Take care of your garden
Just when we see our gardens moving into dormancy, a quick survey reveals a wealth of timely tasks. These are small-scale projects that might be overlooked, but nature demands to be done for good looks now and preparations for the coming season.
A complete list of seasonal tasks for all gardens could not be included here, but we urge all gardeners to prioritize ways to care for their gardens at this time of year. You could distribute the workload over the next several weeks, keeping in mind the annual cycles of the factories.
Today’s column features some (not all) of the stains found in my garden.
My garden bed of South African perennials includes a group of crinums. The genus includes 180 species called crinum lilies, cape lilies, spider lilies, or marsh lilies. Despite references to lilies, crinums are members of the amaryllis plant family, not the lily plant family.
Most crinum varieties bloom best in full sun and moist or even soggy soil (hence the name “swamp lily”), but species vary. My plants (crinum moorei), originally from South Africa, prefer partial shade and grow and flower well with minimal irrigation.
Crinums are related to the familiar “Naked Lady” plants (amaryllis belladonna), which are hysserant plants, i.e. leafless autumn-flowering geophytes, as we saw in the chronicle of the last week. In comparison, crinums are synanthe plants, meaning they have flowers and leaves at the same time.
Crinums are majestic plants. The bulbs (up to 8 inches in diameter) sit just below the soil surface, with a neck that rises 8 to 12 inches above the ground. Long, flat, dark green leaves (up to 36 inches long and 8 inches wide) emerge in a neck rosette, which in summer also produces a 4.5-foot-tall flower spike with a cluster of five to 10 large white to pale pink lily-like flowers, pleasantly scented.
In colder climates, these plants die to the ground in winter and sprout in spring like daffodils and tulips. At this time of year in the Monterey Bay area, the Crinums have finished blooming, and their leaves and stems have settled. In my garden, they now have to be pruned.
Mature bulbs will produce new stems as well as suckers. Now would be a good time to lift and divide the bulbs, replant them, or share them with other gardeners. Either way, they should be planted 4-6 feet apart to allow room for the bulbs to spread.
Growing Sweet Peas From Seed
Now is the time to plant sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), which are native to Sicily, southern Italy and the Aegean islands. Hybrid varieties offer flowers in a wide range of colors and color combinations. They do not have yellow flowers, despite hybridizers’ efforts to produce this flower color. (Blue roses and true red irises are equally elusive.) Sweet peas are prized as garden enhancements, cut flowers, and sources of attractive fragrance.
I grow the old variety, Lathyrus odoratus ‘Cupani’s Original’, which dates from the late 17th century. In addition to having a long heritage, this variety has a reliable growth and a particularly pleasant fragrance. I save the seeds every year and plant them where they can climb.
In the Monterey Bay area, sweet peas are fairly easy to grow from seed planted until November, to give them time to develop roots. They can also be planted in April or May.
These plants grow best with their buds in the sun and their roots deep in cool, moist soil. For the best display, dig a trench and fill it with well-rotted manure or compost six weeks before sowing the seeds. Sweet peas are greedy plants and need a healthy dose of nutrient-rich material to thrive. They have tendrils that wrap around a supporting structure, such as a trellis, netting, or other plant. They will bloom from late spring to early summer and appreciate protection from the summer heat.
For detailed advice on starting sweet peas indoors, visit the Renee’s Garden website (www.reneesgarden.com/blogs/gardening-resources/, click on “Growing From Seed” and scroll down to “Growing Sweet Peas” This page also includes a link to 28 varieties available from Renee’s Garden.
Propagating Agave From Bulbils
Two months ago, this section presented the flower stem of a variegated smooth agave (A. desmetiana ‘Variegata’). Its flowers have since faded and it has produced a fine crop of bulbils, which are miniature plants that grow along the flower stalk and eventually drop and root. When left to their own devices, the bulbils sprout easily if the young plants survive herbaceous predators.
This agave grows to a moderate size, about 3 x 3 feet, with attractive variegated leaves. I have neither the desire nor the space for a new colony of this plant, but by propagating the bulbils I could add some plants to my garden and offer some to other gardeners.
This plant is offered for sale online in a 4.5 inch container for $23, plus tax and shipping, so free plants would be an amazing bargain.
Improve your gardening knowledge
Plant and landscape photography is a popular practice for many gardeners. They use photos to document selected plants or garden areas as they develop, share horticultural successes with friends, or even progress into commercial photography.
With digital cameras, garden photography is practical and technically simple, but still aesthetically challenging. Experienced backyard photographers can provide tips, insights, techniques, and tips that could help you move from casual snaps to satisfying photographic art.
Last week’s column listed a webinar in which photographer Irwin Lightstone discussed “Capturing Plant Character in Your Photography”. The recorded webinar is available online at www.facebook.com/CactusAndSucculentSocietyOfAmerica/.
A particularly successful and prolific garden photographer, Saxon Holt, has an award-winning e-book, “Good Garden Photography”, which can be downloaded from his website, saxonholt.com. For more examples of his photography and “living books”, visit photobotanic.com/.
Youtube.com offers a wealth of information on garden photography. Search “iphone photography flowers” for links to many short presentations on this topic, by several different photographers.
To broaden your photographic skills, some sites, for example iphonephotographyschool.com, presented by Emil Pakarklis and Clifford Pickett, invite you to enroll in an online course in photography, covering a range of subjects and topics, going beyond plants and landscapes.
Enjoy your garden!
Tom Karwin is Past President of Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and the Monterey Bay Iris Society, Life Member of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and UC Life Master Gardener (certified 1999-2009). He is now a board member of the Santa Cruz Hostel Society and active with the Pacific Horticultural Society. To see daily photos of her garden, https://www.facebook.com/ongardingcom-566511763375123/. For information on gardening coaching and an archive of previous On Gardening columns, visit http://ongarding.com.