Sunday, November 27, 2011

Late fall at the UC Davis Arboretum

The Arboretum on the University of California Davis campus is only a few miles from our house. I visit frequently and have written several related posts (1 2 3 4).

Sunday was a gray day but temperatures were fairly mild so the whole family joined me on a walk along Putah Creek, the main body of water that winds its way through the Arboretum.


I knew that there would be fall color from deciduous trees such as Chinese pistache and cohorts, and I wasn’t disappointed.

111127_trunk leaves

To my surprise, I also encountered two species of deciduous conifers I had never noticed there before: bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), common in the Southeastern U.S. but not often seen here in the West, and dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), a redwood relative native to Central China.

Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) glowing like a beacon
Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
Left: Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
Middle: Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)
Right: Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

The Arboretum has quite a few ginkgos, many of them planted as memorial trees. Unlike the blazing yellow specimen I photographed last week, many were still mostly green, with just a hint of yellow around the leaf margins.

Ginkgo biloba ‘Fairmont’

Some of the trees planted right along the banks of Putah Creek are very sculptural, their branches reaching down and almost touching the water. With leaves beginning to turn, or already gone, they are reflecting the time of year.

Unidentified big tree by the water
This small dock is a popular hangout for kids who like to feed the ducks (officially discouraged but…)
Trees that have already shed their leaves present a majestic outline against the gray sky

While deciduous shrubs and trees bear witness to the season, many Mediterranean plants look the way they always do. In fact, winter is when rosemary blooms best in our climate.

Blooming rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
111127_rosemary bushgermander
Blooming rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and bush germander (Teucrium fruticans)
Not a Mediterranean native, but flowering merrily at this time of year: a winter-blooming red hot poker (Knipfhofia sp.)

At the end of our walk, we circled through the Ruth Storer Valley-Wise Garden which showcases both native and climate-appropriate plants from other parts of the world. Here you find Japanese barberries planted next to yuccas from the Southwest, and brachyglottis from New Zealand juxtaposed with a smoke bush from the Southeast.

111127_Yucca-Margaritaville Berberis-thunbergii-Rose-Glow
Yucca recurvifolia ‘Margaritaville’ and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’)
111127_Berberis-thunbergii-Rose-Glow Zantedeschia-aethiopica
Calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’)
111127_Berberis-thunbergii-Rose-Glow- -Miscanthus-sinensis-Silberspinne_001
Silver Spider maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberspinne’) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
Sarabande maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Sarabande’) and autumn sage (Salvia gregii)
Smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria x dummeri ‘Grace’)
Brachyglottis-Sunshine Cotinus-coggygria
Smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria) and Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine’
Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine.’ This small shrub from New Zealand used to be part of the gigantic Senecio family
111127_rose Leucophyllum-frutescens
No sign of late fall here: Texas sage or cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) and an unidentified rose cultivar

Unsung beauty

Whenever we visit my in-laws, I look forward to the panoramic views of Mount Shasta, at 14,179 ft. (4,322 m) one of the highest peaks in California. However, this time the mountain was covered by clouds the entire time we were there and I never saw it in its full glory. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it caused me to focus on the beauty closer at hand—the beauty of a tree full of berries, of moss growing on a rock, of cedar seeds floating in a puddle in the driveway.

All too often we’re seduced by the grand views and we forget to look at the little things around us. This post is meant to celebrate the kind of unsung beauty we too often miss. All of the photos below were taken either on my in-laws’ property or in their rural neighborhood on the outskirts of the town of Mount Shasta.

A glimpse of Black Butte, the “other” mountain in Mount Shasta
111124_mtshasta_trees cloud
Cloud and trees
Birch filigree
111124_blonde gray
The colors of winter
Winter meadow
Backlit ferns
Still life with oak leaves
111124_oak new_branch
New life from an old oak tree
Moss so soft you want to lie down on it
Forgotten apple tree
Mountain ash
Mountain ash berries
Leaf litter on driveway
Western redcedar seeds and leaves
Cedar seeds floating in puddle

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Collecting a Western redcedar for bonsai

On a whim, I attended a bonsai show in Sacramento last month (click here to read my post). The exotic-looking miniature trees really struck a chord in me, and I started to read up on bonsai. I’m still at the very beginning of what might end up being a life-long journey and I feel I need to learn a lot more before I even attempt to work on a living plant. However, when we were at my in-laws for Thanksgiving, I couldn’t help but notice the thousands (literally!) of saplings growing everywhere on their 2½ acre property. There is white pine (Pinus monticola) and Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), but above all there is Western redcedar (Thuja plicata).

As its Latin name already indicates, Western redcedar isn’t a true cedar (like Lebanon, Atlas, or Deodar) but rather an arborvitae. That’s why “redcedar” is spelled as one word rather than as two, as would be the case if it were a true cedar.

