Tuesday, December 29, 2015

New photoshoot with the versatile Shrubby Buckwheat

Eriogonum corymbosum, pink form, San Rafael Swell, UT, USA.

Western Colorado Botanical Gardens, (Chelsea Nursery strain)

A more tight-haired Seedling from Chelsea Nursery.

"Henryville Yellow" is Eriogonum corymbosum v. aureum.

It was sold for a time by High Country Gardens.

It really wants to be dry. Very dry. The low end of the desert rock garden was too wet for it.  Odd little bugs liked its flowers, scented lightly of arm-pits.

Since the first time I fell in love with Shrubby Buckwheat, I have learned that it really hates shade.   In the way that cats don't like having their nails painted. They could die.

It is best used in the brightest, driest open landscape with room to stretch out to 4 or 5' wide. 

I'll make a link to our last interview here.

Enjoy its autumn colours, and buy it from Chelsea Nursery.

Alternative & Organic Weed/Bug Weapons We've Actually Tried.

Winter. Time to reflect and evaluate last year's experiments, and make resolutions for next year.

Or have a glass of wine and read books.

The internet is rife with recipes and how-tos full of bright, brief, smiling clip-art, hopeful solutions to our worst little life annoyances.

More annoying is how often this are copies of copies of copies and chain-mail click-bait, confirmed and yes-nodded and reproduced and celebrated, and I swear they are rarely tried. Weed recipes are no exception- we pass along all kinds of neat-sounding recipes we've heard and read on the net.

But we at Paintbrush have been trying a few.  The nice thing about nice clients is that they will let you experiment.

Here are our real experiences with alternative weed and bug sprays.

1. Soap.
The world's finest contact pesticide (my opinion here) is soap-of-castile, known to most as "Dr. Bronner's."  It was introduced to me by Bob Nold, of Penstemon fame.  Contact pesticides simply must touch the animal to work.

This is to be known about it:
-Deadly to ants, earwigs, and aphids, my main foes.
-It is mixed and sprayed out of a hand-held spray bottle.
-Too weak/diluted will not work well, go with 2 tbsp to the quart of water or so.
-It seems to loose efficacy if the mix gets old.
-Bugs die in seconds- much quicker than those wild chemical wasp-bazooka or Cockroach-burning sprays.
-It kills insects, not necessarily Slugs/snails (mollusks) and definitely not Pillbugs/Sowbugs/Roly-Polys. (Crustaceans).  I have not tried it on spiders, because spiders are helping me out, eh?
-Devastating to indoor Scale-bugs. (re-treat at intervals to break life-cycles)
-Doesn't seem to effect Mealybug (but rubbing alcohol sure does-eating through their powdered wax)
-Safe.  Wet, it is obviously harmless to people/pets.  Once dry, it is harmless to bees and other friends.
-It is very alkaline/basic, meaning do not mix it with anything which is meant to be acidic- it will counteract it.  It lit up my pH test paper like that blue girl in Willy Wonka.


While doing a talk in Aspen, I met a gent who works for the city up there.  He said he uses vinegar for weeds in pavement cracks.  Pure white vinegar, nothing else.  It set me on a summer jag of testing.  I am not rich enough to try horticultural vinegar, which is much stronger.

Indeed, the best use of pure vinegar is on tender little, but unreachable little, plants in cracks like dandelions.  It is particularly effective against them when young.  Fuzzy and waxy leaves will repel it unless you use a surfactant.

But on Kocia, or Tumbleweed, very common here in Western Colorado, the fuzzy leaves repel the vinegar.  The above plant was sprayed with vinegar with surfactant (Soap which will make the vinegar wetter but not kill its acidity as normal soap might have.)

Even re-treated, vinegar on Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila), a great foe in Grand Junction, only abuses.  It did not kill.  

It was useless against Bermuda grass, no matter how I tried it.
Still looking for a use beyond the weeds in cracks.

3. Boiling water

My co-worker and good buddy Julie swears by this. She has a previously-empty house where weeds reigned without challenge.
 Now she's winning.

She notes "The one problem with it is that it's time intensive." (You've got to find something to do while your next batch of water heats up.  We recommend laundry, throwing a ball for the dogs, or Black Books. )

"It's Julie-Approved!"

Goathead/Puncturevine/Tribulus terrestris  is a particular foe near the rock-pile, since she has dogs. Sometimes you get tired of pulling it up: here it is after a boiling-water splash.

