Gerbera Daisies

gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)The title of this story could be “Ode to the Gerbera Daisies Growing at the Fast-food Restaurant on the Corner of Van Nuys Boulevard and Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks.”
I have been studying these gerberas for close to three years now and am spellbound by their health and beauty. Normally among the most difficult plants to grow, these gerberas have the uncanny ability to bloom nonstop from spring to fall.
They are thriving in hard soil surrounded by asphalt, belched upon daily by the exhaust pipes of hundreds, if not thousands of automobiles. Yes, right under the menu in the “drive thru” median strip, where every customer stops and then starts up again, you see these brilliant flowers in red and yellow, either impervious to, or somehow nurtured by, the particulate matter and hydrocarbon fumes that engulf them.
“Surely the most decorative of all daisies, gerberas come in a wide color range from crimson to pink, yellow and many other tones,” says Stirling Macoboy’s classic botanical picture book, “What Flower Is That?”
“Both single and double hybrids have derived from the original Berberton Daisy, a small orange species from the Transvaal (in South Africa). Other species are found here and there around the Indian Ocean.”
Usually, travel has no appeal for me. I have learned from plants that everything you need is close at hand. Why go wandering somewhere when you can find sustenance rooted to the spot? But then those tempting words … “here and there around the Indian Ocean.” I imagine sailing on a vessel in the Indian Ocean in search of wild gerberas.
The Indian Ocean is no backyard pool, mind you. It stretches between Africa and Australia, washing up on the beaches of Asia along the way. The Indian Ocean is full of mystery and intrigue for us because it does not reach American shores and so, perhaps, it demands navigation and investigation – especially since the mysterious gerberas may be encountered along the way.
The other day, I special-ordered two dozen gerberas from a local nursery. They arrived in squat, green, 6-inch-diameter plastic containers, each encased in its own transparent plastic sleeve. Clearly, these particular plants were grown for indoor use. Gerberas, perhaps, are gaining a reputation for fragility, of being unable to cope with the rigors of garden life.
Keep in mind, now, that gerberas come from the same place that gazanias and geraniums come from. Keep in mind that anyone can grow gazanias and geraniums – as long as overhead irrigation is not used in watering these plants. Yes, I know that these plants, in thousands of gardens, regularly receive water from sprinklers, but I also know that many geraniums and all gazanias are easy victims of fungus diseases that develop from this kind of watering. Even where gazanias and geraniums are not killed by sprinkler irrigation, their flowering is drastically reduced by this watering practice.
No plant is more sensitive to sprinkler irrigation than the gerbera (pronounced either gur-bura or jur-bura). At the fast-food restaurant where they thrive, there are no sprinklers. Once a week, the gardener deep soaks all the plants with a hose. But there is also a fellow who comes by every morning with a high pressure hose to clean the asphalt and who, every once in a while, and completely by accident, mists the gerberas. This may also contribute to the health of these plants. Of greater and perhaps primary importance, though, is the mulch of crushed rock that surrounds the gerberas. Any moisture that visits these rocks is evaporated back onto the gerberas.
Even without overhead irrigation, the fast-food gerberas begin to develop a severe powdery mildew-type leaf fungus in the fall. Around Jan. 1, the gardener cuts back all unhealthy gerbera leaves. It appears as though the plants have died. But lo and behold, new leaf growth appears with the onset of warmer weather, even before spring is officially at hand.
The gerbera daisy is a clumping plant and can be divided at the root for purposes of propagation.
Tip: For a simple yet stunning table arrangement, cut the heads off gerbera daisies and float them in a crystal or glass bowl that is half filled with water.

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