Saturday, November 17, 2007

Autumn Colors

I just have to note that despite the often too consitent look of my garden, there are changes afoot worth noting. Of course I don't get an autumn like those of my youth back East, but here are three notable plants with painted folliage worth viewing that mark the change of seasons to a degree.

Of course the endless string of 70 degree days makes you sometimes forget that it is mid-November, but the raking and deep afternoon shadows quickly remind us that the days are really very short and there isn't much sun reaching down into my magic garden this time of year.

Another note, the neighbors 'peppermint tree' a type of Eucalyptus, has grown another 3 feet over the past few months and now provides a nice screen between the gardens, and more privacy for both families. It's shocking how fast it's grown. It's also a treat to watch it dance in the wind. The branches sway back and forth in the breeze like arms.

I love it now. Let's hope it doesn't get too dense in the future and cast a hard shadow where now it is soft and dappled.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Autumn (headaches) in the garden

Well, at least there is some good news, this Ricinusor Castor Bean plant is just thriving. The Cana I inadvertantly co-planted next to it is also doing well, though did not flower this year.

On a more interesting but not so happy note, the entire North bed has literally become a hot bed of infestation. I've lost 3 Helleborus to a combination of aphids and sooty mildew fungus. Then I noticed that the Euphorbia myrsinites I'd transplanted from the front bed was languishing. When I pulled it out, completely fed up, I realized it was covered in scale. AHHHH.

This is the first scale I've had in the garden since I had a potted tangerine tree years ago. I've never seen it in the beds before. This is next to the massive aphids, sooty mold, and a struggling Altissimo rose that has some major die back. Then while pruning another Euphorbia in the north west corner, I was suddenly covered in ants. Not a good sign. Time for some boric acid and molasses, chili powder and layer of freshly harvested vermiculite from the worm farm.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Just What is a Natural Landscape?

Just finished reading Charles Mann's book 1491 and am still ruminating over the implications of the ideas expressed in the book. It is a long story of an alterante version of history than we were taught in school--certainly more balanced and believable. History of civilization in the Americas starting from first contact between the native 'Indians' and westerners and going backward to redraw what we assumed and were taught up until now. But more than that it is really a history of the planet, with man as just another creature who plays a part in nature, rather than as humans as somehow separate from the natural cycle of things (often above if you believe the bible). Mann debunks the idea that there can be a more 'pristine' version of nature if humans would just keep their hands off, garbage out of, saws away from, etc. This destruction as part of the natural cycle as global warming is, if in fact your respect the fact that we are part of nature, not separate from it. His final few paragraphs are worth quoting here as they seem to summarize his position better than I ever could:
Understanding that nature is not normative does not mean that anything
goes. The fears come from the mistaken identification of wildness with the
forest itself. Instead the landscape is an arena for the interaction of natural
and social forces, a kind of display, and one that like all displays is not
fully under the control of its authors.

Native americans ran the continent as they saw fit. Modern nations must do
the same. If they want to return as much of the landscape as possible to its
state of 1491, they will have to create the world's largest gardens.

Gardens are fashioned for many purposes with many different tools,
but all are collaborations with natural forces. Rarely do their makers claim to be restoring or rebuilding anything from the past; and they are never in full control of the results. Instead, using the best tools they have and the knowledge that they can gather, they work to create future

If there is a lesson it is that to think like the original inhabitants of
these lands we should not set our sights on rebuilding an environment from the
past but concentrate on shaping a world to live in for the future.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

In and Absurd world, the good news can be found in the garden

The avalanche is upon us. Suddenly global warming is being taken seriously. But I feel like I've known it was real all along. The country is finally upset about Iraq. I didn't think we should've gone to war in the first place. The oceans of the world are in peril, and aquaculture is quickly adding to the toll, but I'd been convinced of this more than ten years ago. I should feel vindicated and ahead of the curve, instead it sickens me that it's taken this long for it to sink in. I just read about a common psychological assumption that most people believe everyone knows what they know...well that's for damn sure in my case. I'm still in a state of shock about this. It's not that all the ideas about environmental degradation were mine--I happen to live in the world and notice things, and do a fair amount of mostly main-stream reading. Here's a choice little tidbit from TEN years ago by Paul Hawken, it's slightly dated, but still holds up easily against the drivel printed in the mainstream press on global warming and where we stand today. Put 2+2 together and you can't miss the conclusion.

