Saturday, January 15, 2011

Succulent sale at UC Berkeley Botanical Garden

The Landscape Cacti & Succulents Nursery at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden has a plant sale every Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Right now they’re running a special: Buy $150 in plants, get 30% off.

They offer a large selection of succulents, especially agaves (more than 50 species/varieties) and aloes (close to 20), but they also have yuccas, dasylirions, hesperaloes as well as numerous cacti. All plants are grown outside in full exposure and are hardy in our zone 9 climate.

Their prices are a bargain, even more so now with the 30% off special. A full list of available plants and prices can be found at

To see photos of the Landscape Cacti & Succulents Nursery, check out this Picasa web album.

Many of the agaves and aloes in the succulents beds in our front yard came from the Landscape Cacti & Succulents Nursery. I hadn’t been there in quite a while since we’d run out room for landscape succulents and my main focus had shifted to bamboos. However, one of my projects for 2011 is to fashion some sort of succulent display stand that would go next to our front porch. The goal is to get many of the potted succulents off the front porch and elevate them so they are displayed more attractively and can be viewed up close.

Succulent collection on our front porch. The display stand would go to the left, between the porch and the fence.

The bulk of our potted succulents are agaves, with a couple of aloes thrown in for good measure. While agaves are my favorite succulent group, I want a little more variety for our display stand. Paging through Hardy Succulents: Tough Plants for Every Climate by Gwen Moore Kelaidis for inspiration, I realized that cacti would make great companions for our agaves. While agaves are more horizontal in growth, cacti are decidedly vertical. While agaves mostly come in shades of green (even variegated ones are at least half green), cacti come in a variety of colors and hues, ranging from steely gray to deep purple. Spines and hairs contribute additional color.

Last weekend I happened to be at a large local nursery and I checked out their selection of cacti. While they had about 30 different species, they were the 2-3 inch containers you see in all the big box stores. I’m simply not patient enough to wait 10 years for these puny cacti to grow to a decent size. In addition, after reading the plant labels I realized that most of these cacti weren’t frost-tolerant and would have to be brought inside for the winter—a chore I simply don’t want to face.

That’s when I thought of the Landscape Cacti & Succulents Nursery at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. While Berkeley is an hour away and going to their Thursday morning sale means taking time out of my work day, it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.

Their cactus selection is very different from what the box stores carry; much more focused on the types of cacti you’re likely to find in a serious collection, including California and Southwest natives. I could have bought a 5-foot Silver Torch (Cleistocactus strausii) for $80—no doubt more than 10 years old—but I opted for smaller plants that I would be able to handle easily. Even though it was raining, I spent a good hour looking at all the plants and was expertly advised by a volunteer who, since I was the only customer, was able to focus all her attention on me. I walked away with quite a haul: 11 cacti, a  beaked yucca (Yucca rostrata), two thread-leaf agaves (Agave filifera) for a friend, and a South African thatch reed (Thamnochortus insignis)—not a succulent but a beautiful plant I had to have. After my 30% discount I paid a little over $110. I’d say that’s quite a bargain, considering what I got.

Now the pressure is on to come up with a plant stand so my new babies can be appropriately displayed!

Most of the cacti in this box fall under the “old man cactus” label because of the white hairs that protect the plants from the harsh sun. They are native to the high mountain regions of South America.
Three prickly pears (Opuntia) native to the West and Southwest (California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Utah). All of them are hardy to 0°F and will produce stunning flowers in the spring as well as edible fruit. The ones I picked are smaller species (2-4 ft.) as opposed to the tall and sprawling Indian fig (Opuntia ficus-indica) so common in California.
Silver Torch (Cleistocactus straussii), native to Bolivia and Argentina. Hardy to 14°F. The volunteer at UCBG thought I should buy several so I could have a colony (she sweetened the deal to convince me). Here’s a good photo of mature silver torches in a cactus garden. We won’t have room for adult specimens but I
figure we get to enjoy them for at least 10 years before we need to rehome them.
My favorite, Old Man of the Andes (Oreocereus celsianus). So cute in spite of its scary-looking spines.
Two nice-sized thread-leaf agaves (Agave filifera) I got for a friend

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bambutopia becomes Bamboo and More

Since I blog about more than just bamboo, I decided to change the name of this blog from "Bambutopia" to "Bamboo and More". The URL will change to in the next few days.

