Gardening With Tony
Calico Is For Cats, Not Hedge
By Tony Tomeo
Aug 28, 2012 - 7:09:12 PM

LOS ANGELES—A combination of modern horticultural apathy and too many choices was probably the demise of conformity in home gardens. Formal hedges or even informal screens of several of the same plants are nearly obsolete. Ironically, long and low barrier hedges and so called 'orchards' of identical trees planted in regimented rows or grid patterns have become common in large landscapes in public spaces.

Those of us who still crave formal hedges, paired trees or any such symmetry in our home gardens must be more careful with the selection of the plants that need to conform than would have been necessary decades ago when there was less variety to complicate things. It is just too easy to get different varieties of the same plant. Only plants with matching cultivar (cultivated variety) names will necessarily match. (Yet, on rare occasion, even these are inaccurate.) For example, 'Emerald' arborvitaes will match other 'Emerald' arborvitaes, but will not match 'Green splendor' arborvitae, no matter how they resemble each other in the nursery.

Plants that are identified by their characteristics instead of by cultivar name are riskier. Blue lily-of-the-Nile could be any one of many different cultivars with blue flowers. It is therefore best to obtain all lily-of-the-Nile for any matching group from the same group in the same nursery at the same time. What will be available next week may actually be a different variety with a different shade of blue and different foliar characteristics. Nurseries bring stock in from so many different growers.

Adding new plants to replace those that have died within established hedges or streets flanked with the same trees can be particularly difficult, especially if the old varieties are no longer available. The old fashioned yellowish Japanese boxwood that was so common for small hedges in the 1950's has not been common in nurseries for several decades. Replacement plants are darker green. Some are even compact cultivars or different specie like English boxwood. When lined up and shorn together, they make 'calico' hedges.

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Houseplant of the Week: Fiddle Leaf Fig

What a weird tree! Fiddle leaf fig, Ficus lyrata, is an uncommon but familiar large scale houseplant that we might not welcome into our homes if we knew how it behaves where it grows wild in the lower rainforests of Western Africa. Although it can grow upward from the ground like almost all other trees do, it often germinates and begins to grow as an epiphyte, within organic debris that accumulates in the branch unions of other trees. While suspended, it extends roots downward. Once these roots reach the forest floor, they develop into multiple trunks that overwhelm and crush the host tree as they grow.

The bold foliage is typically dark drab green, like the shades of green that were so popular for Buicks in 1970, with prominent pale green veins. Individual leaves are about a foot long and potentially nearly as broad at the distal (outward) ends, often with randomly wavy margins. Like fiddles, they are narrower in the middles, or actually more often narrower at the proximal (inward) ends. When pruning becomes necessary, the caustic sap should be soaked from fresh cuts with paper towels so that it does not drip and stain.



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