Tag Archives: Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca

bromeliads for hanging planters? (yes!)

A lot of my bromeliads swing from on high now.

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And it all started with an act of generosity back in January of 2014.
A gift from Reuben, after our joint flea market venture.
(It’d be fun to plan another flea market escapade for winter, or maybe a pop-up shop. But these are plans for cooler weather.)

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At first a single bromeliad, Aechmea recurvata ‘Aztec Gold,’ made its home here.
(Nice to see that yucca and coronilla again, both plants that have moved on, leaving behind progeny that pop up from time to time.)

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I bet you know where this is going. When have I ever left well enough alone, or been a one-bromeliad-per-sphere person, so to speak?
By April 2014 there were two.

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By June of 2015, there was lots of company.

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It’s actually been thinned out a little since 2015. Some of the bromeliads grow too large and get moved out into pots.

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There are terrestrial, ground-dwelling bromeliads, which can get enormous like the alcantareas, and epiphytic, tree-dwelling bromeliads.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, that first aechmea was a good choice, being an epiphytic bromeliad, with roots adapted to clinging to trees.

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Now you know as much as I do about these plants with the fabulously plasticine, kaleidoscopic leaves and flowers as colorful as tropical birds.
Like succulents, these are forgiving plants that don’t punish ignorance.
A more organic approach than my sphere is an option, as seen in this example in the cloud forest section of the Huntington Botanical Garden’s conservatory.
Bromeliads are mossed and fixed to the branch by florist wire or fishing line (further instructions here).

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There are thousands of species of bromeliads, pretty much all of them native to Central and South America (the neotropic ecozone.)
Some of the more familiar are the ones we make upside-down cakes with (pineapples) and the wildly popular air plants/tillandsias.

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Some enthrallingly kinetic examples of tillandsias from local nurseries and plant shows.


Rest assured, there are great minds out there applying themselves to devising methods for displaying tillandsias.
Above is the Airplantman Josh Rosen’s Airplant Frame seen at Big Red Sun in Venice.
Seth Boor in collaboration with Flora Grubb designed the Thigmotrope Satellite.

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Another hanging arrangement with tillandsias from my garden. I incorporated most of these into the sphere.

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The takeaway here is, this growing arrangement has legs. The plants thrive on very little input from me.
For truth be told, for all my enthusiasm, I am not the most technically gifted plant caretaker.
Requiring little soil, mostly just moss, tolerant of dryish conditions, appreciating a refreshing spritz with the hose once a week. And that’s it.

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In fact, the care for shade-tolerant succulents and bromeliads is so similar that I combine them in shallow planters.

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As rain forest understory plants that can absorb nutrients and moisture through their leaves, I’ve always assumed, for Los Angeles, shade is the safest best.
But some bromeliads can tolerate a surprising amount of sunlight, as long as it’s not strong afternoon sunshine. I’m trying out a few under an acacia tree with grasses.
The best leaf color is obtained by exposure to as much sun as can be tolerated without leaf burn.
There are surer ways of sorting out light requirements for the different species, of course, like consulting a reference book.
Bromeliads for the Contemporary Garden,” which I haven’t read, looks promising.

Nice-sized specimens, however, do not come cheap. I like looking for deals on small pups at bromeliad shows, like the upcoming show August 6th & 7th at Rain Forest Flora in Torrance.

You don’t happen to have a sphere lying around? What the heck, it’s mid summer. Go ahead and treat yourself. Salvage yards are full of interesting possibilities.
And Terrain offers a very similar Hanging Planter here.
Potted’s Hedge Hanging Planter would work just as well.
Or get to work with a branch and some fishing line.
I’ve got an empty hayrack that I’d love to see overflowing with bromeliads.
More images of bromeliads from AGO can be found here.