Jade plant (Crassula ovata)

The jade plant can’t seem to get any respect. While succulents like agaves, aloes and of course cacti are the centerpieces in many contemporary gardens, the jade plant (Crassula ovata) seems to be out of style, considered old-fashioned. Maybe it’s because it’s so common here in California that it fades into the background and nobody ever bothers to actually look at it?

One of our jade plant in its somewhat haphazard home on the edge of the driveway

I must say I was pretty disrespectful towards the jade plant as well. About a year and a half ago I was given two potted jade plants. I really didn’t know what to do with them or where to put them. Since I wasn’t that fond of them, I put one right next to the driveway up near the garage door and the other on the edge of the succulent bed on the other side of the driveway. Maybe I was hoping they’d bite the dust so I wouldn’t have to find a permanent location for them. They sat outside throughout the winter of 2009/2010, surviving 28°F nights without any cover. They sat outside throughout the summer of 2010, surviving 100°F days and reflected heat without much water (I gave them some when I remembered, maybe once a month). Here they are, in the winter of 2010/2011, still sitting where I had originally put them. And they’re looking mighty fine, thriving even and getting ready to bloom. A plant that puts up with everything I put it through and is no worse for the wear, that plant gets my respect!

The other jade plant just starting to bloom

In hindsight, my neglect was actually of a good thing. I read that the most common cause of death for a jade plant is overwatering.

From the thickness of the trunk you can see that this jade plant is actually quite a few years old

I was at a local nursery yesterday, and when I saw this variegated jade plant (Crassula ovata ‘Tricolor’) in a 3" container, I couldn’t help but bring it home. Maybe it was my way of doing penance for the mistreatment of our other two jade plants.

Variegated jade plant

The jade plant (Crassula ovata) is a succulent shrub from South Africa where it grows on dry hillsides. In its native habitat—just like in California—most of the rain falls in the winter, which is why the jade plant blooms here in January and February.

In our zone 9 climate, jade plants do very well outside although according to the experts they don’t seem to tolerate temperatures much below 30°F for extended periods of time. Like all succulents, they require good drainage.

My advice: Don’t fuss over them too much. Benign neglect seems to work very well.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bamboo gloves


No, not gloves for bamboo—gloves from bamboo. These utility gloves are made of 70% rayon made from bamboo and 30% cotton. As a bamboo aficionado, I was very pleased when I found these gloves in my Christmas stocking (literally). They’re available from Amazon if you’re interested.

It’s wonderful seeing more and more products made from bamboo. I’m still tempted to get this.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dividing purple fountain grass

Usually I wait until February before I cut back or divide ornamental grasses. However, after a week of leaden skies I was so happy to see the sun on Sunday morning that I decided to tackle a potted purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum').

This particular plant was so root-bound that it was difficult to water it effectively. Consequently, it ended up looking much less impressive in the fall of 2010 than it had the year before. 

Purple fountain grass in September of 2010

I should have known by looking at the shape of the pot that the root ball wouldn’t just slip out. It took a lot of cutting and prying with my hori hori before I was able to pull the plant out, with my wife firmly holding on to the pot.

Plant as it came out of the pot

The rest was easy. Using my trusty reciprocating saw, I cut off the very bottom, which was just a mat of roots anyway—and then sliced the root ball into three chunks.

Divided root ball

I planted the larger of the three chunks in the original glazed pot, using soil left over from our stock tank project. The other two went into 5-gallon nursery pots, and a small rooted division that apparently got yanked out of the root ball as I was extracting it went into a quart-sized pot. I love purple fountain grass, and I’m glad to have extra plants this year.

