Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Unearthing Idora Park

Today I celebrated a very local holiday known as "plant that Buckeye you got at the plant sale months ago" Day.  First annual.  I'm always jumping for an opportunity to dig around our yard because of its former life as an amusement park at the turn of the century.  Someday I just know I'll uncover the ferris wheel.  Embarrassingly, the backyard has not changed much since we moved in a year and a half ago, so to root around the back is pretty exciting for a kid like me who grew up watching Indiana Jones.

While unearthing myriad Oxalis bulbs, I also came upon random bands of red, grainy clay.  Embedded throughout were these red rocks.  Hmmm, could these be part of the building pictured above?  Were they used for landscaping?  I think another trip to Oakland's History Room will be in order soon enough.
Meanwhile, these specimens will grace the area around the freshly planted buckeye tree.

Brainstorm: Seedling Portrait Database

 Calandrinia ciliata (Red Maids) ?!

As I inspected the garden and my seedlings this morning, I had an idea.  How am I supposed to know if that thing in the front yard is a Red Maids or some invasive nasty?  That sprout in my Lupine container:  Lupine or...?  And those wilflower mixes- what a confusing mess!  Ok, so patience is one avenue (which when it comes to propogation, I have none). 

But what about starting a database of seedling photos for wildflower species?  Those that want to participate could submit sprout portraits to a wiki and label the California wildflowers they have experience growing.  Maybe include tips or germination information.  I'm sure that it is possible to find this information already for each species, but is there one place where you can cruise through seedling photos yet?

Lupinus succulentus or Arroyo Lupine seedling (I think)

Town Mouse's post about her experience starting seeds really mirrored my own and struck quite a chord.  I think our blogging community has been so supportive and I so enjoy learning many wonderful new things from all of you!  I also believe in the gospel of planting native and think there should be more resources out there for folks who want to get their feet wet (or hands dirty?).

I'll keep you posted on the progress of this new resource, but please tell me if there's something else out there that I can add to or if you have ideas as to how this should take shape.   

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Present! For You!

Merry Christmas for those who celebrate the holiday!  For your present, I give you my coveted recipe of Salt and Pepper Shortbread, slightly famous in small circles.  It is taken from the Scottish Shortbread recipe in Joy of Cooking, but with a few improvements.  You still have time before the big night to make a batch!

1.5 sticks butter
1/4 c powdered sugar
1/8 c white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1.5 c flour
fleur de sel
black pepper freshly ground

stick the butter in a mixing bowl and microwave for 25 seconds.  Mix in the sugars and salt until uniform.  Add the flour and mix until a dough forms.  Divide the dough in half and pat them into two loaf pans.  Smooth as best you can with your fingers.  Sprinkle fleur de sel and the pepper over the top.  Prick the dough all over with a fork and bake for 45 minutes in a 300 degree oven.  Cut into matchsticks a few minutes out of the oven, but don't remove from pan.  Set on a rack for about 10 or 15 minutes, then fish out the pieces and let them cool completely on the rack.  (You'll have to make a cup of tea if you're going to taste-test this properly).  Enjoy!

I must also include a small confession regarding the compostable Christmas tree.  Two words:  epic fail.  After covering my 11th hour "last tree on the lot" with Clarkia seedpods, rose-hips and Autumn leaves, I decided that it looked a little too....  hippy-dippy and decided to take a different direction.  Because of the tiers of branches and our ridiculous collection of Christmas lights of all kinds, I threw a string of lights on each layer resulting in an Astro-pop Christmas tree.  Orange flicker lights sit at the bottom, red-pink strawberry lights on the next layer up, redder strawberry lights up and a conventional red string farther up.  I topped it off with a string of snowball lights that just add to the bobbley, fuzzy craziness.  Way more modernist of me than the original idea, but I must admit I'm quite smitten with the results.  And that's what it's all about, right?  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, my fellow plant geeks!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Unlikely Oasis: Ein Gedi Botanical Garden

Ein Gedi sits near the Dead Sea amid the desert. Despite the vast expanse of the seemingly endless hills and rocks, the botanical garden here defies logic and swoops its visitors into a lush tropical paradise.  In the photo above, the Dead Sea is off in the distance.

This giant tree stations itself at the center of the resort, giving off shade on a warm day.

Those of us used to planting drought tolerant gardens will recognize characteristics of water-stingy plants:  spines, small leaves, gray foliage.  I love how architectural this guy is.

