Thursday, January 12, 2012
It's not every day that a 3 ton Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) with razor sharp, serrated teeth terrorizes a sleepy beach village in New England, ravaging bikini-clad swimmers with ambush attacks from the depths of the sea. Nor is it every day that vengeance seeking local authorities wrastle a tank of compressed air into said shark's gaping jaws to explode that man-eater's spiracles to smithereens. But in the summer of 1975, this is precisely what occurred in the small island community of Amity, an heroic tale of the common man bringing overwhelming danger and despair into submission with his bravery and wits. In the aftermath of this remarkable and riveting series of events, a plant was chosen as a warning to other 3 ton Great White Sharks with razor sharp, serrated teeth who might be considering a menu of beach-goers to fill their next ravenous buffet table. Wherever this selection was planted, sharks would know that these folks don't take kindly to their kind 'round here. It was to be a simple sign that said "Ya know what, Screw You, Jaws" in not so many words. It was to be Cornus sanguinea, the Blood Twig Dogwood.
There are a few different Dogwoods with a deep blood-stained crimson twig, but the obvious draw for this particular Dogwood is the yellow to red fade that occurs from the base of the stems. This is a most unique feature and should be used to maintain winter interest in the Garden Manscape, an often forgotten time of year for the fair-weather gardener. Unfortunately the rest of the year is fairly uneventful in the life of the Blood Twig Dogwood, which will allow you to use it as a back border canvas against which the rest of your summer blockbusters are set. Like all Cornus', the Bloodtwig will produce both white flowers and black berries, and develop a woolly coat of deciduous green leafs, though none of these are excessively exciting nor it's party piece.
Cornus sanguinea prefers a Zone 4-7 climate, and more than less sun. Expect these to get somewhere in the 6-12 foot range depending on your maintenance schedule, although it should be noted that twig color is most vibrant in young twigs and fades with age, so a healthy lopping schedule should both keep your Bloodtwig small and bloody... not big and brown. These Dogwoods sucker heavily from the base, so don't be afraid to chop out unruly volunteers to keep your shrub the size you like. You'll also want to keep all your Dogwoods fairly wet, as you'll notice leaf wilt quickly as they begin to get drier and drier.
Bloodtwig is the ultimate choice for winter interest shrub in the Garden Manscape. Let those blood-thirsty aquatic murder machines know who's in charge 'round here. Let 'em know we don't take kindly to their types in these parts. Cornus sanguinea sends the right message every time. Screw You, Jaws. Screw You.
Posted by M. Kessler at Thursday, January 12, 2012
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Killer Robot Army from the Future, Accessing the Present Through a Rift in the Space-Time Continuum - Abies koreana
When I try to compile a list of "Legitimately Terrifying Things that are Somewhat Likely to Occur", the list becomes quite long;
- Emergence of deep-sea creatures with many heads
- Global take-over by an alien race who fuel their ships with people
- Hordes of re-animated dead hungry for brains
- Waking up as the only living human on the planet, but without hands
- Escape of violent insane asylum patients into my immediate neighborhood
- Capture by jungle guerillas who are actually real gorillas who have learned to speak and use advanced weaponry
As I'm sure you know, the list goes on. I think there's one item on the list I haven't mentioned, that is without doubt the most legitimately terrifying thing that's somewhat likely to occur;
- Killer Robot Army from the Future, Accessing the Present Through a Rift in the Space-Time Continuum
Terrifying, I know. But why bring this up? What reason have I got to entertain such madness? Because I have seen it. I have seen the beginnings of the invasion. The robots are coming, and they're hiding in plain sight. They think we don't know. But I know. I know there's no such thing as Abies koreana, the Korean Fir... because really they're members of a Killer Robot Army from the Future, Accessing the Present Through a Rift in the Space-Time Continuum... in disguise...
