With Liberty and Loquats for All

Imagine a weed that grows 20 feet tall and produces more than 50 pounds of edible fruit. The fruit is yellow-orange with the texture of an apricot. Its taste is sweet to tart, depending on the tree. Some people like the fruit and others are indifferent to it but, considering that it grows from a tree that just pops out of the ground with no effort on your part, you have no cause for complaint.
It is also drought-tolerant and will easily subsist on a single weekly soaking, or less, when its shallow roots are covered with mulch. Mulch is also free, provided by its own slowly decomposing leaves. And, if you have trouble falling asleep or have a variety of internal ailments, there is a bonus. Consumption of several fruit prior to bedtime will have a soporific effect and its dried leaves can be used to make a medicinal tea.
The uncanny arboreal weed of which I speak is the loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), one of the most recognizable Valley trees. If you have been a gardener for more than a short time, you have probably encountered seedlings of this tree somewhere in your domain of earth. They are recognizable by their leaves, which are long, dark green, ribbed and fuzzy underneath. When loquat seedlings reach a height of 6 to 8 feet, in their second or third year, flowers and fruit begin to develop.
The reason you see loquat trees everywhere is because of birds, which have a passionate love for loquat fruit and disperse the seeds with reckless abandon. Brightly colored foil attached to the branches may deflect the birds.
A mature loquat tree, given equal light on all sides, grows into an attractive symmetrical dome. Fragrant flowers are displayed mostly in the fall, but may also appear sparsely at other times of the year. Like apple and apricot trees, both of them loquat relatives, loquats tend to bear in alternate years. One year the crop is so heavy that fruit must be thinned to avoid limb breakage. The next year, however, little or no fruit may grow.
Bronze loquat (Eriobotrya deflexa) is a striking ornamental tree. It grows quickly to 20 feet but does have a consistent need for water, especially when young, so pay careful attention that soil does not go bone dry during its first year or two in the garden. After that, it can pretty much fend for itself but watering should never be neglected. Because of its dense growth, bronze loquat will definitely benefit from annual pruning. This is not a long-lived tree and requires above-average maintenance and water. It gives little shade and its flowers, which bloom in the spring, are not as breathtaking as those seen on ornamental pears or plums.
So why plant it? The answer is found in the brilliant reddish bronze of its new foliage, visible throughout the year but especially following pruning, when rapid and significant regrowth results in lots of fiery foliage. You will not see such colors in the new growth of any other tree.
Silk oak (Grevillea robusta) is not related to oaks but matches them in size. It comes from Australia. This tree should not be grown near a house or other structure because it becomes enormously tall, creates deep shade under which nothing will grow and produces a constant litter of leaves. But if you have a large yard or ranch and can plant it out of the way or toward the rear where it will mark a property line, it does have a stately presence and displays giant orange and yellow flower combs in late winter or early spring.
It grows easily from seed, and its seedlings, with dark green, ferny foliage that is silvery on the back, are excellent subjects for patio containers. Seedlings grow up quickly. If they become too large for their pots, and you don’t want to go to the trouble of repotting into larger containers, discard the aging seedlings and plant more seeds to get a fresh crop of silk oaks for your pots.
Just the other day, I saw an especially glorious yellow bird of paradise bush (Caesalpinia gilleseii). This plant has an abundance of desirable features, including feathery and bipinnate foliage, fragrant and boldly plumed flowers, a minimal water requirement and seeds that germinate with ease, so you can create a shrub forest if that is your wish. Yellow bird of paradise may eventually reach a height of 10 feet. To maximize its lush and tropical look, increase watering.
I also bumped into a hopseed bush (Dodonaea viscosa) that was unlike any I had ever seen. Normally, the ‘Pupurea’ cultivar of this plant is encountered. It has purple bronze foliage but its flowers, although wine colored, are not profuse. However, the hopseed bush I discovered, which was growing without the benefit of irrigation, had green foliage that was hardly visible due to a massive outburst of papery blond flowers that smothered the foliage.
It looked like it had been growing in its garden spot, which was next to a century plant (Agave Americana), for 20 years at least, and had grown 12 feet tall and wide. It occurred to me that the reason for its success was a complete lack of summer water. Having seen hopseed bushes typically die within a few years of planting, on account of root fungus disease, I wonder if this plant has cactus type watering requirements and the reason for its usual early demise is overwatering. The next time I plant it, once it is established in the garden, I’ll water no more than once every week or two, if even that, and see what happens.
Tip of the Week
If you have a window box in dappled light, you may want to consider filling it with pink hydrangeas and violet bacopa. I saw such a window box combination recently that was watered with drip irrigation. The hydrangeas had not yet grown into the tall bushy types you typically see and were only about a foot tall, but planted side by side. I learned that, due to their close proximity and complete coverage of the soil surface by the bacopa, evaporative water loss was minimal, and plants only needed soaking every fourth day.

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