A less hostile drought tolerant succulent than its friend above.

A large branch arches its way into the landscape.  Apparently, the garden was planted only about 50 years ago.  Very impressive!  Like most of Israel's gardens, drip irrigation tubing snaked along the planting beds in neat rows.
While I don't see myself planting lush tropicals in my Oakland garden, I'm impressed and inspired by the ability of these folks to build what they envisioned despite the harsh conditions.  I have to admit, I'm also conflicted about their use of resources to create something so artificial to the area.  What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Seed Scattering, Indeed!

I was so heartened by Town Mouse's post the other day about seed propagation (as well as Country Mouse's response and Ryan's helpful comment.)  Being more artistic than scientific myself, I prefer to scatter the seeds and let Mother Nature do what she will.  While I may believe this upon the scattering, spotty results and confusion lead to a different view come Spring.

I have, however learned that labeling is an important part of starting from seed.  Always the rebel, I've gathered scraps of ribbon matching the color of the flowers they are to be and stuck a piece into each pot rather than write out tags.  Gold pipe cleaners have even made a cameo appearance in labeling this year!

My own attempts this Winter are starting to come into their own.  While I was gallivanting around Israel, a pounding of rain beat my errant seeds into germination.  The Meadowfoam, or Limnanthes douglasii have begun to believe they really live in a vernal pool (their preferred natural habitat) and are showing their sweet baby faces.

The rain was so hard, that it seemed to uncover some of the Lupines that are beginning to sprout.  I covered them up with more soil yesterday and then foolishly tried to uncover them for a portrait this morning.  Snapped the darn beans right off the roots of a couple before I gave up.  Oh well.

The Clarkias have reseeded the front so prolifically that I might have a revolt from the Dudleyas and Eriogonums.  Ryan's comments about them growing well in crowded situations has made me feel like I am returning to my original laissez-faire brand of thinking:  that's the way Nature wanted it to happen, so who am I to interfere?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Israel: Nature is the Best Designer

Whew!  I just returned yesterday from our amazing trip to Israel and have a camera card full of pics and a head filled with ideas and inspiration!  As I recover from a night spent in Jersey's airport, allow me to share some photos from the Negev desert.  This area is an oasis within the dry region and is a well-visited national park called Ein Ovdat (this is according to Google map, the park brochure spelled it Avdat).

Without too many plants to oogle, I found myself admiring the linear and dramatic nature of the rocks and cliffs.  The rushes growing in a line along the stream below serve as a textural counterpoint.

Textures were the other thing my eyes focused on, such as this stream-bed of stones and their impressions in the mud after a spot of rain.

I'm still drooling over this!  A low stepping terrace with water trickling along the way.  Oh, please let me make something like this someday!

A tree bends down to put a reassuring branch on climbers' shoulders.  The steps set into the path made the hiking easier without putting too much of a human fingerprint onto the experience.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rose-hips for My Christmas Tree

I collected a bundle of rose-hips the other day from my neighbor.  They'll look great on my foraged Christmas tree!  It's nice to mix it up when most of what I have so far is brown bits of dried up leaves and seed pods.  Hopefully I'll have time to string cranberries!  A friend of mine does this every year and made the point that she never has to remove any decorations when it's time for the tree to sit at the curb.  A compost-ready Christmas.  Brilliant!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

This Just In! Idora Postcards Available Now!

I just got word from Olivia at Olive-Route Press that sets of my postcards are officially for sale on her etsy!  The set includes a comical pair of Felcos, a fascinating spider (my personal favorite), a delicate coupling of Romney coulteri, and a sweet twig gate held together with tiny buttons.  They're letterpressed on brown cardstock and have plenty of room on the back for a cute message you could write to your dearest friend.  Many thanks to Olivia for the fun, fun collaboration!

Plant of the Week: Western Clematis

While leaves are dropping and greenery becomes scarce this time of year, Clematis ligusticifolia keeps on truckin'.  Sure, she's not dripping with lovely white flowers right now.  Ok, so her octopus-like seed heads are getting a liitle rough around the edges.  An evergreen vine refreshes the eyes after a yellow and brown overload.

The clematis vine at Larner Seeds had conquered a small fence and looked like it was ready for world domination.  It's seed heads were worn like medals of courage, interspersed up and down its tendrils.

