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Hot Gardens Newsletter - Spring 2004

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Sweaty Plants. The sudden summer-like heat that has descended upon us in the last few days may have caught some of your new, young plants or transplants unprepared. Like humans, plants “sweat” in the heat. It’s called transpiration and consists of evaporation of water from the leaves. Young tender plants sweat more than older, “hardened” plants and often the young plants wilt and die – no matter how much you water them.

The problem is that young plants cannot absorb water from the soil fast enough to replace the water evaporating from their leaves. One solution that seems to work is to keep your young plants shaded until they mature. Sudden heat may also affect more mature plants, especially when they are putting out new growth.

Double the Damage. The "sweaty" plant problem is definitely made worse by the winds that sweep across the desert in Spring. Shading your young plants may not be enough. You may have to provide wind-shelter, too. The best solution may be to plant your most tender plants in the shelter of the block walls that are so common in desert garden.

Desert Gardening 101. In your gardening efforts this Spring, we hope you added a lot of organic material to the soil around your plants and in your flower/shrub borders. The one universal truth about desert gardening is that you must improve your soil by adding organic materials – as well as fertilizers containing chelated iron and sulfur – on a regular basis. By regular basis, we mean at least once a year. Ideally, do it twice a year in Spring and Fall. You can pour all the water you want on plants in the desert, but unless you improve the soil first, your garden will never achieve its beautiful potential.

Dry in Santa Barbara. Beautiful gardens are everywhere in Santa Barbara, but three deserve special attention. Several years ago after the very severe drought in Santa Barbara, their Parks Department converted a large part of the Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden to a low-water usage demonstration garden. It includes examples of flower borders and dry creek beds, as well as plants to use in dry shady areas.

Dry, shade is one of the most challenging environments for low-water usage gardens because plants that like shade usually like lots of water. Two plants they recommend for dry shade are the Kaffir Lily (Clivia Miniata) and the variegated Turf Lily, Liriope “Silver Dragon’. We can attest to the fact that variegated liriope does very well in the desert and have seen Clivia thriving in deep, dark shade. Note that the Clivia's leaves will burn in even the a moderate amount of sunlight.

Clivia minata in bloom

This shade-loving clump of Clivias is at its peak with clusters of brilliant orange flowers rising above strappy dark green leaves. Hybridizers have also produced yellow blooming Clivias.

Happily, the Park Department includes a brochure and detailed plant list in a box near the southwest corner of the garden to aid visitors in plant identification and horticultural requirements of the plants. The Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden is appropriately located at Garden and Arrellaga streets in Santa Barbara and there are plenty of places to simply sit and enjoy the beauty of the garden.

As you make your way from the Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, you will pass by the Santa Barbara Mission Rose Garden. It is definitely not low water usage, but the roses are especially beautiful at this time of year. If you are a rose lover, this garden is worth a stop.

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The route to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden from the Mission Rose garden is well marked. Just follow the signs up Mission Canyon. This 78 acre botanic garden is devoted to native plants of all regions and ecosystems of California. Near the entrance, there is a small area devoted to plants of the Great Basin, Mojave, and Sonoran deserts.

santa barbara botanic garden meadow

Also near the entrance is a glorious “meadow” garden which blooms in April and May of each year.

 California poppies, Eschscholzia californica, – which do well in desert flower borders and re-seed themselves year after year – compete with native sunflowers, salvias and grasses to give visitors a view of a sea of color. A mile long trail through the Botanic Garden takes you from the desert through the meadow to the cool redwood grove then down an oak tree lined path and back to a low water usage demonstration garden. Along the way you will find many benches that allow you to simply sit and enjoy the peaceful environment. They offer guided tours daily at 2 p.m. and have a garden shop and wonderful book store. For more photos of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden go here.

Go to our Newsletter for April 2005 or April-May 2006 

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For a burst of color in fall 
plant a Fan Tex ash Rio Grande. 
Other trees are here.
Succulents bloom beautifully
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with almost total neglect.
Clematis is just one of many
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in a hot, dry climate.

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