Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Plant of the Week: Margarita BOP Penstemon

Nice to meet you, Penstemon 'Margarita BOP.' This little lady helps dispell the myth that California native plants are boring. How can you argue with electric blue?! And the story about how she came about her name is pretty funny.
Penstemon prefers a suntan to darkness and will get along famously with your other drought tolerants.

Soil: doesn't matter, as long as it drains well
Sun: full to part
Height: about 18 to 24"
Plant: Penstemon is pretty easy going. Shy away from planting in heatwaves.
Buy it: while Las Pilitas cultivated it, many retail nurseries carry this variety. You may, however buy it from Las Pilitas online.
Good for: adding a splash of cool color late in spring and attracting birds!

A Bit of Loveliness

I just love the blossoms on blackberries. So simple and delicate, completely juxtaposing the greenery's hulking desire to take over the world. Although, the more blackberries the more pie.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Berkeley Jewel Box Garden

I stopped by a garden yesterday that I had completed a few months back and man.... was there a party going on! A black carpenter bee was humming about the collinsias and the white poppies were dancing away with the phacelias. Because it's a small and shady spot, I wanted to leave the design open for variation- creating seasonal bursts of jewel-toned blossoms to attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.

The trellis I made to match the Arts and Crafts style of the house is still waiting for the native grape to take some initiative, but it's coming along.

I love the red stems that contrast with the leaves. I can't wait to see him turn red in the fall.
A dry stream bed weaves its way through the plantings- aren't those pink poppies spectacular?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Plant of the Week: Western Sword Fern

Polystichum munitum is one tough dude. It's earned the plant of the week title because it survived being planted on the hottest day yet this year without breaking a sweat or going weak at the knees. Plus, it's got the cutest yellow spores!

This little evergreen does well in a shade/part shade situation, especially if it's facing north or east.

Soil: medium
Sun: not too much now
Water: once a week until established (2 years or so) and every once in while after that.
Height: about 3'
Plant: ideally in the fall before the rains come
Buy it: Super Long's probably has it, also Yerba Buena Nursery if you're hankering for a road trip.
Good for: adding a bit of greenery to your native shade garden when the winter doldrums have kicked into high gear. Looks great with heuchera micrantha!

Look, Ma! I'm branded!

Today heralded the arrival of my new business cards! I absolutely love the logo that Via from Olive-Route Press and Anjel from Cabbage Design designed for me. These lovely ladies have been getting my branding together and I can't say enough about the lovely "ooh-ahh" inducing work they do!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Heather Austin Throws a Party

Heather has been so happy since I moved her to the shady side of the house. You'd think she would like the sun, but her delicate complexion doesn't take the heat well and she gets a tidge crispy around her edges. She's been so happy, in fact that she's been throwing the most glorious confetti around the little annual chrysanthemums below, celebrating the arrival of spring with her planty friends.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Plant of the Week: Chinese Houses

I've always loved the common name for Collinsia heterophylla. When I was a kid, I would pretend that I could shrink down to size and clamber over the blossoms to make them my home. This native annual wins "plant of the week" for being just so darn pretty dressed all in lace and ribbons. What a dear!

Here's some quick stats:

Soil: not picky
Sun: part shade near the Bay, shade inland
Water: let the rain take care of it, but water once a week between showers
Height: 18"
Plant: if by seed, around Valentine's Day. Plant 4" pots in March(ish).
Buy it: annie's annuals for 4" pots or larner seeds for seed packets (if you can recommend another nursery, please share!)
Good for: continuing the spring ballet after the daffodils and irises have completed their solos and have left brown, wilty leaves. Also they attract bees!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Backyard Archaeology

So Idora headquarters was covered in juniper bushes when we moved in. I'm not talking just some little dinky things, these were serious Kid n' Play style sculpted behemoths. (well, minus the mustard, teal and coral. yeeowch!) As soon as I signed on the dotted line, I dedicated my life to annihilating those bad boys as soon as possible. Well, some friends and I set out on the expedition one fine morning to do just that. Marcos was hacking away with the pick axe and "CLINK!" he hit something. A few minutes later he emerged with this little treasure! I consider it a blessing from the house for helping it recover from its ultimate embarrassment. (although ivy is pretty humiliating, too.)
It's cast metal and was once gilded in bronze. Poor thing has had a rough life considering it lost its feet at some point, a chunk of tail, and I think it sustained a bullet wound to the chest. Other than that, it's happily guarding the mantle in the living room.
I love these amateur archaeological finds whilst gardening! My imagination races as to the history of the garden, especially since ours used to be an amusement park at the turn of the century! (more on that another time).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

And now. . . Tomatoes!

