Tuesday, July 28, 2015

LEAST Favorite Plant Of The Month

I wandered the garden considering the "star" plant for July.  Is it the joyful Dahlia? 

 Perhaps the drought-denying Daylily?
Or the roses that have bounced back despite a tough spring? 
I realized that this month's obvious pick is not the favorite plant.  It's the least favorite.  The least favorite plant this July is string algae.  Hate, hate, hate string algae.  It's a weed for your pond.  I keep it under control by sticking a pole in the water and spinning it.  The filaments tangle around the pole and can then be pulled out of the pond. 
 I had to get into the pond Monday.  String algae had grown so fast, despite my twirling, the bottom drain became blocked.  This is what blocked it:  that solid wad of string algae.  Removing the wad meant getting into the pond and pulling the cover off the drain.  The cover protects small fish from getting sucked down the drain, and possibly larger fish from injuring themselves.  Koi are really good at injuring themselves. 

I had to empty the pond enough to be able to reach the bottom drain, clear out the drain, refill/dechlorinate the pond, restart the pumps.  Everything had to get done in a reasonable amount of time so the beneficial bacteria in the filters wouldn't die.  

I did it.  Wasn't particularly fun for any of us--me or the koi.  All of us were worried, for different reasons.  The koi were worried about getting eaten.  I was worried about fish poo, and the blocked drain, and being able to climb back out of the pond once I was in it, because it's fairly deep.  No stairs or ladder.  But I did it.  It was a hot sunny morning, and the pond water was--not warm, but tolerable.  Now it's done, and we're all relieved.
So feed us!  We're hungry!

 There is no need to think about a least favorite plant for August.  It will be string algae.  September?  String algae.  It will always be string algae.  The favorites?  They vary.  Check Danger Garden for some.

 I suspect the favorite plant here for August will be a Protea.   
Or two Proteas!
 We'll see.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Hotbed of Lawnlessness

I went to check on a lawnless front yard, blogged about in the past.  The property's neighborhood has become a hotbed of lawnlessness.   There, stone, plastic, and decomposed granite as lawn substitutes have achieved varying degrees of success.  

First up, a project still in progress.  Lawn removed, the space has become a thick layer of river rock over landscape fabric.  
The hellstrip is a row of Pittosporum tobira biscuits set into decomposed granite (DG).  Or are they Pittosporum cow pats?  Bit of rain wash out there at the bottom of the photo.  How would it look to continue the DG and cow pats up either side of the driveway?  Go Zen, if you are going to go Zen.
 Aiming for that Zen garden effect, based on the planter containing Equisetum hyemale.  Hopefully the bottom of that planter is fully concreted in.  Otherwise the river rock is going to be full of Equisetum in no time.  Did they run out of river rock, or is that corner going to be a different type of stone?  I'll have to go back and see.

 If not Equisetum, the stones may surely sprout Nassella aka Stipa tenuissima.  The next door neighbor has a stretch of them in an unkept attempt at water wisdom.  
At this point best to wait until autumn to repair or replant. 
 One door down some tired Osteospermum planted with a few odd plants:  a Polygala fruticosa that has seen better days, a Dasylirion that could look nice, and the Dreadful Dietes.
Next door to that, a very low juniper is starting to thatch up.  I wonder how tall it will eventually get.  Still looks nice, except for the cut they had to make to keep the sidewalk open. 
Next is one of the first lawnless yards I blogged about.  (Original post here.) Time has not improved it, but also not degraded it all that much.  It's not weedy, at least.  The Dymondia looks to have died, and a few more odd plants have been stuck in.  But, it's not weedy.  That's something, right?  If you are just driving by and not looking closely, it appears reasonably well cared for. 
 The hellstrip junipers are well on their way to blocking anyone parked from opening their curbside doors. 
 That black plastic edging, pushing out of the soil is dreadful, and why do they need it in the first place?  The lawn is gone.  And what's with the belt of different-colored mulch? 
This next attempt at lawnlessness was the one I wanted to check on--a large sloped expanse of DG.  See the original post here.  I wanted to see how much of the DG had been washed away by our recent July miracle rain.  There are more tufts of Nasella/Stipa than there were last visit.  The Euphorbia turicallii has grown rapidly.  I wonder if they know it's going to turn into a 30' tree. 
 Yes indeed the DG had been washed onto the sidewalk.  Someone had swept it all back into place.  That may get old if we get an El Niño winter. 
 There's going to be a lot more Nasella aka Stipa eventually, but probably not enough to hold the DG in place during heavy rain.
 The Parkinsonia has grown. 

