Tom Karwin, On Gardening | Seasonal projects – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Care for your garden

Just when we see that our gardens are evolving into dormancy, a quick survey reveals a trove of timely tasks. These are small-scale projects that might be overlooked, but that nature requires to be done for good appearances now and preparations for the coming season.

A comprehensive list of seasonal tasks for all gardens could not be included here, but we urge all gardeners to prioritize ways to care for their gardens at this time of the year. You could spread the workload over the next several weeks, keeping the plants’ annual cycles in mind.

Today’s column features a few (not all) of the tasks found in my garden.

Cultivating crinums

My South African perennial garden bed includes a cluster of crinums. The genus includes 180 species called crinum lily, cape lily, spider lily, or swamp lily. Despite the references to lilies, crinums are members of the amaryllis plant family, not the lily plant family.

Most crinum varieties bloom best in full sun and moist or even soggy soil (hence the name “swamp lily”), but the species vary. My plants (crinum moorei), native to South Africa, prefer partial shade and grow and bloom well with minimal irrigation.

Crinums are related to the familiar “Naked Lady” plants (amaryllis belladonna), which are hyseranthous plants, i.e., leafless autumn-flowering geophytes, as discussed in last week’s column. By comparison, crinums are synanthous plants, meaning that they have flowers and leaves at the same time.

Crinums are stately plants. The bulbs (up to 8 inches across) rest just under the surface of the soil, with a neck that rises 8-12 inches above ground. Long, flat, dark green leaves (up to 36 inches long and 8 inches wide) emerge in a rosette from the neck, which in the summer also produces a 4.5 foot tall flowering scape with a cluster of five to 10 large white to pale pink lily-like, pleasingly fragrant flowers.

In colder climates, these plants die to the ground in winter and shoot up in the spring like daffodils and tulips. At this time of the year, in the Monterey Bay area, the Crinums have finished blooming, and their leaves and scapes have laid themselves down. In my garden, they now need to be cut back.

The mature bulbs will produce new stalks as well as offsets. Now would be a good time to lift and divide the bulbs, replanting them or sharing them with other gardeners. In any case, they should be planted 4-6 feet apart to allow space for the bulbs to propagate.

Growing sweet peas from seed

Now is the time to plant sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), which are native to Sicily, southern Italy, and the Aegean Islands. Hybrid varieties offer blossoms in a wide range of colors and color combinations. They do not have yellow flowers, despite efforts by hybridizers to produce this blossom color. (Blue roses and true red irises are similarly elusive.) Sweet peas are valued as garden enhancements, cut flowers, and sources of appealing fragrance.

I grow the heirloom variety, Lathyrus odoratus ‘Cupani’s Original,’ which dates from the late 17th century. In addition to having a long heritage, this variety has reliable growth and a particularly pleasing fragrance. I save the seeds each year and plant them where they can climb.

In the Monterey Bay area, sweet peas are quite easy to grow from seeds planted now through November, to give them time to develop roots. They could also be planted in April or May.

These plants grow best with their heads in the sun and their roots deep in cool, moist soil. To get the best display, dig a trench and fill it with well-rotted manure or compost six weeks before you sow the seeds. Sweet peas are greedy plants and need a good boost of nutrient-rich matter to thrive. They have tendrils that will twine around a supporting structure, e.g., a trellis, netting, or another plant. They will bloom from late spring to early summer, and appreciate protection from summer heat.

For detailed advice on starting sweet peas indoors, visit the Renee’s Garden website (www.reneesgarden.com/blogs/gardening-resources/, click on “Growing From Seed” and scroll down to “Growing Sweet Peas.” This page also includes a link to 28 varieties available from Renee’s Garden.

Propagating agaves from bulbils

Two months ago, this column featured the flower stalk of a Variegated Smooth Agave (A. desmetiana ‘Variegata’). Its flowers have since faded, and it has produced a fine crop of bulbils, which are miniature plants that grow along the flower stalk and eventually fall off and root. When left to their own devices, the bulbils grow readily if the young plants survive herbaceous predators.

This agave grows to a moderate size, about 3 x 3 feet, with attractive variegated leaves. I have neither the desire nor the space for a new colony of this plant, but by propagating the bulbils I could add a couple of plants in my garden and offer some to other gardeners.

This plant is offered for sale online in a 4.5 inch container for $23, plus tax and shipping, so free plants would be an extraordinary bargain.

Advance your gardening knowledge

Plant and landscape photography is a popular practice for many gardeners. They use photos to document selected plants or garden areas as they develop, share horticultural successes with friends, or even advance into commercial photography.

With digital cameras, garden photography is convenient and technically straightforward, but still aesthetically challenging. Experienced garden photographers can provide advice, ideas, techniques, and tricks that could help you to advance from casual snapshots to satisfying photographic art.

Last week’s column listed a webinar in which Photographer Irwin Lightstone discussed “Capturing the Plant’s Character in Your Photography.” The recorded webinar is available online at www.facebook.com/CactusAndSucculentSocietyOfAmerica/.

A particularly successful and prolific garden photographer, Saxon Holt, has an award-winning e-book, “Good Garden Photography,” which can be downloaded from his website, saxonholt.com. For more examples of his photography and his “living books,” visit photobotanic.com/.

Youtube.com offers a wealth of garden photography information. Search for “iphone photography flowers” for links to numerous short presentations on this topic, by several different photographers.

To broaden your photographic skills, some sites, e.g., iphonephotographyschool.com, presented by Emil Pakarklis and Clifford Pickett, invite subscription to an online course on photography, covering a range of topics and subjects, going beyond plants and landscapes.

Enjoy your garden!

Tom Karwin is past president of Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and the Monterey Bay Iris Society, a Lifetime Member of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999–2009). He is now a board member of the Santa Cruz Hostel Society, and active with the Pacific Horticultural Society. To view daily photos from his garden, https://www.facebook.com/ongardeningcom-566511763375123/. For garden coaching info and an archive of previous On Gardening columns, visit http://ongardening.com.

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