After the remnants of Hurricane Michael knocked down a couple of our neighbors’ trees (see picture #6), they generously offered us some of the wood. It’s not every day that I have access to such big, beautiful oak logs, so I decided to use them for something more fun than firewood.
1. The wood
2. The mushrooms
3. The guide book
4. The location
5. The procedure
6. The log garden
For more Six on Saturday, head on over to The Propagator. After viewing his Six, check out the comments for links from other participants.
Sea myrtle (Baccharis halimifolia) is one of the most striking native shrubs in the NC piedmont at this time of year. Its fuzzy white seed heads are a common sight beside lakes, in unmown fields, and along roads, where its tolerance for salt is a definite advantage. B. halimifolia is a member of the Asteraceae, the daisy family, although the family resemblance is difficult to see at first glance. It’s a woody shrub, instead of a forb, and its inflorescences lack the colorful ray flowers that give the showier members of the family their horticultural value. However, the white plumes attached to the seeds make the plant look as though it is covered with snow and more than make up for the lack of color.
I’m surprised that sea myrtle isn’t used more often as a garden shrub for seasonal interest. Though I have previously criticized the groundskeepers on the campus where I work, I have to admit they have done a good job incorporating some volunteer B. halimifolia into the landscape. By removing the lower branches, they have exposed the twisted trunks and turned the plants into very interesting specimens.
The only defects of B. halimifolia from a horticultural point of view seem to be its brittle wood and its production of huge quantities of airborne seeds. Many horticulturally valuable shrubs are also brittle (e.g. my Hypericum frondosum, which snapped under snow this winter), so that doesn’t seem to be a fatal flaw. More problematic is its tendency to become weedy. It is apparently invasive in southern Europe and Australia. Perhaps it would be best to grow it only in its native range.
While visiting a local home improvement store today, I took a look at the garden section to see what grotesqueries the plant wholesalers have cooked up lately. They did not disappoint. I am, by now, inured to things like paper flowers glued to cacti or Phalaenopsis orchids with dyed blooms–If you desperately need a cheap grafted cactus, you can pick off the fake flowers, and when the garish dye fades, you’ll have a reasonably nice white-flowered Phal hybrid.
But today’s offerings…Shudder.
How about a Hippeastrum bulb dipped in wax? Judging by the label, the flower is a big red tetraploid, probably ‘Red Lion,’ and someone has obviously thought, “Hmm, that’s a very striking flower, how can we make it look worse?” The answer was to dip the bulb in wax even more brightly colored than the flower, so that the inflorescence will emerge from something the right size and color to choke Snow White. And speaking of snow, what goes better with a subtropical flower than a coating of fake snow?
According to the label, the wax means that you don’t have to water the bulb at all. It also means that the bulb won’t be able to grow roots, and is doomed to the trash can as soon as the flowers fade.
What’s that you say? “A waxed bulb the color of Rudolph’s nose is pretty bad, but this is the land of inflatable snowmen and nativity scenes with Santa Claus adoring the baby Jesus. A certain lack of taste is expected during the holidays. Don’t you have anything worse?”
I actually picked up a couple of these to see if they were made of plastic. Nope, they’re real. Someone has dipped a variety of cacti and some Gasteraloe hybrids in paint. You can choose fluorescent red, blue, or a particularly nasty shade of blue-green. The painted leaf tips of the Gasteraloes are already shriveling, but the plants might eventually recover as new leaves emerge. The cacti are surely doomed. They’ve been completely covered, and I’m reminded of that scene in Goldfinger where Bond’s latest amour dies after being coated with gold paint.
Gentiana autumnalis, the pine barren gentian, is a lovely autumn to early winter flowering wildflower of the eastern coastal plain. It is native to moist, open pine woods from southern New Jersey to Georgia. In North Carolina, I have seen it blooming in longleaf pine savannna in Croatan National Forest. Like many of the plants in that ecosystem, it is dependent on fire. When fire is suppressed, growth of woody shrubs and deciduous trees soon chokes out the gentians, along with the orchids and carnivorous plants that grow in the same habitat.
My plant was purchased from the North Carolina Botanical Garden seven or eight years ago. I grow it in a mix of sand and peat in an 8″ (20 cm) diameter plastic pot sitting in a saucer of rain water. I give the plant very little fertilizer, and it blooms reliably in early November.
This week, I traveled to San Diego, California for a scientific conference. It was my first trip to San Diego–my first trip to anywhere in California, actually–so it was exciting to see a new part of the country. Even the flower beds around my hotel and the convention center were full of new and interesting things.
The meeting didn’t leave much time for sightseeing, but I managed to slip away one morning and take a bus up to Balboa Park, which houses the San Diego Zoo and a variety of gardens. I considered just wandering around the free areas of the park but eventually decided that I couldn’t miss the world famous zoo. That turned out to be the correct choice. In addition to being an amazing collection of endangered species (the zoo is famous for its captive breeding successes), the grounds are also a very fine botanical garden. The weather was cool, so the animals were active, and there were hardly any visitors. I had a good long visit with the pandas (red and giant), koalas, Tasmanian devils, komodo dragon, giant tortoises, okapis, elephants, jaguars, and many other animals, but I took more pictures of the plants.
Today being Saturday, here are six things that caught my eye in San Diego–garden related, of course.
1. Flowering trees.
November is clearly not the best time of year for blooming trees, but nevertheless, I saw some beautiful tropical and subtropical flowers.
2. Bird of Paradise flowers
Strelitzia reginae (bird of paradise) and Strelitzia nicolai (white bird of paradise) were growing (and blooming) all over town. S. reginae is my wife’s favorite flower, so when we were first married I tried growing some from seed. After fifteen years, I managed to get a only single flower from an enormous clump that took up a lot of real estate in the greenhouse, so I gave up. Clearly, flowering is not a problem when they are grown outside in San Diego.
3. The Botanical Building
The Botanical Building is a Balboa Park landmark that was originally built for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition. Before seeing it, I had assumed it was some sort of greenhouse or conservatory, but there is no glass involved. Instead, the Botanical Building is a giant lathe house, built of wooden strips that provide the perfect amount of shade and wind protection for palms, tree ferns, and other tropical/subtropical understory plants.
4. Australian plants
Callistemon ‘Woodlanders Hardy’ and one or two eucalyptus are the only Australian plants I know of that can be grown in North Carolina, and even those are marginal outside of the coastal plain. The climate of southern California is more similar to parts of Australia, so I wasn’t surprised to see a wider variety of plants from Down Under.
5. African and Malagasy plants
The zoo has a really impressive collection of succulents from Madagascar and southern Africa.
6. Hawaiian plants
I suppose the climate of Hawaii, particularly on the drier leeward side of the islands, must be not entirely unlike that of coastal San Diego County.
For more Six on Saturday, click over to The Propagator, where you will find his Six and links to other participants.