Monday, July 28, 2008

I'm Off. . .

I'm off to the wild blue yonder...also known as "The North Coast" and "behind the redwood curtain." Where the daytime highs hover around 60 degrees F, and fresh BBQ oysters are the favorite summertime meal. Where the collegiate baseball team is called the Humboldt Crabs, and agates are free for the picking between the wild surf and the Big Lagoon. Where Humboldt fog is a daily reality and the name of a scrumptious local cheese.

Stay cool friends, and I'll be back in a couple of weeks!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

It’s Monoecious!

One plant with two incomplete flowers: pistillate or “female” flowers and staminate or “male” flowers define a monoecious plant. (See this post about complete, or perfect, flowers.) I recently figured out that the reason that I wasn’t getting any fruit on my squash plant (Yes, singular---I have one plant growing in a large pot on my patio.) was that the flowers were typically only opening one at a time, lasting only a few hours, and that they were all female. Finally, on Monday, there were two flowers, one of each "sex", and lots of busy insects. Now I have one squash (heirloom scallop, Cucurbita pepo, from Botanical Interests, Inc). Whoo-hoo!

Although this sounds like pretty basic stuff (and me with a degree in horticulture, even!), it’s exactly the kind of thing you learn with experience or via a mentor. Nowhere on the otherwise informative seed packet did it say, “For best yields plant a minimum of three.” Or, “Single plants will have extremely low yields.” Or, “Not recommended for container gardening.” Corn is an example of a well known monoecious plant that always has planting instructions that include block or mass planting for improved pollentation.

Lesson learned? Plant more squash plants if you want a crop!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Perfectly Pink

Pink in July? It sounds like too soft and delicate of a color for the searing heat and harsh sunlight of mid-summer, but most of the pinks in my garden are strong and vibrant. Those that are a bit lighter add an illusion of coolness that is most welcome.

Above: poppy mallow, Callirhoe involucrata
Below: purple prairie clover, Dalea purpureum

Below: purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea
Below: pink Maltese cross, Lychnis spp.
Below: culinary leek, Allium spp.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Meet. . . Verbascum!

Two mulleins reside in my garden. Both plants have large, felt like leaves and yellow flowers that bloom along tall (up to 8 feet), candelabra type stalks. The common or flannel mullein (Verbascum thapsus), pictured above, is a common wildflower of the west. It blooms for a long time in mid-summer and provides sculptural interest in a naturalized garden. However, I much prefer its fancy “city cousin”, the giant silver mullein (Verbascum bombiciferum), pictured below. Something about the dense white “fur” that clothes the huge leaves and flower stalks is almost magical. Both of these plants are biennials; the first year produces the huge foliage rosette—often three to four feet in diameter---and the second year provides the flowers. Let these plants go to seed to keep their presence in the garden. Small seedlings can be easily transplanted or removed.
Verbascum bombiciferum

Total trivia: In the movie Pride and Prejudice (Focus Features/Universal, 2006), Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy have a brief conversation on the stone terrace of his estate, Pemberly. I’m not positive, but I think that the huge plant growing in the terrace floor is a giant silver mullein! (OK, OK, I’ll admit it. Yes, I own the movie and, yes, I’ve watched it more than once.)