Now comes the question of what to do about it. Having left my job in a classically wasteful mail-order retail house, I've taken the first step. Raising a child with an awareness of our environmental predicament helps too, but it's not enough. Bio diesel for the car would help, not driving a car at all would be even better. All nice, but really the world needs to change on an industrial and universal level if we are going to save ourselves. The garden gives lots of solace, and a few answers helping remind us that over time we can build a relationship with nature to benefit both. I find the number of creatures that visit my modest plot astounding, and the numbers seems to be growing--hummers, butterflies, ladybugs, jays, finches, as if I've maybe improved the environment in my own little way.

Having just read cradle to cradle, I feel like I've finally stumbled upon someone who is thinking in a way that is way beyond conservation, into a direction of universal symbiosis with nature--on an industrial level. This is finally what I've been waiting to hear, not that any of his ideas were ones that had occurred to me as viable, but he somehow has proven himself, so people are listening. It is so simple it's astounding, but it takes starting over our thinking about everything we currently assume and the way we do things. It's about time.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Nasty Night Soil Soils my Garden

The image and text don't match, but that's is exactly what it's been like going into my garden lately and finding beautiful blooms, amid clouds a flies and a the stench of cat scat. Despite my ongoing attempts to trap and neuter the feral cat population in the neighborhood, they don't seem deterred in choosing my beds for their nightly toilette. That was bad enough. Then to add insult to injury, they've managed to break off several branches of my lovely corner Japanese maple, Acer palmatum 'bloodgood', on their climb out of the garden after doing their business. Oh what to do, what to do. Jared has offered an elecric fence. My sister has recommended nails or glass shards driven into the tops of the fence rails. I've tried stones, sticks, large (ugly but usefull) garden ornaments which all work but they the cats move onto another spot in the garden. The current favorite is under the orange tree. So many litter boxes, so little time.

Ironically there was an article in the chronicle today on poisoning of ferals. I could so easily sympathize. You just get to the point where you want them all to be euthanized. Despite enjoying seeing them out there frolicking, I just can't take the fighting, flies, scat and spray any more. After going to the trouble of catching 20 animals, having them fixed and releasing them, this is how they repay me. What is a gardener to do?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Curating Plant Collections

The plant palette is a curious thing to work with. The longer I garden the more I learn about what to consider when combining plants, beyond the obvious color-form-texture complements and contrasts they present when first put into the ground.

This Fuchsia, for instance, was a discounted, leggy, penny-pot when I set it into the ground next to this Sago Palm. The Loropetalum that is now shadowed underneath was small, but I expected it to takeover the bed. Instead the Fuchsia has been the dominant one, and I am pleasantly surprised. I do have to be vigilant in pruning it back as it mounds across the pathway, but it is much more vigorous that I had known. My sister has had this plant in a pot for years, and therefore my growth expectations were warped.

Additionally, whenever growing plants in the bay area, it seems I have to add a few feet in both height and width to the Sunset 'mature' height given.

The other two plants that have been completely obscured in this bed are the two beautiful Japanese painted ferns and the black Mondo grasses, which are very happy and spreading by runners. Some day I'll figure out how to give them all some space.

Urban Seed Gathering

Back in March I was sick of watching my Abutilon 'nabob' languish in this spot in the western planter. I decided I'd try a Ricinus 'dwarf red' a.k.a. Castor Bean Plant. The plant has poisonous seeds, which goes along with so much else in the garden. In fact at this point I'm thinking most plants are poisonous, and the ones that are not are the exception, maybe not the same ratios as mushrooms, but it does seem that nearly every plant I pick has poison stems, poison seeds, agitating sap, or all of the above.

So back to the Ricinus: Despite my efforts to secure a seedling from a local nursery, they all said that these would come in a few months. Interestingly, I did place an order for one at Sloat, and they have yet to call. I know our winter cold snap devastated many of the outlying nurseries, but still, sometimes I think someone should establish a nursery in SF to get ahead of the competition.
I really wanted this plant. I drive by a large one every day on my way up 20th street onto the hill. I decided one day during nap-time to walk up the street with a trowel and a scissor and see if I could secure a cutting, or even better a seedling. At first I concentrated on finding some ripened seed pods to harvest and germinated. Then, Lo and behold, I saw that the entire bed beneath the giant (10-ft tall) tree was sprouting with seedlings. I gently pried one out of the ground and carried it home after cutting a few pods for seeds and stuffing my pockets.

I gently transplanted my seedling, but it didn't take. I then planted a seed. Weeks and then months went by and I gave up and came up with a new plant for the space--a Cana lily. Again faced with having to wait until summer to get one, I gently dug up a corm from one I have and cut a chunk free to transplant. As you can see here, despite severing the top of the leaf, it is sprouting and has taken. Then, as I was watering by Cana, I see to have awakened what I thought was my failed Ricinus seed, and POP, out it came one day last week. So the two shall grow together side by side, until I have to move one or the other.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

On Growing Children

I've decided to indulge myself and take up some space on the blog with some musings on motherhood and nurturing a human being as opposed to or as is similar and different from a plant, as the case may be.

