Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rancid Peanut Butter and Crabapple Ammunition

We’ve been having record breaking heat here in Oregon this week – 106 degrees yesterday – so I’ve been getting up early to work in the garden while the temperature is bearable. This morning I found my self cutting dead wood out of a Clerodendrum fargesii.
Clerodendrums and I have a love-hate relationship. I shouldn’t be surprised since among it’s common names is “Tree of Good Luck” and “Tree of Bad Luck”. They are brittle, borderline hardiness, the foliage smells like rancid peanut butter and if you prune them too heavy, or if they freeze back, they send up suckers everywhere and create a thicket. BUT in the fall they are my favorite tree. The Clerodendrum trichotomum (called also Harlequin Glorybower) is my choice for it’s creamy, intensely fragrant flowers in late summer. When the flower drops, a brick red calyx opens up, forming a perfect star with a metallic blue berry in the center. The glorybower makes a small tree about 18-12 feet tall. If you’re lucky, you can find a variegated form called “Stargazer”. Our Stargazer is over by the pool at the Village Green and it has a pale blue clematis (possibly Mrs. P. B. Truax) rambling through it. Yum.
Another nice family member is Clerodendrum bungei. It has medium sized mop heads of cerise pink buds that open up into a ball of flowers. Unfortunately, this clerodendrum is not fragrant like it’s big sister. It’s more shrubby, reaching about 4 feet tall.
The Clerodendrum fargesii that I was pruning in the bird habitat is not as nice as either of the two above, but it makes a fragrant thicket, which is a good thing to have in a bird habitat.
Another thicket plant we have in the bird habitat is sumac. Not a fancy one, just regular old sumac. It creates a perfect screen for birds to take shelter in.
None of these thicket plants is good for a postage stamp sized lot, but if you have a lot of space, thickets can be quite lovely and a haven for wildlife.
While I was in the Bird Habitat, I also noticed the Dolgo Crabapple hanging low to the ground, heavy with fruit. This crabapple is really lovely in the late summer. It’s fruit, the size of quarters, turn a deep cherry red. I grow it as an ornamental, but I imagine you could also make them into jelly. When I was a kid, we used crabapples for ammunition in neighborhood war games. They left a good welt, but they were plentiful and tasty too. When I first planted the Dolgo, I stood there and picked off about two thirds of the fruit to relieve the weight on the branches and keep them from splitting. It was a long, tedious job. But then I realized that if you take the branch and shake it a bit, a lot of the apples fall off and instantly thins the tree for you. So now a few minutes of shaking relieves the branches of their excess weight and supplies me with a nice pile of ammunition.. Garden war games anyone?

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