Shady Way Gardens Bits and Briefs June 2002
ARTICHOKES, GOURDS & OLEANDERS

JUNE

It's that scorching time of year again and only a few hardy souls want to be out gardening in the torturous heat.  But if you think it's stressful for you out there, imagine being anchored in roasting soil in full sun and depending on forgetful man and fickle nature for your very survival!  Anyway, it's very easy to dry up plants at this time of year.  All plants, especially newly planted ones, need to be checked at least once a day and watered if wilted.  Cactus, Yuccas, Agave etc. in full sun need to be kept moist and even cooled off during the day with a hose sprinkling to prevent them from yellowing and burning.  Plants that looked wonderful all spring like Desert Mallow and Mexican Primrose begin to wane but will look less scraggly if kept lightly trimmed and watered.  Penstemons will hang around all summer in a sort of dormant condition until cool weather returns.  They will rot if kept too wet in summer.  If you actually had wildflowers, you can take them out now as most seeds have dispersed.  They will wait to germinate until cool weather and only if they receive properly timed moisture from fickle nature or forgetful man.

ARTICHOKES

Yes, the big, blue flowered, silvery plants in front of the nursery are indeed Artichokes.  Barbara, the Shady Way Garden Lady, tossed out the gardening rules and planted them last June, which is much to late according to most information.  They kind of disappeared to wait out the worst of the summer, then began poking up leaves in the fall.  They rewarded us this spring with large silver leaves and actual, edible Artichokes, a delicacy we forewent in order to enjoy the splendid blue flowers.  These can be dried for permanent enjoyment.  After flowering, the plants should be cut back fairly close to the ground and kept moist and somewhat shaded through the summer.  Hopefully they will produce another crop of buds and flowers in spring. Install new plants from fall through early spring, or like the Garden Lady, toss out the rules and plant them now.

GOURDS

Okay, so we followed our own advice (gleaned from various gardening sources) and planted Gourd seeds in the ground in March.  Um...not a huge success!  After weeks only a few seeds germinated then promptly succumbed to bird and rabbit attacks.  Guess you can't believe everything you read!  We had much better luck in late April or May after soil temperatures warmed up.  We've got 6-packs of various Gourd seedlings available for planting now.

OLEANDERS

Some people think the world would be a better place without an anathema such as the Oleander.  We don't think so.  Without these "hate'em" plants, our valley would be bereft of some of our tougher and most colorful plants.  A lot less privacy too.  Oleanders (Nerium oleander) are Mediterranean natives.  They can grow in the worst soils and endure amazing neglect.  A drought stressed plant with collapsed, dry leaves, about to take its last gasp will pop right back with a drink of water.  The sometimes fragrant flowers are definitely showy in shades of pink, red and white.  Some plants have double flowers which are pretty but tend to hang on the plant after they are spent.  With time, the standard size Oleander will get huge and make an impenetrable hedge, but with regular trimming can be maintained at most any size.  The dwarf varieties get to about 6' tall and are more frost sensitive than standard varieties.  Pruned into a single trunk, an Oleander makes a colorful small tree but sprouts must be regularly pinched off the trunk.  the plant's most common afflictions (other than unappreciative people) are yellow aphids on the branch tips in spring and bacterial gall which causes lumpy, black, deformed flowers, fruits and leaves.  Aphids can be controlled with any insecticide.  Branches and flowers with gall should be trimmed off.  Now to one of the main objections of Oleanders: they are poisonous if ingested by people or animals.  So don't eat them: don't burn them as the smoke is toxic: don't plant them around livestock.  We don't see how anyone with even a hint of a taste bud could ingest even a speck of Oleander tissue.  It is just incredibly bitter.  Some sources suggest that contact with the sap can be deadly. If that were the case, you'd think the Valley would be littered with the bodies of dead gardeners, yard maintenance personnel and plant propagators!  Yes, they are poisonous but maybe not quite so dangerous as some of the hype would have them.  Interestingly, some of the plants listed by the UC Davis Medical Center-Regional Poison Control Center as being similar in toxicity level to ingested Oleander include Peach leaves, Alyssum, Sago Palm, Rhododendron, Azalea, Chinaberry, Castor Bean, Lobelia, Carolina Jessamine, Lantana, Loquat, Euonymus, Foxglove, Ginkgo, Lupine, Potato Plants, Wisteria, Walnut leaves, Tomato leaves, Dusty Miller, Cyclamen, Delphinium, Clematis, Ivy, St. John's Wort, Peony and Pregnant Onion to name a few.  Another reason people don't like them is because they are used everywhere.  Why not? If they work, plant'em!

It's always frustrating to see lots of pretty yellow flowers on your squash plants only to have them drop off without making a squash.  This happens because the flowers are either female (the one with the miniature fruit as the base) or male (the one with the powdery pollen inside), and if the pollen does not get transferred to the female flower, it shrivels and drops off.  You can wait for insects to pollinate the female flower or do it yourself.  Remember too that the blossoms and undeveloped fruits are also edible.

We've spotted a couple of Princess Trees in the area.  Botanically known as Paulownia tomentosa , this tree is anything but desert-looking.  It has huge leaves that can be 9" or 10" long and wide.  From China, it can grow to 50' tall but probably not here; it can be kept cut back to a large shrub.  Leaves drop in winter and flowers appear at branch tips in spring before leaves emerge.  It needs moderate water and protection from strong wind.  One of these trees is located at the corner of Grand and Greasewood.   Another can be seen on the west side of Ironwood at the second house south of Windsong.

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Web Comments george@mswn.com September 13, 2004 Shady Way Nursery 2004