Chris Finch at Annie's Annuals & Perennials

This morning I went to hear Chris Finch, coauthor of Plants and Landscapes for Summer Dry Climates talk about soil communities and mycorrhizae at Annie's Annuals and Perennials in Richmond, CA (Go there, it's fantastic!). Not to sound like an post WWII appliance salesman, but that research and the understanding of mutually supportive plant/microbe communities is the way of the future in successful gardening y'all. As an aside, their text has been really important for me in moving out here and familiarizing myself with plant communities completely foreign to a temperate-gardening southerner. She was really adept at breaking down some pretty complex chemistry into broad basics during her short talk. She highlighted several concepts that I will find really useful going forward. In particular--and I'm going to grossly oversimplify, but nonetheless: there are hundreds of varieties of soil microbes that can live within the same space as a period on a page but can eat their way through plant excretions in the soil up to a meter a day. In doing so, they in turn excrete nutrients in a form that is available for plant absorption; thus, plants and microbes live in a mutually beneficial relationship extraordinaire. Soil stuctures tend to have a basic composition of bacterial microorganisms and fungal microorganisms (please continue to bear with these really coarse generalizations). Secession plants emerge in heavily bacterial soil (where woodies, heavy feeders, and trees don't bear to tread) but the richest of soils, like old growth forest, is almost completely arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, and there is the full spectrum in between.  So, when thinking about what can grow in your soil or what you want to grow in your soil, ratio of bacterial to fungal mycorrhizae is a good heuristic for understanding what needs to be planted and how the soil needs to be treated. Pretty amazing. What we see (and for some of us, dream of, obsess about, delight in) above the soil, is categorically different from the same plant's life underneath the soil, and really nothing amazing compared to its eerily cognizant adventitious root system. Ok, I'm gonna nerd out visually now, cuz that's better than yammering on...

Coteyledon orbiculata "Pig's Ear"

Check out this border...Annie's does it up right.  That royal-hued yucca is Yucca aloifolia 'Purpurea' which I did try in Atlanta from Hawk's Ridge, but the winter and the humidity did a number on's how it's supposed to look.  That's an echeveria blooming behind it, and the silvery foxtailed looking plant to the left is Athanasia pinnata, a South African native shrub---striking mix, with pachyveria and crassula at the base!

Another successful combo: Euphorbia 'Blue Haze' (A winner in GA too!), Nolina (I think), Sedum 'Voodoo', and Pachyveria 

Ok, check out this black Dyckia...yummmm

Another angle, native Dudleya in bloom, yucca, penstemon...

And this, my friends, is what becomes of one's knee when ogling a colony of Mimulus aurantiacas growing on a hillside when one should be paying attention to where one is running...through the leggings...just saying... 


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