Repotted divisions

The repotted divisions have lots of room to grow and it will be much easier to get water to their roots.

We have another purple fountain grass in a similar glazed pot that also needs to be divided. But that’s a job for another day.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dawn of the dead

A lethal night gave way to the dawn of the dead.

That could be the byline for a horror movie starring cold-sensitive plants, and that’s exactly what happened last night.

Typically, when we have frost, it’s for a few hours around dawn. But last night we hit the 32°F mark at 11p.m. and we were below freezing until 9 a.m. this morning (the low was 26.7°F according to Weather Underground.) That’s 10 hours of frost, and that’s bad news for many of our tender plants, not to mention our citrus crop. It’ll take a few days to get a definitive picture of what is damaged, but one thing is clear already: This was the most brutal night of this winter. (Yes, I know we’re all “sensitive petals”, as our Australian friend Bill would say, but we can’t help it.)

The succulents I’d covered with a frost blanket appear to be OK, as are the potted plants on our front porch. But there are still casualties; with any luck they will recover in time.

Variegated Eureka lemon in the front, yellow lotus banana behind it. Some of the leaves on the Eureka lemon don’t look good, especially the tender new growth. There are quite a few flower buds as well. Not sure what will happen to them.
Yellow lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa). It looks terrible but it’s actually hardy to 10°F. It will grow new leaves as soon as we have consistently warm weather.
Giant elephant ear (Alocasia macrorrhizos 'Borneo Giant'). The leaves are toast. I’m frankly surprised they lasted as long as they did. The tubers are hardy to zone 8 and will produce new leaves in the summer as soon as the soil temperature is consistently above ~60°F.
Euphorbia ‘Helena’s Blush’ (Euphorbia amygdaloides hybrid). It is supposed to be hardy to 0°F. No clue why it collapsed like it did.
Our calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) look very droopy. Last year I covered them up but still lost about half of the leaves. They’ll bounce back fairly quickly once it gets a little warmer.
Large Agave chiapensis with frost damage (dark spots). Hardy to 28°F. I should have covered this one up; that’s what I did last winter and it sustained no damage. This is just cosmetic damage, but agaves don’t exactly grow fast so the plant will be disfigured for a while.
Agave celsii, supposedly hardy to 20-25°F. This one is in a pot in an exposed spot on our front porch. All I had to do is move the plant to a more sheltered position to protect it…but I didn’t. The dark spots are damaged tissue. This isn’t lethal but the leaves will be pock-marked.
Tower of jewels (Echium wildprettii). Endemic to the Canary Islands and supposedly hardy to 20°F. Too soon to say if there’s any real damage. I lost one of these stunning plants last fall for no apparent reason.

Our bamboos are OK even though these two sub-tropical Bambusas had quite of a bit of frost on their leaves.

Baby blue bamboo (Bambusa chungii ‘Barbelatta). Hardy to 21°F. Some leaves have had a yellowish cast for a few weeks now and may fall off soon. No cause for worry, the plant itself it fine and will grow new leaves in the spring. The culms are unharmed.
Giant clumping timber bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii). Hardy to 21°F as well. No damage here, but this is the first time I’ve seen this much frost on its leaves.

Most perennials in our garden aren’t fazed by a low of 27°F. They keep on trucking as if nothing had happened. In fact, frost makes their leaves extra beautiful, especially since it’s so fleeting.


Citrus trees and fruit are fairly sensitive to frost. I checked our Washington navel orange tree, which is full of fruit, and it looks unharmed. I picked a couple of oranges and they tasted fine, but that doesn’t mean much at this stage. It’ll be a few days before frost-damaged fruit begins to turn mushy and lose its flavor (that happened last year).

Some experts recommend picking frost-damaged fruit as quickly as possible and juicing it right away in order to preserve the flavor. I’m not sure yet what we’ll do; the optimist in me hopes that most of our fruit had enough protection from overhanging branches and is OK. We’ll reassess tomorrow.

