We think of winter as a time of cold weather. As gardeners, we also think of it as a time when plants stop growing or greatly reduce their rate of growth. It is usually the most difficult time in terms of plant survival. This sounds like November through February for much of the northern hemisphere, but it also describes summer in the mediterranean climate zones of the world. To plants native to the climate, the hot, dry summer is the challange. Summer is winter.
Opuntia is one of the most numerous of the cactus genera. It is also the most widespread. The approximately 180 species are found from Canada to Argentina and from the Caribbean Islands to the Galapagos.
Cochineal, also known as carmine and Crimson Lake, is a dye used in modern times to color foodstuffs and cosmetics. In the past it was a very valuable dye for coloring cloth. It has been in use for around 2000 years. This important dye comes from the powdered dried bodies of cochineal insects.
Drive outside of any coastal California city. Go past the bigger suburbs and farms and head for the foothills or low mountain ranges. There you will find ranch land and park land carpeted in grass. They are green in winter and spring, yellow in the summer, and grayish in the fall. The cycle continues year after year. It seems so timeless, but take a closer look. The vast majority of plants turn out to be grasses and mustards native to the Mediterranean and Middle East. This is now an altered ecosystem. What did it originally look like and can it be taken back to that state?
We've all seen the movies and television shows. Rickety wooden buildings line a deserted street. A slight breeze kicks up some dust and a tumbleweed rolls across a side street. Tumbleweeds are iconic symbols of the American West. However, tumbleweeds are not native to the West, but to Eurasia.
The name manzanita comes from the Spanish for 'little apple'. Although the plant is no relation to apples (Malus x domestica), the tiny ripening fruits do look like apples and the fruit and seeds were used as food by Native Americans. In modern times, the plants are more likely to be appreciated for their smooth red bark and sculptural form.
Probably for as long as there have been people, there have been weather sayings. Some sayings turn out to be based on scientific fact, others are just superstition or wishful thinking. Some may work well in some places and not at all in others. I have evaluated some sayings that I know to see if they work for me and I have also come up with my own sayings based on my observations.
The chocolate lily (Fritillaria biflora) is special to me for several reasons. Though it is not overly showy, it is a very attractive plant, even described as "the Cleopatra of the Fritillaries - the darkest and the loveliest" . It is not a particularly common plant, and rarity makes things more precious. Also, it is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring, and for me is the herald of the wildflower season.
I grew up in Pennsylvania. We always wanted a white Christmas, though I can only remember one Christmas when it snowed. In fact, it was more likely to snow on Easter than on Christmas. Usually Christmas was in the 40s and rainy and grey. If it wasn't such a special day, it would have been dismal. Nevertheless, a white Christmas was the standard of proper Christmas weather.
With its ruffled flowers and hot Caribbean color, Caesalpinia pulcherrima is the mambo dancer of the subtropical garden. Some of the common names for this plant include pride of Barbados, red bird of paradise, dwarf poinciana, peacock flower, and Barbados flower fence. In Creole French it is flamboyan-de-jardin. In Mexico it is called caballero. It even has names in several of the languages of the Indian subcontinent. With so many common names, this has got to be a special plant.
Leucophyllum means having white leaves and frutescens means shrubby. This is entirely accurate, for this is a shrubby plant with whitish leaves. It is also a shrub that gets massive amounts of flowers, which depending on the cultivar, can be purple, pink, or white. This plant can be an attractive addition to the xeriscape or transition garden.
Introduced fungal diseases and trees have a sad history in the United States. One cannot read of Dutch elm disease or chestnut blight without feeling a sense of loss. Now a fungal disease called pitch canker is threatening pines in the western United States. The iconic Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) of the central California coast is the most susceptible species.
"I often see flowers from a passing car that are gone before I can tell what they are." Thus begins one of my favorite poems, "A Passing Glimpse" by Robert Frost. How many times have you, like Robert Frost, been curious about a plant and frustrated because you cannot go back and find out what it was? That used to happen to me a lot, but with time I have gotten better at identifying plants from the car and I am going to share with you some tips.
The foreign landscaping plants used in landscaping in the United States are native plants somewhere. Anywhere plants are native, the local people have developed uses for many of them. For much of human history, a person was limited to what himself, his family, or his village could find or produce and that meant a hefty reliance on local plants. Some of these useful plants are also very attractive and were taken to the western world by plant collectors in the 19th and 20th centuries. Therefore, your landscaping and collector plants are more than curiousities. They may have been and may still be a matter of life and death, or at least a way to make life easier in a subsistance lifestyle in a harsh climate.
