Massonia bredadorpensis

Gardener’s Log – November 2021

What a wet November it has been, making it almost impossible to get out into the garden and do anything. Thankfully, there has been plenty to do in the greenhouse as seeds have poured in from around the World (South Africa, Spain, England, Australia). The only problem, and one that every greenhouse owner faces, is that you need a greenhouse at least twice the size of the one that you have!

Dahlia Rethink

The dahlias were a real disappointment this year. The extended dry period and our soils that are so sandy that keeping moisture in them is tough, made their growth stunted and very few blossoms. The ones that did better were grown in pots out the front of the house. Those had a much more water retentive soil and while I put them in pots that were too small, they did much better. With that in mind, all of the Dahlias got lifted this year, at least the ones that survived. Several were lost, but hopefully quite a few are salvageable.

Dahlia 'Phyllis Farmer'
Dahlia ‘Phyllis Farmer’

Normally, you should cut the tops off and then wait for a couple of weeks before lifting them. That was not in the cards. We had one somewhat dry day and that was my opportunity. I dug them up with tops still attached and then spread them out under the porch so that they get some protection from the rain that quickly returned. Hopefully, that will help to harden them off a bit before I start to clean them. Then they will go into some slightly moist wood shavings and into paper bags until next spring.


I read an interesting article in the latest edition of Horticulture. It talked about the similarities of the human gut and root – I know, not the most pleasant of topics. But it made the connection that both rely on a symbiotic relationship. Roots, just like the human gut, cannot actually extract the nutrients they desire. They can absorb them when they are in the right form, but they rely on something else to do that for them. In the case of us humans, we have a large intestinal flora that performs that function. Roots use mycorrhizal fungi. The fungi extract the nutrients and make them available to the roots in exchange for being provided with sugars and starches that they need for their growth. Us humans provide a nice environment for the flora to live in and they also get to take as much food as they want.

But for every rule, there is an exception. In the plant World, the rule breakers are the members of the Protea family. They evolved in soil that did support mycorrhizae. Instead, they evolved along a different path and managed to come up with an alternative way to do it. They have special root structures, called Proteoid roots, that do have the ability to extract the nutrients themselves. This is both good and bad. It means that they can live in very impoverished soils.

Proteoid roots
Proteoid roots

However, mycorrhizal fungi also perform another function. They protect the plant from phytophthora species – the main reason why plants ‘damp off’, or get crown rot. This is why many people find it difficult to grow Proteas, because once your soil has phytophthora, it is almost impossible to get rid of it. The best defenses are sharp drainage, keeping moisture away from the crown of the plant and avoiding overwatering.

Plant Hunting

Planning is well underway for another plant hunting trip down into California during December. While this may not be the greatest time of year (spring is best), we need to go down to San Francisco for a conference and why fly with unvaccinated people when you can drive! Plus, you have in effect, a very suitcase with you. The UC Santa Cruz botanical garden will certainly be on the list, along with the Ruth Bancroft Gardens, UC Berkeley and UC Davis. The latter two are new for us, so that is exciting.

Plant Patents

There is a lot of bad information on websites about plant patents. This is what I understand to be true. A plant patent protects the developer of a plant for 20 years form the time the patent was granted. This prohibits any form of propagation without permission. So, even dividing an overgrown clump is not permitted. When you buy a plant, you have a ‘license’ for that many plants, and should you need to divide your clump, you may only keep one clump and the rest should be destroyed.

Will the plant police track you down for keeping two – very unlikely, but it is still illegal. Dividing is not the only way that plants can be propagated, and some of them become even more muddied. If you buy a patented bulb that produces bulblets, in theory you have to throw them away. Buy a strawberry plant and it will send out runners – you have to cut them off and throw them away.

New Plants

There are some plants that are worth having just because they are so improbable. One such plant is Massonia. I managed to get a bulb from a Pacific Bulb Society exchange earlier in the year and it has just started to bloom.

Massonia bredadorpensis
Massonia bredadorpensis

It never gets more than two leaves and that is in a 3.5″ pot. It would appear to not like frost, so it will probably remain in the greenhouse even after it has finished flowering.


The main focus for the month was wet – 19.68″ of it. That compares to 12.17″ last year. To compensate, those atmospheric rivers or warm tropical air pushed our average temperature up 2 degrees for the month at 50.4F. The maximum was 63.7 and the low at 38.1. Winds were slightly higher this year, although last year had a 57mph gust, whereas this year, we only managed 41.2mph.

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