Readers in the citrus belt: Farmer Fred, a well-known Sacramento-area master gardener with a weekly radio show, has some useful information about citrus protection on his website. Read this and this.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Great finds at Lowe’s

The other day I stopped at Lowe’s* and happened to walk by the clearance rack in the garden center. Usually you see a few sad-looking annuals that are past their prime, but this time the clearance rack was a veritable cornucopia.

There were quite a few ornamental grasses that looked dead but are really just dormant, so I snapped up some Heavy Metal switch grass (Panicum virgatum 'Heavy Metal'), purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum’) and deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens). The price sure was right: $1 per 1-gallon plant. I passed on the Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra'), which, while beautiful, is quite invasive in our climate. Plus, I already have one in a container.

Even though Christmas is over, the holiday spirit must still be in the air, because I felt compelled to buy a 1-gallon size holly for $1.50. It looked so festive with its glossy dark-green foliage and red berries. Usually you need a female plant and a male plant nearby to get berries, but the container I bought actually contains a female (Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Princess') and a male (Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Prince'). The label aptly calls this arrangement ‘Royal Court’. I have no idea what I will do with it, but for now I’m enjoying how nice it looks. Maybe eventually my in-laws want to plant it at their place. It is supposed to grow to 15 ft., and we certainly don’t have the room for that.

110106_barrel_cactus_from_lowesHowever, the find of the day was this beauty. It’s an absolutely perfect golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii). It’s in a 7 gallon container and is a full 13 inches across. The price was $25, marked down from $67. This is the largest golden barrel I’ve ever seen in a box store, and certainly the best bargain. I imagine that a specimen this large would cost in the neighborhood of $100 in a succulent nursery.

This native of Mexico can grow to 3 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide. According to succulent expert Debra Lee Baldwin, the typical growth rate is about 1 inch per year, so mine is in its early teens.

A mature golden barrel typically blooms in March and April. Judging from the old seed pods on the top, this one bloomed last year so hopefully it will bloom again this spring.

Golden barrels are hardy to 14°F for short periods. That’s much colder than it gets here so winter temperatures are not an issue. The biggest problem is keeping the cactus relatively dry in the winter. Even though golden barrels tolerate more water than many other cacti, rot is a real danger in a wet winter like the one we’re experiencing this year. I will probably plant my golden barrel in a decorative pot so I can move it to a dry spot in the winter.

The point of today’s post is this: Remember to check the clearance corner the next time you’re at your local nursery or garden center. You never know what you might find!

* For non-U.S. readers: Lowe’s is the 2nd largest home improvement warehouse chain in the U.S.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Portland Japanese Garden: Ornaments

While plants form the natural backbone of a Japanese garden, ornaments provide the human element. Professor Tono, the designer of the Portland Japanese Garden, felt that “among the garden ornaments, probably there is nothing so impressive as the stone lantern” and that stone lanterns “do much to humanize the landscape”.

Lanterns are founds in very specific locations—places where traditionally their light would have shown visitors the way, such as at the junction of two trails or next to a water basin or well. Beyond that, they are found in spots where they lend drama or balance to a view; there their purpose is symbolic instead of functional.


The 18 ft. Sapporo pagoda lantern was a gift from Portland’s sister city Sapporo in 1963. This two-ton stone pagoda has five tiers representing the five elements (earth, water, fire, wind, space or ether); the nine rings on top represent the Buddhist concept of nine heavens; and the lotus blossom on the very top represents Buddha.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Portland Japanese Garden: Plants

“A garden is the medium to give people a moment to lift them up, giving themselves something they did not have before. It is … a moment to feel a revolution.”

