Garden

Rubber plant left outside by shed, 2021

Dead Plant Growing

This rubber plant (Ficus elastica) is on Death Row. It was there all summer, but didn’t know it. The plant thought it was on a holiday, but nights are cooler now. In a month or two, there will be a clear night with frost, and the rubber plant will die.

Rubber plant left outside by shed, 2021
Doomed rubber plant awaiting a killing frost.

The plant has a history. It is a clone (via many cuttings and air layering) of one acquired by my mother at least sixty years ago, maybe more. Every house she lived in (and my parents moved a lot) had a rubber tree in the living room. Mom liked the leaves, which could grow to two feet long while remaining relatively narrow. Maybe that’s why she put up with the plant’s growth habit in suboptimal conditions–a single stem that eventually threatened to scrape the ceiling, or acquired an ungainly lean. At that point it would be decapitated, and the cut off piece would be rooted to make a new plant. Meanwhile, the original put out a branch at right angles to the stem, which made it look like a gibbet with leaves.

Rubber plants grown in their preferred conditions look much better. (Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com)

Eventually, Mom got rid of her rubber tree. By that time she lived in a small apartment and had also acquired a fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata), which she liked better than the rubber plant. It certainly looked better. But by then I also had a clone of the rubber plant. It wasn’t welcome in our living room, which at the time hosted two big weeping figs (Ficus benjamina), so it was relegated to what became my writing room in the basement. It’s a low-ceilinged room, and while it’s south-facing, there really isn’t enough sun for the rubber plant. So said plant ended up looking like a gibbet for gnomes. Mind you, it was present while I wrote my first novel and several others.

My mother died in October of 2018. Although I was tired of the rubber plant, which was not doing well, I felt obliged to keep it going in her memory. By this summer, the plant really was a thing of ugly. I decided that rather than watch its slow decline, I would put it outside and let the first frost kill it decisively.

Of course, with more light and lots of summer heat, the rubber plant grew new leaves, which reminded me why my mom liked the plant in the first place. But its proportions haven’t improved; if anything, the extra foliage has made it even more of a hulking mess. It wouldn’t be easy to find a spot for it in its old quarters, and it would likely go into a decline again over the winter. So it’s now on Death Row.

As a gardener, I feel a certain amount of guilt about this. If the rubber plant were a cat or dog that just happened to look old and scruffy, I wouldn’t be planning its demise, would I? On the other hand, gardeners rip out and kill healthy weeds without compunction. Maybe it’s because this is a house plant, and of course there’s that connection with my mother.

I thought about propagating a new plant. Unlike animals, plants are sort of immortal in that new clones can be created through cuttings or tissue cultures. The best way to make a new rubber plant is a technique called air layering. You cut partway through a branch and wrap the cut area with sphagnum moss, making sure to keep the cut open. Wrap plastic around the moss and stem and keep the moss damp. Roots grow in several weeks, at which point the new plant may be removed and potted up. My current plant was produced this way, and its predecessor dispatched. I blogged about that HERE.

The trouble is that under the same suboptimal growing conditions that produced ugly specimens before, a new rubber plant would be no different. Watching my various rubber plants looking less than beautiful was not a happy experience, so I’ve decided it’s time to bid Ficus elastica a fond farewell.

Back garden August 2021

Summer’s Finale: Rose, Lily, Dahlia

Fall (autumn) is almost here. We have had actual rain in the past week, and more is predicted. I am no longer a slave to the hose and watering can.

Here are some photos from August, which is usually a dismal month in the garden–tired, seedy, and dry. This year, despite the heat dome of June and hardly any rain, the scene was blessed by three plants: the rose “Fragrant Cloud,” happy in its new big pot, two plants of the dahlia “Bishop of Llandaff” (also in pots), and a couple of late-blooming white lilies (grown in half-barrels). That’s the secret: pots (and the gardener with the watering can).

Rose "Fragrant Cloud" August 2021
Rose "Fragrant Cloud" August 2021
Rose "Fragrant Cloud" August 2021
White lily closeup August 2021
White lily and pink African violet indoors August 2021
Dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff" August 2021
Dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff" closeup August 2021
Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum) and yellow leaf August 2021
Fall begins. Autumn arrives.
Red and green tomatoes, August 2021

Growing Tomatoes, Part 4

After nurturing the seedlings and young plants, potting out, eluding both early and late blight, and lots of watering, it’s time for the reward–vine-ripened tomatoes.