With the garden, I have an idea about the design, or maybe not, but can set something into the ground, prune another thing back to the wall, or yank a plant out alltogether, step back, or even step away for a few days or a week or longer and see what happens, how things are developing and at that point leave it be or change my mind again and modify.

Nurturing a child, as I have learned, and have been instructed on numerous occasions by the head teacher at my child's school, is not something to do by the seat of the pants, which rather sums up my approach to gardening. Instead it requires some serious thought about just what are your intentions.

In other words you should cogitate early on about what you do and don't want to pass along to your child, and then go about altering your behavior so that they won't pick up all those nasty habits. Or, it could have more to do with ensuring you impart the tidbits of wisdom that you've selected especially for your child, ones that will carry them through the years, echoing in their hearts and minds and helping them along as they travel their own journey.

One thing Henry Mitchell has to say in his book The Essential Earthman about gardening, which I have come to believe is as true about childrearing is that:
"Your garden will reveal your self. Do not be terrified of that. You have as
much right to live as--well, at least one may alwasy say, "nevertheless, here I
am." Gardening [and childrearing] is not some sort of game by which one proves
superiority over others, nor is it a marketplace for the display of elegant
things that others cannot afford. It is, on the contrary, a growing work of
creation, endless in its changing elements. It is not a monument or an
achievement, but a sort of traveleing, a kind of pilgrimage you might say, often
a bit grubby and sweaty though true pilgrims do not mind that. A garden is not a
picture, but a language, which is of course the major art of life. "

Friday, May 18, 2007

Bird's Eye View: March and Now

Most Clearly the Maple lights up the SW corner, but also the bed on the north wall is full of Dahlias and Nasturtium. It's as interesting to get a view from up on the roof as from down in the terrace outside the ground-floor apartment.

Succulents then and now

They grow slowly, but nonetheless, growth is evident. I killed off a beautiful leucadendron that I enjoyed all winter, especially with the western light illuminating the red leaves. It may have been the cold nights, but when I realized that both Leucadendron and Grevellia are both Proteacea family, I am wondering if there isn't some sort of blight or pest that is attacking these plants. They both suffered from dyeback right when they had new growth showing, and after months of thriving.
An Asplenium fern (Japanese Painted Fern) unfurling after a long winter's nap.
The Knifophia have finally bloomed along with a Columbine volunteer

Lillies are pushing up, but really want more sun...

The Canna Lillies may be competing with the Phormium

Anigozanthos are blooming and the Charles Grimaldi is making another set of buds. What a satsifying plant. The phormium 'guardsman' finally happy after having its root ball lifted significantly out of the ground. Seems I've been planting everything too deep, and may have been the cause of the desmise of the Grevellia redhooks.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Radical Removals, and other garden updates

I've been bad about keeping up, and know I will regret not having a more blow by blow of changes this season, as I am always amazed looking back to see how much the plants have grown and changed (or in some case suffered) over time. Here is a quick update and visual of what's happening today in the garden:

I finally succumbed and extracted the long-suffering Grevellia 'red hooks' from the western wall. I replaced it with the Abutilon 'nabob' that was languishing in the western planter next door, and a nice Altissimo rose behind it that will hopefully scale the back fence and flash it's lacquer-red blossoms through spring and summer.

On a whim I finally pulled out the Trachelospermum jasminoides (star jasmine) on the northern wall that seemed to do nothing but take up space and look diseased. Even the empty space looked so much better in that corner. I replaced it with another Altissmo rose, and found one, single sproutlet of Trumpet vine slowly, quietly making it's way up the trellis. I was so happy as I'd though I'd lost this plant for good, or didn't have any in my garden when I cleaned out the clipped vines from the neighbors pruned trumpet vine. I just left it there and hope it will coexist with the rose.

I've transplanted the poor, tiny mail-ordered Atissimo sprout to the Dahlia bed, and it seems to finally be flourishing, though it was way too small to have planted when it arrived in the mail.

The Canna Lily is pushing up leaves, and I just got some great advice from the new Flora Grubb garden center that opened down the street on how to divide it now so that I can move the shaded stalk to a sunnier spot.

Other new additions include the Lotus bertholii that is spilling down the western planter from where I pulled out the Abutilon Nabob (seen here to the right), three new succulents I used to underplant the Leucadendron after pulling out the overgrown fern.