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Bloom Day January 2014

Scrounging around the garden for something to report this first Bloom Day of 2014 made me realize that although nothing big and splashy was catching my eye, there’s still plenty to give bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators micro energy drinks throughout the day, especially the acacia and coronilla. But the star attraction for bees is hands down the Agave desmettiana in bloom. This morning Marty and I stood quietly a few inches from the bloom stalk just to listen to the thrum of activity. He was shocked that I had never cupped my hands around my ears to amplify sound before. Just another example of what a sheltered life I’ve led. If like me you haven’t done so, try it. The quiet thrum was instantly transformed into a buzzing, wing-beating roar.

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Helleborus argutifolius, whose fresh seed germinates as soon as it hits the ground, with the big rosettes of Echium simplex in front. I’m dying to see those cool white spikes rise up this summer.

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Bilbergia nutans with lots more blooms to come. How did this free-flowering bromeliad get by me for so many years?

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Nancy Ondra’s nicotiana selection is as charming as ever. Such a good plant for fall, winter and spring here, but dies off when the heat arrives. Seeds profusely.

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Acacia podalyrifolia. Until I decide what shape to prune it, shrub or tree, this acacia will continue to whack everybody in the face as they exit the driver’s side of their car. At least it smells nice.

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Unlike this really skunky plectranthus.

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Echeveria coccinea is managing to bloom in the very dry soil under the tetrapanax.

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I launched a massive plant hunt locally for Geranium ‘Ann Folkard,’ so it could weave through the skirts of Melianthus ‘Purple Haze’ this summer. None was found, but instead of mail ordering ‘Ann Folkard’ I opted to try a magenta brethren, Geranium cinereum ‘Subcaulescens’ found at a nursery in El Segundo. This is one instance I would have preferred the trailing habit of AF, but the clumping G. cinereum has already distinguished itself by continually pumping out scads and scads of shocking magenta flowers. Quite the eye-rubbing sight before the first cup of coffee in the morning.

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I didn’t realize there was such variability with Pelargonium sidoides until I found this one with a larger leaf but smaller, darker flowers at Robin Parer’s booth at a plant show last year. Always has a few blooms on it.

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Coronilla valentina will go supernova, covered in bloom, by the end of the month.

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Budding up. Euphorbias, dyckias, and aloes.

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I was recently talked into a trial subscription to The Wall Street Journal, which has since been arriving dangerously close to Aloe capitata’s developing bloom stalk, its first ever. (Home delivery subscription cancelled today.)

Carol hosts this invaluable monthly record of blooms at her blog May Dreams Gardens.

Coronilla valentina

Now that we all have a new phrase in our meteorology lexicon (“polar vortex”)*, it’s time to entertain our cold-blasted friends with talk of plants from warmer climes. Along with the unexpected germination of several triangle palm seeds (Dypsis decaryi), the coronilla also surprised me this year with more than a dozen seedlings. The mother plant was grown from a single cutting taken of the variegated form as it was collapsing in August a few years ago. (Variegated or non-variegated is fine by me.) Coronilla, like lots of plants from the mediterranean climate regions of the world, are not long-lived. Its very lanky form is supposedly limited to 2 to 3 feet. Since I never see this plant locally, I can’t be sure if mine is an outlier, topping as it does the garage roofline. Its sprawling stems were threaded when young through a spiraling tuteur, and now a froth of rue-like, ferny leaves and, beginning in January, scented, clear yellow flowers billows up and over the top of its cinched-in shape. Coronilla blooms on new growth, but hard pruning is to be avoided, so I just clean it up after the major bloom period is over in spring, though it does throw a few flowers all summer. Twiggy tracery, tiny blue leaves, flashes of yellow like sunshine snagged in its stems. Sometimes I think this plant has a fan club of one (me), so it’s nice to find out I’m in good company. English plantswoman Derry Watkins lists it as a favorite too. Coronilla sails through our ever-lengthening dry season. One of those plants damned with the faint praise of having a “subtle beauty.” I’ve gotten so used to this beloved plant being ignored by visitors, that when a gentleman helping us hang gutters on the garage inquired about it, I didn’t know what to say. You’re talking about this plant? I asked him incredulously, grabbing and shaking one of its branches. Indeed he was. He declined my offer of seedlings, but later was seen googling “coronilla” on his smart phone. Proving again there’s a first time for everything.