—Hoichi Kurisu, former landscape director of the Portland Japanese Garden,
as quoted in Human Nature by Bruce Taylor Hamilton

A Japanese garden, like any garden, would be incomplete without plants. No matter how minimalistic it is, it needs living, growing things, even if they are just mosses. In a more metaphorical sense, plants function as the “garments” of the garden, changing as the seasons change, underscoring the concept of life in constant flux.

In a Japanese garden, plants are placed in very specific ways in order to create balance. This balance comes from how plants harmonize—or contrast—with each other. Evergreens are juxtaposed with deciduous plants; coarser-textured pines with soft maples; tall bamboos with low-growing mosses.

Similar plants are typically grouped in uneven numbers; plantings of three or five are considered particularly pleasing and in keeping with the Japanese sense of proportion.


Lace-leaf maple showing a highly intricate branching pattern created through controlled pruning and shaping. Japanese maples are a symbol of grace and represent balance


Friday, January 7, 2011

Portland Japanese Garden: Design

“In Japan, when a man comes home from work, no matter how small his garden, he should take off his business jacket and put on his Japanese coat, pour a cup of sake and walk in his garden and relax and contemplate. Only then should he join his family.”

—Professor Takuma Tono, designer of the Portland Japanese Garden,
as quoted in Human Nature by Bruce Taylor Hamilton

The Portland Japanese Garden is located in Washington Park on a 5.5 acre site that was the home of the Oregon Zoo before it moved to its current location in 1959. The garden was designed by Professor Takuma Tono, considered one of the leading Japanese landscape architects of his time, and opened to the public in 1967. Tono’s design, and the work of successive generations of landscape directors from Japan, was so successful that the Portland Japanese Garden has been called “one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan” and “the most beautiful Japanese garden, not only in the United States, but in the world outside of Japan”. Thanks to the hard work and dedication not just of the garden staff but also of the many hundreds of volunteers, this was achieved in just a few years when traditional Japanese gardens take decades to mature.


Gate between the inner and outer section of the Tea Garden

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Three aeoniums

Aeoniums are subtropical succulents native to the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa. There are 35 species, including the tree aeonium (Aeonium arboreum) which can grow to 6 ft.

Aeoniums are members of the Crassulaceae family which also includes many other rosette-forming succulents such as echeverias, graptopetalums and dudleyas. Sometimes it is hard to keep them all apart, but in general, the leaves of aeoniums are less fleshy that those of other crassulaceaes. In addition, most aeonium species have strong stems that keep the rosettes upright. In contrast, many other crassulaceaes are stemless or have short, weak stems so the rosettes are packed together quite tightly and/or are close to the ground.

Like most agaves and some other succulents, aeoniums are typically monocarpic. This means that the rosette will die after flowering. This is not a big deal for multi-branched aeoniums with many rosettes, but if a plant only has one rosette, the whole plant will perish. (Most aeoniums take 5 years or longer to flower so you get quite a bit of enjoyment out of your plant.)

Coming from a Mediterranean climate where most of the precipitation falls in the winter, aeoniums are winter growers and go semi-dormant in the summer. This means that they need regular water in the winter, less in the summer. In coastal climates, the humidity in the air is often all the moisture they need. In drier inland areas, weekly summer watering is advised if your goal is to grow the nicest looking plants possible. A couple of years ago, I neglected my potted Aeonium undulatum (saucer plant) for almost an entire summer; the only water it received was overspray from a nearby lawn sprinkler. While it looked a bit ratty, it hung on quite valiantly and began to perk up as soon as I began to water it more frequently. Today it looks as good as it ever has (see photos below).

As far as soil goes, aeoniums are not picky. They tolerate more water than many other succulents and accept somewhat heavier soils without rotting. Heavy clay still spells doom, however, as it does for so many plants. In pots, I would recommend a good general-purpose potting soil instead of the specialty soil sold for cacti and succulents since aeoniums don’t like it bone dry.