Abies koreana may appear at first glance to be a regular old Christmas Tree, and to a point you may be right. It is an evergreen Fir tree, often with a nice pyramidal shape, that can be bought around the Yule-tide season to be decorated in your home. But this year, ask your Christmas tree if it can decorate itself. 'Cause this one can. Probably the most sought after characteristic of this particular member of the Fir genus is the brilliant purpley-blue-ish upward pointing cones that emerge in the Spring. It's got purple cones. Purple. Cones. Now these will mature throughout the year and turn to more of a brown, so don't feel gyp-ed when the purple starts to fade. Of course, what's a little blue and purple without silver and green to back it up? Needles on this specimen grow in a rather peculiar curving fashion which highlight their undersides and feature two white bands on every needle. This is a pretty awesome effect and sorta screws with the eyeballs when you look at one. Kinda like a Magic Eye picture. Except from Korea. And made of tree.
Hardy to Zones 5-7, this fir is a bit more heat tolerant than most others. As such it enjoys lots of sun, but will be a slower grower than you might hope. Considering its ornamental value however, growth rate shouldn't really break the bank. Expect 15-30' of growth over a few decades. Cities or urban areas with nasty air pollution may not be the best places for Abies koreana, and you'll want to make sure you have a looser soil in which to grow them. I recommend a pretty average watering regime, no more or less than you'd wet down your other average plants, but they prefer not to have wet feet, alot like robots... hm...
When the somewhat-likely-to-be-inevitable happens, you'll want to be on the right side. I figure a killer robot army from the future is going to need a guy on the inside, so to me, establishing a good relationship with one of their agents is key. This way, he'll have a soft spot for me when the battalions of mechanized intruders invade through the space-time continuum rift, and spare me from their wrath. And if not, at least I had an awesome tree back in the golden days when the gettin' was good. Get yourself some Killer Robot Army from the Future insurance. Plant Abies koreana, the Korean Fir, in your Garden Manscape.
Posted by M. Kessler at Thursday, November 17, 2011
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
There is a man who never faces danger. Danger faces him. There is a man who was born in a log cabin... that he built with his bare hands. There is a man who puts his pants on two legs at a time. This man is Chuck Norris. There are few things Chuck Norris can't do, and those are only things he's chosen not to not be able to do, which is a double-negative which means he CAN, in fact, do them. When the Boogey Man goes to sleep, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris. And when Chuck Norris merely looked at Corylus avellana, it mutated into the 'Contorta' cultivar. Then he used it as a walking stick.
Corylus avellana 'Contorta' is known commonly as "Harry Lauder's Walking Stick", but this is becoming too outdated of a name to keep. Sir Harry Lauder was a Scottish Music Hall entertainer between the turn of the last century and the 1930's, and was famed in his day for walking with a curvy walking stick. I figure, if Chuck Norris had wanted Lauder's walking stick, he would have just taken it. Then it'd be Chuck Norris's Walking Stick, a much more fitting name. Alternatively, it is also known as Twisted Hazelnut, but I don't think Chuck's got any problems with Hazelnuts. Yet. These are normally grown for their winter interest, given the incredibly twisted nature of their branching which is most evident after the leaves fall in Autumn. As members of the Birch family (Betulaceae), they will grow long yellow catkins every winter which add a nice burst of color to their already above average winter feature list. Most all Twisted Hazelnuts are propagated as grafts on a non-curly root stalk. This means that the inevitable suckers which will come up will not have the twisted growth form, and should be hw-acked.
These contortionists are slow growers, so don't expect a specimen to reach up above 9 feet for a number of years. Depending on maintenance and planting style, you could consider Chuck's Walking Stick to be a specimen tree or a shrub hedge, and prune accordingly. No matter which way ya grow it, periodic heavy pruning will help to accentuate and encourage the twisty-turns we like so much. Slow growers like this prefer to get sun most of the day, or will be even slower to instigate growth. I'd give a good hearty watering every couple weeks to avoid dryin' this puppy out, especially if companions are planted under its drip line. (The 'drip line' is the imaginary circle that would be drawn on the ground around the very edges of a tree's branching pattern.) As far as I'm aware, Twisted Hazelnut is hardy in Zones 4-8 and should be expected to achieve sort of cubic dimensions of 8-10' along the X,Y, and Z axis. (That's Nerd for height, width, and depth)
I think Chuck Norris is a requisite for the Garden Manscape. Between its shrubby hedge-iness, twisty-turny branches, and flip-floppy yellow catkins, its hard to find a reason not to plant one. If the fist hiding in Chuck Norris' beard could, it'd slap you around until you planted some Walking Stick for him. Don't make Chuck's third fist angry... you wouldn't like him when he's angry...