Deciduous plants and bulbs that have come up include the Japanese painted fern, Canna Lily and other Asian Lilies.

Flower stalks are pushing up from the Knifofia and Aniganothus.

I had an arborist come by to give the final call on the Grevellia, and he recommended nitrogen ammendments for my abutilon hybrids that I though were root-bound in the southern planter. I used the prescribed dose of blood meal on the package and will see if that does the trick. I fed the Abutilons (yellow hybrid and megapotamicum), the Red cestrum, and the Aniganothus.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Another Ode to Suzanne Porter on the Spring Equinox

I was just back in the garden checking out what has budded, as I noticed this little gem glowing in a sun-dappled corner. I had forgotten what it was called, but remembered distinctly why I had bought it, and upon who's recommendation I had made room for it in my tiny garden. It was, once again, Suzanne Porter, despite her being 'late'.

I had to look up the article in Horticulture Magazine, from which I had sourced this one, and am linking to it for future reference. I think I will go through it and write a list of plants from her garden too (see below). It's like a manual of perfect recommendations. It makes me want to double the size of my garden to fit more of these gems in. I do love my little space, and really it is just manageable for me, though, so for now I'll have to just cram a few more picks into these hidden nooks and crannies.

Here is the plant list:
Hypericum x inodorum 'Summer Gold' (seen here to the right)
Salvia officinalis 'Icterina'
Cotinus coggygria 'Purple Robe'
Canna 'Wyoming'
Heuchera 'Pewter Veil'
castor bean plant (Ricinus communis 'Dwarf Red Spire')
Miscanthus sinensis 'Nippon'
Haloragis erecta 'Wellington Bronze'
Rumex sanguineus var. sanguineus
Verbascum chaixii
Sambucus racemosa 'Plumosa Aurea'
Artemisia canescens
Festuca 'Elijah Blue'
Artemisia 'David's Choice'
Agastache 'Firebird'
Mimulus 'Big Tangerine Red'.
R. ‘Altissimo’
Hemerocallis ‘Water Witch’
Abutilon ‘Souvenir de Bonne’
Cestrum elegans ‘Smithii’
Sambucus nigra ‘Variegata’
variegated oregano (Origanum ‘White Anniversary’),
Hypericum xmoserianum ‘Tricolor’,
Cordyline australis
golden larch (Pseudolarix amabilis)
Acacia cognata
brick-colored Cytisus 'San Francisco'
Canna 'Durban'
Berberis thunbergii 'Crimson Pigmy'
blood grass (Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra')
blond, feathery Sesleria autumnalis
Hypericum androsaemum 'Albury Purple'
Corokia cotoneaster
Aspidistra elatior, and
Iris foetidissima
Styrax japonica

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Feral Cats in a Dogpatch Garden

I've just trapped/neutered/returned 3 more cats in the past week with the help of my husband. This makes a grand total of 16 cats in three years that we've trapped and brought to the SPCA for this amazingly free service.

Then I finally dropped a dime (which I was loathe to do, as I live and let live as a general rule) on the opposite neighbor to Animal Control as a cat-hoarder. Result: they found 15 feral cats living in her home, including 6 kittens. I like cats. I don't like digging into cat-shit, or cat the eau-de-piss left in my garden by an army of marking males.

The cats come with their fleas, and some with lice. Once fixed they are a peaceful and docile community to co-exist with, but I also can't stand watching them when they're not healthy. Interestingly, once I start trapping, they won't come into the garden to drink from the fountain. Even though I don't trap in my garden, but on the roof of the building next door. Cats just know. I use jack-mackerel and a tincture of Valerian, which is like kitty-crack, and acts like cat-nip once they sniff it. I pulled this picture off the SPCA site. They tip the ears of the feral cats that are fixed so you can see who in the community is in need of trapping and hopefully keep track of the size and general condition and stability of the population.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Euphoric for Euphorbia

Spring always arrives earlier than expected here in N. California, and being the Jersey girl that I am I can never quite get used to it, especially when it comes with 80 degree days. The Euphorbia are the first to truly explode in my garden, though this year having given the lonicera a hard pruning, it is coming back happier than ever.

The E. Myrsinites (?) in the front planter is amazing this year. However, in researching it, I just read some very disturbing reports of bad behavior by this plant in Colorado, where it is running wild in the arid hills, as well as making all sorts of people sick with it's toxic sap. I think I'll just keep it tucked in here where I can control it and enjoy it.

