Advances in Gardening Series: Thoughts on The Fan, and the problems of overabudance

The Fan late in the season, about to be pulled out. See earlier photos of The Fan here.

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Last fall we dug up a sort of feral herb bed and replaced it with a more formal, three-part bed that I call The Fan. The idea is to use this bed to plant annual herbs and flowers. While some of these plants are medicinal, it is also a bed dedicated more to aesthetics than the rest of our garden, so it’s also a place where I particularly want to plant flowers and plants of strong visual interest.

The first crop, planted in November, consisted of Calendula, chamomile and poppies. All three grew wonderfully well and provided a nice focal point for the garden. The Fan is right outside our back door, so is what most people see first. It looked professional–like we actually know what we were doing.

The downside of this season’s fan was in fact its abundance. It looked nice, but it provided too much plant material. In the case of both the chamomile and Calendula, I could have done with half the plants for my teas and salves. The poppies looked gorgeous and fed the bees, which is all I care about. I’m not complaining about those. Oh no. Wait. I will. Early in the season, thinning on a big bed of poppies was a real pain. I had to do it over and over again. It was worth it in the end, but next time I’ll not sow seed so thickly.

All in all, the result of this overplanting is that it became a make-work scenario. When I wasn’t thinning poppies, I had to be out there constantly, deadheading the chamomile and Calendula just to keep up with it all. Deadheading (chopping off the spent flowers) encourages more flower production, which is important if you want a continual harvest. It also collects seed, to keep it from spreading everywhere. Despite my efforts, I know a ton of seed fell, and when the rains come next year, I’ll be pulling Calendula and chamomile volunteers.

Moral is, know what you need, and plant no more than that. Unless you’ve got the time and energy to maintain larger, more flashy beds. I’m all about making it easy on myself, so next year I’ll plant less. Of course, it takes experiences like this to learn exactly what our needs are. This is just how it goes.

¬†What’s next:

The next round of plants in the fan have to be able to stand our hot, dry summer. This is a bit of headscratcher for me. Most of the plants I’m interested in grow best during our cool season. So what’s going in there next is sort of eccentric. One section will be an Echinacea patch. Another will be black cumin, which has historical medical uses, and the other is broom sorghum, because it looks to be gorgeous, and I want to make a broom. You’ll hear more about all these in future posts.


Above is a table the Kelly and I made many years ago with glass mosaic tile. We copied a portion of an ancient Roman mosaic depicting sea life. It took about 40 hours of painstaking work.

We still have a box of glass tile sitting in the garage and I’m thinking about breaking up the ugly concrete patio in the back yard and doing some mosaics. Kelly is less than enthused about this for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it will take me away from more pressing matters such as a back door that doesn’t open and a non-functioning computer network.

Nevertheless I was inspired to return to mosaic work after seeing the stunning garden designs of Portland, Oregon based pebble mosaic master Jeffrey Bale.

A pebble mosaic from Jeffrey Bale’s blog

You can view Bale’s work on his blog and read a great how-to article Bale wrote for Fine Gardening Magazine.

Our squid table was made by gluing the tiles directly to the wood and grouting once all the tiles were in place. This would not work for exterior mosaics. Instead, for my patio I would glue the tiles to a piece of paper and then set them into a mortar mix in place (the indirect method).

Using pebbles as opposed to glass mosaic tile, by the way, cuts costs way down. Should I get permission to do the back patio I’m thinking of combining pebbles with small areas of glass tile. In fact, I may just stop answering emails so that I’ll have the time to do this!

Friday Quiz Answer

The answer to our “Freaky Friday Fungal Quiz”: slime mold. And I should not have used “fungal” in the title. Slime molds are no longer classified as fungi. But I’ll stick with “freaky.” According to UC Berkeley, slime molds fall into three categories,

Plasmodial slime molds, like Physarum . . ., are basically enormous single cells with thousands of nuclei. They are formed when individual flagellated cells swarm together and fuse. The result is one large bag of cytoplasm with many diploid nuclei. These “giant cells” have been extremely useful in studies of cytoplasmic streaming (the movement of cell contents) because it is possible to see this happening even under relatively low magnification. In addition, the large size of the slime mold “cell” makes them easier to manipulate than most cells.

A second group, the cellular slime molds, spend most of their lives as separate single-celled amoeboid protists, but upon the release of a chemical signal, the individual cells aggregate into a great swarm. Cellular slime molds are thus of great interest to cell and developmental biologists, because they provide a comparatively simple and easily manipulated system for understanding how cells interact to generate a multicellular organism. There are two groups of cellular slime molds, the Dictyostelida and the Acrasida, which may not be closely related to each other.

A third group, the Labyrinthulomycota or slime nets, are also called “slime molds”, but appear to be more closely related to the Chromista, and not relatives of the other “slime mold” groups.