A few of the many mature Western redcedars on my in-laws’ property

While Western redcedar doesn’t seem to be used much as bonsai material, there are so many of them at my in-laws’ that I decided to collect two of them to experiment on down the line. (A close relative, eastern whitecedar, Thuja occidentalis, is a popular tree for bonsai on the East Coast and in Canada. If you’re curious to see what it can look like as a bonsai, go to the website of the Toronto Bonsai Society, click the Galleries button on the top and then click Cedar on the left.)

Picking likely candidates was actually the hardest part. One of the most important criteria for a bonsai is a strong, interesting trunk. I bypassed many saplings because their trunks were too spindly or ordinary and finally settled on two that had a relatively thick trunk relative to their size, with peeling bark and some scars to give them character.

My first candidate, about 2 ft. tall with a trunk diameter of ½" at the base.
I removed some of the rocks for better access.

As with any plants you did up in the wild, the goal is to remove a generously sized root ball that has as many fine feeder roots as possible. At least that is the theory. On my first sapling I ended up with hardly any feeder roots; I think they broke off as I rocked the tree out of the ground with the shovel. I was disappointed and felt guilty for potentially having killed a tree. I don’t know what its odds for survival are but it went into a bucket which I filled with native soil.

Did I just kill this sapling?
I asked my mother-in-law to take a few photos of me digging. She ended up taking more than 70 so I combined them into a little movie.

For my second tree, I picked a sapling that had good clearance on all sides, and I was more careful as I dug around it.

My second candidate, 3 ft. tall with a trunk diameter of 1" at the base.

In spite of recent rains, the soil below the top inch or two was completely dry and it fell off as I lifted the root ball out. While there aren’t as many roots as I had hoped for, it looks like there are enough for the tree to survive. Knock on wood!

I was able to preserve what I hope are enough roots for the tree to survive

The next time I attempt to dig up a tree at my in-laws’, especially a taller one with a thicker trunk, I’ll ask my father-in-law to fire up his backhoe. That should make it much easier to preserve as many roots as possible.

The next step now is to pamper these young trees until they show sign of new growth. Then I can begin to train them for bonsai. By then I will hopefully have taken a workshop and acquired more knowledge and skills.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Revisiting the bamboos-in-law

In the summer of 2010 we started to plant bamboos at my parents-in-law’s property in Mount Shasta in the mountains of far Northern California (USDA hardiness zone 7). It started with a golden vivax (Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’) and was soon followed by a black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra ‘Punctata’). Now there are 12 different species of running and clumping bamboo growing in what we jokingly call “Experimental Bamboo Garden North.”

I’ve blogged about my “bamboos-in-law” before (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), and now it’s time for an early winter 2011 update. Most of the bamboos have been in the ground for a year or more now, and we’re beginning to see progress.

The first photo is a panorama of the backyard looking towards the house.


1 Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’
2 Chusquea gigantea
3 Phyllostachys nigra ‘Punctata’
4 Phyllostachys bambusoides
5 Fargesia dracocephela ‘Rufa’ (2x)
6 Chusquea culeou ‘Roja’

Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’

This was the first bamboo we planted at my in-laws’ place. I got it as a 15-gallon specimen from a grower in Fair Oaks, CA. With its vibrant yellow culms, it has always been one of my favorites. Unfortunately, in the spring the leaves started to turn brown and the plant was looking like it was dying. After some initial puzzlement my mother-in-law identified the culprits as moles digging tunnels which were then used by voles eating the roots and possibly rhizomes. She collapsed the tunnels and installed a sonic mole repeller. Within six weeks, new leaves started to appear, sparse at first but eventually more numerous. In the summer, the plant produced a survival shoot, much smaller than the other culms but enough to keep the plant going. Hopefully within another year the plant will have made a full recovery.

Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’
Survival shoot on the right
New branches and leaves on existing culms
Sonic mole repeller

Chusquea gigantea and Chusquea culeou ‘Roja’

Chusqueas are native to Central and South America. Many species are extremely cold-sensitive and only grow in tropical regions. Others are very cold-hardy but won’t tolerate hot summers, especially hot summer nights. These idiosyncrasies have severely limited their spread. They grow best in places like the Pacific Northwest (see my post about Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery in Gold Beach, OR). Judging from our initial experience with the Chusquea gigantea and Chusquea culeou in the next set of photos, Mount Shasta looks to be an agreeable environment as well.

Chusquea gigantea, planted in the fall of 2010
Late shoot on Chusquea gigantea. I’m not sure it will make it through the winter. After I took this photo, my father-in-law completely covered it with bark chips to give it some protection.

