Saturday, March 14, 2009

The two of us

With a max of around 29°C and the humidity meter set to 'muggy', only a foolish boy with a whole weekend ahead of him would get out the ladder and clippers today, to tame the espaliered lime, some wayward hedges and an olive tree with pretensions to grandeur. These jobs can wait till tomorrow, and in the meantime I can contemplate why some pairs of plants can be so different, and others so beautifully synchronised, and why I find all this so handy as a gardener.

This is just another excuse to play with Photoshop, a panorama of Amateur Land taken about half an hour ago. At the far right and far left of the panorama are my first "two of us" subjects, my cumquats. In between is a garden that right now needs little work.

My friend Michelle's cumquat on the left, mine is on the right. I'm baby-sitting Michelle's plant while she explores the Australian Outback for a year or so, from her base in Birdsville (her blog is in my blog links section). Her cumquat is a perfectly healthy little thing with vivid, dark green leaves. It flowers earlier than my plant, sets fruit earlier and is doing well, covered in baby fruits. But it hasn't grown all that much as a tree. My tree, by comparison, is growing like mad, and is also flowering well and covered in fruits now, and it's the younger of the two plants by about 12 months.

Can't be sure but I think these are fruits on Michelle's plant. Her plant has been in my care for about 12 months now and has received identical food, water, fertiliser as the other one. The only possible differences to explain the lack of growth are:
1. Michelle's plant was traumatised big-time by a 41°C summer scorcher on New Year's Day in 2007. My plant didn't exist at that time, I bought and planted mine later that year.
2. Michelle's plant is in a plastic pot, and mine is in a glazed ceramic pot.
And that's about it. Maybe the potting mixes are different, but they both drain well and I don't think they're a factor, as potting mixes lose fertility fairly fast, so they're both dependent entirely on the food I give them (which comes in a steady flow of light feeds every six weeks).
My guess is that the stout, healthy little plant is a tough little trauma victim which is soldiering on wonderfully, but maybe its root system is still regrowing and things are still are not all that good below-ground. There's a product sold here called Seasol, which is an organic, seaweed-based liquid that is marketed as a "root growth promoter" and "soil conditioner", rather than a fertiliser, so I've resolved to give the trauma victim a few fortnightly doses of magic elixir and see how it shapes up over the next few months. If that doesn't work, I'll repot it in late winter and see if fresh potting mix helps. That's all I can think of.

"Two of us" case number 2, the sedums. (Maybe I should give this one a Robert Ludlum style title such as "The Sedum Conundrum" – maybe not...) Two cuttings brought home from a visit to a gardener-pal in southern Australia. Both are sedums, both thriving in my friend Amanda's garden down south. On the left is Sedum 'Autumn Joy' and on the right, the plant I now call Sedumn 'No Joy'. Identical spots, identical potting mix, identical care. The one on the right is in a permanent sulk, its cousin on the left, delirious with joy.

These flower buds of 'Autumn Joy' start out light pink then darken as they open, the combination of blooms and foliage as fresh as happy teenagers having fun at the beach.

This one is doing the equivalent of sitting locked in its room listening to loud heavy metal music. Not happy. With all potted plants, my motto is "if not performing, repot!" And so that's all I can think of at this stage.

I have a soundtrack in mind for my final little "two of us" pairing – Bryan Ferry and "Let's Stick Together", although the lyric would have to alter to "let's bloom together, come on come on, let's bloom together". In one part of the garden, a potted crassula (which my Googling thinks is called "Baby's necklace", but which I like to think of as "Pagoda") has decided to flower. These are the buds, and the blooms themselves will be small, with reddish centres, I expect. (The green leaves? The oregano which never knows when it's not welcome).

Brought home from a local nursery only a couple of months ago, this had the very unhelpful label of "succulent" on it (as so many succulents do, unfortunately), but I am sure it's a crassula, too. To confirm my suspicions, the moment Crassula 'Pagoda' burst into bloom, so did this little fellow. There must be a crassula checklist buried in their DNA: temperatures down? Check. Daylight length shortening? Check. Bit of rain lately? Check. OK, Crassulas, let's do it!

I guess all I'm trying to say that it's always handy to have more than one of any plant in your garden, just so you have some reference point for its health, its progress and overall happiness. Once the crassulas finish flowering I'm thinking of potting them up into larger pots and putting them together, for company. I'll repot the 'No Joy' sedum and see what happens, and I'll give Michelle's cumquat a bit more specialised care before repotting. Without the comparison plants, I might have done nothing much more with any of them.


Chandramouli S said...

Every plant seem to have a character of their own and I've experience that myself too. Though fed equally with the same mix of potting soil, would behave so differently, no matter how equally we treat the same.
I wasn't familiar with Cumquats so I looked up online and learned that they have fruits with sweet rind and sour inside. Interesting! Hope yours fruit soon.

Jamie said...

Hi Chandramouli
Cumquats are a type of citrus. We use the fruit to make marmalade, as it's a bit sour to eat fresh, although one interesting thing is that you can also eat the skin, as it's quite thin. There's a very closely related small citrus called calamondin that's very similar to the cumquat. Both are ideal citrus for growing in pots.

Alice Joyce said...

Hi Jamie,
Loved this post!

patientgardener said...

As the leaves on the sedums are different colours I assume the cuttings were from different plants. If that is so maybe the dark leaved one is a less vigorous plant.

Michelle Outback said...

Hi Jamie, the difference in the cumquats may also be due to the fact that yours has had very good care right from the word go, whereas mine got very hit and miss care before it got to you — I'm an enthusiastic but not very disciplined gardener. I really enjoy your blog.