In many respects, aeoniums are the perfect plants for busy gardeners. They are undemanding, not prone to pests, and add a touch of the exotic. However, they are not cold hardy. They tolerate a light freeze, down to 28° or so, but go to mush in temperatures much lower than that. Provided the freeze is only short-lived, they usually come back fairly quickly. Even so, if you live in USDA hardiness zone 9a or below, I recommend you plant your aeoniums in pots and bring them inside for the winter. They prefer bright light so a place by a window would be ideal.

In our garden, we currently have three aeoniums. One is planted in the ground, the other two are in pots on our front porch.

Two potted aeoniums: Aeonium haworthii ‘Kiwi’ on the left and Aeonium undulatum on the right, with a dwarf aloe and an echeveria hybrid in between

Aeonium undulatum, also known as “saucer plant”, can grow up to 3 ft. tall. Most plants are single-stemmed, but others (like ours) branch at ground level and therefore have more than one rosette. The rosette on a mature plant can be 12"-16" across. The largest rosette on our 3-year old potted plant is currently 8" across.

Perfect rosette on our potted Aeonium undulatum
110103_Aeonium-undulatum echeveria-hybrid
Two members of the Crassulaceae family: Aeonium undulatum (right) and Echeveria hybrid (left)

Aeonium haworthii ‘Kiwi’ has a creamy center that becomes progressively greener toward the outside of the rosette. Our plant is grown in bright indirect light; in the sun, you’d see a pink margin around the leaves. The more sun, the more pronounced this margin becomes. I actually prefer it without the pink margin.

Potted Aeonium haworthii ‘Kiwi’, grown in the shade. The rosette is 5" across.

Aeonium arboreum ‘Atropurpureum’ is a purple-leaved tree aeonium. Ours grows in the succulent bed next to our driveway. This location is in partial shade, which is why the leaves are less purple than they would be in full sun. Some cultivars of Aeonium arboreum, especially ‘Zwartkop’, are such a deep purple that from a distance they appear black.

Aeonium arboreum ‘Atropurpureum’, planted in the ground. It survived last winter’s 26°F low with no damage.

These three aeoniums, and some others, are commonly available in all nurseries and box store garden centers. Rarer species and hybrids can be obtained from specialty succulent nurseries.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cape honeysuckle sucks!

Cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) is an evergreen climbing shrub from South Africa that is very quick to establish, turning walls and fences into luxuriant bowers of green. Its orange flowers are a hummingbird magnet and add a tropical splash of color to any landscape. It’s available at any box store in our area, often for less than $5 for a gallon-sized plant.


Cape honeysuckle at a Best Western in Palm Desert, CA, February 2011

Who can resist such a magnificent plant and such a great bargain? We certainly couldn’t. Attracted by its growth potential and its stunning flowers, we planted one against the street-side fence in our backyard. That was 12 years ago. And we’ve been trying to kill it ever since.

While it is a profuse bloomer with beautiful flowers, and it does establish itself quickly, it simply knows no bounds. It climbs high into trees and and anything else nearby, intertwining itself inextricably with whatever it finds. If that weren’t enough, it produces enormous numbers of underground runners that pop up far away from the main plant—sometimes 6, 8 or even 10 feet (!) away. Running bamboo has nothing on this plant!

A whole slew of suckers. Time to get out my hori hori!

We wisened up to its extreme vigor within a year and decided to take it out. I cut off all the above-ground growth and dug up what I thought was the entire root ball, thinking that would be the end of it. Far from it. Suckers continued to pop up here, and there, and over there. Depending on where they came up, I dug them up with a spade, pried them out with a weeding knife or simply tore them off when I was too frustrated to do anything else. I repeated these measures year in, year out—sometimes more diligently, sometimes less so. I even tried Roundup, knowing that it probably wouldn’t work considering how many suckers there are. (I was right.)

Sucker coming up under the hose cart

Fast forward to the present. It’s now been 12 years since I planted this cape honeysuckle. And it’s still here. It comes up in our woodland garden, amid the hostas and farfugiums and ferns. It pops up in the middle of the lawn, more than 20 ft. from where it was originally planted. A time or two it has even grown out of cracks in the concrete slab of our house.