Posted by M. Kessler at Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Legends abound of an ancient Polynesian treasure buried deep in the South Island of the fractured country of New Zealand. Here, the vast riches of the seafaring Maori were compiled sometime between 1250 and 1300 AD to safeguard from warring tribes. The 1600's saw the eventual introduction and settlement of Europeans who brought with them potatoes and muskets and set off the Musket Wars in the early 19th Century. It was during this time that the location of this famed wealth of treasure was lost, its secrets having been passed down by an elite family of guardians for over 500 years. Rumors of its contents and whereabouts are whispered of, but no explorer has ever uncovered the mysteries of the Maori cache. If there was a man who could find it, a man who could use wit and sarcasm interchangeably, a man who could swing in to risk life and limb in the face of almost any danger, save snakes, surely that man would be the great archaeologist of Barnett College, Dr. Indiana Jones. This is the story of Indiana Jones and the Treasure of New Zealand. This treasure is Carex flagellifera - the Copper Sedge.
This bronze treasure from New Zealand looks an awful lot like a grass; but it isn't. It's in fact a sedge. A simple explanation of the grass vs. sedge dichotomy is in the cross section of its leaves. If you were to chop a sedge blade in half it would create a nearly perfect triangle, rather than a sort of hollow tube or thin leaf blade you'd expect from a grass. A nice way to remember this is an old saying "Sedges have edges". Now a lot of people don't like copper sedge because it looks like perpetually dead grass, which I think is a load of phooey. Ornamental grasses are frequently planted primarily for their fall color, which a lot of times is a more bronzed or "dead" look. Clearly, these people make no sense, which is why Carex flagellifera, or "Indy Sedge" as I call it, is such an primo choice for the Garden Manscape. Rather than having only good fall color, this sedge will keep this same brown tone all year long. There is really no flower to speak of, so maintenance is non-existent. Use these high-arching clumps in mass plantings with other nice clumpers to fill gaps and help set off colors of its partner plants.
As a member of the sedge family (Cyperaceae), Carex flagellifera has a clump forming habit due to its spread through creeping rhizomes. This means these won't annoyingly spread seed all over the garden and make more work for you, since we know you're a busy guy and you've got things to do. It also means that they're another thrifty plant that can be split, or can be kept easily in check to make sure it doesn't take over too much space. So far, only good things. Sedges often like things wet, as a lot of 'em come from wetlands and the like. Carex flagellifera likes a moist habitat, but not quite "inundated wetland" conditions, so I'd rate their water need a little above "medium". This sedge also likes full sun to some shade, which, if planted strategically will catch the sun in the late afternoon, and make you understand why its considered such a Kiwi treasure. Expect a clump to get somewhere between 12-16" in height and fill nicely into whatever extra spots you've got in your Garden Manscape. Hardy to Zone 4 at least, there's really no logical reason not to get your mitts on some copper sedge.
Risking his life in the name of science and adventure, Professor Jones has delivered us a glorious booty from a land of epic peril. Having nearly lost his hat through the adventure, we as a horticultural community owe it to the good doctor to cherish this most inordinate gift. Consider your Garden Manscape as a museum of exotic plants, without the school buses full of gum-spitting, Hawaiian punch spilling children to muck it up. If a museum like that existed, that's where Indiana Jones would have kept his relics. Make a home for Indy, plant some Carex flagellifera, come up with snarky comments later.