Julie has noticed that the "dead zone" persists, quite remarkably.  We wonder if it is killing surface seeds in addition to not disturbing the soil, which would encourage new germination.

4. Diatomaceous earth.
It's a dust made of fossil sea life, which becomes harmless clay when wet.  Use a feather duster to make rings or circles around tender plants, because for wee things, it's like walking through a great pile of broken glass.  A nice mental image when you are &%$#ed about your eaten carrot seedlings.

-Another insect (& other) killer.
-They must walk through it
-Pillbugs yawn at it.
-Wetting from rain/water renders it inactive thereafter.  {This rainy year has been annoying.}
-Harmless as dirt.  Wait.  It is dirt.

Lastly, What didn't work:
-Cayenne Pepper, Black Pepper, garlic powder, strong mint tea. (against ants)  "Epic Fail."
-Newspaper (against perennial weeds).  Several layers suppressed bindweed for.... several days.  However, newspaper under woodchips/gravel works great against any other weed as seed, or weaker perennials than bindweed!

Please share any tried alternatives you use.  Until then,

Happy New Year 
defending the sanctity of your desert garden.

Friday, November 20, 2015

An Update on the APEX Crevice: The Community Heroes Park

(That's Greg on top of mound four)

The world's largest, or co-largest, crevice garden is filling in.

I am very excited to see the completion of the website, which was done entirely by a girl-scout for her Gold Award project, which was to provide interpretation for a public garden.  In today's age, this not only meant creating a physical sign at the location, {which she did, and very well} but a website with current information- and she did that, too!  A great deal of work went into it, and I'd like to point out that it has a plant list, as a PDF file, of the current plant list, which is currently at 210 taxa. Kudos to Carrie for her excellent work:



Weeds. We had a smattering of construction-site small weeds like knotweed, pigweed, and cutleaf nightshade, which were not scary at all and were easily evicted, this spring and summer.  A dry late summer prevented any new ones and sent the cactus into an early dormancy; which, after Denver's November 2014 extreme cold event, which dramatically damaged things all over the front range last fall, is not a bad thing!

Currently, the cool weather and snow has invited a smattering of Dandelions one of the few weeds to get into actual crevices, confirming Stephanie Ferguson's observation that a crevice garden's weeds are almost always tap-rooted weeds. But we've got sharp tools for that: about 20 Dandelions is work done in mere passing.

Bone amends the bald spot on top with Globularia cordifolia.

We did an autumn planting.  Greg, Linda from RMC-NARGS and Mr. Bone of DBG all jammed some future colour into the ground in the form of species tulips and autumn crocus, as well as some replacement manzanitas for the 3 of 8 we lost from the original planting.  I experimented by burying wild Manzanita dirt under our new plants in an effort to introduce soil life (like bacteria and mycorrhizae) which may help the plants prosper.  And Mr. Bone, ever obsessed with them, added even more globularia.

There has been much in bloom, and all summer. And even now.  We have our first re-seedlings of very welcome plants.  Townsendia 'Jeane's Purple' is claiming great territory on the open face of a mound, and Erigeron compositus is spreading like the strands of a berber carpet at the foot of the mound and even, welcomely, a bit into the path.

It was our intent to invite tiny flowers takeover so as to exclude weeds.

 Muhlenbergia reverchonii, now being marketed as  'Undaunted®'

The winter colours rock on the Ruschia pulvinaris- mat shrubby iceplant.

But are still usurped by the hardy Jadeplant, Crassula peploides. We'll soon find out if it's actually hardy here.

The "Little Pickles" Plant, Othonna capensis.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sacred Geometries

 Antennaria hilbersonii
Antennaria aromatica

 Draba aff. hispanica

Echinocereus triglochidiatus f. inermis 

Echinocactus horizonthalonius

Convolvulus arvensis (variegated)

Colchicum sp.

Everlasting Gold: The Toughest Yellow Daisies.

Is it possible for a plant to bloom too often?

Or be too tough?

Too perfect?

Too much of a good thing?

Naw. Not these.

Here are the three amigos who have proven themselves to:

-Go completely unirrigated here in Grand Junction (and therefore certainly do so in wetter Denver, Salt Lake, etc)

-Bloom their stupid heads off all season.   (April-November, give or take a month)

-Prove to all be yellow and perennial, native (to the Western US) and are all members of the sunflower family.

