Monday, July 29, 2013

Thinking outside of the Zone - Part 1

Part One - Tree Treasures of Emeralds and Silvers

George Mallory was once asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest so much, his response was because it was there!  Sadly his quest ended on the high slopes of Everest, but it's fair to say that us human beings enjoy pushing the envelope and its no different in the garden, albeit safer.

I have for a while been suffering with a case of  jungle fever, craving to grow those plants with big dramatic leaves, but in my zone 7 garden.  My zone denial causes me to constantly push the envelope, much like George Mallory, to prove that plants will tolerate the unthinkable.

Eucalyptus neglecta - Boca Joe
A while back, I eagerly accepted an invitation to visit a garden in Northern Virginia created by a fellow jungle fever victim.  The creator this garden goes by the alias of Panama John and we were also joined by my invitee, Boca Joe.  Both men are self confessed 'zone pushers', looking to prove that many subtropical plants can and will flourish in cooler locations.  All the plants that I would see in Panama John's garden are given little if no shelter during the winter and all grow in the ground. Johns tough love approach really tested these plants and most of what I saw had been growing for at least 5-6 years old if not more.  A sign that many plants are actually more resilient than what we think.

Myself with Panama John next to
a 19 year Eucalyptus neglecta
What first grabbed my attention when approaching his garden was the beautiful cloud of smoky blue foliage from the evergreen Australian Omeo Gum,  Eucalyptus neglecta.  I have a fondness for Gum trees and this is one I have growing in my own garden for the better part of 3 years now.  Johns tree had been growing for much longer and later on my visit they took me to a garden near by to see a tree that has been growing for 19 years plus.  The large rounded leaves of this Gum emit a strong but pleasurable fragrance that hangs in the air.  Apart from the Omeo Gum, John also had another hardy kind called the Snow Gum, Eucalyptus pauciflora ssp debeuzevillei. More upright in growth, this tree was encroaching the upper windows of his house in the backyard.

Eucalyptus pauciflora ssp debeuzevillei
With all these towering gums to look up and stare at it would of been ease to miss one of the smaller ones if its shining silver foliage didn't catch your eye.   Eucalyptus pulverulenta 'Baby Blue', is a staple of the florist industry and used as a foliage accent in flower arrangements.  The round silver-dollar like foliage appears stacked along its stem and presents a different foliage texture useful in plant combinations in containers.  Many people don't realize that in most cases it will survive the winters to make a shaggy bold statement in any garden.  Panama Johns plant was still a young juvenile but already had the sex appeal that makes it popular in the trade..

Live Oak, Quercus virginiana
Apart from the 'Euc's' or Gum trees there were a couple of other trees well worth a mention.  Balancing the front yard on the opposing corner to the first Eucalyptus, was one of our American South's most endearing trees, the Live Oak, Quercus virginiana.  I had always been told that Live Oaks wouldn't survive here, but this one was flourishing dispelling the myth.  Some might say it was a fluke, but within a stones throw was another one growing just as strong.  Being an evergreen tree I had expected to see reminisce of winter injury on its foliage but was assured that it prevails with little harm.

A young Chinese Bamboo Oak, Quercus myrsinifolia
My last tree I was introduced was a mature Chinese Bamboo Oak, Quercus myrsinifolia, growing in the same garden where I was taken to to see the mature Omeo Gum.  This was my first encounter with this rarely seen but fully hardy evergreen Oak to zone 7.  This handsome, well proportioned fellow made me wonder why I hadn't seen it being utilized more in the trade.  Instead, it hides deep within reference books as just a small listing. Admittedly, the Live Oaks popularity and frequent use in Southern landscapes overshadows any one's quest to find alternatives, but the Live Oaks behemoth size restricts its use to only large landscapes.   Alternatively, the Chinese Bamboo Oak offers a fantastic opportunity for smaller urban gardens where it can be utilized as screening tree while being admired for its stately appearance.  Now all I have to do it train some squirrels to pilfer acorns in fall so we can start a evergreen revolution.

Chinese Bamboo Oak, Quercus myrsinifolia
Boca Joe
In Part Two, I'll take you to the tropical jungles of Northern Virginia to expose the myth of some surprising plants.  Trust me, your life will never be the same so say tuned!

Follow this link to read Part Two - Palm Trees without the Ocean Breeze or part Three - Into the Jungles of Northern Virginia

What to read more about Zone Pushing, here's Panama John's and Boca Joe's publication through the Virginia Extension Service

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In Memory - Bebe the dog

Whoever coined the phrase that 'a mans best friend is his dog' wasn't far wrong.  Today I said goodbye to my best friend and companion, 'Bebe'.

Having a dog had always been a boyhood dream of mine.  It was only later in life, when all the stars and planets all aligned that I could make a dream it a reality.  Nearly 13 years ago, Bebe the dog came and joined our young but growing family.

Waiting by the window
Bebe came from a small dog rescue who had it turn saved her from a kill shelter in West Virginia.  In our first meeting with Bebe she was bulldozing over all the other dogs as she ran around.  She was borderline in size to what the rescue group would save but fortunately did.  Her name was inspired from one of my wife's co-workers, a slight woman who wore leather pants, smoked pencil thin cigarettes and called everyone "Bebe" in an Omar Sharif way.  For some reason it stuck which was strange as she had a funny look about her coupled with a snaggle tooth.