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The crown-like flowers

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Lanky stems cinched in by the iron tuteur

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Absorbing patterns and scented bloom for mid-winter. For zone 8 or cool greenhouse. I’m including coronilla in Loree’s discussion of favorite plants at her blog Danger Garden.

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*”Polar Vortex Causes Hundreds of Injuries As People Making Snide Remarks about Climate Change are Punched in Face.” (It’s humor.)

Bloom Day March 2013

If it weren’t for the few stems of Scilla peruviana in bloom I’d feel completely out of step this March Bloom Day, when so many participating gardens are sending forth crocus and iris and so many other traditional spring bulbs and blooms. We may have flowers every month of the year, as Carol’s Bloom Day muse Elizabeth Lawrence declares, but we won’t all necessarily have the same flowers.

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I’ve been trimming away the lower leaves from a Geranium maderense to let some sun in on this patch of scilla.
Even in perfect conditions this bulb takes some years off and refuses to bloom.

What I’m most interested in this year is a little meadow/chaparral experiment that I’m hoping will bloom through summer in full sun, fairly dry conditions. It’s really begun to fill in the past couple weeks.

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Diascia personata is part of this experiment, three plants, two planted in fall and a cutting struck from one of them that has already made good size. Thanks go to Annie’s Annuals & Perennials for being the only U.S. source, via Derry Watkins’ extraordinary nursery in England. In the 1980s I reverently brought new diascia species and varieties home from Western Hills Nursery in Occidental, California, the only source at that time. Now all the local nurseries carry them as bedding plants every spring, and of course being a plant snob I don’t grow them anymore. But diascias can be very good here along the coast in the long cool spring and early summer, dwindling off in the heat of August. This Diascia personata’s height to 4 feet is a very intriguing asset.

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Also in the little meadow is Anthemis ‘Susanna Mitchell,’ and self-sown poppies, probably Papaver setigerum.
I like calling it my “meadow” when in truth it covers as much ground as a large picnic blanket.

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Blue oat grass, helicotrichon on the left, borders one side of the meadow/chaparral.

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Bordering a pathway elsewhere there’s a big swathe of this silvery gazania, maybe five plants, which counts as a swathe in my garden. In full sun they’d be open and you’d see what a shockingly striped and loud harlequin variety I chose last fall. Can’t fault those beautiful leaves though.

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More beautiful leaves to shore up what few flowering plants I actually grow. Senecio leucostachys is the big silvery sprawler. Small flashes of color from the Moroccan toadflax, Linaria reticulata, and the saffron-colored blooms of Salvia africana-lutea picking up speed, especially in recent temps in the high 80s. The phormium was bought misnamed as the dwarf ‘Tom Thumb.’ Whatever it’s true name, it’s stayed fairly compact and seems to have topped off at about 3 feet.

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Closeup of the salvia bloom.

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Euphorbia lambii began to bloom this week.

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The tree euphorbia really grew into its name this year.

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Kind of amazing to write that Nicotiana ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix’ has been in bloom all winter.
I’ve been cutting off old branches as the flowers go to seed. The brick paths are full of its seedlings.
Fresh basal leaf growth is coming in strong.

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Salvia chiapensis backed by Melianthus ‘Purple Haze’

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And a different view against a backdrop of sideritis and a big clump of Helleborus argutifolius.

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The yellow-flowered form of Russellia equisetiformis is just so very cool.

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Nasturtiums are ruthlessly thinned, but this climbing variety was allowed to fill in the bottom of a tuteur that supports the coronilla, which is still in full, aureate bloom.

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The coronilla with the nasturtium growing at the base of its support

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The seductive little species geraniums/pelargoniums are at their very best in spring

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Also beginning bloom is one of my favorite sedums. S. confusum.

