Thursday, August 22, 2013

periodo azul

Picasso's period of painting in monochromatic blues was his artistic expression of a time of depression and melancholy. Last time I was depressed I read a self-help book, drank a bottle of wine, and took my Rx. Anyhow, I get it, his paintings are awesome (and here I know I cannot compete nor make any half-assed attempt to do so), but I find blue very restoring and unique in the plant world. It seems a rather rare color to occur naturally--especially clear blue flowers such as the ones on this page. Anthocyanin rich, and pH-dependent (in terms of what color profile is expressed) these blue flowering plants can really cool down the hottest landscape. Use blue cautiously though, as it can overtly be noticeable in the garden.

Plumbago auriculata is probably cold-hardy between USDA zones 7-11 (if you make your gardening decisions based on hardiness ratings, you need to stop, as they are fairly unrepresentative to what can grow where (fodder for an upcoming post)). I know that it does not overwinter in my climate and have always grown Cape Leadwort in a container. A couple things to keep in mind: never allow to dry out, keep it moderately well fed, lots of sun, and maybe a little pruning here and there. Judicious pruning and hacking is entirely unnecessary as this is a relatively clean plant. If you are so unfortunate to live in a cold-winter climate as I, Cape Leadwort can be successfully overwintered on a sunporch, three-season room, an insulated garage, etc. Make sure the ambient temperature doesn't go below 39 degrees (F), 3.89 degrees (C). Never have tried bringing indoors over winter; I suspect it would not perform well. The chilling effect of overwintering outdoor perhaps stimulates floral induction leading to more blooms.

Horribly unreal and fake but beauteous in bloom and beryline when it begins to fade. Maybe fading is a phase of transformation from blue-white, to dark blue, purplish pink, to ultimately brown paper bag colored. Proximal examination of flowers reveals a delicate congregation of petals that if frosting on a cake, would be ingratiating. Culture of this particular shrub requires consistent moisture. Even if soil is not acidic--which would produce the reaction pictured--make sure it is mulched. Fertilize and supplemental irrigation are a must. I am always appalled at seeing drooping drought-stressed hydrangeas. Such delicacy must be maintained and presented as Geisha women present themselves. Don't expect much from this plant in northern latitudes. Some cold-hardy selections may exist but will not attain the biomass I experienced while in college (picture of Hydrangea macrophylla summer 2005).

Aster novi-belgii or novae-angliae (not sure which one). Regardless of specific epithet this is one of my favorite late summer flowering perennials. Robust and hardy, it can grow in borders, rock garden (as pictured above), in prairie situations, or en masse. Not a fan of the more engineered looking and dwarfed cultivars, it seems to be more effective and dramatic in a more wild, overgrown habit. Above aster grown among osteospermums, French tarragon, nepeta, bronze fennel, and lemon verbena among others. Granitic rock chips were used as an inorganic mulch and really did a great job at keeping out weeds. If you are wondering what to do with your tons of gravel put in by a cheap-grade landscape contractor when your cookie-cutter home was built in the suburbs, try any of the above plants. Gazania is also a dynamo rockery plant (sometimes cold hardy if in a protected spot in the winter).

Blue marguerite daisy just seems fake and impossible: perfect blue daisy flowers, heat and drought tolerant, a good container subject, and equally cool in the ground. Though not pictured, I had this growing concomitantly with golden creeping Jenny in a container. Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea' if you must know, and Felicia amelloides for the blue easy-going marguerite.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

mellow yellow

Besides a song from the 1960s and street name in reference to certain drugs, Mellow Yellow, is how I feel when seeing flowers and foliage of this color. Yellow in the plant world is clean and exuberant, cheery and promising, as is the case of the sun. The sun comes up signalling the beginning of a new day. As much as the center of our universe is a beacon to signify life fresh and anew, the setting sun reminds us all things come to an end, and conversely, the security and return of tomorrow (and all things will go on without us). We all come from the sun and would not exist without it. Perhaps that is why yellow is so mellow [and powerful].

Above Magnolia 'Butterflies' blooming early spring 2013 at Tower Grove Park in St. Louis, Missouri. Deciduous magnolias do well in the lower Midwest, and, actually I think the yellow ones are more sophisticated and inviting than the typical pink, magenta, white colored ones.

Inula helenium flower close-up. Composite flowers are akin to helicopter landing pads for so many pollinators. The ray florets radiate like arms inviting them to take pollen and nectar. Finches seem to be giddy for them and visit as well.

Eschscholzia californica (probably from the Thai Silk Series). Easy, carefree, and one of the first plants I grew from seed. When en masse, California poppy immediately makes me think of Indian women bedecked in flowing sarees. So exotic looking for such a simple West Coast native plant.

