Thursday, January 13, 2011


Last summer I removed a large, impacted stand of dudleya from the center of our cactus and succulent bed because there was no room to stand while pulling out weeds (mostly tall grasses and the occasional volunteer freesia or Star of Bethlehem). Now I have a greater variety of cacti and succulents, most transplanted from overgrown backyard containers, along with plenty of space in between for weeds. The dudleyas have yet to make a spectacular comeback, and the tiny iceplants brought from the parking strip are just barely holding their own among volunteer nasturtiums.

During December's rains, weeds got a major head start, thanks in part to my earlier digging. We've all heard the old saying: "A weed is a plant out of place." Though I've uttered this cliché many times myself, I think it's more accurate to say "A plant out of place is a weed." Thus three plants revered in other settings -- freesia, star of bethlehem, and elephant garlic -- are weeds among cacti and succulents.

Last week I finished relocating most of the garlic.* It will stand tall in the herb and veggie garden along our chain link fince, and in the narrow strip along the driveway. Some I pulled out when it was as much as six inches high, but it seems to be withstanding the shock of transplantation. I also planted a lot of the tiny brown bulblets that grow under larger garlic bulbs; these have not yet sprouted, but I'm looking for new green garlic recipes in anticipation of a bumper crop.

Freesia, a native of South Africa, is one of my favorite flowers, but it has sufficient room of its own in a flower bed among azaleas, lavender, ranunculi, and convolvulus mauritanicus (ground morning glory). There's no need to transplant any freesias here, but I've given away myriad bulbs and baby plants.

The invasive star of bethlehem, aka SB (see star wars), has absolutely no redeeming social, environmental, or aesthetic value for me anymore. I think I've pulled out more SBs since 'fring' started than I've pulled out in the last year. Yes! It's the fring fling!

The power packed into a harmless-looking SB bulb is phenomenal. Any sprout has the potential to burrow through multiple layers of heavy cardboard and mulch, or creep out from under a brick or paving stone. I litter the ground with SB shoots up to a foot long, blanched as pale as white asparagus, when my digging and yanking fail to dislodge their bulbs. These rejected leaves will subside into the perma-layer of mulch. I rather pathetically hope their bulbs will not sprout again. Surely some must rot with no light and air. When I succeed in pulling out a bulb (even if it's only 1/4 inch in diameter, it goes straight into the green plastic bin whose contents are destined for a huge municipal composting project.

If SB escapes the municipal compost and blankets SoCal in a couple of years I will feel extremely guilty but will still be shouting "Not in my front yard!"

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* During my recent trip to Idaho, folks were horrified when I talked about growing garlic. Reputable nurseries will not ship garlic bulbs to Idaho or Canada, because they can carry a fungus that threatens commercial onion farming there.

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License