We had decided to adopt an adult dog while still living in an apartment.  A safe move when you don't know how house broken a dog is.  Getting a puppy seemed like a lot of work when both of us worked, so an adult dog made more sense.  Our fears were soon put to rest as Bebe moved in.  She rarely had accidents and got along with our 3 other cats we had adopted whilst living in Arizona. We never really did know how old she was and best guess placed her at around 15-16 before her passing.

Bebe was a extremely  laid back dog with an easy going temperament and spent many a day laying upside down on the sofa.  Just like in the TV show's, 'Its me or the Dog', I got into a lot of trouble for showing Bebe plenty of attention.  However, with successful training I managed to redistribute my time evenly between all the pets but made sure my wife got the lion's share.

As life progressed we added another two kittens to our furry herd and later two children.  All through this Bebe remained patient and tolerant to all the changes.  Even when my children would chase her around, she would be gentle, only resulting in a bark or small nip when the playing got a little rough.  She had a liking to the children's Crayons which were always being left out.  Of course the surprize of picking up dog poo with what looked like rainbow sprinkles mixed in was a giveaway to her crimes.  We did finally managed to buy a house with a good sized garden that she enjoyed patrolling.  It goes without saying that we decided to lay her to rest in the back garden that she guarded so well from the rabbits and squirrels.

As age ticked by she developed cloudy eyes and would miss the local wildlife infringing on the garden.  Also gone was her hearing, probably a result of having two noisy children.  Her face took on that white shadowing you often see in old dogs and her walks were reduced to just short runs around the neighborhood.  I found the walks to be valuable in clearing my head.  It was almost meditative.   For example, whilst working on finishing our basement, I would often come up with solutions to problems as she dragged me around the block.  I'm sure the worlds problems could be fixed if everyone found time to take a dog on a long walk.

Now our time has come to part ways.  My faithful pal, gardening bud and 'thinking' dog is on her way to doggy heaven.  She has made me a better person by making me step back and think whilst we walked everywhere.  Though the common saying is 'rest in peace' I believe shes had enough of that.  Hopefully she has found her legs again and is raising cane, chasing squirrels up in heaven.

Goodbye my sweet girl.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Bee Gone

In April of this year I wrote a post highlighting the plight of our bee populations and risk of using certain garden chemicals. Since then the news networks have been a 'buzz' on the same topic.  Though I would like to think it was because of my post, in reality the chemicals under scrutiny have been doing their own publicity although negative publicity.

A recent news story in Total Landscape Care, an industry online magazine, reported an incident of a mass killing of around 50,000 bumblebees out of Wilsonville, Oregon.  An investigation found that a landscape company had sprayed 65 European Lindens in a parking lot with a neonicotinoid based chemical called Dinotefuran, an active ingredient in product called Safari.  The reason behind the treatment was to control aphid populations which fed off the sweet sap in the leaves.  Though the aphids are not too damaging by itself, often spurring a population increase of ladybugs, a natural predator of aphids, it was the honeydew dripping on parked cars that sparked the lethal application. 

Unfortunately, the timing of the application coincided with the flowering time of the Lindens.  These nectar rich blossoms draw in extremely large numbers pollinators and from the estimated 50,000 bumblebees killed, its believed to of wiped out 300 wild colonies.  To be fair to the manufacturer of Safari, they make it clear not to spray the product during the flowering period of the intended crop.

Well, Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) is taking the matter very seriously and the treated trees were covered in nets to prevent further kill offs. I'm sure the company responsible of spraying the trees will be punished accordingly but is this enough?  However, shouldn't the bigger question be why we have these chemicals to start with, and more so, why are they available in garden stores for anyone to use?  I've met many customers who wouldn't blink an eye over spraying what they see is a nuisance.  By making these chemicals available to homeowners to rid themselves of their phobia, it is no different than the professional applicator in Oregon who should've known better.

Just last year, Scotts Miracle Gro was fined $12.5 million in penalties from distributing lethal bird food contaminated with insecticides, to reduce pest damage in stored seed.  Through an investigation it was discovered that three rogue Scotts employees took it upon themselves to add the insecticide to the seed without company knowledge, the courts felt differently about the responsibilities.  Should this same approach apply with the manufacturer of the product as well as the applicator?

Europe has already banned neonicotinoid until a full study can be concluded as to its effects on bee populations.  Surely, we here in America should follow suit until we fully understand how this group of chemicals impacts on our environment.  However, by doing so maybe an acknowledgement of guilt upon the EPA for approving its use.  They are in the process of being sued by a coalition of beekeepers for not properly studying the effects of Neonicotinoids before approving its use.  Instead the EPA based its approval  on biased results from the manufactures research instead of carrying out its own independent study.

In more recent news, the ODA announced that it was implementing an 180-day temporary restriction on products containing dinotefuran until a complete investigation could be carried out.  This restriction will affect both professional applicators as well as homeowners.  But, just when you thought a government body might be growing big enough balls to safeguard our environment they backpedaled to remind us that these chemicals are important tools in defending our plants from destructive insect pests.  My guess is that they hope after 180 days we'll all be distracted by all the going on's of the Kardashians than to take much time to care about what helps put food on our plates.

Just imagine the outcry over losing 'Honeybuns' because theres no more bees left to make the honey.  Think I'm crazy?  Remember the panic when Hostess (the makers of Twinkies) shutdown production?  Thats right, process food buying frenzies!