Thanks again to Carol of May Dreams Gardens and all who participate in opening their gardens on Bloom Day.

back in the garden

I’ve still got a big cosmic hangover from visiting the California Science Center last week.
“Hubble 3-D” was at the IMAX theater. My brain was not built for IMAX movies, so what with the 3-D glasses and sitting too close because some in our party had stair issues, I thought I’d have to keep my eyes shut for the whole thing. When the movie started, I could feel the pressure building, like an anvil was sitting on top of my head, then two anvils. We were insanely close to the screen, but I hoped I could cope. Then three anvils were on top of my head. (I’d make a terrible astronaut.) At the last minute I fled the group and headed for high ground, the second-to-last row, which was empty. If this doesn’t do the trick, I thought, I can assume the 1950s atomic bomb, duck-and-cover posture for the whole movie, head between the knees, with none the wiser. In the last row behind me sat the usherette, absorbed in her iPhone. Final adjustment of the 3-D glasses, and I’m good to go. But instead of the voice of the gods, the narration appeared to be by an enthusiastic ninth-grader reading from his science report (Leonardo di Caprio). Then images from Hubble began to fill the screen, and I had my own private catharsis in the second-to-last row. Expecting to be more irritated by the experience than impressed, I now had to blink back tears so I wouldn’t miss an image. What was I getting so choked up about? I’ve been wondering ever since. I really don’t know. Is it because this might be the purest expression of our timeless curiosity? Is it because so many of these otherworldly shapes were somehow very, very familiar? Is it because we’ve been looking everywhere, and there’s literally no place like home?

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I’ve had Hubble goggles on ever since and hope I never lose them.

Images from Hubble

From the top, Ursinia sericea, Sonchus canariensis, rat-tail cactus, Eryngium padanifolium, Coronilla valentina, Leonotis leonorus, Cirsium occidentale, unnamed succulent, Senecio anteuphorbium.

Bloom Day February 2013


I admit I’m a vulgarian, if there was any doubt left. By February I’m starved for brash and garish, even though it violates the subtle order of nature that has spring unfolding with a delicacy that builds by degrees to a late summer, over-the-top crescendo. I go straight to over-the-top, and containers of gaudy tulips are the perfect vehicle for strong, fleeting boosts of color. I wouldn’t want masses of them, but a few in a pot are visual antidepressants on long stems, my go-to designer drug for jumpstarting spring. The species don’t like the chill-free winter here anyway, so that preempts any debate about the quiet beauty of species tulips versus the gypsy caravan hybrids. These hybrids are artificially chilled for six weeks in the garage fridge then go straight to the compost heap after blooming. This is the first pot of tulips to flower, the hybrid ‘Boston.’


Lotus jacobaeus would be wonderful draping over a low wall. I’ve clipped this one back quite a bit to keep it from smothering plants below, like the tall Aeonium ‘Cyclops.’ Its shrubby-but-lax framework is about 3 feet high now, kept upright with a rebar stake. A light background propels the velvety dark blooms. I like it against the pale leaves of the variegated Australian mint bush (prostranthera), and the lotus is thin enough in growth to weave through the shrub without harming it.


When there’s so many amazing succulents to grow, why choose the modest Crassula multicava? Because of its supernova show in spring, when it hoists those starry bloom structures over simple, dark green leaves. It would make an elegant ground cover at the base of palms. Here it’s sharing space with a potted cussonia. The crassula has a similar foamy effect to London’s Pride (Saxifraga umbrosa) or heuchera in bloom, neither of which grow in such rugged conditions for me.


Like the lotus, another lax member of the pea family, coronilla, has really started to bloom in the mini heat wave we’re having the past couple days. This shrub is supported and wound through a tuteur and has grown past the eaves of the garage roof. Its overall effect is that of a gigantic rue, except rue stinks and coronilla smells lovely.


More brash. Love the moroccan toadflax, an annual that blooms well through the winter and spring here. Hasn’t self-sown yet, so I keep bringing in a few plants in fall.


I have just a few clumps of the Corsican hellebore, which is all the space I can spare, though I could have lots, lots more.
It carpet-bombs the garden with seedlings.