I don’t have a clue how to kill it. I can’t dig up the entire area because it’s densely planted. I can’t spray Roundup on every sucker because often they come up right next to desirable plants. I suppose a heavy freeze would kill it since it’s only hardy to zone 9, but it would also kill many of our other plants.

So the only thing I can do is to continue digging and prying out the suckers whenever and wherever I spot them, knowing full well that even the smallest piece of root that remains in the soil will eventually turn into another sucker.

Hard-earned lesson: Always do research on a plant’s invasive potential before you put it in the ground.

The suckers look so cute and innocent, don’t they?

P.S. Needless to say I would love to hear from anybody who has successfully eradicated this (ob)noxious weed, which, by the way, is not related to “regular” honeysuckle (genus Lonicera).

P.P.S. Tecomaria capensis is listed in the Global Invasive Species Database of the Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). I guess I’m not alone in my plight.

Monday, January 3, 2011

11 gardening projects for 2011: projects 6-11

The first five of my planned gardening projects for 2011 are described in yesterday’s post. Here are the remaining six.

6. Install a Japanese water basin in woodland garden

Water is as essential feature of a Japanese garden. Our diminutive woodland area is much too small for an in-ground water feature, but I’d love to set up a small Japanese basin. Water would flow into it from a bamboo spout and out into a reservoir buried underneath. The biggest problem is that we don’t have electricity in that part of the yard so we can’t use a regular electrical pump. The obvious solution is to use a solar pump, but since this area is in the shade most of the day, I’d have to set up the solar panel quite a distance away.

We already have a rock with a small hollow on top that would work (see photo below). The other alternative is to buy a granite basin like these, but these don’t come cheap. Unless I can find an irresistible deal on a “real” basin, I’m going to repurpose what we already have. My goal isn’t to create an authentic Japanese garden, just to incorporate elements that work for our situation.

This rock would be turned into a water basin

7. Find a better hose storage solution

I hate garden hoses. I’ve bought cheap ones and expensive ones, and before long they all get kinked and twisted. Storing garden hoses is another issue. Hose reels and carts are cheap and do work, but they are an eye sore. I’ve looked at hose pots but haven’t found one that isn’t overly cutesy or ornate. My wife suggested simply using a glazed pot, setting it on two bricks spaced a few inches apart, and routing the hose through the drain hole in the bottom (enlarged if necessary). Sounds like a good idea to me.

Ugly hose cart in woodland garden

8. Minimize the clutter in the yard

I’m sick and tired of seeing empty flower pots, buckets and bags of potting soil scattered about the back yard. I’m the main culprit here, and I’m putting myself on notice. I hereby vow to minimize clutter in the yard by keeping all the supplies in one place, tucked away in a far corner of the yard or better yet, in a storage bench or box yet to be designed and built.


9. Plant a terrarium with carnivorous plants

This was inspired by a wonderful book I got for Christmas, Bizarre Botanicals by Larry Mellichamp and Paul Gross (Timber Press, 2010). Many different carnivorous plants are commercially available, and creating a carnivorous garden inside a glass terrarium sounds like a neat idea. This terrarium would be kept outside in the warm months, probably on a low table on the front porch where we would be able to enjoy it up close.

This project requires more research, but I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait to feed the Venus flytrap!

10. Visit the Portland Japanese Garden in the fall

This isn’t a gardening project per se, but it would provide gardening inspiration. I had the opportunity to visit the Portland Japanese Garden this past July and fell in love with its serenity and sense of spirituality. While beautiful even in the dog days of summer, the Portland Japanese Garden is supposed to be at its most striking in the fall when the many deciduous trees and shrubs are ablaze with color. Since we have friends in Portland—and flying from Sacramento is easy and quick—this trip will happen.