Posted by M. Kessler at Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Thursday, November 10, 2011
It is common knowledge throughout the world in any number of cultures and faiths that Moses went atop Mt. Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights, and came back with God's 15... nay, 10 Commandments. We accept that when fleeing Egypt he asked God's help and the Red Sea was parted for the Isrealites to continue fleeing. And we take for granted that he spoke with God through a burning bush that was not consumed by fire. Ahem, what? A bush that was not consumed by fire? If we had to translate this literally into existing plant terms, we'd say "Phooey! There's no such thing as a flame retardant bush!" But what if there was though? Or at least, if there appeared to be? I'm not suggesting some sort of asbestos covered shrub, rather, could it have been Euonymous alata, the Burning Bush?
Now, it's not a far stretch to get "Burning Bush" from the burning bush story. But the reason for Euonymous alata's common name is the incredible bright red fall color that really looks like the whole shrub is engulfed in vibrant red flames. Of course, I've never heard God speak through one yet, but I'm not Moses. I don't even think we're cousins. So that explains that. After the leaves fall however, this incredible specimen continues to hold winter interest. The name "alata" in Latin means "winged", and the branches of this bush actually are winged. Small vertical wings of modified cork cells extend out from 4 sides of each twig, one of the most unique features you'll find in the winter landscape. Wings! The things's got wings!
Expect a winged Euonymous to get about 8-12' high and have a full habit. It doesn't like soils too dry or too wet, but moist and well-drained, although I have seen them do fine on lakeshore properties. Full sun is preferred and part shade is tolerated, but as always more is better, especially to ensure the fullness of fall color you'll be looking for. Watch for unwanted seedlings with Burning Bush, as they do have a tendency to re-seed and create somewhat invasive outcroppings. This has put them on the 'undesireables' list in a few states, namely Massachusetts and New Hampshire where its illegal to sell them. As natives to China and Japan you'll find these survive well between Zones 4-8, although I don't think Moses ever made it that far.
If nothing else, Burning Bush is fun to say. Burning Bush. In all likeliness, God probably won't deliver you divine messages if you plant one, but hey, maybe. Euonymous alata is the only Garden Manscape shrub to have been discussed in the Bible, and that's gotta mean something. Take a cue from Moses; go talk to a bush. Make it a Burning Bush.
"Meyagbagaga!" would be considered a word by a single, very special creature. This is a creature who has to be chained, literally chained to his drum set to prevent him from either escaping or eating his cymbals. This is Animal, the famed Muppet drummer of the band Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. Perhaps there's something uncivilized about a brute on the drums, but there is nothing quite as high society as Animal's impeccable jazz drumming. The fast, brilliant quadruple stroke rolls that flow from his limbs capture the inherent focus of an unbroken evolutionary chain that has produced a biologically perfect percussion machine. But nature is wily and cunning, not foolish enough to create just one of something. The botanical world has a drum machine of its own, one that emits a devastating array of sound like that of a thousand muppet snare drummers, given the slightest hint of a breeze. Populus tremuloides, the Trembling Aspen is the all-time greatest hits soundtrack to the Garden Manscape.
Trembling Aspen may have evolved almost too perfectly. In South-Central Utah a stand of Aspens called Pando exists which is heralded as the largest, the heaviest, and perhaps the oldest living organism on Earth. Populus tremuloides does not often spread by seed; rather it creates a spreading mass of underground roots that send up additional genetic clone 'trees', but are connected as a single entity. Pando is estimated to weight upwards of 6,600 tons and may be over 80,000 years old. The name "Trembling" comes from the flattened petioles that attach leaf to stick on these trees. The flat shape catches the wind much more than a regular round leaf petiole, and is responsible for the constant quaking evident in this species. Using these poplars in the Garden Manscape may require occasional removal of suckers, which are the volunteer clones that emerge from the spreading root mass. With a solid pair of hand pruners, this is really no big deal. Besides the addition of movement to the garden, these are also grown for their smooth light bark and vibrant yellow color in the Fall.
