jeudi 2 avril 2009

CRRA (The Camellia Rescue and Recovery Action)

The camellia

Pruned, leaves cut in half, and buds pinched

I am turning away from politics and humans today to concentrate on plants and buildings, ducking my head back down below the top of the garden wall, where everything is beautiful and lovely.

Sort of.

The camellia is an exception. Yesterday evening I asked Sam to grab his learner's permit stuff and drive me to Darty for printer ink and Florosny for garden stuff, things I needed for the camellia resuscitation, among other spring treatment products (as many suitable for biological gardening as possible; I am not as stringent with myself there as I ought to be). He hadn't driven since we got out of the car on the return from Chamonix, over a month ago now. Don't worry, he did fine.

It took me some time scanning the shelves in the insect and weed control area, next to fertilizers, to find what I was looking for.

"Why don't you ask someone, Mom?"

"Because there is hardly anyone left here to ask, and if I can avoid troubling them when I possibly can, I'll let them tend to other customers, hopefully getting them to buy lots of stuff so the store stays open." Victor really scared me last Christmas right before he left. "It's got to be here somewhere. I must be looking for the wrong sort of name."

I was. I had been searching for something like "traitement du pourrissement des racines", but I let my mind open up and think of the consequences -- yellowing leaves, dead areas, conifers as well as camellias --, and there it was, right in front of my eyes: Dépérissement des Confères et Feuillus, Action systémique racinaire, efficacité garantie sur phytophthora et pythium for rhododendrons, camélias, thuyas and lauriers. Curasis J.

Phytophthora. That was it.

Meanwhile, Sam had found a children's ball, one of the ones with cartoon characters or superheros on them that sell for $1.99 in big bins at the end of grocery store aisles.

"Look, Mom. I can --" he was concentrating on flipping the ball back between his heel and toes to catch it on the rear foot and chip it into my aisle. He missed. "I just did it before," he said, a little chagrined.

"It's always like that when you ask someone to look." He kept trying. I went back to studying the shelves for other things I might need, like the tar to close the sawed off branch wounds in the linden trees. I was just turning, when a flying objet whizzed past my ear and hit the boxes of fertilizer on the shelves next to me.

"Got it." It bounced and rolled near him, where he grabbed it.

"Yeah. I see. Just watch for the display." Whizzzz -- bang.

There's hardly anyone left in the store to even notice, although neither Victor, nor Thierry, nor any of the others who are gone, just like those who remain would mind.

Returning home, I gently dug up some of the roots to take a look at them. They are brown if they are suffering rot, and if they are, it might or might not be too late. I thought roots were always more or less brown, so I hadn't thought much of them.

They were. Healthy camellia roots are fleshy and white. Take a look. That's a great site.

I bent down next to the patient and applied a handful of slow-release fertilizer for acid-loving plants like camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas, scratched it into the soil -- which should be fine -- and measured out the proper dosage of the sweet-smelling fungicude (Propamocarbe HCI 722 g/l) and added the 3 to 5 liters of water required per plant, retrieved the sprinker head from the watering can and applied it all around the base of the plant, letting it soak in gradually. None flowed out the hole at the bottom of the terracotta pot.

This morning, returning from having Rapide's stitches removed (she was a champ), I got out my pruning shears (in need of sharpening) and set to work. I felt like Jules, cutting my hair, moving around the plant snipping off the leafless and budless twigs 2" to 4" long, as well as any others that grew at odd angles, were too long and spindly with tufts of leaves at the ends, one or two along their lengths, and topped the plant a bit. It had a terrible form from having been planted against a northern wall in the entry courtyard in the semi-shade of the gable end of the house, where it strained to grow toward the light, it's rear branches bending over and reaching forward through the plant to join the south-facing branch ends.

Then, I pinched off every damaged leaf and flower bud -- a very few leaf buds, like the ones in the photo, I left just to see what would become of them since they looked vital --, very possibly as much victims of the extreme cold we had -- by our and this plant's standards of typical winters here -- as of the likely root rot and transplant shock. This helps force the plant to make new ones, like removing small branches and cutting back some others encourages it to push new branch-growth, which, if all goes well, could attain 2' to 3' feet by the summer.

If all goes well. Inshallah.

Last, I used my pruning shears to cut off half of each remaining leaf, carefully rolling the tightly curled ones, white powder pouffing off their surfaces every now and then. This helps to reduce the amount of water the plants actually needs to take up with a damaged and compromised root system that is incapable of bringing sufficient water to so much leaf, while allowing the plant to continue to photosynthesize. A little, anyway.

Now, having moved it to where it can receive the morning sun -- its eventual delicate flower buds safe now (although last year, it snowed in April) from surprise frosts --, and aside from spraying for insects, there is precious little that I can do but continue to check its soil 5 to 7 cm below the surface to see when it needs watering. It is pointless to give it too much that will only keep inactive roots too wet, although drainage is pretty good.

Let us hope. Remember, my marital bliss is riding on my success.

I have some sketches to work on for a new grange (wood cabin, masonry gardening and storage space, timber carport) for my sister-in-law, so, if you will be so kind as to excuse me, I must be off.

In case you were wondering, we have not called Joaquim since the work came to an end with the announcement that we'd have to give up some other areas of the contract work to get the whole house covered in chaux -- natural stucco -- as has always been the plan. We've been busy, disgusted, and preferring to remain numb. We'll have to make the phone call and schedule the necessary negotiation.

PS: About an hour and a half has gone by, and I have to fight the urge to go out and check on my patient, absurdly half-hoping for the deep green and the sheen to be returned to the stuff leaves, buds to be forming all over.


PPS: Oh, I just did. I couldn't help myself. Do I even need to say there was no change?

Damn. I did it again.

6:37 pm -- Oops! I did it again. I watered. A little. It's 18° C.

7:21 pm -- Can you blame me? This reminds me of the vigil for the Chasselas Doré grapevine last year this time.
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