The other Euphorbias I have are sprinkled around the back garden and all are happy. I first planted a few in a sunny spot beneath a blood orange, both of which have died, for unknown reasons, perhaps too much water or too much sun. Otherwise I find the genus really hardy and amazingly diverse. It also grows at just the right rate, not too fast, like the abutilons, but slow enough to impress when they do finally put on some bulk and show off their blooms.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Winter wonder in the form of the Helleborus

I'm just astounded at the hardiness of these plants. Nothing seems to get them down. These are two varieties planted at two different times, one the Helleborus Argutifolius, which is often said to be prized for mainly it's foliage, which I love, but man, just look at these glow-in-the-dark chartreuse flowers! The other more commonly found is the H. x sternii, which has great folliage too, thought not as elegant, and the classic rose-tinted blooms. I am not quite as enamored with them as they are a but too feminine for my garden, but at this time of year I'll take anything I can get, and they look great tucked in with the ferns, heuchera, clivia, the new lotus and a giant blue-toned echeveria

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Seduced by Succulents

I have to admit that slowly but surely the lure of the carefree succulent is taking hold of me. Having killed season after season of potted plants on my deck, this year I'm investing in a charming assorment of succulents with the hope that I won't be sifting dead roots out of next year's pots once more.

I'm not quite sure why my potted garden suffers so. I had a tom-thumb phormium which was supposed to be really happy in a pot, and it rotted. The culinary sage I planted died within a month of being transplanted. I even did-in a Meyer lemon, granted it took nearly 5 years, but I finally killed it after finding the roots bound in compacted soil, then adding pearlite only to create a situation where the soil could hold no water. Ahhh, the art of over-compensation.

So, without further ado, here is a list of the succulents I'm enamored with at the moment, and a few other plants thrown in for added shape and texture (the composition is really what draws me here, though the plants on their own are lovely, it's the chunky angularity and richness of color that really grabs and holds me). Also that they are so slow growing, it's always a suprise to see them spreading out. Maybe I'm finally becoming a patient gardener.

Pot one:
Aeonium 'chocolate'
Sempervivum dwarf hen and chickens
Libertia peregrinans
Crassula 'Pagoda plant'

Pot two:
Echeveria 'copper roses'

Big Planter
Leucadendron salignum 'Summer-Red'
Crassula 'babies bracelet'
Sempervivum hen and chickens

Still to be planted:
Euphorbia rigida
Senecio 'kilimanjaro'
Echeveria (4 ea)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Stolen Treasure

Why do people steal? What is it that would inspire someone to walk up and rip a plant from the ground and walk away? My husband says it's because the plant was beautiful. It was nice, I loved it in fact. But I didn't think it stood out enough for someone to covet it so. Besides, it wasn't a particularly valuable plant. Certainly not one to 'resell' like an ipod or something.

Perhaps it was basking in the glow of my love. However, I can't say I loved it when it first when into the ground. I was unsure about it, what it needed and how it would grow. It's color was what drew me to it. A dull red with green in the background. A nice contrast, I thought, to the rest of the green sedums and succulents I'd selected. I was not at all familiar with Echeveria. I am very familiar with them now and am a growing fan. Though not grown for their flowers, this particular Echeveria, which I think I've identified (post-filching) as a 'Black Prince' variety, would bloom in the autumn sunshine atop these fabulous red stalks with a star burst of small, slightly pendant, bright crimson blossoms. The first year one stalk grew, and I didn't know what to expect. I'd spent a fair amount of time pinching off the delicate, lacy white blossoms on the Crassula perlorata 'Tom Thumb' as they contrasted badly with the simple geometric oddity of this cute little succulent. (I think flowers that don't match their foliage or plant structure is a topic I'll have to deal with at another time) I was expecting to do the same for the Echeveria, until it finally bloomed and I was blown away.

Granted, this is a small, little bed. But it's right out front and I pass it on the way into and out of the house several times a day. I just loved the sight of the bloom, it had a certain other-worldly quality. This year as the plant settled in, three stalks grew and the aphids only got a few of the blooms before I wiped them away. It certainly was the star, but not at the time it was plant-knapped. I wonder why they've not touched the Aeonium, or the other Echeveria. In fact I now inspect the bed regularly, almost counting the plants to ensure nothing else is missing. The phormiums in the back are diseased. But those are actually expensive, at least thirty bucks a piece. Perhaps the thief knew enough not to trifle with a sick plant.

By the time the plant was taken, I'd pinched off the dried up blooms and all that was left were the stalks. The plant had a couple of chicks starting to grow along side it as well, all gone in an instant. Now the question becomes 'do I replant'? Will I just be inviting a serial filcher to rob me again?