In color therapy, yellow is a happy color. It is reported to relieve depression, improve memory, and stimulate the appetite. Color researchers believe that yellow increases self-esteem and strengthens overall health and well-being. The color is said to be mentally stimulating and to encourage communication. From cream to lemon to golden, from chartreuse to saffron, yellow is a common color, so it should come as no surprise that it is full of symbolism.
I thought I knew ceanothuses. Ceanothus is a genus of plants native to semi-arid western North America and especially the California chaparral. It is an unbridled wildling that would wither under civilized garden conditions. It was certainly not something I would have ever expected to see in stylish Paris, but there they were, blooming happily in planters along a street by the Seine. Clearly, there was more that I needed to find out about ceanothuses.
There is a good chance that you have never heard of the Santa Monica Mountains. However, there is a good chance that you have seen them masquerading as Korea, Wales, Colorado, the South Pacific, "Olde" England, or even another planet. This is Hollywood's back yard and countless productions have been filmed here. The movie history is fun, but let's meet the Santa Monica Mountains as what they really are, a small mountain range on the Pacific coast.
I had lived in California for about six weeks and one Saturday morning I woke up and decided that I would go out to Joshua Tree National Monument. I knew of the place from a picture or two in a book that my dad had and for an unknown reason, the name stuck with me. I went to the store and bought a road map and off I went. When I arrived at my destination, I was not disapointed and have returned many times since then.
On May 10, 1883, in the case of Nix vs. Hedden, the United States Supreme Court declared the tomato to be vegetable, and thus subject to the import tax of the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883. Still, over one hundred twenty-five years later, the question still goes back and forth, "Is the tomato a vegetable or a fruit?" The answer is that it is both.
The Bible refers to "lilies of the field". If this is a reference to an exact species, the meaning has been lost. Experts say that perhaps the 'lily' is an anemone or crocus. Maybe so, but the plant that comes to mind for me is the mariposa lily. Although these North American natives cannot be the biblical lilies of the field, "even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these".
According to legend, cliff swallows return to nest at Mission San Juan Capistrano on March 19, St. Joseph's Day. Every March 19 is a day of celebration, with food, music, and dance. Do the swallows really return exactly on March 19? Why would they go to Mission San Juan Capistrano, and why are they showing up there less often?
White seems like a total nothing. In reality, white is everything, or at least every color. White light is a combination of all visible colors. White in folklore also has a full-spectrum of meanings. For example, white is a mourning color in the East and a wedding color in the West. White in the garden can evoke many opinions. An all-white garden by day may seem gorgeous to some or bland to others, but a white garden at night can really 'pop'.
Monterey pines are relatively rare. It is estimated that there are between 7,000 and 11,000 acres of native Monterey pine forest in North America. On the other hand, radiata pines are abundant. There are three million acres of radiata pine tree plantations in New Zealand. However, Monterey pine and radiata pine are the same thing - Pinus radiata. A biological rarity in North America has become worth a fortune in the Southern Hemisphere.
Maybe you have decided to forego the mess, hassle, and fire hazard and you use an artificial Christmas tree. You might have one of the fairly realistic, modern, plastic ones. Maybe you have an older plastic one that is not quite as realistic but it still does the job. Maybe you have an aluminum tinsel one or remember your parents or grade school teacher putting one up. You might think of an artificial tree as something modern, or at least no older than the Atomic Age, but artificial Christmas trees go back to the mid 19th century, when they were made of feathers.
Some plants are being loved to death, sometimes for their medicinal properties, but more often for their aesthetic properties. Logging of certain trees for their beautiful wood has made them scarce. Overcollecting of certain cactuses and succulents has wiped out local populations. It was recognized that something had to be done to protect rare, endangered, and threated plants, so the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was implemented in 1975.
The Torrey pine is the rarest pine in the United States and one of the rarest pines in the world. There are estimated to be around 9,000 trees in the wild. That may sound like a fairly large number, but if the trees were planted tree farm style at 25 feet apart, all 9,000 would fit on a farm of around 130 acres.
They are often planted in rows like classical columns, or occasionally in pairs like pilasters, or once in a while one finds a single specimen standing tall like an obelisk. Tall, dark, and formal, Italian cypresses are the most architectural of plants.