The next one is Chusquea culeou ‘Roja,’ a special form of this clumping bamboo from the Andes that Tradewinds owner Gib Cooper found in batch of more than 1,000 seedlings. Similar to Chusquea culeou ‘Caña Prieta,’ new culms are dark red when exposed to the sun, slowly fading to greenish yellow. We planted this bamboo in July 2011 and it’s produced a couple of new culms since then. This will be its first winter in Mount Shasta, and it looks like it wasn’t fazed by the 19°F they recently had.

Chusquea culeou ‘Roja’

Phyllostachys nigra ‘Punctata’

This giant form of black bamboo started out in a half barrel but we put it in the ground in October 2010 (check out this post for details and photos). It’s grown much bushier this year but is still a fairly tight clump. I wonder if it will start to run next year?

Phyllostachys nigra ‘Punctata’
Phyllostachys nigra ‘Punctata’

Phyllostachys bambusoides

This is one of the most recent additions to my in-laws’ bamboo collection. I obtained it as a small 2-culm division from another collector and we planted it this past April. Looking at such a small plant, it’s easy to forget that Phyllostachys bambusoides has the potential to grow to 50+ ft.

Phyllostachys bambusoides
Phyllostachys bambusoides

The next photo shows a different view of the backyard bamboos, this time looking away from the house towards the southern end of the property. Bamboos # 3, 4 and 5 were already described above.


1 and 2 Fargesia dracocephela ‘Rufa’
3 Phyllostachys nigra ‘Punctata’
4 Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’
5 Chusquea gigantea

Fargesia dracocephela ‘Rufa’ and Fargesia denudata

The two ‘Rufas’ we planted in the fall of 2010 are doing well. The larger one, seen below in front of the chimenea, has quadrupled in size. The smaller one has doubled. Both started out as 1-gallon tissue cultured plants from Booshoot Gardens, purchased from Mad Man Bamboo.


Fargesia dracocephela ‘Rufa’


Fargesia dracocephela ‘Rufa’

The third fargesia, Fargesia denudata, was the same size as the two ‘Rufas’ above but hasn’t fared nearly as well. After last winter’s snow had melted, my in-laws thought it was dead, but it did produce leaves eventually. However, it has not increased in size. I have no idea why it’s not thriving. Fargesia denudata is certainly hardy enough for a zone 7 winter, so it can’t be that. Maybe its roots and/or rhizomes were nibbled on by voles? Hopefully we’ll see a big jump in size next spring.

Fargesia denudata

There are three additional running bamboos on the western edge of the property. The largest one is a stone bamboo (Phyllostachys angusta) we planted in the summer of 2010 from a 15-gallon can. It’s as nice and bushy as it ever was and produced several tall culms this fall—much later than one would expect for a Phyllostachys (they typically shoot in the spring). With any luck, this stone bamboo will soon form a dense hedge to hide the mother-in-law cottage next door.

Phyllostachys angusta with Phyllostachys aureosulcata on the right (looking toward my in-laws’ house, away from the neighbors)

The second bamboo in this area is a yellow-groove bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata). This was a small 1-culm division when planted last summer. It’s still very small, but it did add another culm this year. Next year we should see a big increase in size and number of culms. Within 5 years it should live up to its potential (up to 40 ft. in height). The plan is to route its growth along the property line to provide visual protection from the neighbors.

Phyllostachys aureosulcata

The final bamboo in the backyard is Phyllostachys bisettii. Like the fargesias described above, I bought it as a 1-gallon tissue culture plant. It has been in the ground a year now, and it has tripled in size. But it’s still small and difficult to spot, surrounded as it is by yellowing weeds. Things will look very different in this spot in just a few years!

Phyllostachys bisettii
Phyllostachys bisettii surrounded by weeds

Just on the other side of the chain-link fence, in what is technically the front yard, is the last of my in-laws’ bamboo, Phyllostachys nigra ‘Henon.’ Like many other bamboos, I got it as a small division. Planted just this past spring, it looks very happy in this spot on top of a rise. I have high hopes for this bamboo: With any luck, we should see the beginnings of a grove in 3-5 years. In zone 6, ‘Henon’ has the potential to grow to 60 (!) ft. in height.

Phyllostachys nigra ‘Henon’
Phyllostachys nigra ‘Henon’
Check out the rocks around the base of Phyllostachys nigra ‘Henon.’ My mother-in-law has done a fantastic job here! In case you were wondering about the bucket: It is used for watering. It has tiny holes in the bottom and water slowly trickles into the ground around the base of the bamboo.

The last photo in this post isn’t really related to bamboo, but it was taken from the spot where the ‘Henon’ is planted. It shows the house on the right and the tree-studded hill on the left. This is where we planted several dozen ornamental grasses and lavenders this past Easter (read about our planting party in this post).