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Category Archives: Garden Blog

The Many Faces of “Kerkei”

The “Kerkei Bush” (Crassula ovata), commonly known as “Jade Plant”, becomes arboreal to a height of 10 feet, with thick, gnarly trunks and a canopy of elliptical, shiny jade-green leaves, often edged in red.  Endemic to rocky outcroppings in the stark, arid environ of South Africa, the Jade lives amidst some of the most remarkably diverse flora on earth, including Spekboom (“Elephant Bush”,) Aloes, “Plakkies” (Crassulas), Euphorbias, and “Vygies” (“Rock Mimicry “).

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Elephants in Your Garden? Portulacaria

In the area of South Africa known as the Karoo Succulent Biome dwells a very xeriphytic succulent, Portulacaria afra, or “Spekboom”, as it is known by the native people. “Spekboom” (known popularly as “Elephant Bush”) is essential to many browsing animals, including kudu and elephants because of its ability to remain succulent despite periods of searing heat and drought. The relationship of the “Elephant Bush” with the elephant is actually quite symbiotic. As the elephant tears branches from the arborescent Portulacaria, stripping them of tender leaves, the leafless branches are then tossed aside, rooting at a later time to create new thickets known as “Spekboomvelds”. This symbiosis is crucial for the Portulacaria as the biome is so extremely arid that Portulacaria seed has great difficulty germinating in its native habitat.

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New Guinea Impatiens They Really Are “New”

by Bob Reidmuller
printed in Garden Compass magazine, May/June 2003
Used with permission.

The “New” in the name refers to their place of origin and though they seem to have been around forever they really are relatively “new”. New Guineas arrived here from New Guinea recently in 1970, the result of a joint plant collecting expedition by the USDA and one of the world’s premier horticultural display gardens, Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, begun in 1907 by industrialist Pierre S. du Pont. The plants brought back were originally believed to be several different species but modern science and genetics proved them to all belong to one extremely variable plant Impatiens hawkeri.

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Aloes – Lilies of the Desert

When Aloes are mentioned, most think of Aloe vera. Actually, there are over three hundred species of Aloes inhabiting Arabia, Madagascar, and Africa. These plants belong to the Lily family (Liliaceae), with various morphologies ranging from the small grass Aloes that serve as excellent windowsill plants to the huge, striking tree forms of Aloe dichotoma, Aloe pillansii and Aloe bainsii. The thick, fleshy leaves of Aloes store water during the rainy season, adapting them well for the harsh, drought-stricken areas of mountains, deserts and grasslands, thus making Aloes an excellent choice for xeriphylic (dry) landscapes.

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Rhipsalidopsis Easter Cacti or Spring Cacti

Rhipsalidopsis are commonly known as Easter Cacti or Spring Cacti as they typically flower during April and May. Often confused with Christmas Cacti or Schlumbergera, they are, in fact, similar in appearance but have very different flowers. The flowers of the Rhipsalidopsis are star-shaped, open very flat, and occur in very saturated colors. Rhipsalidopsis are epiphytic cacti, and are considered to be in the same Tribe of cacti that includes Epiphyllums, Rhipsalis, Schlumbergera (Christmas Cacti) and many other epiphytic cacti. In general, most Rhipsalidopsis on today’s market are hybrids between two species; Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri (reddish-orange flowers)and Rhipsalidopsis rosea (profuse orchid-colored flowers).

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Opuntia – Icon of the Southwest

The genus Opuntia is comprised of many interesting shapes (morphologies). These can vary from ground-hugging miniatures spanning only inches in height, to arboreal giants of 20 feet or greater. Some Opuntias are fast growing, low maintenance desert sculptures, making them standouts as xeriscape specimens. Some excellent landscape forms are Opuntia ‘Santa Rita’, with silvery round pads tinged purple in cooler weather and Consolea falcata, with its shiny green pads and its floriferous nature. Other favorites include Opuntia robusta, with giant 12″ round bluish pads and Opuntia leucotricha, with its dense silvery spines. All of these make bold statuesque statements in any garden or xeriscape.

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Zanted… What? Just Say “Calla”!

by Bob Reidmuller
printed in Garden Compass magazine, March/April 2003
Used with permission.

More often associated with demise and macabre circumstances, the Calla Lily is more a herald of rebirth, spring and summer. As twisted as its image so is its botanical name. There is only one true Calla, Calla palustris, a white bog plant. All others at the turn of the last century were moved to the genus Richardia and were eventually reclassified as the genus Zantedeschia…we still say Calla!

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Echeverias in the Xeriscape

Plant enthusiasts are familiar with Echeverias as small, attractive rosettes that in time form the “Hen & Chick” clusters so well suited to window culture, and as container plants on the patio in singular or multiple plantings. Few are aware of the potential of the larger Echeverias with regards to xeriscaping.

The culture for these plants is not complicated. Echeverias prefer excellent air circulation, well draining soil, and will thrive in slightly cooler, temperate climes. Echeverias may become somewhat dormant in extreme heat, but begin growing again once the temperature cools in the fall. It is preferable to protect Echeverias from frost to prevent the subsequent scarring of the plant.

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The Cool Weather Gang

by Bob Reidmuller
printed in Garden Compass magazine, Nov/Dec 2002
Used with permission.

The year is nearly gone when it seems to have just started, and we will soon be in a sea of poinsettias. With the screaming heat of summer all but a memory it’s time to brighten up with some cool weather perennials. Most perennials are taking a well-deserved breather, but the perennial Daisy Gang is ramping up to take over.

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Coleus Made Me a Plant Geek

Really, it did. My first interest in plants came as a child at my grandmother’s house. Nanny had Coleus growing on the kitchen windowsill and the explosion of color mesmerized me. She showed me how to take a cutting, root it in water, and the rest was all downhill – instant Plant Geek! If only she could see the varieties we have now…

We are headed into fall when colors explode across the landscape in reds, yellows, orange, rust and pink. New Coleus varieties (Solenostemon scuttelarioides) are perfect for the fall shade garden. Nearly every color except blue is now available (even just about black!) in either solid or combinations. Leaf shapes have gone cosmic as well from traditional oval to ruffled, deeply lobed, skinny fingers, and corkscrew spirals! September and October are still often two of the hottest months here in California. November can be mild. That leaves three whole months to enjoy this frost tender annual full of color – and fall colors at that.

Filtered sun to light shade, evenly moist cool soil with regular waterings (never let them dry out completely), and that’s about all there is to it! Don’t be afraid to tip pinch either to make them extra full. Especially pinch out flower spikes as they form to prolong the beauty.

by Bob Reidmuller
printed in Garden Compass magazine, Sept/Oct 2002
Used with permission.

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