Golden marguerite daisy has no stress and we should learn from it's insouciance. Keep it simple, stupid, is what it's message is. Everyone should attempt to grow this...better yet...if you cannot grow this, give up and jump off a cliff. Don't hesitate to reach out to someone. Screw Stella d'Oro daylilies, this is uber-better. It's that easy. Argyranthemum frutescens is at it's best in full sun, pots, or in beds and borders. Here's an idea: plant golden margs in containers with variegated thyme, white sweet alyssum, and maybe a white gomphrena. 

Tecoma stans or Allamanda cathartica: not sure which one this is. From San Francisco Botanical Garden.

Various dahlias presented with utmost care at San Francisco Botanical Garden. These were so perfect and almost unreal. Only if I had space, time, and more time, and good soil (I rent) would I try my hand with dahlias. I ordered some a couple years ago, but I think the humidity and heat of St. Louis summers really melts them. And the mole mulled right through the tubers. Some totally useless creatures that every time I see them in my garden I wish for their complete annihilation: rabbits - because they're stupid and eat everything; deer - same; squirrels - because they only nibble a bit off of my citrus and tomatoes and ruin the entire fucking fruit; and moles - because the destroy the most critical structure of the plant (the roots).

Cape daisies at Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. Have tried many many times to grow these from seed. The packets all claim to be of uber-easiness to grow and rear. Someday I will get them to grow.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

anatomy and morphology of plants (or interesting patterns)

Exquisite beauty must be found under fine inspection as much as it must be seen on a grand scale. The small crystalline rock has as much intrinsic beauty as the mountain it came from. The plant world offers endless angles and positions to experience this as well. So next time out-of-doors lie down on the ground and admire some of the niceties from close-up. Scented pelargoniums (geraniums) are olfactory orgasm inducers: nutmeg, lemon, lime, rose, and mint are some of the main fragrances that invoke the nose. The fragrances are equally as diverse as their foliar phenotypes. If I recall correctly the pelargonium leaf pictured had a lemony-dill fragrance. Not the most sophisticated but nonetheless verdant and fresh. My suggestion is for anyone with just a modicum of interest in gardening should really allocate a container to scented pelargoniums.

Yellow margins along the leaves and a contrasting silvery-blue almost seafoam green color are what makes Yucca pallida an architectural compact plant. I had access to seed of this species and started from seed in 2006. Not sure whether or not it could survive our winters in St. Louis, I nursed them through the winter in the garage under grow lights and a propagation mat. Following spring they were planted out into perhaps some of the worst soil you can imagine: unamended red-clay rocky soil that is rather sticky when wet. Hardwood mulch over the top, and by Jove, grew with the attitude of a Texan. In the ground since 2006, it has flowered and formed wonderful clumps and managed to take on extremes in heat, drought, wet, and cold.

Agave potatorum is a wonderful gray silvery-blue rosette of thick leaves with a terminal spine and several catclaw-like recurved spines along the margins of the leaves. The one pictured has been growing in a pot for years and seems to be lifting itself up out of the pot. The tight spiral arrangement of leaves seems like the habit of cabbage. Propagated asexually from a mother plant at my alma mater, I hope to someday see it flower (until then I will likely have to divide it up and give away some plantlets).

Thymus x citriodorus makes an indispensable groundcover for many environments. Less care, better flavor...I guess. Though, the flavor and fragrance is ultimately controlled by genetics and enhanced by environment. Regardless, thymes are perfect in so many senses. Why do we see these so underutilized? Not to rant and rail, but trashy plants abound in poor landscapes. Instead of despicable English Ivy that will take over hell, why not thyme? Most thymes have nice flowers, fragrance, and attract honeybees. Another thing, every time I hear or see someone overreact to bees, I just want to smack the shit out of them. Don't have space? Grow in a tall tulip pot or in a hanging basket. Thymus vulgaris easily can be grown from seed and maybe 60 days after planting can be used for culinary purposes. However, I find it always better dried versus fresh.

Thymus serpyllum is a good subject for rock gardens and amoebically grows and oozes into all crevices and cracks in a well-behaved manner. Too much water will spell doom; so keep it dry and airy.

Königin der Nacht

So you may wonder wtf is "Koenigin der Nacht"? Besides an important character that sings two incredible arias in Mozart's opera  Die Zauberfloete, it is the nickname I have given one of my cacti. En Espanol, it is La Reina de la Noche. The queen of the night was started from seed in 2004. The packet of seed was nothing more remarkable than a mixed cactus seed packet. Used to be I was not a big fan of cacti or succulents. That all changed when I realized how easy it was to grow them from seed, and that outdoors with minimal care during summer months the perform famously. To find the seedling in the picture, it is the smallest cactus visible. It is easy to miss - if I can find better pictures I will post. This is the first season after growing (2005).

