Artichokes

artichokes on Las Posas Road, near Malibu

artichokes on Las Posas Road, near Malibu

If you live in Los Angeles, you don’t have to travel far to find an artichoke farm. There’s a big one on Las Posas Road, near Malibu, on the edge of a fertile valley that stretches between the Ventura Freeway and Pacific Coast Highway.
Who knew? I had always thought of artichokes as a crop exclusive to Northern California, with virtually all of U.S. commercial acreage confined to Castro Valley and vicinity, near San Francisco.
It turns out that, whether north or south, proximity to the California coast and protective valley topography provide the perfect conditions for artichoke production.
You also can grow artichokes in any sun-splashed San Fernando Valley garden.
You can start them from seed or from basal cuttings taken from mother plants, or you can transplant container-grown artichoke seedlings directly into the earth.
Prior to planting, soil should be amended with lots of compost. And a complete fertilizer, including micronutrients, will help your artichokes along their way. Large, bushy specimens, covered with artichokes, should be yours within one year of planting.
Although watering will be of major concern during their first year in the garden, artichokes will be reasonably drought tolerant after that. However, for better-quality crops – I would say fruit, but artichokes are actually unopened flower buds – plants should be soaked every other day in hot weather during their productive life of two to three years.
One of my choicest horticultural discoveries of 2011 was Sedum ‘Angelina,’ also referred to as golden sedum because of its glittering, gilded, if minute leaves. Do not confuse it with gold moss sedum (Sedum acre), whose flowers are yellow but whose foliage is green.
I planted Sedum ‘Angelina’ more than two years ago but did not really notice it until now. It was so slow to establish that I was close to pulling it out. In retrospect, I should have planted more of it since any of the small-leafed sedums, of which there are cultivars with green, blue, red, silver or gold foliage, need to occupy a solid patch of at least 20 square feet, I have learned, in order to be noticed.
But once you do notice a small-leafed sedum, also known as stonecrop, you will be pleased with its vivid color and its tolerance to drought and cold.
As for golden sedum, its color brightens from yellow-green to pure gold as temperatures cool considerably around Thanksgiving.
I have lately been reminded that Hollywood juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Torulosa’) is the most naturally ornate, medium-sized, arborescent conifer, if not tree in general, available. It is slow growing and, in the manner of most other junipers and related cypresses, is highly drought tolerant.
The uniquely twisting, corkscrew presence of Hollywood juniper makes it a fitting, contrasting selection placed next to a house with a plain, rectangular or square facade, or in front of a boring block wall. For a dramatic entrance, plant rows of Hollywood junipers on either side of a driveway or wide front walkway.
Honey bush (Melianthus major) is a plant whose distinctive foliage and flowers set it apart and whose name is ironic, since it emits a foul odor when its leaves are touched. Leaves are grayish or bluish green, deeply serrated and have a whimsically soft, “touch me” quality. Flowers are nodding, waxen and brick red.
Honey bushes grow to around 6 feet tall, whereupon they begin to look mangy. This is no cause for alarm, however, as plants may be cut down to ground level and, in no time, sprout anew from their roots.
Southern Californians who immigrated here from New England may yearn for foliage that turns color when days shorten and temperatures cool. To satisfy this yearning, oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is recommended. It turns a reliable burgundy red in late fall or early winter before its deeply lobed leaves fall off.
Aside from its foliar color change, oak leaf hydrangea has other characteristics that distinguish it from more common woody perennials. It grows best in half sun to shady exposures and I have seen it thrive under sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) and California sycamore (Platanus racemosa) trees. It produces thick, pyramidal panicles of white flowers and may be cut back at will without negative effect on subsequent growth and flowering.
Speaking of woody perennials that change color, heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica), an evergreen, should not be overlooked. Like oak leaf hydrangea, heavenly bamboo will survive a freeze just fine. This is true of the familiar type of heavenly bamboo, at least, the one that grows to 5 feet or taller. Many of the newer, compact or dwarf heavenly bamboo cultivars are cold sensitive.
All types of heavenly bamboo, however, are restricted in their growth when soil pH is high. If planted, for example, in alkaline desert soil, heavenly bamboo should receive regular application of sulfate fertilizers and gypsum (calcium sulfate). Sulfate reacts with water, whether from irrigation or rain, to form sulfuric acid, reducing soil pH in the process.
Tip of the week
Aside from heavenly bamboo, you may want to consider planting some of its shrubby relatives, which display colorful foliage and are extremely drought tolerant as well. Mahonias, ranging from shrubs to ground covers, sport sharp-edged hollylike foliage, yellow flowers and blue or red globular fruit. Barberries (Berberis spp.), all of them prickly, some evergreen and some deciduous, include many cultivars with deep burgundy foliage as well as variegated cultivars with pink, bronze, white and green colors in various combinations on the same leaf.

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