Saturday, February 25, 2012

Whipping up a batch of succulent magic

After exposing my tendency to amass plants in yesterday’s post, I decided to make productive use of my collection and whip up a couple of new succulent bowls. While this doesn’t reduce the number of plants I have, it makes maintenance easier because I don’t have to hand-water quite so many small pots which dry out very quickly in hot weather.

Ingredients: Two bowls I had sitting around, a bunch of succulents, a bag of Black Gold Cactus Mix, and Osmocote Plus 6-month time release fertilizer for a bit of nutrition.

Recipe: Fill bowls with soil, sprinkle in some fertilizer, add plants, done.

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I picked succulents with a variety of colors and textures
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To my own surprise, I ended up using all of these plants
                                                                                                                                           
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I often make my own succulent mix (read this post to find out how) but I didn’t have any coir left so I decided to do the next best thing: Black Gold Cactus Mix. Unlike some succulent mixes that contain peat (which I hate because it’s almost impossible to rewet), this product is 40-50% pumice and drains exceptionally well. I also add a sprinkling of Osmocote Plus slow release fertilizer for nutrition. While most succulents aren’t greedy feeders, a bit of fertilizer does result in nicer plants.
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Good stuff in this cactus mix!

The result of my efforts, while pleasing, doesn’t make you go wow quite yet. I’m hoping by the time summer rolls around these plants will have filled in nicely. It’s always a fine line between stuffing too many plants in a bowl and not enough. I left a little bit of room for some trailing sedums which will add a vertical counterpoint to the round shapes of the rosettes. Surprisingly, my collection is very light on trailing plants so I need to buy some first.

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The green pencil-like stems sticking out of the ground are a Euphorbia leucodendron
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Red bowl from a different perspective
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I love how the apple green of the aeonium contrasts with the purple of the echeveria (middle) and Graptopetalum pentandrum (right)
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The variegated plant in the foreground is an Aeonium decorum 'Sunburst'

I was very surprised to see how many pots I managed to empty. Two of these went in the ground, but all the others were planted in these two bowls. It was very satisfying to see so much progress!

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More pots mean more room for new plants—just kidding!

The two bowls are now on top of the fence next to the front porch. While matching bowls would have looked more uniform and elegant, everything about our garden is eclectic and traditional style is definitely not what I’m going for.

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Next order of business: Clean and rearrange the display stand
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Bowl #1
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Bowl #2
The bamboo on the right is Asian lemon bamboo (Bambusa eutuldoides ‘Viridividatta’)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Am I a plant hoarder?

The other day I mentioned that a neighbor thought the pots lining the flagstone walkway to the front door looked really nice. While I appreciate her compliment, I think our front yard is beginning to resemble a cottage nursery.

I’ve been buying too many plants since fall, and in the winter everything went into a holding pattern. I put pots wherever there was room, often stuffing them into nooks and crannies on the front porch or under the eaves. As warmer weather returned, I began to spread them out along the walkway so the plants could get much-needed sunshine. But I’m beginning to be bothered by how haphazard it all looks, meaning it’s time to do something about it.

I may have crossed the line from gardener—somebody who buys plants based on actual need—to hoarder—somebody who likes to amass plants for no reason other than to have them. Actually, I prefer to call myself a “plant collector.” That sounds a tad more sophisticated than “hoarder.”
Let me share some photos with you so you can appreciate the full extent of this mania.  Am I a lost cause, or are things maybe not quite as bad as I think?

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It doesn’t look horrible—yet!
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From here it actually looks kind of OK
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Ignore the blue strawberry pot with the echeverias—that one I do like. It’s the other assorted pots that are the problem.
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Small Yucca rostrata. It won’t be large enough to use in the landscape for many years. I have two more of this size.
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The three Dioon edule ‘Palma Sola’ seedlings I recently bought on eBay
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The two smaller pots in the lower right are echeveria and aeonium cuttings I got from fellow succulent lover Candy “Sweetstuff”.  The two larger pots contain echeverias I bought last fall at the Succulent Gardens Extravaganza. They are showing signs of winter damage…
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…especially this Echeveria gibbiflora ‘Arlie Wright’. I should only buy succulents in the spring after somebody else has overwintered them!
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The two larger pots on the right came from the recent UC Botanical Garden winter sale. The other two I got at Walmart for 75% off. It’s hard to resist a bargain even when you don’t really need that particular plant!
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Kalanchoe ‘Fang’. Hey, it was only $0.75 a Walmart!
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The potted succulents in the back are a permanent fixture in this spot. The pots in the foreground are just hanging out temporarily. The larger black nursery pot contains an Encephalartos lehmannii, a cycad from South Africa.
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Nandina domestica ‘Filamentosa’, one of my favorite recent purchases. It’s such a unique plant, I don’t quite know how to best use it.
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Giant coreopsis (Coreopsis gigantea) from Cactus Jungle. It will eventually go in a nice pot.
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Tree euphorbia (Euphorbia lambii) from Annie’s Annuals. It will eventually be planted in the succulent bed by the front door, seen in the 2nd photo above, but it’ll live in a pot until it’s taller. Hopefully extra fertilizer will help speed things along.
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What was once a shoe rack now serves as an overflow rack next to the front door. I will make a concerted effort to combine small (4”) pots into larger community pots.
                                                                                                                                            