Soil:  Clematis prefers cool roots, so mulch generously if she'll be in sun.  Otherwise, well-drained to light clay should do nicely.
Sun:  The one pictured at the top sits in mostly-shade.  The one at Larner Seeds had part to full sun.  Go figure.
Plant:  Anytime!  Be careful with transplanting, though.  Vines typically have very sensitive roots that don't like the hustle and bustle of a transplant.  (Bougainvillea are notorious for this kind of behavior, by the way)
Buy it:  Annie's carries it and has a lovely photo of one in full bloom, Oaktown Natives seems to have one in stock, and if you're into the propagation thing, Larner's carries seeds.
Good for:  Greenery when you're blue, gorgeous white flowers, space-age seedheads, a vine for shade and to scramble up trees, a trellis adornment. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jack Frost Makes a Rare Visit

*UPDATE* 01.04.09  The photo above is my entry in Gardening Gone Wild's January "Picture This" photo contest.  Welcome, GGW fans!  Now back to our regularly scheduled program...

Wow, I must be saying I love California weather too much because here comes Mother Nature to knock me down a few notches!   Frost crystals enveloped the backyard and the seeds I had planted and carefully set at the side of the house were little soil Popsicles.  Although I don't think the seeds mind as I see a few little sprouts of Nemophila trying to stick it out.

Thankfully I don't have any frost tender plants, but I've heard that a helpful and decorative solution is to string the sensitive ones with Christmas tree lights.  Especially appropriate this time of year, no?  LEDs won't work very well, as the bulbs need to generate heat to keep the plant toasty. I'm sure the plants would love the opportunity to feel festive! 

Even the weeds in the backyard look better for the additional frosty bling.  Looks like after our cold-spell, the rains are a'comin'.  Batten down the hatches!  It's planting season!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sneak Peek: Idora Postcards!

I spent the day at my friend Olivia's letterpress shop the other day and couldn't help but be excited.  Maybe it was the tea, perhaps it was the amazing gingerbread and poached apple desert brought to us by Richard of St Hieronymous Press, but I think it was the postcards of my sketches that Olivia printed for me!

There's four different designs:  a playful set of Felco pruners, a couple of Romney coulteri (Matilijia poppies), a very twiggy little gate, and the spider that I told y'all about here.  The backs of the postcards announce the fact that I exist and suggest that the dear reader visit my website.  They're printed on chipboard, the stuff that comes between stacks of paper to make it more rigid in shipping and storing.  Hooray for reusing!  The chipboard is pretty squishy and thick, so it took to the press very well with deep and precise indentations.

Don't despair if you're wanting a few!  Olivia will offer sets of the postcards for sale on her etsy.  Check back with her in the next week or so.  We had such a wonderful day- a field trip of little tots even stopped by to stare at the big moving wheel of the press.  They were mesmerized!  Olivia recounts our lovely day at her blog, too.  And she has better photos, so I highly recommend it.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Plant of the Week: Manzanita

I'm surprised when I discover that not every single person in this world likes Arctostaphylos.  Some people even hate it, as I'm learning when I send my plant lists to clients.  Now I'll be first to admit that there's some varieties that look a little too scrubby for my tastes, but on the other hand, there's ka-zillions to choose from.  
The variety pictured above is 'St. Helena' and will eventually grow into a small tree.  When I say eventually, I mean in close to forever.  They grow real slow.  But look how pretty she is!  It's amazing what a little aesthetic pruning will do to accentuate the dramatic curves of the tree.  Plus, the dark mahogany of the branches contrast so nicely with the blue-green leaves.  White flowers appear in winter and will give the hummingbirds something to do when nectar is scarce.  Flowers give way to berries, which will bring the birds.  Isn't it nice how that all works out? 

Soil:  Light clay will do quite nicely.  I've seen some varieties grow in absolute hardpan in the foothills.
Sun:  Full, please!
Plant:  Now, before the winter rains!  Although I planted mine at the worst possible time, (beginning of summer) they seem pretty happy.
Buy it:  The wholesalers seem to carry this variety (support your local nursery and ask them to order it for you), but there are so many to learn about, too!  Yerba Buena Nursery carries this species and many more.
Good for:  contrast in the garden, attracting wildlife, sculptural interest, winter flowers and spring berries

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Ok, if this isn't the darn cutest thing you've seen all day then I suggest we go head to head for a serious cute war.  We just received a sweater for 99 custom knit by Marsha!  And it looks great, don't you think?  Now maybe she'll stop taking naps on the stove...

This has nothing to do with gardening I'm well aware, but I really couldn't help myself!