Lots of emerging gardens to explore at May Dreams Garden, where Carol is to be congratulated for hosting Bloom Days for seven years this February.

under overcast skies at last

We’ve been watching an old Swedish detective show, Wallander, which is subtitled in English. I’m crazy for that soft, muted Swedish light, which I can only imagine is similar to what we’ve been getting the past few days, creating a pale backdrop for the tetrapanax’s lengthening candelabra of flower buds. Pearly, opalescent — all good words for describing the light the past couple days. I love catching up on garden blogs this time of year, now that we’ve all turned that corner past summer, the fascinating descriptions of how the dream of the perfect summer garden is suspended for a short while, to be picked up again next spring. So much momentous stuff happens to a garden in fall. The first rains, first frost, fall color or a lack thereof. For me every summer is another lesson in existentialism, a sweaty season to be experienced moment to moment. Fall feels like taking charge of destiny again, making plans. I will go here, do this, that, and the other thing. If summer is body, autumn is mind. Spring is emotion. Winter is…I don’t know. For dreaming?


Here we’re all reviving under these much kinder skies. Echeveria imbricata, plumped up and refreshed.


Euphorbia lambii’s leaves have finally stopped drooping and yellowing.


The Eryngium padanifolium made good size this summer, bottom left. Those whipsawing, strappy leaves have the sinuous vitality of an octopus. Agave desmettiana ‘Joe Hoak,’ on the table, has been moved back into the gentler version of full sun offered in late October.


The mist was heavy enough this morning to make the coronilla look like this.


We’ve all started to come out of the shade and back under a much kinder sun.


Bloom Day May 2012

Carol’s hosting of Bloom Day is one of the highlights of the month in garden blogdom. Yes, blooms can be had year-round, but instead of scratching around to find them as we do some months, May delivers them by the truckload. With the the South African aloe blooms almost finished and now the stirring of the classic garden perennials, flowering trees and shrubs, along with the quicksilver appearance and departure of the woodland ephemerals, the California natives just about to tuck in before the onset of summer drought — apart from moving your garden into a different climate zone every few years, a May Bloom Day is the best alternative and one of the great virtual garden tour opportunities around.

Granted, there’s a weird rhythm to spring in my own garden, where tulips appear in containers in February after six weeks of chilling in the fridge, and if you’re not careful the year-round growing conditions can make it a challenge to remember to save a few spots for summer stuff. After leaning in a direction that was getting a bit evergreen-heavy, the garden’s currently see-sawing toward leaving space for summer opportunities, a kind of Mediterranean Oudolf-lite. Umbellifers of any kind are an enduring favorite, and those that can squeeze into existing plantings are treasured most. Orlaya grandiflora has proven itself an ingenious self-sower, even if the most robust plant is the one seeded into dry paving.


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Continue reading Bloom Day May 2012

Bloom Day March 2012

A dead car battery after work has me skidding and sliding to make the Bloom Day deadline. Some of the new plants I ordered for spring became candidates for March Bloom Day literally right out of the box. Like this Tibouchina granulosa ‘Gibraltar’ from Plant Delights. This photo was taken the day after it arrived and was unpacked.


Every spring this wisteria surges over the fence from a neighbor’s property, an invader in the southeast corner of the back garden quietly determined to throttle my smoke tree in its tendrils. Something borrowed and blue (okay, bluish-lilac) to admire when in bloom, but I’m always grateful that it’s somebody else’s problem the rest of the year. The more I hack it back off our fence, the better it blooms.


Just brought this one home last weekend, a Proven Winner’s selection, Didelta carnosa ‘Dawn.’ The radioactive chrome yellow daisies must be endured for a brief time, when things will hopefully quiet down to just some fine-looking succulent, silvery leaves and chartreuse bracts. Bought on a whim but looks promising.


Begonia luxurians has been blooming the past few months, though I never think to grab a photo for Bloom Day.


Always a few mystery plants in bloom, like this unnamed, green-flowered begonia just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.


Mystery senecio


Scrophularia calliantha from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials planted in fall started blooming late February. A big, boragey, salvia-esque plant with exacting water needs even in a large container.


The annual toadflax, Linaria reticulata, a good choice for a zone 10 winter, seen here with the spears of Senecio anteuphorbium.


Angelica pachycarpa.


