Thursday, May 28, 2009

When Is a Weed Not a Weed?

Okay, so, this flower just kind of sprung up in one of our old pots this spring. It's got to be a weed. But it's so pretty! Bright and orange and tall!

I keep feeling like the fact it is a weed means I should be yanking it out. Bad weed, bad! But at the same time, I am tempted to just enjoy it. It seems happy. I seem happy. Maybe weeds don't always have to be weeds? Anybody know what this is, by the way?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Dateline SoCal (or, No Rainy Day Gardening Here)

I just got back from a weeklong trip to Southern California, mostly working with a little playtime in Disneyland thrown in. The weeds and slugs took advantage of my absence to invade my helpless garden. I've been coping with the carnage all weekend, but I'm taking a break to share some pictures from my trip. I grew up in Northern California, so I took the local flora for granted. Now that I've been gone awhile (20 years as of next month), and I'm a gardener, I notice things when I go back that were just part of the background when I was growing up. Such as...

Pink oleander

Closeup of peach oleander

Oleander is everywhere, both in SoCal and where I grew up. It's often found growing alongside the freeway, or in the case of the ones in these pics, growing alongside a gas station parking lot in LA. They're kind of like rhodies are in the maritime Northwest - all-purpose, low-maintenance shrub found in just about every garden, overused to the point of being boring. Every now and then, I find them advertised for sale in catalogs of tropical plants, listed alongside orchids and other exotics (and with prices to match). I just laugh and wonder what the buyers would think if they could see their precious tropical shrub next to a California freeway.

Then there's this beauty--the Bird of Paradise:
Bird of Paradise

Bird of Paradise

My grandmother had one of these in front of her house in Oakland when I was a kid. Up here, like oleander, they're sold as pricey tropicals. Until this trip, I never noticed that there was more than one variety. The colorful one is the one I remember seeing all the time. The other one isn't as pretty IMHO, but it's way larger. The blooms are about twice the size of the colorful ones.

The pictures above were all taken just outside Disneyland. This one was taken inside the park, in Fantasyland to be precise. Just look at these delphiniums!
Delpheniums in Fantasyland

They belong in Fantasyland too. I think I'd have better luck spotting Tinkerbell in my garden than growing delphiniums that look that good. Apparently Fantasyland is not only where dreams come true; it's also where slugs don't exist.

In addition to Disneyland, we paid a visit to San Gabriel Mission, or as it's officially known, Mission San Gabriel Archangel. There's some very nice landscaping outside the mission, including this striking cactus, which really pops against the adobe wall of the mission and alongside the rounded shrubs:
Cactus and shrubs outside the wall of San Gabriel Mission

The mission includes a peace garden in the courtyard, with a lovely collection of succulents and other desert plants. Here's a sampling:
Cactus in the courtyard garden, San Gabriel Mission

Interesting tree in the courtyard of San Gabriel Mission

Blooming cactus in the courtyard garden of San Gabriel Mission

Agave and cactus in the courtyard garden, San Gabriel Mission

Geraniums in the courtyard garden, San Gabriel Mission

Yes, those are geraniums (or pelargoniums for you horticultural purists) in that last pic. They become shrubs when left to their own devices in places with mild winters.

So there ya go--a glimpse or two of flora from the Granola State. I hope you enjoyed this bit of armchair travel with your Rainy Day Gardening correspondent. Now, back to your regularly-scheduled maritime climate...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dramatic Discovery in Halifax, Nova Scotia's Public Garden

Sorry I've been neglectful in posting my monthly to-do lists, everyone. You know what you're supposed to do in May, though, right? PLANT STUFF. Now, get hot on that!

In the meantime, I wanted to show you guys this totally cool flower I came across two weeks ago when I was in Nova Scotia exploring the Halifax Public Garden. It was one of only a few things actually in bloom (the public garden had just opened for the season), but it had a bunch of these dramatic plants and I totally fell in love with them!

When I got back from my trip, I tried to find out what this flower was -- it's super spiffy looking, eh? But my friends were of little help ("Sideshow Bob flower?" was one of their suggestions -- thanks, guys). So, I contacted the Plant Answer Line at the Elizabeth C. Miller Library at the University of Washington for help.

And here's what I learned:

This is a Fritillaria imperialis, commonly called a Crown Imperial, which is a bulbous plant that thrives in moist, free-draining, rich soil in full sun to light shade. I had asked if it was something that would grow well in the Pacific Northwest (spring in Halifax, Nova Scotia seemed a lot like spring in Seattle, as it rained most of the time I was up there!), and the answer is yes!

So, hey, guess what! I'm going to plant some. You plant them in the Fall, which is good because that gives me time to actually find the bulbs. And then they bloom in early Spring. Yay, I learned something! And then I taught it to someone else! Hooray for blogs!

Buried treasure in the garden

Most of us gardeners won't dig up anything in our gardens more interesting than potatoes, carrots, worms, or rocks. But for a lucky few, tilling the soil turns up some surprising treasures. One lucky British gardener has unearthed coins, jewelry, and other Victorian treasures in her UK garden. That story reminded me of a friend of mine who bought a house in Tunnel Hill, Georgia, in the early 1990s. When he dug up his garden, he found bayonets and other relics of the Battle of Tunnel Hill.

Unfortunately, I've never found anything that interesting in my garden. We bought our house in 1996, a few months after the property had flooded. When we started working on our washed-out mud slab of a yard, we dug up all sorts of odd things that had been washed there by the floodwaters. We found lots of bottles (and broken pieces of bottles), chunks of asphalt, and my personal favorite: sand bags. Lots of sand bags. 80-lb sand bags, buried just under the surface of my tomato-patch-in-the-making. Since we have heavy clay soil, the sand made a nice soil amendment, but it was backbreaking work to dig up the half-rotted sand bags and disperse the sand. I kept hoping I'd find some cool relic deposited by the floodwaters, but debris and sandbags were it. Maybe I should move back to Georgia.