In which I praise the glory of the little apple, manzanita

arctostaphylos branches

The more I garden, the more I am enamored by manzanitas. Actually, I am going to do a little plug right now for one of my favorite local growers/nurseries, Xera Plants. Several years ago, my friend and co-owner of Xera, Paul Bonine, wrote this great piece for Pacific Horticulture Society:

Paul starts his article with the phrase: “No other shrub is more symbolic of the Pacific Coast than manzanita.”

And then, on his own website (disclaimer: I did the programming for that site but he did all the writing), he calls manzanita “the ultimate shrub of the west.”

I cannot possibly agree more. Why? Because in a xeric climate, AKA Mediterranean climate, AKA dry-summer climate, AKA totally perverse but also awesome climate in which plants have devised brilliant adaptations to the experience of receiving water from The Gods only when most of them don’t need it, there really is no better, no more pleasing, no more beautifully lush-year-round plant than the manzanita.

What I fail to understand, however, is why they aren’t more common in gardens. Actually we were talking about that the other day and all we could surmise is that there are a number of factors:

  • Relative novelty in the horticultural trade – they’re still not *that* easy to find and certainly not at places like Fred Meyer or The Box Stores
  • The perception that they’re hard to grow. In some cases/species, this may be true
  • The need to plant them at a relatively small size (no, you can’t just go get a 5-gallon and have instant manzanita hedge). A gardener must exhibit some degree of patience

An impressive row of 5 big manzanitas in Montavilla

I counted, and I think I now have a total of 11 manzanitas. I want to show you the most recent acquisitions and visit a couple of older favorites.

I should show you the spot, but I don’t have a stellar picture right now. For a couple years I have been agonizing about what to plant to fill in a space immediately to the north of my now-12-foot-tall Lyonothamnus; an impressive but not imposing tree which I am totally in love with.

That spot to the left (north) of the tree is a Major Focal Point and I have really struggled with what to put there, especially now with the tree casting some shade.

After my friend August came over and suggested a big ol’ Nolina (something like this, perhaps?), I somehow managed to entertain that idea and then come to remember that actually, this is a perfect spot for a larger manzanita. So I got Austin Griffiths, a longstanding favorite of mine and the same cultivar pictured in both of the above photos.

Baby Austin. He’s a sweet boy and he will be BIG

Austin is one of the earliest bloomers, too, apparently, although microclimate makes a difference and I’ve heard reports from some that theirs don’t start until January or even February; I’m pretty sure it depends on the year, too. Those big ones in Montavilla started in late November this year:

Arctostaphylos x ‘Austin Griffiths’ starting to bloom on November 24, with a lot more to come!

Incidentally, my friend Tamara wrote a great post about these very plants back in February of 2015, when she encountered them blooming their asses off. Go read that, it’s fun!

In my last post I talked about removing the “freeway roses” and that I’d decided to replace them with a manzanita. I chose Arctostaphylos bakeri ‘Louis Edmonds’ for this spot.

Arctostaphylos bakeri ‘Louis Edmonds’ just planted.

Another new addition came from my friend Chris, a devout plant nerd who loves all the same sorts of plants I do (weird Australian shrubs and trees, manzanitas, and peppers, ha!). This is A. glauca ‘Canyon Blush’:

She’s a tiny bb so she gets a bodyguard, for a while.

To protecc, from ducc, and doggo

While we’re over in this area, check out this beauty just next to ‘Canyon Blush’:

‘Canyon Blush’ in the foreground with A. canescens var. sonomensis

I have two Arctostaphylos canascens var. sonomensis planted in this area, and when Chris offered me this specimen of ‘Canyon Blush’ I immediately knew I wanted to see them all together. I think they’ll end up looking pretty flippin amazing, especially with ‘Austin Griffiths right next door.

Let’s go back to the front yard. I finally FINALLY removed the gigantic Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ that was right by the front door and committed to something with more year-round interest, but that still gives the hummingbirds what they want. This was a suggestion again from Paul at Xera – Arctostaphylos pajaroensis ‘Myrtle Wolf’:

‘Myrtle Wolf’ forming buds in this picture from November 14; it is now blooming.

Once the flowers are full-on, I’ll update this post with a pic of them, as well as the plant I chose as a companion here. Right under this manzanita, I planted a beautiful Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’ which was a gift from my friend James in California. I couldn’t be more pleased with this duo as a foundation to my front-door vignette.