Lots of salvias in bloom now, including ‘Wendy’s Wish.’


The ‘Drakensberg Carmine’ gerberas have been prodigious bloomers over the winter.


March will probably see the last of the coronilla blooms.


Thanks as always to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Bloom Day on the 15th of every month.


fertilizer and its discontents


My dainty coronilla reminds me of Cytisus battandieri a little bit, which is another member of the vast legume family.
All legumes have the ability to convert and “fix” atmospheric nitrogen, making it available to plants as a natural fertilizer.

Although it is the most abundant element in the atmosphere, nitrogen from the air cannot be used by plants until it is
chemically transformed, or fixed, into ammonium or nitrate compounds that plants can metabolize. In nature, only certain
bacteria and algae (and, to a lesser extent, lightning) have this ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, and the amount that
they make available to plants is comparatively small. Other bacteria break down nitrogen compounds in dead matter and
release it to the atmosphere again. As a consequence, nitrogen is a precious commodity – a limiting nutrient – in most
undisturbed natural systems
.” (“Nutrient Overload; Unbalancing the Global Nitrogen Cycle” – World Resources Institute)

I caught a report Thursday on nitrogen runoff by Public Radio International’s The World: “Nitrogen compounds running off farmland have led to water pollution problems around the world, while nitrogen emissions from industry, agriculture and vehicles make a big contribution to air pollution.” (“Farms, Factories, and a Dangerous Nitrogen Overload,” by Laura Lynch, 1/26/12.)

Vast ocean “dead zones” are linked to runoff from agricultural reliance on nitrogen, especially in support of King Corn, but excess fertilizer polluting waterways comes from many sources. Last spring a local marina experienced a dramatic fish die-off, reported here by The Los Angeles Times (“The episode…follows unusually heavy rainfall in Southern California, which washed lawn fertilizer, dog droppings and similar nutrients into coastal waters.”)

Fertilizers have been quite the topic of discussion on blogs this week.


The National Wildlife Federation really kicked the hornet’s nest when they announced they’d accepted corporate sponsorship from Scotts of Miracle-Gro and Roundup herbicide fame. The move seemed cynically calibrated to upgrade Scotts image and shore up dwindling sales/contributions of both entities. But at what cost now to NWF’s brand, which is experiencing near-extinction overnight? I suppose both sides are betting that the controversy will be forgotten by the public by the time NWF’s friendly logo appears on Scotts’ bags of bird seed. The public does have an infamously short memory, but will it really be able to forget that Scotts was fined millions of dollars for knowingly selling pesticide-tainted birdseed between 2005-2008? On the surface, it looks like both sides have garnered a big lose/lose out of the transaction. The question now becomes, what did NWF know about the tainted birdseed, and when did they know it?

According to reporter Johanna Hari, this isn’t the first instance of such a partnership, and she alleges that the beginning of similar conflicts of interest can be traced back to Jay Hair, president of the National Wildlife Federation from 1981 to 1995: “It is simply a fact that Jay Hair kick-started the process of environmental groups partnering with and taking money from the world’s worst polluters. It is also a fact that this process has been taken much further by other groups like Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy, and has ended with their missions becoming deeply corrupted, in ways I described in great detail in my article.” (The Nation, 3/10/10. “Conservation Groups & Corporate Cash: An Exchange.”)

How much fertilizer my garden needs is a constant mystery to me. Some years I’m convinced I’ve “exhausted” the soil. Still, it basically gets only compost, rarely some blood and bone meal, but then I don’t grow many vegetables or prize-winning flowers either. Admittedly, dahlias are having a comeback in my garden, and they are hogs for manure and compost.

The merits and demerits of the Green Revolution will be argued for decades to come. In ratcheting up agricultural productivity to fight hunger, the GE’s downstream effects have been nitrogen pollution and unsustainable agricultural practices — leaving me, the home gardener, feeling altogether ambivalent about fertilizer. I realize that what I choose to do in my tiny garden doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans when compared to the practices of agribusiness. Even so, mostly I just say no to fertilizers and don’t grow plants bred to expect lavish amounts of the stuff.