Green tomatoes, August 2021

Some gardeners adopt a practice I gather is used in commercial greenhouses–removing all or most of the foliage from the tomato plants once they’ve set enough fruit. The thinking is there is no further purpose for the leaves, and some of them may be yellowing, so off they come. I’ve never done this. At this stage I do cut the tops off the plants because there’s no point in encouraging them to bloom and set new fruits that will never amount to much before season’s end. I may clip off leaves that are shading fruit clusters, but that’s about it. And I reduce watering to every other day instead of daily. More about the foliage removal issue may be found HERE.

Red, orange, and green tomatoes, August 2021

Then it’s just a matter of harvesting the tomatoes as they ripen. If cold and rain arrive while there are still green tomatoes, I pick them all and ripen them in the house. I wash the green tomatoes in soapy water, rinse and let them dry, and then set them out on trays and keep an eye on them. I’ve had home grown tomatoes as late as Christmas time using this technique.

Red tomatoes, August 2021

If I have enough red tomatoes at once, I make salsa. Here is how I do it: Cut up 4, 6, 8, or however many tomatoes you have for the purpose. I chop them up quite finely because I don’t remove the skins. Put tomatoes in a pot and add one finely chopped nectarine. Simmer on medium heat, uncovered, until the consistency suits you. In the meantime, mince an onion and several garlic cloves, as well as whatever kind of hot pepper you prefer. Including the pepper seeds increases the hotness, so discard them if you prefer a mild salsa. Saute the onion, garlic, and pepper in olive oil until limp but not browned and add to the tomato mixture in the pot. Add a teaspoon or so of salt and simmer until it looks right. If you like cilantro, chop up a handful and add it after removing the salsa from the stove. Allow to cool, and enjoy with whatever type of corn chip you prefer. Keeps well in the fridge (but that’s not usually an issue).

Notes: I prefer a cooked salsa to uncooked. The texture is better and the flavours blend together more thoroughly than if left raw. Adding the nectarine was something I tried on impulse a couple of years ago. It improves the flavour, in my opinion, but it is optional. Finally, I have nothing against cilantro, but don’t usually have any on hand, so it’s optional for me.

Back garden end of June 2021

Strange and Wonderful

We’re roasting through another heat wave on the west coast. Here are sights from the garden in July and so far in August. First the strange…

Rose "Fragrant Cloud" bloom bleached by sun during June 2021 heat wave
Flower of rose “Fragrant Cloud” bleached by the late June heat wave.
This is “Fragrant Cloud’s” normal colour
Battarrea phalloides mushroom with trowel for size comparison July 2021
The weird dryland mushroom Battarrea phalloides is back again this summer. (The trowel is there as a size comparison. It’s about 8 in. or 20 cm.)
Borage flowers from above July 2021
Borage flowers viewed from above. Sort of an art nouveau effect, I think.
Windblown cloud or maybe contrail July 2021
A wind-sculpted cirrus cloud (or maybe a contrail.)

And now the wonderful…

Borage flowers July 2021
Borage flowers
White Lychnis coronaria and Beach Pea (Lathyrus japonicus) June 2021
White Lychnis coronaria and beach pea (Lathyrus japonicus). Two quasi-weeds having a moment.
Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum) and orange daylily
This Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum) has outdone itself again this summer.
Heuchera "Timeless Orange" with leaves coloured cream, yellow, orange, and red
Heuchera “Timeless Orange” showing leaf colours other than orange.
Pink oriental lily from mixed batch August 2021
Another lily from the impulse buy mixed bag of bulbs.
Dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff" August 2021
Dahlia “Bishop of Llandaff.” The flowers glow wonderfully just about sunset, but the camera doesn’t pick that up as well as I’d like.
Pink dahlia flowers August 2021
The Nameless Dahlia in fine form.

That’s it for now. Tomatoes are ripening; with luck they won’t roast on the vine.

Pink hydrangea in foreground, blue in background July 2021

Nature and Nurture: the Colours of Hydrangea

These are blooms of Hydrangea macrophylla normalis, otherwise known as lacecap hydrangea.

