Monday, July 11, 2011


My very first post on this blog was about transplanting a black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra ‘Punctata’) from a half wine barrel into the ground at my parents-in-law’s property in Mount Shasta, CA. Since then, we’ve added more bamboos, and I’ve repeatedly posted updates (at Thanksgiving, at Christmas, and at Easter).

At 14,179 feet, Mount Shasta is one of the highest mountains in California

Every time we visit, I look forward to checking out the progress the bamboos have made. Most of them were fairly small when planted so I know that patience is required, but I’m still eager to see how everything is doing.

My favorite of all the bamboos we’ve planted in what we jokingly call “Experimental Bamboo Garden North” is Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’. It made it through the winter with flying colors and I had high hopes for this year’s shooting season, expecting culms well in excess of 1” in diameter. You can imagine how distraught I was when my mother-in-law told me about six weeks ago that the leaves were turning yellow and the plant was looking like it was dying. After some initial puzzlement we identified the culprits: furry critters digging tunnels and eating the roots. The bamboo clump was surrounded by mole tunnels which most likely provided easy access to voles—which in turn chomped on the roots. Garden blogger Alan of It’s Not Work, It’s Gardening described this problem in a recent post.

Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’
Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’
Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’

My in-laws felt terrible about the impending loss of this beautiful plant. I told them to be patient because bamboo is known for its resilience and will to live. After we arrived yesterday I checked the culms and much to my—and everyone else’s—surprise I found new leaves forming in many spots. They’re still small but they’re an unmistakable sign of life. With continued watering and TLC, the plant should make a full recovery provided the voles stay clear of the roots. If anybody has any tips on how to prevent this from happening again, I’d be happy to hear about your experience.

Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’, new leaves forming
Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’, new leaves forming
Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’, new leaves forming

The black bamboo we transplanted last October produced a plethora of new shoots this spring: I counted 10, which doubles the number of culms it already had. The tallest approaches 6 feet, so hopefully we’ll top 10 feet next year.

Phyllostachys nigra ‘Punctata’
Phyllostachys nigra ‘Punctata’, four of the new culms

The next bamboo is a Chusquea gigantea from South America. Planted last September, it suffered an initial setback when the watering hose running to it got disconnected for a few weeks. A few culms died as a result, but most survived. This spring it produced two new culms, the thickest of which is close to ½". The branches grow in whorls around the culm, with one branch significantly longer than the others. While technically a clumping bamboo, the clump is very open, with individual culms spaced as much as a foot apart.

While the specimen in my in-laws’ yard doesn’t look like much at the moment, my hope is that it will one day resemble this.

Chusquea gigantea
Chusquea gigantea, new whorl of branches

Two fargesias survived their first winter even though they were planted just weeks before the first snow as 1-gallon tissue culture plants. Fargesia dracocephala ‘Rufa’ wasn’t fazed by the months of freezing temperatures while Fargesia denudata lost all its leaves but quickly grew them back in the spring. These two species should prove to be stellar performers in Mount Shasta’s zone 7 climate.

Fargesia dracocephala ‘Rufa’
Fargesia denudata (never mind the weeds)

Shown in the next two photos, Phyllostachys bissetii is blending in with the wildflowers. Planted last fall as a 1-gallon tissue culture plant from Boo-Shoot Gardens, it produced 4-5 new shoots this spring but they’re wispy and barely 3 feet tall. However, in another year or two it should begin to dominate this area of the backyard.

Phyllostachys bissetii
Phyllostachys bissetii—look for the plant tag in the middle of the photo

The next bamboo was planted just this April. It’s a Phyllostachys nigra ‘Henon’, and its first culm of the year is now 6 feet tall and still growing. It’s pretty thin, though, so it’s leaning over. This is also a plant that will require a few years to show its real beauty. A ‘Henon’ grove in this spot could be a real attention-getter as it will be visible from the street.

Phyllostachys nigra ‘Henon’

The last photo is of the largest bamboo we’ve planted at my in-laws to date. It’s a stone bamboo (Phyllostachys angusta) that came in a 25-gallon container. As far as I can tell, it hasn’t started to shoot yet but when it does, it should produce 15+ ft. culms of 1-1½“ in diameter.

Phyllostachys angusta

Bamboos are long-lived plants capable of extraordinary beauty, but they do require patience in the first few years. As slow as progress may seem initially, you will see results much faster than with trees and other landscaping plants that fill a similar niche in the garden.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

From lowly weed to ephemeral beauty

We arrived at my in-laws in Mount Shasta, CA yesterday afternoon, and as I was walking around in their backyard, one plant caught my eye right away. 


In one area of the yard, there is an ocean of seed heads that glow like ethereal lights when backlit by the late afternoon sun. At first glance they look a little like dandelions on steroids, but with perfectly round heads. Looking closer, you begin to see the individual seeds symmetrically arranged around a central spoke. The seeds, technically dry fruits called achenes, have a number of delicate-looking feathery bristles called pappus that help them drift more efficiently on the wind.

