1. There is a new variety of almond called Independence that has taken the almond industry by storm. Most almond varieties are self-sterile, meaning they need to be planted with another variety in order to produce almonds. Independence, however, is self-fertile, meaning it can produce almonds on its own. The advantage of growing Independence is that, since it can pollinate itself, it does not need bees to assist in this process. You can acquire an Independence tree from any nursery that carries plants grown by Dave Wilson Nursery. To find out which nursery in your area carries their trees, go to wheretobuy.davewilson.com. Still, studies have shown that Independence does produce more almonds where bees are available for pollination, but far fewer bees are needed than in the case of conventional almond varieties, which require two hives per acre to reach their harvest potential. This finding alone, however, is significant since there are more than one 1.3 million acres of almonds in California, producing 900 billion almonds a year, or more than 100 almonds for every person on earth. To even halve the number of beehives needed to achieve this harvest would represent a significant savings since the cost of renting each beehive, for a single growing season, is around $200.
2. Sproutable pencils are gift items that have the appearance of regular pencils, colored pencils, and eyebrow pencils. The only difference is that the top end consists of a biodegradable capsule that contains seeds of sage, chia, thyme, basil, and coriander (note: coriander seeds grow into cilantro plants) in the herb category; carnations, daisies, and forget-me-nots in the flower category, and spruce seeds in the confier category. You can customize a message on the pencils, of which 40 million have been sold to date. After your pencil has been whittled down to a nub, you simply place the top end in potting soil, water, and watch the encapsulated seeds germinate. To find out more about sproutable pencils, go to sproutworld.com.
3. There are an ever-increasing number of websites that help you identify plants. However, there is only one website I have discovered that offers this service at no charge. The service is provided through Pl@ntNet (identify.plantnet.org). The riches you will find here are virtually endless and will give you an inside look at everything the plant world has to offer. Plant images, all contributed by the Pl@ntNet community, are arranged by country. You will discover what plants you could expect to encounter when traveling to a foreign land or tropical island; Martinique Island in the Caribbean has 1,929 plants listed and Reunion Island east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean has 1,856. You will also find a multitude of images of “useful plants” from different continents as well as invasive plants and weeds.
4. Pink mulla mulla (Ptilotus exaltatus) displays a unique, cone-shaped, pinkish-white bottlebrush flower that will take your breath away, especially when it is planted en masse. I have only seen it grown by Monrovia nursery locally, but you can grow it from seed or root cuttings as well. It demands full sun and barely needs any water, as it is native to the dry Australian plains. It belongs to the Amaranth family, a group of durable plants that includes love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) and quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). Technically a perennial, mulla mulla is commonly grown as an annual. Expect to see it increase its presence in retail nurseries as its charms and durability are more widely recognized.
5. For a long-blooming perennial that self-sows, consider columbine (Aquilegia spp.). Its delicate appearance is a facade that masks its toughness as a garden perennial. Flowers are bent in the manner of daffodis but there is nothing shy or submissive about these plants, which perform well throughout the summer with their attractively lobed bluish-green foliage providing a refreshing antidote to hot sun and dry weather. Coneflower or Echinacea is another perennial everyone should try. Although native to dry prairies and the edge of woodland habitats, coneflower grow swell in California gardens when planted with compost, assiduously mulched, and given half-day sun. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is another must-have perennial for its wave upon wave of bright orange-yellow flowers that begin as soon as the weather warms. You can sow the seed now so that by the time the heat arrives, the plants will be ready to bloom. How did black-eyed Susan get its name, anyway? Well, the central disk on this flower is black and legend has it that a black-eyed Susan and a sweet William fell in love. Since black-eyed Susan and sweet William (the name given to another perennial, a carnation relative known botanically as Dianthus barbatus), bloom around the same time, the names of the two lovers were given to these two simultaneously blooming plants.
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Joshua Siskin | Gardening columnist For more information about plants and gardens, visit Joshua Siskin’s website at http://www.thesmartergardener.com. Send questions and photos to email@example.com.