Blue lacecap hydrangea July 2021
Pink lacecap hydrangea, grown from cutting in pot July 2021

The pink one is a clone of the blue one, grown from a cutting. The difference is that the plant with blue flowers is growing in the natural soil in my garden (supplemented with compost, fertilizer, and lots of water), while the pink one lives in a pot. The soil in the pot is a blend of natural soil, compost, various supplements, and lime. It may have been left over from the mix I put together for tomato plants the year I potted up the hydrangea cutting. The key difference is lime. I add extra lime to tomato soil to avoid so-called blossom end rot in the tomatoes. It’s caused by calcium deficiency, hence the need for lime.

According to Wikipedia, “An acidic soil (pH below 7) will usually produce flower color closer to blue, whereas an alkaline soil (pH above 7) will produce flowers more pink. This is caused by a color change of the flower pigments in the presence of aluminum ions which can be taken up into hyperaccumulating plants.”

Blue lacecap hydrangea July 2021
Pink lacecap hydrangea July 2021

Either way, hydrangeas perk up the garden, which starts to look tired by July. The flowers last for weeks, and even retain “interest” into the winter (meaning they hang on in a discoloured state, which may be somewhat interesting). I admit I prefer the blue colour, which is why I go out of my way to supply water to the plant starting in June, because it would bloom poorly or not at all otherwise. But seeing the pink flowers on the potted cutting-grown plant (which bloomed for the first time this year) has been a nice demonstration of nature and nurture.

Lily "Golden Splendour" July 2021

Lovely Lilies

Lily season is drawing to a close here. When “Golden Splendour” bloomed several weeks ago, I decided there was no point in taking photos again, because I already have many from previous years. But I couldn’t resist.

Lily "Golden Splendour" July 2021
Lily "Golden Splendour" July 2021
Lily "Golden Splendour" July 2021
Lily "Golden Splendour" July 2021
"Golden Splendour" lily front garden with mulleins in background July 2021

On impulse, I bought a bag of unnamed mixed lily bulbs in spring. Here is one of them.

Pale yellow lily with dark brown stamens July 2021

I only wish it were possible to include the fragrance of these lilies in the post!

Chicory and fennel on boulevard

Beautiful Weeds

Back in June we went for a drive around our region, and returned via a ferry that crosses a local water body. The crossing takes less than half an hour, but we had to wait quite a bit longer than that for the next scheduled sailing. During that wait I took a couple of photos of roadside weeds, because I thought they were beautiful.

Dock plant, maybe Rumex occidentalis near Mill Bay ferry June 2021
Dock plant (maybe Rumex occidentalis?) with Himalayan blackberry and grasses in bloom behind it
Grasses and other roadside weeds near Mill Bay ferry, June 2021
Assorted grasses, Himalayan blackberry, and buttercups

Don’t these scenes look gardenesque? I’ve thought for a long time that an aesthetically pleasing garden may be made of any plants, even weeds. The blackberry is an alien invasive of the worst kind here (never mind that it produces delicious berries). Dock is also a weed, and I suspect those lovely grasses are as well. Buttercups are pretty, but many gardeners labour mightily to weed them from their lawns.

Some of the most dependable plants in my garden are quasi-weeds. I’ve blogged about them many times. Gardeners who welcome weedy plants must learn how to manage them. Diligent deadheading is the key for the ones that seed abundantly. Weedy plants that spread underground by roots or runners are really best avoided.

I actually have a small area that comes close to being a garden of weeds. It’s part of the municipal boulevard. The lawn grass there was pretty pathetic, and deteriorated to the point it was an eyesore. So I introduced a few plants I had admired while biking to work on a trail parallel to a highway–chicory, Queen Anne’s lace, and California poppies. I let the existing grass grow and trimmed it manually when it started to look tired. A couple of plants found elsewhere in the garden ended up there too–a white campion, a bronze fennel, a couple of mulleins, and a small plant of Erysimum “Bowles Mauve.” Sometimes I think the whole project was a mistake, but in the right light, it can look fairly good.

