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Saturday, June 13, 2009

I Planted a Plant

On the 23rd of May it was a beautiful southern California Saturday so I drove south to Escondido on a quest for interesting nursery stock. I found this plant in the back reaches of a nursery down there, in the not-so-sexy section close to the empty can stockpile. It (the plant not the stockpile) caught my eye because it's reminiscent of the rabbitbrush I saw and admired so much on my not-so-recent but fondly remembered trip to New Mexico.

But the plant I saw, and bought some of, has a flatter inflorescence and bluer scalier more divided leaves than chrysothamnus vicidiflorus, what I think those noteworthy blazing yellow shrubs in NM were. Could be another chrysothamnus, or ericameria? an unfamiliar euryops? something everyone else knows well but I have never bumped up against until now? I do know this mystery compositae is not ruta graveolens, which is how the nursery had mistakenly labeled it.

And so I brought home some 1 gallon samples of my erstwhile rabbitbrush to plant in the parkway. Which brings up the topic of gardening without fear.

There are a tremendous number of books available on plants: perennials, roses, natives, grasses, southwestern, succulents, cottage garden, even poisonous. The sense behind these books (aside from the authors' joy of holding forth on the topic of plants and getting paid for it) is that if we gardeners can attain enough knowledge about our plants they will grow successfully for us, in lovely combinations free of weeds, disease and insect infestations. Knowledge helps us choose plants known to do well in an environment something like the one we intend to plunk them into. There is a lot to know, and a short time to learn it.

I like to know stuff, and respect the first commandment of gardening, "Honor thy Sunset zone and thy microclimate" so I spent some effort trying to identify my mystery plant. But when knowledge falls short, chance tempered by instinct takes over. In short, just plant the thing and see what happens. The mystery plants are doing well so far and look great among the 30 or so other plant species inhabiting the parkway, several of which were also calculated experiments with risks (potential loss of a couple of dollars) that have gone mostly unrealized. I consider the effort spent digging the hole a benefit, not a risk.

One caveat: Invasive plants should always be planted with care or not at all in gardens that are near natural areas. Try to familiarize yourself with the fairly long list of plants that can escape cultivation and cause serious damage to natural ecosystems.

The rabbitbrush or whatever it is came complete with its own buggies at no additional charge: lygus bugs, possibly Lygus lineolaris (according to USDA the most common plant bug in the US with a large range of host plants) and the caterpillar of a geometrid moth affectionately known as a pug. Neither of these bugs species are newcomers to the garden so they should blend in nicely in their new environment.

Meanwhile the regular gang of parkway bugs which have become well established since the mixed perennial planting replaced the turf have adopted the inflorescences of the newcomer as their own. These are large milkweed bugs, oncopeltus faciatus, in two stages of growth.

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