The next property was also an early blog post on lawnlessness.  It was newly installed four years ago.  What has happened after four years?  The things that happened were about what I thought would happen:  the gorgeous tall yellow Anigozanthos would severely decline, although they were blooming splendidly as last as last spring.  Time to pull.

The hellstrip has been redone.  Originally a grid of blue fescue.  A row of Agave attenuata clumps should work for quite a few years.  Eventually opening the curbside door of a parked car will be an issue. 

 The Zoysia looked fairly good last year--it had filled in--but water restrictions show it isn't as drought tolerant as some claim.
 Considerable replacement here.   The blue fescue became blue Senecio mandraliscae.  The Senecio will be beautiful this winter, overgrown next summer, and then the brown goo phenomenon will commence.   
A large tree--Schinus terebinthifolius I think, no loss there--was removed from the other side of the driveway, and the grid of Fescue clumps are gone as well.  Some potted plants near the wall, apparently intended replacements for something, are near dead.  The neighbor planted a wall of Cypress along the property line.  Would have been good to take the stakes off...
 The hellstrip Agaves obviously offsets of these--good idea.  The Agaves are growing taller than the 'Little John' Callistemon--doesn't look right.  

This yard prompts one to ponder the idea of remaining true to the original design.  Why not replace short-lived plants with same, when the old ones are finished?  I can see both sides of the argument--why not look for a substitute that will be more successful? 
Please get rid of those Anigozanthos and find something better--or replace them with fresh specimens...please?   The Phormiums can go too now the Asparagus ferns have gotten size.  
 I thought this neighborhood investigation was complete, but lo!  The sparkle of artificial turf beckoned.
 I wonder if they stopped watering the tree.  Quite a wrap job around the trunk and surface roots.
 The tree roots (Cinnamomum camphora, a bad choice for a parkway tree) are pushing the sidewalk upwards.  I imagine before the artificial stuff went on, they were watering like crazy trying to keep the lawn green.  The tree of course got 99% of the water. 
Queen palms around the corner.  They'll regret those.  Each palm got its own pet rock or two. 
 The sign explains the artificial turf somewhat.  I'm not at all anti-artificial-turf, but it has drawbacks, like anything else.
 More plastic around the corner.  Small area, shady, fairly reasonable solution. 
  Two 'Natchez' Lagerstroemia on either side of the entranceway from the street.  Most of the front is a half-circle drive way
 Hodgepodge hellstrip. 
Ran out of budget here.

 Across the street from that, the most successful front garden of the tour, though not completely so. 
 A well designed yard.  The photos don't quite communicate that, but overall it looked great--lush but not out of control, agreed with the style of the home.  A top grade for design. 

 Yes, that's artificial lawn again.  Lots of tree shade, and this is the north side of the house, too.  With all the shade, the plastic sparkle was absent.  The latest/greatest artificial turfs look more natural, but they cost several times more than more astro-turfish types. 

Graceful curving design to everything.  Properly wide paths.  Lots of Dreadful Dietes, though.  They must have run out of budget when they got to plants.  Spent a lot on the artificial turf and specimen trees. 
Brighter/lighter color on the front door, so the entrance doesn't look so cave-like, wouldn't hurt. 
 Quite tall plants for a parkway, but three large spaces to make opening car doors possible.

 The real fail was proper plant maintenance.  Bunch grasses should be cut almost to the ground so the entire bunch can grow back afresh.  This is the standard "shaving brush" error, which, well....the tips don't grow back, guys. 
 The Cistus hasn't been sheared into a globe.  Yet. 
 The other parkway on this corner lot got artificial turf. 
 Same sidewalk, but the other side.  Looks good.  The other fail was some of the plant selections.  That might have been a budget issue.  These Melaleucas get big and coarse in time, and they are surface-rooted.  Perhaps the walls will keep them in check, perhaps they won't. 
 There were some good smaller trees, mostly 'Natchez' Lagerstroemia.
 The Westringia trimmed into buns--they look rather good that way.  The Lavenders were untrimmed and need to be replaced, making the redo two or three years old.  
 After this tour, I came away ever more convinced that a great design is easily damaged by poor maintenance, and that a marginal design is made better by great maintenance.  When it comes to a garden, care, love and skill show.  Where the no lawn vs. lawn really shows is in the water bill.  The learning curve on lawnlessness is there, and it will take a while for homeowners and gardeners to learn how to make a lawnless front garden look great.  In this particular neighborhood, some are getting close.