Let’s check on the first manzanita I planted here. This is an A. x densiflora selection and I can’t remember if it’s ‘Sentinel’, ‘Harmony’, or ‘Howard McMinn’ but I’m leaning toward ‘Howard McMinn’.

Can you believe how amazing this looks in November?!

I am really happy about that plant. The small, narrow leaves work really well with the texture of the Gaura and lavender near it and I’m really looking forward to seeing it eventually dominate this scene a bit more.

Speaking of dominate, though, I actually planted another thing that will eventually dominate over the manzanita above, possibly to its detriment, but we’ll see – this is Arbutus arizonica, another gift from my friend Chris:

Arbutus arizonica baby

This smallish tree has wonderfully blue leaves which are narrower than our native Pacific madrone, and my guess is that it’ll be a little more resistant to Phytophthora, although in this spot it should be just fine because it’ll never get summer water anyway.

Can you EVEN with the new growth in fall?! So cute!

It’s a really beautiful tree and yes, it might ultimately shade out the (I think) ‘Howard McMinn’ but my hope is that their relative growth rates and such will be copacetic enough that Howard will be established enough to cope with a little shade by the time the Arbutus is actually casting any shade. We shall see.

A couple other older manzanitas I planted at the same time as Howard, so, a couple years ago? This is Arctostaphylos silvicola ‘Ghostly’:

Leaning a lot because it’s under the canopy of the dogwood. I don’t mind that one bit.

And this is Arctostaphylos mewukka ‘Mottley Crue’:

Also leaning, again, cool by me

I am pretty pleased with the performance and appearance of these two that are kind of under the dogwood canopy. I like the lean they’re exhibiting, and they seem to benefit from the dogwood’s thirsty roots ensuring that there will be no soil moisture in the summer! Ha. They’ve both experienced a bit of mold/fungus on their lowermost leaves, which I attribute to the presence of deciduous leaves at their bases and possibly to being a bit shaded, but mostly, I think it’s just that they’re young still and rather close to the ground. They’ll grow out of this more or less, I hope.

Ok that wraps up this week’s geekout on Arctostaphylos with a side of Arbutus. Thanks for reading. Go plant some manzanitas, you will not be disappointed.

//SL

June Vegetable Garden Update + Blackcaps

OMG where does the time go!? I’ve acquired a staggering number of new plants in the last month, and I’ve been working to get them all planted.  And of course this is prime time for the vegetable garden and things are really going well.  Here’s an update on some of that.

I seeded carrots and parsnips in here but as seems to be typical of the Apiaceae family in my garden, I got shit for germination.  So I gave up on most of them and set these starts in, which I sowed sometime in maybe April.   Round 2 of lettuce (round 1 is gone, round 3 is just emerging in seed trays in the house).

Chinese cabbage, lettuces, mustard flowering

I sowed these cabbage family babies three weeks ago and they really need to get in the ground, like now. We just harvested all the garlic, so there’s an entire bed awaiting them.  I will have to fence it or the ducks will eat these.

Brassicaceae for winter

The super-hot peppers are coming along really well – some are starting to get tall and branch out.  Basil barely visible behind it suffered a chicken attack when I forgot to close the birds in one night, but it’s mostly surviving.

Super-hot Capsicum chinense hybrids (and the two pimientos)

Tomatoes are, as usual, insane.  I can’t wait to compare the grafted ones to the non-grafted ones – I hope there is a noticeable difference (to justify the effort, mostly).

Ananas Noire

These melons look really good.  They really like the wood chip mulch!

Moon & Stars watermelon, other melons

I started several Tagetes lucida plants from seed last year and set them out here and there to trial them and see how they grow in different settings.  I didn’t expect them to make it through the winter, but OMG they all came through.  The “un-scientific” name is Mexican tarragon or Spanish tarragon, and it’s definitely easier to grow than French tarragon.  Of course it’s a completely different plant (same fam, tho), so the flavor is a bit different.  I would say sweeter and more anise-esque.  Mountain Valley Growers did some culinary comparisons you can read about here.

Tagetes lucida.  The owl was a gift from my brother

Now we’re in the front yard, where I have relegated eggplant because of verticillium in the back.  So far, they don’t get it at all out here.  If they do eventually, I’ll have to start grafting them (I got bigger grafting clips, too, because I’m probably going to do it next year regardless).

Leeks, eggplants, Tropaeolum because I object to using another genus as a common name, damn it

The taller eggplants in the back are Millionaire and the shorter ones in front should be Prosperosa.  And yeah, that’s Geranium ‘Rozanne’ doing her thing in the upper right.

