2007

The madness

cobra lily (!)
I took the watchword moderation to the plant sale Sunday, and I mostly succeeded. No $80 vines or 15-foot Agavaceae this time, and I averted my gaze from some very choice Cycads that were fetching $350+.

I did however find myself helpless in an unexpected area full of carnivorous plants, and escaped as any sane man would, with a single pot of Darlingtonia californica, our native carnivore. The cobra lily is interesting for a number of reasons which mostly elude me, as I'm not a big carnivorous plant aficionado. But it undeniably looks cool, the flowers too.

And since it grows in running water, in mountain streams, with winter snow cover, it should be a piece of cake!

Other acquisitions included 2 monkeyflowers, a very nicely mottled Lachenalia hybrid, an unidentified Mexican Silene they've been pushing hard, and Aquilegia formosa in belated admission of my failure to start it from seed.

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