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Blowtorch That Bermuda


It’s that time of year again, late summer, when Mrs. P answers your garden questions. The daylight hours may be growing shorter, but they’re not growing cooler. So, crank up the old AC, pour yourself a tall iced tea, and relax inside while I solve your outside problems.

Question: How can I control the Bermuda grass that continually creeps into my front flower bed? I’m really desperate and will try anything short of a blowtorch. Help!

Answer: The blowtorch was, actually, going to be my first option. Option 2 is total war and the enemy is one tough turf. What you’ve got is Common Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) and was the original grass seed spread in many home yards in Bakersfield. It was a cheap, good, drought-tolerant lawn for large, sunny areas. The bad news is that Common Bermuda grass will invade shrub plantings and flower beds by seed and spreading, iron-like roots. Remember, Common Bermuda is the culprit, not Hybrid Bermuda grass which does not self sow or spread. Here’s my solution, which while drastic, will solve the problem. It’s worked for me. Mark off the flower bed with edgers sunk into the ground. I’ve used those black eco edgers which click together and are pounded into the ground. Next, dig out and dispose of any plants remaining in the bed. Seriously, don’t even think of transplanting because they’re contaminated with “The Enemy.” Give the flower bed a thorough spray of weed and grass killer. Spread a good quality weed cloth over the area, one that says it will last at least 7 to 10 years. Anchor with U-pins or pegs. Cover the area with a minimum of four inches of crushed rock. Top with flagstone pavers or larger river rocks. Group lightweight resin containers in large and medium sizes; fill with a mix of perennial colorful shrubs and annuals. Voilà! No more weeding! To avoid hand-watering, set up a drip-irrigation system attached to one or more of your underground sprinkler heads.

Question: I want to feature the color chartreuse in my garden. What do you suggest?

Answer: Did you know that chartreuse refers to the color of a liqueur made by the monks of Chartreux in France? The lustrous rich yellow-green comes from a composition of the herbs and spices used; balm, hyssop, angelica leaves, cinnamon bark, mace, and saffron. After a 10-day infusion in distilled alcohol and sugar, the liqueur is ready to be imbibed. But I digress. The color chartreuse in the garden became popular a few years ago when the retro look crossed over to the outdoors. Paired with rich, deep blues or purples, chartreuse-colored plants pep up a garden. You can’t beat the zing of the zinnia ‘Envy’ for a spectacular annual flower. I plant the seeds every year and think their color improves if they’re grown in an area with afternoon shade. Because zinnias love hot weather, it may not be too late to plant the seeds now and they should come up quickly and bloom until November. Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’ with starry flowers is a good harmonizer with hot pinks. For a perennial with enormous pop, the bright chartreuse colored leaves of Mexican Orange Blossom takes the prize. The botanical name is Choisya ternata. The variety I grow is called ‘Sundance’ and is grown commercially by Monrovia. Fragrant orange blossom-like flowers bloom in early summer, but the chartreuse leaves provide year-round color. Mexican Orange Blossom will eventually grow 5- to 6-feet tall and wide in partial to full sun. I’m also a big sucker for Coleus. Even though they can’t take a lot of sun, they need warm temps. Coleuses are one big retro color show in a pot. Flintstone Heaven! Chartreuse, purple, orange, salmon, green, red, and brown colors...and that’s on only one leaf!

Question: I have an area where azaleas and camellias grow well but want a flowering evergreen shrub that has lots of fragrance. What do you suggest?

Answer: It’s almost un-American not to have a Daphne odora! Winter Daphne has all of the above qualities as long as it does not get mid-day sun. The seductive scent of its winter flowering nosegay clusters at the end of its branches will simply amaze you and make your friends pea-green with envy.


Question: Jokes aside, what can I do with my soon-to-be-bumper crop of zucchini?

Answer: Deep breath time as I try not to fall off my chair laughing. Too many zucchini? Quel surprise, how could that ever happen? Mrs. P is thinking you broke her Cardinal Rule: never plant more than one zucchini plant. That said, over the years, I’ve made zucchini pickles, relish, bread, and even cake. I’ve sautéed, fried, steamed, and baked zucchini. One of my favorite ways to use zucchini as well as other end-of-summer veggies is “Green Minestrone, Genoa Style.” Even in the days when Genoese sailors were discovering the outposts of the world, this delicate version of minestrone was the original soup prepared for the sailors on their return. Served with basil-flavored pesto sauce, this soup captures the similarities between the sunny Ligurian countryside and our Bakersfield climate, gardens, and tastes in food.

Invite friends and family to share this bounty and as they leave, gift them with festive bags of extra zucchini.

Question: What’s your favorite nursery?

Answer: I get that question often. It’s impossible to answer because I adore all sorts of plant places. If I can’t specify a “favorite” nursery, I can tell you what attributes I appreciate in a nursery. Number one: the plants have to be healthy. They should look robust, well-watered, well-shaped (not leggy), and not root-bound. And, please, no snails slithering around the pot! Sticking up for the “Senior Set,” easily accessible bathrooms help. Resident dogs and cats add charm and keep my non-gardening pals occupied while I shop. Being offered cold water on a hot day or warm cider on a cold day gets an extra star. The fun, for me, is in the hunt. North, south, east, west, and central Kern County have diverse nurseries, large and tiny. Check them out by ‘Googling’ the California Association of Nurseries and check out its map of retail nurseries. Finally, there are the turnoffs; sloppy conditions and rude staff head the list.

While I prefer to shop locally, I’m not against ordering unusual plants from catalogs, especially if the nurseries are situated in the Western United States. A recent discovery is a company called “Annies Annuals and Perennials.” They’re located in Richmond, California, just north of us. You’re in for a visual treat if you order their catalog (1-888-266-4370) or visit their website ( They carry Puyas, my latest BFF plant! I’d tell you more but I’ve run out of thyme.

© bates

Article appeared in our 28-3 Issue - August 2011