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LEFT: Agaves and prickly pears on the front porch where they’re protected from the rain (what little rain we’ve had this season)
RIGHT: Cactus cuttings. No clue where they’ll go when they’re rooted but I want to have them in my collection. See what I mean??
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This table on the front porch looked nice a few years ago but has since then degenerated into another plant holding area
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At least this tray looks neat. These cacti lived on top of the front yard fence last year but had to be moved to a sheltered spot during the rainy season.
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More plants on the table on the front porch. The terracotta bowls will be moved back into their old spots on top of the fence very soon so we can actually use the table again.
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Ephiphyllum ‘King Midas’ from Annie’s Annuals. It’ll go in a hanging planter to be suspended from the front porch roof. See, I do have concrete plans for some plants! I’s just a matter of following through.
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Cactus community pots I put together last summer. I’m thinking of redoing them and putting at least twice as many plants in each pot, considering that they grow so slowly. That would free up valuable floor space, too.
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And finally the cactus and succulent display stand. I will completely rearrange it this spring so it looks less haphazard. Smaller plants will be combined into community pots.

And then there are the plants I bought as bonsai candidates: Japanese boxwood, dwarf pomegranate, cotoneaster, some dwarf azalea, etc. Some are even “real” bonsai starters from Lone Pine Gardens. While I’m still intrigued by bonsai, I don’t feel the same urgent desire to dive into it that I had in the fall. I think it’s because I feel a bit intimidated, considering that bonsai has such a long tradition and so many rules. I know, it’s silly to feel that way since my goal isn’t to enter a bonsai competition, just to create some interesting specimens for myself.

In any case, it doesn’t look like these plants will be bonsai’d anytime soon. That’s not a problem per se because the larger these plants grow, the better suited they will be for bonsai treatment.

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Assorted bonsai candidates
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Chinese elm (Ulmus parviflora ‘Yatsubusa’)
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Heart-leaf ivy (Hedera helix ‘Scutifolia’)
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Japanese garden juniper (Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’)
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This is what I have in mind with the Japanese garden juniper above
So, do I still fall in the “normal” range, or should I seek help from Plant Hoarders Anonymous?


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Early spring in the neighborhood

Work has been very busy this week so I haven’t had much time to spend in the garden or on this blog. But I plan to have a few longer posts for you very soon.

Today I took my camera on my lunchtime walk and I want to show you some scenes of early spring in our neighborhood. We live on the edge of town and have easy access to a greenbelt that extends for miles in either direction. It is used a great deal by people walking, running, bicycling or just strolling along at their leisure. Soon the majestic walnut and oak trees will leaf out, but at the moment the most prominent sights are the lush grass that grows under the trees like a green carpet and flowering fruit trees that must be left over from the time when this area was a large farm.

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Many houses in this neighborhood have flowering fruit trees, too. I can’t tell what kind they are—plum, cherry or some other member of the genus Prunus—but they sure are pretty.

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Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) seems to have gone out of fashion. You still see it occasionally in rural areas but in newer developments it’s quite uncommon. Maybe it’s because most of the year it’s an unruly tangle of thorny branches with nondescript leaves? But when it flowers in early spring, it’s a shining star. I was happy to find this specimen in somebody’s front yard, covered with delicate-looking blossoms.

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One of my favorite springtime trees is the saucer magnolia (Magnolia × soulangeana), or as I call it, “tulip tree.” The specimens in the next two photos had a particularly vivid coloration. I only wish they would bloom for a much longer period of time; a few weeks isn’t nearly enough.

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Happy wanderer (Hardenbergia violacea) is a very common vine/shrub in these parts. Most of the time I don’t pay any attention to it because it looks so ordinary, but at this time of year, it is a riot of purple. I just learned it was native to Australia.

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While I’m not the biggest fan of daffodils, there is something undeniably cheery about them that brings a smile to my face. Individual clumps are nice…

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…but drifts are even nicer.

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Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is common in far Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. You don’t see it much around here, but I found one specimen in our neighborhood park, planted along the outside perimeter.

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On the other hand, California buckeye is a common sight. It’s one of my favorite native shrubs because it combines very attractive leaves (emerging now), stunning flowers (coming in May) and very decorative seed pods (in fall). However, it has one quirk that limits its gardenworthiness: It begins to drop its leaves in mid-summer and is typically completely bare by late August. Few people want to live with a shrub that is “naked” for so long.

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As I was getting close to home, I came across this clump of lawn daisies. With their pure white petals arranged like rays around a yellow sun, they are the perfect harbinger of spring. I’m definitely ready to leave winter behind me!

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