As far as neediness goes, Aspens are a lot like Animal; keep them watered, give them space to play, but keep them under control. These are a major component in Boreal Forest regions, which means you can plant them pretty much as far north as humans are willing to go, well into Zone 3. Populus tremuloides can be found in absolutely every soil type; shallow, deep, rocky, sandy, clay-ey, loamy, or wet. It takes a lot of effort to kill an Aspen, especially once you've let it establish, so this definitely falls under the 'Easy to Grow' category. Full grown, these are medium-large trees standing up to 70' tall. If you're a budget conscious gardener and have more time than money, planting a stand of Tremblers is a thrifty way to begin filling in a corner of the landscape with a grove of trees. Make sure not too mow too close to the base of the colony for a few years and you'll have an Insta-Forest in no time.
Think of the soundtrack to your Garden Manscape now, and it's probably like a speaker on mute. Animal doesn't do 'mute', and from now on neither should you. Pump up the jams and throw in some Trembling Aspens to fill the back corners of the garden. It's like an awesome drum solo all day, every day, for the next 80,000 years.
In an epic plot turn battle, pre-Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker light sabers off Master of the Jedi Order Mace Windu's hand, allowing Sith Lord Darth Sidious to Force Lighting him through his chamber window. Spilling popcorn, I watched the purple light saber weilding Jedi fall to his death near the end of the third of the pre-quel Star Wars films, & I felt a tremor in the Force. Struck by this most peculiar energy, I stumbled out into the yard, trembling with an unknown source of what felt like adrenaline. I could feel the grass underfoot stretch and wane under the weight of my steps, I could see the very essence of the breeze rippling through the branches of the trees, and understood our connection to the ebb and flow of the sub-atomic universe. This energy surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together. And it was at that moment that I felt the re-emergence of Mace Windu, a Jedi Master who may have died out a window a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, but in a sparse cosmic moment allowed his life force to be transferred into my garden. Not just into the garden, but into a tree, one single entity that will maintain his spirit. The form, color, texture, and shape are reminiscent of his physical presence. This tree is Mace Windu Re-Incarnate. This is Fagus sylvatica "Purpurea Pendula" - the Purple Weeping European Beech.
"Purpurea Pendula" can become a big purple beast - much like Mace Windu on the battlefield. And you may think 'weeping' is a sign of weakness or un-manliness, but that's where you're wrong. European Beech comes in many varieties and forms, and most of them are green and upright, kinda like how many Jedi have the green or blue light saber crystal. But only Mace Windu had purple, and only Mace Windu plummeted to his death out a thousand-story space window. The parallels here are clear. Like Samuel L. Jackson, Fagus sylvatica "Purpurea Pendula" is one B.A.M.F. We haven't yet discussed weeping tree forms, though most are probably familiar with the Weeping Willow (Salix alba) and understand what they look like. Weepers do rarely occur in nature, and are typically cultivated variations of a genus which has no central leader which allows its branching habit to become softer and appear pendulous. Weeping trees should almost always be planted in a landscape by themselves with plenty of room to stretch out and be oogled at.
Expect a Weeping Beech to get at maximum around 10-12' in height, though I have seen a specimen well over 20'. It should be noted though, that this amount of growth should not expected for many, many years. These weepers are slow growers (as they have no central leader to help them grow upwards) and most growth will appear more as 'infill' than height. These specimens are best planted in a proper garden setting, so if you're deep in the city and have a lot of messy, junky, compacted soil "Purpurea Pendula" may not be your first choice. As deciduous trees, they will lose their leaves annually, but provide an excellent almost sculptural quality for the rest of the year. Hardy from Zones 4-7, keep this in full sun and avoid letting them get thirsty. Since these are often a result of scientific meddling, they do require a bit more nutrients and the like than some of my other more natural selections. This is a small price to pay for the form and color though, so suck it up.
If you've had make-believe light saber battles with invisible enemies as many times as I have, consider the power of planting a Master of the Jedi Order in your Garden Manscape. You could even use a dwarf evergreen at his side to represent Master Yoda. The possibilities of the Jedi Garden are endless, but Fagus sylvatica "Purpurea Pendula" should be considered a staple. The Force is strong with this one...