While on this picture it might be good to describe some of the plants. Only a few pictured are extant at time of writing. The Agave americana has long been gone: it was allowed to freeze after growing too big to move in and out-of-doors. Succulents I always find much more challenging than cacti. Likely too much water, too humid, not poor enough potting soil, or just gross negligence of care (or overcare?).

Moving along and growing at a cliche speed of leaps and bounds, the Cereus hildmannianus, I suspect in name, is both grower AND shower in here. It is so succulent, towering, and bluish green.

A couple of years later a cluster of angelic, pure, silken white flowers appear. Petals have a sugary and delicious look not unlike rich buttercream frosting flowers. They only last the night. After sundown they begin to open, by morning they are fully open, but just a few hours into early morning, they have withered away. Bees seem mad and extremely frustrated that they have missed yet again, the opportunity of a lifetime as observed when they cannot enter the floral structures.  Vanity, greed, and tragedy is the floral aria sung by the Queen of the Night. Almost because of her magnificent beauty the flowers are either embarrassed and don't want to be noticed, or embarrassed that they are so beautiful and do not want to be seen with the cactus they bloom from, or just so proud and haughty that nothing can have them. But the beauty is in simplicity: there is mystery and irony to this dark time when sounds sound different, smells smell different, and the stars peer down with watchful eye on all the sleepers to see them through the night to the next day. Maybe the Queen of the Night is an evil temptress? Everything is naturally more mystical when the sun cannot shine and reveal the vices and iniquities of our world.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

sharp personalities

Agave americana 'Variegata' sadly I let this turn to a pile of mush as it had to be sacrificed to allow my partner to move in. Missouri winters are just too cold and unfortunately we experienced a typical winter in 2012-2013. Conversely, winter 2011-2012 was very mild and allowed some plants to reside outside. My building is a two family flat (ca. 1905) all red brick and stone. The front faces south so offers extra protection from those vile and biting north winds in the winter. Originally, the agave pictured was a pup plucked from someone's beach house in Florida in 2010. It grew fabulously and behaved well in a small pot. The occasional puncture from the terminal spine reminded me though it is architecturally appealing, it is awkwardly cumbersome (due to it's buxomness and ample water stored in leaves) and anti-social. Is that a reflection of my personality?

Working down page: an unidentified cactus I acquired in college (before 2007) that martyred itself so my man-stud could move into the lovenest. This phallic needle tower could not survive the winter on the stoop. Just as everyone is all the same in one regard, we meet the same fate in the end--such as this cactus. No promises of angelic language, but i'll try to keep things civil. BUT, see the Parodia magnifica top right corner in the above picture? Absolutely one of my favorite cacti. Some mother fucker stole it from the front yard. I don't usually wish ilk on fellow man, and if something did happen, I know statistically, it would be mere coincidence, so here goes...whoever stole my Parodia it would sure be bad for them if their breaks gave out on their car and drove off a cliff Tunsis the Cat style.

Here you can see the hemorrhage of potted plants dripping off the back porch. Extreme early morning and late day sun is all the plants on the porch proper received. You can see mostly green; I'm not much into showy dramatic floriferous plants. I like unique, useful, poisonous, and/or purposeful. Off the rails in baskets were basils, cilantro, parsely, cuban oregano; off the posts were variegated pelargoniums that I had been keeping for three years; everything else is a brouhaha of foliage.
Summer 2012 represented hell's presence on earth--if you believe in such a thing. One of the hottest, driest, and Saharan summers in recent record. Many trees burned and scorched and defoliated prematurely. Rains returned late and stimulated a growth spurt on some trees. Several plants dried up and turned to kindling. This makes one reconsider which plants are truly durable in the extremes a St. Louis climate can throw at them. Albeit, my plants were watered well and flourished.  At time of writing--August 2013--rainy and cool is the norm thus far.

The quite-endowed green pole is my beloved Cereus peruvianus grown from seed. It is in year eight of life and a pain in the ass to move around. When I haul it indoors and outdoors every season, I really consider getting a fanciful kilt for the occasion and training to compete with the Scotsmen for the Caber toss.

The tree to the left was a lemon tree that regularly flowered and bore delicious Missouri-grown lemons. I have been asked, "Why would you grow lemons when they are so incredibly cheap and readily available at the store?" Why does anybody grow anything? Well here is a reason why: Fever Tree Bitter Lemon Tonic Water, some vodka, ice, and freshly squeezed lemon juice picked off the tree seconds ago, and a lemon leaf for garnish...that's why. Because I like to be pompous and self-aggrandizing.
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