I should probably make this next bit its own post but I’ve already done all this so, whatever.  Behold:

Rubus leucodermis

No sane gardener would ever grow our native blackcap in their backyard on purpose.  I swear.  What the hell am I thinking? Well, if you’re not familiar with it, let me tell you about this absolutely wonderful western native plant.  Bullet points for you speed-readers.

  • Doesn’t get those damned fruit flies (spotted-wing drosophila)
  • Fruits start ripening in early June and continue well into July
  • Fruits on old wood (floricane-fruiting)
  • Thorns are recurved, so they grab you a bit, not horribly
  • Gorgeous white bark, really cool looking in winter
  • Spreads by tip-layering, not by runners
  • Supremely climate-adapted and needs no supplemental water, ever
  • Vigorous to the point of OMGWTF if you don’t watch it
  • Fruit flavor is less tart. less bright, more complex, maybe sweeter? And they’re a bit seedier which I don’t mind.

So what I do, is I treat the thing just like a normal raspberry, except for the tip-layering bit (do not permit unless someone wants a plant).  And the watering (none).  When the floricanes are done, I’ll cut them out at ground level, and at the same time I’ll prune the primocanes back by about half – if I don’t do that they will eat things like my neighbor’s house, and pruning them encourages them to branch a lot, so then I get a more compact-shrubby plant instead of a 20′ long bramble.  Like any raspberry you absolutely cannot leave this plant alone and expect it to behave.  But aside from that, in my book it scores well above normal raspberries (which, as previously mentioned, are all coming out this year).

Here’s the whole plant – see the tall primocanes with the glorious white “skin”? On left, lower, are the floricanes which looked just like these primocanes last year at this time until I shortened them by about half. I’ll have to reduce the number of them this year, too.  Eventually this plant will get some form of support structure.

Evidence of house-eating potential

When/if these primocanes touch ground, they will root.  Right through grass and mulch and everything.  I’m helping this one so my friends Kate and Katie can have a plant.

tip-layering, with assistance (totally unnecessary but speeds the process)

Blackcaps are delicious

I don’t remember when I discovered these, as a kid, or who (Mom? probably, native Oregon kid that she is) turned me onto them.  But I do remember, every summer, going up into the woods and finding them at the edges of forests, and in clearings.  I had two particularly good patches and if I ended up encountering them unintentionally I’d have to use my shirt, or my hat, or whatever I could find (Acer macrophyllum leaf?) to hold them, because neither patch was particularly close to the house and, being a lazy-ass Taurus, I wasn’t about to actually go back and get some kind of bucket.  We made freezer jam with them whenever sis TJ and I would pick enough.  Rarely straight blackcap jam, though – the best was to mix them 50/50 with red raspberries from the garden. – that was everyone’s favorite.

Freezer jam is the best because, since it’s uncooked, the flavor is much more true to the berry.  I asked Mom about her recipe and what she said is that she generally followed whatever was on the Sure-Jell pectin box.  Pectin and pectin-type products vary a bit in terms of what’s in them, and how they recommend going about it, so the things to remember are (god I love bullet points):

  • Don’t use a sugar substitute, or try to use less sugar than the directions call for. This will invariably lead to disappointment.  If you want to preserve fruit but not with sugar, just freeze the fruit whole and you can make a simple compote in January with the frozen berries and little to no sugar.
  • If the recipe says to strain some or all of the fruit to reduce the seeds, it’s optional, and you should experiment to see what you like.  I would definitely strain a straight blackcap jam, but I might not strain it at all (or just strain the blackcaps) if it’s half and half.
  • Do not skimp or cut any corners with whatever the recipe says with regard to stirring and/or letting the fruit stand.  You want to make damn sure all the sugar gets dissolved completely and all the pectin does whatever it’s supposed to do.
  • If the recipe calls for lemon juice, know that it’s not like adding lemon juice or citric acid to a low-acid fruit for shelf-stable canning.  In other words, lemon juice is mostly for flavor, and may help with the jelling process, but it’s not needed for preservation.
  • Use whatever containers you want but again, since you’re just freezing, you don’t need actual canning jar lids and rings.  A good seal helps prevent freezer burn.  I like actual freezer jam jars with the colored plastic lids the best.

All right, now I feel weird because I’ve strayed dangerously close to the food-blog corner, so just to assure myself and you all that this is still really about plants, here’s another plant picture – The stems of R. leucodermis, as mentioned, look absolutely ghostly and really cool in winter.