It's not too late to set down some tomatoes in your patch of yard for a bit of summer yumminess! For the uninitiated, I'll go over some basics on selecting, planting and taking care of the little guys that will guarantee some serious abundance. Follow these steps and you will be up to your ears in tomatoey goodness.

For those of us in the summer fog belt, we've been dissuaded before: "Here dearie, put that tomato plant down. How about a nice selection of lettuce mixes?" Even here in the Bay Area, however it is possible to get a bumper crop if you just follow a few guidelines.

  • Select a tomato variety that matches your climate. I recommend Sun Golds, which are lovely orange cherry tomatoes, highly snackable, and Early Girls, which are medium to large and have a great flavor for stuff like bruschetta or salsa and are out of this world when fried green. When you're purchasing your start, you want a tomato that isn't growing out of its little pot all cocky; you'll want something more humble with a few fully developed leaves and many more ready to spring out in the near future. Shy away from yellowed or spotted leaves and don't even go near white, powdery plants. Powdery mildew is krypton to Bay Area tomatoes and can spread to other plants in your garden.
  • Tomatoes' style does not like to be cramped. Be sure to select an area that will allow for a long tap root (think 3 to 4 feet deep). That means you'll need to dig a bit, but the results will be worth it! I don't recommend growing tomatoes in pots (sorry, apartment dwellers), but if you must I would select the largest pot you can muster. Also, you want to select the sunniest, hottest part of the yard to plant it. (Don't forget the sunscreen.)
  • Now for soil. Do not scrimp on soil! Soil is key to giving the plant everything it will need to do its thing. I tend to buy whatever the stoner kids buy. Tomatoes have very similar nutritional needs to. . . other plants and I find that they respond very well to Fox Farm Ocean Forest. I buy mine at the Super Long's on Broadway and 51st. If you can't justify spending $12 on a bag of dirt (and I don't blame you), consider making your own compost in a bin you can buy from stopwaste.org, but at the very least buy something that says "planting mix" and never buy anything that says "potting soil". Even if you're putting it in a pot. Potting soils usually have a bunch of fluff and not enough substance, so after a while your plant will not have the vitamins it needs and the potting soil will dry out faster than a mix with more nutrients and substance.
  • So you have a hole in the ground, your plant, and the dirt- what next? Mix the bagged soil with a little bit of the dirt that came out of the hole. Break up any clumps and fill the hole about 1/3rd of the way. As you work your way up, start mixing in more of the good soil and less of the other stuff. By the time you've filled the top, you should be using straight compost, but try to put as much near where the roots will be when you plant it. One plant will typically use 3/4 of a cubic foot of soil. Use the extra soil from digging out the hole to form a berm around the center about 18" or so in diameter. This will be your air traffic controller to the water coming out of the hose. Can you just see it in an orange vest swishing it's flags? "The tomato! Stay near the tomato!"
  • Take the tomato out of it's mini-pot and give it a nice and gentle root massage. The soil should fall away and any roots that were coiled at the bottom of the pot should be loosened up. The goal is ditch the square shape of the pot. This will encourage the roots to explore and the plant to grow.
  • Now, have a little faith for this next step. Plant the tomato so that only the top-most leaves are sticking out of the ground. Trust me! Any other plant will curse you for this, but tomatoes will develop a stronger root system from the sides of the stem if it's underground. It will look puny for a week or two, but will catch up in no time.
  • Water the little sucker and put in a tomato cage. When picking out a tomato cage, think optimistically and buy the biggest one. I never take my own advice and the giants end up forcing the tiny cages out of the ground, so learn from my mistakes!
  • Water deeply once a week. Remember, it's developing long roots, so the water needs to reach them. I'd say stand there with the hose long enough to send and receive a text message or two. If it wilts a bit in the sun, wait for the sun to go down. If it doesn't perk back up, give 'em a little drink.
Here's a great recipe from "Joy of Cooking" that will help you dispose of your harvest:

Golden Tomato and Ginger Jam (Page 936 in the 75th Anniversary edition)

Wash and slice in half, catching the juice:

2 pounds orange cherry tomatoes

Combine in a bowl with :

2 cups sugar

Cover and steep for 4 hours

Wash ginger and lemons. Peel and slice in thin strips:

4 ounces fresh ginger

Strain the tomato syrup into a large saucepan, reserving the tomatoes. Add the ginger and:

Finely grated zest and juice of 8 ounces lemons

Slowly bring the syrup to a boil, then boil rapidly until it falls from a spoon in heavy drops. Blend in the tomatoes. Boil rapidly, stirring frequently, to jelling point. Remove from the heat and skim off any foam. Ladle into hot 1/2 pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process for 10 minutes.

See also tomates confites courtesy of chocolateandzucchini.com