These seed heads are so beautiful that you’d expect them to come from an equally beautiful plant. That’s definitely not the case here. The plant is a plain-looking non-native weed called Tragopogon dubius, about 2 feet tall. An import from Europe, it has many different common names, including western salsify, yellow goat’s beard, or just goat’s beard. My in-laws call it “milkweed” although it is not related to the real milkweeds (Asclepias). 


Actually, the flower, about 2 inches across, is quite handsome up close. While Tragopogon dubius is not closely related to dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), they’re both in the aster family (Asteraceae) and share general similarities.


If it weren’t for the fantastic seed heads, nobody would be paying much attention to the plant. But while they last, the seed heads are a sight to see, especially backlit and up close. Who would have thought that a lowly weed but be the source of so much beauty!


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Our front yard in early July

I’ve been collecting these photos of our front yard for a couple of weeks now, and I’d better post them before everything starts to wither under the relentless summer sun.

While I’m happy to show these photos to everybody who’s following this blog, my main goal with this type of post is to create a visual reference of our garden so I can go back later to see what it looked like at a specific point in time. I find it enormously helpful being able to gauge progress by comparing photos taken at the same time each year.

If you aren’t taking photos of your own garden already, I highly recommend it. It’s never too late to start your own photo diary.

Panorama of front yard plantings inside the fence
Echinacea x ‘Tiki Torch’ and ‘Tomato Soup,’ blazing star (Liatris spicata), and a more compact maiden grass cultivar called ‘Dixieland’ (Miscanthus sinensis 'Dixieland')
Two maiden grasses in the background (Miscanthus sinensis 'Rigoletto' on the left and Miscanthus sinensis 'Super Stripe' on the right). In the foreground: Stokesia laevis ‘Klaus Jelitto’, Echinacea x ‘Hot Papaya’, and pink rain lily (Zephyranthes grandiflora).
110707_frontyard_grasses perennials
In the back (left to right): Miscanthus sinensis 'Super Stripe', northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), Salvia x ‘Indigo Spires’
In the middle (towards the right): white-flowered Liatris spicata and Rudbeckia fulgida.
In the front (left to right): Echinacea x ‘Fragrant Angel’, California gray rush (Juncus patens)
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Miscanthus sinensis 'Super Stripe' and dwarf Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia 'Little Spire')
Miscanthus sinensis 'Super Stripe' up close (yes, I love it)
Canna indica in bloom. What a hummingbird magnet! I started these from seed a few years ago, but unfortunately I can’t remember which species they are.
Sago palm (Cycas revoluta) producing its annual flush of leaves.
This specimen is about 13 years old. It was in perfect condition until some of the leaves started to scorch in our recent heat wave. Like humans, plants got used to the mild spring weather that lasted much longer than usual this year.
110707_frontyard_cycas_revoluta leonurus_leonotis
Sago palm (Cycas revoluta) on the left, lion’s tail (Leonotis leonurus) on the right
Succulent display table
Another small cactus in bloom, Obregonia denegrii. I love walking outside and finding a flower where there was none the day before.
110707_frontyard_roadkill barrel
Two of our larger potted cacti: roadkill cactus (Consolea rubescens) on the left, and golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) on the right
Succulent bed next to front door. The red pot in the upper right is a Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ssp. aztecorum) trying to find its groove.
110707_frontyard_beaucarnea_recurvata blue_glow
Back: Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata)
Front: Blue Glow agave (Agave attenuata x ocahui ‘Blue Glow’)
Queen Victoria agaves (Agave victoriae-reginae)
Ever growing collection of potted succulents near the bamboo corner (see next photo)
Foreground: Golden lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa)
Middle: variegated Eureka lemon (Citrus limon 'Eureka Variegated Pink’)
Back (left to right): Bambusa oldhamii, Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’ and Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’
Closer view of Eureka lemon (Citrus limon 'Eureka Variegated Pink’), Bambusa oldhamii, and Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’
Golden lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa) in flower. Click here for more photos.
Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') in a glazed pot that holds open the gate to the front yard
Raised bed with tropical foliage plants. I’m not 100% happy with this area. The Kahili gingers (Hedychium gardnerianum) on the right are taking over. I think I will thin them out in the fall and plant another giant elephant ear to complement the one on the left (it’s an Alocasia macrorrhiza ‘Borneo Giant’).
Giant elephant ear leaf (Alocasia macrorrhiza ‘Borneo Giant’). This is the first leaf it produced this spring (it has two others now) and it’s getting a bit yellow around the edges.
Silver Lady fern (Blechnum gibbum). This is a frost-sensitive tropical fern that eventually will grow a short trunk—at least in theory. In our garden it gets knocked back every year by the frost but does come roaring back once the weather warms up in spring.
After the ‘Mojito’ I bought on the weekend, this is my favorite elephant ear cultivar: Colocasia esculenta ‘Elepaio’, named after the Hawaiian monarch flycatcher. Each leaf is unique, but this one is particularly stunning. I’ve read that it used to be so rare that only Hawaiian royalty had access to it. Thanks to modern technology (i.e. tissue culture), even non-royals like us can now buy it. For me it’s only about 2 ft. tall and hence a good understory plant underneath the Kahili gingers I mentioned above.
Here’s another photo of an ‘Elepaio’ leaf. Most of them look like this one.