 1.  Zinnia grandiflora, Prairie Zinnia.

You've grown garden Zinnias.  We all have.  Forget what you know about them when meeting our native dude: He is not tall, but a few inches tall (5-10cm).  He is not annual, but perennial and lives for who-knows-how-long-many-years.  And he doesn't need water.    Best in sun, he takes part shade acceptably.

Prairie spreads underground by fine rhizomes, increasing its mat size significantly over the years.  Think 8-10 feet (2.5-3 metres) in as many years, and plan accordingly. This is not a bad thing, for it's diminutive height makes it play well with other plants, making an excellent skirt around tall stuff.  PlantSelect has recently promoted a nice form with blueish leaves, and making the species blessedly more available in retail.  It's a warm-season plant, coming up very late in the spring and at its happiest when you'd rather spend the daytime inside.

Don't plant Prairie Zinnia next to a Crevice garden, for instance, (yes, Susan, I just did that very thing) unless you want it to disappear under a yellow rug forever.  This plant is probably best used in large curb-appeal areas, next to sidewalks, et cetera.  Landscapes, really, in my opinion, as opposed to gardens.  Maybe even gravel driveways.  We're going to try that on Thursday.

2.  Hymenoxys scaposa, in August, also called "Thrift-leaf Perky-Sue" .  It's other names include "Sunshine Daisy" and other invented stuff which is easier to pronounce.
Note the spent flower heads- it's been blooming since early-mid spring.  Next to a driveway, It gets a bit of extra runoff and access to water trapped under the concrete.

Hymenoxys acaulis, (left) which is pragmatically the same, tends to be a smaller plant and can be distinguished from H. scaposa in that there is little to no stem-space between the leaves, which are emitted as a bundle, making a denser, more bun-like plant.  It is native to the Western Slope and basically all of the Great Basin while it's sister, H. scaposa,  is a plains/prairie plant.

Both need to be sold more in garden centers.  Duh.

3.  Lastly, my favourite at the moment: Jone's Goldenaster:

Heterotheca jonesii

This bitty is no taller than an embarrassed creeping thyme, but ten times as xeric and more apt to be seen.  It is native around the Capitol Reef and Zion National Parks area of Utah.  Despite the diminutive habit, this bugger is actually a tiny, flat shrub, forming a wee woody trunk over time.

Lately, I've been enjoying how the plants have been attracting copper-coloured butterflies who are the same size as a copper penny.

Ready for a butterfly-chase diversion from the main point?
Turns out, they are the world's smallest butterfly.

Brephidium exile is the Western Pygmy-Blue, with zebra-striped antennae and a cool name.

But back to the small plant- Heterotheca jonesii is really the cat's meow in it's cleanness and incredible performance as an unirrigated re-bloomer.  Old plants stretch a couple feet wide and I'm told that they may die back in a sandy soil without some water.

Here, I'm using it as a weed-preventer so that a person does not have to risk getting gouged by Agave parryi if weeds should appear near the plant.  Nowadays, it tightly hugs the base of the agave.

Please do yourself a favour and procure at least one of these three (and a half) golden jewelries to adorn your xeric garden.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The "Total" Xeriscape in Colorado: What's Bad about Unirrigated Landscapes.

Firstly, it is important to know that a completely unirrigated landscape is  possible.

Not only that, but it can be very lush and colourful, and may be impossible to distinguish from an irrigated landscape.

What is special to unirrigated landscapes, and are there any disadvantages?

Here is what makes them different. 
(other than the obvious):

-Different Plants.  Some plants perform better without irrigation, others worse.  Some cannot survive. This means no bananas, and in Grand Junction, it may even be too dry for Lavender, sadly.  This is where it is important to know that there is a distinction between totally without water and  a "dry" garden (a relative term) where you can still, in fact, grow Lavender.  However, that list of plants which will, in fact, do it, is amazing and growing longer all the time.   If your goal is to grow Giant Orienpet Lilies, then make a watered area for them and their other thirsty comrades.  If you are hell-bent on growing  certain plant, that's okay (I hope so- for it is my life story); what you need is more of a "garden." *

 The 'Satisfaction' Orienpet (Oriental x Trumpet) Lily requires well-amended soil and at least weekly watering.

Sainfoin, or Onobrychis viciifolia requires no irrigation in a climate with 9 inches of annual rain and does quite fine in compacted clay.  It also makes people pull over and ask what it is.