Years ago, when I first moved to California, I asked one of my co-workers if the leaves here change color in the fall. He said that they did not. That was not true. Perhaps he was a good engineer, but he was not a good observer of nature.
Orange is associated with fall more than any other season. Consider the botanical icons of fall like pumpkins, Indian corn, fall leaves, and chrysanthemums and you see that orange has a major presence. It even shows up in the dreaded return of the yellow-orange school bus, but orange is usually considered a happy or positive mood color. Orange is said to have the passion of red tempered by the friendliness of yellow.
USDA zones are based upon the average minimum temperature that a region receives. USDA zones are widely used and are found in all sorts of gardening literature, advertizing, and this is the system used in the Dave's Garden PlantFiles. They are useful, for every plant has a temperature below which it will not survive, but they also are limited. Consider USDA zone 8, for example. Cities in zone 8 include Seattle, Tucson, and Mobile. Obviously, aside from the winter lows, these are otherwise three very different climates. Sunset climate zones were developed to deal with many dimensions of climate challenges.
Dawn-Falcon was worried. Her baby Solstice had scratched his forehead. It wasn't getting any better and now he was feverish. Twice she had had the shaman over to chant and blow smoke, but it hadn't done any good. A friend recommended that she take Solstice to Berry Place Village. A old woman lived there who knew much about healing plants. "Take the Fern Trail," her friend said, "And you'll be back before anyone notices that you are gone."
In a prior article, I introduced you to the mediterranean climate, a climate where things seem backwards. Winter is the growing season and summer is the dormant season. Winters have rain and the temperatures are mild. Summers are rainless and can be hot. Summer is the challenging season. In this article I discuss the strategies that the plants use to survive the summer.
One of my earliest memories comes from when I was around three years old. The house where we lived had Boston ivy planted around it. I asked my dad what that was. He said that it was ivy. I thought to myself, "Ivy = poison ivy = don't touch!" Though my plant indentification skills were not good at that age, my respect for poison ivy was developing. People tend to be fascinated by the enemy, and there are many interesting features about poison oak and poison ivy.
Monarch butterflies spend the winter in Mexico. Right? Yes, that is correct of course, but only partly correct. The monarch butterflies that live west of the Rocky Mountains spend the winter along the coast of California. There are many wintering sites and most are accessible to the public and have become minor tourist attractions. If a trip to Mexico to see the monarchs is out of the question, consider a trip to California.
All over the world, the color blue is associated with peace. Although it can be hard to separate out cultural biases in such studies, it does seem that blue has an intrinsic effect on the human psyche and may even cause the body to produce calming chemicals. Perhaps it is this lack of an arousing effect that has led to being sad being called "blue". However, that has not impacted the popularity of blue. Blue is a widely-used and well-liked color.
Spines give cacti a very distinctive appearance. Many plants have thorns or spines, but they may be more characteristic of cacti than of any other plant family. Spines come in a wide range of forms, shapes, and colors, and they perform many protective functions. Although the cactus grower may appreciate spines from a functional and aesthetic point, they also can make working with the plants difficult. However, there are some tools and techniques to make the process less painful.
Since you visit Dave's Garden, there is a very good chance that you like plants. But have you ever felt that your fondness for or interest in plants went above and beyond the average? Do you have an obsession that most consider a bit abnormal, maybe even unhealthy? Do you think about plants all of the time? Do you find it impossible to pass up a plant sale? Do you understand the words in the purple box to the right? Don't look now, but you might be a plant nerd.
Maybe you've seen them. You're out hiking or hunting or taking a drive in the country and there it is. It would look right at home in your garden but looks so incongruous out in the middle of nowhere. Maybe it's an apple tree in a clearing, a rose bush leaning against a crooked fence post, or a clump of narcissus by a jumble of rocks. These could not have been transported by birds or wind. You know immediately that someone used to live here, but there are many questions. Who used to live here? What did they do? Why did they leave? How can these plants survive on their own?
From ancient times, people have acknowledged and celebrated the solstices and equinoxes. Some people took this a step further and also observed the day half way between the respective solstice and equinox. These days became known as cross-quarter days. Though shifted a little from the exact half-way point, they have survived into historic times as Halloween, Candlemas, May Day, and the lesser-known Lammas. Cross-quarter days were the start of the traditional seasons. Modern Americans tend to associate the seasons with the weather and temperature, but in more agrarian times, the seasons were associated with what the crops where doing.