Friday, July 27, 2012

Eastern Conference Additions Sansevieria

People love to abuse Sansevierias. I can't tell you how many of these I find abandoned in the park every year. Its an embarrassing number. It seems to me that people just love to hate them. Sanseverias are such architectural plants that require little care and produce beautiful specimens with very little upkeep. In general, they are easy to propagate and come in so many beautiful varieties that the houseplant trade is only finally starting to recognize.

I get why people seem to dislike sansevierias, they're boring, you don't have to baby them, the flowers aren't too showy. But when you're gardening full time and living in tight quarters, the appeal of sanseverias take on an entire new playing field.

I guess my interest in them really started about a year and a half ago when my co-gardener gave me one of those Saneveria cylindricas that have been pretty popular in containers around the city. It wasn't in great shape and I can only boast one added leaf since I acquired it from him. Around the same time I checked out the Sansevieria trifasciata that I propagated in college and found that it had really started taking off and it had flowered.

I checked out some other varieties on Glasshouseworks, saw that there were so many awesome different forms. I saw some of Longwood garden's giant sansevierias in their silver garden. I read this excellent book (you should read it here for free). And next thing I knew, I had purchased 2 dwarf varieties at the Philly flower show and found myself looking for other varieties.

Hooked again.. drat.

At some point I had noticed Sansevieria pinguicula and I just couldn't believe it wasn't an agave. I love agaves and now I love sansevierias. It seemed like a match made in heaven. Sansevieria pinguicula is often referred to as the walking sansevieria since it does something unique among sansevieria, it produces stolons instead of rhizomes. The rooting habit gives the plant the illusion of growing on stilts.

This one is taking some baby steps.

Pinguicula means fat, referring to the plant's fleshy leaves. The leaves of pinguicula contain the deepest stomata of any Sansevieria and they are still exceedingly rare in the trade.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Eastern Conference Additions Ibervillea

I can finally go into this without embarrassment since I can confirm that I did not kill one of the plants I bought at the Eastern Conference.

The Ibervillea tenuisecta I bought looked like it had just come out of dormancy and it defoliated as soon as I repotted. Needless to say,  I didn't have high hopes for its survival with no roots and no leaves. Luckily I was premature in my assessment, just take a look at this baby now.

 I need to find some sort of support for it because it is trying to grab hold of every nearby object in the apartment. I haven't grown Ibervillea before but I was surprised to see that it is native to the Americas (United States even). It is a cucurbet, I guess I should have known. USDA lists it as native to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. I've been impressed so far. The common name, Slimlobe Globeberry, is something that I'm never going to call it, but it is nice to have some native succulents for once. Most of my collection is South African.

 It's a long way from becoming one of those adorable flat disks that fat plants shows. I'm more than willing to wait.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Parterre and the dangers of formality

M: They want something more formal.
S: Formal?
M: Formal with lots of annuals.
S: Parterre?
M: I'm sure that's what they're trying to communicate.

Be forewarned, this is a multifaceted post.
A parterre is a formal garden consisting of planting beds that are edged in stone or tightly clipped hedges and gravel paths arranged to form a pleasing, usually symmetrical pattern. The parterre was developed in France in the 16th century by Claude Mollet, the founder of a dynasty of nurserymen-designers that lasted deep into the 18th century. His work consisted of  developing patterned compartimens, simple interlaces formed of herbs, either open and infilled with sand or closed and filled with flowers.
So now that you know what we set out to make. A 20 x 44 ft mass of annuals and a monoculture of shrubs in a spot that has three trees and uneven light. We pulled out all of the existing plantings, put in some edging, and regraded with compost.

I drew up some rough sketch of what I had in mind and then we pulled out the grid paper and started designing. We decided to use boxwoods and barberry as the foundation. Both will tolerate the shade and barberry will provide some color (though I swore I. wouldn't plant any in this park.. damn, eating my words already). From there I check the availability. Two varieties of barberry were available one got big, one maxed out at 2 feet. I went with that one. From there, I looked into boxwoods of a similar size and in appropriate amounts, that was number two.