Portland Japanese Garden this summer

11. Read more gardening blogs

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of outstanding gardening blogs. They are fantastic sources of practical information and, just as importantly, inspiration. Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in a day, and most of us have many demands on our time. Even so, I plan on expanding the roster of blogs I follow. In particular, I’m interested in blogs that describe how to build things for the garden because that’s the one area in which I feel totally incompetent. If you have any recommendations, please let me know!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

11 gardening projects for 2011: projects 1-5

It’s dangerous putting the things you want to accomplish in writing—and even more so doing it publicly. But I’m hoping this will put the necessary pressure on me to get at least half of them completed. The fun ones will definitely get done, like adding more bamboo and getting carnivorous plants, others look iffier, like anything involving power tools or heavy manual labor.

So here are my top gardening projects for the new year: 11 of them since it’s 2011. The first five are described below, the rest will follow tomorrow.

1. Get more bamboo

This one’s easy. I’m only including it on my list because it’s the funnest project of them all. I already have a variegated arrow bamboo lined up (Pseudosasa japonica 'Akebono-suji', see here for a photo) and am hoping I can get a hold of an Angel Mist bamboo (Dendrocalamus minor ‘Amoenus’, see here for a large photo).

2. Replace street-side hedge with bamboo

Although pretty involved, this project will probably happen. The fact that it involves bamboo is a bonus.

As you can see in the photo below, we have a dozen mock orange shrubs (Pittosporum tobira) planted along the street side of the backyard. Left unchecked, these plants form a dense hedge with branches that extend outward into the sidewalk, which has caused problems with the City in the past. Last year my wife spent a goodly amount of time cutting out the dead growth in the middle, which is why the hedge currently doesn’t look very hedgy. Keeping this hedge maintained is an ongoing effort that is both time-consuming and frustrating.

Pittosporum hedge outside our backyard fence

We’re toying with the idea of removing the pittosporums and replacing them with clumping bamboo. We would use emerald bamboo (Bambusa textilis ‘Mutabilis’) because its culms grow very straight with just a little arching on top. In our climate, we can expect a mature height of at least 30 feet, which would completely screen our house and provide the necessary shade for our woodland garden which is right on the other side of the fence. Since we need instant shade, we would plant 4-5 15-gallon plants.

3. Lay flagstone next to front porch

Look at the photo of the street side hedge above. See the area where the 6 ft. backyard fence meets the 4 ft. front yard fence? Inside the fence, tucked away next to the front porch, is a small area where we built an L-shaped raised bed for tropical plants (elephant ears and gingers, mostly). Unfortunately, the ground outside this bed is just soil, currently covered with leaves from our Bradford pear tree. I don’t like how unfinished it looks, especially since the front porch is a beautiful rose-colored flagstone, and I intend to do something about it in 2011. I’m thinking of getting flagstone remnants, either in the same color as the front porch, or a neutral gray or blue. I will simply dry-lay them on sand.

Bare soil to be covered with flagstone

4. Build a succulent display stand

The area in the photo below is right next to the area shown in the photo above. I plan on laying flagstone here as well and then build some sort of multi-tiered display stand for the many potted succulents that are currently cluttering up the front porch (hidden below the white frost blanket). I love these succulents, but they aren’t displayed to maximum effect at the moment.

This is where the succulent displays stand would go

5. Build a potting bench

This is a project my wife suggested a few years ago. Since I do a lot of potting and repotting, it would be nice to have a dedicated place for that task instead of doing it here and there. The plan is to build something like this against the side of the house where the colored plastic tubs are.

Cluttered no man’s land in the backyard

We would like to incorporate an old soapstone lab sink that my wife got from Freecycle a while ago. The potting would be done inside the sink, and spilled potting soil could be collected through the opening underneath the sink.

Old soapstone sink for potting bench

This project requires careful planning, not to mention the dreaded use of power tools, so I’d say there’s only a 50:50 chance that it will happen. I am tired of how ugly the assorted bins and tubs look, so even if we don’t build a potting bench, we have to find some way of making them less visible.