-There are fewer pests.  Perhaps this will change, but I have observed that in a  neighbourhood environment full of traditional landscape pests, natives have fewer.  This may change in future years as folks grow more natives. Still, wild natural plants are more built to avoid, cope and recover from pests.  

-New plants need water to get started, and also prefer to be bare-root planted.

-No Irrigation system or its interminable, abominable, maintenance.  Just hose-dragging to get things started, then you're free.

-Rain is the irrigation. So plant placement is subservient to where rain naturally accumulates or does not. (I tend to use gravels and cactus in high, dry spots and shrubs or grass in low, moist spots; this also helps prevent weeds. Downspouts must be acknowledged and utilised )

-Fewer Weeds and Less Pruning.  There are simply less resources for living plants in the area, so it limits weeds, which are nature's army meant to fill that niche and use those resources. Secondly, no-irrigation appropriate plants grow with their natural expectations, so giving them water simply encourages their bad behaviour. So spending more (water) on such plants results in spending more (time/money) to prune.  Why do that?

-The Native tendency.  It's no mystery that one's local flora will be the happiest plants with local climate, so I won't insult readers' intelligence explaining it.  What we all must remember is that there are natives who aren't appropriate for our landscape: lovers of water (like willow and dogwood, which grow near water) and there are many many natives we don't encounter very often which will surprise us with their lushness, colour, and surpass our expectations.  

Jones Bluestar, Amsonia jonesii, does not look like a plant tougher than cactus.  But it is.

Blackfoot Daisy, which is essentially in continual bloom, may go without water here, but I'll wait to rule on that for another year or two.

-Unwatered landscapes need not be "wild." Going unwatered doesn't restrict what style the landscape has. Natives are not restricted to looking twiggy or unkempt.  An fully-xeric native garden also does not necessarily need to be informal.  It could be clean, formal, beautiful, or as boring as any traditional bank-parking lot landscape.  (I made some like that early on- I'll admit. )

Clean lines and lots of green- Does this look like an all-native unirrigated Xeriscape?  It is.  
(Bouteloua gracilis, Blue Grama is the ornamental grass in this six-month old landscape)

* Landscapes v. Garden
Going 100% without water is more appropriate for Landscapes than Gardens. So let's distinguish them for argument's sake:

-A Landscape  is a patch of earth we must deal with, so we make it pretty. We are forced to work on it.  We have space: what to do with it?

- A Garden is a need to grow things, so we sought a patch of earth to do it with.  We found a place to do our work.  We have a need (veg, flowers): where's the space for it?

It's in our heads:  One of the above can magically instantly morph into the other based solely on how a person feels that minute!  Most of us deal with spaces which are sliding around on a spectrum in-between the two.

What I'd like to discuss, and invite other's revelations about, is the limit of unirrigated landscapes.  I think they are few, but exist.  An amusing flaw may be that a garden which requires little to no maintenance is easy to ignore, and we'll forget to enjoy it!  (I also confess to this, with frequency)

It's easy to overlook new flowers, like Chamaechaenactis scaposa, (Penstemon arenicola in background) in a carefree unwatered garden that does not demand your attention.

The Problem

But the real thing which is bad about the Unirrigated is on the extreme end of the spectrum: Garden.  Since it serves our whims and joys, it is less adaptable to those needs if it is deprived entirely of the tool of irrigation.  Not to say we can't be responsible resource users within that realm.  My "guilty pleasure" garden, which, for the confessional record, hosts orchids, Gentians, and yes, a freaking Banana, is watered but once per week in the summer, and about fortnightly in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall.  It uses a variety of mulches, topdressings, rocks, and ground-covers to retain that weekly water.    

Traditional Veg just can't be grown here without irrigation.  There are edible xerics- but grown dry, their production is unreliable and their space-to-food ratio is poor.  (i.e. Clove Currant, Goji Berry, Saltbush, Lamb's Quarter, Wild Onion, Purslane, Desert Holly, etc). We must water if we want (realistic) food.

A freaking Banana in Grand Junction, Colorado. (planted 2005) Musa basjoo https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musa_basjoo

Bletilla ochracea, Yellow Ground Orchid. 

But the rest of our yards? The rest of our parking lots, parks, medians, lawns, verges, alleys, dog-runs and parkways?


Fair game for the unwatered approach, do you agree?