Then the graph paper came in. Figure out the average max size for the shrubs and their current size and grid them out appropriately. Now you'll know how many to order and what your square footage of annuals or gravel will be. Next we had to check on the availability of annuals and see what annuals would cover about 200 sq feet of blank space.

Lastly, all the plants had to be installed. 4 of us installed all of the shrubs in an afternoon and the annuals went in the next morning. Installing everything at the end of July is not the best time for planting so I'm sure we'll have some die back as the site isn't irrigated.

But here's the finished product.

 So now that we have a parterre, let's look at why this post is titled as it is. From a maintenance perspective on this site, this project is an absolute nuisance. Not only is the project being planted at the same time, but it has no irrigation and it has uneven light. I can try to water all I can but there will inevitably be some losses. My time frame for watering at this site is limited as well so that makes sprinkler use a little more challenging. Uneven light promotes uneven growth, so I look forward to having to trim the southen end of this planting much more than I'll cut the northern end. This area is fairly high maintenance to begin with. There is a restaurant right behind it and it always seems as though I'm pulling out napkins and straw wrappers out of some hedge.

Plantings like this are very expensive. I suppose for most, the initial planting is really the most costly. This design had over 120 boxwoods, 82 barberry, 1 japanese maple, and a ton of annuals. The perennial material alone is expensive at wholesale. Adding annuals just increases the yearly cost of upkeep. With that being said, perennial material or hardscape can certainly substitute certain areas. Perennial bulbs will be added to this site in the fall.

There's also some specialized labor costs associated with these plantings. The woody framing of this planting is really what gives it character. These shrubs need to be pruned properly to keep them dense and at their proper size. Many people think they know how to shear hedges.. they're often wrong. Also boxwoods are susceptible to boxwood blight so be on the look out for signs of that.

Lastly, animals, specifically dogs can cause major damage to these plantings. Many people allow their dogs to pee on any surface in the city. Not only does this blow my mind for sanitary issues but it is horrible for keeping lower foliage on shrubs. If you allow your animal to do this, please stop. You're allowing your dog to pour salt on something that I spend a lot of time caring for. (salt is bad for plants)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fire! What I do in my free time!

In my free time I like to play with fire. I've gotten questions about this from several people who I know read this blog so I figured I'd share some videos. There will be a lengthy plant post on Friday morning, be prepared. 




Saturday, July 7, 2012

Squirrel Rant

I just wanted to take a moment and show damage from one of my biggest urban pests: squirrels. I hate squirrels with a passion these days. They dig up bulbs, plants, and fences. They eat random plants for no reason, even if they don't like it, they'll take a bite of each flower, bulb, or plant. They girdle our hollies every year. They're morbidly obese in our park, feeding off of tourists and mayonnaise packets. (Yes, its gross). They spend all day nibbling on our irrigation lines, pulling trash out of cans, and sitting on the shoulders of tourists.

I can no longer plant any edible ornamentals. Cabbage and Kale are out of the question for any fall display.  All bulbs need to be double layered in chicken wire to prevent the squirrels from digging them up. I can't plant any annuals in six packs or generally anything less than 8inch.

And realistically this is just the start of their issues. Part of being an animal in a contained urban environment with too much food is that the squirrels breed quickly producing many generations from the same parents. This eventually leads to serious inbreeding and mutations that I have to face as a park worker every day. We have squirrels missing parts, having tumors, squirrels that don't know how to actually climb from limb to limb. Squirrels that walk up to red tailed hawks like they might have food for them.

There is something seriously unnatural about that sort of thing.

The worst part about it is that everyone is an animal lover. Everyone wants to save the squirrels. As an American, I am baffled by my fellow citizens. Over 40 million Americans said that they did not have access to healthcare that they needed in 2005. How can we find this acceptable for our fellow human beings while pretending that we are showing some noble compassion for a creature that is supposed to be able to navigate trees without falling out and can't because they are too fat. I saw a hawk try to carry one off the other day and couldn't. Hawks can generally carry prey at weights up to a pound and a half. I'm pretty grossed out by the prospect of a 2 pound squirrel. Our hawk isn't small either.

 ugh.. way to keep your irrigation running.