Boulevard Project with Mullein July 2021
The “Boulevard Project” weed garden

I think weed gardens work only if all the plants in them are weeds, equally tough and equally rustic looking. Introducing a few tough plants into regular borders can be effective, but the gardener has to keep a close eye on them. And some weeds have no place in civilized gardens–those blackberries, for example, and any form of bindweed. Horsetails too are wonderfully architectural and different, but I understand they spread relentlessly and are nearly impossible to dig up.

horsetail
Image by Analogicus from Pixabay

All this leads to a conclusion: plants are plants. Some are beautiful. Some are weedy. The gardener observes and selects, makes mistakes and learns (usually in a bent-over position, clutching a spade).

Tomato flowers against brown fence

Growing Tomatoes Part 3

I have heard of gardeners who manage to harvest their first ripe tomato by the Fourth of July. All I can say is these folks must have optimal conditions and superb techniques to achieve this feat. Either that or they’re lying.

I’m happy if any of my plants have visible tomatoes by the beginning of July.

Tomato plants half grown in June

My plants spend most of June just growing to the maximum size their pots allow. I encourage this by making sure they never dry out. I also remove any unwanted side-shoots that appear in the leaf axils. This gets tricky once the plants are a foot or two in height, because the stems inevitably bend a bit. A couple of mine managed to do some sneaky branching.

At some point the plants start blooming.

Tomato flowers close-up

No one grows tomatoes for their flowers, but viewed closely, they are bright and cheery. Their purpose is to turn into tomatoes, however, so I hope they are visited by pollinators. The wait is agonizingly slow, especially if the weather is cool (not a problem this summer!) I’ve even been known to fluff around with a little paintbrush to help things along.

Tomato plants with flowers and small green fruits in July
Small green tomatoes on plants in July

This plant’s flowers have obviously been visited by bees or other insects. Those golf-ball sized tomatoes will expand over the next couple of months and eventually turn into luscious red globes (and salsa!)

Not yet, but eventually!

The only jobs for the gardener now are to keep watering, remove side shoots, and maybe apply some sort of fertilizer. Not a high nitrogen type, however; no need to encourage more leaf growth. I’ve heard that when it rains, it’s a good idea to cover the plants with a tarp or something of the sort to prevent blight. We haven’t had a drop of rain in nearly a month, and none in sight, so I guess I don’t have to worry about blight, either early or late.

Peach-leaved bellflower Campanula persicifolia

Apology to Peach-Leaved Bellflower

Years ago, after spending a couple of hours digging out the running roots of a badly-placed plant of peach-leaved bellflower (Campanula persicifolia), I wrote this blog post, in which I called it a “garden enemy,” and got its name wrong too. It’s “peach-leaved,” not “peach-leaf.” I was quite the opinionated little snark about it too, as shown in my response to one of the comments.

Peach-leaved bellflower Campanula persicifolia

Since then, I’ve made my peace with this campanula, and have come to recognize its value, especially in this garden where dry summers, light soil, and lots of shade make growing fussier plants a challenge. For someone who not only tolerates but encourages quite a few semi-weeds, I really had no business lambasting Campanula persicifolia.

Peach-leaved bellflower Campanula persicifolia

Luckily, plants don’t bear grudges for poor reviews, and peach-leaved bellflower is still with me. It pops up reliably in several spots around the garden, and occasionally surprises me by appearing in new places. And in new colours–different shades of lavender-blue and occasionally white.

White peach-leaved bellflower Campanula persicifolia "Alba"
Peach-leaved bellflower Campanula persicifolia flowers and hellebore foliage
Popping up through hellebore foliage

Find out more about peach-leaved bellflower HERE.

Weird light at sunset. Orange light due to wildfire smoke.

Hot and Hotter

The western part of North America is experiencing record-breaking temperatures, approaching 40C (100+F) on the south coast of Vancouver Island. This is an unprecedented weather situation caused by a blocked ridge of high pressure that is predicted to hang around until Tuesday.

We have become cellar-dwellers, including Nelly the dog. Newfoundlands don’t like it hot.

Nelly the Newfoundland dog

You can imagine what I’m doing when not lurking in the basement to cool off.

oscillating garden sprinkler fan shaped spray watering
Image from Pixabay
pink watering can

If I’m less visible on the usual blogs for a few days, it’s because I’ve wilted.