Thursday, May 2, 2013

Taking the Heat

As I await my new camera lens, my focus shifts to an attempt to describe the beauty of plants, always a poor substitute for the exquisite fullness of a photo. Having as one's business the art of writing about plants, and it most certainly is an art,  is a messy business. There's the factual information of course, somewhat available on the internet, though I've been surprised sometimes how little easily found practical info there is on some of the plants I write about. I'm of the persuasion that the proof is in the pudding, that is, one doesn't really know how a plant performs until one grows it oneself. I once wrote a feature article entitled "Ten Gardening Myths" and right at the top of that list was the observation that it's often more misleading than helpful the information you see on the grower's label, or even in a general gardening book. Start with the matter of micro-climates, let alone zones, that can greatly influence how well a plant will perform. Add in factors like the amount of water it receives, whether the area around it is mulched, whether other plants around it will affect the light it gets as the seasons change and, well, you see my point. So when I've grown a plant in my own garden I can at least say "Here's how it performed in this micro-climate." That is not meant in any way to discourage someone from growing a plant, even in a less than ideal set of conditions. I guess it's another way of telling gardeners to pay attention to the various factors and use that information as a general body of knowledge for future planting. It may be glib to say "experience is the best teacher" but it's true. It's also another way of saying, which I tell customers at my nursery, that if a plant you're tending is working under its conditions then go with that. You can't argue with success.
Anyway, I always have that in the back of my mind when writing my column or describing plants here, which is why I will occasionally break the writer's credo about staying away from offering personal experiences and sticking to the third person in writing for the public. Sometimes the most pertinent info is my own practical experience.
As I noted in my last entry, Plant of the Week, there's certain plants I'll likely not make the focus of in my column. There are many plants that fit into that category (I guess that's a reflection of my never ending curiosity about a wide range of plants). As a brief example, there's a species of Abelia called A. species 'Chiapas.' This plant was initially harvested from a cliff overlooking Chiapas Mexico. The plant immediately forces you to re-evaluate what you know about this genus. It is not a bush like other abelias, instead having a trailing habit (which kind of makes sense since it was discovered on a cliff edge). It has lavender-purple flowers, not the typical pink. And perhaps most startlingly, this species is fragrant. Sweetly so. I'm sure I could bring it to a show & tell and no one unfamiliar with the species would have a clue it was an abelia. Ain't nature grand? And playful? I have one in my garden and its doing exactly what it's described as doing -- staying low and scrambling, producing the loveliest purple flowers which are, yes, sweetly fragrant. But Annie's Annuals is the only one I know that's selling it and this year I'm not sure they even will have any for sale. Which means I can't use it for a column. C'est la vie.
Meanwhile, we're all trying to survive the heat wave in the Bay Area right now. I'm spending the better part of my Saturday alternately watering and staying out of the heat. Sunday, when it's due to cool way down, can't come fast enough ...

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